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Robert Dreyfuss

Bob Dreyfuss

News of America’s misadventures in foreign policy and defense.

Israel Revives Hamas

As Israel presses its bloody assault on Gaza, dropping broad hints that it is planning a ground attack to complement four days of bombings that have killed hundreds, it's clear that Israel's actions are likely to bolster, not weaken, the very enemy it is fighting.

Writing in the Washington Post, Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab points out that, before the latest crisis, Hamas was in sharp decline. The headline on his thoughtful piece is: "Has Israel Revived Hamas?" He says: "Israel appears to have given new life to the fledging Islamic movement in Palestine."

Over the past two years, Kuttab notes, Palestinian support for Hamas -- an ultrareligious, terrorist-inclined wing of the fanatical Muslim Brotherhood movement -- has declined sharply, from a 30 percent in 2006 to 22 percent in August, 2007, to just 17 percent in 2008 -- compared to 40 percent for Fatah, the mainstream, secular nationalist wing of the Palestinian body politic. Kuttab points out that Hamas has "turned down every legitimate offer from its nationalist PLO rivals and Egyptian mediators." Now, he says, the attacks are a "bonanza for Hamas" and says that Israel's assault will achieve "results exactly the opposite of its publicly proclaimed purposes."

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, and reflecting the views of Israel security hawks such as Bibi Netanyahu, Bret Stephens says that the Israeli campaign -- like the campaign in Lebanon that killed thousands in 2006, in the disastrous war against Hezhollah -- will not defeat Hamas. "The green flag of the movement will fly defiantly over the tallest building left standing," says Stephens. Unless, that is, the Israelis learn from Lebanon, 2006, and act decisively to crush Hamas once and for all. Problem is, that's an impossible task. Far more likely, Israel will end up radicalizing the Palestinians once again, weakening Fatah and strengthening Hamas. And that makes peace talks, and a settlement, less likely.

An intelligent news analysis piece in the Times from Stephen Farrell asks the key question:

The questions remain: Why did Hamas end its six-month cease-fire on Dec. 19? Will it -- can it -- unleash suicide bombers into Israel in retaliation? And will the devastation in Gaza make Palestinians fall into line behind Hamas, as they reliably have in the past, or will Hamas lose their support as Gazans count the escalating cost in blood and destruction?

Why, indeed? Like Israeli extremists such as Netanyahu, who thrive on conflict, Hamas too seems to have believed that it could revive itself by provoking its giant military adversary.

Farrells wonders: "A major question remains whether Hamas expected the shock-and-awe Israeli offensive that has left Gaza reeling." Hamas may not have expected the full brutality that Israel unleashed. In yesterday's post, I pointed out that the Mossad is reported to have concluded that Hamas was only seeking to make a show of force before trying to rengotiate the ceasefire on more favorable terms. But, in any case, its foolhardy decision to have ended the ceasefire and unleashed the rocket barrage seems idiotic in retrospect.

Yesterday, on NPR, I heard the official Hamas spokesman say -- without a shred of credibility or evidence -- that the rocket barrage since December 19 was unleashed by Israeli provocateurs in Gaza, seeking to provide Israel with an excuse for its all-out bombing campaign. Comments like that can only make Hamas look like pathetic, conspiracy-mongering fantasists.

Farrell's analysis points out that many Palestinians, so far at least, are rallying around Hamas, and he wonders:

More important is whether once away from television cameras and foreign journalists, Palestinians will vote for Hamas in presidential and parliamentary elections, which could take place within a year.

In Israel, the bloody holocaust they've unleashed is an election game, wherein Netanyahu and his slightly more moderate rivals in the Olmert-Livni bloc compete with each other to show who is best at slaughtering Palestinians. In Palestine, a similar election dynamic is underway.

In all of this, Obama continues his silence. Here's a way for him to end it: He ought to blame President Bush for his stunning refusal to get involved earlier this month, when Hamas started to say it that it would end its ceasefire. That was a perfect opportunity for the United States to end its boycott of Hamas and to sit down with Egypt, the Palestinian Authority under President Abbas, and Saudi Arabia and talk to Hamas. And Obama ought to say so. Don't hold your breath waiting for him to do it, though. We only have one incompetent president at a time.

Obama Fiddles While Gaza Burns

Thanks to Hamas' stupid, provocative, and self-defeating rocket assault on, well, nothing, in Israel, the Middle East that Barack Obama will inherit from George W. Bush just got a lot more complicated. And, sadly, Obama seems content to fiddle while Gaza burns.

Yesterday Obama got an official US intelligence briefing on the crisis in Gaza, which may or may not have numbed his brain with data he didn't need. Obama didn't need an intelligence briefing to tell him anything he really needs to know: that, once again, the twin poles of Israeli and Palestinian extremism have flared up in a way that will only undermine, perhaps fatally, the chances of a negotiated accord during Obama's first term in office.

The only useful intelligence Obama might have gained from the briefing is that the Mossad knew, before Israel's massive attack on Gaza, that Hamas was only trying to make a show of force. That is, Hamas' not-too-bright leaders thought that they could get away with a few hundred rocket attacks into Israel and then renegotiate a better ceasefire deal. Like the less-than-brilliant strategists in Georgia, who thought that they could attack Russia with impunity and who instead got their heads handed to them last August, Hamas' own armchair fanatics thought they could get away with it. Oops. The Wall Street Journal reports today:

In recent weeks, Israeli intelligence officials have said they believed Hamas doesn't want a full-scale confrontation, but rather wants to make a show of force before seeking a renewed cease-fire on more favorable terms.

If that's true, and there's little reason to think it isn't, it was certainly within Israel's power to exercise restraint -- or perhaps to engage in a little tit-for-tat counterattacks -- while waiting for things to settle down. But, no. Hamas, for its part, should have known that it was firing its rockets directly into Israel's pre-election political mess, in which hardline extremists like Bibi Netanyahu are gaining the upper hand. And the power of those extremists, playing on Israeli public opinion and its fears, pushed the pathetic Olmert-Livni government over the brink. (It's particularly disgusting that Olmert, who in his various exit interviews and speeches has pretty much acknowledged that Israel needs a deal involving the removal of Jewish settlements and the partition of Jerusalem, would go along with the overkill in Gaza.)

But the truly sad thing is see how Obama has opted out. He left the commenting to David Axelrod, his political strategist, who said, mouse-like: "I think he (Obama) wants to get a handle on the situation so that when he becomes president on January 20 he has the advantage of all the facts and information leading up to that point." To that gobbledygook he added that now all-too-familiar nostrum that America has "one president at a time."

It's long past time for the United States to have opened a dialogue with Hamas. As stupid as they are, their leadership is divided and they are not all religious fanatics (though many are) and they are not all living in the fantasy that Hamas can defeat Israel. The same Journal story today notes:

There are indications that the Hamas leadership is divided on how forcefully to respond. When Hamas's traditionally hard-line Damascus-based leader Mr. Meshal urged renewed attacks against Israel earlier this month, local Hamas leaders in Gaza quickly distanced themselves from his statements.

Those more sensible Gaza leaders of Hamas might be willing to reconcile with Fatah and the Palestinian authority, and it's the least that Obama could do to say so. It might be nice, too, if Obama would gently (or not so gently) point out that Israel's ham-handed overreaction needs to be reined in. (The Bush administration, which cheer-led Israel's 2006 attack on Hezbollah in Lebanon, isn't going to call for restraint.)

Meanwhile, just as Israel's attack on Lebanon strengthened that country's band of religious fanatics -- Hezbollah -- the Gaza assault is almost guaranteed to end up bolstering Palestine's own religious extremists, including Hamas's more wild-eyed and terrorist-inclined gangs. For some Israeli extremists, that may be exactly what they want, because it pushes a two-state solution that much further away. It would nice, too, if Obama would point that out.

During 2008, Obama never allowed any daylight between himself and the Israeli lobby. Those inclined to believe that Obama had a secret plan to break with AIPAC and its allies and to push for a solution in Palestine in a manner that wouild involve twisting Israeli arms discounted Obama's pro-Israel rhetoric as campaign posturing. We'll see. But it now appears abundantly clear that we'll have to wait until January 20, if not long afterwards, to find out.

Obama's Afghan Escalation

True enough, Barack Obama has pledged to support a "surge" in US forces in Afghanistan, as bad an idea as that might be. (See my article, "Obama's Afghan Dilemma," in The Nation.) But the latest from Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is a shock, and outrageous. Mullen said, without even a nod to Obama's role as incoming commander-in-chief, that he's planning to double US forces there by adding up to 30,000 new troops.

It's hard to ready this any other way than the worst way, however: that Mullen is speaking with Obama's (unspoken) approval. During the campaign season, and since, Obama said that he'd send "at least two or three additional combat brigades" to Afghanistan, which ought to mean something like another 10,000 forces or so. But 30,000 is a huge escalation.

Currently, the US has something like 32,000 troops in that hell-hole, including 14,000 under a rickety NATO coalition. Mullen's plan would send at least four combat brigades and thousands of additional support forces.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the Bush administration is pounding away at Obama to escalate in Afghanistan, and no doubt Robert Gates is in there hammering:

"The Pentagon and national security officials are transmitting a battery of new information concerning the Afghanistan war to President-elect Barack Obama's transition team in hopes the new administration will act quickly to prevent U.S. fortunes there from eroding further. ...

"Obama was briefed in person last week by Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on details of war plans.

"Among other issues, Mullen described the size of the units the Pentagon plans to send to Afghanistan and when they would be sent, defense officials said."

So it's clear Mullen got Obama's approval first, since it's unlikely he would have announced the 30,000 figure if Obama had indicated any opposition to the idea. That's scary.

Even Karzai is skeptical, though he's under political pressure at home, telling the Tribune: "Sending more troops to the Afghan cities, to the Afghan villages, will not solve anything. Sending more troops to control the border is sensible, makes sense That is where I need help. I don't need help anywhere else." But the US seems determined, according to sources I've talked to, to use the new forces to control Afghan cities.

The Christian Science Monitor reports that among the additional forces will be lare numbers of slam-bang US Special Forces to help train the wobbly Afghan National Army:

"The deployment of the Green Berets, the independent, multifaceted force skilled at training indigenous forces, could fill critical gaps in Afghanistan almost immediately, defense officials say....

"The deployment would be relatively small, probably only a few hundred individuals at first. Ultimately, other special operations forces, such as marines from Special Operations Command, Air Force special operators, and Navy Seals could be deployed under the plan."

The Special Ops surge would include a new US commander for Special Forces in Afghanistan and lots of support, like helicopters and intelligence units.

Maliki's Secret Crackdown

The story of the sweeping, and secretive, arrests, in Iraq's national security apparatus is getting curiouser and curiouser. It now appears as if the whole thing was a clumsy effort by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to get rid of political opponents, in advance of January elections.

Iraq's provincial elections take place 11 days after Barack Obama becomes president next month, and they could present him with his first international crisis. In several key provinces -- Nineveh, Baghdad, and Diyala -- the ruling alliance may face crushing electoral defeats, and Prime Minister Maliki is apparently trying to preempt that by force. But it's looking more and more likely that the elections in Iraq will be rigged, and that could touch off violence. The secret arrests are just the tip of the iceberg.

Reported the Post:

Members of parliament charged Thursday that the prime minister was using Iraq's security forces to instill fear in his rivals ahead of provincial elections set for next month. Critics noted pointedly that a special counterterrorism task force that reports to Maliki made the arrests.

Maliki, whose ruling Dawa party has split and split again -- former Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari, who was a Dawa member, is now running an opposition party -- is doing everything he can to bolster his party's power before the January 31 vote. Not much of it is democratic. He's building ties to the army command to make the Iraqi armed forces loyal to him personally. He's creating thuggish provincial "support councils" around the country as a kind of private militia. And he's using a special ops force, which reports directly to the prime minister, as a strike force against his enemies and opponents. They've been used in Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad, in an attempt to crush the Sunni-led Awakening movement there. And, it seems, it was this force that Maliki used to arrest two dozen or more supposed plotters in the Interior Ministry and perhaps elsewhere, including the Defense Ministry.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Maliki's arrests "raised concerns that the government's crackdown was reminiscent of Hussein's regime." It added:

Some legislators compared the government's behavior to that of Hussein's regime. Hussein's security apparatus had often rounded up political opponents on dubious charges. The lawmakers raised concern that the arrests were linked to the Shiite-led government's efforts to consolidate power.

Some Shiite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish lawmakers have accused Maliki recently of harboring authoritarian ambitions, in a break from the power-sharing model championed by U.S. officials since 2003.

No good explanation for the arrests has been provided by the government, which leaked two days ago that the supposed plotters were planning a coup d'etat and that they were associated with Iraq's Baath Party, through an organization called The Return (Al Awda). But according to many others, the entire Maliki-led operations was conducted without informing Iraq's own government, the ministers involved (including the minister of defense), and the parliament. The interior minister, Jawad al-Bolani, who is creating his own political party to compete against the ruling alliance, wasn't informed, either.

Sunnis were outraged by the secretive arrests, since many of those arrested appear to have been Sunnis. Allies of Muqtada al-Sadr condemned the arrests. And even spokesmen for the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), an Iranian-allied party with a powerful militia, voiced suspicion about the arrests. ISCI controls the Interior Ministry, and ISCI is competing in the election across the Shiite south of Iraq against Maliki's Dawa.

The New York Times, which broke the story Thursday -- but with important details wrong -- reported in an update today that there "was no evidence that the suspects were in the early stages of planning a coup" against Maliki. Added the Times:

[An] adviser to Mr. Bolani said that the prime minister had been privately pushing for the arrest of a number of Interior officials for two months, but that Mr. Bolani had pushed back, insisting that the officials were innocent.

NATO in Palestine? Not A Good Idea

Pro-Israel activists in the United States and Israeli defense officials are already getting energized in opposition to the idea of a NATO military force in Palestine, as part of an arrangement for security guarantees in connection with an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. General James L. Jones, Obama's national security adviser, spent much of the past year on a Palestine mission for the State Department, and he favors the idea of a NATO presence there.

Personally, I agree with the opposition to the idea. Jones, a former NATO commander, is an outspoken advocate for an expanded, out-of-area role for NATO. But there's no need to station NATO forces along an Israeli-Palestine border.

In Israel, the Jerusalem Post says that Israeli defense officials are mounting a preemptive strike against Jones' plan:

During his meetings with Israelis, Jones has proposed that a NATO-based international force deploy in the West Bank in the interim period between an Israeli withdrawal and the Palestinian forces becoming able to curb terror activity. ...

"NATO is a very bad idea," [an Israeli] officer said. "No other country in the world has successfully dealt with terror like Israel has. There is a need for continuous combat; NATO will not want to endanger its soldiers on behalf of Israeli citizens."

Still, Israeli is building closer ties to NATO, and this week Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, a candidate for prime minister, flew to Brussels for talks with NATO.

In Washington, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a pro-Israeli thinktank, is also wary of the idea. At a "Security First" forum at WINEP last week, J.D. Crouch and other analysts were skeptical of the idea. Said Crouch, according to a WINEP summary:

An international force could become a target for rejectionist groups, such as Hamas or al-Qaeda affiliates, or a propaganda tool for Iran. Also, the Palestinians might see the force as occupiers, not intermediaries. For their part, Israelis do not want to outsource security, since potentially either the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) or Israeli settlers could come into direct conflict with that force. Furthermore, given the current environment, the third party would effectively be a peace enforcer, not a peacekeeper. The force would have to conduct robust counterterrorism and intelligence operations, but it is unlikely that a NATO force would be available with the will and capability to sustain such a commitment.

With everything else on this plate, there will be a temptation for Obama to avoid dealing with Israel-Palestine. That would be a big mistake. Both Clinton and Bush II left it to the waning days of their terms in office, with disastrous results. (To be fair, Clinton paid more attention to it than Bush, who initially refused utterly to deal with Arafat and the PLO and who supported Israel's massive invasion of the West Bank and its assault on Lebanon, with no balance.) But starting with proposals to inject NATO into the region is a bad idea. NATO is an anachonism, and it ought to be disbanded, not expanded.

Bush Finds WMDs in Iraq, Umm, or WMHs

President Bush finally found the long-missing Weapons of Mass Humiliation in Iraq. Iraqis, millions of them, are wearing them on their feet. Not exactly WMDs, but WMHs will have to do.

Unfortunately, Bush discovered the WMHs when a pair of them sailed past his head at a press conference in Baghdad. The hurler, Muntader al-Zaidi, is already a hero in Iraq, and beyond.

I hope I don't get in trouble with the Secret Service by saying that I, too, found satisfaction in the display of anger toward Bush, whose reckless war costs hundreds of thousands of lives and destroyed an entire nation. What Zaidi did was to put an exclamation point on Bush's war, fittingly -- and, given the fact that the smoothly bipartisan, rancorless Barack Obama isn't likely to investigate the crimes of the Bush adminstration in Iraq, it might be all we get before Bush rides off into the Texas sunset.

Sunnis and Shiites, both, and Arabs across the region celebrated Zaidi's act of courage. Reports the Times:

In [Shiite] Sadr City, the sprawling Baghdad suburb that has seen some of the most intense fighting between insurgents and American soldiers since the 2003 invasion, thousands of people marched in his defense. In Syria, he was hailed as a hero. In Libya, he was given an award for courage. ...

In Samarra, one of the centers of the Sunni insurgency against American forces, Mr. Zaidi received nearly unanimous approval from people interviewed Monday.

The family of the shoe-hurler, according to AP, said that Zaidi (himself a Shiite) was opposed both to the United States and to Iran's heavy-handed role in Iraq:

Over time, Muntadhar al-Zeidi, a 28-year-old unmarried Shiite, came to hate both the U.S. military occupation and Iran's interference in Iraq, his family told The Associated Press on Monday.

Family members expressed bewilderment over al-Zeidi's action and concern about his treatment in Iraqi custody. But they also expressed pride over his defiance of an American president who many Iraqis believe has destroyed their country.

"I swear to Allah, he is a hero," said his sister, who goes by the nickname Umm Firas.

Thousands of people, in Sadr City, in Najaf, and in Sunni areas demonstrated their support for Zaidi.

Raed Jarrar, the Iraqi bogger and activist in the United States, has started a petition to free him. You can read Jarrar's commentary here.

According to AP, Zaidi's act of defiance is being hailed across the region:

Images of Bush ducking the fast-flying shoes at a Baghdad press conference, aired repeatedly on Arab satellite TV networks, were cathartic for many in the Middle East, who have for years felt their own leaders kowtow to the American president.

So the sight of an average Arab standing up and making a public show of resentment was stunning. The pride, joy and bitterness it uncorked showed how many Arabs place their anger on Bush personally for what they see as a litany of crimes -- chief among them the turmoil in Iraq and tens of thousands of Iraqi deaths since the 2003 U.S. invasion

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Scowcroft, Gates, Jones: Go Slow on Iraq

When it comes to predictions about Obama's Iraq policy, we can discount the supercilious Rush Limbaugh, who "predicted in a speech last week that Democrats will back down from their pledge to rapidly withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq." But it's harder to ignore what Brent Scowcroft, Robert Gates, and James Jones are saying.

Let's start with Scowcroft. The ultimate Republican realist, who distinguished himself in 2002 by writing a Wall Street Journal op-ed saying bluntly that the United States should not attack Iraq, has had Obama's ear on national security matters for a while now. In a speech at the end of October, Scowcroft laid down a marker on Iraq, supporting limited troop withdrawals but urging caution -- exactly the sort of caution that will be urged on Obama from Gates and the generals:

Progress is being made. But it's a very fragile process. ... And it's getting to that point now that I think it is reversible, and so I think while the U.S. can probably begin to reduce some troops as the security situation improves, we have to be very careful about pulling out before we have a situation there that is clearly able to be sustained by the local system. And therefore, I would caution against a withdrawal of the United States according to a calendar, rather than according to the situation on the ground.

In today's Post, Gates is quoted by George Will along similar lines, suggesting that the United States will need to keep 40,000 troops in Iraq "for decades":

Regarding Iraq, Gates is parsimonious with his confidence, noting that "the multisectarian democracy has not sunk very deep roots yet." He stresses, however, that there is bipartisan congressional support for "a long-term residual presence" of perhaps 40,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, and that the president-elect's recent statements have not precluded that. Such a presence "for decades" has, he says, followed major U.S. military operations since 1945, other than in Vietnam. And he says, "Look at how long Britain has had troops in Cyprus."

General Jones, who will be Obama's national security adviser, is reportedly well in tune with Gates and General Petraeus, the Centcom commander. He' s been generally cautious on Iraq, where the one important thing he's done is to run a commission charged with examining the Iraqi security forces in 2007, and which made some news by calling for the disbanding of the corrupt and death squad-infiltrated Iraqi police.

But as the Los Angeles Times reported, Jones hasn't been on the same page as Obama when it comes to Iraq:

Jones has separated himself from the Obama playbook on a few issues. In 2007, he warned that setting an arbitrary deadline for removing U.S. troops from Iraq, which would presumably include Obama's campaign call to remove combat units in 16 months, would be "against our national interest."

Appearing on "Meet the Press" with the late Tim Russert at the time of the commission's report, Jones suggested that the United States might be in Iraq for at least three to four years. Here's an excerpt:

MR. RUSSERT: General Jones, you're known as a straight shooter. Just separate all the garbage away for the American people. What should they be thinking about Iraq? That we're going to need to be there for three, four, five years in order to secure the country?

GEN. JONES: Well, I--it may be that it'll take that long a period of time in, in order to do that. But that doesn't mean that, that, that there'll be--the level of fighting will be, will be the same.

MR. RUSSERT: Or the level of troops.

GEN. JONES: Or the level of troops. We are still in the Balkans, for example. The Balkans are relatively peaceful. So we'll get to that point. Our point is that you can, you can accelerate that with political reconciliation. But the strategic interests of the United States in the region are very, very high.

Obama's Ross: Our Loss

There's a lot of buzz -- much of it generated by AIPAC, WINEP, and other parts of the Israel lobby, and a lot of it, no doubt, by Ross himself -- that hawkish Dennis Ross is going to get a big job in Hillary Clinton's State Department.

It's an insider battle, one that I've chronicled since last summer, between Obama's more dovish Middle East advisers and hawks such as Ross. Among the doves: Dan Kurtzer, Dan Shapiro, and the once-upon-a-time exiled-from-Obamaland folks such as Zbigniew Brzezinski and Robert Malley, who may be back in Obama's good graces. But Ross is, according to insiders, making a comeback.

A blog at Politico reports that "Obama backers concerned with Israel, are carefully eyeing the interplay between two of his most important advisers on the Middle East," Ross and Kurtzer, an Orthodox Jew who served as US ambassador to both Israel and Egypt.

Writing in Asia Times, Kaveh Afrasiabi suggests that Ross is in line to be Obama's point man on Iran. Several sources I've spoken with say that Ross believes that, ultimately, there is no alternative to a US military strike against Iran to stop its nuclear program. (On the links between Ross, and other Obama advisers, and various Iran hawks and neocons, look at my TomDispatch piece from last week.) Afrasiabi quotes Ross on Iran: "We are headed on a pathway now that will lead to the use of force."

The right-wing Jerusalem Post slams the idea of Kurtzer while snuggling up to "veteran Middle East hand Dennis Ross":

Leftist ideologues in Israel are lobbying for the appointment of retired ambassador Daniel Kurtzer to be the administration's Middle East envoy. Were Obama to take their bad counsel, Kurtzer would arrive, not as an honest broker, but as a divisive figure whose views are at variance with those of mainstream Israel.

Steve Clemons, at the New America Foundation, has a clever idea which, he says, came from Brzezinski: why not name Ross to be US ambassador to Israel?

Brzezinski ... said that Dennis Ross would make an excellent and important US Ambassador to Israel. I think he's right -- and it's time to start whispering about Ross's fate again and get him back in the mix as envoy to Tel Aviv -- but not as czar of Middle East negotiations.

That would put Ross safely in a place where he probably couldn't do any harm, and where he'd have to deliver the bad news to Israeli hawks if Obama, whose Middle East policy looks like it might be shaped by Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft, decides to push Israel on a Palestinian state.

Even if it's looking less and less likely that Bibi Netanyahu, the head of the rightist Likud bloc in Israel, will win February's election -- but especially if he does -- Obama ought to give Ross the mission of defeathering Israel's hawks in 2009.

Did ISI Do It, Or Didn't They?

The lead story in today's New York Times reports a definitive connection between the Lashkar-e Taiba ("Army of the Pure") terrorist group and Pakistan's ISI intelligence service. The Times points out, though, that there is no evidence that ISI was involved in the planning of the attack--yet. Here are two important quotes from the article, both from U.S. officials, who points out that ISI provided funding and training for Lashkar:

"It goes beyond information sharing to include some funding and training. And these are not rogue ISI elements. What's going on is done in a fairly disciplined way."

But:

"It's one thing to say the ISI is tied to Lashkar and quite another to say the ISI was behind the Mumbai attacks. The evidence at this point doesn't get you there."

Indian officials, meanwhile, aren't quite allowing for that nuance. The Post quotes a senior Indian source saying: "We have the names of the handlers. And we know that there is a close relationship between the Lashkar and the ISI."

That handler, according to the Times report cited above, may be a man named Zarrar Shah:

"American and Indian officials believe that one senior Lashkar commander in particular, Zarrar Shah, is one of the group's primary liaisons to the ISI. Investigators in India are also examining whether Mr. Shah, a communications specialist, helped plan and carry out the attacks in Mumbai. 'He's a central character in this plot,' an American official said."

The Wall Street Journal has a good profile of Lashkar today.

The Times notes that the Lashkar chief, Haffiz Muhammad Saeed, openly preached his sermon near Lahore, in Pakistan, on Friday, including this gem: "Now Condoleezza Rice has rushed to India and Pakistan because infidels are united. If infidels do not stop their anti-Muslim activities, the Muslims are second to none in taking revenge." If Pakistan doesn't crack down on psychotics like Saeed, well, let's not think about that. So far, at least, there are no reports of Indian or Pakistani troop mobilizations, except for the brief Pakistani alert called after a hoax or prank call to Pakistan's president from a man purporting to be India's foreign minister. But India's actual foreign minister, Pranab Mukherjee, did say that India will "act decisively ... with all the means at our disposal."

John Bolton Reads 'Em and Weeps

It was an extraordinary scene at the American Enterprise Institute on Tuesday, where John Bolton read 'em and wept. There is, he said, no way to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons.

His conclusion, stunning in its finality: "We are going to have to deal with a nuclear Iran."

In so saying, Bolton -- among the hawkiest of hawks from the now neoconservative-movement-in-exile -- broke ranks with many of his neocon colleagues. Most of them haven't given up on stopping Iran, as evidenced by a raft of new reports from neocon-linked thinktanks. And they're busily calling for stepped-up sanctions, making bellicose threats, and warning of military action by the United States and Israel. But Bolton is folding his cards.

"Iran's going to get nuclear weapons," said Bolton, to an audience at AEI that seemed shocked into silence. "We have lost this race." If you don't believe me, you can watch the video.

According to Bolton, the idea that Iran can be deterred from going forward by applying economic sanctions won't work. Had it been tried earlier, he said, it might had an impact. "Sanctions could have dissuaded Iran," he said. "But that time is past." Europe doesn't have the will to impose tough sanctions, he said. He lamented his encounters with the German ambassador to the United Nations, during Bolton's tenure as US ambassador there, and he said that the Germans and other European countries won't take action to cut off their lucrative trade with Tehran.

But Bolton also said that neither the United States nor Israel will attack Iran to stop its nuclear program. "Neither one is willing to use military force," he said. Bolton said that until recently he believed that there was a small chance that Israel, on its own, might attack Iran before January 20, when Barack Obama becomes president. But Israel is mired in political confusion in advance of its coming elections, and there is no political will in Israel to go to war against Iran, he said.

Bolton also said that the likelihood of a US attack on Iran under Obama is nil. "Under an Obama administration, that possibility is essentially zero," he said. "After January 20, the chances are zero."

If strong action had been taken in the past, say, starting five years ago, Iran could have been stopped, Bolton said. Tough sanctions then would be biting now, he said. Alternately, the United States could have adopted a policy of "regime change," supporting ethnic minorities, disaffected youth, and Iran's youth, to create revolutionary unrest, even though nearly all experts on Iran have argued that regime change was never a viable option. Said Bolton: "If we had started it five years ago, we might be in a different place,. It was a good policy option. We should have pursued it. We didn't pursue it."

After Bolton spoke, I encountered a very senior neoconservative strategist, who'd served in the Department of Defense, and who was quietly observing the proceedings at the back of the AEI meeting room. I asked him if agreed with Bolton's assessment. Preferring not to speak on the record, he said:

"Well, I think what he said is basically true. We're going to find ourselves in a position not unlike the one we faced with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. We will have to contain them and deter them. The problem is, that Iran will feel empowered, and we'll have an increasing level of tension in the Persian Gulf."

What does that mean? I asked. According to this former official, it looks ominous. "Eventually, we'll probably have to do something. But doing it later will be a lot harder than doing it now." And by doing something, what do you mean, I asked. "It might come to a war."

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