Saturday, January 31, 2009

Let's destroy the bridges and then wait

Turkey is upset on Israel. Israel is upset on Turkey too. In Davos, everybody is having at least a small problem and a big, not always original proposal, to answer the economic crisis, the crisis in the Middle East (I deeply hope the first will not have the not-still-a-solution fate of the second). At the end of the day, we all enjoy the family photo. Busy days ahead.

The Republican Party, the crisis of ideas

First, it was the move to designate Sarah Palin as vice-president candidate, mirroring the success of Hilary Clinton. Now, an African-American for the GOP Chairmanship. Anything original still kept in the box with surprises?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Fidel Castro demands Obama return Guantanamo base

Marc Frank
January 29

HAVANA, Jan 29 (Reuters) - Ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro demanded on Thursday that President Barak Obama return the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo to Cuba without conditions, and he accused the new U.S. leader of supporting "Israeli genocide" against Palestinians.

Castro, who had recently praised Obama as "honest" and "noble", lashed out at his administration for stating that Washington will not return Guantanamo if it has any military use for the United States and without concessions in return.

"Maintaining a military base in Cuba against the will of the people violates the most elemental principles of international law," Castro wrote in a column posted on the government-run website

"Not respecting Cuba's will is an arrogant act and an abuse of immense power against a little country," Castro said, resorting to a charge he has leveled against the 10 previous U.S. presidents since he came to power in a 1959 revolution.

Cuba indefinitely leased Guantanamo to the United States in 1903 after the United States occupied the country during the 1998 Spanish-American War. Castro charges that the base at the south-eastern tip of Cuba was taken over illegally.

Earlier on Thursday, Washington's loudest critic in Latin America, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, also urged Obama to return the Guantanamo base, after applauding his decision to close the prison camp for terrorism suspects there.

"Now he should return Guantanamo and Guantanamo Bay to the Cubans because that is Cuban territory," Chavez, Cuba's closest ally, said in a speech in Brazil.

Fidel Castro has been seen only in a few videos and photos since undergoing intestinal surgery in July 2006 from which he never fully recovered.

But he has maintained a public profile through his writings and meetings with visiting foreign leaders, and he is believed to retain an important political role behind the scenes.

His brother Raul Castro provisionally took power after the surgery, then officially became president in February.

Obama has said he wants to move toward normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations but would not eliminate the 46-year-old U.S. trade embargo against the communist-led island without political reforms.

Until Thursday's column, the Castro brothers had praised Obama and held back direct criticism of his administration.

Fidel Castro on Thursday also attacked Obama for supporting Israel's invasion of Gaza.

"It is the way our friend Obama has fallen into sharing Israel's genocide against Palestinians," Castro wrote in his called "Deciphering the thought of the new U.S. president."

An unexpected consequence of the huge, sometimes aggressive discussion ,about Guantanamo? "Let justice prevails", isn't it?...

Obama 2.0 -- Volunteers of America or 2012 Campaign?

Barack Obama's e-mail network is vast and organized, but some wonder whether legal problems could arise from using campaign resources for lobbying and grassroots efforts while president.

January 29

Barack Obama is now the president of the United States, but his nearly two-year campaign for the office is far from dismantled.

Armed with a treasure trove of 13 million e-mail addresses, 4 million contributors and 2 million active volunteers, the Obama team -- regarded as one of the most powerful grassroots organizations ever assembled -- is transforming its structure into a lobbying and volunteer fixture that will continue to benefit the president, perhaps well into a 2012 re-election bid.

Both Democratic and Republican strategists say that capitalizing on this massive database can reap many rewards -- but keeping a campaign intact beyond an election wades into some uncharted waters.

Some people are raising legal questions about how the group will function, how it will lobby members of Congress on Obama's behalf and how it will work in coordination with the Democratic National Committee. Others ask whether it can satisfy both the liberal blogosphere and more moderate and conservative Democrats.

Obama announced the formation of Organizing for America, dubbed "Obama 2.0" by insiders, on YouTube on Jan. 17, just three days before he took office.

A December memo sent to some supporters indicated that Organizing for America would promote "legislative issue organizing to support President-elect Obama's agenda, electoral organizing, civic engagement" and communication between the Obama administration and grassroots supporters. The group plans to expand its grassroots organization, "directly lobby members of Congress and other elected officials," and "work to win local elections."

"This is a powerful tool that they have if they use it right," said Massie Ritsch, communications director of the Center for Responsive Politics.

He said it can be a political party, a lobbying organization, a grassroots mobilization effort, and a re-election campaign in waiting, able to "start up its engines" very quickly for 2012.

But Obama's opponents have many questions about Organizing for America. One Republican strategist said legal problems could arise, depending on how it's constructed. The source of funding is significant, the strategist said. If the Democratic National Committee is involved, as planned, and is spending the money on lobbying, does it violate its 527 status? If the organization's fundraising is separate from the DNC and viewed as part of the Obama campaign, do monies count against the limits on Obama's 2012 race?

It's also unclear who in the White House would coordinate with the group. Antideficiency laws would prevent a White House official from asking an organization to spend money for direct lobbying of members of Congress, the Republican strategist noted.

Organizing for America's exact relationship with the DNC is still undefined, but a DNC source familiar with the group's formation described it as a "special project of the DNC" that will be "housed within the DNC." Right now, video announcements about Organizing for America have been posted on both and the DNC site,

Reporting by the LA Times indicated the annual budget for the organization could be as much as $75 million. But the DNC source said that staffing and budget decisions are still being made, and that it's not clear exactly where the money will come from or how much it will be. A timeline for official launch has also not been determined, said the source.

Presuming everything is kept within the limits of the law, the Republicans have reason to be worried. The Obama campaign's grassroots organization was "very impressive" compared to the GOP's, the Republican strategist said, and Obama 2.0 "has the ability to be highly effective."

But the transition from a candidate's campaign organization to a legislative lobbying group may not be a seamless one. "Re-electing Obama is one thing, and nudging members of Congress to back Obama's programs is another," Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said in an e-mail.

"It's possible that Democratic members of Congress will resent the pressure coming from their own president. The Blue Dogs will be special targets, one supposes," he said, referring to a group of conservative Democrats in Congress. "But to keep their districts safe, the Blue Dogs probably have to vote their own way from time to time."

The organization also must be careful not to get "too closely aligned with the Democratic Party," said Ritsch. "Many of the people who signed up wouldn't consider themselves to be ardent Democrats or even Democrats at all," he said.

And then there are Obama's left-wing supporters. Some liberal blogs have already expressed anger and disappointment with the operation of the post-campaign structure. Early this month, about 100,000 visitors to the transition site voted on questions they wanted answered by Obama. In a concerted effort, liberal bloggers promoted a question about appointing a special prosecutor to investigate the Bush administration, and the question topped about 76,000 other queries. The Obama team ignored the question until mainstream media outlets brought it up.

One blogger at Crooked Timber wrote:

"Under normal politics, they might be able to sweep this under the rug ... But the creation of an open architecture, where others can bring inconvenient issues up -- and very likely keep on bringing them up -- makes it substantially more difficult for them to maintain control of the conversation." In some cases, "the volunteer movement going to be [sic] more of a bully than a bully pulpit, setting the agenda rather than serving as a glorified force-multiplier for things that the president would like to see happen."

With this in mind, some wonder if Organizing for America will be beneficial to Democrats in the long run, especially once Obama leaves office.

"This plan for the future of the Obama political operation is something of a double-edged sword," a blogger wrote on both the Future Majority and Daily Kos Web sites.

"It might allow for fantastic legislative accomplishments (assuming you agree with all of Obama's policy prescriptions), but it could leave a seriously weakened party structure in its wake once Obama is no longer in charge. And if it weakens the state parties without committing resources downballot, it could actually cause the Democratic Party to atrophy at the local level."

Regardless, the Democrats appear to be in better shape than their counterparts for the next few years. Obama's "50-state" strategy was successful in the fall, and Republicans are now making plans to emulate it. Republicans learned in 2008 that "any state can be a battle state," said a GOP official.

But the change won't come soon enough to help the GOP significantly in 2010, Sabato says. The Republicans are "years behind the Democrats," he said.

FoxNews could be biased, and effectively was on many occasions in the last eight years. But, at the end of the day, facts are facts, whatever they key we choose to read it.

Brand China

A study by Joshua Cooper Ramo, February 2007.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula: Desperation or New Life?

Fred Burton and Scott Stewart
January 28

Global Security and Intelligence Report

The media wing of one of al Qaeda’s Yemeni franchises, al Qaeda in Yemen, released a statement on online jihadist forums Jan. 20 from the group’s leader Nasir al-Wuhayshi, announcing the formation of a single al Qaeda group for the Arabian Peninsula under his command. According to al-Wuhayshi, the new group, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, would consist of his former group (al Qaeda in Yemen) as well as members of the now-defunct Saudi al Qaeda franchise.

The press release noted that the Saudi militants have pledged allegiance to al-Wuhayshi, an indication that the reorganization was not a merger of equals. This is understandable, given that the jihadists in Yemen have been active recently while their Saudi counterparts have not conducted a meaningful attack in years. The announcement also related that a Saudi national (and former Guantanamo detainee) identified as Abu-Sayyaf al-Shihri has been appointed as al-Wuhayshi’s deputy. In some ways, this is similar to the way Ayman al-Zawahiri and his faction of Egyptian Islamic Jihad swore allegiance to Osama bin Laden and were integrated in to al Qaeda prime.

While not specifically mentioned, the announcement of a single al Qaeda entity for the entire Arabian Peninsula and the unanimous support by jihadist militants on the Arabian Peninsula for al-Wuhayshi suggests the new organization will incorporate elements of the other al Qaeda franchise in Yemen, the Yemen Soldiers Brigade.

The announcement also provided links to downloadable versions of the latest issue of the group’s online magazine, Sada al-Malahim (Arabic for “The Echo of Battle”). The Web page links provided to download the magazine also featured trailers advertising the pending release of a new video from the group, now referred to by its new name, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

The translated name of this new organization sounds very similar to the old Saudi al Qaeda franchise, the al Qaeda Organization in the Arabian Peninsula (in Arabic, “Tandheem al Qaeda fi Jazeerat al-Arabiyah”). But the new group’s new Arabic name, Tanzim Qa’idat al-Jihad fi Jazirat al-Arab, is slightly different. The addition of “al-Jihad” seems to have been influenced by the Iraqi al Qaeda franchise, Tanzim Qaidat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn. The flag of the Islamic State of Iraq also appears in the Jan. 24 video, further illustrating the deep ties between the newly announced organization and al Qaeda in Iraq. Indeed, a number of Yemeni militants traveled to Iraq to fight, and these returning al Qaeda veterans have played a large part in the increased sophistication of militant attacks in Yemen over the past year.

Four days after the Jan. 20 announcement, links for a 19-minute video from the new group titled “We Start from Here and We Will Meet at al-Aqsa” began to appear in jihadist corners of cyberspace. Al-Aqsa refers to the al-Aqsa Mosque on what Jews know as Temple Mount and Muslims refer to as Al Haram Al Sharif. The video threatens Muslim leaders in the region (whom it refers to as criminal tyrants), including Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Saudi royal family, and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. It also threatens so-called “crusader forces” supporting the regional Muslim leaders, and promises to carry the jihad from the Arabian Peninsula to Israel so as to liberate Muslim holy sites and brethren in Gaza.

An interview with al-Wuhayshi aired Jan. 27 on Al Jazeera echoed these sentiments. During the interview, al-Wuhayshi noted that the “crusades” against “Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia” have been launched from bases in the Arabian Peninsula, and that because of this, “all crusader interests” in the peninsula “should be struck.”

A Different Take on Events

Most of the analysis in Western media regarding the preceding developments has focused on how two former detainees at the U.S. facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, appear in the Jan. 24 video — one of whom was al-Shihri — and that both were graduates of Saudi Arabia’s ideological rehabilitation program, a government deprogramming course for jihadists. In addition to al-Shihri who, according to the video was Guantanamo detainee 372, the video also contains a statement from Abu-al-Harith Muhammad al-Awfi. Al-Awfi, who was identified as a field commander in the video, was allegedly former Guantanamo detainee 333. Prisoner lists from Guantanamo obtained by Stratfor appear to confirm that al-Shihri was in fact Guantanamo detainee No. 372. We did not find al-Awfi’s name on the list, however, another name appears as detainee No. 333. Given the proclivity of jihadists to use fraudulent identities, it is entirely possible that al-Awfi is an alias, or that he was held at Guantanamo under an assumed name. At any rate, we doubt al-Awfi would fabricate this claim and then broadcast it in such a public manner.

The media focus on the Guantanamo aspect is understandable in the wake of U.S. President Barack Obama’s Jan. 22 executive order to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and all the complexities surrounding that decision. Clearly, some men released from Guantanamo, and even those graduated from the Saudi government’s rehabilitation program, can and have returned to the jihadist fold. Ideology is hard to extinguish, especially an ideology that teaches adherents that there is a war against Islam and that the “true believers” will be persecuted for their beliefs. Al Qaeda has even taken this one step further and has worked to prepare its members not only to face death, but also to endure imprisonment and harsh interrogation. A substantial number of al Qaeda cadres, such as al-Zawahiri and Abu Yahya al-Lib'i , have endured both, and have been instrumental in helping members withstand captivity and interrogation.

This physical and ideological preparation means that efforts to induce captured militants to abandon their ideology can wind up reinforcing that ideology when those efforts appear to prove important tenets of the ideology, such as that adherents will be persecuted and that the Muslim rulers are aligned with the West. It is also important to realize that radical Islamist extremists, ultraconservatives and traditionalists tend to have a far better grasp of Islamic religious texts than their moderate, liberal and modernist counterparts. Hence, they have an edge over them on the ideological battlefield. Those opposing radicals and extremists have a long way to go before they can produce a coherent legitimate, authoritative and authentic alternative Islamic discourse.

In any event, in practical terms there is no system of “re-education” that is 100 percent effective in eradicating an ideology in humans except execution. There will always be people who will figure out how to game the system and regurgitate whatever is necessary to placate their jailers so as to win release. Because of this, it is not surprising to see people like al-Shihri and al-Awfi released only to re-emerge in their former molds.

Another remarkable feature of the Jan. 27 video is that it showcased four different leaders of the regional group, something rarely seen. In addition to al-Wuhayshi, al-Shihri and al-Awfi, the video also included a statement from Qasim al-Rami, who is suspected of having been involved with the operational planning of the suicide attack on a group of Spanish tourists in Marib, Yemen, in July 2007.

In our estimation, however, perhaps the most remarkable feature about these recent statements from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is not the appearance of these two former Guantanamo detainees in the video, or the appearance of four distinct leaders of the group in a single video, but rather what the statements tell us about the state of the al Qaeda franchises in Saudi Arabia and Yemen.


That the remnants of the Saudi al Qaeda franchise have been forced to flee their country and join up with the Yemeni group demonstrates that the Saudi government’s campaign to eradicate the jihadist organization has been very successful. The Saudi franchise was very active in 2003 and 2004, but has not attempted a significant attack since the February 2006 attack against the oil facility in Abqaiq. In spite of the large number of Saudi fighters who have traveled to militant training camps, and to fight in places such as Iraq, the Saudi franchise has had significant problems organizing operational cells inside the kingdom. Additionally, since the death of Abdel Aziz al-Muqrin, the Saudi franchise has struggled to find a charismatic and savvy leader. (The Saudis have killed several leaders who succeeded al-Muqrin.) In a militant organization conducting an insurgency or terrorist operations, leadership is critical not only to the operational success of the group but also to its ability to recruit new members, raise funding and acquire resources such as weapons.

Like the Saudi node, the fortunes of other al Qaeda regional franchises have risen or fallen based upon ability of the franchise’s leadership. For example, in August 2006 al Qaeda announced with great fanfare that the Egyptian militant group Gamaah al-Islamiyah (GAI) had joined forces with al Qaeda. Likewise, in November 2007 al Qaeda announced that the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) had formally joined the al Qaeda network. But neither of these groups really ever got off the ground. While a large portion of the responsibility for the groups’ lack of success may be due to the oppressive natures of the Egyptian and Libyan governments and the aggressive efforts those governments undertook to control the new al Qaeda franchise s, we believe the lack of success also stems from poor leadership. (There are certainly other significant factors contributing to the failure of al Qaeda nodes in various places, such as the alienation of the local population.)

Conversely, we believe that an important reason for the resurgence of the al Qaeda franchise in Yemen has been the leadership of al-Wuhayshi. As we have noted in the past, Yemen is a much easier environment for militants to operate in than either Egypt or Libya. There are many Salafists employed in the Yemeni security and intelligence apparatus who at the very least are sympathetic to the jihadist cause. These men are holdovers from the Yemeni civil war, when Saleh formed an alliance with Salafists and recruited jihadists to fight Marxist forces in South Yemen. This alliance continues today, with Saleh deriving significant political support from radical Islamists. Many of the state’s key institutions (including the military) employ Salafists, making any major crackdown on militant Islamists in the country politically difficult. This sen timent among the security forces also helps explain the many jihadists who have escaped from Yemeni prisons — such as al-Wuhayshi.

Yemen has also long been at the crossroads of a number of jihadist theaters, including Afghanistan/Pakistan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the Levant, Egypt and Somalia. Yemen also is a country with a thriving arms market, a desert warrior tradition and a tribal culture that often bridles against government authority and that makes it difficult for the government to assert control over large swaths of the country. Yemeni tribesmen also tend to be religiously conservative and susceptible to the influence of jihadist theology.

In spite of this favorable environment, the Yemeni al Qaeda franchise has largely floundered since 9/11. Much of this is due to U.S. and Yemeni efforts to decapitate the group, such as the strike by a U.S. unmanned aerial vehicle on then-leader of al Qaeda in Yemen, Abu Ali al-Harithi, in late 2002 and the subsequent arrest of his replacement, Mohammed Hamdi al-Ahdal, in late 2003. The combination of these operations in such a short period helped cripple al Qaeda in Yemen’s operational capability.

As Stratfor noted in spring 2008, however, al Qaeda militants in Yemen have become more active and more effective under the leadership of al-Wuhayshi, an ethnic Yemeni who spent time in Afghanistan as a lieutenant under bin Laden. After his time with bin Laden, Iranian authorities arrested al-Wuhayshi, later returning him to Yemen in 2003 via an Iranian-Yemeni extradition deal. He subsequently escaped from a high-security prison outside the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, in February 2006 along with Jamal al-Badawi (the leader of the cell that carried out the suicide bombing of the USS Cole).

Al-Wuhayshi’s established ties with al Qaeda prime and bin Laden in particular not only provide him legitimacy in the eyes of other jihadists, in more practical terms, they may have provided him the opportunity to learn the tradecraft necessary to successfully lead a militant group and conduct operations. His close ties to influential veterans of al Qaeda in Yemen like al-Badawi also may have helped him infuse new energy into the struggle in Yemen in 2008.

While the group had been on a rising trajectory in 2008, things had been eerily quiet in Yemen since the Sept. 17, 2008, attack against the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa and the resulting campaign against the group. The recent flurry of statements has broken the quiet, followed by a Warden Message on Jan. 26 warning of a possible threat against the compound of the U.S. Embassy in Yemen and a firefight at a security checkpoint near the embassy hours later.

At this point, it appears the shooting incident may not be related to the threat warning and may instead have been the result of jumpy nerves. Reports suggest the police may have fired at a speeding car before the occupants, who were armed tribesmen, fired back. Although there have been efforts to crack down on the carrying of weapons in Sanaa, virtually every Yemeni male owns an AK-variant assault rifle of some sort; like the ceremonial jambiya dagger, such a rifle is considered a must-have accessory in most parts of the country. Not surprisingly, incidents involving gunfire are not uncommon in Yemen.

Either way, we will continue to keep a close eye on Yemen and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. As we have seen in the past, press statements are not necessarily indicative of future jihadist performance. It will be important to watch developments in Yemen for signs that will help determine whether this recent merger and announcement is a sign of desperation by a declining group, or whether the addition of fresh blood from Saudi Arabia will help breathe new life into al-Wuhayshi’s operations and provide his group the means to make good on its threats.

Davos 2009 - Back to reality?

IHT special issue on the 2009 Davos Economic Forum, day 1 and IHT-NYT dedicated blog.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Obama, on air at Al-Arabiya

So, let's listen (read here). The decision in itself is good. At least in the case of the Middle East, all the last presidents since 1990 had in mind to end their mandate with a peace deal, starting exactly with this psychoanalitical-like exercise of listening and listening and listening again, but the voices changed rapidly and the arguments as well, having as background the sound of the guns. It is an irresistible temptation, it seems, at the beginning of any political mandate - available everywhere, not only in the US - to promise a difference (better one, of course). In the case of Obama's mandate, the expectations fuelled by eight years of W. Bush administration and the successful media campaign, are huge. Extremely risky.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Not everything started with us

Terrorism is not a reality we started to face only since 2001. The ways in which we, as Westerners, reconsidered the phenomenon and found appropriate to take action - using various tools - are different. Because, we, as history subjects are different, living in a different environment and give a different value to our life. Paul Berman, in Terror and Liberalism, is going far into the roots of the phenomenon as such and beyond the too facile explanation according to the "clash of civilizations"' paradigm. Rather, the conflict is between freedom and totalitarianism, started in Europe and after, translated in a various cultural context in the Muslim world.

Also on Paul Berman - Should We Love Che Guevara?, Slate, 2004 - Che Guevara is a political icon, but are we really aware of his bio and his deep creed? Or simply, we don't care too much, as long as it is an ideological fashion and nothing more?

Bolivia's Revolutionary New Charter

Pro-government demonstrators gather in La Paz, Sunday, Jan. 25, 2009.
Pro-government demonstrators gather in La Paz, Sunday, Jan. 25, 2009.
Juan Karita / AP

"I'd like to take this opportunity to acknowledge all my brothers and sisters who have used their democratic participation to re-found Bolivia," President Evo Morales said on Sunday night in front of thousands of exhilarated supporters after more than 60% of his nation had voted in favor of a new constitution. "Internal and external colonialism have come to an end."

It isn't all that novel a move: the new constitution is Bolivia's 17th. But it's the first to be written via a specially elected delegate assembly and the first to undergo a national vote. (The last constitution was written and enacted by Parliament in 1967 without the participation of a single indigenous person). An elaborate document, it expands the rights of the indigenous majority. Bolivia's 36 native tongues are now all official languages, along with Spanish, and Parliament will include ethnic group representation. Also, the text solidifies state control over natural resources and makes access to water a basic human right.

The win was widely expected, as was the strong showing in support of the constitution by rural and highland voters. But like Bolivia's recall vote last August, in which Morales won 67% national approval, Sunday showed that Bolivia's east/west regional divide that brought the country to the brink of civil war last September remains. The constitution was heavily rejected in the eastern lowlands of Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando and Tarija where wealthy land and business owners dominate local politics. Criticism ranged from the constitution's elimination of Catholicism's privileged position as official religion to worry about "extreme indigenous power."

But for many, the document's specifics were only a part of Sunday's contest. Five year-old Joaquin Claros, who was hanging onto his mom's arm outside a La Paz polling station on Sunday, knew what was at stake. Mom and dad, he exclaimed excitedly, had voted "for Evo!"

"Evo," of course, wasn't a ballot option (it was either Yes or No on various categories). But Sunday's vote was considered just as much a referendum on the President as it was on the text. Government officials therefore interpret the 20-plus point victory as a solid win. Opposition leaders say that the document's rejection in the eastern part of the country means that there must be some move toward compromise.

Compromise may in fact have already been key in the constitution's passage. An earlier version allowed for expropriation of large estates — a hot button issue in a country where less than one percent of the population owns more than two thirds of the land. But negotiations resulted in leaving the current holdings as is and limiting future landownership. On Sunday voters had a choice between limiting ownership to 10,000 or 25,00 acres per person limit. They voted 75% in favor of the former.

An agreement before the referendum avoided a battle over re-election. Sometime after Morales' ally Venezuela President Hugo Chavez failed in his bid at ending presidential term limits, Morales agreed to keep Bolivia's re-election laws as is. He is therefore able to compete in this December's Presidential elections for one more five year term — but no more. That doesn't mean he wont try "to pull a Chavez," noted Santa Cruz resident Alberto Montero last week, referring to the Venezuelan's attempt to pass a separate referendum on indefinite re-election after Venezuela's new constitution was approved.

But there will be more wrangling down the line. "A constitution is only a foundation," says Carlos Alarcon, a constitutional lawyer and Vice Minister of Justice under former President Carlos Mesa. There is likely to be debate about any new legislation based on the language of the new charter. "Bolivia is going to have to strengthen its institutions — both state and judicial — if this new constitution and the new laws are going be implemented."

In Washington, the Obama Administration responded positively to Bolivia's vote. Responding to a reporter's question, acting State Department Spokesman Robert Wood said, "we congratulate the Bolivian people on the referendum... we look forward to working with the Bolivian Government in ways we can to further democracy and prosperity in the hemisphere." Says Mark Weisbrot, director of the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research: "it's a hopeful sign" for the future of relations between the two countries. The previous U.S. administration would most likely have remained silent on Bolivia's electoral processes.

BBC assailed for refusing to carry Gaza appeal

By John F. Burns
January 27
International Herald Tribune

LONDON: In more than 80 years as a publicly financed broadcaster with an audience of millions at home and around the world, the BBC has rarely been buffeted as severely as it has in recent days over its decision not to broadcast a television appeal by aid agencies for victims of Israel's recent military actions in Gaza.

BBC executives made the decision late last week and defiantly reaffirmed it on Monday, citing their concern with protecting the corporation's impartiality in the Arab-Israeli dispute.

The dispute stirs high passions here, and the BBC, like other news organizations, has struggled uneasily for years to strike a balance, even as some critics claim it has tilted heavily toward Israel and others claim it has favored the Palestinians.

The three-week Israeli campaign in Gaza that ended nine days ago had already elicited a fresh barrage of complaints about BBC bias, for and against Israel. But the decision to block the aid appeal had the effect of magnifying the protests, and their virulence.

The decision has met with angry criticism from Church of England archbishops, editorial writers and senior British government ministers, as well as sit-ins at the BBC's London headquarters and its broadcast center in Glasgow.

News planning sessions at the BBC have featured heated exchanges among editors and reporters, and BBC officials said Monday that they had received more than 11,000 complaints in the past three days.

A strong undercurrent in many of the protests has been that the BBC gave in to pressure from Israel or Jewish lobbying groups, which the BBC has vehemently denied.

A more common view has been that BBC executives, already wary because of a recent series of embarrassments unrelated to Middle East coverage, became so averse to controversy that they made an awkward extension of the concept of impartiality to a purely humanitarian issue.

But the BBC's director general, Mark Thompson, denied Monday to reporters that he had been subjected to "arm-twisting" by pro-Israeli groups and said that the corporation had a duty to cover the Gaza dispute in a "balanced, objective way."

"Of course, everyone is struck by the human consequence of what has happened," he said. "And we will, I promise you, continue to report that as fully and compassionately as we can. But we are going to do that in a way where we can hold it up to scrutiny. It's our job as journalists."

The three-minute video, which was shown on several other channels in Britain on Monday night, was prepared by the Disasters Emergency Committee, an organization representing 11 relief agencies. Among them are many of Britain's best-known charities, including the Red Cross, Oxfam, Save the Children, Help the Aged, Christian Aid and World Vision.

The committee has said the money it raises will buy food, medical supplies, tents, blankets and other necessities for those suffering in Gaza in the wake of the Israeli offensive and the military actions of Hamas, the militant Palestinian group that governs Gaza.

It asked broadcasters to show the appeal as a public service.

The BBC does not accept advertising but has shown humanitarian appeals on other issues in the past, including the conflicts in Rwanda, the Congo and Darfur.

Some of the sharpest criticism of the BBC's decision on the Gaza appeal came from within its own ranks, from unions representing its newsroom staff and from retired editors and reporters.

Sir John Tusa, a former head of the BBC World Service, said the scenes of distressed children and families in Gaza captured in the video appeal were a matter of "common humanity."

"Nobody, surely, in their right mind, can say that is being partial towards the victims, as if somehow they deserved the fate they got," he said in a BBC radio interview.

"The thing that worries me," he added, "is that there is now an overcomplication of regulation and compliance and policy, and that in the course of that, common sense, and, I regret to say, humanity, seem to have been left behind."

The BBC was joined in its refusal to carry the appeal, and its contention that to do so would compromise the impartiality of its Middle East coverage, by Sky News, a broadcaster whose majority shareholder is Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation.

But three other broadcasters the publicly owned Channel 4 and two private broadcasters, ITV and Channel 5 accepted the appeal. After the BBC, ITV has the largest number of viewers for its main nightly newscast.

As shown on Monday night, the video focused heavily on the plight of Palestinian children — small boys and girls wounded and sobbing, being rushed into hospital emergency wards and, at one point, a parent clutching a tiny white shroud. Other scenes were of homes and apartment blocks collapsed into piles of twisted steel and rubble, and of a woman in black clasping her hands to her head as she surveys a bombed-out wasteland.

"The children of Gaza are suffering," the narrator said. "Many are struggling to survive, homeless or in need of food and water."

Then, as if answering the view that the video amounted to anti-Israeli propaganda, he said: "Today, this is not about the rights and wrongs of the conflict. These people simply need your help."

Iran: Men vs. women soccer game draws punishment


The first mixed soccer game—females vs. males—since the 1979 Islamic revolution led to swift punishment Monday, as an Iranian soccer club said it had suspended three officials involved and handed out fines of up to $5,000.

Iran’s strict Islamic rules ban any physical contact between unrelated men and women, and Iranian women are even banned from attending soccer games when male teams play.

The officials—a coach and two managers—first denied the game took place, but video clips on cell phones of the game were used as evidence against them, the Vatan-e-Emrooz daily newspaper reported.

Esteghlal, one of Iran’s top two soccer clubs, said its disciplinary committee suspended two officials for a year while a third was suspended for six months. A fourth official was fined, a report posted on the club’s Web site said.

The Jan. 20 game between the club’s female team and its youth male team in Tehran was the first time in the 30 years of Iran’s Islamic establishment that males and females played soccer together, observers said.

The youth team beat the women 7-0 in a game Vatan-e-Emrooz described as ‘historic.’

Video clips on cell phones were used as evidence against the suspended officials, who initially denied the game was held, the paper said. The report said the game was held at Marqoobkar stadium in south Tehran.

Mixed games for soccer, called football in Iran, were virtually unheard of even before the Islamic revolution.

Kamran Khatibi, a soccer writer at Kayhan sports daily, said he doesn’t remember a “football game ever having been played between women and men in Iran — not even during Shah Reza Pahlavi’s era.”

Women can be just as passionate fans about soccer. One well-reviewed Iranian film, “Offside,” follows the story of a girl who disguises herself as a boy to attend a soccer game at a stadium in Tehran.

In 2006, the same year the film was released, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad surprised his conservative backers by deciding that women could attend soccer games, saying their presence would “improve soccer-watching manners and promote a healthy atmosphere.”

But Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, disagreed. He has final say on all matters in Iran, so his stance held—no women in the stands, not even in the segregated section when men play.

And only women can attend games when women’s teams play. However, foreign women are occasionally allowed at men’s matches, purportedly because they don’t understand the language and the cursing.

According to the Esteghlal soccer club, Mohammad Khorramgah, the club’s technical manager, was suspended for a year and fined 50 million rials ($5,000) for the Jan. 20 game.

The only woman among the suspended—Saeedeh Pournader, head coach of the female team—also got a year’s suspension. Mostafa Ardestani, head coach of the youth team, got a six-month suspension and a 20 million rial ($2,000) fine.

A prominent Iranian soccer player and manager of the club’s soccer academy, Ali Reza Mansourian, got a written rebuke and a fine of 50 million rials, the club said.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Strategic Divergence: The War Against the Taliban and the War Against Al Qaeda

Graphic for Geopolitical Intelligence Report

By George Friedman

Washington’s attention is now zeroing in on Afghanistan. There is talk of doubling U.S. forces there, and preparations are being made for another supply line into Afghanistan — this one running through the former Soviet Union — as an alternative or a supplement to the current Pakistani route. To free up more resources for Afghanistan, the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq probably will be accelerated. And there is discussion about whether the Karzai government serves the purposes of the war in Afghanistan. In short, U.S. President Barack Obama’s campaign promise to focus on Afghanistan seems to be taking shape.

We have discussed many aspects of the Afghan war in the past; it is now time to focus on the central issue. What are the strategic goals of the United States in Afghanistan? What resources will be devoted to this mission? What are the intentions and capabilities of the Taliban and others fighting the United States and its NATO allies? Most important, what is the relationship between the war against the Taliban and the war against al Qaeda? If the United States encounters difficulties in the war against the Taliban, will it still be able to contain not only al Qaeda but other terrorist groups? Does the United States need to succeed against the Taliban to be successful against transnational Islamist terrorists? And assuming that U.S. forces are built up in Afghanistan and that the supply problem through Pakistan is solved, are the defeat of Taliban and the disruption of al Qaeda likely?

Al Qaeda and U.S. Goals Post-9/11

The overarching goal of the United States since Sept. 11, 2001, has been to prevent further attacks by al Qaeda in the United States. Washington has used two means toward this end. One was defensive, aimed at increasing the difficulty of al Qaeda operatives to penetrate and operate within the United States. The second was to attack and destroy al Qaeda prime, the group around Osama bin Laden that organized and executed 9/11 and other attacks in Europe. It is this group — not other groups that call themselves al Qaeda but only are able to operate in the countries where they were formed — that was the target of the United States, because this was the group that had demonstrated the ability t o launch intercontinental strikes.

Al Qaeda prime had its main headquarters in Afghanistan. It was not an Afghan group, but one drawn from multiple Islamic countries. It was in alliance with an Afghan group, the Taliban. The Taliban had won a civil war in Afghanistan, creating a coalition of support among tribes that had given the group control, direct or indirect, over most of the country. It is important to remember that al Qaeda was separate from the Taliban; the former was a multinational force, while the Taliban were an internal Afghan political power.

The United States has two strategic goals in Afghanistan. The first is to destroy the remnants of al Qaeda prime — the central command of al Qaeda — in Afghanistan. The second is to use Afghanistan as a base for destroying al Qaeda in Pakistan and to prevent the return of al Qaeda to Afghanistan.

To achieve these goals, Washington has sought to make Afghanistan inhospitable to al Qaeda. The United States forced the Taliban from Afghanistan’s main cities and into the countryside, and established a new, anti-Taliban government in Kabul under President Hamid Karzai. Washington intended to deny al Qaeda bases in Afghanistan by unseating the Taliban government, creating a new pro-American government and then using Afghanistan as a base against al Qaeda in Pakistan.

The United States succeeded in forcing the Taliban from power in the sense that in giving up the cities, the Taliban lost formal control of the country. To be more precise, early in the U.S. attack in 2001, the Taliban realized that the massed defense of Afghan cities was impossible in the face of American air power. The ability of U.S. B-52s to devastate any concentration of forces meant that the Taliban could not defend the cities, but had to withdraw, disperse and reform its units for combat on more favorable terms.

At this point, we must separate the fates of al Qaeda and the Taliban. During the Taliban retreat, al Qaeda had to retreat as well. Since the United States lacked sufficient force to destroy al Qaeda at Tora Bora, al Qaeda was able to retreat into northwestern Pakistan. There, it enjoys the advantages of terrain, superior tactical intelligence and support networks.

Even so, in nearly eight years of war, U.S. intelligence and special operations forces have maintained pressure on al Qaeda in Pakistan. The United States has imposed attrition on al Qaeda, disrupting its command, control and communications and isolating it. In the process, the United States used one of al Qaeda’s operational principles against it. To avoid penetration by hostile intelligence services, al Qaeda has not recruited new cadres for its primary unit. This makes it very difficult to develop intelligence on al Qaeda, but it also makes it impossible for al Qaeda to replace its losses. Thus, in a long war of attrition, every loss imposed on al Qaeda has been irreplaceable, and over time, al Qaeda prime declined dramatically in effectiveness — meaning it has been years since it has carried out an effective operation.

The situation was very different with the Taliban. The Taliban, it is essential to recall, won the Afghan civil war that followed the Soviet withdrawal despite Russian and Iranian support for its opponents. That means the Taliban have a great deal of support and a strong infrastructure, and, above all, they are resilient. After the group withdrew from Afghanistan’s cities and lost formal power post-9/11, it still retained a great deal of informal influence — if not control — over large regions of Afghanistan and in areas across the border in Pakistan. Over the years since the U.S. invasion, the Taliban have regrouped, rearmed and increased their operations in Afghanistan. And the conflict with the Taliban has now become a conventional guerrilla war.

The Taliban and the Guerrilla Warfare Challenge

The Taliban have forged relationships among many Afghan (and Pakistani) tribes. These tribes have been alienated by Karzai and the Americans, and far more important, they do not perceive the Americans and Karzai as potential winners in the Afghan conflict. They recall the Russian and British defeats. The tribes have long memories, and they know that foreigners don’t stay very long. Betting on the United States and Karzai — when the United States has sent only 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, and is struggling with the idea of sending another 30,000 troops — does not strike them as prudent. The United States is behaving like a power not planning to win; and, in any event, they would not be much impressed if the Americans were planning to win.

The tribes therefore do not want to get on the wrong side of the Taliban. That means they aid and shelter Taliban forces, and provide them intelligence on enemy movement and intentions. With its base camps and supply lines running from Pakistan, the Taliban are thus in a position to recruit, train and arm an increasingly large force.

The Taliban have the classic advantage of guerrillas operating in known terrain with a network of supporters: superior intelligence. They know where the Americans are, what the Americans are doing and when the Americans are going to strike. The Taliban declines combat on unfavorable terms and strikes when the Americans are weakest. The Americans, on the other hand, have the classic problem of counterinsurgency: They enjoy superior force and firepower, and can defeat anyone they can locate and pin down, but they lack intelligence. As much as technical intelligence from unmanned aerial vehicles and satellites is useful, human intelligence is the only effective long-term solution to defeating an insurgency. In this, the Taliban have the advantage: They have been there longer, they are in more places and they are not going anywhere.

There is no conceivable force the United States can deploy to pacify Afghanistan. A possible alternative is moving into Pakistan to cut the supply lines and destroy the Taliban’s base camps. The problem is that if the Americans lack the troops to successfully operate in Afghanistan, it is even less likely they have the troops to operate in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. The United States could use the Korean War example, taking responsibility for cutting the Taliban off from supplies and reinforcements from Pakistan, but that assumes that the Afghan government has an effective force motivated to engage and defeat the Taliban. The Afghan government doesn’t.

The obvious American solution — or at least the best available solution — is to retreat to strategic Afghan points and cities and protect the Karzai regime. The problem here is that in Afghanistan, holding the cities doesn’t give the key to the country; rather, holding the countryside gives the key to the cities. Moreover, a purely defensive posture opens the United States up to the Dien Bien Phu/Khe Sanh counterstrategy, in which guerrillas shift to positional warfare, isolate a base and try to overrun in it.

A purely defensive posture could create a stalemate, but nothing more. That stalemate could create the foundations for political negotiations, but if there is no threat to the enemy, the enemy has little reason to negotiate. Therefore, there must be strikes against Taliban concentrations. The problem is that the Taliban know that concentration is suicide, and so they work to deny the Americans valuable targets. The United States can exhaust itself attacking minor targets based on poor intelligence. It won’t get anywhere.

U.S. Strategy in Light of al Qaeda’s Diminution

From the beginning, the Karzai government has failed to take control of the countryside. Therefore, al Qaeda has had the option to redeploy into Afghanistan if it chose. It didn’t because it is risk-averse. That may seem like a strange thing to say about a group that flies planes into buildings, but what it means is that the group’s members are relatively few, so al Qaeda cannot risk operational failures. It thus keeps its powder dry and stays in hiding.

This then frames the U.S. strategic question. The United States has no intrinsic interest in the nature of the Afghan government. The United States is interested in making certain the Taliban do not provide sanctuary to al Qaeda prime. But it is not clear that al Qaeda prime is operational anymore. Some members remain, putting out videos now and then and trying to appear fearsome, but it would seem that U.S. operations have crippled al Qaeda.

So if the primary reason for fighting the Taliban is to keep al Qaeda prime from having a base of operations in Afghanistan, that reason might be moot now as al Qaeda appears to be wrecked. This is not to say that another Islamist terrorist group could not arise and develop the sophisticated methods and training of al Qaeda prime. But such a group could deploy many places, and in any case, obtaining the needed skills in moving money, holding covert meetings and the like is much harder than it looks — and with many intelligence services, including those in the Islamic world, on the lookout for this, recruitment would be hard.

It is therefore no longer clear that resisting the Taliban is essential for blocking al Qaeda: al Qaeda may simply no longer be there. (At this point, the burden of proof is on those who think al Qaeda remains operational.)

Two things emerge from this. First, the search for al Qaeda and other Islamist groups is an intelligence matter best left to the covert capabilities of U.S. intelligence and Special Operations Command. Defeating al Qaeda does not require tens of thousands of troops — it requires excellent intelligence and a special operations capability. That is true whether al Qaeda is in Pakistan or Afghanistan. Intelligence, covert forces and airstrikes are what is needed in this fight, and of the three, intelligence is the key.

Second, the current strategy in Afghanistan cannot secure Afghanistan, nor does it materially contribute to shutting down al Qaeda. Trying to hold some cities and strategic points with the number of troops currently under consideration is not an effective strategy to this end; the United States is already ceding large areas of Afghanistan to the Taliban that could serve as sanctuary for al Qaeda. Protecting the Karzai government and key cities is therefore not significantly contributing to the al Qaeda-suppression strategy.

In sum, the United States does not control enough of Afghanistan to deny al Qaeda sanctuary, can’t control the border with Pakistan and lacks effective intelligence and troops for defeating the Taliban.

Logic argues, therefore, for the creation of a political process for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan coupled with a recommitment to intelligence operations against al Qaeda. Ultimately, the United States must protect itself from radical Islamists, but cannot create a united, pro-American Afghanistan. That would not happen even if the United States sent 500,000 troops there, which it doesn’t have anyway.

A Tale of Two Surges

The U.S. strategy now appears to involve trying a surge, or sending in more troops and negotiating with the Taliban, mirroring the strategy used in Iraq. But the problem with that strategy is that the Taliban don’t seem inclined to make concessions to the United States. The Taliban don’t think the United States can win, and they know the United States won’t stay. The Petraeus strategy is to inflict enough pain on the Taliban to cause them to rethink their position, which worked in Iraq. But it did not work in Vietnam. So long as the Taliban have resources flowing and can survive American attacks, they will calculate that they can outlast the Americans. This has been Afghan strategy for centuries, and it worked against the British and Russians.

If it works against the Americans, too, splitting the al Qaeda strategy from the Taliban strategy will be the inevitable outcome for the United States. In that case, the CIA will become the critical war fighter in the theater, while conventional forces will be withdrawn. It follows that Obama will need to think carefully about his approach to intelligence.

This is not an argument that al Qaeda is no longer a threat, although the threat appears diminished. Nor is it an argument that dealing with terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan is not a priority. Instead, it is an argument that the defeat of the Taliban under rationally anticipated circumstances is unlikely and that a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan will be much more difficult and unlikely than the settlement was in Iraq — but that even so, a robust effort against Islamist terror groups must continue regardless of the outcome of the war with the Taliban.

Therefore, we expect that the United States will separate the two conflicts in response to these realities. This will mean that containing terrorists will not be dependent on defeating or holding out against the Taliban, holding Afghanistan’s cities, or preserving the Karzai regime. We expect the United States to surge troops into Afghanistan, but in due course, the counterterrorist portion will diverge from the counter-Taliban portion. The counterterrorist portion will be maintained as an intense covert operation, while the overt operation will wind down over time. The Taliban ruling Afghanistan is not a threat to the United States, so long as intense counterterrorist operations continue there.

The cost of failure in Afghanistan is simply too high and the connection to counterterrorist activities too tenuous for the two strategies to be linked. And since the counterterror war is already distinct from conventional operations in much of Afghanistan and Pakistan, our forecast is not really that radical.

Fighting terrorism on-line

Politics OnLine

The YHN Foundation, a Pakistan-based NGO, has collected over 62 million signatures at a rate of 2.5 million per day in a unique grassroots effort to combat terrorism. More people have signed up with YHN than voted in the last Pakistani election.

The campaign has five key components:

1.) YHN has stationed 6000 'ambassadors' in strategic locations around Pakistan to get people to sign paper petitions;

2.) They created a portal that is drawing massive traffic and global attention with a counter showing how many have signed the petition;

3.) YHN has launched an SMS campaign to collect 'signatures' and phone numbers in support of the campaign;

4.) A special song has been written and several videos have been produced with many different version of the song being recorded by many different singers. All are available as free downloads and ring tones;

5.) YHN Developed online tools and a space for people to 'tell their stories' about terrorism and what they are doing to try and stop it. Additionally, the site's forum has 1,977 active members and is building a larger network of concerned citizens and activists every day. The Yeh Hum Naheen Facebook groups have a combined membership of over 24,000 people and is steadily growing rapidly.

The goal of the project is to send a strong message which will be heard throughout the world that the majority of Muslims and Pakistanis do not condone terrorism and those who perpetrate these acts of terrorism do not do so in the name of Islam. The petition asks Pakistanis: "Are we the ones who deprive mothers of their children? Are we the ones who deprive children of their fathers' affection? Are we the ones who are destroying our own futures?"

Founded last year, YHN strives to promote the ideas of tolerance, peace and harmony, which are the essence of the Islamic faith.

To learn more visit the YHN website and become a member of one of the Yeh Hum Naheen facebook groups.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Israel Must Stop Fanning the Flames That Will Consume Us

By David Grossman
Sunday, January 25, 2009

Washington Post

Like the pairs of foxes in the biblical story of Samson, tied together by the tail with a flaming torch between them, we and the Palestinians are dragging each other into disaster -- despite our disparate strength, and even when we try very hard to separate. And as we do, we burn the one who is bound to us, our double, our nemesis, ourselves.

So, a month after the war began, in the midst of the wave of nationalist invective now sweeping Israel, it would not hurt to keep in mind that this latest military operation in Gaza was, when all is said and done, just one more way-station on a road paved with fire, violence and hatred. On this road, you sometimes win and you sometimes lose, but in the end it leads to ruin.

As both Israel and Hamas declared their own cease-fires, we Israelis rejoiced at how this campaign has rectified Israel's military failures in the Second Lebanon War of 2006. But we should listen to the voice that says that the Israel Defense Forces' achievements are not indubitable proof that Israel was right to set out on an operation of such huge proportions; they certainly do not justify the way our army pursued its mission. The IDF's success confirms only that Israel is much stronger than Hamas, and that under certain circumstances it can be very tough and cruel.

But as the magnitude of the killing and the devastation has become apparent to all, perhaps Israeli society will, for a brief moment, put its sophisticated mechanisms of repression and self-righteousness on hold. And then perhaps a lesson of some sort will be etched into the Israeli consciousness. Maybe then we will finally understand something deep and fundamental -- that our conduct here in this region has, for a long time, been flawed, immoral and unwise. Time and again, it fans the flames that are consuming us.

Of course, the Palestinians cannot be absolved of culpability for their errors and crimes. To do so would show contempt and condescension toward them, as if they were not rational adults responsible for their mistakes and oversights. True, the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip were in large measure "strangled" by Israel, but they, too, had other options, other ways of protesting, voicing and displaying their difficult plight. Firing thousands of rockets at innocent civilians in Israel was not their only choice. We must not forget that. We must not be forgiving of the Palestinians, as if it goes without saying that when they are in distress, their almost automatic response must be violence.

But even when the Palestinians act with reckless belligerence -- with suicide bombings and Qassam missiles -- Israel, which is many times stronger than they are, has tremendous power to control the level of violence in the conflict as a whole. As such, it can also have a profound influence on calming the conflict and extricating both sides from its cycle of destruction. This most recent military action indicates that there does not seem to be anyone in the Israeli leadership who grasps that, who fully appreciates this critical aspect of the dispute.

After all, the day will come when we will want to try to heal the wounds that we have just inflicted. How can that day come if we do not understand that our military might cannot be our principal tool for establishing our presence here, across from and among the Arab nations? How can those days come if we do not grasp the gravity of the responsibility imposed on us by our multifarious, fateful ties and connections, past and future, with the Palestinian nation in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and inside Israel itself?

When the clouds of smoke clear, when the politicians' declarations of comprehensive, decisive victory fade, when we realize what this operation has really achieved, when we see how large the gap is between those declarations and what we really need to know in order to live a normal life in this region, when we acknowledge that an entire nation eagerly hypnotized itself because it needed so badly to believe that Gaza would cure its Lebanon malady -- then we can turn our attention to those who time and again have incited Israeli society's hubris and its exaltation of power. To those who have, for so many years, taught us to scorn belief in peace and hope for any change at all in our relations with the Arabs. To those who have persuaded us that the Arabs understand only force, and that we can speak to them only in that language.

Since we have spoken that way to them so often, and only that way, we have forgotten that there are other languages that can be used to communicate with other human beings, even enemies, even enemies as bitter as Hamas -- languages that are mother tongues to us, the Israelis, no less so than the language of the jet and the tank.

To talk to the Palestinians. That must be the central conclusion we reach from this last, bloody round of war. To talk even with those who do not recognize our right to exist here. Instead of ignoring Hamas now, we must take advantage of the new situation and enter into a dialogue to enable an accommodation with the Palestinian people as a whole. To talk, in order to understand that reality is not just the hermetically sealed story that we and the Palestinians have been telling ourselves for generations, the story that we are imprisoned within, no small part of which consists of fantasies, wishes and nightmares. To talk in order to devise, within this opaque, unhearing reality, an opportunity for speech, for that alternative -- so scorned and forlorn today -- for which, in the tempest of war, there is almost no place, no hope, no believers.

To talk as a well-considered strategy, to initiate dialogue, to insist on speech, to talk to the wall, to talk even if it seems fruitless. In the long term, this stubbornness may do far more for our future than hundreds of airplanes dropping bombs on a city and its people. To talk out of the understanding, born of the recent horrors we have seen, that the destruction we, each people in its own way, are able to cause one another is a huge and corrupting force. If we surrender to it and its logic, it will, in the end, destroy us all.

To talk, because what has taken place in Gaza over the past three weeks places before us in Israel a mirror that reflects a face that would horrify us were we to gaze on it for one moment from the outside, or if we were to see it on another nation. We would understand then that our victory is no real victory, and that the war in Gaza has not brought us any healing in that place where we desperately need a cure.

David Grossman is a leading Israeli novelist and peace activist. A version of this article first appeared in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. It was translated from the Hebrew by Haim Watzman.

Here we have a writer's perspective, who cannot think the world without words and without ways to express your ideas and feelings through it, instead of military actions, of whatever kind. In order to express your readers you need to found a common code of communications, common senses conferred to the words.

Presidents in moments of crisis

A lecture gave almost one year ago, by the historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, at TED. In focus: Abraham Lincoln and Lyndon Johnson.

Pakistani peace mission in India

Sanjoy Majumder

BBC News, Delhi

A Pakistani peace delegation made up of politicians, activists and journalists has travelled to India - the first such visit since the Mumbai attacks.

During three days in Delhi they will meet politicians and other Indians in an effort to reduce tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.

India blames the Mumbai (Bombay) attacks on Pakistan-based groups and wants Islamabad to crack down on them.

The group will have only limited access to the Indian government.

They are meeting politicians and parliamentarians from both the governing Congress Party as well as left-wing parties, but no member of the cabinet or senior official.

'Challenging terrorism'

Despite the peace mission's limited mandate, the group of 24 Pakistani activists who crossed the land border into India and are now meeting their counterparts in Delhi feel it is worth the effort.

"We decided to come to meet not just our counterparts but also people in the government and outside and to see what is the way forward," says Asma Jahangir, delegation leader and chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

"Certainly war is not the way forward."

India has handed over a dossier to Pakistan that it says contains evidence linking the Mumbai attacks to elements in that country.

But while there is sympathy for Delhi's position, Ms Jahangir believes that India is missing the point.

"The major issue is how do the governments of the region get together to challenge terrorism, which is not only spreading in Pakistan but throughout the region," she said.

In the past, interactions of this nature have had some success in pushing both governments to do business with each other.

But some believe that the mood in India has changed post-Mumbai, making efforts such as this one that much more challenging.