Omid Memarian

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Why This Election is All About Character, Not Real Issues
(this piece first published on HuffingtonPost)

Sen. McCain's risky decision to run his presidential campaign based on character assassination, spreading fear and hatred and even questioning the patriotism of members of Congress, is the best indication that, come November, the Americans' decisions will be based more on the candidates' characters rather than real issues.

For some reason, whether it is because he is loosing control over his campaign, has weak stance in the Republican Party or has an obsessive desire to go the While House, McCain's behavior over the past few months has displayed an alarming inconsistency in his character, which is at odds with his previous alleged values and principles.

John McCain has repeatedly said he is not President Bush. But he is using the same fear mongering tactics that Bush has employed during the past eight years. The difference is that McCain is using those tactics against a "decent" citizen, a member of Congress who has been serving his country for more than 20 years. McCain has applied the same good-evil philosophy of the Bush administration, believing that everybody who is not for us is against us. Thus, it is not surprising that one of McCain's surrogates mentioned investigating members of Congress to see who is pro-American and who is anti-American, one of the most divisive allegations we have seen since the McCarthy era.

It fits in this evil-good doctrine that Sarah Palin can categorize the country into Pro-America areas and call her opponent somebody "who is palling around with terrorists." The fact that terms like "kill him" and "terrorist" have become the dominant narrative of aMcCain's campaign indicates which John McCain Americans will get to vote for come election day.

With it becoming more and more obvious that the United States is experiencing its worst time economically, politically and morally since World War II, running a divisive, polarizing campaign based on fear and hatred is the last thing Americans need.

If newspapers that traditionally endorse the Republican candidate shift their support to Obama, this will further illustrate how McCain's character flip-flop and lack of consistency have affected the public sphere. Colin Powel's endorsement and, more importantly, the justifications for his endorsement are also indications of McCain's poor judgment in choosing to run a negative campaign:
"I come to the conclusion that because of his [Obama's] ability to inspire, because of the inclusive nature of his campaign, because he is reaching out all across America, because of who he is and his rhetorical abilities -- and you have to take that into account -- as well as his substance -- he has both style and substance," Powell said. "He has met the standard of being a successful president, being an exceptional president."
People generally vote based on their candidate's character. Character gives them a general impression about who their President is going to be and what they will represent. It's hard for many people to remember details of policies candidates promise, but they surely can see what kind of character can transcend race, religion and class and mobilize the country to move down a path it left eight years ago.

Just a few weeks prior to the elections, it's now clear that John McCain, the war hero and John McCain, the 2008 Presidential candidate are two distinct personalities. He contradicts the essential values and norms that he fought for decades ago.

Friday, October 10, 2008

"NYT: McCain camp pushed Ayers report"

You might thing it's just the economy on the edge of fall, but for many it's the mainstream media; by fueling the nasty and silly season of politics.  Four weeks before the general elections, cable networks, some of the newspapers and major talk shows systematically divert the attention of people from the first issue of the United States, economy, to the nasty attacks that are used by Sen. McCain's campaign against Sen. Obama. It was not surprising, and is not the first time, that the Times distance itself from objective journalism and will not be the last one, but it's a sad sign for the media which instead of being a pillar for democracy is a major factor to distort it:
"As the McCain campaign has launched a full-scale assault on Barack Obama’s relationship to ‘60s radical William Ayers, vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin has explained the timing this way: The New York Times made us do it.

The Times published a front-page story about Ayers and Obama on Saturday, and Palin said Tuesday she was simply “responding to the news of the day” by repeatedly mentioning Ayers on the stump.

Bill Keller, executive editor of the Times, sees the timetable for the Ayers uproar in a very different way, however. He told Politico that the paper was motivated to report out the Ayers link because the McCain campaign has been pushing it — not the other way around.

“We've reported the Ayers relationship before, and we had it on our to-do list for a while to take a more comprehensive look,” Keller said in an e-mail. “When the McCain campaign began to make it a major focal point of ads and stump speeches, we decided the time was right.” (Read the rest of the story here)

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

"KEATING ECONOMICS: John McCain & The Making of a Financial Crisis"

During the past week, Obama and McCain's campaign have been attacking each other over a variety of issues, backed by TV ads. Among what I've seen, the one that Obama campaign has released recently about Sen. McCain's involvement in Keating Scandal is well made and professionally impressive. It's not a sort of video that has made on a gaffe or a mis-statement over a week. This shows the Obama camp has been working on TV ads like this for a while. The fact that his campaign welcomed turning the direction of the campaign from the first issue of the time, economy, to characters of the candidate, might be a hint that they have provided enough material for going that way...

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Bob Woodward: Bush Said His Iran Strategy Was "They're A**holes"

When Admiral Fallen asked in a meeting with President Bush what the U.S. strategy toward Iran is, he responded; " They're assholes." There is a very famous saying that "leaders are the essence of their nations." Unlike many people around the world, I am so hesitant to agree this applies to the American people. President Bush simply is not what the United States is all about. An administration that not only thinks this way about Iranians, but also has the same idea about the other countries. You can not do what you do in Iraq, Afghanistan and many other places on the planet unless you think they are "a**holes". When you characterize your enemies in this way, then you can torture them, bomb them, humiliate them and legitimize it under the cover of patriotism and defending the country. No matter you are a Democrat or a Republican, what has been done during the Bush era takes decades for the United States to fix.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Why there is no victory in Iraq ... and McCain's outdated foreign  policy model!

Below you see my opinions about last week's presidential elections, U.S. foriegn policy and also the issues that are missed in the mainstream media in the United States in an interview with Frontline/world, PBS:

"The U.S and other countries are under the imminent threat of micro-terrorism conducted not by hostile states but by non-state actors and ideological groups with strong beliefs on how to change the current global order. These are the groups that can carry a nuclear bomb in a suitcase to the United States and do something catastrophic without the involvement of any country.

In the era of "new wars," the U.S. needs to reframe its perception of friend and foe if it wants to strengthen its position in the global war on terror. For example, recruiting Iran and Syria to be on America's side in the war against terrorism is such a step. America should look at forming coalitions with a long-term view. Should it compromise? Of course!
....
Regarding the numbers and outcomes of the polls, it seems that American society is not in favor of a solution-based discourse. The debate reminds me of Hollywood. They are the people who admire Batman, Hancock, Superman and Spiderman and seem to like leaders who rely on their muscles and power instead of their minds. Instead of looking at politics as a chess game, they look at it as a boxing match. (rest of the interview here)

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Friday, September 26, 2008

Ahmadinejad Open to U.S. Talks, Denounces Threats

(My story about President Ahmadinejad's press conference at the United Nations, New York, IPS News Agency)

UNITED NATIONS, Sep 24 (IPS) - At a press conference following his speech to the U.N. General Assembly Tuesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he would welcome discussions with the U.S. presidential candidates, but added that "the condition is that our meeting should be open so that all media know what happens."

Ahmadinejad's appearance in New York provoked a series of demonstrations against Iran's human rights record and by Jewish groups angry at his description of the Nazi Holocaust as a "myth".

In a fiery speech at the U.N., he maintained his harsh tone toward Israel, but welcomed opening a dialogue with the United States, if Washington backed off from its threat of military force.

While Democrat Barack Obama has said he would focus on sanctions and direct diplomacy with Tehran, neither he nor his Republican opponent, John McCain, are willing to take the military option "off the table".

Ahmadinejad stressed that the U.S. government unilaterally severed its relations with Iran in 1979. "We have always been in favour of relations with other countries. The U.S. government thought by cutting ties they can punish Iran and prevent the development of out nation, but we are now stronger and more developed than the past," he said. (Continue...)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

When Palin Meet Ahmadinejad in Tehran?
(First appeared on Huffington Post)

It was a meaningful moment this morning for Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to be present in the General Assembly Hall to listen to President W. Bush's last speech to member states. But, is this a message to the United States? It certainly is. There is no doubt in anyone's mind that the mood in Tehran and Washington has changed.

It might seem that Ahmadinejad's third appearance at the United Nations this week seemed to provide the Republican campaign with another chance to attack Obama over his previous promise that, should he become president, he will meet with U.S. adversaries, including the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But the fact of the matter is that, regardless of who goes to the White House this January, the U.S. will start negotiations with the Iranian government, whether or not Ahmadinejad is Iran's new president.

However, due to the long history of hostility between the two states, politicians hesitate to acknowledge this fact. They continue to employ the carrot-stick style of foreign policy, first, in hope of gaining more in future negotiations with the Iranians and second, to save face before the American public, the administration has postponed something that it should have been done during the Iraq invasion in 2003, when Iranians felt extremely threatened and were ready to talk to the U.S. about any subject without any preconditions.

That's why no wise man in Washington or Tehran would take Palin's initial decision to participate in an Anti-Ahmadinejad protest seriously.

It was not surprising that few politicians supported the thought of a protest against the Iranian president. This fact might seem a little paradoxical, given that confronting Iran has been a centerpiece of the foreign policy agenda for much of the Bush administration.

Yet since 2007, even the Bush administration has come to the conclusion that, given the increasing amount of violence in Pakistan, an unstable situation in Afghanistan, the unfinished job to destroy Al-Qaeda, the disastrous peace process in the Middle East and, most recently, the bombing in Yemen, the U.S. has no choice but to talk with Iran, which now is arguably the most influential country in the region.

The United States has a long history of talking to adversaries -- most recently Libya and North Korea, but until this January, the government seemed to believe that it was better to postpone talking about the U.S's and Iran's joint strategic interests in the region.

The Republican campaign's current attack on Obama for his willingness to speak with Ahmadinjad is merely a poor attempt to suggest the naiveté of Obama's foreign policy judgment. It is based more on America's voting public's poor understanding about foreign policy than on specific facts.

For Ahmadinejad and conservatives in Tehran, however, it really does not make any difference whether the next U.S. president is a Democrat or a Republican, though Republicans historically have been friendlier with Iran.

So, forget Sarah Palin's suggestion to participate in a protest against Ahmadinejad in front of the United Nation's building. It is just a campaign fundraising tactic, Surprisingly, out of all the Middle Eastern leaders; no one is probably more similar to Palin than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Both Ahmadinejad and Sarah Palin were governors and mayors before running for national office. However, Ahmadinejad was the mayor of Tehran, with a population of 10 million while Palin was the mayor of Wasilla, with a population of just 7000.

Both ran for their mayoral positions on a very populist agenda: diminishing corruption, fighting against the party establishment, and speaking for the people.

Ahmadinejad's major foreign trip before become president was limited to a trip to Russia. Palin is also proud that she can see Russia from her house. Both were unknown on the national stage before running for presidency or vice presidency, and, more importantly, both are extremely ambitious.

Palin's tremendous sense of ambition might lead her to the extremes, such as bombing Iran or engaging in a comprehensive negotiation process, in order to solve America's messed up situation in the Middle East.

While there is no prospect for going to war with Iran, it's not far to imagine President Ahmadinejad and Sarah Palin, sitting and talking about their mutual concerns. She would be able to take such an extreme and necessary step for the United States. I did not consider Sen. McCain because two years from now, I do not think he will be healthy enough to leave the country.

Monday, September 22, 2008

 Activists Spotlight Rights Abuses on Eve of U.N. Meet
By Omid Memarian

(My story about the human rights activists' press conference a day before President Ahmadinejad's talk at the United Nations, New York)

UNITED NATIONS, Sep 22 (IPS) - A day before Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addresses world leaders at the United Nations, human rights activists criticised his government's record and urged the international community to hold the president accountable during his visit to New York.

At a press conference Monday held by Human Rights Watch and the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, activists stressed that basic human rights protections in Iran have deteriorated to new lows.

"The most urgent in relation to human rights in Iran is repression of civil society across the board, journalists, academics and human rights defenders who have gone to prison during President Ahmadinejad's tenure... [it] is a reminder to the world that there is a human rights crisis in Iran that is not diminishing -- it is actually escalating," Minky Worden, media director at Human Rights Watch, told IPS.

"It's very important for journalists and U.N. representative and other leaders to remind him that Iran is very much outside human rights norms and that all of these documents and treaties in relate to human rights that Ahmadinejad's government is signed on to they are not honouring those treaties," said Worden, adding that, "It's time for Iran to rejoin the international human rights norm."

A new briefing paper by the two groups, "Iran Rights Crisis Escalates: Faces and Cases from Ahmadinejad's Crackdown," documents the dire situation for human rights defenders and key dimensions of the human rights crisis in Iran today. Released ahead of Ahmadinejad's arrival at the opening ceremonies of the U.N. General Assembly, it highlights Iran's status as the world leader in juvenile executions.

Iran has executed six juvenile offenders so far in 2008, and more than 130 other juvenile offenders have been sentenced to death and are awaiting execution, according to human rights organisations.. (Continue...)

(Photo: From right to left: Minky Worden, Akbar Ganji, Hadi Ghaemi and Mehrangiz Kar / Credit:Omid Memarian/IPS)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

POLITICS: Iranians Hope for Temperate President at the U.N.
By Omid Memarian
(This piece was published in IPS News Agency and reprinted on Asia Times)

BERKELEY, California, Sep18 (IPS) - When Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attends the 63rd session of the General Assembly next week in New York, many Iranian academics and political activists hope he will avoid the kinds of controversial statements that have hurt Iran's international image since he was elected to the office in 2005.

In his third visit to U.N. headquarters in the United States, Ahmadinejad will address heads of state from around the world amid objections from human rights organisations and at least one pro-Israel rally that is scheduled to take place in front of the U.N. building.

Ahmadinejad's controversial remarks about Israel and description of the Holocaust by Nazi Germany as a "myth" have provoked a tremendous backlash by the international community during the past three years.

Asked what Iranians expect their president to say, and not to say, at the United Nations, Sadegh Zibakalam, a political science professor at the University of Tehran, told IPS in a telephone interview that he should avoid discussion of the Arab-Israeli conflict and especially the Holocaust.

"He mustn't discuss the Holocaust issue. He must refrain from discussing Israel's annihilation and its leaders' demise," Zibakalam said.

"He should not discuss Iran's eventual victory over the United States and its attempts to teach humanity a lesson -- he must seriously stay away from this type of rhetoric," said Zibakalam.

"He must move towards language through which he can demonstrate the Iranian people's respect for Americans and their elected leaders, respecting whomever will be the elected president of the U.S., whether Democrat or Republican, demonstrating [Iran's] willingness to seriously negotiate about Iran's regional and nuclear issues with the next president," he added.

Pres. Ahmadinejad has repeatedly said that he is willing to talk to the United States and other nations. However, his aggressive tone and Iran's dismissal of a series of U.N. Security Council resolutions against its nuclear programme, coupled with Washington's repeated accusations of meddling in Iraq, have sent a somewhat different message.

"He has announced on numerous occasions his desire to negotiate or to reach a resolution through negotiations," Ali Mazroui, a former member of Iran's Parliament, told IPS. "His rhetoric and his actions, however, have fallen short of providing assurances [to those countries], enlisting their response."

"There is a kind of contradiction between Mr. Ahmadinejad's verbal and actual policies. I have no hope for any kind of change regarding new avenues for Iran during this trip," added Mazroui.

Regarding plans by human rights and Jewish groups to stage news conferences to protest the situation of human rights in Iran and Ahmadinejad's speeches against Israel, Dr. Elaheh Koulaee, also a former parliamentarian and now a professor at the University of Tehran, told IPS that the determining factor in international politics has always been the consensus among powerful countries of the world.

"Street protests and civil society activities have not been terribly influential in Iran-U.S. relations," she said. "Therefore if Iran and the U.S. use opportunities available to them to discuss their needs within the framework of their interests, I doubt these types of protests will affect those dialogues."

Last month, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, Iran's vice president, said that Iran is "friends of all people in the world -- even Israelis." His remarks were widely denounced by Iran's hardliner establishment. Mashaie later claimed that his comments were misrepresented and clarified that that no one inside Iran recognises the Zionist regime. Surprisingly, the president has resisted intense pressure from the Parliament and some of the hardliner Ayatollahs and has not yet commented on the controversy.

The Islamic Republic has never recognised the state of Israel, and it remains unclear whether Mashaie's remarks and Ahmadinejad's silence denote a policy shift, or whether it was simply a gaffe.

"[Ahmadinejad] has said things in international circles which have led those countries to assume a negative position vis-a-vis Iran, as opposed to improving our relations with them. For example, what he said about Israel and Holocaust and the tensions he created on international and regional political levels," said Mazroui. "I think none of these discussions can help Iran."

Hooshang Amirahmadi, president of the American Iranian Council and a professor at Rutgers University, told IPS that the Iranian people are wary of war and have been badly hurt by years of sanctions.

"They want nothing more than peace and are yearning for prosperity. U.S.-Iran relations have been their key concern for years and at present over 90 percent of Iranians, including those in the government, want the relations normalised and quickly."

Amirahmadi, who is going to meet the Iranian delegation during their time in New York, has traveled to Iran several times during the past six months and has visited with President Ahmadinejad. He believes that the majority of the Iranian people want their president use the opportunity of his presence on U.S. soil to build goodwill with the U.S. people and government.

"This means that they do not want Pres. Ahmadinejad to use words and terminologies that will be annoying to his host," said Amirahmadi. "More importantly, they want the president speak of the Americans very highly and with utmost respect."

"I think Mr. Ahmadinejad should also use the opportunity to mend relations with a key player in U.S.-Iran relations, namely Israel," he added. "Here is an opportunity for him to reinforce the view expressed by one of his VPs that Iran is a friend of the Israeli people and that Iran consider the Jewish people as friends of Iran, though there are those in that community who are inimical toward the Islamic Republic."

However, it appears unlikely that this will come to pass. At a press conference in Tehran this week, Ahmadinejad repeated his assertion that the Holocaust was a "fake" and said the Jewish state would not survive in any form.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

What Do Sarah Palin and Dick Cheney have in Common?
(First appeard on HuffingtonPost.com)

1- Both overshadow the presidents they serve or are going to serve. It's hard to believe that during his administration, President Bush has made a single big decision without the supervision of his VP, Dick Cheney. On the other hand, in the two weeks since her nomination, Sarah Palin has effectively made Sen. McCain appear as No. 2 in the campaign; the Republicans' conservative base is much more enthusiastic about their VP than they are about the head of the ticket.

2- Both Cheney and Palin are better speakers than Bush and McCain, and both profess values that are in line with the policies of the Bush administration.

3- Both love hunting. It's not clear how this ties into their social and political values, particularly when it comes to foreign policy. But, it is a commonality. Both love guns: one locally, the other globally.

4- Both are interested in oil, energy and pipelines. Almost every expert in the field of energy believes that the current crises in oil production, demand and supply are consequences of global economic growth, particularly in developing countries like China. Republicans, however, believe offshore drilling is the solution. (Why?)

5- Both have - or will have- strong influence, or even control, over the President. In Cheney's case, it seems that President Bush, for whatever reason, has no other option to get the job done; in Palin's case, it seems that Sen. McCain's age, his short memory, his fragile position among the hard-line conservatives and Palin's own aggressive nature will lead her to jump and answer the 3 a.m. call.

6- Both have a daughter that contradicts their conservative values. There is a slight difference: in Cheney's case, it is a matter of his adult daughter's orientation, whereas in Palin's case, it is a matter of a lack of sex education. Interestingly, both dealt with their family issues in a rather liberal manner.

7- For obvious reasons, both hesitate to appear on TV shows and expose themselves the media.

8- Both invoke God to justify their foreign policy. Palin's remark about Iraq being a task from God is just an example. (George Bush: 'God told me to end the tyranny in Iraq')

9- Both enjoy the same team of advisors and speechwriters.

10- Both are longing for the days to come after the election. Palin will start her unexpected dream job, and Cheney will be relieved of 8 years of service with one of the most unpopular President the United States has ever had.

10+1- Both fit the pitbull analogy in both campaign strategy and foreign policy style. The only difference is one wears lipstick.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Shimon Prez: The Americans are making a mistake in their foreign policy

He might be the last person you expect to criticize U.S. foreign policy. In an interview with Sunday Times President Prez, 85, says why he thinks that Iran is not Israel's enemy: 

“The military way will not solve the problem,” said Peres, the 85-year-old founder of the Jewish state’s nuclear programme, in an interview with The Sunday Times.
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Sipping black coffee at the presidential residence in Jerusalem, Peres also criticised American foreign policy in highly unusual terms for an Israeli leader, saying it relied too much on military force in attempts to impose democracy on the Middle East.

“Bush stood up with the democratic slogan [for the Middle East] which is based on American democratic ideas and faced . . . enormous opposition,” he said." (Read the rest of the interview here)

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Tuesdays with Rupert

A good story about Rupert Rupert Murdoc in Vanity Fair October issue:
"uying The Wall Street Journal was surely an exercise of pure fantasy. To think he could take over a company absolutely controlled by a family that had repeatedly said it would never sell was fantasy. To think it was worth what he was paying for it was fantasy. And yet … now it’s his, and if his shareholders are puzzled and grumpy (News Corp. shares are down by more than 30 percent since he bought Dow Jones), so be it (he’ll ignore them as much as he ignores his other critics). He’s in it for the long haul—even at 77." (Read the rest of the story here)

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Democrats' Post Palin Campaign Strategy: Ignore Her, Attack McCain?
(First appeared on HUffingtonpost.com)

A week after John McCain announced Alaskan governor Sarah Palin as his running mate, the Republican campaign strategy seems to have regressed to that of the 2004 elections, focusing more on the Democracrs characters rather than actual issues.
Also, the Palin "phenomenon" appears to be distracting Democrats from the main point of their campaign: strengthening the McCain-Bush connection.
After Palin's speech at the GOP Convention, we can now say that McCain's vice president selection was one of the smartest decisions he could have made, not only with respect to the Republican agenda but also regarding the nature and dynamics of the two campaigns.

She should enjoy embracing the legacy of a double-standard seen in Sen. Clinton's campaign against Obama. Anyone who attacks Palin could be accused of sexism while any attacks she levies against others will only further prove her self-confidence and readiness for the job. Criticizing Palin thus just enhances her position on McCain's ticket. Should Democrats question her past, personal characteristics, flaws, or level of experience, Rapublicans can fire back with similar questions about Obama. This will only divert voters' attention away from the major issues at hand, specifically the similarities between McCain's and Bush's policies.

It's fair to say that Palin's effect on the Republican Party is similar to Obama's impact on the Democrats. Like Obama, she appeals to the average American. She is ambitious, hardworking, family-oriented, tough, aggressive, a capable speaker, and a Washington outsider.

She also compensates McCain's poor communication skills. Despite having a thin resume and meager national experience, she has shown that with a good script, she can be a capable attack dog.

However, unlike Obama who has worked in national and international politics for years, Palin's experience lies only in local politics. Her education is average, and her sarcasm is mean. Yet, her core values match those of conservative Republicans, giving the more moderate McCain a connection to these voters.

While it remains unclear whether Palin is the right person for the job, it is apparent that during her brief time on the national stage, she has managed to shift the direction of the presidential campaign from targeting substantial issues to targeting personal characters.

Palin, however, has a long way to go. Only by responding intelligently to questions posed by analysts and opponents will she prove that she is ready for the job and not just on the Republican ticket to lure small town Americans and disenchanted Clinton supporters. By questioning Palin's qualifications, Democrats are just wasting precious time and energy
Republicans have shown in past few elections that they are masters of effective campaigning. Only by attacking McCain's and Bush's policies can Democrats put Palin in a corner and make her prove herself.

The ball is now in the Democrats court.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Will Palin Cover McCain's Age Problem?

One might think that McCain's extensive experience gives him the security to choose a younger, relatively inexperienced running mate. But this is not the issue. The fact of the matter is, if something happens to McCain's health (and that is a definite possibility), does Palin have the experience to lead the country?

A VP must be able to successfully assume presidency should something happen to the president before the next election.

McCain should have chosen an experienced person, who not only has been a player in national politics but also is familiar with in the international atmosphere and the United States' current problems in the world. Sarah Palin is a capable local politician with a shining future, but her youth does not compensate for her lack of experience or Sen. McCain's shortcomings, particularly his age.

McCain deflected questions about his age during the primary campaign by mentioning the good health of his 96 year-old mother. But the president's job is tough; it requires hours of relentless work without sleep and asks one to make critical decisions under tremendous pressure. The president needs to be highly intelligent, energetic, and sharp in both brain and body.

Some of McCain's recent mistakes, like his Internet illiteracy, references to the "Iraqi-Pakistani border" and accusations that Iranians are training Al-Qaeda operatives, are the direct consequences of his age.

Serving the country with bravery and then writing a compelling biography are not enough to lead a country. McCain's Vietnam experience is an extraordinary, fascinating story, but does not enhance his current mental abilities or decrease his risk of a heart attack.

To place the well-being his country first, McCain should have selected a more qualified running mate with the potential to be president, not somebody whose first foreign policy lesson will be matching names with the appropriate country on a map. Sen. McCain's effort to attract disenchanted seems to be the main factor in choosing the unknown Alaskan governor.

Contrary to McCain's campaign promise, he is not putting the country first, but rather his dream of occupying the White House.

On June 26, senior adviser to McCain Steve Schmidt claimed that, "Too many in Washington are putting politics first and country second." It seems McCain is on the same path. Mark Salter the co-author of McCain's five books and a close advisor said recently: "We're not going to do anything dishonorable. But we are going to try to win." Well Sen. McCain, you are on track!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Q&A:A Holiday in Iran
My interview with blogger and globe-trotter Michelle May (First appeared on IPS New Agency)

OAKLAND, California, Aug 26 (IPS) - When Michelle May, an avid traveler, returned to New York's John F. Kennedy airport after a seven-week trip to Iran this summer, she says she was closely questioned and her luggage searched after officials read on her customs card that she had been to the Islamic Republic.

When May asked why she was being subjected to such scrutiny, a customs agent said, "They were the ones who attacked us."

"This response embarrassed me as an American -- to think that there are people in my country who still today are so confused by the 9/11 terrorist attacks and who perpetrated them," May told IPS correspondent Omid Memarian in an interview.

The number of U.S. citizens who visit Iran is less than a 1,000 a year. During her 10-week trip in June and July, May posted pictures of herself with ordinary Iranian people on Facebook, a popular social networking website, and continuously updated her blog, drawing considerable comments and attention.

Although U.S. citizens are not allowed to travel in Iran without an official government-approved tour guide with them at all times, May used her Irish passport and was able to travel independently.

May, 35, has traveled to 48 countries over the past decade. Her latest journey included Iran's northern Caspian Sea and border region with Turkmenistan, to Kurdistan along the border of Iraq, and finally to the dangerous region of Baluchistan.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

IPS: How were you welcomed in Tehran's International Airport, as an American, and at JFK airport, as somebody who was coming back from a member of the "axis of evil" club?

MM: In Tehran, I quickly passed through immigration and customs, with fellow passengers helping me carry my luggage, and kind smiles from chador-clad female Iran customs agents.

In contrast, back home at JFK I was treated with great suspicion. One customs agent even asked me if the U.S. government had given me "permission" to go to Iran. In fact, I do not need my government's "permission" to go to Iran. Given the fact I have passed through customs over 100 times in my life and never been searched at all until now leads me to suspect that I was treated this way simply because I was coming from Iran.

IPS: What was your impression about Iranians' opinion of the United States and Americans?

MM: Time and time again I was told by Iranians of varying walks of life that they "love" Americans and they badly want a "relationship" with Americans. I never felt unwelcome and I never felt unsafe. In fact, most people I spent time with seemed to be "proud" of me -- for lack of a better word. Many expressed that they wished there were more American tourists.

IPS: What were their opinions of U.S.-Iran relations?

MM: Many expressed that regardless whether they agree with the U.S. government or not, their feelings about my government's acts have no bearing on how they view the individual people of America. Many said they were sad that they could not have more relations with the everyday people of America due to serious visa constraints on both sides prohibiting much tourism.

IPS: As a woman you have to wear a hijab headscarf and mantou, which covers your body. What was your feeling about it and also the women in different parts of Iran?

MM: At the end of two months, I had gotten used to it and see its benefits -- just as many women of Muslim countries do. It is a great deterrent for unwanted male attention, it shelters you from the intense sun, and lastly, it takes the guesswork out of what to wear each day.

In different parts of the country, the hijab changes. In some parts like Kurdistan, and Baluchistan the hijab is much more colourful and casual. While in urban centres black seems to dominate though many times it comes in the form of a skin-tight mantou, in addition to extremely heavy makeup, and bleach blond hair popping out from under the headscarf. The Iranian hijab is open to personal interpretation, unlike other countries in the region.

IPS: You traveled from Iran's Baluchistan, which has been a target by rebels in recent years, groups like Jondollah, who have carried out a series of kidnappings. Weren't you afraid of being kidnapped?

MM: Everyone told me I should be afraid, but I was also told that if I went that I would have a police escort with me anytime I left my guest house, as well as a police motorcade if I decide to travel from one city to the next. I went and found this to in fact to be true. The police made sure that nothing happened to me.

IPS: What do people think of these groups?

MM: The people I spoke with are scared of them and do not travel to that region because of these groups. Those who believe that the U.S. is funding these groups are angry that an outside force is disrupting the peace in their country.

IPS: Do they follow the U.S. elections?

MM: Yes. Many expressed they felt [Democrat Barack] Obama was a man of peace and therefore the man for the job, while others felt that [Republican John] McCain was their preference since he has a "heavy hand". I was surprised to meet some people who agree with the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan; however, the majority of people I met are very sad about what is happening to their neighbours. They know that the outcome of November's elections may affect them.

IPS: What's people general opinion about their government, and particularly President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

MM: Most people I met said they do not feel that Ahmadinejad represents them. Most said that since he came to power their country has gone backwards and that they are suffering, especially economically. They do not simply blame him, however; most I met blame the mullahs who they feel truly call the shots.

IPS: What kind of people did you meet, and how religious did you find ordinary people in different cities to be?

MM: I met a variety of people, but most I met do not consider themselves to be "very religious." Still, they love Islam and the Koran, yet they do not go to mosque every day; among the younger set, I did not meet many who even pray every day. The "very religious people" I did meet were very kind and open to me; they seemed very tolerant.

IPS: What are major differences you saw in Iran versus neighbouring countries?

MM: From what both Sunni and Shiite people told me, it seems Shiite people are more modern in dress, and more flexible in their interpretation of their religion than their Sunni neighbors. Women also are more present in Shiite society, and seem to be a bigger part of the workforce than the neighbouring countries I have been to. At night-time, society is very alive -- parks are packed with families enjoying meals and music; women are out late, laughing, enjoying themselves, and even smoking hookah

Monday, August 25, 2008

There is no win in Iraq : "Avoiding the V Word"

John McCain who thinks the surge is working in Iraq and the U.S. forces are about to win this conflict has praised Gen. David Petraeus repeatedly, a man who is not sure about the level success in Iraq. Simply because beyond the political gimmicks, there is not a single fair person who thinks there would be wining in Iraq is a short time, should the U.S. pursue the current path there. Petraeus cautions against premature declarations of victory in an interview with Newsweek magazine. I think he is, mainly, pointing out John who has made the "V" in Iraq the major talking point of his foreign policy agenda:
"Gen. David Petraeus has no intention of doing a victory lap on his way out of Iraq. So when his aides proposed a valedictory interview with NEWSWEEK, they made it clear the theme would not pick up from our 2004 cover, "Can This Man Save Iraq?" As "the boss" (which is what his subordinates call him) heads off next month to take over the U.S. military's Central Command, which is in charge of Afghanistan, as well as Iraq, there would be none of this, "So Did This Man Save Iraq?" No surprise there, from a military leader wise enough to quote Seneca in his guidance to the troops and media-savvy enough to warn them, "Don't put lipstick on a pig." (Read the rest of the story here)

" McCain vs Biden: Not All "Foreign Policy Experience" Is Created Equal"

I think Arianna Huffington's piece about Biden-McCain contrast, is one of the most articulate pieces about the Democratic VP pick:
"The past seven-plus years have shown us that "foreign policy experience," in and of itself, isn't all it's cracked up to be. For Exhibit A of this look no further than George Bush's most "experienced" foreign policy advisor: Dick Cheney. How's that working out? And Don Rumsfeld had spent lots of time on foreign policy practice field too.

What's great about the Biden pick isn't just that he has "foreign policy expertise," it's what kind of expertise he has, how he uses it, and how useful his expertise is for the unique challenges we currently face around the world. His approach favors diplomacy and engagement - backed up by a toughness that allowed him to confront Milosevic face-to-face." (Read the rest of the piece here)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

"The New Great Game"

This is really a new great game! Russia-Georgia conflict has certainly changed the power discourse in the Central Asia. It has already affected the US- Russia fragile coalition to deter Iran. Now, the U.S. has to think of a new set of policy to reframe Iran's role in the region, and also and deter Russian's endless ambitions. Surprisingly, there is one common feeling between the United States and Iran, at least at this particular time, which is their mistrust about Russia. On the other hand, Iran and Russian's alliance is not based on strategic foundation. During the past two hundred years ago, Iranian have suffered from the Russian Empire repeatedly. But will the U.S. take advantage of the new situation? Read Newsweek's article addressing this issue below: 
"History, especially Caucasian, Caspian and Central Asian history has restarted with a vengeance. The dynamics of confrontation and conciliation in Iran's neighborhood are now every bit as complicated as they were in the 19th century, when an expanding Russian empire came up against the intrigues, alliances and sometimes overt military actions of imperial Britain in the rivalry that became known as "The Great Game." What's needed as we start reshaping American policy to fit the new circumstances is a reality check or, perhaps better said, a realpolitik check." (Read the rest of the story here)

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Joe Biden, Obama's VP!

Finally Barack Obama, announced his VP last night, a man who is well kwon mostly for his credentials in foreign policy. Although, Senator McCain and Senator Biden, both embrace a long time involvement in FP issues, they do have seprate and fundementaly different styles. The below video shows, for instance, how he looks at Iraq war:

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Friday, August 22, 2008

"No medals for the IOC"

Minky Worden Minky, media director at Human Rights Watch and editor of "China's Great Leap: The Beijing Games and Olympian Human Rights Challenges," that I interviewed her weeks ago for IPS, has published an op-ed piece in the International Herald Tribune about China, Olympics and the pledges that did not come true. She says in spite of pledges of media and Internet freedom made to the International Olympic Committee while bidding for the 2008 Olympics, the Chinese authorities are continuing to block access to Web sites of some international human rights organizations, press freedom groups and overseas Chinese-language news Web sites:
"The IOC is no stranger to creating new structures to deal with its failings. In the 1980s, major doping scandals led to negative headlines and the forced return of the Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson's gold medal. To save the Olympic movement, the IOC helped set up the World Anti-Doping Agency.

The corruption scandal that tainted the awarding of the 2002 Winter Games to Salt Lake City led to the expulsions and sanctions of some 20 Olympic committee members. The IOC set up an ethics committee in the wake of the public outcry." (Read the rest of this piece here.)

Exclusive Premiere: An Anthem For Change

New Obama ad featuring a number of celebrities has just come out. It's beautiful and touching, however long and repetitive. Worth watching though! Read Dave Stewart's story about this video here...

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Response to 9/11 Offers Outline of McCain Doctrine

An extensive review about McCain's war enthusiasm in the New York Times. This article shows what kind of president McCain would be, should he go to the office this January.
"Whether through ideology or instinct, though, Mr. McCain began making his case for invading Iraq to the public more than six months before the White House began to do the same. He drew on principles he learned growing up in a military family and on conclusions he formed as a prisoner in North Vietnam. He also returned to a conviction about “the common identity” of dangerous autocracies as far-flung as Serbia and North Korea that he had developed consulting with hawkish foreign policy thinkers to help sharpen the themes of his 2000 presidential campaign." (Read the rest of the article here)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

My Interview With Deborah Campbell: How Hezbollah's Triumph is Blowback for U.S. Policy
(First published on Huffington Post)

Why after the Israel-Lebanon 34-day war two years ago, and particularly after the Doha accord in May, which restored Hezbollah to the Lebanese government and essentially gave it the veto power it demanded, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has been the most popular figure anywhere in the Arab world?
2008-08-19-DeborahCampbellwebsite.jpg
After returning from months in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, Deborah Campbell the author of This Heated Place, a narrative exploration of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and an adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia, in an interview with me spoke about the meteoric rise of Hezbollah in the aftermath of the 2006 war, the Doha agreement and the prisoner exchange with Israel.

Campbell has written for The Economist, New Scientist, Ms. magazine, the Guardian and Asia Times, and recently reported for Harper's on the two months she spent "embedded" with Iraqi refugees. Over the past seven years, she has extensively chronicled the fault lines in the Middle East from Iran to Palestine, immersing herself for extended periods in the societies she writes about.

Omid Memarian: How did the 2006 war with Israel affect Lebanese society?

Deborah Campbell: Obviously it was devastating, both in terms of the economy and the psychology of the society. That summer, Lebanon finally appeared to be recovering from the years of civil war and was anticipating a banner year for tourism. Instead, the country endured billions of dollars in infrastructure destruction and once again the tourists fled, as did Lebanese themselves. Twelve hundred Lebanese were killed, the vast majority of them civilians. And the divisions in the society returned to the forefront, with part of the population supporting Hezbollah as their defenders against Israel and another part blaming Hezbollah for provoking an Israeli attack. At the same time, the fact that Israel, with one of the world's strongest armies backed by the military and diplomatic power of the United States, was unable to defeat a small band of a few thousand Hezbollah fighters came as a shock to the entire region.

In a single month Israel managed to lose its mythical aura of invincibility, which was just as important, and perhaps more important, to its security than its nuclear arsenal. Israel has yet to recover, and now we see Olmert stepping down. I would say his resignation has just as much to do with the failures of that war, where Israeli soldiers were so unprepared that they had to raid Lebanese shops for food, as his corruption investigation. It was the soldiers themselves who led the protests against him after the war.

OM: Given that, as you say, part of the Lebanese society sees Hezbollah as the cause of the vast destruction in southern Lebanon, two years after the war and particularly after the recent prisoner exchange, how is Hezbollah perceived?

DC: There is no question that Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is the most popular figure anywhere in the Arab world, and he's not even the leader of a state. For many Arabs, including Lebanese, he is the only person who has successfully stood up to Israel, starting by ending Israel's occupation of southern Lebanon in 2000, then by forcing the Israeli army to a standstill in 2006, and finally through the prisoner exchange. What did Israel get out of this deal? Two dead soldiers. When I went to the south of Lebanon in July I saw posters that read "Nasrallah is the guarantee of freedom. Olmert is the guarantee of humiliation." Another, regarding the prisoner exchange, read, "Lebanon is shedding tears of joy. Israel is shedding tears of pain." The scene in Beirut on the day of the prisoner exchange, with cars racing through the street waving flags and girls hanging out of the windows, reminded me of a country that had just won the World Cup.

But particularly among the Sunni community in Lebanon there are those who feel enormously threatened by the shifting balance of power caused by the rising esteem and influence of the Shia population. For decades the Shia were seen as the shoeshine boys and street-cleaners, and now not only have the Shia had their honor restored but they are becoming educated and rising in social status. Hezbollah provides scholarships for young Shias to the best universities in Lebanon--not so they can join the military side or even the party, but so they can return to their communities and help them develop.

All of this is challenging the social order, which is very threatening for some people, particularly Sunnis, who are traditionally second only to the Christians in this sectarian-based society. Now you are seeing a very dangerous trend where some Sunnis are developing jihadist tendencies, with the reported support of Saudi money, which is practically limitless given the price of oil. In some Sunni villages women are even veiling their faces. This is new. At the same time other Sunnis openly support America and Israel. Essentially, any ally they can find against Hezbollah.

OM: Is Hassan Nasrallah popular among Muslims or Christians?

DC: I talked to a Sunni economist, educated at the London School of Economics, who calls Nasrallah a demi-god. "The right man for the right moment" is how he characterized him. His sentiment, shared by many, is that Nasrallah never makes a promise he doesn't keep, and that he's incorruptible. This distinguishes him from the rest of the power elites in Lebanon, many of whom are ex-warlords who keep recycling back into power. These guys live like rock stars. On the Christian side you have a huge number, the supporters of Michel Aoun, who are the main allies of Hezbollah. They don't seem at all threatened by the rise in Shia influence and don't think it will mean an end to girls wearing bikinis on the beach. This is about power, not religion.

OM: What are the main foreign forces that directly or indirectly influence Lebanese politics?

DC: Lebanon is a very small country of about 4 million, the size of a middling city, and it has long been manipulated by powerful outside forces. For Lebanese politicians, it's hard to resist the temptation that if you can't win on your own you find a stronger ally who can help you win. Of course Israel is the giant next door, and the reason Hezbollah exists. Hezbollah only came into existence after Israel invaded in 1982 and starting killing the Shia in the south, who had initially welcomed them as a weapon against the unsettling Palestinian presence. Syria, which sees Lebanon as part of its traditional territory, occupied Lebanon until it was forced out after the murder of the billionaire former prime minister Rafiq Hariri. Syria still plays an important role, though less so--and there is a growing rapprochement between the Lebanese and Syrian government.

The United States, as in most of the region, remains the senior western power, both as Israel's ally and by supporting, for example, people like Saad Hariri, the son of Rafiq Hariri, head of the Sunni Future Movement party. Though it should be said that US power is visibly waning throughout the region, and France seems more and more influential especially under Sarkozy. I mentioned Saudi money--Rafiq Hariri made his early fortune in Saudi Arabia before privatizing Beirut's prime real estate and transferring it into his own hands. Saudi money is everywhere in the region and one of the most under-reported phenomena, perhaps because they don't exactly give press conferences and perhaps because they are still allied with the US. For now. In affairs of power, most marriage are of convenience.

And Iran has supported Hezbollah from the beginning. You can see posters of Ayatollah Khomeini in the Dahiya, the Shia-dominated southern suburbs of Beirut. The notion that Iran is pulling the puppet strings on Hezbollah doesn't have much merit however--it's a confluence of interests, and Hezbollah runs itself with an efficiency that is absolutely without precedent in the region. As a journalist you quickly understand that you are not dealing with a bunch of rag-tag fighters. These guys are professional, disciplined, and smart. But to some extent you could view Lebanon, like Iraq, as another battleground in the proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. In both cases, Iran is currently winning.

OM: There have many discussions about the way Hezbollah, as a non-state actor, must be disarmed in order to bring peace to the region. Do people support this idea?

DC: Since the Doha accord in May, which restored Hezbollah to the Lebanese government and essentially gave it the veto power it demanded, nobody is talking about disarming Hezbollah. All of the politicians in Lebanon genuflected in return for photo-ops during the prisoner exchange. This exchange was an enormous publicity coup for Hezbollah, it can't be overstated. You won't find many in Lebanon who will argue that the Lebanese army could take on Israel, and that threat is omnipresent. Of course it would be helpful if all the actors in the Middle East put down their arms, but we live in reality.

OM: Can you see any situation in which Hezbollah would decide to disarm?

DC: Hassan Nasrallah mentioned in a speech recently that he would be willing to work with the Lebanese army on security. During the street-fighting in May between Hezbollah fighters and Hariri's men--who were so badly prepared that I'm still wondering who put them up to this--Hezbollah immediately transferred control of the areas they took over to the army. Perhaps, if Lebanon ever sets aside its entrenched sectarian system of governance--we can dream, right?

OM: In Western countries Hezbollah is considered a terrorist organization whereas in Arab countries it is seen as a legitimate force. How have these two polarized views prevented understanding of the realities on the ground?

DC: Well obviously Hezbollah represents a constituency that has legitimate fears and concerns, whatever we think of how they behave as a result. It is always the case that small groups use asymmetrical tactics against armies. As we know, Hezbollah built its strength on its social networks, delivering the services that the government cannot or will not provide to the impoverished Shia population. In the eyes of that population Hezbollah are their only defense against outside aggression, because no one else gives a damn. Labels are being used to dismiss the underlying concerns and until those concerns are addressed you will see non-state actors take over where government fail. At the same time, if a government did what Hezbollah has done, confronting Israel and the US, they would likely be branded as terrorists as well. Ultimately, and we should know this by now, we create peace by talking to our enemies, not our friends.

OM: You were recently in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. How do the Arab populations in these countries view Barack Obama, John McCain and US policy in general?

DC: Interestingly, when I arrived in Jordan I had dinner with a Palestinian businessman who ran security companies in Iraq. He was very pleased that McCain wanted to stay in Iraq for a hundred years--it's good for business. But the man everyone is talking about is Obama. Keep in mind that Arabs are not free of chauvinism against black people. And while some have read his books and most think he is more reasonable than McCain, they aren't expecting miracles. They were up in arms over his statements at the AIPAC conference about an undivided Jerusalem. Palestine is still the raw wound in the Middle East. The news stories of Palestinians living in the prison of Gaza, of Israeli settlers beating elderly farmers, and Israeli soldiers raiding orphanages, schools and shopping malls in the West Bank continue to incite rage at a time when the US is seen as increasingly irrelevant in the region. Meanwhile, if you go to Dubai, who do you see doing deals? The Chinese.

(An excerpt from the interview first appeared on IPS News Agency)

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Georgia-Russia Conflict: Moscow Challenges America's Global and Regional Authority

Not the Taliban in Afghanistan, insurgents in Iraq or even Hamas and Hezbollah in Lebanon and Palestine; but Russia is challenging America's authority worldwide, mocking its supposed leadership in international organizations like the United Nations and revealing an unpleasant double standard image of the United States.

In a Security Council meeting on August 10th, Zelmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, questioned Russia's objectives in expanding aggression beyond the South Ossetia region. He referred to a confidential call between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in which Lavrov had said that the elected president of Georgia "must go." "It's completely unacceptable and crossed the line," Khalilzad said. "Was Russia's objective [a] regime change in Georgia, the overthrow of the democratically elected Government of that country?"

Russia's Ambassador Churkin's response was short, clear and brutally naked: "'Regime change' was an American expression that Russia did not use."

When Khalilzad repeated his question, Churkin mocked him, saying "I have given a complete response and perhaps the United States' representative had not been listening when he had given his response, perhaps he had not had his earpiece on."

Two days after that, the U.N. Inner Press Service said that "Russian media reported that foreign fighters, including Americans, were found among the dead in Tskhinvali. Americans, who were probably either mercenaries or instructors in the Georgian armed forces."
Khalilzad responded to the Russian media reports with
"We hear a lot of propaganda. We've heard the U.S. gave the green light to this operation... I have nothing specific with regards to these reports, but I would not conclude that they are true. We did not have any prior knowledge or were not consulted by Georgia."
In the meantime, reports confirmed arms sales by Israel, America's closest ally in the region, to Georgia:
With the eruption of fighting between Russia and Georgia, Israel has found itself in an awkward position as a result of its arms sales to Georgia, caught between its friendly relations with Georgia and its fear that the continued sale of weaponry will spark Russian retribution in the form of increased arms sales to Iran and Syria.(IPS News Agency)

Russia is a major provider of nuclear and missile technology to Iran and Syria. Just a few month ago Russia vetoed a U.S. backed resolution against Zimbabwe, regarding its latest presidential elections.

Yet the United States accused Russia of something that it does on a regular basis. "Regime change" is a very well-known part of the U.S. foreign policy; people in Washington pursue it in different ways, from Latin America, to Iraq and Afghanistan, and --- if they could -- Iran. Some regime changes are successful; some are not and have disastrous consequences. Seymour Hersh's recent article on the United States' support of armed groups fighting against the Iranian government is the latest example of this kind of foreign policy.

Russians politics, on the other hand, has a tough, rough and pre-internet style.

The fact is that the United States ignores the role of international organizations and pursues a systematic double standard set of policies in areas like human rights and democracy. Therefore, it cannot preach to other powers like Russia and China for committing the same offenses.

The more the United States ignores its own advice, the more it undermines America's global authority, which has been growing since the end of World War II.

During the last 8 years, the moral authority of the U.S. particularly has been undermined by the Bush administration. Continuation of this foreign policy has brought humiliation, failure, mistrust and hatred for America and undermined its efficacy in international organizations.
Consequently, the U.S. alliance with Russia over Iran's nuclear and missile program seems rather fragile. Russia's tone towards the U.S. ambassador is a reflection of a bigger reality that explains why Moscow has never been willing to abide by U.S. demands when it comes to issues like the management of Iran.

Considering all of America's difficulties in the Middle East region , Washington's alienation of Moscow will heighten tensions between the two countries in the Middle East and Central Asia.

France's role in this short conflict also illustrates the emergence of E.U. as an organization enjoying a higher level of moral authority among a larger number of countries. The U.S. is arguably no longer the most effective nation when it comes to interfering, influencing and finally resolving conflicts among nations. This is just one of the lessons the U.S. could learn from the Georgia-Russia conflict. That is, of course, if the "earpieces" are on.

(Video Below: Georgian President Mikheil Saakasvhili tells CNN's John Roberts that how the United States is losing the Central Asia, and what they expect the world and the U.S. to do...)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

US/IRAN:Nothing Behind U.S. Allegations?
Analysis by Omid Memarian (This piece was published in IPS News Agency and reprinted on Alternet.org, UNobserver.com, CASMII, Antiwar.com, Global News Blog

UNITED NATIONS, Aug 13 (IPS) - While the United States has repeatedly accused Iran of providing lethal weapons to Shiite militias, last week, U.S. officials once again failed to provide solid evidence for this charge, raising questions about the actual level of Iran’s meddling in Iraq.

Last Wednesday, Alejandro Daniel Wolff, deputy permanent U.S. representative to the U.N., accused Tehran of funnelling lethal weapons into Iraq. "During the recent operations in Basra, Sadr city, and Maysan, Iraqi troops uncovered convincing evidence that Iranian lethal aid has continued to flow into Iraq," he said.

Iran called the allegations "absurd" and a "routine practice" on the part of the U.S. "Whereas Iran has proved, time and again, its good intention to help Iraq’s stabilisation, development and prosperity through close cooperation with the Iraqi government in different fields -- as well as to help Iraqi people overcome their immense difficulties -- the U.S. government unwarrantedly insists on its unacceptable behaviour in scape-goating others, including Iran, for its own wrong policies in Iraq," Mehdi Danesh Yazdi, Iran’s ambassador to the U.N. responded in a statement.

Those mistakes include, "the continuation of the presence of foreign forces in the country and certain wring policies and practices on the part of foreign forces there," Yazdi explained.

Meanwhile, Iraqi officials who enjoy a close relationship with their Shiite neighbour have ignored the U.S. accusations, believing that if anything can make Iraq secure, it is diplomacy and negotiation with regional governments.

Hamid Al-Bayati, permanent representative of Iraq to the U.N., who did not specifically comment on the U.S. representative’s allegations, told IPS that there are "terrorists" who are coming across the borders and Iraq’s neighbours could scrutinise these people and put more control on their borders -- expanding the circle of countries who are responsible for the current security situation in Iraq.

"There is a mechanism which is agreed between Iraq and these countries, on what these countries can do through the meeting of interior ministers of these countries, through the expanded neighbouring countries conferences which took place in Kuwait and anther one that is going to take place in Jordan in fall," Al-Bayati added. "We are going to continue these negotiations through diplomatic channels."

Iraq is viewed by many as a proxy for Iran-U.S. hostilities over the past four years, and Iranian officials have called the U.S. presence in Iraq the main reason for sectarian violence. Iraqis have asked both countries not to use Iraqi soil for their proxy war.

When asked whether an improvement in Iran-U.S. relations could help boost security in Iraq, Al-Bayati told IPS that Iraq facilitated three rounds of meetings between Iran and the U.S. inside Iraq and hoped that a fourth round -- which was postponed -- would take place. "We hope that any improvement in the relationship between Iran and the U.S. will help the situation in Iraq," he added.

On the Iranian side, U.S. allegations have been questioned for lack of solid evidence. "It is noteworthy that despite these groundless allegations, to date no single credible evidence has ever been presented to substantiate them," Yazdi stated in response to the recent U.S. claims of Iran’s destructive role in Iraq. "To the contrary, several high ranking Iraqi officials are on record, stressing Iran’s constructive role in the country and rejecting the solid allegation."

"The United States accuses Iran because the two countries have as yet not resolved their outstanding disputes," Dariush Zahedi, a research fellow at the Institute of International Studies in at University of California at Berkeley, told IPS. "The accusation is designed to stem Iran’s rising regional influence, which the U.S. itself helped to enhance by overthrowing two of the Islamic republic’s most implacable enemies -- the Taliban and Saddam [Hussein] regimes."

However, the U.S. claims the activities of Iran’s Islamic Republican Quds force contradicts Iran’s public stated policy of supporting the Iraqi government. "In addition, during these operations, numerous Jish-al-Mahdi militia fighters and leaders of Jish-al-Mahdi-associated highly trained special groups fled to Iran where they received sanctuary," said Wolff in a recent U.N. Security Council meeting.

"As far as the U.S. is concerned, the accusation has the advantage of undermining Iran’s image in the eyes of Iraqi Shiites by blaming Iran for the nefarious activities of the discredited elements in the Mahdi army," explained Zahedi about the nature of U.S. claims against Iran.

"The allegations are also designed to provide credence for America’s narrative that depicts Iran as a deceitful, untrustworthy and hypocritical power which, while professing to support the central government in Baghdad, trains, funds, and arms [Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri] al-Maliki’s enemies," he said.

"Iran’s role in Iraq is a by-product of U.S.-Iran relations," Karim Sadjadpour, an associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, told IPS. "When U.S-Iran relations have stalled, Iran’s role in Iraq would likely be unconstructive and when U.S.-Iran relations are cooperative, then Iran’s role in Iraq might be cooperative. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the U.S. has to pull out from Iraq."

While U.S. officials accuse Iran of destabilising Iraq, some analysts say the fact that the sectarian violence in Iraq has diminished -- although not extinguished -- since the U.S. troops ‘surge’ is partially because of Iran’s positive role in supporting al-Maliki’s government, a fact that is ignored by the U.S.

"The security situation has improved, not simply because of the surge, but because of a host of other factors, including the successful completion of ethnic cleansing in key areas and America’s success in buying-off former Sunni insurgents," Zahedi told IPS.

Improved "economic conditions, the improving performance of the Iraqi military, the decision on the part of Iran to lend greater support to the Iraqi central government instead of Shiite militias, as well as blunders on the part of al-Qaeda and setbacks suffered by Moqtada al-Sadr," are also key factors according to Zahedi.

Regardless of neighbouring countries’ involvement, the mistrust between the Kurds and the Arabs on the one hand and the Shiites and the Sunnis on the other still runs deep in Iraq and, without the requisite political reconciliation, has the potential of unleashing strong centrifugal forces that can once again transform Iraq into a failed state.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

GEORGIA: Saakashvili Asked To Step Down
(My piece about the latest transformations in Russia-China conflict)

UNITED NATIONS, Aug 12 (IPS) - A few hours after the 15 member U.N. Security Council discussed a draft resolution aimed to ask Russia to stop using massive force in Georgia Monday evening behind closed doors, Russia said it would stop military action. This came Tuesday, after five days of bombing and destruction of cities and military bases in Georgia and the deaths of more than 2000 people.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Tuesday that the military had punished Georgia enough for its attack on South Ossetia. Western-allied Georgia had launched an offensive late Thursday to regain control over the Georgian province with close ties to Russia.

The violence prompted the Security Council to meet five times over the course of the past four days to discuss the violence, which was feared to be spreading beyond the South Ossetia region.
...
Questioning Russia's 'objective' embittered the U.S.-Russia interaction in the Security Council. On Aug. 10, Zelmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., and Vitaly Churkin his Russian counterpart barely avoided a heated exchange when Khalilzad referred to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s phone conversations with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that morning as raising serious questions about Russia’s objectives in the conflict.

Khalilzad mentioned that Lavrov had said that President Mikheil Saakashvili, the democratically elected President of Georgia, "must go". He said that it’s "completely unacceptable" and "crossed the line".

Khalilzad asked Churkin, "Was Russia’s objective regime change in Georgia, the overthrow of the democratically elected Government of that country?" adding that, "The Russian Federation was threatening Georgia’s territorial integrity, and the Council must act decisively to reaffirm it."

In response Churkin described Khalilzad’s statement as polemical in nature. "Regarding the ceasefire, the Russian Federation’s statement had explained the formula that would lead to an end of bloodshed -- Georgia’s withdrawal from South Ossetia and agreement on the non-use of force in South Ossetia and Abkhazia," said Churkin.

"Regime change" was an American expression that Russia did not use, Churkin stressed. (To read the whole story click here)