Focal Points Blog

Where the Demonstrators Wave Black Flags: Algeria, Part 1

Algeria civil war(Pictured: Missing from the Algerian civil war.)

While they showed the same kind of courage as those who brought down Ben Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Egypt, the demonstrators on the streets of Algiers on Saturday, February 12 really never had much of a chance. The odds were not good. 3,000-5,000 protesters braved a security force that was estimated to be no less than 30,000, outnumbering the protesters by 6 or 7 to 1.

Still the Algerian government is nervous. 30,000 security police sent out to surround 3,000 demonstrators suggest a high degree of state paranoia. While Egypt is key to the transport of oil through a pipeline and the Suez Canal and Tunisia has very little of the ‘black gold’, pretty much the entire Algerian export economy is based on crude oil and gas production. This helps explain the security police overkill presence, that along with this shaky regime’s nervousness.

The February 12 demonstration was called by a newly formed coalition, the National Coordinating Committee for Change and Democracy (in French, la Coordination National pour le changement et la democratie, or CNCD). The CNCD came together quite recently, since the January demonstrations and is spearheaded by the Algerian League for Human Rights and four independent (public sector) unions. Its goal is to extend the peaceful protest movement with an eye on getting the Algerian government to lift the state of emergency that has been in place since 1992.

The February 12th demonstration was made smaller no doubt by the road blocks set up throughout the country to prevent protesters from arriving in the capital. If the numbers of demonstrators – compared to Tunisia and Egypt they’re modest – this does not minimize the strategic importance of the Algerian protests. They are the first signs of deep unrest in a major oil and natural gas producing country and one in which U.S. Special Forces have been operating not so quietly and non-stop since at least 2004.

In an attempt to minimize the political damage, the government has promised economic reforms – jobs, completion of long promised public housing projects, better education, and replacing subsidies on sugar and cooking oil recently suspended as part of World Bank, IMF structural adjustment programs. These are the same empty words that sputtered from the mouths of Ben Ali and Mubarak before their flights, the same song now being sung in Jordan, Yemen, Libya, Bahrain and Kuwait. Algerians have heard this song before many times and are not moved.

In an effort to further divide and conquer, government spokespeople also kept repeating “these demonstrators do not represent ‘the majority’,” this being code to describe the country’s Berber minority, many of whom hale from Kabylia, east of Algiers, a region whose cultural capital is the city of Tizi Ouzou. They refer to themselves as the Amazigh.

While the government’s claim that the current demonstrations are ‘Berber organized’ is exaggerated, no doubt the Amazigh are among those calling for reforms if not sweeping political changes in Algeria. Consisting of some 7 million of the country’s 35 million inhabitants, the Amazigh have long suffered from cultural and linguistic discrimination; a result of the country’s pronounced ‘Arabization’ campaign.

It is true that the traditional opposition – the country’s main, largely government controlled trade union movement, moderate Islamicists – were not involved on February 12. Perhaps many Algerians are nonplussed about removing the country’s president, Abdelaziz Boutiflika, from office without changing the system itself. They see Boutiflika as little more than window dressing, covering the long time genuine power brokers of Algerian political life, the military. Some Algerians speculate that even if Bouteflika leaves, who would replace him and what would it matter? Another mouthpiece for the military?

So why risk having a head bashed in or worse by the same kind of government thugs who have been unleashed in Tunisia, Egypt and now Yemen? Still, it would be a mistake to minimize the threat these protests represent to the powers that be.

Issues Similar to Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain

If their numbers were disproportionate on February 12, still the Amazigh are far from alone in raising grievances against the current regime. The issues that brought these brave souls out to demonstrate are not much different from those driving the Tunisian and Algerian changes or the protests in Yemen and now Bahrein. Unemployment, especially youth unemployment is endemic.

Like in Tunisia and Egypt, the Algerian government’s base among its population is razor thin. Its attempt to portray itself as the sons and daughters of those who fought and died against French colonialism no longer impressed a population crushed by what appears to be appalling poverty not reflected in official statistics.

While the details are sketchy, corruption at high government levels has existed for decades. Repression is widespread with the government coming down with a heavy hand. A state of emergency has long been in effect since the early 1990s. And then there is history, Algerian history, rearing its painful and bloodied head (but more on that in Part Two).

Corrupt, repressive governments with little or no development plans for their own country are precisely the kind of regimes the U.S. and France have long supported in the Middle East. They make perfect and pliant allies. It should come as no surprise that there were very few – if any – complaints or criticisms lodged against the Algerian government over the years.

Nor has there been any pressure for change from the United States, European Union, or serious criticisms made of the Algerian government’s sorry track record, so similar to others in the region. Why should there be? Until it all blew up in their faces in mid December last starting with the Tunisian protests, both the United States and France have had a particular affinity to corrupt, repressive leaders with narrow bases among their own population.

Furthermore Algeria is still exhausted from the cruel civil war which ravaged the country in the last decade, the cinders of which are still burning in the interior where a radical Islamic movement tries to reorganize armed resistance. In the 1990s, several hundred thousand people died in an orgy of seemingly senseless violence that pitted a radical Islamic fundamentalist uprising (with no clear political or social agenda) against a military determined to hold on at all costs to the country’s oil and gas cash cow.

After the fighting stopped, minor political concessions were made with some of the former Islamic guerillas pardoned and re-integrated (to some extent) back into the mainstream and multi-party elections being held. But, a decade later, as it has been since independence, the military maintains its iron grip over the economy and body politic, as powerfully now as in the past and the socio-economic problems which plagued the country earlier remain. If anything, they are more serious today.

Promises, Promises, Promises – Few Results

The promises of a better life, with more democratic input, made by previous Algerian governments since independence in 1962, have not materialized. Again and again, the government responds to mass anger with a slew of commitments. Once the emotional moment passes, the situation reverts to its former state, the promises forgotten, the repressive apparatus tightened.

As elsewhere in the region, the main foreign powers involved – France, Spain, and the US – don’t seem to care much as long as the oil and gas flows, the country implements World Bank/IMF structural adjustment programs to modernize the oil industry to increase output, and their ‘strategic interests’ are protected. As long as these things happen, the country can go to hell in a hand basket – as it has. None of them have lifted a finger in protest to government practices and corruption.

As a result, the disillusionment which fueled the 1990s implosion remains simmering beneath the surface essentially because nothing has changed. Despite World Bank statistics (the same kind of statistics that proved incapable of predicting the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, etc.) suggesting ‘growth’, a profound socio-economic crisis continues.

The fighting ended just after the turn of the millennium, but the socio-economic crisis that had generated the conflict, remain unresolved. The population was exhausted, terrified by viciousness of the fighting, in the end fearing both the Islamicists and the government, not knowing which was worse. When the fighting ended, the military was ‘the last man standing’. It remained in control of the country’s sizeable oil and gas resources but at a price – a profound loss in what little legitimacy it had enjoyed from the Algerian people up until then.

And so Algeria has been called by some, ‘a country without a future’. The regime remains entrenched; the power behind the presidency remains the military, a privileged social strata that lives off the oil profits. Other than increasing oil and gas production, and implementing World Bank and IMF structural adjustment programs, virtually no vision for the country’s economic development exists, or hardly so. This situation has existed since the early 1980s when Algeria’s crash industrialization program was revealed as an utter failure.

What Will Happen When the Oil and Gas Money Runs Out?

With the collapse of the price of oil at that time, the country entered into a crisis from which, 30 years on, has only deepened in all aspects. Algeria limps along, rudderless, a country without direction, its population in great pain, with little or no vision to guide it past its current woes, and only oil money to cover up the collapse of a dream: of independence and national self determination. What will happen when the oil and gas money run out?

And so, demonstrations challenging the regime take place every few years, including recently. But unlike in Tunisia, the Algerian protests lack that sense of hope, and wonder that change is possible. A few years ago a demonstration, protestors marched with black flags, rather than the red, green and white colors of Algeria; they seemed to be saying: we don’t belong to anything anymore, not the country, not this regime.

Rob Prince is the publisher of the Colorado Progressive Jewish News.

Raymond Davis: Insert Your Conspiracy Theory Here

Pakistan may finally be getting ready to cough up Raymond Davis after the U.S. government employee shot two Pakistanis in an act that might have been too preemptive to be called self-defense. Even though Pakistan’s Dawn reproduced his pay stub, which shows he worked for US Overseas Protective Security Services, the United States sought to extend him diplomatic immunity. The Times of India reports:

Pakistan will tell a court that most of its legal experts believe that [the] detained American has diplomatic immunity, but will leave it to a judge to rule on his status, an official said on Tuesday — a sign that Islamabad is trying to give the US an opening to free the man while avoiding domestic backlash.

At Foreign Policy, C. Christine Fair expands on the the nature of Davis’s job:

Despite Pakistanis’ assertions that he is a spy, he does not have the profile of a bona fide operative of the Central Intelligence Agency. . . . However, some U.S. officials concede that he [may have] ties to the American intelligence apparatus. [Among issues] fuelling Pakistan’s deepest suspicions are the reports in the Pakistani media that a camera was recovered from Davis upon his arrest [which] reportedly contained “photos of . . . the headquarters of the paramilitary Frontier Corps in Peshawar and of Pakistan army bunkers on the eastern border with India.”

The men he killed were reportedly ISI agents, who, the European Union Times (despite its name, not too credible), were

. . . sent to follow him after it was discovered he had been making contact with al Qaeda after his cell phone was tracked to the Waziristan tribal area.

And why was he making contact with al Qaeda?

. . . top-secret CIA documents found in Davis’s possession point to his . . . providing to al Qaeda terrorists “nuclear fissile material” and “biological agents” they claim are to be used against the United States.

Meanwhile, at Sic Semper Tyrannis, Col. Pat Lang writes of Davis:

His undoubted links to people in Taliban territory have spawned the allegation that he was arranging Taliban bombings [by them, that is, not against them -- RW] in Pakistan (it is a settled belief among most Pakistanis that the US wishes to destabilize the country in order to grab its nukes). A more sophisticated version of this is that he facilitated the attacks that had taken place on some ISI targets and the army’s GHQ [while freelancing for] former Afghan intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh (fired by President Karzai at Pakistan’s insistence).

Speaking of the ISI, the Times of India reports:

Pakistani officials told the Express Tribune in Lahore that the Pakistani government’s “tough stance” on the whole issue was also a “reaction to the attempts by certain elements in Washington to implicate . . . the ISI in the November 2008 Mumbai attacks,” including the decision by a US court to summon top ISI officials in connections with the attacks.

Anyway, the Davis incident has produced some curious side effects. First, as Alex Eichler at the Atlantic reports:

. . . apparently the Davis case has had a ripple effect on American drone strikes in Pakistan. . . . Ron Moreau and Sami Yousafzai at The Daily Beast report that there haven’t been any drone strikes in Pakistan for nearly a month, and that “a senior Pakistani official has confirmed that Davis’ case is directly connected to the freezing of the attacks, and says that Washington is afraid of further inflaming anti-American sentiment in Pakistan in the wake of the shootings.”

B. at Moon of Alabama takes that one step further.

Another reason may well be that Mr. Davis is a critical component in the drone campaign and that without what he was doing, collecting targeting data from informants or whatever, the drone strikes can not continue.

Ms. Fair details another side effect.

The U.S. government will have to present evidence about the nature of the position of Raymond Davis in Pakistan’s courts. While this is a tedious and gratuitous predicament, it may be a long overdue occasion to cast much-needed transparency upon the activities of the U.S. government in Pakistan and the nature of its ties to various Pakistani agencies.

Finally, B. at Moon of Alabama suggests it might be best to leave Davis to stew in his juices.

But to me it seems that keeping Davis off the streets has probably saved some Pakistani lives. Keeping him further off and inside a jail may probably save even more. That should be enough reason to press for his custody to continue.

In Their Mutual Ambivalence Israel and Iran Are Mirrors of Each Other

As Conn Hallinan writes at Focal Points, the Israeli military, president and intelligence agencies continue to debate — with more vehemence than ever, in fact — both an attack on Iran and how to rope the U.S. into the subsequent war. Though, “This fight is hardly a split between doves and hawks.” Hallinan explains.

According to columnist J.J. Goldberg of the Jewish weekly Forward, while the new Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, has “spoken scathingly” of the “short-sighted strategic vision of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak,” he is hardly part of some peace faction. Rather the division seems to be between aggressive right-wingers supported by the settler movement and opposed to any agreement with the Arabs, and a more “cautious faction” that includes [former military chief of staff Lt. Gen. Gabi] Ashkenazi [who instead favors among other things] “covert action” — military-speak for targeted assassinations.

Turns out Iranian authorities are conflicted, too — about the very matter over which Israelis are at each other’s throats. On Friday Greg Miller and Joby Warrick reported in the Washington Post about the new U.S. NIE (national intelligence estimate) on Iran’s nuclear program, which

concludes that Iran has resumed research on key components for a nuclear weapon, but that the slow and scattered nature of the effort reflects renewed debate within the regime over whether to build a bomb. . . . Overall, the National Intelligence Estimate concludes that Iran is conducting “early stage R&D work on aspects of the manufacturing process for a nuclear weapon,” said a U.S. official familiar with the report. At the same time, the estimate describes “serious debate within the Iranian regime . . . on how to proceed.”

Why the hesitation?

The new estimate’s description of intense disagreement within the regime over the nuclear program has been cited by some U.S. officials as evidence that economic sanctions have worked. [While] others who have read the new report disagree [officials] on both sides of the sanctions issue agree that Iran’s leaders are probably influenced by concern over potential Israeli military strikes.

Of course, the aggressive Israeli right-wingers about whom Hallinan writes are likely to draw the conclusion that, whether or not they prevail, they may as well keep beating the drums for war since that seems to be a factor in Iran’s hesitance to commit to a nuclear-weapons program.

Israeli Military, President, and Intelligence Services at Each Other’s Throats Over Attacking Iran

Ehud Bara(Pictured: Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak.)

Behind the recent appointment of Israel’s new military chief of staff are several months of bitter infighting among Israeli generals and intelligence agencies over whether to attack Iran, and, in the event of such an attack, how to rope the U.S. into the war.

The replacement of Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi with Maj. Gen. Benny Gantz is the outcome of a seesaw battle between a wing of the Israeli army, allied with the intelligence services, that have cautioned against a war with Iran, pitted against Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and a coterie of more aggressive generals. The feud has become so intense that veteran military analyst Ron Ben-Yishai says, “The state of Israel is sinking into anarchy.”

According to the Asia Time’s Victor Kotsev, Ashkenazi, backed by Israel’s intelligence chiefs, and possibly with quiet support from Washington, maneuvered to block Barak’s choice for a new chief of staff by torpedoing the candidacy of Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant, and then blocking the Defense Minister’s attempt to appoint the hawkish Maj. Gen. Yair Naveh as acting chief of staff.

The civil war, according to Kotsev, reflects “a split in Israeli political and military circles on whether to attack Iran. According to [veteran Israeli journalist Aluf] Benn, the outgoing chiefs of the army and the intelligence …are firmly opposed to a unilateral military intervention, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Barak have stacked their political fortunes on a strike.”

The falling out between Ashkenazi and Barak began last year when the former opposed the defense minister’s proposal to attack Iran, remarking, “Initiating such a war will only bring disaster on Israel.” Barak responded by shortening Ashkenazi’s tenure and replacing him with Galant, the controversial general who led operation “Cast Lead,” the brutal assault on Gaza in December 2008-January 2009 that killed more than 1,400 Palestinians.

According to the Israeli Daily Haaretz, Galant was seen as “more aggressive on Iran and will not block Netanyahu and Barak, who are eager to go into battle against Iran.”

But Galant had to withdraw when it was revealed that he had appropriated public land that surrounded his villa in northern Israel, and Barak blamed Ashkenazi—almost certainly correctly—for leaking the scandal. Barak had already alienated the military by trying to shift the blame for last year’s disastrous interception of the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara onto the army and intelligence agencies.

The whole brouhaha has weakened Barak, who lost whatever base he had when he recently pulled out of the Labor Party to start up a more centrist organization. “Barak suffered one of the toughest routs of his life, second only to his loss of the Prime Minister’s post in the 2001 elections,” says Israeli journalist Amir Oren.

Israeli analyst Benn suggests that Washington might have had a hand in the affair by encouraging resistance to Barak within the Israeli military. Gantz is seen as a general with close ties to his American counterparts, and word has it that the Pentagon was chilly toward Barak during his recent visit to Washington. With Barak badly wounded by the fight, there are a number of players on the sidelines, including rightwing Likudites Moshe Ya’alon and Dan Meridor, who are hankering after his job.

This fight is hardly a split between doves and hawks. According to columnist J.J. Goldberg of the Jewish weekly Forward, while the new Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, has “spoken scathingly” of the “short-sighted strategic vision of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak,” he is hardly part of some peace faction. Rather the division seems to be between aggressive right-wingers supported by the settler movement and opposed to any agreement with the Arabs, and a more “cautious faction” that includes Ashkenazi.

Ashkenazi favors “covert action”—military-speak for targeted assassinations—and returning the Golan Heights to Syria as a strategy to divide Damascus and Teheran, “a view shared unanimously by the heads of Israel’s intelligence agencies” says Goldberg.

But the now-retired chief of staff is hardly some kind of peacenik. In his farewell address, Ashkenazi talked of “tectonic changes” in the Middle East and gave a generally gloomy view of an Israel surrounded by growing Islamic fundamentalism in Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and possibly Egypt. His opposition to attacking Iran has less to do with the political fallout than the fear that Israel would do so “unilaterally.”

It is not clear where Gantz or the newly appointed intelligence heads stand on the matter of Iran, but Reuters reports that “the new crop of generals and spymasters could prove more cooperative to war orders” from the civilian administration.

There are powerful forces arguing for attacking Iran, many of them among the newly resurgent American neo-conservatives. U.S House Resolution 1533, introduced last year by 46 Republicans, supports Israel using “any means necessary” against Iran. While H-1533 languished in the Foreign Affairs Committee when Democrats controlled the House, the resolution is certain to re-emerge with Republicans in charge.

The charge to war, according to Gareth Porter of IPS, is led by neocons like Reuel Marc Gerecht, the former director of the New American Century, a think tank that can claim much of the credit for getting the Bush Administration to invade Iraq. “What is important to understand about this campaign,” says Porter, “is that the aim of Gerecht and the right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu is to support an attack by Israel so that the United States can be drawn into a direct, full-scale war with Iran.”

The neocons want more than surgical strikes aimed at Iran’s nuclear industry, they want a real war—“No cruise missiles at midnight to minimize the body count” says Gerecht—and regime change. As David Wurmster, former vice-president Dick Cheney’s key advisor on the Middle East, put it, “If we start shooting, we must be prepared to fire the last shot. Don’t shoot a bear if you are not going to kill it.”

The campaign is aimed at creating domestic pressure on the Obama administration to back Israel once it attacks. Israel has a powerful air force and navy, but unless it used some of its nuclear arsenal—an act that is hard to contemplate but by no means out of the question—it can’t do the job on its own.

Would most Americans back such an attack? Polls show that a majority of Americans don’t want a war with Iran, but that they also strongly support Israel. If the Iranians can be demonized enough—the current regime’s crackdown on dissent is already doing a pretty good job in that regard—might those numbers shift? Gerecht thinks they will: “If the Israelis bomb now, American public opinion will probably be with them, perhaps decisively so.”

In the meantime, the Netanyahu administration is doing its best to whip up anti-Iranian sentiment. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman called the recent transit of two Iranian warships through the Suez Canal a “provocation,” even though the canal is an international waterway and recently saw several Israeli warships pass through it on their way into the Persian Gulf. “Unfortunately, the international community is not showing readiness to deal with the recurring Iranian provocations,” Lieberman said. “The international community must understand that Israel cannot ignore these provocations forever.”

Bombast? Certainly the Israeli Foreign Minister is renowned for that, but in this case he has strong support in the Tel Aviv government, among the powerful settler movement, and with at least some of the military. As the Israeli daily Haaretz notes, “2010 went by without a war with Iran. In the winter no one goes to war because the clouds limit air force operations. But in 2011, a conflict is brewing.”

It is a conflict that could escalate from a regional calamity to an international disaster if the U.S. joins in.

More of Conn Hallinan’s work can be found at Dispatches From the Edge.

Washington Draws a Line in the Sand on Settlements — With Palestine

It’s tough being a naked superpower when the caterpillars munch away your fig leaf.

In real terms it makes Chamberlain at Munich look like a stickler for principle. The President and Secretary of State of the United States have been pleading and pressuring over Israeli settlements, which Washington opposes.

But who are they pleading with? Who are they cajoling and pressuring? Not the Israeli president building the settlements, but President Mahmoud Abbas of Palestine, to withdraw the Security Council resolution which expresses the sentiment of the entire world — including the US — that the settlements are illegal. In real terms it makes Chamberlain at Munich look like a stickler for principle.

To head off this disastrous dilemma heading to impale its Middle Eastern policy, the US had drafted an ineffectual and in any case non-binding statement that admitted to the “illegitimacy” of settlements in the West Bank, but spent more space condemning ineffectual rocket attacks from Gaza.

But Abbas had no option but to go ahead and put the resolution to the vote. It won 14 to one, with US Ambassador Susan Rice casting a veto.

The administration was scared that it would either be forced to support its own policy in the Security Council and thus risk an excreta tempest from AIPAC — or that it would veto a resolution that it agrees with and humiliate itself in front of the rest of world, including its real allies in NATO.

“We reject in the strongest terms possible the legitimacy of the continued settlement building,” inveighed Rice, while ferociously condemning them as “folly,” bad for Israel as well. However that just reinforced the international message that the Israeli tail was wagging the American dog to vote against its own policy.

A positive vote would have sent a serious signal to Netanyahu not to trifle with his only protector and major paymaster. However, all Netanyahu has had to do is to refer to the even more crazed ideologues who surround him, who will not hear of “concessions” on settlements. But poor Abbas, beleaguered by WikiLeaks showing him trying to kill the Goldstone Report under US pressure and showing what most Palestinians regard as an overflexible, indeed supine, negotiating posture in the peace talks, is assumed not to have a domestic constituency he has to care for.

One would have thought that after Tunisia, Egypt, and Bahrain, this administration would have picked up some hints about diplomacy, not least that diktats and dollars to proxy dictators does not make for stable relationships. But the world’s rapidly attenuating super power was reduced to covering for a coalition of deranged rabbis, likudnik-inclined millionaires, Neocons and evangelical Christian Zionists in the UN Security Council.

It did so in front of a Security Council packed with most of the General Assembly members who have expressed their negative views on settlement over and over again to vote on a resolution sponsored by a wide geographical and ideological range of states — including many EU and NATO members. The resolution was moved by Lebanon, whose ambassador eschewed inflammatory rhetoric and merely cited successive Security Council resolutions, World Court opinions and Geneva Conventions on the issue not to mention Israel’s own commitments under the Quartet’s “Road Map.”

Tip O’Neill’s dictum “All politics is local” is not always true. For a start, polls show that most American Jews oppose Netanyahu and his settlement policy. But more cogently, the masses of Arab citizens on the streets of their rapidly reforming countries bitterly oppose the settlements, and will draw their own conclusions from the Obama policy.

To stop AIPAC huffing and puffing, the Obama administration is about to lose Egypt, Tunisia and much of the rest of the Middle East and erase the last faint hopes of the region that the US can in any way give genuine support to democracy or international law. The disillusionment is going to be all the more profound because of the betrayal of the spirit of Obama’s early speeches in Istanbul and Cairo. Instead of sending serious signal to Netanyahu not to trifle with your only protector, he is now confirmed in his obduracy. And Arabs and other world citizens are even more convinced of US duplicity.

Obama also has yet another crisis coming. The UK, on behalf of France and Germany as well, promised to do all it could to welcome Palestine as a UN member by this September, thereby pushing yet another hot button for AIPAC — and thus the administration.

Is There Any Upside to Middle-East Protests for al-Qaeda?

Unable to take credit for the downfall one of its greatest nemeses, President Hosni Mubarak, who, when it came to Islamist extremism, ruled with an iron fist, is al-Qaeda nursing its psychic wounds or does it find some cause to rejoice? In his eighteenth SWISH Report to the al-Qaida Strategic Planning Cell (SPC), Paul Rogers of Britain’s Open Democracy details the implications of the protests to the SPC.

Never heard of the SPC? You’re not the only one. Oh, and SWISH is an acronym for the South Waziristan Institute of Strategic Hermeneutics (note obvious Monty Python influence). Rogers writes:

You profess enthusiasm for the display of resistance; but you are clearly also troubled by the awkward reality that the removal of illegitimate governments — an aim you also aspire to — has been successfully accomplished by a people’s mobilisation in no way rooted in or guided by an Islamist worldview.

“Curses,” exclaims Snidely Whip-Laden. “Co-opted!”

This is a very grim development for your movement, in two ways. First, you are failing to lead or inspire a rapidly escalating revolutionary process, and as a result risk being seen as irrelevant. Second, and even worse, as the regimes fall or shake you are in danger of losing a vital pillar of support for your cause: namely, the idea that people’s hatred of these regimes could only be channelled effectively by embracing your version of Islam. The revolts demonstrate that you are clearly not the only alternative — and this is very bad news indeed.

Meanwhile, at the National Interest, Michael Scheuer doesn’t agree that it’s bad news for al-Qaeda. The one-time head of the CIA’s bin Laden-tracking unit, since become a take-no-prisoners commentator who shows no fealty to the left or right, writes that:

. . . for bin Laden and all Islamist leaders, happy days are here. Through no actions of their own, their most potent Arab foe disappeared at the hands of their other erstwhile enemies, the United States and its allies. They can now exploit the Egyptian debacle knowing that, as they do so, Washington will be further weakened economically as the new Egyptian regime begs funds to rebuild — and hints it will take Saudi money if U.S. taxpayers are not shaken down — and the Israel-suborned Congress* ships great batches of taxpayer funds to Israel for a military and border-control build-up to cope with Egyptian democracy. . . .

As ever, the wages of U.S. intervention are dire. After intervening for 30-plus years to support Mubarak and allow Israel’s every whim, Washington now finds itself headed toward more intervention in a probably useless attempt to rebalance the Potemkin political “system” its intervention helped create. . . . only bin Laden and the Islamists will benefit. . . . They know whatever regime follows Mubarak will be weaker, more influenced by those demanding a form of Sharia law . . . and . . .

Drum roll, please . . .

. . . being a democracy, more representative of Egyptians’ deep, abiding hatred for Israel.

Do Focal Points readers think the protests in the Middle-East against authoritarian regimes hurt or help all-Qaeda?

*I told you he takes no prisoners. In fact, Scheuer was fired from his position at counterterrorist think tank the Jamestown Foundation because his criticism of U.S. policy towards Israel offended donors.

New U.S. Rebuke of Settlements a Product of Egypt Protests?

In his Turtle Bay blog at Foreign Policy, Colum Lynch writes that though it was “a move aimed at avoiding the prospect of having to veto a stronger Palestinian resolution calling the settlements illegal,”

The U.S. informed Arab governments Tuesday that it will support a U.N. Security Council statement reaffirming that the 15-nation body “does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity,” . . . But the Palestinians rejected the American offer [though it] remained unclear whether the Palestinian move . . . is simply a negotiating tactic aimed at extracting a better deal from Washington.

Still, the U.S. offer signaled a renewed willingness to seek a way out of the current impasse, even if it requires breaking with Israel and joining others in the council in sending a strong message to its key ally to stop its construction of new settlements.

Lynch adds:

The U.S. concession comes as the Middle East is facing a massive wave of popular demonstrations that have brought down the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt.

Cause and effect? What do Focal Points readers think?

Last Thing Washington Needs Is to Share Blame if Egypt Becomes Another Pakistan

“One of the most infuriating arguments to emerge out of the whole Egypt situation is the notion that somehow the Obama Administration was insufficiently engaged,” writes the National War College’s Bernard Finel, perhaps the most credible center-right commentator extent. (Found via the Progressive Realist.) “If you think Obama was too slow to response [sic], you are assuming that an American intervention was both appropriate and potentially effective. As far as I can tell, neither is the case.”

He asks:

Does the United States have interests in regards to Egypt? [Of course, but, at] some point, you need to step back and respect the principle of self-determination.

How would Dr. Finel convince centrists and conservatives of that?

[It] actually serves long-term U.S. national interests [in that] it is hard to imagine that what emerges now is somehow going to be particularly stable [or] popular. So, why would you want to own any responsibility for that outcome?

And what would that outcome look like?

. . . likely, we’ll see continued military dominance with a facade of civilian control. Pakistan might be a model. Best case, I suspect is Turkey, where the military serves to constrain policy choices, but remains generally at arms-length.

In the end:

We need to think about the long-game with Egypt [which won't be] improved by us seeming to have our fingers too visible on the scales. We’re still paying for our intervention in Iranian politics in 1953!

What does Dr. Finel recommend?

[Finally] there is little reason to believe that the United States is in a position to materially affect outcomes in Egypt. . . . our influence is limited. . . . the best possible message we can send to the Egyptians (and the world) is precisely that . . . we wish the Egyptians well . . . but in the final analysis are simply observers rather than players in the process.

Do Focal Points reader think that Finel, however realpolitik, makes sense?

What Would End-Timers Do Without the Threat of Nuclear Annihilation?

Louvin BrothersOn January 26, influential country musician Charlie Louvin died at age 83. He and his brother Ira performed and recorded as the Louvin Brothers, until they split up in the early sixties, when Charlie began a solo career. Perhaps because of the spare instrumentation of Charlie’s guitar and Ira’s mandolin, as well as their heart-felt harmonies, they influenced the Everly Brothers, the Byrds, and country rock legend Gram Parsons.

Another fan, Emmylou Harris, was quoted by the New York Times: “. . . there was something scary and washed in the blood about the sound of the Louvin Brothers.” In fact, simply “washed in blood” might better characterize one of their songs.

In the course of airing a Charlie Louvin memorial broadcast to which I was listening, Columbia University’s WKCR played an old Louvin Brothers song titled “The Great Atomic Power.” A site called Atomic Platters describes it in words that can be applied to much of their music: “beautifully harmonized, gospel inflected.” Perhaps because of the perceived element of camp in a song about nuclear war, “The Great Atomic Power” was rerecorded by the likes of Raul Malo* and Uncle Tupelo with Jeff Tweedy.

Atomic Platters on the song’s origin:

In Charles K. Wolfe’s 1996 biography of The Louvin Brothers, ‘In Close Harmony,’ Charlie Louvin is quoted recalling that co-writer Buddy Bain was responsible for the basic theme of the composition: “The song was his idea, something he came up with after they dropped the big one. Buddy was trying to write it and he wasn’t too lucky in getting the song to say what he wanted it to say. Ira took his title and his notes he had and finished the song for him.”

“The Great Atomic Power” was first recorded in 1952, the year that the thermonuclear (more commonly known as hydrogen) bomb, which was exponentially more powerful than the nuclear (or atomic) bomb, was first tested. The song, however, was probably recorded before the test, which was carried out late in the year.

Besides, when Charlie mentions that Buddy Bain came up with the idea for the song after “they dropped the big one,” he was no doubt referring to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Nevertheless, the song may have provided some comfort for those listeners consciously or self-consciously aware that both the nuclear arms race and the Cold War were at their heights. The lyrics:

(Refrain) Are you ready
For the great atomic power?
Will you rise and meet your Savior in the air?
Will you shout or will you cry
When the fire rains from on high?
Are you ready for the great atomic power?

Do you fear this man’s invention
That they call atomic power
Are we all in great confusion
Do we know the time or hour
When a terrible explosion
May rain down upon our land
Leaving horrible destruction
Blotting out the works of man

Refrain

There is one way to escape it
Be prepared to meet the lord
Give your heart and soul to Jesus
He will be your shielding sword
He will surely stay beside you
And you’ll never taste of death
For your soul will fly to safety
And eternal peace and rest

Refrain

There’s an army who can conquer
All the enemy’s great band
It’s the regiment of Christians
Guided by the Savior’s hand
When the mushrooms of destruction
Fall in all its fury great
God will surely save His children
From that awful awful fate

Refrain

Atomic Platters writes that the songwriting team “likens the advent of atomic power to that of the second coming of Christ.” Perhaps it was these lines to which the website’s author was referring.

Are you ready
For the great atomic power?
Will you rise and meet your Savior in the air?

But, to this author, “The Great Atomic Power” sounds more like an ode to “left behind” — an invitation to join end-timers or dispensationalists, who believe that, just before Armageddon, they will transported to heaven, or at least into the sky — “Will you rise and meet your Savior in the air?” Also: “There is one way to escape it. . . . Give your heart and soul to Jesus. . . . For your soul will fly to safety.”

The song is mercifully free of the gloating typical of end-timers today. Perhaps that wasn’t a characteristic of dispensationalism at the time. Besides, while Ira was notorious for his drinking and tried to strangle the third of his four wives (prompting her to shoot him in the back), Charlie Louvin was known for his kind heart.

What would end-timers do without the threat of nuclear annihilation? It may not be indispensable to their scenario — after all, the earth could be struck by an asteroid. But an asteroid lacks the requisite element of conflict so critical to the recipe for Armageddon.

Once again, we’re left to ponder what kind of people take solace in a world-ending scenario which only they survive. One can understand the satisfaction they might feel on seeing nonbelievers by whom they felt disrespected getting theirs. Not to mention the requisite “East Coast elites” and abortion doctors, etc. But the end-timers also exhibit a fatalistic outlook toward life on earth, almost as if they were serfs in the Middle Ages. It’s like the planet, its demise foreordained, only exists as an end to the means of the Rapture. After all, what is the Rapture, but the sweet synergy of festering resentments, self-hatred, and passivity acting in potent concert?

Let’s say that the Rapture actually came to pass. The reaction of true Christians would likely stand in stark contrast to that of developmentally stunted end-timers. When they meet their “Savior in the air,” far from relishing their status as chosen ones and thumbing their noses at those left behind, true Christians would beseech Christ to save all mankind, not just them.

Where do end-timers get the idea that Christ would buy into a cliquish mentality anyway? In analyzing the Louvin Brothers’ song, Atomic Platters mistakenly “likens the advent of atomic power to that of the second coming of Christ.” The true erroneous conflation is Jesus Christ with the avenging God of the Old Testament.

*Raul Malo, the Mavericks (from whence sprung Malo), and the great Dwight Yoakam are about the only modern country musicians this writer can tolerate. Though he’s fond of the best of old country such as Patsy Cline, Bob Wills, and Tex Ritter.

A Middle East Deja Vu

Mossadeq(Pictured: Mohammed Mossadeq during his post-coup trial.)

As if out of nowhere, hundreds of thousands of protestors took to the streets, fueled by poverty, hunger, and anger at their repressive autocratic government. Though the regime was hailed as a beacon of stability in an otherwise volatile region, its collapse was as unexpected as it was rapid. The police quickly lost control, the military refused to fire on protestors, and within the scope of a few days the old order came crashing down. The West, while outwardly supportive of the people’s democratic aspirations, worried about the loss of a stable Middle East ally which had developed historic military and intelligence coordination with Israel.

The description above could serve as an account of events leading up to the overthrow of Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak. However, it also tells the story of the great Iranian uprising. Not the 1979 revolution that ushered in Ayatollah Khomeini and his cohorts—the feared replay of which has caused much handwringing among some neoconservatives and their Likud counterparts—but rather its 1951 precursor, which ended in 1953 with a U.S.- and UK-backed coup to restore “stability” to the region. In many ways, the West’s uncompromising prioritization of its strategic interests over its stated guiding principles was directly responsible for the later outgrowth of a virulently anti-American political philosophy in Iran. Though Egypt’s revolution may not resemble Iran’s in 1979, the way the U.S. responds to the ousting of an unpopular—but western-friendly—dictator could go a long way towards creating the conditions for a similar outcome.

The Legacy of Mossadeq

Though largely forgotten in the West, the CIA-orchestrated coup that ousted democratically elected Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq is ingrained in the collective consciousness of the Middle East. Back in the early 1950s, the Iranian public had grown weary of their stagnant economy, rising unemployment, and most of all, the painfully imbalanced oil concessions that siphoned much-needed public money into foreign hands. Previous attempts to address the issue, even entreaties by the Shah himself, were rebuked by the British. Frustrated by their powerlessness, Iranians rallied behind an emerging leader who promised to address the issue by nationalizing the country’s oil resources. His successful election and appointment as prime minister worried Iran’s western allies, who feared that his nationalist populism would not conform to their strategic regional objectives.

Almost immediately, the U.S. establishment went into propaganda overdrive. Analysts and press outlets warned of Soviet ties to the new “radical” government under Mossadeq, whom they accused of harboring secret “communist leanings.”[1] Galvanizing U.S. fear of Soviet encirclement, politicians and diplomats warned that the new government, though democratically elected, would almost certainly evolve into a Soviet satellite. This fear-mongering campaign culminating with John Foster Dulles’s warning President Eisenhower that “a communist takeover is becoming more and more of a possibility.”[2] Spurred by a perceived need to counter radicalism and secure regional stability, Eisenhower gave the go-ahead for Operation Ajax which—through a combination of bribes, blackmail, and staged protests—set the stage for a coup to oust Iran’s democratically elected president and return the Shah to power.[3]

In retrospect, Mossadeq now appears to have been little more than a “progressive liberal.” But fogged by the fear and paranoia of the time, the U.S. government chose to handle him as an existential threat to U.S. regional influence. The United States has been paying for this mistake ever since, as scholars on Iran almost unanimously agree that the interference and subsequent dismantling of Iran’s democratically elected government played a significant role in the widespread anti-Americanism that later characterized the 1979 revolution. Unless the Obama administration is very careful, the United States may very well make the same mistakes again in Egypt. And like 1953, there may be no second chances for decades to come.

Read the rest of this article at Right Web.

Samer Araabi is a contributor to Right Web and Foreign Policy in Focus.

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