Much news and catching up… (LONG POST)

Hi all. Sorry for the delay in posting. Not only have we seemed to enter a “phony war” period regarding impending hostilities with Iraq without anything definite happening, but I also needed to take a little break.
Be that as it may, there have been some interesting stories show up in the last few days. First off, United Nations weapons inspectors have gone … back to Iraq. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) Hans Blix, the chief of the inspectors, holds the fate of Iraq in his hands and he has said he will asses the intent of any delays on the part of the Iraqis as to whether foot-dragging is obfuscation or simple foul-ups. Considering that much of my time in Iraq was characterized by hurrying up and waiting — and I was in friendly territory! — I wonder if the, ah, “flexible” concept of time in societies other than northern European ones will be taken into account. Blix is Swedish after all; I hear they frown on tardiness. At any rate, Iraq has until Dec. 8 to present UNMOVIC with a full accounting of its weapons of mass destruction programs or it will be in “material breach” of UNSCR 1441. We’ll see what happens. (P.S. When the Iraqis fire on Allied aircraft patrolling the no-fly zones in the south and the north, does that constitute a “material breach”? Some in the Bush administration want it to be so. Please note, Operations Northern Watch and Southern Watch have never been sanctioned by the UN and Iraq has never accepted them.)

If shooting does start soon, not only will the United States have up to four carriers in the Gulf, but also ground forces in the Horn of Africa. This is the first time (officially, at least) since the debacle in Somalia in 1993 that GIs are on the ground there. The goal is to put the military in place to strike at al Qa’ida cells in Yemen and east Africa and also to provide desert training which could be used in Washington’s campaign against Iraq. They might also have help from Iran, proving that the old “enemy of my enemy” adage is still going strong in the Middle East. As the story reports, Iran is likely hoping to prevent itself from coming into the crosshairs next, as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon demanded on Nov. 5. It is also allegedly helping the Kurds in their fight against al Islam, the al Qa’ida backed terror group operating along the Iranian border near the town of Halabja in Iraq.
In another Times story, the FBI said it was stepping up its monitoring of Iraqis and Iraqi-Americans in the United States for signs of terror preparation in the event of hostilities between the countries. While civil libertarians will decry this as a more police statism, this was done back during the first American-Iraq War. I’m of two minds on this. One one level, I can recognize the ostensible necessity for monitoring foreign nationals (Germans were monitored in WWII while Japanese-Americans were, shamefully, imprisoned) in time of war. At the same time, though, we have to make sure we only treat such monitoring as emergency measures. With the introduction of the idea of “Total Information Awareness,” which would electronically monitor everyone in America if it’s enacted, and Attorney General John Ashcroft’s ill-designed TIPS program, I’m not optimistic that this will be a temporary thing. (By the way, check out George Paine’s analysis on TIA on his site,
Bob Woodward churns out another you-are-there account of the decision to smack Iraq around with the first of three excerpts from “Bush at War.” Most interesting of this account is Karl Rove’s suspicions that Secretary of State Colin Powell was never fully on board with the Bush team, that “Powell was beyond political control and operating out of a sense of entitlement.” [Ed. – Who the hell is Karl Rove to question Powell’s loyalties and abilities? He’s a sycophant to W.] But, always the loyal soldier, Powell downplayed the serious differences within the White House about war with Iraq. Some of the most furious debate happens between Powell and Cheney, the Secretary of Defense during the first Gulf War and Powell’s old boss during that conflict:

Cheney was beyond hell-bent for action against Hussein. It was as if nothing else existed.
Powell attempted to summarize the consequences of unilateral action. He would have to close American embassies around the world if they went alone.
That was not the issue, Cheney said. Hussein and the blatant threat were the issue.
Maybe it would not turn out as the vice president thought, Powell said. War could trigger all kinds of unanticipated and unintended consequences.
Not the issue, Cheney said.

I feel sorry for Powell, and think that he must get up every morning thinking to himself, “I’m playing on this team?” (The second part of the series runs today.)
Zipping from Washington back over to Iraqi Kurdistan, interesting news out of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which has grown increasingly bellicose over the past few weeks. Jalal Talabani, leader of the PUK, has said that Kurdish forces will march on Baghdad if the Americans come. That’s assuming there are any Kurds left to march on the Iraqi capital, since according to the Guardian in London, no gas masks or nerve agent antidotes have been distributed in Iraqi Kurdistan. Most of the homes in Iraqi Kurdistan don’t have shelters or any way to seal out poison gas or biological agents. At best, people would be able to put up wet carpet on windows and doors and hope for the best, which got 5,000 people killed in Halabja in 1988. Or they could go to the mountains. Neither option is workable and the United States needs to act on this now if it’s serious about removing Saddam. The Kurds are allies (if only, no wonder, reluctantly) and it’s simply unconscionable to hang these people out to dry again. But the United States seems to be paying more attention to Turkey than it is to the concerns of the Kurds. Even though the Iraqi Kurds have promised to seek only autonomy and not independence, the Turks are nervous. To bring Turkey on board its war wagon, the U.S. has made plans to place troops around Kirkuk and its oil fields, allaying Turks’ concerns about Kurdish intentions.
And finally, Abdullah Gul was named Turkish prime minister over the weekend. He said his first priority will be to get Turkey into the European Union and planned to keep Turkey firmly in its Western orbit. “We want to prove that a Muslim identity can be democratic, transparent and compatible with the modern world,” Mr. Gul said in an interview. “We will prove this. Turkey will be an example for the world.” I briefly mentioned Gul as a candidate back in October, since Justice and Development Party leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan is barred by law from holding the office. Look for Gul to attempt to amend the constitution to allow Erdogan to serve as his successor. I wish Mr. Gul and Turkey the best of luck.

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