The past week offered numerous opportunities for neoconservatives and their hawkish allies to defend the Bush foreign policy and push for a continuation of the adventurist foreign policy pursued since 9/11. As always, Iran tops the list as the next Middle Eastern country ripe for U.S. military induced “regime change.”
But buried under all the hawkish rhetoric are a series of interesting news accounts with implications for Washington’s Iran watchers.
Ali Vaez and Charles Ferguson wrote in The Atlantic that the September IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear program has been falsely interpreted by both Iran’s boasting and Washington’s hardline rhetoric. Instead, they argue, the report shows that Iran is still having serious difficulty in operating their centrifuges and the pace of uranium enrichment hasn’t increased since May. They observe, “Five years after Ahmadinejad promised to deploy a new generation of indigenous centrifuges, Iran has yet to set up a complete cascade of the new devices.”
A day after Ahmadinejad announced the release of the two U.S. hikers, Iran’s judiciary sent out a very different message saying that it was still examining the pleas by the hikers’ lawyers. Ariel Zirulnick at the Christian Science Monitor examined this series of events and concludes the move was a “clear jab” at Ahmadinejad and the Iranian president is facing unprecedented domestic political opposition.
Yesterday, the Associated Press ran an exclusive report on a new Iranian offer to meet with world powers without the the usual set of preconditions. Interestingly, and contrary to previous offers to negotiate, the letter authored by Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili suggested that Tehran might be ready to discuss some nuclear issues which were previously off the table. While Iran has yet to act, Jalili writes that Iran is “ready to cooperate in … nonproliferation and peaceful nuclear cooperation.”
None of these reports alone should serve as indication that a major breakthrough is imminent in bringing Iran back in line with the Non-Proliferation Treaty. But the events of the past week suggest interesting movement on a number of important fronts in the Obama administration’s efforts to apply pressure to Ahmadinejad and Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program.
While Cheney and Romney’s saber rattling got played on Fox News, progress in the right direction might be occurring in incremental steps and under the mainstream media’s radar.
GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry took criticism from the hawkish Republican right when he said, at Monday night’s debate, “[I]t’s time to bring our young men and women home as soon, and obviously as safely, as we can.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin he was “disappointed” with Perry’s stance. Now, the Perry campaign deployed an adviser to speak to Rogin and clear things up, albeit still leaving questions.
The adviser told Rogin:
In the dynamic of a debate when you follow someone, you kind of play off of them, and what Gov. Perry wanted to do was to express a similar sentiment to Gov. Huntsman that he very much wants to bring the troops home, we all do, but he wasn’t saying, “I want to bring the troops home now.”
He went on:
Gov. Perry is not confident in the Obama policy, which seems to be driven largely by politics, and he’s not confident in the 100,000 troops number. He’d like to know if it’s possible at 40,000.
But asked what Perry’s target number would be — not just a hypothetical — the adviser was short on specifics: “We’re not in a position to answer that question, we’re not in those briefings.”
I think we need to try to move our men and women home as soon as we can. Not just in Afghanistan, but in Iraq as well. And we’ve got to continually reassess our objectives. We need to make strategic decisions based on consultation with our military leaders on the ground, rather than just some arbitrary political promises.
All the meandering aside, Perry’s Afghanistan war strategy sounds an awful lot like President Obama’s because of the focus on handing over responsibility to Afghan security forces. So too do Perry’s vague numbers sound like those Obama has instituted from the Oval Office.
Perry initially got the Bush foreign policy band back together again to get advice on international affairs, which led the the neocons to think that they may have had their man in the Texas governor. But now, the so-called “hawk internationalist” appears to be reading the tea-leaves and trying to distinguish himself from the rapacious hawkishness of most of the Republican field by declaring that he didn’t want to engage in “military adventurism.” He still seems to be trying to find a middle ground, but doing it with muddled policies.
Fox News’s website blatantly misquoted State Department spokesman Mark Toner in a press briefing yesterday in Foggy Bottom. The Fox News report, which lists the Associated Press as a contributor, says Toner called a vote for the Palestinian statehood recognition bid at the U.N. an “anti-Israel vote.” The Fox story says:
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Wednesday the U.S. continues to see any kind of effort by the Palestinians at the U.N. gathering in New York as “counterproductive.”
He said a vote for Palestinian statehood is an “anti-Israel vote.”
But at the press briefing, Toner was asked repeatedly whether or not the U.S. considered voting for the Palestinian statehood recognition resolution to be “anti-Israel.” He failed to respond several times, but then said it was “not a zero-sum game.” Pressed on it, Toner seemed to say that the administration did not, in fact, consider voting for the resolution to be “anti-Israel.”
QUESTION: But do – I understand that, but do you think that a vote for recognition of Palestine as a state is an anti-Israel vote?
MR. TONER: And I will –
QUESTION: Is this – in other words, is this, in fact, a zero-sum game?
MR. TONER: It’s not a zero-sum game. It’s – what it is is it’s not conducive to –
QUESTION: Then the Administration does not agree that it is an anti-Israel –
MR. TONER: It is not – no. What I’m saying is this is not going to lead to progress in peace negotiations, direct negotiations. And so we believe it’s counterproductive, that it’s not in the interest of either of the parties, and our goal, therefore, remains in getting them back to the – into negotiations, and that’s what we’re pursuing on the ground in Tel Aviv.
QUESTION: Okay. But you don’t see this vote – you don’t see a country voting in favor of a Palestinian resolution to be anti-Israel?
MR. TONER: Again, I’m not going to characterize what a –
QUESTION: Well, let me get to the reason why I’m asking the question…
While it’s not precisely clear that Toner’s remark that “It is not – no” was a response to the reporter’s question, it’s absolutely clear that at no point does Toner say that a vote for the Palestinian initiative is “anti-Israel.” He repeatedly refused to answer the question. By saying the situation did not constitute “zero-sum game,” Toner implied that supporting the Palestinian position was not by default “anti-Israel.” Toner then made a statement suggesting that, no, the administration did not view voting for the Palestinian resolution as anti-Israel.
Fox News should correct its report and apologize to Toner for so egregiously misquoting him.
Syrian Activists Announce Opposition Council |
Today, Syrian activists announced a national opposition council in Istanbul, Turkey. The activists overcame divisions that had hampered formation of the council, comprised of 140 opposition figures from different political and ethnic backgrounds. Sixty percent of the council lives inside Syria and the rest come from the exiled diaspora. Activists named 70 members, but didn’t reveal most of the internal members because of security concerns. Members of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood were reportedly among the membership. One member told Reuters the council wouldn’t swear off foreign military intervention to protect demonstrators — with 2,600 dead so far, according to the U.N. — but the council remains focused for the meantime on forming itself and building diplomatic and economic pressure on the Assad regime.
PLO Ambassador Maen Areikat came under intense criticism yesterday for comments he supposedly made in a meeting with reporters indicating that a future Palestinian state should not have any Jews in it.
What appears to have people exercised is not anything Areikat said recently, but comments he made in a Tablet magazine interview a year ago, in which he said Jews who “fall under the jurisdiction of a Palestinian state” would have to be transferred.
AREIKAT: I think this is a very necessary step, before we can allow the two states to somehow develop their separate national identities, and then maybe open up the doors for all kinds of cultural, social, political, economic exchanges, that freedom of movement of both citizens of Israelis and Palestinians from one area to another. You know you have to think of the day after.
Despite the fact that Areikat described these as his personal views (and despite, or maybe because of, the fact that they resemble the views of Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman), they’re still pretty troubling. Obviously, the goal of U.S. policy should be a Palestinian state where people of all faiths can live and freely practice.
In a follow-up interview with the Huffington Post’s Josh Hersh, Areikat’s distanced himself from the remarks. “Under no circumstances was I saying that no Jews can be in Palestine,” Areikat told Hersh. “What a statement that would be for me to make! I never said that, and I never meant to say such a thing. This is not a religious conflict, and we want to establish a secular state.”
In another piece, the Palestinian Authority’s Minister of Religious Affairs Mahmoud Al Habash told Maan News, “The Palestinian state will a be a civilized state in which all faiths will live. The attempt of media outlets to play games with statements hostile to Jews has a purely political goal. The PA and its ambassador in Washington have a clear position on the issue and do not need to play games with words.”
Counterterrorism agents at the FBI’s training center in Quantico, Virginia are being taught that “devout” Muslims are more likely to be “violent” and that American Muslims are likely to be terrorist sympathizers, according to training materials acquired by Wired’s Spencer Ackerman. (In fact, mosques have been found to be a deterrent to the spread of terrorism.)
An FBI spokesperson told Ackerman that the slides were no longer in use but dates on the slides would suggest that they were used at least until March 21.
The documents offer a violent interpretation of Islam in which “Any war against non-believers is justified” and a “moderating process cannot happen if the Koran continues to be regarded as the unalterable word of Allah.” A particularly blunt slide shows a comparison of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, depicting how they have moderated their “militancy considerations” over time:
The information in the slides is clearly Islamophobic and completely ignores the fact that Islamic extremism, while a national security concern worthy of sober discussion, is a limited problem within the United States and hardly a frequent phenomenon in Muslim communities. A recent Duke terrorism study showed that since 9/11, the U.S. has experienced only 33 deaths from Muslim terrorism while 150,000 murders have occurred during the same time.
Several of the slide presentations are the work of an FBI intelligence analyst named William Gawthrop who, in 2006, before he joined the Bureau, gave an interview to WorldNetDaily, in which he said “Muhammad’s mindset is a source for terrorism.”
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time that the FBI has given a stage to noted Islamophobes. In July, Ackerman identified that an FBI terrorism presentation recommended anti-Muslim blogger Robert Spencer’s book, “The Truth About Mohammed: Founder of the World’s Most Intolerant Religion.”
Spencer, who is profiled in the Center for American Progress’ new Islamophobia report, “Fear, Inc.,” operates the blog Jihad Watch and co-founded the Stop Islamization of America group with Pamela Geller. Spencer is one of the core “misinformation experts” discussed in “Fear, Inc.” and has promoted the conspiracy theory that President Obama may be a Muslim. Notably, Norwegian terrorist Anders Brevik cited Spencer’s work 162 times in his manifesto.
While the FBI is developing a track-record for giving pseudo-experts like Robert Spencer and William Gawthrop an opportunity to spread their Islamophobic views which demonize all Muslims, the truth is that Muslim communities have served as some of the most important allies for the FBI in their efforts to combat Muslim terrorists.
The Seattle Times reports on a controversial community outreach workshop in Seattle intended to create better relationships between law enforcement and Seattle’s Muslim, Arab, East African and Sikh communities. The event, held earlier this month, took a turn for the worse when an FBI agent showed a PowerPoint slide about state-sponsored terrorism which included a photo of a man that the audience believed was a Shia Islamic leader. When asked if the photo was of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei, a leader of the Iranian revolution, the agents said the photo was too small and they didn’t know the identity of the man. “That offended members of the audience even more, and one of them compared it to calling the pope a terrorist or serving pork to Muslims,” reports the Seattle Times. A Seattle Police Department detective at the meeting said that, “the community is tired of seeing their images represented” in presentations about terrorism.
Muslim Advocates — a professional association of approximately 500 Muslim lawyers, law students and other legal professionals — announced they have sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice Inspector General requesting an immediate investigation into the FBI’s counterterrorism training. The letter can be viewed here.
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) tells Wired’s Spencer Ackerman that “there is no room in America for the lies, propagated by al-Qaida, that the U.S. is at war with Islam, or the lie propagated by others that all Muslims support terrorism.”
CNN’s Brian Todd talked to Former FBI Assistant Director Tom Fuentes who told CNN that the publication of the slides could play into the hands of al-Qaeda for propaganda purposes and could diminish the FBI’s ability to get the America Muslim community to help in investigations.
Mullen ‘Pleased’ With Current Iraq Withdrawal Schedule |
The Obama administration is reportedly considering keeping a small military presence of 3,000 troops in Iraq past the 2011 total withdrawal deadline. Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) attacked President Obama, saying 3,000 isn’t enough (the White House denied the reports and the Iraqis haven’t agreed to any extended troop presence), with McCain claiming that all “military people” want a large U.S. force in Iraq past 2011. Yet Army Chief of Staff and former top U.S. commander in Iraq Gen. Ray Odierno warned against a large force. “I always felt we had to be careful about leaving too many people in Iraq,” he said. And today, in an interview with USA Today, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Adm. Mike Mullen said he’s fine with the planned withdrawal as is (i.e. down to zero by Dec. 31, 2011). “Mullen also says he is pleased with the current withdrawal schedule of all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of this year,” reports USA Today.
– The Aeorospace Industry Association, a coalition of defense industry companies, launched a public relations campaign called “Second to None” aimed at curbing any further cuts to the defense budget.
– Republicans in Congress want to cap additional defense spending cuts at $150 billion over ten years, according to a defense industry source who said it was “about as far as Republicans will go before they walk.”
– American and Afghan officials said yesterday that the “complexity and execution” of the attack on the U.S. embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul bore the hallmarks of the Haqqani network based in Pakistan. U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker said yesterday however called the attacks “minor league stuff.”
– The European Union, which buys 90 percent of Syria’s oil exports, has imposed sanctions on the nation’s oil and gas industry, “but loopholes allow European energy companies to pull back only gradually from buying heavy crude or doing lucrative work in Syrian oil fields.”
– Syrian opposition members are set set to announce a 130-member national council, made up of 60 exiled opponents to Syrian President Bashar Assad and 70 dissidents inside Syria.
– The top U.S. diplomat for the Middle East, Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman, said after a visit to Libya that while the U.S. was monitoring Islamist groups, he did not consider them a grave threat.
– British Prime Minister David Cameron, speaking alongside French President Nicolas Sarkozy, urged Muammar Qaddafi and his supporters to give up, adding: “Anyone who think Qaddafi has any role (in ruling Libya) should forget it.”
– Palestinian officials announced they will ask the UN Security Council for statehood recognition on September 23.