Look What’s Hiding Behind the SOFA

For the past year the Iraq and US governments (not really, but we’ll get to that later) have been working on a bilateral agreement regarding the scope and working details of the future US military involvement in Iraq. It has been widely referred to as a SOFA, or a Status Of Forces Agreement.
The effort began on November 26, 2007 when President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki co-signed the Declaration of Principles (pdf)for a Long-Term Relationship of Cooperation and Friendship Between the Republic of Iraq and the United States of America, which set out a number of issues concerning, among other things, a security agreement between the United States and Iraq.
Wow — Long-Term Relationship of Cooperation and Friendship Between the Republic of Iraq and the United States of America. A treaty, for sure.
Subsequently the US Administration announced(pdf) that there would be two agreements negotiated, a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) providing the legal basis between the two countries for the continued presence and operation of U.S. armed forces in Iraq once the U.N. Security Council mandate expires on December 31, 2008, and a Strategic Framework Agreement to cover the overall bilateral relationship between the two countries.
The US State Department hasn’t said much about this matter, but the Pentagon spokesman has said: “we are not the lead in either of those negotiations, the status of forces or the strategic framework agreement. The State Department has been in the lead.”

Continue reading “Look What’s Hiding Behind the SOFA”

Arlington Memorial Disgrace

Today’s NYTimes editorial, Witnessing the War Dead, From Afar tears rather deeply at me (sh). No, I’ve never been a fan of this Iraq war and occupation. Alas, I have a son soon enough on his way there.
So excuse me if I don’t quite contain my angst at yet another effort to shroud the costs of the Iraq war — by keeping the media far away from funeral ceremonies at Arlington Cemetery.

The muting of bad war news, which started at the Pentagon, is now an issue as well at Arlington National Cemetery. A public affairs director at the cemetery was recently fired after complaining that rules were tightened to isolate the media 50 yards away — well beyond the point at which news organizations could hear, never mind photograph or videotape, burial ceremonies.

I’m all for decorum, respect, honor, etc. The Pentagon says it is following the wishes of the families. But what of those families who do wish to share their moment of supreme trial? Are they now being coached to stay anonymous, to treat the media, to treat their fellow citizens as “the enemy?” Sure looks that way.
If I’m ever, heaven forbid, faced with this cup, I say in advance….
Dear God, I can’t….
But I can say this. Not all of the media will be welcome. To Michael R. Gordon, the “next Judith Miller,” who continues his under-handed campaign to drum up public sentiment for another war, this time with Iran…. he and his ilk would not be welcome.

Bush misquotes Jefferson

Stirred by President Bush’s actual comments at Monticello on July 4th, Ruhi Ramazani and I (sh) published a comment in today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch: Bush’s War Betrays the Sage of Monticello’s Vision for Liberty.
As we suggested last week, President Bush’s decision to speak at Monticello, the first visit of his life, sought a Jeffersonian stamp of approval for his own foreign policy legacy. (Here’s the WhiteHouse link to the speech.)

Ironically, President Bush sought to don the Jefferson mantle by claiming that, “We honor Jefferson’s legacy by aiding the rise of liberty in lands that do not know the blessings of freedom. And on this Fourth of July, we pay tribute to the brave men and women who wear the uniform of the United States of America.”

As the often forgotten founder of the US Military Academy, Jefferson likely would not object to honoring a professional American military. Yet we also contend that Jefferson would have turned over in his grave at the thought that his beloved country had justified “a war of choice” and occupation in the name of promoting democracy.
Having recently been a Jefferson Fellow focused on Jefferson’s reflections on the Declaration of Independence, I was particularly startled when I heard President Bush misquote a 24 June 1826 Jefferson letter, written just before his death, to Robert Weightman. The full passage in the original reads:

May it be to the world what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all), the Signal of arousing men to burst the chains, under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self government

This is the same letter cited accurately last Monday by Bill Kristol in his New York Times column.
But President Bush’s speech tellingly deleted the clause referencing “monkish ignorance and superstition.”

This omission matters because the full quote reflects Jefferson’s long-held doubts about democracy taking root elsewhere. Unlike Bush, Jefferson believed that before democracy can flourish, citizens and their culture must be receptive to democratic principles, including the rule of law and respect for minority rights.

Our essay then highlights means Jefferson endorsed for exporting democratic ideals — leading by example, via information, and through education.
We close with a reference to a theme I wrote about here at jwn last year — about the simple, yet so often forgotten original purpose of the Declaration:

More than a listing of grievances and abstract principles, it was crafted to declare independence — to proclaim America’s determination before a “candid world” to govern itself.
As the world granted America that liberty to choose its own path, so too “The Sage of Monticello” would see wisdom in America granting other countries the same freedom

What a concept.

Iraq: The big nationalist showdown about to start?

US casualties in Iraq in May declined to 19 fatalities, the lowest monthly level since the invasion was launched 63 months ago. However, the attention of most Iraqis has now shifted to the attempt the Bushists are now undertaking, to ram through speedy completion of a US-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA).
The prospects of the Bushists getting what they want in this regard seem slim-to-zero.
The present UNSC “enabling resolution” for the US troop presence in Iraq runs only through the end of 2008, and the Bushists seem determined to get the SOFA signed and sealed before then. But the mere mention of any agreement that would allow the continuing presence of US troops in the country has aroused a very broad pushback, involving not only forces within the political opposition in Iraq but also significant forces inside the government coalition itself.
For further evidence on the breadth of the pushback, see e.g. here and here.
The present US Ambassador in Iraq, Ryan Crocker, has been described by many in the MSM as a smart guy who understands a lot about the Middle East… If so, then why on earth do the pols in Washington think they can get any Iraqi government to sign off on a deal that allows for a large continuing US troop presence, broad continuing US oversight of the Iraqi economy, immunity from Iraqi legal proceedings for non-Iraqis working for foreign contracting companies, etc.?
Maybe the pols haven’t been listening to Crocker? And if that’s the case, why does he stay in his job? Why doesn’t he do the honorable thing and resign?
At the end of the day, as Clausewitz pointed out, what is really important is what happens at the political level. Mere military-technical superiority is worth nothing if you can’t get the political outcome you want. (Israel in Lebanon 2006, anyone?) And I don’t see any way the US can get the kind of political outcome that the Bush administration is currently trying to win in Iraq. Not persuasion, not coercion, not even any tragic replays of the divide-and-rule policies they’ve been applying with a vengeance there since March 2003.
Oh my goodness, maybe sometime before the end of the year– or perhaps even fairly soon– the Bushists will conclude they can’t ram this thing through, and that they’ll have to go to the U.N. Secretary-General and beg him to convene a broad negotiation over the political future of Iraq?

Jefferson & the Reign of Witches

Kudos to the Baltimore Sun for its July 4th editorial. Contrary to the keen imagination of another former “Jefferson Fellow” now at Oxford, I (Scott), as far as I know, had nothing to do with the Sun editorial. :-}
The Baltimore editorial begins with the reference to Thomas Jefferson’s First Inaugural. (Yes, this is the same Jefferson address I invoked here at jwn last November 2nd, in challenging Senator George Allen’s claim to being a “Jeffersonian”). In the Sun’s version,

In his first presidential inaugural address in 1801, he (Jefferson) ticked off a long list of essential principles of government, featuring highlights of the Bill of Rights, and called preservation of the government “in its whole constitutional vigor” the “anchor of our peace at home and safety abroad.” These principles “should be the creed of our political faith,” he said. “Should we wander from them in moments of error or of alarm, let us hasten to retrace our steps and to regain the road which alone leads to peace, liberty and safety.”

The editorial credits Jefferson for having been “prophetic” about how the US government has (yet again) committed “a long train of abuses” (as Jefferson once wrote about another George III) against our constitutional liberties, in “moments… of alarm.”
If I had written the editorial, I’d have pointedly noted how for Jefferson, “freedom of the press, and freedom of person under the protection of the habeas corpus, and trial by juries impartially selected” were among the principles that:

“form the bright constellation which has gone before us and guided our steps through an age of revolution and reformation. The wisdom of our sages and blood of our heroes have been devoted to their attainment. They should be the creed of our political faith.”

Through his long public life, Jefferson had extensive first hand experiences with the challenges of protecting such principles in perceived times of national emergency, including the treatment of prisoners of war. As I noted last November, Jefferson would have been particularly horrified by our present cavalier disregard of habeas corpus protections, given that he:

affirmed that habeas corpus applied to both citizen and alien alike, and.. argued against suspending it even in times of war or rebellion. In a 1788 letter to James Madison, Jefferson warned that the want of habeas corpus “will do evil…” and that suspensions thereof can become “habitual” and the “minds of the nation almost prepared to live under its constant suspension.”

In similar vein, the Sun editorial closes with an all too appropriate warning:

“Public outrage at the discovery of such clandestine abuses has typically resulted in the sort of corrective action Jefferson recommended. Such a process may be under way soon again as Congress and the courts begin to apply some restraints on an administration that as much as or more than any other has considered itself above the law. There’s little time to waste before Americans become so accustomed to their lost liberty that the loss becomes acceptable.

Harpers Magazine on July 4th featured a related, and also all-too-relevant Jefferson quotation about our present “Reign of Witches.” As Scott Horton notes, Jefferson was writing in 1798 to a friend on his hope that the Federalists had “overplayed their hand” with the Alien & Sedition Acts (an early version of today’s Patriot Act). Yet Jefferson nonetheless was concerned that he could be arrested if his letter was publicized, given how paranoid the country had become then (as now).

A little patience, and we shall see the reign of witches pass over, their spells dissolve, and the people, recovering their true sight, restore their government to its true principles. It is true that in the meantime we are suffering deeply in spirit, and incurring the horrors of a war and long oppressions of enormous public debt… And if we feel their power just sufficiently to hoop us together, it will be the happiest situation in which we can exist. If the game runs sometimes against us at home we must have patience till luck turns, and then we shall have an opportunity of winning back the principles we have lost, for this is a game where principles are at stake.

Helena here has repeatedly expressed her optimism that the tide in Washington has turned…; may the reign of the neocon warlocks soon pass over.

Craig Murray: About that “Fake British Map”

I have been extremely displeased by the media reporting regarding the ongoing Iran-Britain “detainee” crisis. The boundaries questons surrounding the Shatt/Arvand River are hardly of recent vintage. They are instead a crtical flash-point of contention that goes back centuries. Insuring access to world seaways via the disputed area is a vital interest, not just to Iraq, but to Iran also. And Iranians of all political persuasions have reasons to be deeply suspicious of “perfidious Albion” — on this issue.
It has been a crisis waiting to happen – or be manufactured. More on my views, a backgrounder, and cautions in another post.
For now, here’s a few stunning excerpts from the extraordinary blog of Craig Murray, the dissident former UK Ambassador to Uzbekistan, and a onetime “Head of the Maritime Section of the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office.”
As he did before, he’s blowing the whistle on “sexed-up” Blair-spin — and on the incredibly lazy reporting in the mainstream media (here in the US and in the UK):
Today (March 28th):

“The British Government has published a map showing the coordinates of the incident, well within an Iran/Iraq maritime border. The mainstream media and even the blogosphere has bought this hook, line and sinker.
But there are two colossal problems.
A) The Iran/Iraq maritime boundary shown on the British government map does not exist. It has been drawn up by the British Government. Only Iraq and Iran can agree their bilateral boundary, and they never have done this in the Gulf, only inside the Shatt because there it is the land border too. This published boundary is a fake with no legal force.
B) Accepting the British coordinates for the position of both HMS Cornwall and the incident, both were closer to Iranian land than Iraqi land. Go on, print out the map and measure it. Which underlines the point that the British produced border is not a reliable one.”

Well imagine that. Should we be surprised? Who was it that invented the art of artificial line drawing in the Middle East?
Murray’s blog entries since March 23 are all worth considering – and comparing with what we’re reading in the media. To be sure, Murray sees room for blame on all sides

“None of which changes the fact that the Iranians, having made their point, should have handed back the captives immediately. I pray they do so before this thing spirals out of control. But by producing a fake map of the Iran/Iraq boundary, notably unfavourable to Iran, we can only harden the Iranian position.”

I share Murray’s wish that this be resolved rapidly, before ideological hotheads on both sides (AN & TB) turn this into something bigger and more difficult to unwind.
And will somebody please get Helena’s hotline suggestion – e.g., Colonel Lang’s “deconflict mechanism” – working and stat!?

The Mother of all Sermons

(Note: this is Scott Harrop writing.)
Four years ago this past week, 23 March 2003 to be exact, I heard what for me then was the “mother of all sermons.” Yet until now, I have resisted writing about it:

*First, I am not inclined to be too autobiographical in the blogosphere.
*Second, when I finally forced myself to re-listen to the digital recording of “the sermon,” it dawned on me that I’ve heard far worse since. (See John Hagee section below)
*Third, I have long resisted returning to the subject of “Christian Zionism.” Where I was raised in Pennsylvania, Hal Lindsey and his 1970’s bestseller “The Late Great Planet Earth” was widely read at churches my family attended. A bit later at a “Christian University,” I once wrote a paper on “Peace and Prophecy” with the edgy subtitle, “Are they Compatible?” I had the “nerve” to think they were. Still do.
*Lastly, I am also not too inclined to ridicule ministers in public, even when well “earned.“

But then I saw a bumper sticker on the family van of one of my daughter’s friends that proclaimed, “No Jesus, No Peace.” It convinced me that I needed to go back and “unpack” four years of pent-up angst over what “the sermon” signifies for me, then and now.
Besides, I have analyzed the Friday political sermons of Shia clerics for over two decades, so I shouldn’t be so abstemious about assessing what presumed “Gospel” ministers have to say on Middle East matters. I also lamely take some courage from how George Fox challenged ministers of his day.
THE Sermon:
The context of “the sermon” was just days after the US “shock and awe” bombs began raining down on Saddam’s Iraq in 2003, as the first stages of “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” The setting was one of the larger “evangelical” churches here in Charlottesville, Virginia. We had been “visiting” this church, in part as the Pastor had assured us that his “new covenant” church didn’t preach “Christian Zionism.”
The sermon that day four years ago was delivered by a visiting older minister, long a mentor, an “Apostle” to the local pastor, and now involved primarily in outreach efforts to drug-infested communities. Jesse Owens was his name – not to be confused with the famous Olympian.
Much of “the Apostle’s” sermon tone was blistering high-volume, classic fire-and-brimstone, text-less, “holy spirit” fury. At early points, Owens was nearly apoplectic, as his face turned deep red and purple and his neck veins bulged.
But his subject that day wasn’t about heaven or hell, sin, eternal damnation, or any of that.

Continue reading “The Mother of all Sermons”

Cole: too little, too late, too militaristic

I was a little late getting round to reading Juan Cole’s 10-point plan for reconfiguring the US footrprint in Iraq. His basic idea seems to be to try to replicate what the US and NATO military have done in Afghanistan. That is, draw the US troops in Iraq back into a limited number of barracks, evacuate many of the ground troops, and then just keep in-country some special forces and air force units able to undertake swift pinpoint actions from time to time.
Then, as Iraq’s independent military ramps up (and when might that be), Ayatollah Sistani would issue a fatwa and the Americans would all leave.
I think it’s ways too late to suggest such a plan. It’s also inappropriate. Iraq is not the thinly populated, poorly infrastructured reaches of Afghanistan. It’s a large country with a dense population (in the fertile parts) and good communications. The US military bombs targets and does Special Forces stuff in Afghanistan all the time. But no-one’s there to record it. If it sets off a protest, the protest is small and localized and no-one else really hears about it until a lot later.
Iraq is a LOT more wired, and has party organizations that are a LOT more organized than the ones in Afghanistan.
(Also, even in Afghanistan, the US tactics seem to be working increasingly poorly in recent weeks.)
Juan does say a couple of good things. His points 9 and 10 are excellent. Namely that (9) Congress should stop stipulating that USAID money gets spent as much as possible on purchase of US goods, and (10) that the US (and Russia? But why Russia?) should work closely with Iraq and all of its neighbors to establish a regional security regime.
Personally, I still think the 9-point plan I laid out here in early July is far superior. It calls for a US exit from Iraq that is speedy, total, and generous.
Iraq as Afghanistan, though? Nah. I don’t think it would work.

Settler provocateurs (and the media)

I am absolutely disgusted by the lead on this new AP story:

    NEVE DEKALIM, Gaza Strip – Israeli troops dragged sobbing Jewish settlers out of homes, synagogues and even a nursery school Wednesday and hauled them onto buses in a massive evacuation, fulfilling Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s promise to withdraw from the Gaza Strip after a 38-year occupation.
    In the West Bank, an Israeli settler grabbed a gun from a security guard in the Shilo settlement and started shooting Palestinians, killing three and wounding two before being arrested. The killings aroused fears of Palestinian retaliation and the disruption of the evacuation mission.

I understand that everyone’s emotions are running high. But why should the fact of “sobbing Jewish settlers” being evacuated from places where their presence is now illegal under both international and Israeli law be considered to take precedence over the violent ending of the lives of three Palestinians?
I am glad that Sharon quickly and quite rightly denounced the killings as “Jewish terror”. But still, doesn’t the violent ending of these theree people’s lives merit greater media attention than the drama-queen tactics of the long-pandered-to settlers?
It seems evident that some extreme militants in the settler movement are determined to try to provoke a Palestinian reaction and thus spark a very nasty inter-communal, Jewish-Arab conflict in different places. This, from the same story:

    In Kfar Darom [in occupied Gaza], several hundred settlers went on a rampage, pushing large cinderblocks off a bridge and trying to torch a nearby Arab house, witnesses said. Israel troops brought the fire under control and tried to push the settlers back into Kfar Darom as Palestinians threw stones.

Let us hope that as many Israelis as possible are sensible enough to turn against these apostles of hate. Also, that as many Palestinians as possible understand that for them, too, staying calm and refusing to get provoked into counter-violence of any kind is also very, very important.
The great Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh has argued that sometimes, just staying calm can save lives. I think that now, throughout the whole of Israel/Palestine, is such a time.
As for Amy Teibel of AP, who wrote that piece, and her editors, perhaps they can reflect a little on whether they actually think that the fates of all human beings are equally deserving of our attention and their coverage…. A bunch of sobbing settler women “trumps” the killing of three Palestinians (and the wounding of two others)?
I don’t think so.

Iraqi poll’s bad news for Jaafari

[Version edited for clarity here…]
An Iraqi NGO called the Tammuz (“July”) Foundation for Social Development has just completed an opinion poll of 265 citizens in four neighborhoods of Baghdad. The results are very shocking for the US-backed government led by Dr. Ibrahim Jaafari.
Respondents were asked: “How do you evaluate the government of Dr. Ibrahim Jaafari in the following [five] main fields?” The answers were that respondents answered “bad” in the five categories covered, as follows:

    Security and combating terrorism– 67%
    Combating Corruption– 74%          
    Resolving the problem of electricity– 90%
    Resolving the problem of unemployment– 77%
    imetable for withdrawal of the multinational forces– 68%

The neighborhoods where the poll was conducted were listed as Zayouna, al-Shaab, al-Talibiya, and al-Thawra (al-Sadr). I don’t know enough about the political geography of Baghdad to tell how “representative” these areas of the capital are of the national population as a whole. The only one I know a little about is Sadr City…
But still, these results have to be deeply worrying for Jaafari– and for the US government that’s been backing him.