Above and below are postcards of scenes in Ghadames, Libya from the 1950s, when it was still a kingdom.
Ingresso alla Citt`a Coperta
I’m more used to breaking stories concerning the Mossad than I am the CIA. But in this case, Russia Today (now known as RT) dropped a scoop right in my lap.
The main thrust of this story deals with the exposure of an accused CIA operative, Ryan Fogle, who was arrested in Moscow several days ago. Fogle’s “cover” was a job as third political secretary of the U.S. embassy. His “crime” was an attempt to recruit a Russian agent to work for the CIA.
The entire incident, replete with fake wigs and an alleged letter of invitation to the Russian to spy on behalf of Uncle Sam, reeked of a put-up job. Either Fogle was the dumbest spy ever to work for this country; or the Russians are the worst con artists in the history of counter-espionage practice.
Though I have no idea what really happened, reading the RT story, it appears the FSB was extremely unhappy with unspecified CIA activities in Russia and had warned the station chief that it was walking a fine line. I’m guessing that nothing as extravagant as what the Russians claim actually happened. But that the Russians set-up Fogle, and his arrest and expulsion were a warning to the U.S. to get back into line.
But here’s the real scoop: in the RT story, it exposed the identity of the CIA’s Moscow station chief. His name is Stephen Holmes. You’ll find the original story displayed here. This is a link to the censored version.
So the real question is what happened to this story and why. Presumably, the FSB wanted to expose the CIA station chief. Doing so would blow his cover and render him less effective as a spook. If that’s the case, it might have been further revenge for Holmes’ refusal to rein in his operatives when the FSB requested that he do so.
But why censor the report after you’ve exposed him? A tug of war within the Kremlin? Political operatives cooling off the FSB? A complaint from the U.S. embassy? A threat the U.S. would expose the identity of the SVR (Russia’s overseas intelligence service) station chief in DC? At any rate, you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. America will have to respond with a tit for tat. And where does that leave us?
Just when the U.S. and Russia were making attempts to patch up a frayed relationship, it appears that either Putin or the spy apparatus want to return us to the days of the very Cold War. It’s a time that ex-KGBniks like Putin remember well. Perhaps they feel nostalgic for it. Perhaps they don’t care whether Syria goes up in flames and want to topple a joint effort to negotiate an end to the crisis there.
At any rate, I expect that Mr. Holmes may be returning home himself a bit sooner than expected.
A number of media outlets have reported this story, though I don’t believe any have reported Holmes’ name. I do so here because RT has already done so. It will only be a matter of hours before someone else will do so in the western media.
TEDxRamallah - Sam Bahour سام بحّور - Refugees Waiting
Joseph Massad: an Occidentalist’s Other Subjects/Victims
by S. Taha, The Arab Leftist
Joseph Massad, an associate professor at Columbia University and a now prominent figure in the US academic field of Middle Eastern studies, came to acquire his status through a hotly debated and highly acclaimed book, Desiring Arabs. Massad, who claims to be the disciple of another foundational academic figure from Columbia, Edward Said, seeks to complete his patron’s Foucauldian project on Orientalism. Said, who strikes me as a much more modest, engaged and consistent intellectual than his self-styled “disciple”, is best known for his critical study of “Orientalism,” which looks into the representation and construction of the “East/Orient” as Other to the Western/European self, a construction that, as Said had shown, was deeply engaged with the process of modern imperial expansion and colonialism. This process of domination was what both produced the European “will to know” the subject “Other” and enabled its realization “in an increasingly profitable dialectic of information and control.” However, while employing Michel Foucault’s analytical grid of power/knowledge and his methods of discourse analysis, Said’s project remains incompletely Foucauldian, since it does not probe into the effects of the colonial discursive regime of power/knowledge on the formation of the modern Arab subjects who languished under it for centuries. Therein, Massad makes his academic intervention and contribution, armed with Foucault’s conceptual tools to investigate sexual identities and subjects as effects and products of colonial power. Such territory of “subject formation” under colonialism, which Massad has ventured into is indeed an extremely slippery and delicate one, fraught with questions of agency and subjectivity, since it is not only an investigation into the workings of colonial power, but rather into the very subjectivity and the very being of those whom power represents and brings into its domain and universe of discourse. It is an investigation into the relationship between Western and non-Western, between colonizer and colonized with all that an interrogative representation of such relationship might, adverdantly and inadverdantly, entail about the truths, histories and identities of the two sides of the imperial divide. (more…)
Khalil Anani takes on MB academic literature.
Saudi wants to monitor Twitter, Viber, etc.
Ashraf Sewelam of the rentier state in Egypt.
Wolrd Bank report on social safety nets in MENA
"the greatest risk we face as a nation are self-inflicted wounds like the Iraq and Afghan wars"
Lovely archive of historical Arab world pics.
More from Scott Long on HRW "selling Mona Seif down the river"
Tied to Assad regime.
US embassy targteted, Egypt now under AQIM?
The always fascinating Khalil al-Anani on MB internal reform.
Islamist twitter wars
HRW, the Israel Lobby and @monasosh
New issue of Cairo Review of Global Affairs, focused on refugees in the Middle East.
Hope and Fear: Egypt on the Tipping Point
HOPE & FEAR is unlike any documentary you’ve ever seen - providing a rare glimpse into the lives of four young liberal-minded Egyptians as they struggle to reshape their nation. Their story is one of aspiration and empowerment in the face of fear and chaos which dominates Egypt’s ongoing revolution.
I’m Hosam Khedr, co-director and producer of HOPE & FEAR. Along with my partner Anjuli Bedi and our crazy dedicated team we set out on an audacious and dangerous quest to tell a more personal and timeless story.
HOPE & FEAR presents an insider’s-perspective on the lives of four young Egyptian activists who are pushing for freedom of expression through their art and community activism. We follow Salman, Nada, Ammar, and Reham beyond the idealism, euphoria and revolution of Tahrir Square as they struggle to navigate the difficult terrain of an Egypt hindered by an oppressive security force, corruption, political and economic instability, and religious intolerance under the new Islamist government.
HOPE & FEAR’s characters along with our special guest appearances, give a broader view of the challenges and implications of Egypt’s revolution. Will the homeland of civilization maintain civility? Nothing less than the future of the region hangs in the balance. With the outcome of Egypt’s liberal youth movement, HOPE & FEAR’s intimate portrayal of its characters shows the common thread that unites all humanity: the human spirit’s refusal to capitulate to oppression despite the costs.
The bigger problem is that we have a sovereign Jewish state and we’re not clear what our Jewish values are. We’re not clear what Jewish values we have in common. There isn't a more interesting dialogue we can have than what are the Jewish values of the Jewish state.
But Israel has taken the easy route.
It has taken the keys to Judaism and given it to one minority faction in the Jewish world. And the minority faction has done what every minority faction would do. The Reform would have done the same, none of us are immune. That minority faction became corrupt, it became a monopoly and it became more and more extreme. And through this we have injured Orthodoxy and we have contaminated Orthodoxy.
--> Click here for May 9, 2013 edition
The question of what to do about former elites haunts countries that have undergone a radical political transformation. Retain them in office, and dissidents will complain their revolution has been "betrayed." Purge them, and the inevitable fall-off in state services, even if it is temporary, will feed instability and spread nostalgia for the fallen regime. This dilemma has recently surfaced in Libya, where militias made up of mostly working-class ex-rebels have backed a law to purge from office anyone -- including their wartime middle class allies -- who held even a minor government position under Qaddhafi. Similar laws have been drafted in Tunisia and contemplated in Egypt, and will almost certainly figure in an aftermath to the Syrian conflict.
The United States faced this dilemma in Iraq. May 16 is the ten-year anniversary of the decision it took: Coalition Provisional Authority Order 1, the decree that removed top-ranking members of the Baath party from their positions in Iraqi state institutions, swiftly followed by CPA number 2, which dissolved the military to be rebuilt anew. Collectively they are often termed "de-Baathification."
Today, CPA Order 1 is one of the most universally condemned American foreign policy decisions of this generation Even proponents of the war tend to describe it as a terrible mistake. With Iraq's legacy under review, both because of the 10 year anniversary and because of contemplated intervention in Syria, CPA Order 1 has been invoked by both sides in the debate: one side frequently depicting it as an indication of the headstrong mindset by which the Americans helped plunge Iraq into the chaos, the other side seeing it as a mistake that, because it can be avoided in the future, does not necessarily condemn intervention as a doctrine.
Few dispute that de-Baathification helped turn a nascent Sunni insurgency into a nationwide movement. As Sunnis tended to rise more easily to top posts than Shiites, both decrees affected Sunnis disproportionately. The decrees alienated the mid-ranking military officers, tribal sheikhs, and other town- or neighborhood-scale leaders who eventually led the rebellion. The CPA decrees also purged many of the Baath party bureaucrats in charge of keeping the lights on and the sewers flowing, which undercut any chance that Sunnis might see the overthrow of Saddam as a change for the better and fueled the general sense of chaos. From there, things spiraled downhill: insurgents attacked US targets, counter-insurgency measures including mass detentions sparked more resentment, an al-Qaida-affiliated radical network entered the fray and tried to draw in the Shia with attacks on religious and civilian targets, and thus Iraq was brought to the edge of civil war. The legacy of de-Baathification persists today, where the current Shiite-led government's refusal to pursue some sort of reconciliation is threatening to push the country into a new round of sectarian violence.
But in condemning a policy must also take into account counterfactuals. We know what discord CPA Order #1 caused; what potential discord could it have averted? What would have happened had the Baath party undissolved and the army in place?
In Iraq, in 2003, some middle-class Iraqi Shia thought of the military and the ministries as "national" institutions, and felt you could serve Iraq in a career that required Baath party membership even if you detested Saddam. But if you were a working class Shiite, or one rendered half-unemployable by your family's past involvement with a Shia dissident group, it didn't take much to turn you against middle class functionaries or officers. Officials weren't your benefactors: rather, they left you to stew in the misery of east Baghdad's slums or made your life hell as an army conscript. Many of the Shia were already half-convinced that the US intended to institute Saddamism without Saddam. If CPA Order 1 had not been issued, the US could easily have been facing a full-fledged Shia insurgency by late 2003, backed by all major Shia religious parties. Such an insurgency would draw from 60 percent of the population rather than 20 percent, with the full backing of a very large Shiite state next door.
In looking at the horrors of 2003-2008 in Iraq, there is a tendency to see the path taken as the worst of all possible options. But Saddam's style of ruling -- his repression of Shia religiosity, his war with Iran, his conflation of internal dissidents with foreign agents, his parceling out of favors in exchange for loyalty -- created a very divided country. The divide wasn't purely Sunni/Shia, but it was close enough that, when the rising tide of violence prompted Sunnis and Shia to go looking for threats, each looked first to the other. The sudden prominence of two new forces that prior to 2003 could only work in the shadows, al-Qaida-style Sunni extremists and Iranian-backed Shia religious parties, further fueled this polarization. Sunnis had nothing against their Shiite neighbors -- but they were convinced that the leaders chosen by those neighbors were all theocratic stooges of Iran. The Shia likewise were proud to have Sunni friends -- but every Sunni leader was either a Saddam-lover or a terrorist.
The United States did not know it yet, but it did not have very many good options in May 2003. To have avoided a civil war in Iraq, then, the obvious conclusion would perhaps be that the United States simply should not have invaded at all. But here again, one must consider the counterfactual. To have left Saddam in place would have saved the United States a great deal of blood and treasure, but it is not clear at all that it would have been any less bloody for Iraq. During the 10-year anniversary of the invasion, one of the most though-provoking (if provocative) assessments was made by, of all people, Tony Blair. He asserted that the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011 showed that, if the Iraq War had not been launched, Saddam would have faced an Arab Spring uprising anyway. He adds that Saddam was "20 times as bad" as Assad and thus the repression would have been worse.
Blair's "20 times" assertion is questionable -- but his bigger assertion on the likelihood of a nationwide uprising, while self-serving, is probably correct. Saddam and the Assad regime both used similar tactics when dealing with demonstrations of dissent. Bashar al-Assad's father applied this tactic in 1982 in Hama and Saddam applied it in 1991 in the cities of the Shiite south. Both were brutal -- and back then, brutality served them well. They isolated the uprisings, brought in security forces with strong sectarian loyalty to the regime, and crush them using whatever firepower could be brought to bear.
2011 in Syria is not an exact parallel to 1982 or 1991 in Iraq. Assad's forces faced unarmed protesters rather than an insurrection, and he gradually escalated the use of lethal force, mixing bullets and arrests with apparent political concessions, rather than unleashing the heavy firepower from the beginning. But the tactic was similar enough -- suppress dissidents with small but dedicated "regime protection" forces authorized to kill.
This tactic turned out to have been rendered obsolete by technology. Activists used videophones to document the atrocities and satellite-based internet to upload the documentation. This allowed the protesters not just to spread news of atrocities, but to spin them. Voiceovers, music, and the help of al-Jazeera's and al-Arabiya's graphics team ensured that other Syrians would see what was happening elsewhere not as a deterrent but as an inspirational show of defiance. This caused parallel uprisings in other cities throughout the country, and when protesters turned to armed resistance the sheer number of flashpoints overwhelmed the numbers of loyalist troops that could suppress them. The result was a civil war that, at time of writing, has left more than 80,000 dead in just over two years -- if anything, a swifter descent into large-scale bloodletting than Iraq experienced, especially if you take into account Syria's somewhat smaller population.
One can never say that any counterfactual scenario would have happened, merely that it might have happened. There are simply too many variables in play to allow any confident conclusions to be made. For that reason, they do not lend themselves to any particular policy recommendation. A comparison of Syria (a civil war conducted without foreign intervention) and Iraq (a near-civil war touched off by foreign intervention) does however suggest that the determining factor in the two greatest tragedies in the Arab world in decades are not so much the action or inaction of outside powers, but the decades-long legacy of regimes based on sectarian minorities that remained in power by practicing divide-and-rule. Confronted with this legacy, the best that the rest of the world can do is survey a range of options that at best can reduce the scale of a tragedy, not avert it. None will produce a happy ending, and each has deadly pitfalls attached to it.
If you're troubled by the Justice Department's recent decision to secretly investigate the Associated Press and other journalists in an overzealous attempt to ferret out the source of some leaked information, you should be. But lost amid the outcry about this attempt to squelch press freedom is its connection to the broader thrust of U.S. foreign policy and our deeply ingrained tendency to exaggerate foreign threats. That tendency goes back at least to the early Cold War, when Dean Acheson told President Harry Truman to sell a proposed aid package to Greece and Turkey by going to Capitol Hill and giving a speech that would "scare the hell out of the American people." And he did.
When people are scared, they are more willing to let their government keep lots of secrets, lest supposed enemies find out about them and exploit them. Never mind that most of the mountains of classified information would be of little value to our foes, even if they got access to them. A population that is scared is also more willing to have the government go after anyone who tries to inform them by leaking information, even when knowing more might help ordinary citizens evaluate whether government programs were working as intended.
When people are scared, they are also more willing to support U.S. intervention in other countries, to prevent supposedly bad things from happening there or to prevent leaders we don't like from gaining or retaining power. In most cases, of course, neither U.S. prosperity nor security is directly affected by what happens in these various minor states, but threat-mongers are always good at inventing reasons why the outcome of some local struggle thousands of miles from our shores might actually threaten our prosperity or security. Remember domino theory? Fear, not greed, was the primary motivation behind U.S. interventions in the Korean War, in Iran, in Guatemala, in Lebanon, in Indochina, in the Dominican Republic, in Nicaragua, and in many other places, including more recently in Iraq and Afghanistan. And that same fear that global trends might turn against us leads the United States to maintain a globe-encircling array of military bases and other installations, most of them completely unknown to the citizens whose taxes are paying for them. No other country -- not one! -- seems to think that its security depends on being able to wield lethal force on every single continent.
When people are scared, they are also more willing to support various sorts of covert operations, ranging from normal spying to the increasingly far-flung campaign of targeted assassinations and extra-judicial killings that the United States has been conducting for many years now. Never mind that a significant number of innocent foreign civilians have died as a result of these policies or that the net effect of such actions may be to make the problem of terrorism worse over time. It's impossible to know for certain, of course, because the U.S. government won't say exactly what it is doing.
Notice, however, that this cycle is self-reinforcing. The more places the U.S. intervenes, and the dirtier our methods, the more resentment we tend to generate. Sometimes entire populations turn against us (as in Pakistan), sometimes it may only be a small but violent minority. But either possibility creates another potential source of danger and another national security problem to be solved. If a local population doesn't like us very much, for example, then we may have to jump through lots of hoops to keep a supposedly pro-American leader in power.
To make all this work, of course, our leaders have to try to manage what we know and don't know. So they work hard at co-opting journalists and feeding them self-serving information -- which is often surprisingly easy to do -- or they try to keep a lot of what they are really doing classified. And when the country's national security policy is increasingly based on drone strikes, targeted killings, and covert operations -- as it has been under the Obama administration -- then the government has to go after anyone who tries to shed even partial light on all that stuff that most U.S. citizens don't know their government is doing.
Needless to say, it is all justified by the need to keep us safe. As Attorney General Eric Holder put it when asked about the investigation of AP, these leaks "required aggressive action ... They put the American people at risk."
The greater but more subtle danger, however, is that our society gradually acclimates to ever-increasing levels of secrecy and escalating levels of government monitoring, all of it justified by the need to "keep us safe." Instead of accepting that a (very small) amount of risk is inevitable in the modern world, our desire for total safety allows government officials to simultaneously shrink the circle of individual freedoms and to place more and more of what they are doing beyond our purview.
Don't misunderstand me. Civil liberties and press freedoms in the United States are still far greater than in many other countries, and the outcry over the Department of Justice's recent behavior reveals that politicians in both parties are aware that these principles are critical to sustaining a healthy democracy. My concern is that the trend is in the wrong direction and that the current drift -- under the leadership of a supposedly "liberal" president who used to teach Constitutional law! -- is an inevitable consequence of the quasi-imperial global role we have slid into over the past five decades.
In December 1917, in the middle of World War I, British Prime Minister Lloyd George told the editor of the Manchester Guardian that "if the people really knew, this war would be stopped tomorrow. But of course they don't know and can't know. The correspondents don't write and the censorship would not pass the truth." I sometimes wonder how Americans would react if we really knew everything that our government was doing. Or even just half of it.
The article, is based on a study by Daniel Bar-Tal of Tel Aviv University’s School of Education. Bar-Tal is an internationally regarded expert in political psychology. The study emphasizes that a large percentage of the Israeli Jewish population agrees that Israel at least partly caused the Palestinian refugee problem. But they are not willing to go the next step, and take responsibility in the context of the ongoing conflict and efforts to end it.
The article ends with this:
... This is one of the vital challenges of the day, that the Nakba (and perhaps the “Jewish state” definition, for Palestinians) symbolizes for all parties in the conflict: can each side acknowledge the most sensitive and frightening aspects of the other party’s identity without losing its own, and then lashing out violently to protect it?One may decry the fact that people are so hung up on "winning" the symbolic/narrative issues, but the fact that this is true, for far too many people, was driven home to me by a recent experience.
I went to hear a talk by Yossi Alpher - formerly of Bitter Lemons, and certainly considered firmly in the "peace camp". He was adamantly against Israel acknowledging the Palestinian "Right of Return", even if that was practically limited to 50-100,000 individuals returning to the State of Israel. He thought Palestinian insistence on this was a deal breaker for the two state solution. He thought Israel is correct to reject such a formulation.
When I pressed him on why it mattered, if in fact the number of returnees to Israel could be limited to 50-100,000, he said,
"Because then we would be admitting that Israel was born in sin. I don't believe that. If we agree to the 'Right of Return' the Palestinians will teach their children that Israel is the product of illegitimate theft, and if we object, they will say 'You already admitted to that when you agreed to the Right of Return.' ".
I was stunned that a peacenik who is so into practicality and real-politics would be so adamant about a completely symbolic issue.He was not willing to have two narratives co-exist, and he didn't believe the Palestinians were either.