February 6th, 2009

Chris Keeley

Ray Close

Who in his right mind thinks that Israel has really earned any long-term gains from its Gaza blunder? 

It's the long-term
bottom-line strategic results that count, not the short-term political gratification.  How many times over the past sixty years has that lesson been missed?

By its Gaza action, Israel has lost respect and credibility all over the world (most importantly in the United States);  many Israelis themselves are deluding themselves into thinking that they have profited.  They are wrong. 

Here is an example of the kind of strategic loss that they are not evaluating correctly; the poisoning of relations with Turkey will not recover for at least a decade.  What's the net long-term cost of that loss?


Gul Meets with King Abdullah as Turkey Seeks Saudi Investments

From February 3 to 5 Turkish President Abdullah Gul is visiting Saudi Arabia as King Abdullah's official guest. Gul is accompanied by several members of the Turkish cabinet as well as about 150 Turkish businessmen. Since the visit comes amid discussions on how to bring calm to the Middle East in the wake of Israel's Gaza offensive, it provides an opportunity for the leaders of the two major regional countries to discuss developments in their neighborhood. The visit also marks the deepening bilateral ties between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, which have gained momentum since the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002. In addition to bilateral and regional matters, Gul and his hosts discussed issues important to the Islamic world.

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Chris Keeley


 Milton Bearden, CIA station chief in Pakistan from 1986 to 1989 wrote a prescient article in Foreign Affairs in its Novenber/December 2001 issue entitled "Afghanistan, Graveyard of Empires".  In it he observed that the United States must proceed with caution in its quest for bin Laden -- or end up on the ash heap of Afghan history. We have learned none of these lessons and are about to compound our mistakes with an Obama "surge" that brings us one more step toward the ash heap.

To illustrate his point, Bearden started with Alexander the Great who sent his supply trains through the Khyber, then skirted northward with his army to the Konar Valley on his campaign in 327 BC. There he ran into fierce resistance and, struck by an Afghan archer's arrow, barely made it to the Indus River with his life.

Genghis Khan and the great Mughal emperors began passing through the Khyber a millennium later and ultimately established the greatest of empires -- but only after reaching painful accommodations with the Afghans.

In the nineteenth century the Khyber became the fulcrum of the Great Game, the contest between the United Kingdom and Russia for control of Central Asia and India. The first Afghan War (1839-42) began when British commanders sent a huge army of British and Indian troops into Afghanistan to secure it against Russian incursions, replacing the ruling emir with a British protege. Facing Afghan opposition, by January 1842 the British were forced to withdraw from Kabul with a column of 16,500 soldiers and civilians, heading east to the garrison at Jalalabad, 110 miles away. Only a single survivor of that group ever made it to Jalalabad safely, though the British forces did recover some prisoners many months later.

According to the late Louis Dupree, the premier historian of Afghanistan, four factors contributed to the British disaster: the occupation of Afghan territory by foreign troops, the placing of an unpopular emir on the throne, the harsh acts of the British-supported Afghans against their local enemies, and the reduction of the subsidies paid to the tribal chiefs by British political agents.

The British would repeat these mistakes in the second Afghan War (1878-81), as would the Soviets a century later; the United States would be wise to consider them today.

In the aftermath of the second British misadventure in Afghanistan, Rudyard Kipling penned his immortal lines on the role of the local women in tidying up the battlefields:  

When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains

And the women come out to cut up what remains

Jest roll to your rifle an' blow out your brains

An' go to your Gawd like a soldier.


Chris Keeley

CNI encourages all members to contact their local politicians in support of the refugees in Gaza.

CNI encourages all members to contact their local politicians in support of the refugees in Gaza.

BY, Frederick C. Butler                                                                                                                                                                     CNI Communications Director

While waiting on Israel's seemingly inevitable selection of Netanyahu as Prime Minister next Tuesday, last Wednesday CNI Staffers attended a Capitol Hill briefing on the current state of Gaza.

Hours after Hamas police seized goods from an aid station sponsored by the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA), and the announcement of the February 5th closure of the Rafah crossing; the prospects of peace in the volatile region seemed bleak, but not without hope.

Panel members; U.S. Representative, Dennis Kucinich, UNRWA-NY Representative Director, Andrew Whitley, and the United Palestinian Appeal Director, Samer Badawi, discussed the emergent problems and dire conditions encountering relief operatives in Gaza and Washington.

Organizations like UNRWA and the United Palestinian Appeal (UPA) have been barraged with accusations of supporting terrorism, while attempting to supply aid to over a million starving Gaza refugees.

"I would propose to everyone in this room," said Badawi, "that the first question on our minds when dealing with a humanitarian crisis of this magnitude is not whether or not these people are terrorists, but how we can help them?"

The United Palestinian Appeal has hurdled numerous road blocks while applying for US Grants for aid relief in Gaza. The bureaucracy of the US Treasury office of Foreign Assets Control makes it extremely difficult for anyone to get approval for funds.

"Fundamentally, no matter what I do in Gaza, as the head of an American organization I cannot resolve those core political issues," said Badawi. "But, what I can do is do my best to help the very needy people in Gaza"

The UPA is required to filter through a 300-page list of US-labeled terrorist, and ensure each child requesting aid is in no way affiliated with terrorist organizations.

"We must begin to poke holes in the logic that says that an orphan, even if he is orphaned by acts of terrorism, is an orphan nonetheless, and no less deserving of humanitarian assistance," said Badawi.

In an act of desperation Hamas has recently raided an UNRWA aid facility for food and blankets. Hamas officials claim to have taken the goods after members of the social-welfare program were denied aid.

"We are put in a difficult situation," said Whitley. "We cannot stop our work, but at the same time we cannot let this continue. We can only hope that this is an isolated incident carried out by some overzealous police officers."

CNI President Eugene Bird posed question to Kucinich as to what could be done in congress about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

He quoted a high-ranking UN official as saying, "If the people in Gaza were free there would be no need for charity."

"What is being done not only about getting materials into Gaza, but getting people out?"

 "The people in Gaza want to be freed."

Kucinich pointed to the numerous letters and resolutions circulating Congress. With a new administration in the US, and elections looming in Israel, the congressman believes there is a small window of opportunity to answer questions that have been unresolved for years.

"I've offered Resolution 66, and Obama has sent his administration's first disbursement of monetary relief," said Kucinich.

"I've had serious discussions with Nancy Pelosi, Stenny Hoyer, and Howard Berman, and many members of Congress who happen to be Jewish."

"There is a great concern about the extent of damage inflicted on the people of Gaza. The disproportional use of force has revealed a fault line that is compelling and devastating at the same time. It requires us to take an approach that is proactive, thoughtful and leads us to the freedom of Palestinians in Gaza."

CNI will continue to monitor the run-up to the Israeli election next Tuesday, February 10th.

Even after the election, the political situation in Israel will remain unclear until a coalition government is formed sometime within the next 90 days.


--Communications Director Frederick Butler can be reached at: frederick@cnionline.org

Chris Keeley

Clinton: Obama Admin Will Follow Bush Stance on Hamas Boycott

Clinton: Obama Admin Will Follow Bush Stance on Hamas Boycott

At the State Department Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton repeated the Obama administration commitment to follow the Bush administration policy of boycotting Hamas.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “I would only add that our conditions respecting Hamas are very clear. We will not, in any way, negotiate with or recognize Hamas until they renounce violence, recognize Israel and agree to abide by, as the Foreign Minister said, the prior agreements entered into by the PLO and the Palestinian Authority."

The US position has been criticized in part because it refuses to impose the same conditions on Israel. Israel refuses to renounce violence, recognize a Palestinian state and abide by agreements, including a pledge to freeze settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank.

Chris Keeley

Adou: Samalada

Adou: Samalada

Adou: Samalada at Pace/MacGill. "...Pace/MacGill Gallery is pleased to present Adou: Samalada, an exhibition of 30 gelatin silver prints from the photographer’s most recent series (2006-2007). This marks Adou’s first exhibition at Pace/MacGill Gallery and in the United States, as the gallery was first introduced to the artist at Three Shadows Photography Art Centre, Beijing in 2007. Inspired by the documentary photography of Julia Margaret Cameron, Robert Frank, and August Sander, Adou began photographing the people and places of China’s Western provinces. The Samalada series depicts the Yi ethnic minority in the artist’s native Sichuan Province. The series' title is a direct translation of the native name for Da Liang Mountain, the barren area bounded by rivers and mountains in which Adou took these photographs."


Chris Keeley

Ray Close

From a retired U.S. ambassador.

Alexander the Great and Ghengis Khan are no more, and the British generals fighting two Afghan wars are also unavailable.  But one former Soviet official, intimately familiar with his country's debacle in Afghanistan, remains ready to instruct from the Soviet experience. But no one is listening.  This John Burns interview has some enlightening - and discouraging - words which you may have missed. 
 An Old Afghanistan Hand Offers Lessons of the Past
New York Times -- October 20, 2008

KABUL, Afghanistan — It is one of a flow of disarming asides that Russia's ambassador to Kabul deploys while warning of the grim prospects that he says will doom the American enterprise in Afghanistan if the United States fails to learn from mistakes made during the Soviet occupation of the 1980s.
"I know quite a lot about the past," the ambassador, Zamir N. Kabulov, said in polished English with a broad smile during an interview in Kabul one morning last week. "But almost nothing about the future."
In fact, it is precisely because of a belief that the Soviet past may hold lessons for the American future that a talk with Mr. Kabulov is valued by many Western diplomats here. That is a perception that has drawn at least one NATO general to the Russian Embassy in Mr. Kabulov's years as ambassador, though the officer involved, not an American, showed no sign of having been influenced by what he heard, Mr. Kabulov said.
"They listen, but they do not hear," he said with another wry smile.
"Their attitude is, 'The past is the past,' and that they know more than I do." Perhaps, too, he said, "they think what I have to say is just part of a philosophy of revenge," a diplomatic turning of the tables by a government in Moscow that is embittered by the Soviet failure here and eager for the United States to suffer a similar fate.
Mr. Kabulov, 54, is no ordinary ambassador, having served as a K.G.B. agent in Kabul — and eventually as the K.G.B. resident, Moscow's top spy — in the 1980s and 1990s, during and after the nine-year Soviet military occupation. He also worked as an adviser to the United Nations' peacekeeping envoy during the turbulent period in the mid-1990s that led to the Taliban's seizing power.
Now he is back as Moscow's top man, suave and engaging, happy to talk of a time when the old Soviet Embassy compound was the command center for an invasion that ended in disaster and speeded the collapse of the great power that undertook it.
The compound, ransacked during the warlord turmoil of the mid-1990s and given over for a decade to refugees who squatted amid the rubble, is spanking new again, with fresh marble and sparkling chandeliers, as well as a memorial commemorating the 13,500 Soviet troops who died here.
Nearly 20 years after Soviet troops withdrew in humiliation, in February 1989, Mr. Kabulov has become a gloomy oracle, warning that the fate that overtook the Russians here may be relived by the Americans and their coalition partners.
"They've already repeated all of our mistakes," he said, speaking of what the United States has done — and failed to do — since the Taliban were toppled from power in November 2001 and American troops began moving into old Soviet bases like the one at Bagram, north of Kabul.
"Now, they're making mistakes of their own, ones for which we do not own the copyright."
The list of American failures comes quickly. Like the Soviets, Mr. Kabulov said, the Americans "underestimated the resistance," thinking that because they swept into Kabul easily, the occupation would be untroubled. "Because we deployed very easily into the major cities, we didn't give much thought to what was happening in the countryside," where the stirrings of opposition that grew into a full-fledged insurgency began, he said.
He places that blunder in the context of a wider failure to understand the "irritative allergy" among Afghans to foreign occupation, one that every invading power since the British in the 1840s has come to rue, and which, Mr. Kabulov said, grows into a fire if the invaders, especially non-Muslims, don't pull out soon. "One of our mistakes was staying, instead of leaving," he said. "After we changed the regime, we should have handed over and said goodbye. But we didn't. And the Americans haven't, either."
Confronted by an elusive insurgency and unable to maintain a presence in the hinterland because of a lack of troops, the Soviets, like the Americans, resorted to an overreliance on heavy weapons, especially airpower, he said. The resulting casualties among the civilian population only worsened the situation.
"We abused human rights, including the use of aggressive bombardment," he said. "Now, it's the same, absolutely the same. Some Soviet generals gave instructions to wipe out the villages where the mujahedeen were entrenched with the civilian population. Is that what your generals are going to do?"
The son of an Uzbek father and a Tartar mother, Mr. Kabulov said his family name is a corruption of an old Arabic term meaning capability.
"But the name's been my fate," he said, running through a career that has given him a front-row seat at almost every stage of Afghan's turbulent history for the past 25 years. In 1995, negotiating for the release of a Russian air crew forced down by the Taliban, he became one of very few foreigners to meet Mullah Muhammad Omar, the one-eyed former mujahedeen fighter who founded and still leads the Taliban.
Rebutting the suggestion that Russia hopes for an American failure here, Mr. Kabulov noted that Moscow supported the 2001 invasion as part of an international coalition against terrorism that was as much a threat to the security of Russia as to that of the United States. Russia still has nothing to gain from an American defeat, he said. "We have always said that it's better to fight the mujahedeen in the suburbs of Jalalabad than in Ashgabat," he said, referring to the capital of Turkmenistan, on Russia's southern border.
"How can they believe that we are so stupid and shortsighted?" he added. "Our approach is pragmatic. Why should we be jubilant at the prospect of the Americans being defeated by people who will take us on again, as they did in the 1990s in Chechnya?"
Still, the ambassador spoke with irritation at what he regards as an American distortion of the Soviet record here, one that ignores the "modernizing mission" Moscow pursued from the 1950s on, with billions of rubles spent on education, advancing the role of women and building roads, dams and an industrial infrastructure. "Where, I ask, are the big American projects to match those?" he said, and answered his own question.
"I'll tell you. There aren't any."
American generals, he said, have avoided contact with him. But with Gen. David D. McKiernan, the American commander, now pushing for a major increase in the 65,000 coalition troops that he commands, he said the Americans are replicating another of Moscow's mistakes: trying to turn the tide of the war by bringing in more troops.
Soviet troop strength in Afghanistan, he said, reached its peak in 1987 with a force of about 140,000.
"The more foreign troops you have roaming the country, the more the irritative allergy toward them is going to be provoked," he said.
The solution, he said, is to shift the fighting as quickly as possible to Afghan troops. This is something the United States and its partners have already embarked on, with a decision this summer to double the size of the Afghan Army. But even that, Mr. Kabulov said, will accomplish little unless the Americans turn the army into a genuine national force, with a sense among the troops that they are fighting for their country, not as "clients" of the Americans, as Mr. Kabulov believes they see themselves now.
One emblem of the American approach, he says, is the decision to re-equip the Afghan forces with NATO weaponry. Mr. Kabulov said this would mean retraining Afghan soldiers to fight with American M-16 rifles, in place of the Kalashnikov assault rifles that have been ubiquitous here for decades.
"Afghans have been very adept at using Kalashnikovs for 30 years, as we know only too well, and now you'll send them to Pakistan to be melted down into scrap? I ask you, how much sense is there in that?"