“America in the World,” on the Middle East

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I’m taking a minute during lunch at America in the World to share a question I had during today’s insightful panel on the Middle East. The panel consisted of Helene Cooper (moderator), Daniel Kurtzer, Ellen Laipson, and Daniel Levy.
Lots of good stuff from these folks, who are each very articulate and, in my view, on point. However, the conversation revolved around Israel, Palestine, and Iran.
The panel didn’t have time to take my question, so I’ll post it here (and editorialize a bit more than I would in real time). Hopefully we’ll get some good reader responses.

We’re all recognizing that peace, stability, moderate politics, and democracy promotion are enduring U.S. interests in the Middle East. Yet, one country is absent from this discussion.
You may be thinking I’m alluding to Iraq, but I actually want to bring our attention to Lebanon.
In the past five years, we’ve allowed Syria and Israel to undermine Lebanon – perhaps because we’ve been distracted or had misplaced priorities, perhaps because of the unintended consequences of different elements of our foreign policy, perhaps both.
I cannot escape the thought that the energy we have spent trying to install democracy in Iraq through military means would have been much better (maybe even best) spent on supporting the fragile – but existing – democracy in Lebanon.
So here’s my two-part question. First, looking forward from, say, five years ago, how might the Middle East be different if supporting Lebanese democracy had been a top U.S. priority?
Second, what might the U.S. do to constructively support democracy and moderation in Lebanon today?

I have thoughts on these topics, but I want to hear others speak to these questions. What say you?
— Scott Paul

Comments

47 comments on ““America in the World,” on the Middle East

  1. aileench says:

    The United States should not forget its committment towards the U.N. Millenium Goals signed in 2000. According to The Borgen Project, an annual $19 billion dollars is needed to end world hunger by the year 2025. To my sense it is almost unnaceptable to have spent so far more than $340 billion in Iraq only, when we have more than war immunities to change the world and eliminate poverty.

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  2. ... says:

    at least bush stopped repeating the mantra ‘we are winning the war in iraq’ some time ago.. speaking of which i read a funny article on him at huffington post today – make your own bush speech –
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chris-kelly/make-your-own-bush-speech_b_51973.html

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  3. ... says:

    i agree with poa.. take a walk career dip. your posts serve one purpose only and it is so obvious as to not need repeating.

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  4. Career Diplomat says:

    And everytime you show up, under any of your screen names, you destroy the discourse here.
    Posted by: PissedOffAmerican at June 13, 2007 09:51 PM
    ok. And I’ll also tell it to the rest of the Lebanese majority whose country has been hijacked by the Syrian army and Hezbollah paramilitaries.
    Didn’t you read the front page today? Another popularly elected, anti-syrian politician was assasinated… along with his son and nine other innocent people.
    …and guess what, it WASN’T the Israelis or Americans who did it.
    Any comment… or do you just want to change the subject?

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  5. Career Diplomat says:

    And everytime you show up, under any of your screen names, you destroy the discourse here.
    Posted by: PissedOffAmerican at June 13, 2007 09:51 PM
    You’re wrong, POA. YOU consistently destroy the discourse with profanity and invective… and an undeniable inability to constructively engage ANYONE who disagrees with you.

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  6. PissedOffAmerican says:

    In fact, I would argue that Syria, Iran and their proxies, Hezbollah, have done MUCH more to destroy democracy and a peaceful future in Lebanon.
    Posted by Career Diplomat
    Tell that to the farmers in Southern Lebanon whose fields are now laying fallow, because of the danger of cluster bomblets.
    http://tinyurl.com/3e2fyf

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  7. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Actually, asshole, you’re the only one here that I accuse of being a troll. And its not because you “disagree” with me. Its because you are transparently and undeniably a troll, and an asshole. And everytime you show up, under any of your screen names, you destroy the discourse here.

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  8. sdemetri says:

    Career Diplomat, you obviously misread my post. I did not lay the blame “squarely on the heads of the Palestinians.” And I certainly don’t agree with your deflecting the current situation in Lebanon away from Israel and the US. Israel’s bombardment last summer of Lebanon was obscene, a war crime in my view. Our Congress near unanimous support of it disgusting. Israel withholding Palestinian-owned funds from the PA, and our government’s withholding of aid, I take as deliberately destabilizing actions that exacerbate the problems in Gaza, not further a peaceful resolution.

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  9. Career Diplomat says:

    That’s just great, POA. I’m glad to see that you are always true to form.
    What’s that about the pot calling the kettle black?!
    Do you REALLY have the nerve to accuse ANYONE else of “harrassing, irritating and derailing” more than YOU?!?! Oh the irony!
    Unless you consider swearing at and insulting others who you disagree with, while accusing them of being “trolls,” to be a worthy contribution to this debate.

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  10. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “In the short amount of time that I’ve been reading these comments….blahblahblah….”
    Winnipeger, your dishonesty is appalling.

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  11. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “Not true, POA. We ARE supporting those atrocities along with many of the Arab governments who are perpetrating them, including, Fatah, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Oman, Dubai, Kuwait, etc.”
    “How do you respond to this?”
    Posted by Career Diplomat
    Why would I feel obligated to respond to some piece of shit troll whose only purpose here, under numerous screen names, has been to harrass, irritate, and derail?
    And stating that we treat ANY of the Arab countries to the same amount of free gratis financial assistance, logistical support, and military assistance is pure unadulterated bullshit.
    BTW, yesterday you cast a shitload of aspersion my way, implying that all I had to do was post here on the web. I note that you may have changed your screen name, but you still practice the same despicable degree of hypocricy that is your stock in trade.

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  12. David N says:

    Career Diplomat should know that if we start trying to list everyone responsible for the disaster that is the general condition in the Middle East, we’ll fill Steve’s server and still not finish.
    There is more than enough blame to go around, including of the U.S., the U.K., Europe, and other racist regimes. And no one is more racist than an Arab.
    And we careerists also know that here, as in any other situation in international relations, there are no good solutions, just less bad ones.
    Not just the foundation of Israel was based on the false premise that nations should be based on some kind of tribal identity (language, religion, race, tribe, nationality, whatever). That mistake has been made over and over and over again before and since, and not one world leader has ever expressed the point that it is a bad idea.
    This has become something of a theme for me, including in a long essay I posted in MyLeftWing.com under the nom de blog “Beyond Popper.” The fact is that these racial and tribal and religious and linguistic groups are not real, just convenient simplifications useful to control power and justify war.
    In this, we are all guilty. The only basis for legitimacy is not “people power” or any other divisive identity politics, but the rule of law. The lack of independent law is what destroys democracies, and we are seeing that it can happen even here. We have nothing to say to people in other countries who lose their democracy by having too much of it, if we make the same mistakes ourselves.
    We are not spreading democracy, or anything like it. The problem is that if our goal is
    “We’re all recognizing that peace, stability, moderate politics, and democracy promotion are enduring U.S. interests in the Middle East.”
    then we will fail, because we are leaving a lot out, and because the listed goals are incompatible with each other.
    Blah, blah, blah . . . .

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  13. Career Diplomat says:

    Thanks, sdemetri. This is the first time that I’ve seen ANYONE in these threads place ANY of the blame for the terrible situation squarely on the heads of the Palestinians.
    and while you’re at it, what about Hezbollah and the Alawites in Syria???
    Again, Israel and the U.S are not the only ones who have destroyed democracy in Lebanon. In fact, I would argue that Syria, Iran and their proxies, Hezbollah, have done MUCH more to destroy democracy and a peaceful future in Lebanon.

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  14. sdemetri says:

    Career Diplomat, democracy in the middle east has been demonstrated in both Lebanon, and Gaza. The insufficiency of democracy, in the eyes of Israel and the US, is in the response of both Israel and the US: the destruction of a vibrant society in Lebanon, and apartheid atrocities in Gaza, deliberate actions to destabilize both regions. Sure, Palestinians bear some responsibility but Israel and the US are in large part responsible for the inability of the Palestinian moderates to exercise the power the majority of Palestinians want them to exercise. Blaming the victims is a common tactic Israel has used to justify itself.

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  15. Career Diplomat says:

    And what about Syria’s negative impact on lebanon? Today they’ve murdered another lebanese leader.
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20070613/ts_nm/lebanon_fighting_dc_99;_ylt=Ak.SmDJdx8nO6N1o_bXl8ccE1vAI
    Israel is pilloried for going to war with Hezbollah after they infiltrate her border, kidnap her soldiers and launch constant missle attacks against her citizens.
    But has there been ANY criticism of Syria by the anti-Israel crowd around here?
    No.

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  16. Career Diplomat says:

    Point taken, Sandy. But let’s take this opportunity to admit that the Palestinians bear some degree of responsibility for their own predicament.
    In the short amount of time that I’ve been reading these comments, I’ve seen the Israelis and Americans EXCLUSIVELY blamed for the plight of the Palestinians. Ditto for the fate of Lebanon and a whole host of problems throughout the Middle East.
    Can we finally admit that the Arab governments and the Arab street are also to blame for the sorry state of affairs?

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  17. Career Diplomat says:

    …and just present a reality rarely acknowledged in these threads, and to back up what BenR. is saying, check out this headline news:
    “Chanting “stop the killing,” some 1,000 Palestinians marched through Gaza City, only to draw gunfire that killed two of the demonstrators and wounded four. It was not immediately clear who shot at them.”
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20070613/ts_nm/palestinians_dc_9;_ylt=AokTMAhc_hr4ZGM2saZxILIE1vAI
    Does anyone want to continue comparing the plight of the palestinians to the Jews in WWII?
    Funny, but I don’t EVER recall an instance where Jews or Israelis fired upon and killed their own people, who happened to be marching for peace.

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  18. Career Diplomat says:

    “Because we are not supporting those atrocities with billions of American taxpayer dollars, like we are doing for Israel’s atrocities.”
    Not true, POA. We ARE supporting those atrocities along with many of the Arab governments who are perpetrating them, including, Fatah, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Oman, Dubai, Kuwait, etc.
    How do you respond to this?

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  19. GoRonGo says:

    Scott,
    If you want to truly get a bearing on the Middle East, read AntiWar.com ‘s news section daily.
    For news directly from Lebanon, the Daily Star is excellent.
    From Syria, I would suggest the Syrian Arab News Agency:
    http://www.sana.org/index_eng.html
    From Palestine — this is the best wire service:
    http://www.maannews.net/en/index.php
    And again, each weekday on a program called Mosaic, LinkTV broadcasts news from the Middle East (including Israel) translated into English — it is INVALUABLE.
    LinkTV is DirectTV channel 375, DishTV channel 9410.
    You can also watch Mosaic online at :
    http://www.linktv.org/mosaic

    Reply

  20. GoRonGo says:

    Scott,
    If you want to truly get a bearing on the Middle East, read AntiWar.com ‘s news section daily.
    For news directly from Lebanon, the Daily Star is excellent.
    From Syria, I would suggest the Syrian Arab News Agency:
    http://www.sana.org/index_eng.html
    From Palestine — this is the best wire service:
    http://www.maannews.net/en/index.php
    And again, each weekday on a program called Mosaic, LinkTV broadcasts news from the Middle East (including Israel) translated into English — it is INVALUABLE.
    LinkTV is DirectTV channel 375, DishTV channel 9410.
    You can also watch Mosaic online at :
    http://www.linktv.org/mosaic

    Reply

  21. MP says:

    Scott: Democracy per se shouldn’t be the goal–it isn’t sufficient. Democracy in and of itself simply means majority rule. It doesn’t say anything about respect for minorities. Nor does it say anything how neighbors are treated. Nor does it say anything about the content of majority’s rule–what it believes in; what it plans to do, etc. If a majority’s rule simply enshrines or legitimizes the majority’s prejudices or misguided aims, then we’ve barely advanced, if at all. In short, “democracy” is too thin a concept to support a foreign policy.

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  22. F. Rif says:

    The problem Scott is that the Lebanese distrust the United States, and for good reason. The first Bush allowed Syria free reign over Lebanon during and after the Gulf War in order to gain Syrian support for that conflict.
    Democracy promotion is a waste of time when the Lebanese see the US aiding and abetting their arch-nemesis Israel. Until there is even-handedness in Middle East policy by the US, there will be no way to constructively pursue “democracy and moderation” in Lebanon, or any Middle Eastern country for that matter.

    Reply

  23. PissedOffAmerican says:

    http://www.antiwar.com/justin/?articleid=11132
    And excerpt…….
    “The question before the house is this: should the United States exhaust itself militarily, economically, and psychologically in order to ensure indefinite Israeli domination of the Middle East? To the Israel Lobby, this is a no-brainer: of course it should. Anything less than unconditional support for Israel’s strategic objectives would be anti-Semitic and “hateful.”
    “To which an increasing number of policy wonks, such as Brzezinski, and ordinary Americans, such as myself, answer: we won’t be intimidated any longer. It’s high time the central premise of American policy in the Middle East is challenged and the specialness of the “special relationship” is held up to scrutiny. This latest demand – that the U.S. expend its resources, including the lives of its young people, in yet another war on Israel’s behalf – has nothing to do with defending the Jewish state against what Pollak admits is the canard of nuclear incineration at Iranian hands, and everything to do with keeping the Israeli boot firmly on Arab and Muslim necks. And that cause is not worth a single American life.”

    Reply

  24. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Why no mention here of Arab on Arab atrocities?
    Posted by Ben R
    Because we are not supporting those atrocities with billions of American taxpayer dollars, like we are doing for Israel’s atrocities.

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  25. Ben R. says:

    I assure you, sir, I am no more a fanatic and no less stable than you or your sympathizers here.

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  26. Ben R. says:

    I assure you, sir, I am no more a maniac than you or your sympathizers here.

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  27. ... says:

    the fanatics start to crawl out of the woodwork. talk about stability, lol..

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  28. Ben R. says:

    Are you telling us now “Chris Brown”, that it’s the Israelis and the Americans who are causing the Palestinians to throw each other off of building right now?!
    You would have a pretty tough time making that case in ANY court of law.
    …and before you tell me this barbarism is ALL because of occupation, let me remind you that our Arab neighbors had perfected the fine art of “executions, knee cappings and tossing handcuffed prisoners off tall apartment towers” LONG before they met us!!!

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  29. Ben R. says:

    Israel and the U.S are the root of all evil in the middle east?
    this is from the today’s “nyt’s http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/13/world/middleeast/13mideast.html?hp
    Just look at what those palestinian maniacs are doing to each other:
    “Five days of revenge attacks on individuals — including executions, kneecappings and even tossing handcuffed prisoners off tall apartment towers.”
    Why no mention here of Arab on Arab atrocities?

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  30. ... says:

    carroll quote >>But for me, right now, all I can think of is our shipping more weapons to Israel during the Lebanon bombing and congress standing by, actually cheering and supporting Israel bombing the absolute hell out of Lebanon and the thousands of cluster bombs dropped on civilian areas that are still killing people today.<<
    actions speak louder then words and carrolls paragraph speaks volumes on the usa’s interest in lebanon.. i wonder what part of it the diplomats in washington don’t understand, or is it that they think they can commit to highminded talk and all will be better? it appears so. some folks are so easily fooled.

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  31. Chris Brown says:

    “We’re all recognizing that peace, stability, moderate politics, and democracy promotion are enduring U.S. interests in the Middle East.”
    I don’t know who it is you are including in “we’re”, but if you mean all of the USA I think you’re wrong.
    The Likudnik neo-conservatives (I think neo-fascist is more accurate)have demonstrated that “stability” is not what they’re after. Instability in the predominately Islamic nations is in the interests of Israel, promoted by the neo-cons. They’ve certainly been successful, at least in Iraq, Lebanon, and he Palestinian Territories.

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  32. Jeffery Haas says:

    This country’s dominant political structures and entities remain convinced that not only is it possible to flood seventh century societies with near trillions of petrodollars and tons of modern technology without blowback, they in fact feel entitled to DEMAND such a blowback-free adventure.
    Not much different than the legions of American people who feel entitled to demand a safe and secure utopia free of consequences in exchange for total fealty to said structures and entities.
    Obtuse enough?

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  33. Dan says:

    Scott,
    It never would have worked, because supporting Lebanese “democracy” inevitably ends up with the United States showing support for Hezbollah. After all, Hezbollah has a legitimate political party with Parliament members. Could the United States ever, and I mean, EVER, show support of an organization like Hezbollah? Could any American swallow that? What would that kind of support mean for our relation with Israel? After all, Israel lost its 18 year war with Hezbollah, unilaterally withdrawing from southern Lebanon just seven years ago.
    Unfortunately for the world of democracy, the United States has certain priorities that are above real democracy. The United States will never support an organization like Hezbollah, and therefore will never truly support democracy in a country like Lebanon, because of the implicit support of Hezbollah that will come with it.
    It is a sad state of affairs, yes.

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  34. David N says:

    John somer:
    I was going to post a long comment, but you have said what I was going to quite well. The problem is that no one in government recognizes that the problem is that we all too often conflate democracy with tribalism, and we are repeating that mistake (along with all the other original mistakes) in Iraq.
    Maybe Bush had it right when he simply did not know the difference betwenn Sunnis and Shia, and did not think it made any difference in Iraq. There’s a first time for everything, and in this case, blind cluelessness could be a GOOD thing.
    Not really.
    At least he kept his watch, which is the top story on the evening news tonight.
    Way to keep it serious, MSM.

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  35. Scott Paul says:

    Yes, I do believe the U.S. can be a positive force in the Middle East. We’re not currently, but we can be.
    FYI, Ellen Laipson is a scholar of the Arab world and speaks Arabic.

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  36. Marcia says:

    The first step would be to impeach Cheney and Bush.

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  37. Matthew says:

    Call me crazy, but we really wanted to help Lebanese demoncracy, we might want to stop giving the IAF jet fuel to prolong its aerial bombardment of civilian areas. We might want to deny a slot at Harvard to the IDF chief who talked about “turning back the clock” in Lebanon for 20 years.
    Steve: Do your friends really believe the USA is a positive force in the ME? In Lebanon? If so, they should write fiction.

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  38. Carroll says:

    How do we promote stability and democracy in Lebanon?
    Keeping Israel and the US out of it might be a start.

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  39. GPC says:

    Right on the money LondonYank.
    I don’t know how we came to equate between the Siniora govt’ in alliance with Lebanese Forces thugs, Druze murderers and Saudi lackeys and point people in the Levant … AND “support of Democracy”?
    The events that are unfolding in North Lebanon are an added dimension to the wilful manipulation of Saudi money (at the behest of Abrams-Bandar) and Salafi-Jihadis to counter the rise of Iranian (Hizballah) prominence. Haven’t we been bitten in the derriere by such manipulations before? Unless the unraveling of Lebanon (domino effect after Iraq) was what we intended in the first place.
    The more you look at it, the more it resembles the neo-cons’ “Clean Break” (1996) and Bob Satloff’s “Policy of Constructive Instability”. In BOTH neo-cons + pro-Israeli blueprints, Lebanon did not appear healthy!
    Finally, the events in North Lebanon, in which the Lebanese Army is in a grinding war with Salafi-Jihadis (paid-off until very recently by Hariri at the behest of Abrams-Bandar’s “Sunni Strategy” have been depicted 4 Months earlier by Sy Hersh in “Redirection.”
    No coincidences here! This is where we intended this region to head to: Hell!

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  40. john somer says:

    The Lebanese “democracy” is a very peculiar animal. It was originally based on a balance between the different religious groups (Maronite Christians, Druze, Sunnis and Shias, each one of them with different clans). An inidvidual citizen would appeal to his clan or group leader, and not to the courts, for support or protection. The principal positions in the government structure were distributed between the groups: the president had to be a Maronite, the prime minister a Sunni, the speaker of parliament a Shia and the army chief a Druze (I hope I got them right…). As long as there was a relative balance in the groups’ populations, things went on pretty smoothly but the higher birth rate of the Muslims disturbed that balance and led to the conflicts and the civil war of the 70’s as the less powerful groups sought protection abroad. The fact that Syria still considers Lebanon as part of its territory (to the best of my knowledge, it still does not have an ambassador in Beirut) simply serves to inflame the situation a bit more. Trying to install a “one man, one vote” democracy in that country is going to be a long task

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  41. LondonYank says:

    I’m not at all sure that the situation in Lebanon today isn’t exactly what this administration wanted – and paid good money for. The war last summer destablised a vibrant, confident and increasingly prosperous Lebanon into violent civil unrest.
    Sinora is using his American-armed army to crush rebel groups that we recruited, funded and armed via our Saudi friends just last fall. This sets the precedent for attacking the Palestinian refugee camps which were traditionally beyond the army’s remit to enter. I think ultimately Said Hariri – who was in talks with Cheney, Hadley and Abrams even before his father’s assassination – will be installed as the Israel/US-friendly dictator needed to crush all dissent and “unify” Lebanon.
    In the meanwhile, all the problems can be blamed on Syria and Iran as the pretext for wider war.
    I’m beginning to think the BAe scandal in the UK right now isn’t about kickbacks at all, but about funds being streamed from the Pentagon through BAe – now its 6th largest supplier – into slushfunds for Prince Bandar and Prince Turki to fund deathsquads, assassinations, false flag operations and insurgencies throughout target states. Their ties going back to selling Tow missiles to Iran in the October Surprise of 1980, the funding of Iraq’s invasion of Iran in 1981, the funding of Contras in Nicaragua in 1985, funding of the Taliban and Al Qaeda via Pakistan in the 1980s and 1990s, ties to BNL, BCCI and Riggs Bank, payments to two 9/11 hijackers, and funding of the militants in Lebanon last year all point to an orchestrated series of events.
    The CIA and Pentagon get to swear up and down that no US funds are being spent financing terrorists, because by the time the money is spent it has been washed through BAe to become Saudi funds. It’s one theory anyway . . .

    Reply

  42. JohnH says:

    Good old democracy promotion. When is someone finally going to label it for what it is: elections subject to US meddling and vetoes, and loyal governments protected and intimidated by the US military, the mother of all democratic organizations.
    Now look who’s “promoting democracy” in the United States: http://www.tpmcafe.com/blog/electioncentral/2007/jun/12/rudy_raising_money_off_lists_of_jewish_newspaper_readers
    I seem to remember that Bill Clinton was lambasted for accepting contributions from a US subsidiary of a Chinese corporation, which I believe is legal. What about receiving in kind aid directly from an Israeli corporation? Don’t look for coverage in any corporate owned newspaper!

    Reply

  43. Sandy says:

    The Wurmsers not available? How about Shaha Riza? Liz Cheney? Karen Hughes?

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  44. downtown says:

    “No Arab-American, no Arab experts on a panel discussion of the Middle East?”
    Mrs. and Mr. Wurmser were not available.

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  45. Carroll says:

    (Sigh)….I guess Scott it depends on what we mean by “democracy promotion”.
    And I don’t think Americans are convinced that promoting US style democracy is an enduring “interest” of the “whole” of the US.
    Maybe it is for some segments in the US ..depending on exactly what democracy promotion “means for them”.
    Moderation and stability..good.
    Bending every country and society to our model and culture whether they like it or not….not good.
    Juan Cole made some good observations on the Lebanon situtation and complexities that anyone interested can go read.
    But for me, right now, all I can think of is our shipping more weapons to Israel during the Lebanon bombing and congress standing by, actually cheering and supporting Israel bombing the absolute hell out of Lebanon and the thousands of cluster bombs dropped on civilian areas that are still killing people today.
    We are way to dirty to be talking about promoting democracy. Democracy is about more than holding elections.

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  46. Aghast says:

    No Arab-American, no Arab experts on a panel discussion of the Middle East? Typical of the in-bred planning conferences of too many gatherings in Washington. No wonder we’re in the mess we’re in. There is no shortage of such experts fluent in Arabic, fluent in the cultural exigencies, fluent in the history of the relevant states. Appalling.

    Reply

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