Saturday, April 3, 2010

Defusing Gaza, Defriending Hamid

David Ignatius
Marwan Bishara
Reihan Salam
"This is my favorite story of the week. The Republican National Committee is in trouble after spending nearly $2,000 at a bondage club in Hollywood. You know what I call a Republican that spends a lot of money in a strip club? A Democrat." – Jay Leno

"In fact, one eyewitness said 'some of the things going on in the club were almost too masochistic for the Republicans to watch.' Like in one room, there was a video being played over and over of President Obama signing the healthcare bill." – Jay Leno

"President Obama announced this week that he is opening more sites for offshore oil drilling. Do you know what that means? If we find enough oil, we could one day invade ourselves." – Jay Leno

There is a good article in the Christian Science Monitor on Egypt's role in maintaining the blockade of Gaza. Like all things in the Middle East, the reasons are complex; "Egypt doesn’t want to take the pressure off Israel, which it holds responsible for running Gaza. At the same time, Egypt has an interest in weakening militant Islamist group Hamas, which rules the territory. And many suspect that US pressure plays into Egypt's participation in the blockade, though Egypt denies this.

Emad Gad, an analyst at the government-funded Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, boils the issue down to Egypt’s opposition to Hamas. “Hamas is part of another coalition in the region – the Iran, Syria, Hezbollah coalition,” he says. “Hamas is a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. And Hamas is trying to minimize the Egyptian role in the Palestinian cause... Egypt’s main line of defense for closing the border is to pass responsibility to Israel. Egypt considers Gaza under Israeli occupation, and therefore under international law it is Israel’s duty to provide Gazans with their basic needs – not Egypt’s. Allowing goods through Rafah would take the pressure off Israel to end the blockade."

From the Jerusalem Post: "On Thursday night the IAF carried out several air strikes in the Gaza Strip, targeting four weapons factories and warehouses targets. The attacks were a response to the firing of a Kassam rocket earlier that evening, which fell near Ashkelon causing no casualties or damage." Hamas is having trouble stopping the Kassam missiles from being launched from within Gaza, and there are several newer groups within Gaza that are agitating for another violent intifada. I think they are tired of running a place that is so depressed, both economically and emotionally. Gaza is dependent on Israel for most of its food supply, and every time another rocket is fired, Israel retaliates by bombing some tunnel sites, causing less goods to be smuggled inside. Hamas has already determined that they don't need any more guns inside of Gaza, that building materials would now suit them better. And if Hamas is acting more reasonable and responsible, then the Palestinian Authority has to kick it up a notch and be the unreasonable one. The question is, who can keep a lid on this cauldron and how do you defuse the situation? Getting rid of the blockade would go a long way to help.

The US State Department is freaking out, seeing all of their good work during this last year come unraveling, and they are trying to cool both sides down and get their indirect peace talks restarted: "State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters there was no “military solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"The Israelis have a right to self-defense. At the same, as we've said many times, we don't ultimately think there is a military solution to this. Our message remains to the Israelis and Palestinians that we need to get the proximity talks going, focus on the substance, move to direct negotiations and ultimately arrive at a settlement that ends the conflict once and for all." Welcome to the Mid-East three-step, grab your partner, now take one step forward and two steps back...

Back in Afghanistan, poor Hamid Karzai got taped ranting about those damned Americans, then called Hillary Clinton afterwards to apologize, saying that he was ranting about the American press, who keeps on demonizing him. Its true that we have more reporters in Afghanistan than any other foreign country right now, and they have to report on something. And its true that Hamid is caught up between a rock and a hard place, trying to reconcilliate with the Taliban and have the American military swarming all over the place.

Half of the civilian deaths so far have come from night raids into private homes; "Since he took over as top commander in Afghanistan, McChrystal has not only refused to curb those raids but has increased them dramatically. Even after they triggered a new round of angry protests from villagers, students and Afghan President Hamid Karzai himself, he has given no signal of reducing his support for them. " Even General McChrystal has acknowledged that he is pissing off Afghan villagers:
"Nearly every Afghan I talk to mentions them as the single greatest irritant".

So why is the General continuing, and increasing the number of night raids? Gareth Porter thinks the reason is statistics, statistics, statistics: "McChrystal has only a brief period before President Barack Obama's exit strategy comes into play in mid-2011. He desperately needs to be able to convince the American public during that period that he is making progress.

Like General David Petraeus in Iraq in 2007-08, he needs to be able to cite statistical trends, such as a reduction in Taliban IED attacks, that would demonstrate such progress to congress and the news media.

He evidently hopes that night raids, by weakening the Taliban military organization, might influence those statistical trends. Reducing the level of Afghan hatred of Americans by eliminating night raids wouldn't figure in those statistics." Welcome to the modern military counterinsurgent policy, it's a brave new world...

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