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What was originally billed as Dick Cheney's mission to recruit Arab nations' support for ousting Saddam Hussein became a lecture tour on the urgency of dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict--with Cheney as the lecturee. By the time he reached Israel the Vice President was promising that the United States would become "very actively engaged" in peace efforts in the Middle East.

Was this a Paul-like conversion on the road not quite to Damascus? Hardly. Whether it evolves into a full-scale US diplomatic effort to achieve a workable peace settlement remains to be seen, but there are new glimmers of hope as other key parties are now speaking out. Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah's proposal injected a fresh impetus into the bloody Israeli-Palestinian impasse. The Saudi plan--which calls for Israeli withdrawal to its pre-June 1967 borders in exchange for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza and normalization of relations with the Arab nations--is, of course, nothing new. But its source, a conservative Arab state, carried weight, and its enunciation was timely. Such a vision still offers the best framework for a lasting solution. To the Israelis it promises peace, security and commerce with its neighbors; to the Palestinians it promises an end to the occupation and the establishment of a viable Palestinian nation. As Israeli novelist Amos Oz recently wrote, "Even Ariel Sharon and Yasir Arafat know the solution: peace between two states, established by the partition of the land roughly in accordance with demographic realities based on Israel's pre-1967 borders."

The United States, for its part, has taken several mildly positive steps, including engineering a UN Security Council resolution for a Palestinian state and Bush's admonition that Sharon's massive incursion into the Palestinian refugee camps was "not helpful." US disapproval stopped Sharon's invasion, and the Prime Minister also dropped his condition that peace talks would proceed only after seven days without Palestinian violence.

The Bush Administration's let-'em-fight-it-out policy, coupled with continued military and economic aid to Israel, has been a disaster, tacitly encouraging Sharon in his admitted attempt "to increase the number of losses on the other side. Only after they've been battered will we be able to conduct talks." Also a disaster was Washington's myopic ritual of blaming everything on Arafat's alleged failure to stem Palestinian terrorism. The US stance ignores what UN Secretary General Kofi Annan recently called Israel's "illegal occupation" of the West Bank and Gaza. Annan notably followed up those words with an indictment of the Israelis for unleashing the military in what resembled "all-out conventional warfare" against heavily populated civilian areas.

The Administration must now recognize that the best tactic in this renewed peace process is to work for a political settlement in tandem with a military truce. Achieving such a settlement will require a deep and evenhanded involvement on its part. Peace in the Middle East, not toppling Saddam Hussein, should be the United States' top priority. Many Arab leaders don't like the Iraqi dictator, but they know that military action against Iraq would further destabilize the region at a time when Arab opinion is inflamed against Israel and America.

Implementing the Saudi plan would mean taking some difficult steps, including the removal of Israeli settlements and the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state. The issues of the Palestinians' right of return and the location of their capital in East Jerusalem must be faced. These aren't intractable once the principles of full withdrawal for full peace are agreed on. International monitors should be introduced into the region to implement and enforce a peace agreement--particularly on the Palestinian side, because Arafat's power to curb terrorist elements (and curb them he must) has been undermined by Israeli incursions as well as his own weakness. Once a just settlement has emerged, Washington should impose compliance, if necessary, by cutting off aid and support to the recalcitrant party.

Washington must bring to bear its immense power, in coordination with the good offices of the European Union and the UN, and work to resolve this conflict. Such an outcome would be the most effective measure yet in the so-called war on terrorism.

On March 10 the citizens of a small African country went to the polls to cast their votes for an incumbent with a reputation as one of the continent's most unreconstructed tyrants, a man who used every form of trickery in the book to secure his re-election. Zimbabwe? No. I refer to the equatorial Republic of Congo (Brazzaville), which held its presidential election on the very same weekend as Zimbabwe's. Military strongman Denis Sassou-Nguesso was re-elected by a 90 percent landslide after his major opponent pulled out of the race the day before the elections, citing irregularities and urging his supporters to boycott. One such irregularity was Sassou-Nguesso's refusal to establish an independent election body to oversee the voting.

Observing the results in Zimbabwe and Congo, the respected Kenyan publisher Barrack Muluka has written in the East African Standard that "the continent of Africa abounds with miscarried and defrauded electoral history" and that the vote in Africa, when it happens at all, "can only be described as electoral fiction." Wondering why the West barely noted the Congo results, Muluka asks: "Is it possible for Tony Blair to admit that his concern over Zimbabwe arises first and last out of the fact that Mugabe has been messing up with the White population in that country?" Muluka concludes that he is as sickened by the hypocrisy of the West as he is by "the autocracy of the Mugabes of the world."

Zambia's recent elections were disputed, and Madagascar is in the throes of civil unrest because the incumbent there, Didier Ratsiraka, refuses to leave office after having been voted out. With a few shining exceptions (Senegal, South Africa, Botswana and, perhaps, Nigeria and Ghana), Muluka is right. Why, then, the fuss over Zimbabwe? Muluka provides part of the answer: The fact that there is a sizable white settler population in Zimbabwe and a steady diet, for the international media, of dead white farmers means there's a human interest dimension to the Zimbabwean story that poor Congo can't match. Did you know, for example, that 10,000 Congolese were killed in the civil war that brought Sassou-Nguesso to power in 1997 and that his ensuing repression displaced nearly a third of the country's 3 million citizens?

But Afrophobia aside, there are other, more honorable reasons for the world's current obsession with Zimbabwe's tragic descent into chaos. When Mugabe came to power in 1980, he was to many Western Afrophiles a shining light, a vision of reconciliation (he urged whites to stay and work with him) and a mark of the triumph of pragmatism over ideology (he was, in a nutshell, anti-Soviet). The generation now making policy in the West marched against Rhodesia and then marched for the brave new world Mugabe symbolized. His plummet into kleptocracy and tyranny signifies nothing short of betrayal for the Blair cohort of once-were-lefties.

And then there is Thabo Mbeki. The South African president has spent the past two years circumnavigating the globe peddling his New Partnership for African Development, which has as its precondition the achievement of African self-determination through democracy. When the Organization of African Unity approved the plan last year, Mbeki wrote that this "marked the moment when Africa took its destiny into its own hands for the first time in 500 years."

Mbeki acknowledged that Africans had said this before but explained how things are different from the moment of African independence in the early 1960s: We were no longer pawns in the cold war, and "corrupt and dictatorial leaders [could] no longer count on the patronage and protection of superpowers intent on maintaining a particular global balance of power and influence, which enabled the Mobutus of this world to thrive for decades."

And so Zimbabwe has become a litmus test for Mbeki's own aspirations: for South Africa (which, because of the "Mandela miracle," still carries the world's expectations for this continent) and for the unfettered African future Mbeki so publicly dreams of. Zimbabwe's 2002 election will be remembered as the moment at which Africa needed to make up its mind.

Mugabe has alienated the West, but he does seem to be able to count--with a couple of noble exceptions--on Africa's own ruling elite, including Mbeki's ANC. On March 19, however, Mbeki and his colleague, Nigeria's Olusegun Obasanjo, joined Australian Prime Minister John Howard in agreeing to suspend Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth. Have they, by doing this, exercised the self-determination Mbeki calls for? Or are they--as Mugabe's apologists would have it--colonial lackeys who have succumbed to racists with checkbooks?

Mbeki is in a tight spot. Chaos in Zimbabwe cannot but affect the whole region, and so, to date, his approach has been conciliatory. He understands, in a way that Tony Blair never could, that a Mugabe defeat would have spelled a bloody civil war. But it does not help Mbeki's case that he has not, at this writing, made any public pronouncement of his own.

Only when--as Mbeki himself has so compellingly put it--Africans really do start policing themselves, will shrill (and possibly racist) voices from the West begin to recede in significance. And only then will the ordinary people of countries like Zimbabwe really have a stab at the self-determination most people in the West take as their God-given right.

A Mexican migrant acquaintance once told me that he'd love the opportunity to brief Congress on immigration policy. Let us imagine him now, walking into the hallowed chamber, dressed in his typical migrant attire: a fading Oakland Raiders jersey, oversized bright orange painting pants, imitation Air Jordans. He wears a baseball cap with the epigram ¡qué viva México, cabrónes! rendered in red, green and white--the colors of the Mexican flag. He reaches into his well-worn backpack and pulls out some handwritten notes on crumpled sheets of paper, and begins:

First, I would like to tell the distinguished sirs and madams a bit about the migrant life. I'm from a luckless southwestern Mexican town whose timber-based economy is in tatters--no sign of economic development on the horizon, NAFTA or no. I made my first trip to the States at 13, a solo journey that included a few months of indentured servitude to a "coyote," a real cabrón. I paid off what I owed him by picking aluminum cans out of the garbage. When I finally broke free, I took to the road.

I never had a problem getting a job. With a cheap forgery of a green card, the bosses never looked twice. As the years went by, I cruised from state to state. I got married to a girl from home and soon we were on the road together, hopping back and forth across the border that supposedly separates our nations.

Beginning in the latter half of the 1990s, our border-crossings became increasingly difficult. Suddenly, you built walls on the US-Mexico border. Big ones, made of coppery steel. These you have referred to as "interdiction measures," which include programs with names like Gatekeeper, Safeguard and Hold the Line. Since 1995 as many as 1,400 migrants died on that line, pushed by your Border Patrol into the remote, deadly desert and lonely stretches of the Rio Grande.

You recently deployed the first of more than 1,600 National Guard troops along the frontiers with both Canada and Mexico, to provide "tactical" support to the other agencies on the line. The last time you put the military on the line, the result was the shooting of an 18-year-old who was out herding his goats; you did the sensible thing and pulled them out. Now they're back; so far, thankfully, they are unarmed.

I tell you that this is a dangerous situation, and yet, in the wake of September 11--when I grieved as much as if Mexico herself had been attacked--I am mindful of your security concerns. I submit to you that you cannot secure your borders alone. I humbly suggest consultations at the highest levels between the federal law-enforcement agencies of our two countries, a starting point for recognizing that American homeland security is Mexican homeland security and vice versa.

We must re-imagine the border between us. All the money you've poured into "holding the line"--some $4 billion a year for the total INS budget--does nothing of the sort. Yes, it makes it more difficult, and sometimes deadly, to cross. But we still do cross back and forth over that line.

Dear legislators, I watch CNN en Español and have been following your recent debates over immigration policy very carefully. Let us speak frankly here: You've been playing an age-old shell game--appeasing the rabid dogs of nativism but leaving the border open enough to supply labor to big business, which keeps getting you re-elected.

What a great buzz there was in the migrant communities before 9/11! You were speaking (well, some of you) about an amnesty--pardon me, a regularization--of the immigration status of the nearly 9 million estimated "illegals" in your midst. Then for several months you shied away from such discussions. But now your President is on his way to Latin America, and he will meet with my President. It is clear to us, the migrants, that these men want to see some movement on the issue--Bush, to bolster his standing among Latinos and his business cronies, and Fox, to please paisanos like me--but this makes many of you uncomfortable. I know why. It's Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Now, I might look a bit like Caliban (especially in these surroundings), but I'm no Taliban, no terrorist! What are my weapons? Leaf blowers and dishrags?

You must place regularization and some version of a "guestworker" program back on the fast track. Everybody wins with real reform: Your labor-hungry industries will be happy, and you might even get some of that coveted Hispanic vote. But you need to understand one thing: We migrants will not accept any kind of program modeled on the infamous, exploitative Bracero Program. Braceros, my grandfather among them, had no right to leave an abusive boss, had no recourse to better their working conditions and wages, could not join unions. The guestworker program of the new century must give us the rights that all American workers enjoy. And there must be a mechanism for affording those workers who spend, say, six years living and working in your country the opportunity for permanent legal status.

When Vicente Fox rose to power two years ago, he made a statement that caused you much anxiety: He foresaw the border between the United States and Mexico disappearing within a decade. I tell you today that this prophecy will come to pass. There are no lines in nature, dear sirs and madams. The fact that I am here before you today proves that this is so. I thank you for your kind consideration in allowing me to speak before you today. ¡Qué vivan los mojados! Long live the migrants!

A move is on to blur the line between conventional and nuclear weapons.

"Debacle in Kwangju." Were Washington's cables read as a green light for
the 1980 Korean massacre? (1996)

"Stiglitz Roars Back" (2001)

International law offers too little protection for prisoners of the new war.

George W. Bush went out of his way to praise America's allies in his speech marking the six-month anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. In a clear effort to massage the sensibilities of nations worried about escalating US unilateralism, he spoke of "the power and vitality of our coalition" against Al Qaeda and singled out for praise nations from Denmark to Uzbekistan.

But the international concerns about US intentions persist, and with good reason. Before Bush made his speech stroking the Afghanistan allies, from the Pentagon leaked previously confidential portions of the Nuclear Posture Review, calling for more flexible nuclear weapons, arguing for a resumption of weapons testing and exploring "contingencies" that could require nuclear attack on Russia, China, North Korea, Libya, Syria, Iraq or Iran.

Arguments for the tactical use of nuclear weapons are not new. But the endorsement of that strategy at the highest levels of the Administration marks a dramatic departure, a direct threat of first-use nuclear strikes against nonnuclear states. The review envisions nuclear weapons not as unthinkable engines of holocaust--their very use a crime against humanity--but as the next logical battlefield step from bunker-busters and daisy-cutters. Yet there is no such thing as a logical use of a nuclear weapon. On page 7 Jonathan Schell writes that just as New York was dealing with a false nuclear bomb scare, the "government was moving to relegitimize the use of nuclear weapons in general and throwing down the nuclear gauntlet to the Middle East in particular--the very part of the world from which New York and Washington and other cities most fear attack."

This unprecedented waving of the nuclear stick against nonnuclear foes (unprecedented, anyway, since Richard Nixon threatened to drop the bomb on Hanoi and was dissuaded by Henry Kissinger, a moment captured on newly released tapes) is even more worrisome because despite Bush's reassuring language, his speech outlined the "second stage" of the war on terrorism. This phase envisions a significant shift from the international police action aimed primarily at Al Qaeda. Bush, who has already dispatched advisers to Georgia, Yemen and the Philippines, said the United States "encourages and expects governments everywhere to help remove the terrorist parasites that threaten their own countries and the peace of the world" and offered troops and assistance. The suggestion to coalition partners: Support future American action against Iraq, and we'll actively support you against whatever militants harbor, in Bush's words, "differences and grievances" with your government. He also raised the possibility of pre-emptive strikes against nations deemed to be developing weapons of mass destruction--now, presumably, with nuclear weapons.

Rather than legitimizing nuclear warfare, the United States should be leading a global campaign to shun nuclear weapons as genocidal and promoting effective international agreements to halt nuclear proliferation and the development of other weapons of mass destruction.

Bush's speech stakes out a massive expansion of American military options. Where the nuclear policy review and the war on terror come together is an expanding pursuit of American military and political supremacy as an end in itself.

Targeted by authorities, immigrants are organizing to defend their rights.

The church bells were pealing for Princess Margaret Rose (as she was known when she was a pretty and vivacious child) as I arrived on a bright, cold Sunday morning. Breaking with the habit of a lifetime, I decided to attend divine service at one of the more upscale Anglican churches, and see if I could test the temperature of the nation. The pews were almost empty as the choir struck up the opening hymn, and the prayers for the departed one--which augmented the Church of England's mandatory weekly prayer for the Royal Family--were muttered only by a few of the sparse and elderly congregation.

When it comes to the events of September 11, everyone is an expert and no one is.

Blogs

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March 22, 2011

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March 22, 2011

Obama asks for Brazil’s help in solving US domestic problems, but offers little in return.

March 21, 2011

Even if a war is considered "just," even if it is launched under the auspices of the UN, US military interventions should be debated and approved by Congress before they are launched.

March 20, 2011

The White House posted a photo of Obama huddling with his national security team.

March 20, 2011

There's no legitimacy to the UN vote on military action against Qaddafi.

March 19, 2011

NPR's Pravda-like headline tells the story before it actually happened.

March 19, 2011

This week, we bring you coverage of Libya and discuss the dilemma of intervention. Plus, Jonathan Schell and Christian Parenti on the nuclear crisis in Japan. Could Fukushima’s disaster happen in the US? And we welcome guest bloggers Greg Grandin and Allison Kilkenny.

March 18, 2011

Joining Charlie Rose, Schell explains that nuclear power has no place in a world so vulnerable to widespread disaster.

March 18, 2011

The Obama administration has continued to operate Bush’s legally dubious detention centers for terrorism prisoners, but the opaque practices at these secret prisons deserve to be rigorously reconsidered.

March 18, 2011