Many Israelis assumed Assad's Iran alliance was not a happy one. On the contrary, that axis is ensuring the dictator's survival
'If you mess around with Assad [right], you are issuing a challenge also to Iran [and Ahmadinejad, left] … the west doesn't want to do that.' Photograph: Vahid Salemi/AP
One early casualty of the Syrian uprising has been the "Syrian option" favoured by an influential section of Israel's policymaking elite. The case within Israel for engagement with and potential concessions to Damascus rested on a number of assumptions.
Most centrally, Syria's strategic alliance with Iran was thought of as an uncomfortable fit for the non-Islamist rulers of Syria – so it was assumed that President Assad was looking for a way out if it. Assad's relations with allied Islamist movements such as Hezbollah and Hamas were considered similarly instrumental in nature, and hence similarly susceptible to alteration. The Israeli "Syria firsters" therefore advocated a process whereby Syria would receive territorial concessions from Israel in return for a strategic realignment away from Iran and toward the US.
These assumptions were noteworthy in that they were not only untrue, but in many ways represented the precise opposite of the truth. Syria's alignment with Iran and its backing of local paramilitary and terrorist clients are not flimsy marriages of convenience. They were and are the core of a successful regional policy. Through it, Damascus has magnified its local and regional influence, and obtained an insurance policy against paying any price for its activities.
This insurance policy is now paying dividends. Syria's alignment with the regional axis led by Iran represents Assad's best hope of survival. Indeed, western fear of Iran is the crucial factor making possible the crackdown in Syria and hence the survival of the regime.
The pro-western Arab authoritarian rulers, Ben Ali of Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, were forced aside by a combination of internal and subsequent western pressure. Non-aligned, isolated Muammar Gaddafi now finds himself fighting in Libya against a coalition of local rebels and western air power.
Assad, by contrast, who is aligned with the coalition of anti-western states and movements led by Iran, is currently facing only nominal and minimal western pressure. This is despite the fact that he appears to be engaged in the energetic slaughter of his own people.
This is because if you mess around with Assad, you are issuing a challenge also to Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, and their various regional allies and interests in Iraq and further afield. The leaders of the west don't want to do that.
According to opposition reports, Iranian personnel are on the ground helping to crush the rebellion in Syria. Many Syrians believe that the snipers whose bullets are reaping a terrible toll among the protestors are Iranians. Syrian-Iranian military co-operation is formalised (a co-operation treaty was signed in 1998) and intensive. Syria gives Iran a presence on the Mediterranean, and is the key arms conduit between Tehran and its Hezbollah client in Lebanon. It is also a major recipient of Iranian arms and aid. And Iran, evidently, sticks by its allies.
Since the west's commitment to regional liberty and freedom does not appear to extend to entangling itself in a general confrontation with the Iran-led regional bloc, Assad may feel reasonably confident. Now he just needs to crush the internal challenge.
Which brings us back to our Israeli Syria-firsters. There is now an interesting split developing in this camp. Some of its members have realised the moral and political absurdities of advocating concessions to a bloodstained dictatorship (and not even a stable one) and are issuing mea culpas. Others are recommending that the west offer to underwrite Assad's regime in return for his aligning away from the Iranians.
But in the end, the Israeli "Syrian option" advocates don't matter much. Israel is not going to decide whether Assad survives or not. And Assad is not going to align away from his key Iranian guarantor – whatever his would-be Israeli friends want.
There are more crucial matters at stake here than the fate of a dead-end policy option in Israel. The Syrian dictator is currently getting away with slaughtering large numbers of his people because of western fear of Iran and its proxies. The question of whether the Arab spring stops at the borders of the Iran-led regional alliance will thus be decided in Syria.
The Iranians and their allies, who enthusiastically cheered the demonstrations in Egypt and Tunisia, are keen to ensure that it does end there. Western policy, meanwhile, looks likely to be too confused and hesitant to ensure that it does not. This matter will be decided in the weeks and months ahead.
The fall or weakening of the Assad regime in Syria would constitute a serious body blow to Iranian regional ambitions. Its resurgence under the protective tutelage of Tehran, by contrast, would prove that membership of the Iranian alliance provides a handy guarantee for autocratic rulers hoping to avoid the judgment of their peoples. In the ongoing cold war that remains the key strategic process in the Middle East, the west should see preventing this outcome as a key objective.
Most of us will have hosted a party at some time, and not properly enjoyed it until most of the guests have gone home and it's all over bar the shouting. Then you can really relax, drink some of the leftover wine and flop on the sofa. Or do a cartwheel or two, like the verger in Westminster Abbey:
Look at his face. If that isn't joy, I don't know what is.
In Tunisia, The Temporary Tyrant Fled And The Permanent Tyrant, Islam, Is In His Stead
Over 800 inmates escape Tunisian prisons
By BOUAZZA BEN BOUAZZA
Tunisian islamists, calling for the resignation of Tunisia's Minister of religious Affairs, Laroussi Mizouri, run for cover during scuffles with police officers in Tunis, Friday, April 29, 2009
More than 800 inmates escaped on Friday from two Tunisian prisons after fires were set in cells, the official news agency said.
Soldiers and security forces quickly fanned out in a search of the fugitives and at least 35 were caught within hours, TAP said, citing military sources.
TAP reported that 522 inmates from the prison in Kasserine escaped after a fire in two cells, and another 300 inmates escaped from the Gafsa prison.
The two towns are both in Tunisia's center-west region, some 150 kilometers (about 95 miles) apart. Personnel at the prison in Gafsa were on strike at the time, likely making the mass exodus by inmates easier.
The North African nation has been hit by social unrest since the country's long-time autocratic ruler was ousted Jan. 14 in an uprising.
Some 11,000 inmates escaped from Tunisian prisons shortly after Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled into exile. Of those, several thousand have been caught and nearly 2,000 turned themselves in after the Justice Ministry warned the escape could worsen their cases, TAP reported.
Earlier, in the capital Tunis, police fired tear gas at hundreds of Islamists protesting what they said were offensive comments toward Islam by two teachers.
Protesters chanted "God is Great," and carried banners including one reading "We do not pardon those who insult the prophet."
Several hours of peaceful protest degenerated when some demonstrators sought to take on police, who immediately fired tear gas.
The demonstration on the main Avenue Bourguiba was the latest since Ben Ali was brought down, hounded out of the country by protesters angry over unemployment, corruption and repression.
Tunisia's uprising prompted protests around the Arab world.
Reform Jews Take Out Ad Against URJ Leader Rabbi Richard Jacobs over his J Street Ties
32 Reform Jews across America took out an ad that appeared this week in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal and national Jewish Newspaper, The Forward. The group calls themselves Jews Against Divisive Leadership (JADL). They were objecting to the patent Anti-Israel stands of the new Reform Movement President designee, Rabbi Richard Jacobs, the ‘visionary’ spiritual leader of the Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, New York.
The JADL signatories to the ad declared:
The Union for Reform Judaism’s nominee for President, Rabbi Richard Jacobs, does not represent the pro-Israel policies cherished by Reform Jews. He does not represent us.
He is . . . Anti-Israel and No Zionist given his current and past memberships in the J Street Rabbinic Council, the board of the New Israel Fund (NIF), chair of its ‘Pluralism Grants Committee’ and co-chair of its Rabbinical Council. He may have been one of the rabbis who attended White House sessions with Jewish communal heads as an acolyte of President Obama’s peace process to be imposed on Israel in a dangerous and chaotic Middle East.
The FresnoZionism.org (FZ) blog post, “New URJ Head has appalling Ideology”, we cited in our March 23rd Iconoclast post, had several telling examples of Rabbi Jacob’s views. The JADL ad noted, among these, Jacob’s presence on the J Street Rabbinic Cabinet, the board of the NIF, and the anti-Zionist Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood demonstration in Jerusalem.
The trio of reform rabbis gave several reasons why Jacob’s form of Zionism was the real deal. They excoriated the ad sponsors for allying themselves with right-wing extremists and put a sheen on the infectious approach of the new URJ head, Jacobs, appealing to young unaffiliated 30 to 40 something Jews ‘embarrassed’ by Israel.
The fact that those who have assaulted Rabbi Jacobs’ integrity have wrapped themselves in the flag of Zionist purity is particularly galling. Since its inception, the Zionist movement has provided a forum for a range of opinions. If these self- appointed purists try to bar a great congregational rabbi whose views represent the mainstream of the American Jewish community and the Reform Jewish Movement from the fold of the True Believers, who wins? The campaign to discredit the work of the NIF (which hundreds of Zionist rabbis support) shows all the symptoms of separation plague — self-righteous certainty, disregard for nuance, allergy to reason and a strong appetite for the whiff of a witch-hunt. Support for Israel is not the exclusive property of one party or another.
Lovers of Israel with a range of political commitments should welcome with enthusiasm that the mantle of leadership of the Reform Movement will go to a man who cares deeply about Jewish learning, Jewish creativity and Jewish unity. They should decry tawdry attempts to sully the integrity of a good man. Rabbi Jacobs is a model of constructive engagement. At a time of rampant confusion and galloping alienation, the tactics of witch-hunting and demagoguery are not what we need. The leadership epitomized by Rabbi Richard Jacobs is.
That is clearly not what either the FZ or the JADL believe. Witness these concluding comments from the FZ post:
I am not sure about what wrapping oneself in the flag of Zionist purity is, but this brings me to the next fallacy that is so prevalent in this piece: I call it the Humpty Dumpty fallacy (apologies to Lewis Carroll): the view that words can mean whatever one wants them to mean. ‘Zionism‘is a word that already means something, and the rabbis cannot simply redefine it to mean “knowing what’s good for Israel better than Israelis themselves,” as they seem to want to do.
The tone of this article is insulting. The writers say that critics of the NIF display “self-righteous certainty, disregard for nuance, allergy to reason and a strong appetite for the whiff of a witch-hunt.”
May I suggest that this better characterizes the writers themselves?
Three of the JADL ad signatories came from Temple Beth Avodah in Newton Centre, Massachusetts. They are Richard Calmus, Judi and Norman Greenberg and Margot Einstein. They have reason to be concerned about Rabbi Jacobs given that their spiritual leader, Rabbi Keith Stern, was a roommate of Rabbi Jacobs at the Hebrew Union College-the Reform movement seminary. Stern is also on the board of the J Street Rabbinical Cabinet.
Stern and Jacobs were among the 400 rabbis who signed a letter sent by the progressive group, Jewish Funds for Justice that ran in the Wall Street Journal and The Jewish Forward requesting that Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch ‘sanction’ Glen Beck for alleged anti-Semitic remarks about the adolescent George Soros’ involvement in confiscation of Jewish property during the Holocaust in Hungary revealed in a 1998 interview with Steve Kroft of CBS 60 Minutes. Stern was one of the 70 members of the Sanhedrin of foolish rabbis who signed a letter to the Boston Jewish Advocate, effectively issuing a ‘rabbinic fatwa’ against Dr. Charles Jacobs (no relation). This banned him from their pulpits for the unforgiveable sin of criticizing one of their own members, Rabbi Eric Gurvis, immediate past-President of the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis. Rabbi Gurvis was photographed in a bear hug with an anti-Semitic leader of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, Bilal Kaleem, head of Boston Chapter of the Muslim American Society, a Muslim Brotherhood front. See our NER interview with Jacobs, “Fighting Muslim Brotherhood Lawfare and Rabbinic Fatwas.”
There was a free speech incident that involved Rabbi Stern and J Street leader, Jeremy Ben Ami, at Temple Beth Avodah. A number of congregants had submitted suggested speakers to appear at adult education lectures, one of whom was Dr. Charles Jacobs. Stern refused the congregants’ suggestions. But then Stern was presented with an opportunity to have J Street Leader, Jeremy Ben Ami speak at Temple Beth Avodah, which caused an uproar among his congregants. As a result he was forced by members of his congregation to change the venue to a local elementary school.
Doughty JADL signatory, Margot Einstein, stood up at the public school J Street presentation and said:
What kind of free speech is it when our rabbi said that Dr. Charles Jacobs would never set foot in my Temple?
So, the reform rabbinate in America is bound and determined to lead the Reform Movement into abject dhimmitude to Jihadist allies both in America and the chaotic Middle East. All perpetrated under the Orwellian mantra of Jeremy Ben Ami of J Street demanding an immediate Palestinian state putting Israel at risk behind the infamous pre-June 1967 War armistice line that divided Jerusalem. A Palestinian unity deal was announced this week between the PLO-Fatah on the West Bank and the Hamas ‘terrorstan’ in Gaza, now formally allied in seeking the destruction of the Jewish State of Israel. This nefarious unity deal was immediately rejected by Israeli PM Netanyahu because it directly threatened the security of six million Jewish citizens of Israel. J Street Rabbis Jacobs, Stern, Ellenson, Kelman, Marmur and hundreds of others may find themselves besieged by a lot more reform members than just the 32 JADL ad signatories. By persisting in this deception, that J Street is ‘pro-Israel, pro peace’ they are, in actuality, traitors to the Zionist cause and the Jewish State of Israel.
After the tumult and the shouting had died, I found myself wondering what it would all seem like to someone who knew little about it, to some anthropologist studying the behaviour of the British tribes without ever having lived among them.
First of all, it would seem unique. There are other royal weddings – in Spain, or Sweden, or Swaziland – and I am sure they are very nice. But they do not stand for anything much in the eyes of the world. They don’t attract messages of support from the crew in the International Space Station – a particularly surreal touch in yesterday’s reports. They don’t echo in the imagination of humanity. Our one does.
Nor could anything comparable take place in a republic. The French can do splendid parades which express the nation’s high sense of itself. The Americans in their presidential inauguration – especially in that of Barack Obama – find a simple, but impressive way of reaffirming the principles of their constitution. The Catholic Church, when installing (though sadly, no longer crowning) a new pope, offers a ceremony which brings home the power, the loneliness and the humility of that extraordinary position.
But nothing else anywhere has the archetypal quality of what was shown in Westminster Abbey, the same closeness between what is unspeakably grand and what is ordinarily human.
I suspect that my imaginary anthropologist might find it very confusing. We are, after all, confused ourselves. Yesterday, the historian Simon Schama, who provided expert advice on the BBC, told us that kingship and royal weddings had once been all about power, but today “power has nothing to do with it. This is the simple sense of connection.” This prompted Huw Edwards, in a wonderful non-sequitur, to say: “William will be head of the Armed Forces, of course, when he succeeds to the throne.” I love that “of course”. “How can a man be head of the Armed Forces and have no power?” my poor anthropologist might ask. It would not be easy for Huw Edwards, or even Professor Schama, to answer him. Yet the fact is that, in Britain, he can be; and most of us approve.
Just now, an 85-year-old woman is head of our Armed Forces, and it is one of the main things which allow us, in this perilous world, to sleep easily in our beds. Yesterday was a “day of rage” in Syria. The Bishop did not overstate it when he said that, in Britain, it was “a joyful day”.
If the anthropologist got to work on the DVD of yesterday, what values would he find displayed? He would discern a sense of decorum and ceremony. Contained in this is a strong idea that how something is said in words or presented visually has delicate shades of meaning which must be respected and brought out. He would be interested to discover that the exact words used were written down 450 years ago, and that the basic form of the vows, like some of the building, is roughly a thousand years old. He would understand that these were made in the name of a Supreme Being in whose honour the whole building was constructed. He would note that the clothes, particularly of the men, denoted hierarchy, function and history all at once. He would understand that the whole thing was about love, and yet that the interests of the state were deeply engaged.
But at the same time, he would see that people’s attitude to the day was also amused and kind-hearted, and even vulgar. In other cultures which he had studied, he might have expected huge crowds to converge on palaces only when they were angry, or under orders. Here they strolled up laughing and waving, often with painted faces and wearing silly hats. He would observe that their pleasure was family-based and intergenerational, with the old informing the young (including a jolly old couple from Stoke-on-Trent who made people stand up for the national anthem).
Finally, he would notice that this clearly very ancient thing was not cobwebby and hidden, but well-lit and filmic. It was presented with the greatest possible care for the modern medium that would convey it to the world.
What might he conclude then, about the culture he found himself studying? Very complicated, he might think – interesting and beautiful and alive; a high civilisation, perhaps, and even, occasionally, a happy one.
Formation of the Tennessee Freedom Coalition Announced
Nashville, TN (April 29, 2011)- In a move that could have significant political implications in Tennessee, it has been announced that a new organization, the Tennessee Freedom Coalition, has been established. Its stated goal is "Bringing Truth to Light", and its founders say they plan to do that by "educating citizens on the critical issues of our time."
The coalition's founding chairman is Andy Miller, a well known civic leader and Businessman in Nashville. Miller has helped in varying capacities with numerous Republican campaigns the latest of which as the Chairman of "Tennessee Victory", the GOP's highly successful "Get Out The Vote" effort during the Fall 2010. The Executive Director is Lou Ann Zelenik of Murfreesboro, and a former GOP candidate for congress from Tennessee's sixth congressional district. Zelenik was the co-founder of L&N Construction Company, and a past chairman of the Rutherford County GOP.
In announcing the creation of the Tennessee Freedom Coalition, Miller said, "Our goals are important, yet very fundamental. In an age of social unrest and political turmoil, we want to bring truth to light by using the facts to educate citizens on the critical issues of our time. Those are numerous and varied, but I believe we can speak out and inform in ways that traditional political parties are ill-equipped to approach. We will go where the truth leads us, and not be swayed by political correctness or predetermined commitment to any candidate or elected official."
Executive Director Zelenik added, "The Tennessee Freedom Coalition is a grassroots movement of dedicated individuals working to make a positive difference. We strive to keep America free, and return to the traditional values that have made America the greatest nation on earth. We are going to do our best to involve our fellow citizens in this effort. One of our goals is to have a coalition organization in all ninety five counties of Tennessee."
The coalition's web site lists a number of issues it hopes to have an impact upon. Among them are promoting positive education reform, a fairer and flatter tax structure, market based healthcare reform, promoting cultural cohesion by opposing illegal immigration, job creation by reducing overbearing government interference, promoting religious tolerance by working to stop the growth of radical Islam, and a return to the constitutional principles which have made America the land of individual liberty.
The coalition is a 501(c)4 nonprofit corporation. It currently has six board members including Miller and Zelenik.
The other members are as follows: Raymond Baker, a retired GOP political consultant, and currently chairman of the Williamson County GOP steering committee; Sharon Ford, a lifelong grassroots activist and Executive Director of Act! For America Middle Tennessee; Jeff Hartline, who was recently a candidate for congress in the fifth district of Tennessee, and who is now involved in developing a new startup company; and Glen Hughes, a Certified Public Accountant and Certified Fraud Examiner who has been involved in numerous political activities within Davidson County including serving as President of the Tennessee Republican Assembly.
The coalition is planning numerous events to involve citizens in their work, and inform them on issues by having educational forums, expert speakers, and conducting political leadership classes. "We invite citizens from across Tennessee to join us in this effort. Go to our website to learn more, and contact us if you want to help. Together we can save our nation", Zelenik added.
I was right. On cue, after a splendid, dignified and joyful royal wedding, enjoyed by so many of the "working class" that socialists claim to represent, Polly Toynbee of The Guardian un-purses her lips to dribble all over their parade. Ms Toynbee is not short of a purse or two - her villa in Tuscany, enormous house in London and privately educated children would not disgrace a minor royal - but let's not talk about that.
How well we do it! Was the princess beautiful in lace and was the prince charming? Indeed they were. The glorious pomp and circumstance did not disappoint those 2 billion worldwide watchers, indulging vicariously in the theatre of majesty. They tell us this is what we are best at, the great parade, the grand charade. If you weep at weddings here was one to cry for, for us more than them. The more extreme a ceremony's extravagance, the more superstitious you might feel about the outcome: the simpler the better the prognosis, in my experience.
Is this what Britain is and who we are? Here was a grand illusion, the old conspiracy to misrepresent us to ourselves. Here arrayed was the most conservative of establishments, rank upon rank, from cabinet ministers to Prince Andrew to the Sultan of Brunei, the apotheosis of the Daily Telegraph and the Spectator in excelsis, a David Starkey pageant choreographed by Charles, the prince of conservatives.
Of course Tony Blair and Gordon Brown had no invitation, being the prime ministers who held back the forces of conservatism for 13 years. Displayed in all its assertiveness was a reminder of what Labour is always up against as perennial intruder. Constitutional monarchy is constitutionally Tory, the blue inherited with its wealth, in its fibre, in its bones.
How will history look back on this day? Out in the world of bread, not circuses, in the kingdom behind the cardboard scenery, this has been a week that told a bleak story of the state of the nation. History may see the wedding as a Marie Antoinette moment, a layer of ormolu hiding a social dislocation whose cracks are only starting to emerge.
And so on and so forth. What hurts - really hurts - is that so many people don't want Blair or Brown or some Labour- appointed Diversity Tsar. They want to wave the flag and have a good time. Off with her head, that's what I say. First, though, send her to the Tower and make her watch re-runs of the royal wedding until she repents.
The Wall Street Journal was not exactly enthusiastic about President Obama’s choice of General David Petraeus to succeed Leon Panetta as Director of the CIA. (“Obama’s Security Shuffle,” April 29, 2011,). Arguing that the General has “earned a promotion to be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” the editors contend that “he may be miscast at Langley.”
Although conventional media-and Beltway-opinion has been largely positive about the forthcoming appointment, this writer wonders about a leader who volunteered the opinion that the burning of the Qu’ran by Florida Pastor Terry Jones would endanger US troops. Pastor Jones’ ceremonial book burning was hardly an appropriate or effective way to make the point that there is much about Islam, especially radical Islam, that constitutes the most serious current threat to Western civilization. Nevertheless, willy-nilly, the general needlessly made American behavior hostage to Islamic violence. By the same logic, the editors of Danish newspaper, Jyllens Posten, should not have published the Muhammad cartoons and should have made the Muslim street the arbiter of what could and could not be published in a Western newspaper.
Earlier in 2010, the General also opined that the Arab-Israeli conflict is one of the “root causes of instability” and “obstacles to security” in the Middle East and that it aids al-Qaida. He further argued that “serious progress in the peace process could weaken Iran’s reach, as it uses the conflict to fuel support for its terror group proxies.” It does not take much imagination to anticipate whose ox would be gored in a Petraeus-Obama “peace process.”
Undoubtedly, the Arab-Israeli conflict is one of the causes of regional instability and has been from the Balfour Declaration of 1917. Nevertheless, in view of the real sources of discontent made manifest in the so-called “Arab spring,” the general could not have been more off target, but that hardly matters to the Obama administration which hasn’t given up its own obsession - or is it a delusion - that “solving” the conflict will bring quiet to the region. I hate to think of what will happen to the fruitful cooperation between the CIA and Mossad under General Petraeus or the intelligence briefings he is likely to offer the White House. But then again, the General may be exactly the kind of Director of Central Intelligence the president really wants, especially in a second term when he will be, if reelected, unconstrained by the imperatives of a presidential election.
Since 9/11, Westerners have tried two approaches to fight terrorism in Pakistan, President Bush's and Greg Mortensen's.
Thus began a column in The New York Times by Nicholas Kristof in July 2008. I remember the column distinctly because I was, at that time, fighting terrorism according to the George Bush approach, serving with the Third Armored Cavalry regiment in Diyala Province as part of the signature Bush policy effort of the war, the Surge. A friend forwarded the Kristof article, and I was intrigued.
Who was this Greg Mortensen? What's his approach?
I read on:
Mr. Mortenson, a frumpy, genial man from Montana . . . has spent less than one-ten-thousandth as much as the Bush administration. He builds schools in isolated parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan, working closely with Muslim clerics and even praying with them at times.
The only thing that Mr. Mortenson blows up are boulders that fall onto remote roads and block access to his schools.
He builds schools. Good for him. But I knew that his efforts—no matter how admirable (and admirable they certainly are)—were but a tiny drop of hope and decency in the oceans of oppression, violence, and misery that are the jihadist-dominated regions of Southwest Asia. I was glad for his work, but that's an approach to fighting terrorism? An approach to rival our massive, ongoing military efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan?
According to Kristof, Mortensen offered more than "an approach." He offered "the approach," one far superior to anything we were doing in the Surge. Kristof concluded:
So a lone Montanan staying at the cheapest guest houses has done more to advance U.S. interests in the region than the entire military and foreign policy apparatus of the Bush administration.
I literally laughed out loud. I gave no further thought to Mortensen, and we just kept doing our job: clearing al Qaeda from our corner of Iraq, having our own "cups of tea" with tribal elders, local police, ordinary villagers—so much tea, in fact, that I get nauseous at the very thought of the word chai.
But tea wasn't enough. Nor were schools or roads or power stations or our other nation-building efforts; they weren't enough until al Qaeda was beaten, until they no longer had the strength to behead villagers who cooperated with our efforts, until they no longer could terrorize mothers by shooting their babies right in front of them, or until they could no longer clear out the schools or power stations or government offices (or anything else we built) and use them as weapons depots and safe houses, or simply vandalize them, leaving their shattered emptiness as a symbol of their power, not ours.
When I got home in late 2008, I learned that Greg Mortensen was a bigger deal than I had realized. The military made his books mandatory reading. He spoke to tens of thousands, and even the President of the United States donated to his charity. In the midst of a long and bloody war, his story of cultural understanding, patience, tea, and education resonated. Did Greg Mortensen really offer a better way?
Less than two weeks ago, the whole story unraveled. John Krakauer and "60 Minutes" discovered that key elements of Mortensen's compelling life story were fabricated. Worse, they discovered that his charitable efforts were far less extensive than advertised. Many of his schools were empty, some didn't exist, and the overall footprint of his efforts was a fraction of what we believed. He wasn't a total fraud (he has done much good in the lives of the students he served), but he and his charity were not what we thought they were.
In the immediate aftermath of the "60 Minutes" story, the question came: Why? Why did a man who'd done such great good so exaggerate his story and his efforts? Wasn't the truth enough for him?
But that's actually a less interesting question than its reverse. After all, he simply joins a long line of public figures who have exaggerated their accomplishments. Greed and pride are the oldest of sins. The real question is, Why did we believe him? Why was his exaggerated story so eagerly embraced by the public and even by military leaders? Why did people actually believe so quickly and uncritically that he'd made so much progress in a war-torn region characterized more by medieval barbarism than by any kind of recognizable love of learning?
I think the answer is theological. We've lost any real understanding of evil and depravity. Cultural relativism teaches us that conflict is a result not of significant moral differences but of misunderstandings. Postmodern anti-colonialism teaches us that the West is the root of all that ails the world; that virtuous indigenous cultures would flourish without our oppression and militarism. Well-meaning, idealistic (but biblically ignorant) Christians believe that just a little kindness and love will transform hearts and minds on a vast scale. "If only they can see how nice we are, how much we care, then their hearts will melt."
But biblical Christianity teaches us that evil is not only real; it is the default human condition. Since the Fall, we are hard-wired for evil, not for good. Biblical Christianity teaches us that grace is extraordinary, not ordinary, and that even Christians are shot through with sin. Why do we believe that cultures that have not had a significant Christian presence for more than one thousand years (if ever), that have lived and died by the sword for every generation in living memory, and that are locked in the hate-fueled grip of jihadist Islam, will be transformed by schools, tea, and books, all delivered with a smile by well-meaning Americans?
The Taliban and al Qaeda are grotesquely evil. In regions they control, they will immediately kill anyone they perceive as a threat to their military or cultural domination. That is a fact. We can build 10,000 schools, but if the schools are not safe, if the curriculum is not countercultural (and often counter to their own faith), and if the education does not continue well into adulthood, then we are simply chasing after the wind. Nicholas Kristof points out that a school is cheaper than a Tomahawk missile, and this is true. But could anyone build a girls' school in Taliban-held areas of Afghanistan before the Tomahawks?
Why did we believe Greg Mortensen? Because we wanted to believe him. Because we still can't understand the enormity of the evil we face. Because we actually believe that a few cups of tea can bridge a yawning cultural and spiritual gap that has existed for more than a millennium.
The story he wanted to tell is the story we wanted to hear.
David French is a lawyer, writer, soldier, and veteran of the Iraq war. He is the director of the Alliance Defense Fund Center for Academic Freedom.
Computer Worm Wreaking Havoc on Iran's Nuclear Capabilities
April 27, 2011
By: Ken Timmerman
An internal report by a special intelligence unit in Iran has concluded that the Stuxnet malware computer virus that has infected Iran’s nuclear facilities is so dangerous it could shut down the entire national power grid.
The report, written by the Iranian Passive Defense Organization, chaired by Revolutionary Guards Gen. Gholam-Reza Jalali, states that Stuxnet has so thoroughly infected the operating systems at the Bushehr power plant that work on the plant must be halted indefinitely.
If the Bushehr power plant were to go on line, “the internal directives programmed into the structure of the virus can actually bring the generators and electrical power grid of the country to a sudden halt, creating a “heart attack type of work stoppage,” the report states.
The report was obtained by the “Green Liaison news group,” Iranian journalists affiliated with presidential candidate Mir Hussein Mousavi, and was translated into English by Reza Kahlili, a former Revolutionary Guards officer who spied on behalf of the CIA for over a decade while inside Iran.
The report claims that Stuxnet “has automatic updating capabilities in order to track and pirate information,” and that it “can destroy system hardware step-by-step."
Gen. Jalali has held two press conferences in recent weeks where he has given tantalizing glimpses into the conclusions of his top-secret task force to analyze and defuse the Stuxnet computer worm.
At one, he blamed Israel for collaborating in developing the worm and claimed that his experts had traced “reports” sent by the worm back to Texas.
“Enemies have attacked industrial infrastructure and undermined industrial production through cyberattacks. This was a hostile action against our country,” Jalali said. “If it had not been confronted in time, much material damage and human loss could have been inflicted.”
Jalali also lashed out at Siemens, the German firm that sold Iran the Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) process controllers used to run the Bushehr power plant, the Natanz uranium enrichment plant, and other industrial facilities in Iran.
"Our executive officials should legally follow up the case of Siemens SCADA software, which prepared the ground for the Stuxnet virus," he said.
"The Siemens company must be held accountable and explain how and why it provided the enemies with the information about the codes of SCADA software and paved the way for a cyberattack against us," he said.
Siemens has said it was blindsided by Stuxnet, and began publishing its own research and tools to remove the worm from infected computers last fall.
On Monday, Jalali claimed that his intelligence unit, which merges computer analysts from the intelligence ministry and the Revolutionary Guards intelligence service, had found a new computer virus attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities called “Stars.”
He called “Stars” an “espionage virus,” and said that it copied government files and was difficult to destroy in its early stages.
Kahlili believes that Gen. Jalali’s admission of the damage wrought by Stuxnet is significant, since until now the Iranian authorities have suggested that everything was under control. “This is the first official statement out of Iran that the U.S. and Israel should be blamed for this attack,” Kahlili told Newsmax.
“They held back for a long time in order to solve the problem, but have gone public because they haven’t succeeded in doing so. This shows the extent of the damage to the Bushehr power plant. What Jalali is saying is that they are holding the U.S. and Israel responsible and that Iran will retaliate,” he added.
Ralph Langner, the German computer security expert who first identified the specifics of the malicious code used by Stuxnet, says that the worm contains two “digital warheads” that seek out specific control systems to attack. But its targets are computers driving Iran’s uranium enrichment program, not the control systems at Bushehr, he insists. The larger of the two warheads loads onto S7-415 controllers in Siemens SCADA process control software. While these controllers are found “in power plant turbine control” systems, such as those at Bushehr, Langner now believes the warhead was not programmed to affect those systems.
“Anything that went wrong in Bushehr cannot be attributed to Stuxnet. It may be attributed to other sabotage acts, to stupidity, or whatever,” he told Newsmax in an email.
Because the Iranians reported early on that Stuxnet had infected Bushehr, Langner spent several months investigating what systems Stuxnet might attack at the Russian-built plant, before setting aside that thesis based on his analysis of the worm’s internal code.
“It would certainly be a good idea for Iran to clean up all systems before going operational in Bushehr (and before resuming operations in Natanz) as any further attempts to remove the virus when the plant is running will be much harder or even impossible,” Langner wrote in his blog on Feb. 1. “As long as there is even a single system in the nuclear program still infected with Stuxnet, those centrifuges continue to be at risk.”
Russian experts and officials have been warning for several months that the Bushehr power plant has become too dangerous to operate because of the Stuxnet infection. In February, Russia's envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, described to reporters an incident he claimed had been witnessed by Russian engineers working at the plant.
The engineers "saw on their screens that the systems were functioning normally, when in fact they were running out of control," he said. This was because Stuxnet was sending out false messages to the control instruments the engineers normally monitored.
The Russian engineers performed additional tests that determined physical malfunctions were occurring at the plant and then removed all nuclear fuel from the reactor. "The virus which is very toxic, very dangerous, could have had very serious implications," Rogozin said.
Iran was forced to shut down its uranium enrichment plant at Natanz last November and removed nearly 1,000 centrifuges because of malfunctions caused by Stuxnet. See "Cyberwar Declared on Iran."
Earlier this month, Iran refueled the Bushehr nuclear power plant and seemed ready to start the reactor, but Jalali’s report has put an indefinite hold on operations there.
The Iranian parliament recently sent a separate report to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei saying that Bushehr had become so expensive and so many years behind schedule that it would be cheaper and quicker to build a new nuclear power plant and shut the Bushehr site definitively, Kahlili said.
William Walton wrote the march Crown Imperial for the coronation of King Edward VIII but after he abdicated it was used for the Coronation of King George VI in 1937. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge left Westminster Abbey to the march earlier today.
When the Muslims Against Civilisation (thanks for that comment Jewdog - I liked it so much I have pinched it) first made their threat to disrupt the wedding they showed on their website a graphic of the Imperial Crown in flames, the cross torn off the top of the arches.
There are ancedotal and unconfirmed reports that black flags appeared on the streets of East London this morning only to be confronted by members of the public and turned back by the police.
Today was a day for celebration and uplift. It didn't rain on the happy couple and the crowds - neither literally nor metaphorically.
Up, but not exactly betimes, so saw little live, but did see, as re-runs, what the networks chose to offer as selected highlights of the ceremony itself. The sensible Bishop of London clearly superior to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Two very good looking young people, both beautifully outfitted -- one in a dress, the other in a dress uniform. A pledge, a ring, the epithalamic end. From Westminster along the Mall to Buckingham Palace, English crowds demonstrating admirable crowd self-control. Fly-by of three World War II vintage planes flown by William's mates reminded the world -- they may not have meant to, but they did -- of Blitz-and-Biggles bravery. A Prendergastian profusion --oops, I think I'm actually thinking of Childe Hassam -- of flags being waved. Queen in eye-attracting yellow, Prince Philip, Prince Charles, tiny royal children in white, the waving couple-- Andrew et ux. -- in the middle of the balcony and this paragraph, giving ordinary rather than royal waves. One kiss, and then a few minutes later, another. Something being said about Prince William's choice of a McVitie's chocolate-biscuit cake to accompany the other cake. An interview with the publican -- for Americans almost a stage publican -- from postcard-perfect Bucklebury in Berkshire, home of that handsome and winning pair, the parents of Kate Middleton, explaining how he had been so much in a daze that he had forgotten to bow, as he clearly would have wished to, when the Queen went past. American commentators trying desperately to fill up their allotted slots with repetitive and increasingly annoying chatter. Lots about the overcast day being considered by the want-but-little-here-below English as good weather. Oh to be in England, now that April -- and England -- are still there.
Steve Talbott has an interesting and important piece in The New Atlantis noting how the language properly used to describe mind such as recognize, respond, function, adapt, regulate and communicate are used to describe the function of molecules, proteins and cells while scientists continue to deny the reality of mindal involvement in what they continue to insist are purely mechanical interactions. I will quote the end, but the whole thing is worth reading.
To say, as Nobel laureate Max Delbrück once did, that DNA could be conceived in the manner of Aristotle’s First Cause and Unmoved Mover, since it “acts, creates form and development, and is not changed in the process” — well, that’s a stupefying blind spot, a blind spot that to one degree or another dominated the entire era of molecular biology through the turn of the current century. It was already recognized and warned against by the German botanist Fritz Noll in 1903, who pointed out how (in E.S. Russell’s paraphrase) “the chief theorists have tried to solve the problem of development by assuming a material and particulate basis [today’s ‘gene’], without however attempting to explain how the mere presence of material elements could exert a controlling influence on development. They have been forced to ascribe to such abstract material units properties and powers with which they would hesitate to credit the cell as a whole.”
Weiss emphasizes very much the same point: because there is no possible way to make global sense of genes and their myriad companion molecules by remaining at their level, researchers have “simply bestowed upon the gene the faculty of spontaneity, the power of ‘dictating,’ ‘informing,’ ‘regulating,’ ‘controlling,’ etc.” And today, one could add, there is at least an equal emphasis on how other molecules “regulate” and “control” the genes! Clearly something isn’t working in this picture of mechanistic control. And the proof lies in the covert, inconsistent, and perhaps unconscious invocation of higher coordinating powers through the use of these loaded words — words that owe their meaning ultimately to the mind, with its power to understand information, to contextualize it, to regulate on the basis of it, and to act in service of an overall goal.
Weiss considers terms such as “regulate,” “organize,” and “control” an “obvious reversion in modern guise to animistic biology, which let animated particles under whatever name impart the property of organization to inanimate matter.” Weiss refuses to ascribe the power of regulating and organizing to specific material parts of the organism, which would grant them a kind of magical quality. Whatever regulates a set of interacting parts cannot be found in one of the parts being regulated. To see the principles of regulation governing any set of parts, we have to step back, or up, until we can recognize a unity and harmony that operates, so to speak, between the parts, becoming visible only from a more comprehensive, relational vantage point.
This unity and harmony may represent a genuine difficulty for our understanding, if only because few in recent decades have bothered to address it. But until we see the problem where it actually lies, instead of concealing it in molecules with mystical qualities, we can hardly begin the work of trying to understand. To be sure, serious researchers long recognized the “problem” of biological explanation — but the issues were largely set aside in the era of molecular biology due to the expectation that they were well on their way to routine solution. Biology would soon be rid of its troublesome language of life in favor of well-behaved molecular mechanisms. And yet today, after several decades of stunning progress in molecular research, it is no more possible than it was two hundred years ago to construct a single paragraph of properly biological description that does not draw on a meaningful language of living agency considered improper in chemistry or physics.
If we want to reckon with the holism, the coordination and organization, the means-end relationships that are continually appealed to in biological explanation, one way forward might be to take the biologist’s special language of life — minus its mystical tendencies — seriously and at face value. Perhaps the biologist describes what he actually sees, and perhaps the living qualities of the organism are not really as spooky as they are sometimes made out to be. Perhaps it never did make sense to try to understand the world from the bottom up, never made sense to dismiss the richest, most multifaceted phenomenal displays — the most organically unified realizations of the world’s creative potential, such as we find in the performance of whole living creatures — as if they were, by very reason of the fullness of their revelation, the most unreal and misleading guides to the true nature of things.
Mechanisms of Control or a Living Unity?
Before concluding, it remains only to show ever so briefly what happens when you mix the language of organic coordination with that of mechanistic control. It’s not a pretty sight. A paper that recently landed in my e-mail inbox, otherwise very worthy, serves as well as any to illustrate the situation. It concerns the p53 protein:
The tumor suppressor p53 is a master sensor of stress that controls many biological functions, including [embryo] implantation, cell-fate decisions, metabolism, and aging.... Like a complex barcode, the ability of p53 to function as a central hub that integrates defined stress signals into decisive cellular responses, in a time- and cell-type dependent manner, is facilitated by the extraordinary complexity of its regulation. Key components of this barcode are the autoregulation loops, which positively or negatively regulate p53’s activities.
We have, then, a master sensor that controls various fundamental cellular processes, and yet is dependent on the signals it receives and is subject to “extraordinarily complex” regulation by certain autoregulation loops. While all these loops regulate p53 (some positively and some negatively), one of them, designated “p53/mdm2,”
is the master autoregulation loop, and it dictates the fate of an organism by controlling the expression level and activity of p53. It is therefore not surprising that this autoregulation loop is itself subject to different types of regulation, which can be divided into two subgroups.
So the master controlling sensor is itself subject to a master controlling process (one of several regulatory loops) that dictates the fate of the organism. But this master loop, it happens, is in turn regulated in various manners (the author goes on to say) by a whole series of “multi-layered” processes, including some that are themselves “subject to direct regulation by mdm2” — that is, they are regulated by an element of the regulatory loop they are supposed to be regulating.
I can hardly begin to describe the stunning complexity surrounding and supporting the diverse performances of the p53 protein. But it is now clear that such “regulatory” processes extend outward without limit, connecting in one way or another with virtually every aspect of the cell. The article on p53 makes an admirable effort to acknowledge and summarize the almost endless intricacy and contextuality of p53 functioning and, with its language of mechanism and control, it does not differ from thousands of other papers. But that only underscores the undisciplined terminological confusion continuing to corrupt molecular biological description today. When regulators are in turn regulated, what do we mean by “regulate” — and where within the web of regulation can we single out a master controller capable of dictating cellular fates? And if we can’t, what are reputable scientists doing when they claim to have identified such a controller, or, rather, various such controllers?
If they really mean something like “influencers,” then that’s fine. But influence is not about mechanism and control; the things at issue just don’t have controlling powers. What we see, rather, is a continual mutual adaptation, interaction, and coordination that occurs from above. That is, we see not some mechanism dictating the fate or controlling an activity of the organism, but simply an organism-wide coherence — a living, metamorphosing form of activity — within which the more or less distinct partial activities find their proper place. The misrepresentation of this organic coherence in favor of supposed controlling mechanisms is not an innocent inattention to language; it is a fundamental misrepresentation of reality at the central point where we are challenged to understand the character of living things.
How the organism holds together and makes sense is surely what the employers of such language are really trying to capture. One sympathizes with them. The problem is that their science gives them a respectable (and extremely valuable) language of analysis, while it is still stumbling around looking for a language able to comprehend unities or wholes — a “systems” language, some would say. The difficulty is owing to the stubborn proviso that this language must not come too uncomfortably close to infringing the taboo against recognizing mind and meaning, direction and intention, lest the world become unsafe for objects and mechanisms. So the researcher is left with a curious problem: to make sense of the organism without finding any real meaning in it — least of all the meaning traditionally associated with living beings. Systems may perhaps be tolerated; at least they are reassuringly vague and anonymous, and invite casual manipulation. But who knows what disagreeable entanglements might follow once we find ourselves staring into the face of other beings?
The royal wedding: today even atheists should cry out 'God Save the Queen'
And the whole thing is worth it just to see the pursed lips of dreary Guardianista republicans like Polly Toynbee, annoyed that so many people love the royal family. A more patriotic Norman Tebbit in The Telegraph:
The royal wedding is of itself a happy occasion for the bride and groom, their immediate families and a host of dignitaries and well-wishers watching from the roadside and of course at home on television. However, it is also something more than that. In a world where it seems at times that, apart from death and taxes, the only certainty is uncertainty and change, there is something comforting about the essentially unchanging concept of Monarchy.
Our own Monarchy has its roots deep into our history. Some of them go back even further than the Norman Conquest. The Act of Settlement which ended the absolutism of our monarchy has about it an echo of the folk moots by which monarchs were legitimised in earlier times.
All those historical threads have been woven into a pattern which is not of just one culture, line or even ethnicity, certainly not just of the English, but is of the embodiment of the Kingdom. Of course it is a great boon that we do not have to endure elections for the post of Head of State. Even more that we do not have to endure being represented by someone with no more allure than the President of the European Union, or perhaps some celebrity whose character faults had been concealed by a stellar, hyper, super injunction.
Above all, the Monarchy is there to be the focus of a common loyalty and mutual identification of all the Queen’s subjects, regardless of religion, ethnicity or politics. Those who remember the events of 1940, and both our French and German friends will do so, will understand that unlike the French, the British people and our Armed Forces owe their loyalty not to a government but to the Crown. Had these islands been subjugated, there could have been no Vichy-style puppet government. So long as the King was free, he would have remained the Head of State.
It should be enough to wring even from the mouths of atheists a cry of “God Save The Queen”.