Influence mercenary in Colombia

By Juan Diego Restrepo E. *

OPINION The case of Colombia in Abu Dhabi and training in military units demanding answers about who has control over the mercenaries who arrived in the country over the past 30 years.

The latest news on the production of Colombian mercenaries arrived from Abu Dhabi, the capital of UAE. According to accounts of the New York Times, that country arrived in November 2010, dozens of fellow hired by Erik Prince, founder of the renowned U.S. firm Blackwater, to provide various security services, including “defend oil installations and attacks skyscraper terrorists “and” control of internal unrest. “

This information was complemented by the revelations of journalist Daniel Coronell, who in his regular column in Semana magazine, said that the mercenaries brought to this country were trained Colombian military facilities, in a sort of alliance between military officers and private companies security has not yet been explained satisfactorily by military commanders or by the Ministry of National Defense.

The controversy over Colombian mercenaries in the Arab country is a good excuse to ask critically how did the country to “export” those “skilled labor in the war” before the inferiority complex that characterizes us lead us to feel proud that a Colombian security pays an Arab sheikh. It is also an opportunity to ask those who have arrived in the country under the euphemism of contractors: what is your true nature?, Who exercises control over them?, What are the implications of this outsourcing of services related to security? what are the implications that the State has met the function of maintaining the monopoly of force by public transport?

Several analysts of contemporary armed confrontations, including Darius Azellini warn that the “new wars”, both intrastate and interstate, are conducted by various actors, often non-state without any legal regulation. In this area are part of private military corporations (PMCs), private firms, for profit, offering both governments and private companies security services, logistics, transportation, telecom and data analysis, among others.

Colombia has not been left out of these activities and given the dynamics of war has become, according Azellini in a private laboratory for the conduct of the war in the last thirty years, making our country a preferred destination of the CMP.

According to this research, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the United States in 2007 issued a report requested by the U.S. Congress which lists all the private military corporations (PMCs) contracted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Defense to work in Colombia. These are the following companies: Lockheed-Martin, Lockheed-Martin Technology Services, Lockheed-Martin Mission Support, Lockheed-Martin Integrated Systems (LMIS), LMIS-Optec, DynCorp International, Olgoonik, ARINC, Oakley Networks, Northrop-Grumman Mission Systems, Mantech, Mantech International, ITT, ARINC, Telford Aviation, King Aerospace, CACI Inc., Tate Incorporated, Chenega Federal Systems, PAE Government Services, Omnitempus, Construction, Consulting & Enginneering – CCE, U.S. Naval Mission Bogota Riverine Plans Officer and Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC).

To that list, according Azellini, we would not have the CMP directly hired by the Colombian government through its armed forces and other U.S. institutions and multinational companies. Among them would be Bell Helicopter Textron Inc., Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., Risk Control, Global Risk, Colombia and Spearhead Defense System Ltd (owned by the Israeli mercenary Yair Klein, who coached dozens of paramilitaries in the Magdalena Medio region in the decade of the eighties).

The services of several of the companies listed were paid with funds from the so-called Plan Colombia. Companies like DynCorp, one of the largest, would be among those that lobbied for the allocation of U.S. resources to the plan, but not out of altruism but because they compete to win and retain security markets.

The CMP is composed of former members of elite units of U.S. and other countries ex-military, military veterans or U.S. assets temporarily assumed limited missions during their holidays. Although since the end of the Cold War such entities provided various services, became commercial companies offering military services ranging from combat to military training, through the advice and logistical support in a global market violence.

Use these specialized security services has several advantages: their activities fall outside the control of public and political because the mercenaries are employed than military evade national laws and international agreements, and sprains to succeed him the rules imposed by the U.S. Congress, which has regulated the presence of military personnel in Colombia, hiring non-American. Azellini estimated that by 2008 the country had at least 2,000 people in mercenary activities of different interests, whose responsibilities are diluted and hide them as “contractors.”

Such as “contractors” was given, for example, Thomas Howes, Keith Stansell and Marc Gonsalves, three U.S. citizens kidnapped by the FARC on February 12, 2003 and released on July 2, 2008 in Operation Jaque. They arrived in the country hired by the firm California Microwave Systems, which provides technical services to the Northrop-Grumman Mission Systems, in charge of controlling several radars in the south and east.

One of the key issues on the recruitment of the CMP is the guarantee of impunity should be given to these companies so that their actions are not punished in the country legally. These agreements are provided for those who are part of these private security companies include clauses which has ruled that its members will not be subject to military justice, as they are not officially members of military equipment or tried by civilian courts. That is, their work is done “in areas of immunity.”

It is not free because hundreds of Colombians are now in the service of PMCs, because in the last thirty years we have had a strong presence and influence of this type of security firms in the country.But beyond asking what these compatriots in Abu Dhabi, which is urgent is to demand the authorities of our country clear answers to many questions that arise when analyzing this case: how many CMP operating in the country, how many people the integrated and what nationality they are?, what is the amount of contracts? What state agency regulates their activities?, where are they concentrated?, what do they do? Someone in government should know something and it is necessary in the interests of transparency, go out to give explanations of the case.

(*) Journalist and university professor

Blackwater’s Colombian Mercenaries In Abu Dhabi

Secret Desert Force Set Up by Blackwater’s Founder

Adam Ferguson/VII Network

Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater, has a new project.

By  and 

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Late one night last November, a plane carrying dozens of Colombian men touched down in this glittering seaside capital. Whisked through customs by an Emirati intelligence officer, the group boarded an unmarked bus and drove roughly 20 miles to a windswept military complex in the desert sand.

Multimedia
Doug Mills/The New York Times

Sheik Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan of Abu Dhabi hired Erik Prince to build a fighting force.

The Colombians had entered the United Arab Emirates posing as construction workers. In fact, they were soldiers for a secret American-led mercenary army being built by Erik Prince, the billionaire founder ofBlackwater Worldwide, with $529 million from the oil-soaked sheikdom.

Mr. Prince, who resettled here last year after his security business faced mounting legal problems in the United States, was hired by the crown prince of Abu Dhabi to put together an 800-member battalion of foreign troops for the U.A.E., according to former employees on the project, American officials and corporate documents obtained by The New York Times.

The force is intended to conduct special operations missions inside and outside the country, defend oil pipelines and skyscrapers from terrorist attacks and put down internal revolts, the documents show. Such troops could be deployed if the Emirates faced unrest in their crowded labor camps or were challenged by pro-democracy protests like those sweeping the Arab world this year.

The U.A.E.’s rulers, viewing their own military as inadequate, also hope that the troops could blunt the regional aggression of Iran, the country’s biggest foe, the former employees said. The training camp, located on a sprawling Emirati base called Zayed Military City, is hidden behind concrete walls laced with barbed wire. Photographs show rows of identical yellow temporary buildings, used for barracks and mess halls, and a motor pool, which houses Humvees and fuel trucks. The Colombians, along with South African and other foreign troops, are trained by retired American soldiers and veterans of the German and British special operations units and the French Foreign Legion, according to the former employees and American officials.

In outsourcing critical parts of their defense to mercenaries — the soldiers of choice for medieval kings, Italian Renaissance dukes and African dictators — the Emiratis have begun a new era in the boom in wartime contracting that began after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. And by relying on a force largely created by Americans, they have introduced a volatile element in an already combustible region where the United States is widely viewed with suspicion.

The United Arab Emirates — an autocracy with the sheen of a progressive, modern state — are closely allied with the United States, and American officials indicated that the battalion program had some support in Washington.

“The gulf countries, and the U.A.E. in particular, don’t have a lot of military experience. It would make sense if they looked outside their borders for help,” said one Obama administration official who knew of the operation. “They might want to show that they are not to be messed with.”

Still, it is not clear whether the project has the United States’ official blessing. Legal experts and government officials said some of those involved with the battalion might be breaking federal laws that prohibit American citizens from training foreign troops if they did not secure a license from the State Department.

Mark C. Toner, a spokesman for the department, would not confirm whether Mr. Prince’s company had obtained such a license, but he said the department was investigating to see if the training effort was in violation of American laws. Mr. Toner pointed out that Blackwater (which renamed itself Xe Services ) paid $42 million in fines last year for training foreign troops in Jordan and other countries over the years.

The U.A.E.’s ambassador to Washington, Yousef al-Otaiba, declined to comment for this article. A spokesman for Mr. Prince also did not comment.

For Mr. Prince, the foreign battalion is a bold attempt at reinvention. He is hoping to build an empire in the desert, far from the trial lawyers, Congressional investigators and Justice Department officials he is convinced worked in league to portray Blackwater as reckless. He sold the company last year, but in April, a federal appeals court reopened the case against four Blackwater guards accused of killing 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in 2007.

Mark Mazzetti reported from Abu Dhabi and Washington, and Emily B. Hager from New York. Jenny Carolina González and Simon Romero contributed reporting from Bogotá, Colombia. Kitty Bennett contributed research from Washington.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: May 19, 2011

An article on Sunday about the creation of a mercenary battalion in the United Arab Emirates misstated the past work of Executive Outcomes, a former South African mercenary firm whose veterans have been recruited for the new battalion. Executive Outcomes was hired by several African governments during the 1990s to put down rebellions and protect oil and diamond reserves; it did not stage coup attempts. (Some former Executive Outcomes employees participated in a 2004 coup attempt against the government of Equatorial Guinea, several years after the company itself shut down.)

Belarus devaluation spreads panic

Belarus devaluation spreads panic

Belarus devaluation spreads panicBelarusians queue to buy foreign currency outside an exchange booth in Minsk, Belarus, Tuesday, May 24, 2011.AP

Associated Press

MINSK, Belarus (AP) — A sharp devaluation of the Belarusian ruble has spread panic throughout the country, with people sweeping store shelves and queuing up at currency exchange offices on Wednesday in a desperate attempt to protect their savings.

President Alexander Lukashenko promised that the national currency will remain stable following the devaluation enacted a day earlier, but experts warned the Belarusian ruble will continue its nosedive if Russia doesn’t provide a quick bailout.

The ruble lost nearly half of its official value against the dollar Tuesday, when the National Bank ordered a devaluation.

The new official rate is 4,930 rubles per dollar, up from the previous 3,155 but the perceived value of the local currency is much lower — on the black market it takes 6,000 rubles to buy a dollar.

To make matters worse, there is a physical shortage in the country of dollars and euros, which companies and households desperately want to own to protect themselves from a worse devaluation in the future.

The government has tightly regulated sales of hard foreign currency and its own reserves are badly depleted.

Exchange offices have run out of foreign currency because they are allowed only to sell what they buy from clients.

Andrei Krylevich, 42, has spent a week in lines outside an exchange booth in downtown Minsk without a chance to buy a single dollar.

The computer company he works at has sent its employees on an unpaid leave, and he urgently needs to pay back a $9,000 loan to a bank.

“In just one month, I have virtually turned bankrupt, the entire country has gone bankrupt,” Krylevich said.

Most Belarusian industries are state-owned, and the government has tried to keep its scarce currency reserves for vital imports.

On Tuesday, it set tight limits on interbank currency trading, effectively stifling the market.

The flamboyant Lukashenko, in power for nearly 17 years, has kept an unusually low profile in recent weeks as his government has been pleading Moscow for a vital loan.

Russia has been reluctant to provide it, pushing Belarus to sell its industrial assets.

Russia’s Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin said Tuesday that Belarus can get the total of $3 billion in loans from an economic alliance of several ex-Soviet nations over the next three years, including the first $800 million disbursement that could be delivered next month.

Kudrin added that Belarus could earn another $7.5 billion by privatizing its industries, most of which remain in state hands.

Arizona Attempts To Pass First “Fat Smoker” Penalty

Under an Arizona Plan, Smokers and Obese Would Pay Fee for Medicaid

By 

Arizona, like many others states, says it is no longer able to adequately finance its Medicaid program. As part of a plan to cut costs, the state has proposed imposing a $50 fee on childless adults onMedicaid who are either obese or who smoke. In Arizona, almost half of all Medicaid recipients smoke; while the number of obese people is unclear, about one-in-four Arizonans is overweight, according to theCenters for Disease Control and Prevention. The state’s plan must ultimately be approved by the federal government. Monica Coury, spokeswoman for Arizona’s Medicaid program, discusses.

Q. What is the current status of the state’s Medicaid program?

A. “In Arizona, there has been an increase of 30 percent in the number of people on Medicaid and a 34 percent decrease in general fund revenue since 2007. We are one of just a few states that cover childless adults in Medicaid. We want to change the nature of eligibility for that program from an open-ended entitlement program to one that the state manages based on available funding, which means we can freeze the program and then open the program back up for enrollment should we come into additional funds. But that is just one of the things we are seeking to do. We also want to reform the payment system for Medicaid. Currently, Medicaid is structured such that we are a purchaser of ‘widgets,’ if you will. So, providers are incentivized to do more — since they get paid for quantity. There is no financial incentive for a provider to reduce the number of hospital admissions, for instance, because that drives down the bottom line. We want Medicaid to move away from that concept to one that supports and financially rewards health plans and providers for supporting quality.”

Q. Why is it a good idea to charge people a fee for being overweight or for smoking?

A. “The issue is this: we can’t keep complaining about the rising cost of health care and not drill down to what that means on the individual level. Maricopa County (where Phoenix is located) has started a program among its employees where smokers have to pay $450 more for health insurance than non-smokers. They take a swab to detectnicotine. The bottom line is that there’s plenty of evidence and studies that show there is an undeniable link between smoking and obesity and health care costs.”

Q. What has been the response from critics?

A. “Some people have suggested it is discriminating against obese people. To me, it is a matter of fairness. We have an obligation to provide health care coverage to 1.35 million people. And we’ve got a budget crisis, so if there’s something you can do to help out — we’re just asking you to put a little more back into the system. What we want to test is whether making people pay is going to affect behavior. We think it will.”

Q. How would disabled people be affected?

A. “We’re not talking about the disabled, the elderly, pregnant women, or children, and certainly there would be exceptions for certain conditions, like cancer. We are talking only about able-bodied people who have the capacity to manage their weights.”

Q. How did you arrive at the amount of $50? Would that be sufficient to offset the fund’s costs?

A. “We’ve talked about $50 once a year. We haven’t done the math, but it’s not about how much we would collect. It is totally about testing the efficacy of this strategy. Obesity is costing us billions in health care costs, so our thought is ‘let’s test some of these strategies.’

The Law of Unintended Consequences and the Zionist Conspiracy To Strangle Gaza

Gaza crossing to stay open

Cairo

Egypt will permanently open its border crossing with the Gaza Strip from tomorrow.

Egyptian authorities have informed the Hamas movement that governs the Gaza Strip that they will open the Rafah crossing from 5am to 9pm daily. Most residents of Gaza will not be required to get a visa or undergo security checks, the Hamas government said. Opening the crossing would ease the blockade imposed after Hamas took control of the strip in 2007.

A report by Egypt’s state-run Middle East News Agency said the move aimed to ”end the status of the Palestinian division and achieve national reconciliation”. Israel warned that reopening the crossing could allow Hamas to build its arsenal.

There’s a Secret Patriot Act, Senator Says

There’s a Secret Patriot Act, Senator Says

You may think you understand how the Patriot Act allows the government to spy on its citizens. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) says it’s worse than you’ve heard.

Congress is set to reauthorize three controversial provisions of the surveillance law as early as Thursday. But Wyden says that what Congress will renew is a mere fig leaf for a far broader legal interpretation of the Patriot Act that the government keeps to itself — entirely in secret. Worse, there are hints that the government uses this secret interpretation to gather what one Patriot-watcher calls a “dragnet” for massive amounts of information on private citizens; the government portrays its data-collection efforts much differently.

“We’re getting to a gap between what the public thinks the law says and what the American government secretly thinks the law says,” Wyden tells Danger Room in an interview in his Senate office. “When you’ve got that kind of a gap, you’re going to have a problem on your hands.”

What exactly does Wyden mean by that? As a member of the intelligence committee, he laments that he can’t precisely explain without disclosing classified information. But one component of the Patriot Act in particular gives him immense pause: the so-called “business-records provision,” which empowers the FBI to get businesses, medical offices, banks and other organizations to turn over any “tangible things” it deems relevant to a security investigation.

“It is fair to say that the business-records provision is a part of the Patriot Act that I am extremely interested in reforming,” Wyden says. “I know a fair amount about how it’s interpreted, and I am going to keep pushing, as I have, to get more information about how the Patriot Act is being interpreted declassified. I think the public has a right to public debate about it.”

That’s why Wyden and his colleague Sen. Mark Udall offered an amendment on Tuesday to the Patriot Act reauthorization.

The amendment, first reported by Marcy Wheeler, blasts the administration for “secretly reinterpret[ing] public laws and statutes.” It would compel the Attorney General to “publicly disclose the United States Government’s official interpretation of the USA Patriot Act.” And, intriguingly, it refers to “intelligence-collection authorities” embedded in the Patriot Act that the administration briefed the Senate about in February.

Wyden says he “can’t answer” any specific questions about how the government thinks it can use the Patriot Act. That would risk revealing classified information — something Wyden considers an abuse of government secrecy. He believes the techniques themselves should stay secret, but the rationale for using their legal use under Patriot ought to be disclosed.

“I draw a sharp line between the secret interpretation of the law, which I believe is a growing problem, and protecting operations and methods in the intelligence area, which have to be protected,” he says.

Surveillance under the business-records provisions has recently spiked. The Justice Department’s official disclosure on its use of the Patriot Act, delivered to Congress in April, reported that the government asked the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for approval to collect business records96 times in 2010 — up from just 21 requests the year before. The court didn’t reject a single request. But it “modified” those requests 43 times, indicating to some Patriot-watchers that a broadening of the provision is underway.

“The FISA Court is a pretty permissive body, so that suggests something novel or particularly aggressive, not just in volume, but in the nature of the request,” says Michelle Richardson, the ACLU’s resident Patriot Act lobbyist. “No one has tipped their hand on this in the slightest. But we’ve come to the conclusion that this is some kind of bulk collection. It wouldn’t be surprising to me if it’s some kind of internet or communication-records dragnet.” (Full disclosure: My fiancée works for the ACLU.)

The FBI deferred comment on any secret interpretation of the Patriot Act to the Justice Department. The Justice Department said it wouldn’t have any comment beyond a bit of March congressional testimony from its top national security official, Todd Hinnen, who presented the type of material collected as far more individualized and specific: “driver’s license records, hotel records, car-rental records, apartment-leasing records, credit card records, and the like.”

But that’s not what Udall sees. He warned in a Tuesday statement about the government’s “unfettered” access to bulk citizen data, like “a cellphone company’s phone records.” In a Senate floor speech on Tuesday, Udall urged Congress to restrict the Patriot Act’s business-records seizures to “terrorism investigations” — something the ostensible counterterrorism measure has never required in its nearly 10-year existence.

Indeed, Hinnen allowed himself an out in his March testimony, saying that the business-record provision “also” enabled “important and highly sensitive intelligence-collection operations” to take place. Wheeler speculates those operations include “using geolocation data from cellphones to collect information on the whereabouts of Americans” — something our sister blog Threat Level has reported on extensively.

It’s worth noting that Wyden is pushing a bill providing greater privacy protections for geolocation info.

For now, Wyden’s considering his options ahead of the Patriot Act vote on Thursday. He wants to compel as much disclosure as he can on the secret interpretation, arguing that a shadow broadening of the Patriot Act sets a dangerous precedent.

“I’m talking about instances where the government is relying on secret interpretations of what the law says without telling the public what those interpretations are,” Wyden says, “and the reliance on secret interpretations of the law is growing.”

Site: Oregon.gov

Russian-made walkie-talkie set found near PNS Mehran runway

Russian-made walkie-talkie set found near PNS Mehran runway

A helicopter gives support to ground troops battling militants at the PNS Mehran base in Karachi May 23, 2011. Troops recaptured the Pakistani naval air force base on Monday after a 16-hour battle with as few as six Taliban gunmen. – Reuters Photo

KARACHI: Investigative authorities have found a walkie-talkie set from the eastern side of the runway at PNS Mehran air base. The set was allegedly used by the terrorists during the attack that took place at the PNS Mehran earlier this week, DawnNews reported on Thursday.

According to sources, during a recent search of the bushes surrounding the eastern end of the runway, the walkie-talkie set – which is of a Russian make – was found near the location from where the terrorists had entered the base. The walkie-talkie has been sent to the laboratories for forensic evidence.

Meanwhile, fresh samples of the attackers’ fingerprints have been dispatched to NADRA a second time for identification. The investigation officer has said that the NADRA database contains about 70 to 80 million fingerprint records, while the report might take up to three to four days.

Obama’s Perfect Storm

Letter from America / Nathaniel Sheppard Jr: Obama’s Perfect Storm

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center) arrives to address a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington after US President Barack Obama suggestion for Palestinians to have a state as per the 1967 borders. (File Photo)Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center) arrives to address a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington after US President Barack Obama suggestion for Palestinians to have a state as per the 1967 borders. (File Photo)

By NATHANIEL SHEPPARD JR.
AL ARABIYA

Despite a basket of new ideas on achieving peace in the Middle East and North Africa, President Barack Obama has not been able to develop a roadmap that would give his ideas traction. Nor has he been able to retain the hearts and minds he won over at the onset of his presidency two years ago with pledges of a new beginning for US-Arab relations.

Instead, he finds himself surrounded by a perfect storm of criticism from friends and foes alike, a hapless hiker without a map in a maze of unmarked trails.

It might be easier and less perilous for the president to do a high wire act over a lava pit blindfolded than venture along the quicksand riddled roads that ostensibly lead to peace in the region but in fact dead end at bridges to nowhere.

At the beginning of this month, there was the row with Pakistan over the unannounced US commando raid in Abbottabad in which Osama Bin Laden was killed.

Praise for the raid that brought down the world’s most wanted fugitive and mastermind of terrorist attacks that killed thousands was overshadowed by recriminations between the two would-be allies.

US officials including the president wondered aloud whether Pakistani security or government officials may have knowingly allowed Bin Laden to live for years in the garrison town not far from the capital, Islamabad, while the world thought he was holed up in a cave somewhere.

An embarrassed Pakistan bristled at the US for violating its sovereignty in carrying out the attack and warned that a repeat of the breach would have dire consequences. Pakistan continued to stew as a previous dispute continued over civilian deaths by unmanned US drone aircraft in tribal areas. Relations hit a new low yesterday when Pakistan reportedly asked the U.S. to remove its military forces from the country.

If there is a flashpoint in the Middle East that unites critics and allies of the US alike in opposition to American policy, it is most certainly the longstanding fight over Palestinian statehood and Arab recognition of Israel.

A week ago, President Obama unveiled a Middle East policy. There was little new in it to impress Arabs, and the section on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian border dispute only inflamed Israel. He had but stated publicly what privately had been considered by previous administrations as a possible starting point for resolving the myriad issues between the two neighbors—going back to internationally recognized 1967 boundaries with land swaps to take account of demographic changes since then.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was hopping mad. He said that he expected the president to withdraw his suggestion by the time they met for already scheduled talks. In an Oval Office photo op following those talks, Mr. Obama diplomatically said friends sometimes differed in opinions on resolving issues. Mr. Netanyahu cast diplomacy aside and lectured the president on what Israel would and would not do, mostly what it would not.

That feud, too, has gone unabated and Mr. Netanyahu has stepped up the rhetoric. When the president went to Europe for a six-day visit last week, Mr. Netanyahu went to Congress and fired up members eager to beat up on the president as the country heads toward another presidential campaign in 2012.

If Israel and the Palestinians are unhappy with US efforts to help resolve the matter, so too are some US allies. Britain and other countries in Europe and elsewhere, fed up with the lack of progress, have signaled they may support an expected Palestinian request that the UN General Assembly pass a declaration creating a Palestinian state if there is no progress by September. The US opposes such a move.

President Obama’s much ballyhooed Middle East speech also failed to achieve a primary goal of persuading Arabs the US would be there for them if they choose the path of democracy. It did not specify how. Moreover, as the Arab Spring revolts against despotic governments swept across the region like brushfire, the US was seen largely as a sidelines booster, reluctant to get involved beyond asking regional strongmen to kindly step down.

Criticism mounted as US policy in the region seemed uneven and unreliable, with the US cherry-picking where it would commit tangible help such as arms and support for using NATO airpower. As Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi cracked down on citizens, mercilessly bombing areas of resistance, President Obama decided to let the French take the lead in setting things right. They failed to do so and the US was drawn in under pressure.

The president addressed the matter during a historic speech before the British Parliament yesterday, the first ever by a US president in Westminster Abbey. He told Parliament that “…as a revolution races through the streets of the Middle East and North Africa, the entire world has a stake in the aspirations of a generation that longs to determine its own destiny.

“While we cannot stop every injustice, there are circumstances that cut through our caution—when a leader is threatening to massacre his people, and the international community is calling for action. That is why we stopped a massacre in Libya. And we will not relent until the people of Libya are protected, and the shadow of tyranny is lifted.”

The situation in Syria appears to meet that standard and is perhaps even worse as a brutal government crackdown that has claimed the lives of hundreds of dissidents continues. Mr. Obama left unclear why there has been no tangible US support beyond economic sanctions against the country’s leaders that so far have shown no signs of working.

“We will proceed with humility, and the knowledge that we cannot dictate outcomes abroad,” President Obama said. “Ultimately, freedom must be won by the people themselves, not imposed from without. But we can and must stand with those who so struggle.”

There was a festering problem of dwindling Arab faith in the president even before this. Two years ago, a newly elected President Obama promised a fresh start in US-Arab relations. His credibility has all but vanished now, however, as there appears little evidence of change other than a spike in Islamophobia in the US.

He spoke of a new world order yesterday in which China, India and Brazil would play key roles as bourgeoning superpowers but he named no Arab nations that would have such standing, again leaving Arabs on the margins.

While enjoying warm receptions and generally high marks for his visit to Europe so far, the president has been largely preaching to the choir. Middle East peace efforts continue to go nowhere as do US efforts to hold onto old Arab friends and cultivate new ones.

(Nathaniel Sheppard Jr. is a veteran foreign correspondent who has worked for the Chicago Tribune and The New York Times. He can be reached at: natsheppard@gmail.com)

DEA Sent Headley to Penetrate LET

Witness says told to infiltrate groups

(UPI NewsTrack) — CHICAGO, May 26 (UPI) — A defendant in the Mumbai terror attacks told a Chicago court he used his ties with the U.S. drug agency to attend LeT terror group training camps in Pakistan.

Pakistani-American David C. Headley, a co-defendant in the November 2008 massacre in India’s financial capital, who testified Wednesday in the U.S. federal court trial of Tahawwur Rana he got espionage training from non-commissioned officers with the Pakistani spy agency Inter- Services Intelligence Directorate, The New York Times reported.

Headley, who has confessed to his role in plotting the Mumbai attacks that killed 163 people, including six Americans, said as an informant for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration he was asked to infiltrate Islamic extremist groups, and that he used it as a cover to attend training camps of Lashkar-e-Toiba, which India says masterminded the Mumbai attacks.

Pakistan has denied the ISI had any role in the Mumbai killings. Headley, a high school friend of Rana, agreed to testify to escape the death penalty.

Prosecutors say Rana used his immigration consulting business as a front to help Headley scout out Mumbai. Rana’s lawyers say he was duped by Headley, the Times reported.

During cross-examination by Rana lawyer Charles Swift, Headley said he went to Pakistan for the DEA in 1999 and began his LeT training after 2002.

When asked about his former wife telling the FBI she believed her husband was plotting with terrorists, Headley was quoted as saying he had been instructed by the drug agency to visit their mosques.

He replied “Yes,” when asked if he had told the agency not worry about his activities as he was working for them.

Swift also asked him about a Maj. Iqbal, earlier identified by Headley as his ISI handler. Headley said he had met Iqbal on a military base and also saw him traveling numerous times in military vehicles. He said Iqbal also was not impressed with his LeT training and arranged ISI training for him.

Indian media reports have indicated Headley’s testimony confirms India’s charges that ISI elements were involved in the Mumbai attacks. The reports say the prosecution in the case has provided sufficient documentation to support Headley’s testimony.

(Source: UPI )
(Source: Quotemedia)

China Is Key to America’s Afghan Endgame

[SEE:  China is the Key to the America’s problems.]

China Is Key to America’s Afghan Endgame

By ANATOL LIEVEN

LONDON — The affairs of Afghanistan and Pakistan are becoming the biggest test of whether the United States and China can cooperate to maintain global peace and stability in the 21st century.

They are an even bigger test of this than the Korean Peninsula, for the security equation there is largely frozen, whereas in Afghanistan and Pakistan it is very volatile indeed, as circumstances surrounding the death of Osama bin Laden have emphasized.

The future of Afghanistan is also a test of other great-power relationships that will largely define the 21st century in Asia: Of whether China and India are doomed to mutual hostility or can find areas of cooperation; and of whether the Chinese-Russian relationship will become a true partnership that will seek common solutions to key problems.

As the United States moves toward a withdrawal of its ground forces from Afghanistan, the role of the region is bound to become increasingly important. The question now is whether Washington is prepared to accommodate its wishes to those of other powers in the area, and help broker a regional settlement for Afghanistan in which the United States will be only one player among several.

China, along with Pakistan, India, Russia and Iran, has a critical role to play. It borders Afghanistan, albeit for only a few miles. China’s possession of a huge Muslim territory in Xinjiang makes it acutely conscious of the threat of Islamist extremism both to its own territory and to former Soviet Central Asia. China has committed itself to far the biggest commercial investment in Afghanistan — $3 billion in the Aynak copper mine.

Finally, China has a very great stake in Pakistan, which is indeed China’s only real ally in the world. The importance of this relationship has been emphasized by statements of support for Pakistan from Beijing in the wake of Bin Laden’s death, and the visit of Pakistan’s prime minister, Yusuf Raza Gilani, to China. Reports from Kabul say that Pakistan has been encouraging the Karzai administration to look to Beijing, not Washington, as a future sponsor.

Many Pakistanis are now open in their desire that China replace the United States as Pakistan’s main international backer. China’s aid to Pakistan is still considerably exceeded by that of the United States, but China has become a key provider of military equipment to Pakistan, and has also invested heavily in Pakistani infrastructure.

China’s stake in Pakistan is threefold. There is the desire dating back to the 1960s to use Pakistan as balance against India, with which China has a major border dispute and that China regards as a potential rival. China has also used Pakistan as a link to Islamist groups in the region. Finally, China is building up energy routes from the Gulf via Pakistan to insure China against any future naval blockade by the United States or India.

At the same time, China is by no means unconditionally committed to Pakistan, and this should give Washington room for maneuver. Beijing has in fact played a rather cautious hand, keeping its aid limited. Both the corruption and incompetence of the Pakistani state and the spread of Islamist insurgency in Pakistan have made Beijing wary of a deeper commitment.

It is extremely unlikely, though, that China will join the U.S. in pressuring Pakistan to accede to the U.S. version of an Afghan peace settlement. Rather, if Washington swings round to the idea of negotiating a deal with the Taliban and using Pakistan as a mediator, China’s ability to influence Islamabad will be of great importance. For this to happen, however, Washington will have to persuade India to limit its own ambitions in Afghanistan; and China will also have to help bring Russia and Iran on board.

Up to now, China seems to have assumed that it could do separate deals with the Taliban and their allies to exclude Uighur militants, and that it may be able to do the same kind of deal to defend the Aynak mine. This is a mistake.

While American and Indian hopes that the Taliban can be defeated in the Pashtun areas are clearly impossible, so to are Taliban hopes of sweeping to power in the whole of Afghanistan. The U.S., India and Russia will make sure that, as before 9/11, non-Pashtun armies continue to defend their own areas against the Taliban. This is a recipe for unending civil war — which is no recipe for successful copper production and export.

Another reason why China should help seek an Afghan peace settlement is for the sake of Pakistan’s stability. Continued war in Afghanistan will mean continued radicalization in Pakistan. This in turn will increase the risk that Pakistan-based terrorists will strike at the U.S. or India. Especially following Bin Laden’s death, a terrorist attack with links to Pakistan would so infuriate Americans that retaliation against Pakistan would be a real possibility, and no concern either for the risks or for U.S. relations with China would prevent this.

If China truly cares about Pakistan’s survival, it should be doing everything possible to get the Pakistanis to prevent international terrorism based on their soil.

Anatol Lieven is a professor in the War Studies Department of King’s College London and author of “Pakistan: A Hard Country.”

US Public Diplomacy Means Smiling Faces Hide Lying Lips

[SEE:  The Stunning Investigative Story on the Birth of Balochistan Liberation Army–Mar 1, 2005]

Baloch separatist movement not fuelled by India: US

Baloch separatist movement not fuelled by India: US

The separatist movement in Balochistan province is fuelled by the country’s domestic policies and not India, a top US official said Thursday.

“I don’t think that the existence of a terrorist or a separatist movement in Balochistan is fuelled by Indian financing or anything like that,” US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Robert Blake said.
“I think it’s fuelled by domestic issues that are internal to Pakistan,” Blake said in his interaction with Defense Writers Group here.
Pakistan has repeatedly accused India of supporting the rebels in Balochistan in order to destabilize the country. India, however, has categorically denied the allegations.

Indiana Rally Against Supreme Court As the “Enemy of the State”

Rally condemns court as ‘enemy’

Associated Press
Protesters gather on the Statehouse lawn Wednesday to rail against a state Supreme Court decision on home-protection rights.

Hundreds protest unlawful-entry ruling

Niki Kelly | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – More than 200 Hoosiers came to the Indiana Statehouse on Wednesday to protest a Indiana Supreme Court ruling that even the governor has questioned.

They carried American flags, pocket copies of the U.S. Constitution and signs deriding the justices who decided the case.

“Justice Steven David – Enemy of the Constitution,” said one placard, referring to the justice who penned the majority opinion.

Many at the rally called for Hoosiers to reject David in a retention vote scheduled for November 2012. Gov. Mitch Daniels appointed him to the court last year.

“This month the Indiana Supreme Court ruled citizens no longer have the right to refuse entry to law enforcement without a warrant or probable cause,” said Sean Shepard, who was master of ceremonies for the event Wednesday. “A boundary has been crossed, and we’re not going to tolerate it.”

The state Supreme Court found citizens have no right under common law to reasonably resist police unlawfully entering their homes. Critics say this violates the Fourth Amendment, which guards against unreasonable search and seizure.

The case involved a Vanderburgh County man who was arguing with his wife while moving out of their apartment. The man, Richard Barnes, yelled at police, who followed him back into his apartment. Barnes told police they could not enter, and he struggled with an officer who ignored him.

Barnes was later charged with and convicted of battery.

Critics of the ruling say the court, in a 3-2 decision, could have ruled more narrowly, noting police in the case were called to investigate a domestic abuse allegation and the wife inferred her permission for them to enter the home.

Attorney General Greg Zoeller, whose office argued to uphold the man’s conviction, said he will support a rehearing to lessen the scope of the ruling.

House and Senate leaders also have asked for a review, and several lawmakers are preparing legislation to overturn the ruling.

Even Daniels on Tuesday questioned it, saying, “I’m not in habit of giving advice to the Supreme Court” but that he was “puzzled by the ruling.”

David Pippen, chief legal counsel for Daniels, said the governor’s confusion involves the “no-retreat” law he signed in 2006, which seems to conflict with the ruling and was not considered in the case.

That law says a person is justified in using reasonable force, including deadly force, against another person if the person reasonably believes that the force is necessary to prevent or terminate the other person’s unlawful entry or attack on the person’s property.

There is no exception in the law for police.

“We read the ruling, and we decided that Justice David was completely out of bounds,” said Joel Weyrick, of Indianapolis, who attended the rally with his wife, Stacey. “Police are no different. If they break into my home, they are criminals, and I have the right to defend my home.”

Indiana Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathryn Dolan said justices are not allowed to comment on pending cases.

She said that the code of judicial conduct charges courts with making fair and impartial decisions and says “a judge shall not be swayed by public clamor or fear of criticism.”

nkelly@jg.net

Dead Terrorists Wore High Tech Black Uniforms

All terrorists killed in Navy base operation: Rehman Malik

Published: May 23, 2011

Malik talks to the media after PNS Mehran operation in Karachi. PHOTO: REUTERS

KARACHI: Interior Minister Rehman Malik has said that 10 people have been martyred and four terrorists have been confirmed killed in the operation between militants and security forces at the PNS Mehran base.

Talking to the media after a survey of the PNS Mehran base in Karachi, Malik said security forces launched a coordinated operation to regain control of the navy base.

“We wanted to bring all the logistics under one command against the enemy,” said Malik, adding that navy forces were assisted by commandos, firemen, Rangers and police.

He said that among the six terrorists present at the site, one suicide bomber’s head had been recovered, while four bodies were also found. He added, however, that two individuals were seen running off the base.

Malik mentioned that one terrorist, whose picture was shown, was ready to blow himself up.

The interior minister mentioned that the terrorist’s suicide jacket was still operational and there were several undetonated grenades on the site as well, adding that there might be explosives in the building which collapsed.

The terrorists had been using heavy weaponry, said Malik, “the kind no common man can afford to buy”.

He said the terrorists had to be receiving support and equipment from somewhere.

Malik said the terrorists were wearing “western clothes, had small beards and three of them had sharp features”.

He said two of the attackers look to be around 22 years of age and one of the suicide bombers was around 25 years of age. He said they were dressed in black clothes “like they do in movies”.

‘They were dressed like Star Wars characters,’ said Malik.

Joint investigation team formed

Malik said an investigation team led by the navy has been formed and will include members from the FIA, police, Rangers and other intelligence units. Malik said that team has been asked to file the report as soon as possible.

He added that terrorists were planning attacks on sensitive installations and army institutions, and that names of several officials who they were planning on attacking had come forward.

The interior minister said there was a chance the terrorists might carry out another operation.

Special tribute

“I want to pay special tribute to martyred Lieutenant Yasir, who gave up his life and saved valuable lives and assets,” Malik added.

He also acknowledged the services of the firemen and other security personnel who lost their lives.

“We are fighting a war against a cunning enemy,” said Malik, urging people to condemn those trying to destabilise Pakistan.

Foreigners present, but safe

Malik confirmed that six Americans and 11 Chinese citizens were present at PNS Mehran when the terrorists took over.

“The foreigners were all evacuated from the base. They were training our men about these aircrafts.”

Dharna disfavour

Referring to Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s sit-in on Sunday, Malik said that Rangers’ attention had been diverted from sensitive targets and deployed at the dharna site.

“Please have mercy on Pakistan. Do not divert attention of Rangers, police and intelligence agencies. Please do dharnas when your county can bear it,” said Malik.

US Central Asia Policies and the River of Denial

Going right back to our founding in 2003, Registan.net has been consumed with one very fundamental conceit: the region of Central Asia is important, both strategically and economically, to the world in general and the West in particular. So it was with some dismay that I read the latest CNAS report, which details their proposal for a regional strategy for South and Central Asia, and saw the actual region of Central Asia de-prioritized:

This report focuses primarily on Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, viewing the surrounding neighbors as influential but ultimately less vital actors…

From a military standpoint, an improved network of trade and transport throughout Central Asia would provide the United States and NATO robust options for supplies beyond overland routes through the to Torkham Gate and the port of Karachi, removing one more point of Pakistani leverage over the allied effort in Afghanistan…

The United States will also need deeper intelligence and security relationships with the states of Central Asia to contain and defeat al Qaeda and its allies, as these terrorist groups seek new locales that offer respite from the intense pressure they now face in Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, deepening these relationships creates a conundrum for the United States, since autocrats rule these countries and democratic movements are often suppressed. The United States must continue to advocate for democratic reforms while engaging in these counterterrorism partnerships. In the best case, military-to-military and other security relationships may help establish a standard of democratic civil-military values in the region. This is an important and consistent component of any U.S. military assistance efforts.

And that’s… just about it. Now, no one would argue that from the strict perspective of terrorism, Pakistan is the enormous elephant in the room: it is the greatest agent promoting instability, the most likely to fall apart, and the most dangerous to its neighbors should that eventually happen. Pakistan is why the war in Afghanistan has dragged on for so long—and Pakistani-trained militants are killing hundreds of NATO soldiers and thousands of Afghan civilians each year.

Now, all of that being said, CNAS includes in their report at least part of why the northern post-Soviet States are so important, even if they discount the real importance those states might hold. To an extent, I’m retreading the argument I laid out for The Century Foundation Task Force on Afghanistan, namely:

  • The Central Asian states do not have the same interests in Afghanistan that we do, and those interests might in fact work at odds to what we want to accomplish regionally;
  • The promise of economic growth and development is very appealing to the governments of the region, and a U.S.-led crusade against terror groups is very unappealing;
  • Given their involvement with several militias and other organizations involved in the war, as well as their linguistic and social proximity to half of Afghanistan, the Central Asian states can play a positive role in any reconciliation efforts.

But these points also bear expanding upon. As CNAS notes, the state of strategic energy in the region will be very important, and the NDN provides a vital way of asserting alternative leverage against Pakistan (which routinely holds our access to the Torkham and Chaman border crossings hostage). We could probably add, in Kazakhstan at least, a compelling interest to prevent the proliferation and sale of dangerous nuclear materials (though this is a problem in most of the region).

CNAS is very wrong, however, about the need to deepen our relationship with the intelligence and security services in Central Asia (what is a “standard of democratic civil-military values” anyway?). It is that belief—that our interests are best served whilst in bed with the local thugs contributing to the problem—that brought us to our current dysfunctional relationship with Pakistan. We would do well to avoid the same mistake in Central Asia. Hopefully without ruffling too many feathers, this is a common mistake when people who do not understand Central Asia very well try to craft policy in the region.

As I noted in my six-year retrospective on the Andijon massacre, the U.S. government gets a deeply distorted picture of the players and problems in the region when they rely too heavily on the local governments for understanding. It was how the assumption—as false as they can get—thatAkromiya was behind the initial street protest took root in the DC policy community, and how, even to this day, some former administration members insist some super-secret shadowy Islamist group no one ever really hears from was behind an uprising that never happened.

Christian Bleuer has documented on more than one occasion that in Tajikistan—the Tavildara area “scares the shit out of us,” according to a senior Obama official in 2009—the reports of “insurgency” are little more than rumors. The “insurgency” there has very little to do with radical Islam, but is instead about social and political factors.

As a result, the U.S. in slowly funneling more and more money into “military training centers” both in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan (they’re hiring!) to address a problem that actually has very little to do with us. In effect, we are helping those countries suppress their populations—with the unintentional consequence that we actually make the al Qaeda problem we’re seeking to contain much worse in the long run. (There is a related problem: the popular writers people listen to about Central Asia, like Ahmed Rashid, actually have no idea what they’re talking about and areconsistently wrong about the region.)

The end result of relying too much on host governments to get intelligence about a problem we don’t understand leads, predictably, to building bases to train militaries that don’t actually address the problem we’re concerned with. This is important, though not the most important thing to U.S. strategy in the region—and in fact, many would say that it suggests evenless engagement so as to prevent the accidental misuse of resources. But that’s not quite right either.

In a very real way, the Central Asian states represent what happens when the U.S. decides an area is unimportant to its interests—as it did in the 1990s.

Islam Karimov and Tahir Yuldashev (IMU), posted with vodpod

That’s Uzbek dictator (don’t sue me, bro!) Islom Karimov debating future IMU commander Tohir Yo’ldosh in Namangan in December of 1991. Karimov basically says that if he becomes a tyrant he can grant them their Islamic State, just as they want, but those pesky trappings of Democracy are getting in his way. There is a helluva lot more to the story of how Karimov responded to the existential threat the IMU posed to his government, but here’s what I find so interesting: as the 1990s wore on and the IMU moved first into Tajikistan and then into Northern Afghanistan, it became integrated into the power structure of the Taliban. And as the 2000s wound on, the IMU became much closer to al Qaeda.

This is badly simplifying a complex story for the sake of argument, but in large part the reason why we even face an IMU—which continues to assert control over Northern Afghanistan and threaten to undo the war’s progress there—is because we chose not to care about what was going on in Uzbekistan in the early-to-mid 1990s. Even today, a single-minded focus on counterterrorism clouds out actual understanding of the countries and groups involved, which leads us to misjudge both the situation and what to do about it.

To bring it back to the CNAS report: I do not dispute that Pakistan is the biggest problem to be addressed, and that the Central Asia states are at the periphery of this problem. However, a regional strategy is a regionalstrategy, and looking at Pakistan only in terms of Pakistan is mistaken and shortsighted. The CNAS authors hint at a regional strategic rivalry (disappointingly, they call it a “New Great Game”) between China and India. This is very true, but that game isn’t being played out only in Pakistan—it is also being played out in Kazakhstan, in Kyrgyzstan, and elsewhere. Iran is one of Tajikistan’s largest investment donors.

The NDN through Central Asia is America’s best shot at disentangling our reliance on Pakistani territory for supplies and transit, thus increasing the leverage we could exercise over Pakistan’s support of militancy—yet it is given barely more than a passing mention by the CNAS authors. And let’s not even talk about Manas, and the many problems we’ve contributed to Kyrgyzstan through a laser-focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan to the exclusion of smaller, “unimportant,” states in the region (or, for that matter, the nasty choices our desire for an air base in the region has prompted policymakers to make).

While definitely not at the center of the immediate threat coming from the region South and Central Asia, it is shortsighted to pretend that the Central Asian states don’t really matter to the region’s future. They matter deeply, and if they’re not paid attention to, they have the potential to act as spoilers. They can also contribute substantially to a good outcome. But only if we take the time to understand what they’re like, what their priorities are, and how we can work with them and through them.

Wooing Cairo

CairoEveryone now wants to be friends with Egypt, to put it differently, everyone now wants to push Egypt to remake itself in a way convenient to them: Riyadh and Tel Aviv missing the nice, safe old dictatorship, Tehran searching for entrée into the Mideast community without having to bow down to Washington, Ankara looking to buttress its position as leader of the moderate middle. Meanwhile, Cairo’s face is properly veiled, as she considers her options.

The Suitors. Riyadh crassly flashed its wealth, first allegedly threatening economic punishment of Egypt were Egypt to pursue Mubarak and then offering a big ring (economic aid) at a price (“security”) that could be read as an insulting attempt to interfere in Egypt’s delicate domestic affairs, where the issue is not security but liberty. Riyadh also allowed Mubarak to make a speech on Saudi TV that widely irritated Egyptian reformers; Cairo’s investigation of a Saudi billionaire’s land deals in Egypt suggested a lack of proper deference to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques.

Tel Aviv’s influence over Cairo remains palpable, but a cautious Cairo has slightly softened its own blockade of Gaza (which still buttresses that of Israel), and a Cairo-sponsored Hamas-Fatah deal that leaves Tel Aviv out of the loop is breaking news. With the collapse of the Hamas-Israel ceasefire, it seems unlikely that Cairo can continue to keep the Gaza issue on the back burner. A newly free Egyptian populace demonstrated against Israel’s attack on Gaza on April 8 and again on April 12, and the newly independent Egyptian daily Al Ahram reported the events. Indeed, an Egyptian diplomat has reportedly stated that changes in Egyptian rules governing the Rafah border crossing, now that long-time critic of Mubarak’s Gaza policy–Nabil El-Arabi–is the new Egyptian foreign minister, are imminent. Tel Aviv needs a zero-based foreign policy rethink.

The tone of ties with Tehran has already improved, with the passage of Iranian warships through the Suez Canal in February and Foreign Minister El-Arabi’s recent public advocacy of thereestablishment of official relations. But Ankara has already traveled this path with Tehran, obtaining few Iranian concessions in return. Tehran needs to decide if it wants inclusion in a new Mideast that may be less dependent on Washington but still hardly “on Tehran’s side” or whether it prefers the status of remaining outsider and troublemaker.

Ankara faces both an opportunity and a trap. As Davutoglu’s discussions with the new Egyptian civilian leadership on April 10 illustrate, Turkey and Egypt can cooperate to resolve a host of regional problems, with Gaza perhaps the key test, assuming they can avoid falling into the trap of competing for leadership of a moderate bloc at the expense of substantive accomplishments.

Cairo’s Calculus. Egypt now has the opportunity to step into the limelight, with all those suitors precisely when Washington, having overplayed its regional hand, is nursing its wounds, struggling with the effects of mismanaged imperialist adventures and a mismanaged domestic economy. Whatever Egypt may lack in terms of money, oil, or military power, Egypt now has pride, stands center-stage with de facto leadership of the emerging bloc of post-dictator states, and has more flexibility than any other regional state: Cairo’s moment has arrived.

The mere hesitation of Cairo to commit herself creates a new regional fluidity: where diplomacy in the old Mideast tended to be zero-sum, it can now be positive-sum. Done carefully, Cairo can have her cake (independence) and eat it too (cooperation with Iran and Turkey, continued U.S. aid, peace with Israel, pride, status, and regional influence). Extremists, from Zionist expansionists to Salafi jihadists, won’t find such an outcome to be “positive-sum,” but all regional societies eventually will.

Ankara needs help making the case for a policy of good neighborliness to replace the old confrontationalism. Tehran needs the security guarantee of friendly ties with a major Sunni state to break the Arab-Israeli-U.S. front that has been opposing it. Saudi Arabia may find that it too has needs – the support of an independent regional power, rather than just a handful of sheikdom clients. Washington needs the cooperation of a Sunni power that is moderate, democratic, popular, and successful: what better antidote to jihadi terror could one imagine?

Storm Clouds.

So the storybook romance, in this case, is that the beautiful girl should marry no one, date everyone! But storm clouds darken the horizon:

Gaza. Israel has been playing Nazi Germany to Gaza’s Warsaw Ghetto. That approach is not working. Gaza, both literally as an incubator of extremism and figuratively as a global symbol of oppression, is a terrorism factory. If a new Egypt actually does emerge (not yet certain), Gaza will be an intolerable contradiction with an obvious “solution:” opening the Rafah border crossing. Can Cairo manage the instability that might result?

The Egyptian Economy. If Egypt’s revolution produces a democracy without economic progress, the democracy will quickly give way to chaos, zenophobia, fundamentalism, chauvinism or some other process of desperation. Total GNP and corporate profits are not the issue; payoff for the population is.

Egypt’s Governance. Notwithstanding all the bravery by Egyptian democracy protesters over the last five months, the prospects of Egypt achieving responsible governance remain dim. With military aid pouring in from Washington and economic aid pouring in from Riyadh, the temptation on the part of the “temporary” military dictatorship to hold onto political power will be hard to resist.

Iran’s Neo-Cons. What highly factionalized Tehran really wants remains unclear. Although working with Ankara and Cairo might be a deal attractive to Tehran national security types, it would also come at a domestic political cost to the anti-Saddam war generation of “Iranian neo-cons,” a political clique exploiting Palestine’s plight to pad their own resumes. An Ankara-Tehran-Cairo partnership could trim Israel’s sails, but such a partnership would require Tehran to make hard choices.

Bahrain. Repression of dissent in Bahrain will empower hard-line Iranians, making more likely sectarian violence and an Iranian-Saudi military clash. Riyadh’s Bahraini chickens will come home to roost, undermining efforts to promote regional compromise.

Revenge of the Fanatics. Fanatics, extremists, those who believe that only those who obey are “friends,” will seek to punish Cairo for moderation; Egypt will need to get its own house in order quickly in order to keep its balance.

Yemen. Yemen is a disaster unfolding before our eyes and a potential trap that could once again entangle a reactionary Riyadh with a progressive Cairo. Alternatively, a post-Saleh Yemen could conceivably join Egypt and Tunisia in a new progressive bloc that, given well managed coordination with Turkey, could revolutionize Mideast politics.

Cairo’s Tipping Point.

Washington can play a critical supporting role by guiding rather than opposing change. It should stake out a position in support of Bahraini democracy that will offer Bahraini dissenters an alternative to putting themselves in the hands of Iran. Washington needs to demonstrate that ties with the U.S. can translate into a better life for a mistreated population and, specifically, for a Shi’i majority. Equally urgent is a solution for Gaza that would remove Israel from the equation,accept Hamas as the political party currently in charge, and provide Hamas with the means to govern well in return for mutual security along the Gaza-Israel border. Washington’s standards for interacting with Damascus and Sana’a also need to be brought into sync.

Whether Washington helps or hinders, Cairo now finds herself at a tipping point. She can try to hand victory back to the counter-revolution, thereby encouraging empire-builders and advocates of the Zionist garrison state while empowering both Iranian rejectionists and militant Sunnis to whom many embittered moderates will feel forced to turn. The rising frustration of Tahrir Square activists at the self-appointed Cairo military government’s agonizing crawl toward democracy,Cairo’s endless toying with a pro-Palestinian policy regarding its joint border with Gaza, and Cairo’s acceptance of a massive economic aid package with God knows what secret strings attached from arch-conservative Riyadh all illustrate the obstacles facing Egyptians who advocate change. Clearly, the danger of Egypt tipping back into dictatorship remains very real.

Alternatively, Cairo can make Egypt the center of a new moderate, democratizing movement to offer the Mideast a positive-sum vision of progress for all of Egyptian society and for the whole Mideast. Cairo can tip toward a combination of domestic democratization and foreign policy independence based on Arab nationalism.

May she choose wisely.

The Talibanization of Saudi Women

[It will be a major test of Obama's character, or complete lack thereof, whether he fails to do the simple correct thing of standing-up for these democratic ladies.]

Saudis Face Problems Beyond Women Protesting Anti-Driving Laws

Manal Al-Sherif and the Right of Saudi Women to Drive Cars

COMMENTARY | Manal al-Sherif, a 32-year-old Saudi woman, is an unusual champion for civil rights. The right she is campaigning for and for which she has so far been arrested twice  is the right to drive a car, according to the Weekly Standard.

Al-Sherif is campaigning for Saudi women to defy the ban on driving June 17 as an act of civil disobedience. She was arrested Sunday for driving in the Saudi town of Khobar.

The Saudi regime, unique among every country in the world, forbids women to drive automobiles. Even countries such as Iran, not known for its adherence to the rights of women, do not go that far. Saudi women, who are able to at least own cars, are obliged to hire male drivers or else disguise themselves as men while at the wheel.

Besides official sanctions, there seems to be an unofficial backlash among Saudi men. Before it was taken down, a Facebook page urged Saudi men to beat women who choose to defy the driving ban, according to Fox News.

The idea of Saudi women driving automobiles to defy the ban on driving harkens back to civil rights protestors in the Jim Crow-era South who rode at the front of buses and sat at whites-only lunch counters in defiance of discriminatory laws extant at that time. However, unlike Mississippi or Georgia of the early 1960s, Saudi Arabia is somewhat insulated from the pressure of public opinion.

First, it is easy for Saudi authorities to deny access to the media. It is true that civil rights protestors will likely be able to get the word out about suppression of women through the Internet. However, the effects of media exposure depend on the capacity of Saudi Muslims to be embarrassed by their own behavior. When one believes that the maltreatment of women is in accordance with the will of God, then the opinion of men does not hold as much weight.

Second, the world community is somewhat reticent to pressure Saudi Arabia on the subject of its numerous human rights abuses, especially against women, because of its oil. Many of the world’s oil reserves happen

to reside beneath the sands of Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, the need of oil to fuel modern, technological civilization gives the Saudis leeway to do what they want.

Of course, the upheaval of the so-called “Arab Spring” has yet to reach Saudi Arabia. If it does, the world will be rocked to its foundations. Chaos occurring where the life’s blood of civilization resides will benefit no one. It may behoove the authorities to grant their people freedom now, before they decide to take it later.

Source: Saudi Wahhabis vs. Women Who Want to Drive Cars, Rfan al Alaw and Stephen Schwartz, Weekly Standard, May 25, 2011

Saudi Facebook Campaign Calls for Men to Beat Women Drivers, Fox News, May 25, 2011

Published by Mark Whittington

Mark R. Whittington is a writer residing in Houston, Texas. He is the author of The Last Moonwalker, Children of Apollo and Nocturne. He has written numerous articles, some for the Washington Post, USA Today…