Iranian Hegemony: What’s Not to Like?

Tehran wants Washington to accept Central Asia, Afghanistan, Iraq and the Persian Gulf as its “near abroad” – “a zone of influence in which Iran’s interests would determine the ebbs and flows of politics unencumbered by American interferance.”

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A Razor’s Edge

If the March 14 bloc elects a president from its own ranks using a simple majority vote outside of parliament, Lebanon could be facing the creation of two governments and little hope of compromise.

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That Way Madness Lies…

Indeed, the Times of London reported Sunday that the Pentagon has prepared a 1,200 target, “three-day blitz” designed not only to take out nuclear installations but “the entire Iranian military,” said Alexis Debat, director of terrorism and national security at the Nixon Center…. Nixon was so crazy that at one point he put the whole U.S. military on global war readiness and flew nuclear-armed bombers near the Soviet Union’s borders for three days to freak them out—right at the time that war tensions were simmering between Beijing and Moscow.

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Did He Really Just Say That?

This week, President George W. Bush stood up before the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and unspooled a whole lot of odd analogies to make the case that we need to stay in Iraq for… well, forever, I guess. I’ve not been in Iraq for more than a year but it’s still a central focus of my reporting here in the Middle East. So, this week, let’s step away from Lebanon — which is depressing anyway — and focus on Bush and his fantasies about Mesopotamia.
Because some days he makes it just too easy.
Bush’s VFW speech has received a lot of ink. Everyone’s been reporting on it, but what’s bizarre is that Bush was pointing to past wars in Asia — World War II against Japan, Korea and, most enigmatically, Vietnam — as lessons to learn from. For this White House, Imperial Japan was the al Qaeda of its day. The Korean War was a war to instill democracy on the Korean peninsula. And Vietnam was muffed up by Defeatocrats at home – pulling the plug lead to the deaths of millions.
“One unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America’s withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like ‘boat people,’ ‘re-education camps,’ and ‘killing fields,'” the president said.
Really, it’s hard to know where to start.
In his initial comparison, Bush describes Japan as a a nation run by a man who “despises freedom, and harbors resentment at the slights he believes America and Western nations have inflicted on his people. He fights to establish his rule over an entire region. And over time, he turns to a strategy of suicide attacks.” Well, the war in the Pacific was primarily one of great powers jostling over economic interests, which is way more serious than most ideological struggles. Japan was oil-poor and had its eyes on the Dutch East Indies. The United States and the West had engaged in economic tit-for-tat with Tokyo since the 1937 invasion of China and by 1941, the United States had slapped an oil embargo on the Empire of the Rising Sun in the escalating trade battles. The Japanese Navy was certain any attempt to seize the Dutch colonies would bring the United States into the war, so they needed to neutralize the U.S.’s Pacific Fleet first. Hence, Pearl Harbor.
Bush’s view of Korea is an even more interesting comparison: “Without Americans’ intervention during the war and our willingness to stick with the South Koreans after the war, millions of South Koreans would now be living under a brutal and repressive regime,” Hm, let’s see. The Korean War started in 1950. Democracy came to South Korea in the late 1980s, mainly because the military governments — which massacred democracy protesters in 1980 — were supported by … the United States.
But the Korea analogy is apt for reasons other than those Bush intended. Bush sees the Korean War as an example of the U.S. historical commitment to fight aggression and spread democracy. But the liberation of South Korea had been achieved by October 1950, four months after the war started, and the North Koreans had been pushed back. On October 19, United Nations and U.S. forces pushed north, past the 38th parallel and quickly triggered a Chinese intervention in the war. The coalition was rolled back and after three years and hundreds of thousands dead, a stalemate was achieved and an armistice signed with the original border in place. It was an outcome that could have been achieved in four months and many fewer people dead.
In short, invading Iraq in 2003 looks a lot like the decision to invade North Korea in October 1950: a monumental case of overreach. Don’t his speechwriters check this stuff? Or do they just rely on the historical ignorance of many Americans?
And finally Vietnam. In one speech, Bush had managed to drag out the knuckleheaded, right-wing argument that if only we’d stayed in Vietnam a little longer, we’d have won that sucker. If only the media and Democrats hadn’t been so hell-bent on undermining the troops…
This is a tricky subject for Bush, considering he spent the Vietnam years partying and “protecting” the Gulf of Mexico from the Viet Cong in a champagne unit of the Texas Air National Guard. It’s also tricky because war critics have spent the past four years comparing the quagmire or Iraq to the quagmire of Vietnam — which, I might remind you, we lost.
“In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge began a murderous rule in which hundreds of thousands of Cambodians died by starvation and torture and execution,” said the president. “In Vietnam, former allies of the United States and government workers and intellectuals and businessmen were sent off to prison camps, where tens of thousands perished. Hundreds of thousands more fled the country on rickety boats, many of them going to their graves in the South China Sea.”
Yes, millions of innocent people died in Vietnam — a fair number of them from U.S. bombs. Yes, there was a massive refugee crisis following the American exit in 1975, but the U.S. threw open its doors and took the “boat people” in. It has not done the same thing for Iraqis, instead forcing them to stay in a deadly cage or face the instability of life in Jordan and Syria.
And the killing fields of Pol Pot were not in response to the U.S. leaving too early. Pol Pot came to power and started his murderous rampage because of the destabilization of the region brought on by the U.S. staying too long. In much the same way, the war in Iraq is creating more terrorists who are killing more innocent civilians. Again, apt analogy, just not the way Bush intends. (Furthermore, the Khmer Rouge were eventually crushed by, yep, the Communist Vietnamese in 1979.)
Today, Vietnam is a stable nation with good relations with the United States. East Asia didn’t fall to the Communists and the free world wasn’t imperiled by our withdrawal. “Vietnam was not a bunch of sectarian groups fighting each other,” said Vietnam historian Stanley Karnow. “Does he think we should have stayed in Vietnam?” It sure sounds like it.
Now, fact-checking the president is fun and all, but this is hardly the first time he’s gone off on some boneheaded direction with history. For instance, in 2004 Bush, Rice and Rumsfeld et al. began reminding people of the rampaging insurgency in Germany after World War II? Don’t remember that? That’s because there wasn’t one. Not a single Allied soldier died as a result of enemy action after the Germans surrender.
The VFW speech was a noxious attempt at playing to Bush’s base of “America First” conservative Republican support, a blatant attempt to play on the politics of fear by demonization the media, liberals, Democrats and anyone who questioned the Iraq war. The Vietnam portions of the speech were red meat to the right wing that has, for years, argued that the U.S. didn’t step into an unwinnable war — it was stabbed in the back by traitors at home. That this is the subtext for a major positioning speech by the president suggests that even he thinks Iraq is unwinnable and now is the time for finger-pointing, buck-passing and blame-shifting.
What a great legacy.

One War: Four Glasses. Who Won?

With backing from Syria and, possibly, Iran, it has led an opposition that has so far been unsuccessful in all of its objectives: removing the pro-Western government from power; scuttling the international tribunal that’s investigating the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri; and claiming for the Lebanon’s Shi’ites a greater share of political power…. A a devotee of Donald Rumsfeld’s theory that air power can win wars, he chose an aggressive strategy of bombing runs against civilian infrastructure in an attempt to split the Lebanese Christians and Sunnis from Hezbollah in the hopes they would turn on the Shi’ite group.

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Lebanese Whines

The reason for such angst is the pro-Syrian opposition forces won a special election in the mostly Christian district of Metn on Sunday, dealing a blow to the pro-American government of Fuad Siniora and its political coalition in parliament…. By his statements, he also implied that the Christian votes are the only ones that really count, so while Khoury won the seat, the pro-government partisans say, it’s a hollow victory for Aoun because they won the Christian vote.

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Ain’t Nothing But a Family Thing

These politics have deep roots, based on dynasties and warlordism, and the old families – which would be called “mafia” in less polite circles – that run this place believe that this democracy business should ensure that seats to which people are “elected” should be kept in the family.

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Water and Oil Mix in the Gulf

The flotilla of Coalition ships — including the Australian frigate the HMS Anzac, the American guided missile destroyer Chung-Hoon and the logistical ships the RFA Bedivere (Royal Navy) and the USS Rushmore, as well as nimble patrol boats and Coast Guard cutters — patrol around the two Iraqi oil terminals just off the coast of Iraq, where the Shatt al-Arab and the Khor Abd Allah waterways dump millions cubic meters of silt-heavy freshwater into the salt sea of the Gulf every second…. The Iranian Navy gets some respect from Aiken and other commanders, who told me that when passing through the bottleneck to the Gulf called the Strait of Hormuz, a passing Iranian Navy ship presented colors and her sailors saluted, holding fast to naval traditions the world over.

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Lebanon’s war: One Year Later

Will Lebanon’s already fragile political arrangement collapse into a Shi’ites vs. everyone else arrangement, with Iran, Syria and Hezbollah on one side and Christians, Druze and Sunnis on the other backed up by …… That hasn’t happened after eight months of standoffs and street demonstrations, and Lebanon today is split in two, divided between the Hezbollah-led opposition and the American-backed government coalition of Druze, Sunni and about half the Christians.

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Busy Signal in Beirut

Disappointed, Lebanon’s Internet users howled — especially on the forum boards of Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, an anti-government, middle-class group of people who stood up to Syria through much of the 1990s and first half of this decade…. Without the infrastructure, remaining businesses that depend on communication will flee, meaning there’s less revenue for the state, perpetuating its weakness and making it unable to find or impose a political solution on its non-state and foreign rivals.

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