In yet another example of the unrealistic ambitions of Egypt's new political class on the world stage, the Building and Development Party, the political wing of Gama'a al-Islamiyya (GI), is calling on the United States to remove the political party and its parent organization from the U.S. State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations.
"Gama'a al-Islamiyya and the Building and Development Party do not consider the West as opponents, but instead advocate for the good of all and embrace all ideas that serve Islam," Building and Development Party spokesman Khaled al-Sharif said in a press conference on Sunday, according to a posting on the party's Facebook page. Daily News Egypt reports that al-Sharif then went on to "demand" that GI be taken off the State Department's Foreign Terrorist Organization list, and called for the United States to release Omar Abdel Rahman, also known as the "Blind Sheikh."
GI was a fixture in Egypt's collegiate political scene in the 1980s but became internationally infamous for a campaign of terror attacks in the 1990s, which included assassinations and massacres targeting tourists. GI also occasionally worked with Egyptian Islamic Jihad, then headed by Ayman al-Zawahiri, who later merged his organization with al Qaeda and eventually became Osama bin Laden's successor in that organization. Abdel Rahman had ties to both organizations and is GI's spiritual leader -- he was imprisoned in Egypt in the 1980s for issuing a fatwa sanctioning the assassination of President Anwar Sadat, and is currently serving a life sentence in the United States for helping plan attacks in New York City, including the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. When the State Department's list of foreign terrorist groups was compiled in 1997, GI was an inaugural member.
In 2003, GI reentered the Egyptian political arena, formally renouncing violence in exchange for the release of hundreds of political prisoners. That promise has held, mostly. The change in tactics split the organization, and a violent faction formally joined al Qaeda in 2006. Mainstream members aren't a bunch of peaceniks, either; GI was responsible for organizing the protests at the U.S. embassy in Cairo on Sept. 11, 2012, and has threatened to fight for the implementation of sharia law "even if that requires bloodshed."
It's not unheard of for an organization to work its way off the State Department's terror list -- after a years-long lobbying effort, Iranian dissident group Mujahideen-e-Khalq was delisted last September -- but it's a rare occasion. And though GI and its Building and Development Party aren't the only politicians in Egypt to call for the release of the Blind Sheikh, it's certainly not going to win them any fans in Foggy Bottom. It's also not going to happen.
There aren't many surprises in the new WikiLeaks document dump -- the organization is calling the collection of 1.7 million documents dated from 1973 to 1976 "The Kissinger Cables" -- but there are a few interesting finds. For example, there's the request from Morocco's King Hassan II for any information the United States had on an unidentified flying object spotted along the Moroccan coast in the early morning hours of Sept. 19, 1976.
Four days after the incident, the commander of Morocco's gendarmerie requested a meeting with the U.S. defense attaché in Rabat. In their meeting, the Moroccan officer noted that there had been reports across the country of an object sighted arcing across the night sky, and that the king had taken a personal interest in following up on the incident.
"Reports from these widely separate locations were remarkably similar, i.e., that the object was on a generally southwest to northeast course, it was a silvery luminous circular shape and gave off intermittent trails of bright sparks and fragments, and made no noise," the U.S. defense attaché wrote in his cable to Washington. The next day, the attaché met with another gendarmerie officer who had actually seen the UFO. The officer "described the UFO as flying parallel to the coast at a relatively low speed, as if it were an aircraft preparing to land. It first appeared to him as a disc-shaped object, but as it came closer he saw it as a luminous tubular-shaped object."
"I frankly do not know what to make of these sighting, although I find intriguing the similarity of the descriptions reported from widely dispersed locations," the attaché wrote to Washington on Sept. 25. "In any event, I wish to be able to respond promptly to King Hassan's request for information, and would appreciate anything you can do to assist me in this."
One week later, on Oct. 2, Washington cabled back with the terse message: "Hope to have answer for you next week. Regards." Three days later, the secretary's office followed up. "It is difficult to offer any definitive explanation as to the cause or origin of the UFOs sighted in the Moroccan area between 0100 and 0130 local time 19 September 1976," the cable began, before suggesting that, based on descriptions of its trajectory and appearance, it "could conceivably be compatible with a meteor, or a decaying satellite," though U.S. officials noted that "the [U.S. government] is unaware of any US aircraft or satellite activity, either military or civilian, in the Moroccan area which might have been mistaken for such sightings."
Despite their appearance in WikiLeaks' new cache of documents, the cables aren't exactly breaking news. They were quoted at length in a 1990 book titled The UFO Cover-Up: What the Government Won't Say, in which the authors speculated that the 10-day delay between the initial cable from Rabat and Washington's reply was to allow time for secret briefings, and refuted the official narrative:
Is it impossible for a bright meteor to have been responsible for the sightings? Not really, if one examines the information very generally. A silvery, luminous object giving off a bright trail and sparks is not unlike a description of a meteor. However, the sightings were reported over a span of about an hour. The UFO, according to some witnesses, traveled at a slow speed, like an aircraft about to land. And the southwest to northeast course of the UFO would have brought it in the general direction of Iran, where other activity was ongoing. Coincidence?
Well, yes. It was a coincidence. In October 2012, Canadian amateur satellite watcher Ted Molczan (who was profiled by the New York Times in 2008) posted on a satellite interest site that the trajectory and timing of the incident matches the re-entry of a piece of space junk -- specifically a Soviet booster engine from a rocket launched two months earlier -- in July 1976. While it's true that the UFO was not of U.S. origin, it appears the cable from the State Department was either misleading or not fully informed about the incident. The Soviet rocket debris was tracked by U.S. Strategic Command and cataloged in its Space Track database, where Molczan eventually found the record. So there you go, mystery solved -- 35 years later.
(Hat tip to @arabist.)
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this morning about the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on that killed four American citizens, including the ambassador to Libya. Her remarks came after four months of controversy and finger-pointing about security lapses, intelligence failures, about and the administration's response to the attack, with critics accusing the White House and State Department of misleading the public (a charge that may have scuttled U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice's chances for a nomination to succeed Clinton in Foggy Bottom).
After months of reporting on the attack, there was little new information to be gleaned from Clinton's testimony, but it did provide an opportunity for both the secretary and her congressional critics to air their perspectives and grievances. Clinton's testimony turned emotional early on, as she choked up in her opening statements describing standing with President Obama as the bodies of the Americans killed in Benghazi arrived at Andrews Air Force Base. She also reiterated that, "as I have said many times since Sept. 11, I take responsibility."
The hearing also turned heated at times. Sen. Ronald Johnson (R-Wis.) expressed his vehement disbelief that the State Department could not determine whether the attack was a planned terrorist action or grew out of a protest in response to the incendiary film Innocence of Muslims, which had provoked rioting at other U.S. facilities throughout the Muslim world that week.
"Madam Secretary, do you disagree with me that a simple phone call to those evacuees [from the Benghazi consulate] would have ascertained immediately that there was no protest?" Sen. Johnson asked. "I mean, that was a piece of information that could have been easily, easily obtained," he continued, before dismissing Clinton's comment that she did not want to interfere with the processes at work on the ground as an "excuse."
The secretary told Johnson "to read the ARB [Accountability Review Board report] and the classified ARB because even today there are questions being raised" about the attackers' interests and allegiance. (Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Ca.) wrote about the ARB for Foreign Policy last month.) When pressed again, a visibly exasperated Clinton responded, "With all due respect, we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or because of guys out for a walk one night who decided to go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator."
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Az.) were visibly frustrated by Clinton's answers. After the secretary told the committee that she had not personally read all the cables from the diplomatic mission in Libya, including those requesting increased security measures, Sen. Paul remarked that this represented "a failure in leadership," a charge that has been leveled by FP's own Shadow Government as well. "Had I been president at the time," he told Clinton, "and I found that you did not read the cables from Benghazi, you did not read the cables from Amb. Stevens, I would have relieved you of your post.". McCain again voiced his doubts about the veracity of administration messaging about the attack in the early weeks afterwards. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) compared the administration's response to the faulty intelligence behind claims of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in 2003. Clinton said of the talking points, "The fact is that people were trying in real time to get to the best information."
McCain also "strongly disagreed" with Clinton's characterization of U.S. policy towards Libya after Muammar al-Qaddafi's fall, concluding by saying that the State Department's choice of a "soft footprint" for security contributed to the deaths at Benghazi. Clinton pointed out that Congress had placed holds on funding requests aid and security projects like those McCain cited. "We've got to get our act together between the administration and the Congress. If this is a priority, trying to help this government stand up security and deal with what is a very dangerous environment from east to west, then we have to work together," Clinton replied.
One of the few substantive clarifications was the role of the Marine personnel stationed with the diplomatic mission -- a point of confusion among many policymakers. "Historically, Marine guards do not protect personnel," said Clinton. "Their job is to protect classified material and destroy it if necessary." Several senators suggested that this should change.
Regarding that classified material, Clinton told the committee that no classified documents were left at Benghazi, "although some unclassified material was unfortunately left behind." Foreign Policy reported about this oversight in September when documents found at the razed compound suggested that there had been warning signs an attack was imminent.
Interestingly, one of the most interesting moments in the hearing wasn't about the Benghazi attack at all. Clinton spoke briefly about the hostages taken at the In Amenas gas field in Algeria, observing that the same proliferation of weapons that helped arm the terrorists in Benghazi also helped arm the terrorists in southern Algeria. "The vast majority of weapons came out of Qaddafi warehouses," she said, characterizing the spread of small arms and shoulder-fired missiles as a "Pandora's box." As to whether the attacks in Benghazi and at In Amenas were directly related, she said there was insufficient intelligence.
The testimony made for a strange coda to Clinton's otherwise well-regarded term as secretary of state. Her imminent departure was mentioned as a matter of accountability by both her critics and herself. Paul remarked that he saw her decision to step down now as accepting "culpability for the worst tragedy since 9/11." Clinton saw things differently. "Nobody is more committed to getting this right," she told the committee in her opening remarks. "I am determined to leave the State Department and our country safer, stronger, and more secure."
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If Sen. John Kerry is confirmed as secretary of state, one of the first issues to cross his desk will be Iran's nuclear program. Kerry has discussed the issue before. We've poured over the WikiLeaks cables, which paint a broad portrait of Kerry's diplomatic style. In those classified documents, he discussed how he might approach the issue.
The first reference comes from a conversation in February 2005 with French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier. Kerry told Barnier that "his conversations in the region had convinced him that Iran remains committed to a nuclear weapons program, but agreed that there were no good alternatives to negotiating." Though he did not rule out a military option, he did point out it "would be difficult," and pointed to U.N. sanctions, which have since been put in place and periodically ratcheted up, as an alternative. Still smarting from his defeat in the presidential election in 2004, Kerry remarked that "his own intention, had he been elected president, was to pursue front channel and back channel contacts with the Iranian regime."
Five years later, Kerry got the opportunity to open some of those back channel contacts. In a February 2010 meeting with Qatari Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, Kerry commented that Washington's behind-the-scenes signals to Tehran had gone unanswered. He "observed that the Iranians are scared to talk...Our instinct is that we need to find a way to talk to him." Al-Thani then reportedly offered to be an intermediary. "What if I talk to the Iranian President. What would you have me say?" he asked.
Senator Kerry responded, "The U.S. seeks serious discussion and sought to create a new foundation for a relationship based on Iran's non-confrontational compliance with IAEA requirements and other mutual interests." Those interests include dealing with drug-running, the Taliban, and illicit trade. The Chairman told the Amir he feared that Iran still thinks it is dealing with the 1953 America that tried to overthrow the Iranian government.
The United States recognizes Iran's ambitions to be a regional player, Kerry told al-Thani, and wants a dialogue about what sort of power it will be.
Of course, that conversation took place nearly three years ago. A lot has changed -- or, maybe very little has changed, and as a result patience in Washington is running low. Kerry's views may have shifted since then, but he'd probably still agree with the comment he made then to al-Thani: "It is crazy to continue on this collision course."
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J Street, the "political home" for pro-Israel, pro-two state solution (read: anti-AIPAC) American Jews, kicked off its third annual conference in Washington on Saturday night. But despite its massive efforts to mobilize behind President Obama, executive director Jeremy Ben-Ami doesn't seem to be terribly satisfied with the commander in chief's track record in a press roundtable:
"We would like to see the president do more, we'd like to see the administration take a more proactive role in outlining the parameters for a resolution of the conflict, and to build an international coalition of supporters beyond the Quartet."
Ben-Ami also invoked Libya and Iran as examples for the White House to follow as it builds consensus for a two-state solution.
"The way the world was brought together around Libya and around the Iran sanctions, that's the kind of mobilization of international support that the administration will need to do if it wants to re-establish American credibility in foreign policy making."
A panel discussion held during the conference on Sunday about the current prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace took on a bleaker tone. According to Lara Friedman, director of policy and government relations for Americans for Peace Now, the current administration is simply exhausted:
"They were serious, but realized that they didn't have the political stomach...They thought they had the will to see it through, but they got exhausted."
Nadav Eyal of Israel's Maariv newspaper added that the president does not appear to be invested in the issue:
"Obama needs to come into this personally, and he has not done that."
Leila Hilal, co-director of the New America Foundation's Middle East Task Force, even questioned the viability of the two-state solution itself:
"This is the time to think about new strategies. Two states is a largely hollow and abstract notion, and the Palestinian public has no interest in dead-end talks...Conditions are not ripe, and the U.S. administration cannot force proposals."
For an organization that's supposed to rally support for a peaceful two-state solution, this year's attendees seem fairly pessimistic about the chances of achieving that goal. Ben-Ami may be optimistic that the stars will someday align, but for now J Street's timing is all wrong.
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The Kauffman Foundation yesterday released its 2011 national Index of Entrepreneurial Activity, showing a 5.9 percent drop in U.S. startup activity from 2010. Not so in Tunisia, according to Mondher Khanfir, an entrepreneur in Tunis who recently co-launched Wiki Start Up, the country's first startup incubator:
"After the revolution, my friends and I wanted to work on innovation, so we built an incubator to create seed funds to make projects happen ... We launched last summer, and right now we have 15 startups and a portfolio of $20 million, but our capacity is 30 startups and we're looking to raise funds here in Tunisia and internationally."
Most of Wiki Start Up's entrepreneurs, he added, are young locals.
"We have two coming from the Diaspora, from Europe and the U.S., but the other 13 were started by Tunisians based in Tunisia, and they're all under 40."
The impressive list of sectors that Wiki Start Up represents includes energy, biotechnology, agribusiness, audiovisual engineering, and other knowledge-based fields. Khanfir says he is optimistic about the future and does not expect the political climate to effect entrepreneurial growth in Tunisia.
"The question is not the stability of the country or the region because we want to work more in the international marketplace. Things are getting more and more stable in Tunisia, and our early-stage startups are not affected by whatever turbulence and volatility there is now because we're working for the future. Tunisians are very entrepreneurial."
So who best embodies the Tunisian spirit of entrepreneurship?
"Mohamed Bouazizi was an entrepreneur, and he set himself on fire because he was not respected as one. He was a small entrepreneur, and he didn't have written permission from the Ministry of Commerce to act as a merchant, but what we need to do is take people who operate in the black economy and put them in the white one. For the last 20 years, the regime failed to promote innovation."
The U.S. State Department is already getting in on the entrepreneurial activity in Tunisia through its partners for a New Beginning program: the U.S.-North Africa Partnership for Economic Opportunity (NAPEO). In early November 2011, PNB-NAPEO brought a group of U.S. entrepreneurs and early-stage investors to Tunisia to "foster and deepen relationships ... and showcase local talent." It seems that the Kauffman Foundation is also keen on investing in Tunisia's entrepreneurial future: In late November, it sponsored a Global Entrepreneurship Week in Tunis.
Tunisia may have only just begun to build its post-revolution economy, but it's already on track to become a regional startup nation.
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Yesterday brought good and bad news in the spat over sovereignty in the South China Sea. At a meeting of the annual ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in Bali, Indonesia, representatives from the ASEAN countries and China agreed upon a set of guidelines for resolving territorial disputes in the sea, where six countries - China, Vietnam, the Phillippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Taiwan - have overlapping sovereignty claims. The new deal, as outlined by the Jakarta Post, builds off the body's Declaration of Conduct (DOC), a nonbinding agreement signed in 2002 aimed at facilitating a legal agreement to resolve sovereignty disputes and prevent conflict in the region
Official reactions to theARF deal have varied. Chinese assistant foreign minister and meeting co-chair Liu Zhenmin has called the agreement a "milestone document," and his fellow co-chair, Vietnamese assistant foreign minister Pham Quang Vinh, said it was "significant and a good start." Nonetheless, it's important to note that the adopted guidelines are not legally binding; they merely reiterate the need to conform with the DOC, and they also lack a deadline for the implementation of a legal accord to resolve the conflict. Filipino Foreign Secretary Alberto del Rosario highlighted this concern when he said that more steps were needed to "add teeth" to the new deal.
Events later on Wednesday confirmed the Philippines's dissatisfaction with the ARF agreement. Four Filipino lawmakers and a Filipino military general ignored strong warnings from China and visited the island of Pagasa, the only island in the Spratlys populated by Filipinos, in a "peace and sovereignty mission." They joined residents to sing the national anthem and called for improvements in facilities on the island, which has no schools or hospitals for its 60 inhabitants. A spokesman from the Chinese Foreign Ministry expressed outrage about the visit.
Wednesday's events came as Hillary Clinton wrapped up her tour of India and prepared to join ASEAN representatives at the security forum in Bali. At the same meeting last year, she surprised Chinese officials when she called resolution of the sovereignty disputes a "leading diplomatic priority" for the U.S. She looks set to reiterate the position this year. We'll see whether China agrees.
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U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford has posted a note on the embassy's Facebook page, responding to recent demonstrations denouncing his recent trip to the besieged city of Hama:
Outside the Embassy demonstrators complained about U.S. policy towards the Syrian government and my trip to Hama.
As I have said before, we respect the right of all Syrians – and people in all countries - to express their opinions freely and in a climate of mutual respect. We wish the Syrian government would do the same – and stop beating and shooting peaceful demonstrators. I have not seen the police assault a “mnhebak” demonstration yet. I am glad – I want all Syrians to enjoy the right to demonstrate peacefully. On July 9 a “mnhebak” group threw rocks at our embassy, causing some damage. They resorted to violence, unlike the people in Hama, who have stayed peaceful. Go look at the Ba’ath or police headquarters in Hama – no damage that I saw.
Other protesters threw eggs and tomatoes at our embassy. If they cared about their fellow Syrians the protesters would stop throwing this food at us and donate it to those Syrians who don’t have enough to eat. And how ironic that the Syrian Government lets an anti-U.S. demonstration proceed freely while their security thugs beat down olive branch-carrying peaceful protesters elsewhere.
The people in Hama have been demonstrating peacefully for weeks. Yes, there is a general strike, but what caused it? The government security measures that killed protesters in Hama. In addition, the government began arresting people at night and without any kind of judicial warrant. Assad had promised in his last speech that there would be no more arrests without judicial process. Families in Hama told me of repeated cases where this was not the reality. And I saw no signs of armed gangs anywhere – not at any of the civilian street barricades we passed.
Hama and the Syrian crisis is not about the U.S. at all. This is a crisis the Syrian people are in the process of solving. It is a crisis about dignity, human rights, and the rule of law. We regret the loss of life of all Syrians killed, civilians and security members both, and hope that the Syrian people will be able to find their way out of this crisis soon. Respect for basic human rights is a key element of the solution.
Pointedly, no direct word about today's "national dialogue," which the opposition is boycotting -- though his remark that "this is a crisis the Syrian people are in the process of solving" suggests the United States is still not quite ready to dump Bashar al-Assad.
In related news, Ford and his French counterpart were hauled into the Syrian Foreign Ministry Sunday and criticized for their trip to Hama on Thursday and Friday. Given that the State Department said the visit was authorized by the Syrian regime, it's likely this is all just political theater -- or even cover for an official meeting with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem.
Another explanation might be retaliation for the fact that Syrian ambassador to Washington Imad Moustapha was summoned to the State Department this past week for allegedly spying on Syrian-Americans and threatening their family members. The Obama administration is said to be considering restrictions on Moustapha's movements, but will likely not boot him out of the country, as that would be sure to prompt Ford's expulsion from Syria.
UPDATE: A "senior U.S. official" tells AFP that Ford's trip to the Foreign Ministry was a previously scheduled meeting, and accuses the Syrian regime of "organizing" the protest outside the U.S. Embassy in Damascus.
In 2008, Yu Keping, the head of China's Central Compilation and Translation Bureau and a professor at Peking University, published an attention-grabbing collection of essays called Democracy is a Good Thing. Coming from a Chinese Communist Party official said to be close to President Hu Jintao, Yu's bold assertion that "democracy is the best political system for humankind" was striking. But so was the fine print: Yu argued in the book that while "it is the inevitable trend for all nations of the world to move towards democracy ... the timing and speed of the development of democracy and the choice of the form and system of democracy are conditional." Among other things, he has resisted the idea that a multi-party political system would be appropriate for China. All of which is to say that Yu is something of a sphinx: As a New York Times profile observed last year, "Even China experts have a hard time determining whether Mr. Yu is a brave voice for change or simply a well-placed shill."
Which makes Yu -- who is in Washington this week -- a particularly interesting person to ask about the current moment in Chinese politics, in which the Communist Party is managing the transition from Hu to his presumed presidential successor, Vice President Xi Jinping, while watching the sudden explosion of anti-government, pro-democratic sentiment in the Arab world with palpable unease. The Chinese government began cracking down on human rights activists, artists, and writers in March, and barred another prominent writer from leaving the country this week.
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Are we surprised to learn, via WikiLeaks, that American diplomats in Colombo blame Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his top officials for the massacre of tens of thousands (by most estimates) of Tamil civilians during the final months of Sri Lanka's bloody civil war? The goods are in a Jan. 15 cable sent by U.S. Amb. Patricia A. Butenis on the eve of Sri Lanka's presidential elections (which Rajapaksa won handily). Butenis was assessing the country's ability to come to terms with the atrocities committed in the protracted conflict between the government and the Tamil Tigers rebel group, which was defeated in May 2009 after nearly three decades of fighting.
In May, the Sri Lankan government announced plans to launch a "truth and reconciliation commission," modeled on South Africa's post-Apartheid investigation, to look into the brutal last phase of the war, in which large numbers of Tamil civilians were trapped between the government and rebel troops. Human rights groups aren't exactly holding their breath for the results of the ongoing inquiry, led as it is by the same government that was allegedly responsible for most of the carnage. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and International Crisis Group -- which released a sweeping and damning report on the war crimes in May -- all turned down invitations to participate. Butenis, it turns out, was similarly nonplussed, writing:
There are no examples we know of a regime undertaking wholesale investigations of its own troops or senior officials for war crimes while that regime or government remained in power. In Sri Lanka this is further complicated by the fact that responsibility for many of the alleged crimes rests with the country's senior civilian and military leadership, including President Rajapaksa and his brothers and opposition candidate General [Sarath] Fonseka.
This last observation gets headline treatment from the Guardian, and it is notable for Butenis's willingness to name names. But the State Department has been fairly clear, albeit more diplomatic, about what it thinks happened in the spring of 2009, in a report released in March:
The government's respect for human rights declined as armed conflict reached its conclusion. Outside of the conflict zone, the overwhelming majority of victims of human rights violations, such as extrajudicial killings and disappearances, were young male Tamils, while Tamils were estimated to be only 16 percent of the overall population. Credible reports cited unlawful killings by paramilitaries and others believed to be working with the awareness and assistance of the government, assassinations by unknown perpetrators, politically motivated killings, and disappearances.
An August report from State also (cautiously) expressed concern about the integrity of the government's commission. In short, Butenis's assessment is generally consistent with what humanitarian workers on the ground in Sri Lanka at the time of the conflict thought State's position was -- one that may not have been shared by American defense and intelligence personnel, who were believed to be less squeamish about the military campaign against the Tigers.
I asked Alan Keenan, Sri Lanka project director for ICG, about the cable. He says it contains few surprises:
It's certainly consistent with how the embassy and the State Department are looking at the situation. They knew bad things happened -- they're calling them "alleged" war crimes, but I think in a quiet moment they would say they were war crimes. They recognize that that happened. But they don't think there's the space internally for it to be addressed. So I don't think we're learning a whole lot new. What would tell us more, and what will be more interesting, and where the issues are a bit more gray, is what happened during the war -- what did the U.S. government know, and what did it do, or not do, to prevent the worst abuses and suffering?
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In addition to questioning Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's mental state, the health of Bolivia's firebrand President Evo Morales also comes up in the WikiLeaks document dump (The WikiLeaks website appears to be down at the moment but I'll add a link to the original cable once it become available):
The U.S. ambassador in Brazil said in a January 2009 dispatch that Brazil's defense minister had confirmed a rumor that the leftist leader was suffering from "a serious sinus tumor" that might explain "why Morales has seemed unfocussed and not his usual self" at recent meetings.
Ambassador Clifford Sobel quoted the Brazilian, Nelson Jobim, as saying that "surgery will be an effort to remove it" and that Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva "had offered Morales an examination and treatment at a Sao Paulo hospital."
Morales underwent surgery in February 2009, but the official story was that he had a deviated septum as a result of a soccer injury. Morales' spokesman stuck by that line today, saying the cable "had a big dose of speculation."
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Is China through with North Korea? That's the Guardian's takeaway from the exchanges between American diplomats and their Chinese and South Korean counterparts in the first batches of State Department cables released by Wikileaks on Sunday and Monday. "China has signalled its readiness to accept Korean reunification and is privately distancing itself from the North Korean regime," Simon Tisdall writes, and goes on to note evidence of "China's shift:" Nods of approval from Chinese officials for a single Korea governed from Seoul, expressions of alarm from Beijing about Pyongyang's 2009 missile tests, and a Chinese official's complaint that Kim Jong-il's regime is behaving like a "spoiled child."
It's all in there -- but sifting through the Wikileaks cables, that reading strikes me as a bit breathless. It's true that there are a couple of significant nods toward the idea of reunification. One comes in a 2009 meeting between Richard E. Hoagland and Cheng Guoping, respectively the American and Chinese ambassadors to Kazakhstan, at a hotel restaurant in the capital city of Astana. (Hoagland, incidentally, is a great reporter -- his account of the meeting is some of the best reading in the Wikileaks files.) "When asked about the reunification of Korea," Hoagland writes, "Guoping said China hopes for peaceful reunification in the long-term, but he expects the two countries to remain separate in the short-term."
The other is some intelligence relayed from South Korean then-Vice Foreign Minister Chun Yung-woo, who told U.S. Ambassador Kathleen Stephens that Chinese officials "would be comfortable with a reunified Korea controlled by Seoul and anchored to the United States in a ‘benign alliance' -- as long as Korea was not hostile towards China." The breaking point, Chun reportedly told Stephens, was North Korea's 2006 nuclear test, after which Chinese officials were increasingly willing to "face the new reality" that North Korea had outlived its usefulness as a buffer between Chinese and American forces. Chun (in Stephens's paraphrase) notes that the "tremendous trade and labor-export opportunities for Chinese companies" in a newly opened North Korea might would make reunification easier to swallow, and points out that in any case, "China's strategic economic interests now lie with the United States, Japan, and South Korea -- not North Korea."
Otherwise, Beijing's sharpest words -- such as Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei's remark that the Kim regime is acting like a "spoiled child" trying to get the attention of the "adult" United States -- came mostly in the wake of Pyongyang's April 2009 missile test, in the context of Beijing's efforts to engage Washington in bilateral talks with Pyongyang, Kim Jong-il's principal diplomatic goal at the time. Beijing's emissaries mostly just seem to be trying to keep the Americans at the table.
David E. Sanger's take in the New York Times better captures the essence of the cables, which is to say their ambiguity -- based on the selective evidence here, Beijing seems only somewhat less in the dark about what exactly is going on in Pyongyang than North Korea's enemies. Other corners of the Wikileaks trove are rich in plot and detail: the Obama administration's slow disenchantment with Turkey, byzantine Azeri-Iranian money laundering schemes, Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh's entanglements with the U.S. military. The North Korean cables are mostly a lot of chatter around the edges of a giant question mark. As Sanger writes, they "are long on educated guesses and short on facts, illustrating why their subject is known as the Black Hole of Asia." The dominant mood of the Chinese diplomats who appear throughout them is exhaustion -- a sense, plenty familiar in Washington and Seoul, that no one really knows what to do next.
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Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Kuwait-born imam at the center of the Burlington Coat Factory Community Center controversy, landed in Bahrain Thursday to begin a short tour of Persian Gulf countries.
He's on a trip funded by the State Department, whose ostensible purpose is to educate Muslims abroad about how great it is to be a Muslim in the United States of America. He's even written a book about the subject, titled What's Right With Islam, which the State Department has distributed in the past (one edition is called What's Right With Islam Is What's Right With America).
In other words ... the cleric's mission is to tell Middle Easterners how the United States is a bastion of tolerance, even as he's subject to an increasingly vicious campaign back home -- when he's not being compared to Nazis, he's being called a terrorist sympathizer, or worse. This is a guy who stood before a synagogue audience in 2003 and declared, "I am a Jew." Gotta love the irony.
UPDATE: I got a call earlier this afternoon from a representative of the Burlington Coat Factory, who politely asked me to change the title of this post and the reference to the company, since it no longer owned the site where the Cordoba Initiative is planning to build its community center. I declined, explaining that I was making a joke (one that has been widely shared on the Internets). She then told me that the Associated Press had issued guidelines to its reporters telling them to refer to it as an "NYC mosque." I told her I don't work for the AP.
Anyway, Jon Stewart, as usual, says it best:
FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images
Michael Posner, the Obama administration's top human rights official, has become the latest target of right-wing ire. At issue is Posner's recent remark about Arizona's controversial new immigration law, which he made during a press briefing Friday about the U.S. human rights dialogue with China:
QUESTION: Did the recently passed Arizona immigration law come up? And, if so, did they bring it up or did you bring it up?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: We brought it up early and often. It was mentioned in the first session, and as a troubling trend in our society and an indication that we have to deal with issues of discrimination or potential discrimination, and that these are issues very much being debated in our own society.
Posner, a heretofore obscure State Department official, is getting ripped by the likes of Rush Limbaugh ("How the hell do all these wackos end up in the administration?"), John Hinderaker ("What an idiot!"), and the New York Post ("Posner shames America"), and it's not hard to see why. Setting aside the immigration issue, conservatives don't like it whenever Americans criticize their own country's human right record, let alone in a way that could be construed as granting "moral equivalence" to a repressive place like China.
Posner clearly wasn't doing that, but I have to wonder what U.S. officials really think about this human rights dialogue. And how does the conversation actually go? U.S. official: "We think China should improve its human rights record." Chinese official: "Thanks for your input. I'll tell Hu Jintao right away! How come we didn't think of this sooner?"
But let's have a grownup discussion about this.
JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images
The State Department's press operation works in mysterious ways. For instance, this short transcript just arrived in my email in box, under the grandiose headline "Remarks with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu Before Their Meeting":
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, do you expect Turkey to finally agree on sanctions against Iran?
SECRETARY CLINTON: We are working every day and making progress.
QUESTION: Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you.
I feel better informed already. For a more complete accounting of U.S-Turkish relations, see Josh Rogin's latest.
Is Afghanistan's president on drugs? That was the clear implication of comments Tuesday by Peter Galbraith, the U.N.'s former No. 2 man in Afghanistan, in an appearance on MSNBC.
"He’s prone to tirades," Galbraith said. "He can be very emotional, act impulsively. In fact, some of the palace insiders say that he has a certain fondness for some of Afghanistan’s most profitable exports." Wink, wink.
Asked to clarify whether he was accusing Karzai of drug addiction, Galbraith dodged. "There are reports to that effect. But whatever the cause is, the reality is that he is -- he can be very emotional."
(It should be noted that Galbraith has an axe to grind, having been cashiered by the U.N. last fall for too stridently accusing Karzai of election fraud, clashing with his boss Kai Eide, and pushing too hard for the United States and the U.N. to do something about it.)
In today's State Department briefing, spokesman P.J. Crowley swatted away the press corps' repeated attempts to bait him into slipping up in response to Galbraith's claims:
QUESTION: Yesterday, Ambassador - former Ambassador Galbraith was on television making some pretty direct --
MR. CROWLEY: Outrageous accusations?
QUESTION: I'll leave you to characterize that. Does --
MR. CROWLEY: I will.
QUESTION: -- the U.S. Government have any reason to believe that President Karzai is like, hiding out in the basement of the palace doing bong hits or, you know, something worse? (Laughter.)
MR. CROWLEY: He is the president of Afghanistan. He's been significantly engaged with us on a regular basis. The Secretary talked to him Friday. Ambassador Eikenberry talked to him on Friday. He was with General McChrystal and Ambassador Eikenberry over the weekend. We have no information to support the charges that Peter Galbraith has leveled.
And later, the journos kept trying:
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Galbraith's comments --
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- but apart from the drug allegation, he talked about the president being - "flighty" perhaps is a nice word for it. Does the U.S. Government have any concerns about Karzai's stability, his mental state, or his seeming erratic behavior of late?
MR. CROWLEY: No.
MR. CROWLEY: None.
And ... once more with feeling:
QUESTION: So you don't share Galbraith's opinion --
MR. CROWLEY: We don't.
QUESTION: -- of --
MR. CROWLEY: We don't.
QUESTION: In any way?
MR. CROWLEY: He - look, he is the president of Afghanistan and he is a figure that we respect and that we are working closely with to see the emergence of an effective government that - at the national level. And we will continue to work with others in Afghanistan on effective government at the provincial and local level.
Nice try, guys.
The State Department's 2010 Human Rights Report examines abuse and discrimination the world over, featuring China, Iran, and... Western Europe?
Europe is not exactly at the forefront of one's mind when thinking of places with poor human rights records. But creeping into European society are widespread and insidious anti-Muslim sentiments, says the report. These prejudices are increasingly visible across the Continent, with numerous cases last year highlighting the issue. The document puts it rather bluntly: "Discrimination against Muslims in Europe has been an increasing concern."
The biggest headline grabber was the Swiss ban of minaret construction, passed by a significant majority (57.5 percent in favor) in a popular referendum. (Notably, the ban was opposed by majorities in parliament and the Federal Council, but still won handily.) Compared to its bigger neighbors, Switzerland has a relatively tiny Muslim community, and there are only four minarets in the entire country -- making the ban mostly symbolic. But the message, another contribution to the growing trend of Swiss hostility towards Muslims, resonated. The report further stated,
Islamic organizations have complained that authorities in many cantons and municipalities discriminated against Muslims by refusing zoning approval to build mosques, minarets, or Islamic cemeteries.
Switzerland was hardly the only country the Report criticized. France's anti-headscarf laws were criticized, as was French President Nicolas Sarkozy's claim that burqas are "not welcome" in France. In the Netherlands, right-wing politician Geert Wilders is cited for frequently stoking anti-Muslimsentiments
U.S.-Pakistani relations tend to be defined by a certain set of core issues, which include the ISI's double-dealing with the CIA, the 2005 Indo-U.S. civilian nuclear agreement, and Pakistani nuclear security. While these issues are undoubtedly important, sometimes it's refreshing to see something new crop up, if only for variety's sake.
This is just what happened at Reagan National Airport on Sunday, Feb. 7, when a delegation of Pakistani legislators visiting Washington to meet with senior administration officials refused to submit to a full body X-ray scan. As a result, the legislators, who had already concluded their business in Washington and were attempting to fly to New Orleans, were prohibited from boarding the airplane. Insulted, the legislators promptly left on the next flight for Pakistan, leaving behind a public relations nightmare for the State Department, which had assisted the American Embassy in Islamabad with organizing the trip.
While the fallout from this episode is certain to be short-lived, the anecdote nevertheless serves as a nice illustration of the challenge the United States faces in trying to balance its national security interests with its need to improve relations with the Pakistani government.
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
This must have been humiliating. P.J. Crowley had to climb down today from his recent remarks about Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi, in which the State Department spokesman said that Qaddafi's speech before the U.N. General Assembly amounted to "lots of words and lots of papers flying all over the place, not necessarily a lot of sense." Crowley was responding to Qaddafi's threat to declare a "jihad" against Switzerland for arresting his son, but chose to go off script.
Turns out the Libyans were not happy about Crowley's remarks, and threatened to retaliate against U.S. oil companies seeking to do business in Libya.
From today's press briefing, here's Crowley:
I want to clarify the U.S. position regarding Libya. We are strongly committed to the bilateral U.S.-Libyan relationship, and Secretary Clinton has asked Assistant Secretary Jeff Feltman to travel to Tripoli next week for a series of bilateral consultations.
Regarding the personal comments I made last week, I want to provide some context. I responded to a question regarding use of the term “jihad” in the context of relations between Libya and Switzerland. I should have focused solely on our concern about the term “jihad,” which has since been clarified by the Libyan Government. I understand that my personal comments were perceived as a personal attack on the president. As I made clear to Libyan Ambassador Ali Aujali when Assistant Secretary Feltman and I called upon him in his office on Friday, these comments do not reflect U.S. policy and were not intended to offend. I apologize if they were taken that way. I regret that my comments have become an obstacle to further progress in our bilateral relationship.
It should be noted that "progress" in ties between Libya and the United States has been pretty slow and spotty since the two countries began normalizing relations. As I reported last week, Libya experts are pretty skeptical that the country can really change -- and the reason boils down to Qaddafi, whose mercurial rule has left Libya with basically no functioning institutions. Nor is it necessarily the case that U.S. companies are desperate to do business in Libya, given the political risks. And I'd say those risks just went up.
The State Department's public-affairs shop suffers from "poor communication, lack of staffing and uneven leadership," according to the AP's Matthew Lee, who got his hands on an unreleased copy of a new inspector general's report.
And here's the juiciest bit: "[S]ome employees had been instructed not to return phone calls to reporters asking sensitive questions and ... the environment in one office was so tense and hostile that several workers fear violence."
The report's most damaging findings involve the Office of Broadcast Services, which produces and distributes audio and video content to worldwide media outlets. That office, it said, is beset by severe morale problems and hostility between employees and managers.
It said several employees expressed concern "that violence in the workplace could result because of the high levels of workplace animosity and tension." The report called for the current director of the office to be replaced.
Another concern highlighted in the report, according to Lee, is that "the Office of Press Relations, which in previous administrations has been a primary channel for answering inquiries from the media, had lost much of its role because Clinton's team believed it was not effective." More: "Under direction from the front office, PRS does not return some reporters' calls, for inquiries that are deemed sensitive," the report said.
P.J. Crowley, the assistant secretary who heads the bureau, acknowledged it was a "tough report" but said that about a third of the problems identified were already being addressed. He also denied that anyone instructed PRS not to return phone calls, but said that some questions were kicked to the front office.
The report also noted that "the duties of some career employees in the press office had been transferred to political appointees, which contributed to low morale," but either Crowley declined to comment on that sensitive topic, or Lee didn't print his response.
I have a great deal sympathy for the folks on the other end of the line from us journalists -- I'm sure they are often overwhelmed by complicated or touchy requests every day. I know it's a constant struggle just to track down the right people and get all of our queries answered accurately. But clearly, there's room for improvement here.
The Obama administration's quick condemnation of last year's coup in Honduras and repeated (though ultimately unsuccessful) demands that leftist President Manuel Zelaya be reinstated, seemed to be an indication that the United States would no longer tolerate military coups, no matter how unsavory or anti-American the leader overthrown.
That's why it was a little surprising to see that the State Department's first response to the overthrow of President Mamadou Tandja in Niger yesterday was essentially "he had it coming":
"President Tandja has been trying to extend his mandate in office. And obviously, that may well have been, you know, an act on his behalf that precipitated this act today," he said.
Crowley was quick to stress that the United States does "not in any way, shape or form defend violence of this nature.
"Clearly, we think this underscores that Niger needs to move ahead with the elections and the formation of a new government," he added, noting that Washington still had few details of what actually took place in Niger. (Emphasis Mine.)
Hadn't Zelaya also been attempting to extend his mandate by extra-constitutional means before he was unceremoniously sent packing by his own military? Why is Tandja's reinstatement not a precondition for the restoration of democracy?
Granted the international context of the two situations is quite different. Tandja was a pariah, even in his own region, whereas Zelaya had the support of other Latin American governments. However, even ECOWAS, the West African body that had suspended Tandja's membership, has been outspoken in condemning his ouster.
It's possible that a more full-throated condemnation is coming, but it's important the the U.S. avoid even tacit acceptance of coups as a method of changing government. The fact that the United States no longer supports or tolerates coups as it did during the Cold War is likely a large factor in why they're not as common or as disastrous as they used to be.
The State Department cannot account for more than $1 billion it paid out to contractor DynCorp to train police during the first years of the Iraq war, in just one example of management shortcomings that have put at risk $2.5 billion worth of money spent on training policemen around the world, according to a damning new report.
The office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) especially laid into the International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), known as the "Drugs and Thugs" bureau, in an audit released Monday, for mishandling DynCorp.
The report comes at an inconvenient time for DynCorp, which is also doing most of the police training in Afghanistan. The Defense Department, which is taking over that mission soon, will need contractor help, but sources tell The Cable that DOD is trying to exclude DynCorp from that contract competition over the company's vigorous protests.
Special Inspector Stuart Bowen told The Cable that since the problems at INL haven't been corrected in the years that SIGIR has been reporting on the bureau, his office is now working with Deputy Secretary Jack Lew, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's right-hand man on management issues in Foggy Bottom.
"Deputy Secretary Lew is a man who's very familiar and committed to financial management," Bowen said. "He committed to addressing them directly and ensuring that this time the promises of improvements occur."
"I'm concerned about INL's capacity to oversee large-scale projects," Bowen went on. "Whether the department [as a whole] has the capacity to ultimately do that still remains to be seen."
The SIGIR's report on INL contains many damning revelations, including the fact that the first $1 billion spent on the DynCorp contract was overseen by just one person, and that person simply approved the invoices without scrutiny. When challenged, INL couldn't produce the documentation on where that billion went, and is now trying to piece it together --a process that could take several years.
INL Assistant Secretary David Johnson declined to be interviewed about the report, but an INL spokesperson said that there are now three people in Iraq overseeing DynCorp's contract there, with four more on the way this year. The spokesperson said there is now a process in Washington to check invoices that had saved $9 million, but SIGIR isn't satisfied.
"INL continues to exhibit weak oversight of the DynCorp task orders for support of the Iraqi police training program," the report states. "INL lacks sufficient resources and controls to adequately manage the task orders with DynCorp. As a result, over $2.5 billion in U.S. funds are vulnerable to waste and fraud."
INL disputes that $2.5 billion of funds are "vulnerable."
The report also calls into question the relationship between INL and DynCorp in Iraq. Apparently, INL was involved in negotiating leases and building rentals for DynCorp in the Baghdad international zone that somehow resulted in exorbitant rates that kept going up every year. DynCorp then just put that all on INL's tab and charged the bureau 11 percent extra in fees to boot.
The report is filled with examples of abuse and waste by DynCorp that INL paid for. In one example, $450,000 was spent to rent two generators when there were already plenty of generators to go around.
The report also details at length how SIGIR raised staffing and contract management issues with INL several times since 2005. Although INL has tried to address the problem, the results are far from satisfactory, according to SIGIR.
Lawmakers too are getting fed up with DynCorp's handling of the police training mission and INL's lax oversight.
"[INL has]been managing this contract in Iraq since 2004 and, according to this report, they have no idea where any of the money went," said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-MO. "What's even worse is that these are the same people responsible for police training in Afghanistan, so I don't have any confidence that they're doing a better job there."
Q: “How do you see the current American-Sudanese relations?
A: “For more than ten years, i.e. during the term of the administration of President Clinton then the administration of George Bush, the relationship has been very tense. And there have been many differences and clashes. But of course and thanks to the efforts of General Gration and after president Barack Obama has declared his new Sudan policy, it has became clear that the relationship developed greatly. We are very optimistic. For many years now, the relationship has not improved that much and it is not the best relation. But things are on the right track."
Q: "But many American NGOs are criticizing Obama's policies towards Sudan?"
A: "In the United States as in other countries, there are some parties that want our relations with Washington to deteriorate and wish to give a negative image of Sudan around the world, not only in regard to the Darfur issue but also in other cases. They think that Sudan is an easy target. But we in Sudan will always welcome anyone who wants to work with us peacefully and away from any media commotion. And now under Obama who has decided to open up to everybody and deal with many countries among which is Sudan, I sincerely hope that his efforts will be successful."
Update: This post has been updated to reflect a correction. A wise commenter has pointed out that our Arabic transcript was incomplete. The ambassador, Akec Khoc (not John Akweg) is a member of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) -- not the Khartoum government. We regret the error and thank our commentor for pointing this out!
ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/Getty Images
Michael Crowley has an excellent article in this week's New Republic, "Reset Button," assessing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's public breaks from official U.S. policy. He runs through her out-of-line statements on Kim Jong-il's successor in North Korea, human rights in China, and Israeli settlement-building, as well as her snapping at an audience member during her trip through Africa and calling North Korea an "unruly teenager." He questions whether these incidents were the gaffes of an independent-thinking, fallible, and very tired diplomat, or cannily constructed political statements designed in concert with the White House to express something otherwise taboo.
The article is cast in black and white, told through the dialectics of candidate and victor, ally and enemy, on message and off, either and or. Crowley opens the article describing the schizophrenic reaction to Clinton's naming as secretary; some, he argues, thought it "nuts" and some a "stroke of genius." A Democratic operative says of Clinton's out-of-bounds statements, "Sometimes that's helpful, sometimes it's not." Crowley also discusses an "old Hillary duality" -- her "disdain for the media" (making herself available for questions just once on a weeklong trip) and "occasional efforts at outreach" (bringing the hungry traveling press bagels).
Throughout, he flip-flops between calling the secretary "Hillary" and "Clinton," to heighten the point -- Hillary being the strident and frank candidate and Clinton the hyper-controlled political tact-machine.
Eventually, Crowley blows over his own either-or straw-woman, noting that the idea of Clinton as some sort of infallible policy robot is absurd. She, like all politicians, has mucked up dozens of times in the past. But he sadly doesn't plumb the idea much further.
It follows from the conception of her as a complex person that her perceived missteps are similarly complex. She speaks publicly on literally a world's worth of issues every day. She makes mistakes, sometimes on purpose, sometimes not, sometimes with effect, sometimes without. To paint with black and white is to miss a very colorful picture. And ultimately, it is the press that paints her in such egregiously schizophrenic, love-her-or-hate-her terms.
NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty Images
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton slammed an effort by Islamic countries to ban religious criticism last week.
The Organization of the Islamic Conference pressured the U.N. Human Rights Council to ban defamation of religion, like this cartoon that inspired the measure. Secretary Clinton fired back, "Some claim that the best way to protect the freedom of religion is to implement so-called anti-defamation policies that would restrict freedom of expression and the freedom of religion," she said. "I strongly disagree."
Although she is opposed to the negative depictions of certain faiths, a blanket ban of discourse isn't the right path, she said; instead countries should focus on tolerance.
Her statement came as the State Department announced its annual report on international religious freedom. The OIC has 56 member states, 18 of which were listed in the report as "countries where violations of religious freedom have been noteworthy."
ADAM JAN/AFP/Getty Images
Andrew W.K. is a musician, nightclub owner, children's show host, motivational speaker, and news commentator who has penned tracks such as, "Party ‘til you Puke," "Party Party Party," "Long Live the Party," "It's Time to Party," "Party Hard," "Big Party," and "Dance Party."
He says of art and entertainment, "I want my jaw to be on the floor completely out of my comfort zone. In life we are fortunate to have comfort, so art and entertainment should take us away from that."
So, what does former Secretary of State Dean Acheson have to do with Andrew W.K.'s latest album? More than you would think. The album, '55 Cadillac, is an instrumental piano album inspired by his experience with the title car. The car, it turns out used to be owned by architect of the Cold War, Dean Acheson. And W.K. thinks his spirit may have lingered.
"The only time the car ran well was when my wife was in it," W.K. said. "I wondered if the car was somehow... It didn't want me to own it."
He said maybe he didn't fit the idea of an ideal person to Acheson, explaining why the car didn't work for him. On the other hand Acheson did share a room with legendary composer Cole Porter in law school, so maybe he had an affinity for musicians, W.K. said. "Maybe Dean Acheson has been watching down on me," he said. "But I'm no Cole Porter."
Oddly enough, W.K.'s views on global governance aren't that far removed from Acheson's. "I am very interested in where things are headed," said W.K. who has been closely following the events at the UN. "The idea of a centralized world government, a one world civilization appeals to me."
He said he would like to see people to start identifying by planet rather than nation, pointing to the internet as a place where globalism exists, where people act more as citizens of the world.
Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images
This bit from today's press gaggle with the State Department's P.J. Crowley is amusing:
QUESTION: Okay. And just separately, could you just comment on the U.S. relationship with Libya now in light of President Qadhafi's visit here and the way he spoke about the U.S.?
MR. CROWLEY: Mixed.
QUESTION: That was a long pause.
QUESTION: I'm not trying to be, you know, coy --
MR. CROWLEY: Our - no, I would say - I guess I would say our relationship is a work in progress.
A week after I reported on a new Africom program meant to target terror in the Sahel region of West Africa, the State Department's press office has replied to our 10 detailed queries.
Replying to an e-mail regarding a different article, the press office resent a statement, sent separately last week by Undersecretary of State for Public Affairs Judith McHale to FP, on the U.S.-Africom relationship. (An excerpt was printed in our article here and is pasted below.)
The Department of State and Africom enjoy a strong relationship. Our shared goal is to help African nations create a more stable environment on the continent and to enable political and economic growth that benefits the people of Africa. Our relationship with Africom is similar to the relationships the Department has with other regional commands."
Meanwhile, the Department of Defense responded to both sets of queries in full by the deadline I passed along. Just sayin'.
This summary from the transcript of today's State Department briefing reads like some kind of horrifying nuclear-diplomacy poem written by William Carlos Williams:
Not Expecting an Iranian Representative / Would Review Any Proposal Seriously If One Given / P5+1 Proposal is for Engagement / US Prepared to Respond to Some Kind of Meaningful Response / IAEA Report Shows that Iran is Noncompliant / Iran Have Been Provided a Path / Would Like a Response That Certain Obligations Must Be Met and they Welcome EngagementStill Waiting for an Official Response / All Iranians Need to Do is Response to Proposal
Not Certain if Iranian Leader Will Come
I suggest reading it out loud to your friends.
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