Saturday, July 29, 2006

Bad things could happen still:

Boy, the Bush/B-liar press conference yesterday was a real tour de farce, wasn't it? We want the fighting to end, but not before we have a comprehensive Middle East deal. Meanwhile, Israel gets to continue bombing he hell out of Lebanon. Supossedly, on Monday the US will be able to work out of deal with the rest of the international community on a plan to deploy a multinational force to keep Hezbollah from attacking Israel and in this fantasy world of puppies and flowers Hezbollah will just give up its arms and go away.

So, all you Lebanese folks down in the south just hold on and drink your puddle water and listen to the reassering words of poodle B-lair:

"Of course the U.N. resolution, the passing of it, the agreeing of it, can be the occasion for the end of hostilities if it's acted upon, and agreed upon. And that requires not just the government of Israel and the government of Lebanon, obviously, to abide by it, but also for the whole of the international community to exert the necessary pressure so that there is the cessation of hostilities on both sides." [WaPo]

This assumes, of course, that all of this can be accomplished without having to talk to Syria or Iran. Relying on the Saudis to pressure the Syrians doesn't like a winning plan. And what happens if Israel decides to attack Syria before all this can be worked out? If a Hezbollah rocket were to hit too close to Tel Aviv there's no telling what Israel might do. As david Gardner pointed out in the FT yesterday, "Under a weak government that defers to an army command with its pride wounded and worried about the erosion of its deterrent power, the urge to retaliate against Hizbollah's patrons and suppliers in Syria and Iran would surely be very high." Something tells me Israel isn't callign up from 15,000 to 40,000 reserves for another try at Beit Jbail.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Khaim attack, one of many and becoming a problem for US:

The story of the IDF's attack on the Unifil base at Khaim gets more interesting. The NYT reported today that Jane Holl Lute, the assistant secretary general for peace keeping mission at the UN, says that Unifil has reported "145 incidents of 'close firings' in recent days with several patrol bases taking direct hits and sutaining damage to buildings , equipment and vehicles."

But it's all a big mistake, right, the IDF has all those "precision weapons," how could they have accidently bombed UN bases over 145 times? Ian Williams at atimes online writes:

". . . To accept that it was yet another accident presupposes a level of incompetence or insubordination in the Israeli army that should see some serious courts-martial, but never does. So what could be the motive? It is clear that there are many in the IDF with a profound contempt for the UN and all it stands for, and who would not shed many tears at such an accident. It may also rankle that the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has, in the dearth of Western reporters from much of south Lebanon, provided independent corroboration of many incidents of IDF attacks on civilians. One only has to think of the fate of the USS Liberty in 1967 for being in a position to observe what the IDF was up to. "

What was I just saying yesterday?

The Guardian reports that "Timur Goksel, a former Turkish military officer who spent more than 20 years working with the UN mission in southern Lebanon, said it was hard to explain how a mistake had been made. 'It is a perfectly marked, white building close to Khiyam prison. Israel knows quite well where it is. There is no excuse for it, nothing. The only thing I can think is lack of fire discipline, not giving a damn. That's sometimes the case.'"

China thinks it was a deliberate attack, too, and tried to get a resolution passed condemning Israel for it but John Bolton, the neocon defender of all things Israel, rushed right in to make sure that didn't happen. Bolton warned that some countries were trying to use this "accident" as a backdoor effort to get a resolution calling for a cease-fire and that would be bad. Because there's only about 600 (not the 400 the US media has been stuck on for the last two days) Lebanese civilans dead from Israel's attacks, what's the rush?

Our backin gof Israel no matter what is already having negative efects on our other foreign policy probelms, Reuters reports: "China on Thursday warned the United States that its opposition to a statement condemning a deadly attack on a U.N. post in Lebanon could jeopardize U.N. negotiations on Iran's nuclear ambitons. 'This is a serious matter,' China's U.N. ambassador, Wang Guangya, told reporters after a private meeting with U.S. negotiators. 'It is an attack on the U.N. peacekeepers.' Definitely this frustration will have its negative impact,' Wang said. 'I believe it will affect it negatively."

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Musing on disaster:

All Hezbollah has to do is continue to not lose, but Israel has to completely destroy Hezbollah, and until they do the Syrians are hardly likely to stop Hezbollah. As a western diplomat points out in an article in the FT: "The Syrians are being asked to connive at the destruction of their own major card. We say to the Syrians, we want you help to curb or disable Hezbollah to cough up the Israeli soldiers and implement 1559. In other words suicide." Why would they?

To be sure all of this is not going to be worked out in a matter of a few days or weeks. The stubborn insistence that the US will not put its weight behind a cease-fire until all these issues are resolved is just unconscionable, especially when you consider how many people are dying and the length of time it will take to negotiate their "durable peace."

Happy talk and repeating the same mistakes over and over:

This best-casing "strategy" the Bush administration is engaging in, is just another recipe for an even bigger debacle than the one this type of wishful thinking that got them into in Iraq. Initially, the US was hoping their "moderate" Arab allies would carry the water for them, so they wouldn't have to embarrass themselves by talking to the Syrians. But that has proven to be a mistake; Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and even Iraq's PM Nuri al-Maliki are calling for an immediate end to fighting. No one is talking about giving Israel more time to destroy Hezbollah. In fact, Saudi King Abdullah said yesterday that if this goes on much longer "there will be no other option but war" in the region.

The first place this spreading of the war is likely to start is in Iraq. While the Democrats in Congress are grandstanding over al-Maliki's luke warm support for Israel, Muqtada al-Sadr is itching to start a new uprising. While it is nice to see W. finally admit that the situation in Baghdad is "terrible," he's making another huge mistake by moving more US troops into that city. In the current atmosphere of loathing for US policy on Lebanon around the Arab world, sending large amounts of US forces into an already explosive sectarian situation in Baghdad is a potentially going to be one of the worst strategic errors since the invasion itself. The various Iraqi factions don't agree on much, but they all are united in their hatred of Israel. If W. is thinking success in Iraq is based on national unity, this is a good way to make it happen, but I don't think the outcome it going to be to his liking.

Israel's real plans for Lebanon and the Middle East?

As Israel's assault and siege of Lebanon goes into its second week, the president's talk of supporting the fledgling democratic government of Fuad Siniora sounds more and more rediculous. Last year the world was amazed to see hundreds of thousands of young Lebanese out in the streets demanding the removal of Syrian troops. Although the uprising that led to the Syrians leaving had everything thing to do with the killing of former prime minister Rafik Hariri and nothing to do with W.'s march of democracy, W. is taking credit for it now. Yet strangely, he's doing nothing to keep the Lebanese government form collapsing. I guess, he's just hoping what the Israelis told him about their quick little foray into the south of Lebanon will work out. (The Israelis have been known for telling the Americans one thing and doing another on many occasions.)

But as he crosses his fingers and hopes the Saudis or some other Arab country will step into this mess and talk some sense into the leadership of Hezbollah, Lebanon is being torn apart. What you could very soon wind up again with, is a divided Lebanon based on a sectarian districs. The Shiite parts of the country are getting a real going over, but the Christian parts are relativly untouched. Ethic groups not so happy about Hezbollah's unilateral actions against Israel could turn on the Shiites and it could result in another civil war. Perhaps, a weak and contantly waring Lebanon is what Israel ultimelty wants:

Oded Yinon, a former foreign ministry official, wrote back in the 80's, in the World Zionists Organizations's periotical Kivunim, that Israel's long term objectives for the Middle East were to break the countries of Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq into geographical districts to be more easily controled. In Lebanon he wrote:

"The total disintegration of Lebanon into five regional, localized governments is the presedent for the entire Arab world. . . The dissolution of Syria, and later Iraq, into districts of ethnic and religious minorities following the example of Lebanon is Israel's main long-range objective on the Eatern Front. The presenet weakening of these states is the short-range objective. . . The oil-rich but very divided and iternally strife ridden Iraq is certainly a candidate to fit Israel's goals. . . Every kind of inter-Arab confrontation will help us to preserve in the short run and will hasten the achievements of the supreme goal, anely breaking up Iraq into elements. . . There will be three states or more, arounf three major cities, Basra, Baghdad and Mosul, while Shiite areas in the south will separate from the Sunni north, which is mostly Kurdish. . . The entire Arab Peninusula is a natural candidate for dissolution."

Willy Pete moves to Lebanon:

The AP reported on Monday that at Tyre's Najem Hospital:

"Jawad Najem, a surgeon at the hospital that is named for his family, said patients were admitted Sunday with burns from Israeli phosphorus incendiary weapons. 'Mahmoud Sarour, 14, was admitted to hospital yesterday and was treated for phosphorus burns in his face,' Najem said. Mahmoud's 8-month-old sister, Maryam, also suffered similar burns to her neck and hands when an Israeli rocket hit her family's car just a kilometer from the hospital. The children were with their father, mother and other family members when their car was hit by an Israeli missile. The father died instantly. " [video]

I remember white phosphorus from our little visit to Fallujah back in Nov. 04. Not that we were the first to use willy pete on innocent civilans -- the Israelis do it every time they invade Lebanon: According to HRW: [thanks peacepalestine]

"During the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, the Israeli shelling of villages in southern Lebanon in July 1993, and subsequent shelling attacks, there have been numerous allegations of Israeli forces using phosphorus against civilians. The available circumstantial evidence of the illegal use of phosphorus, and/or other incendiaries, by Israel against Lebanese civilians during the 1993 events and afterwards is so compelling as to warrant serious investigation and a public response by the Israeli government."

The Israelis are supossedly really trying hard not to have another Qana type incident according to Newsweek:

"The Israelis say they are being more careful this time around, not least because they don't want to be forced to stop. 'The presidential approval by Bush, the surprising level of support he's giving Israel, the patience he's giving Israel—it looks as if there's a great amount of slack being cut to us," says a senior Israeli security source, who did not want to be identified by name because he is not authorized to speak on the record. 'Absent a Qana, it might go on.'"

Something tells me willy pete isn't the only thing they're using against civilians. The NYT reports today that doctors at a hospital in Nabatiye said of some victims of Israel's bombs that their skin "dissolved like wet paper when he began to stitch." Now, I wionder what that could be? Some new chemical weapon or an old one?
And speaking of Israel attacks on UN instalations:

The BBC reports: "UN peacekeepers in south Lebanon contacted Israeli troops 10 times before an Israeli bomb killed four of them, an initial UN report says. The four unarmed UN observers from Austria, Canada, China and Finland, died after their UN post in the town of Khiam was hit by an Israeli air strike on Tuesday."

Coming to Israel's rescue Tony Snow said "something went really wrong" to cause the deaths, but also said there was no reason to suggest the bombing was deliberate. No, of course not, what wuold make anyone think that? They only bombed the outpost at least fourteen times before they dropped the big one and then continued the shelling while rescurers attempted to pull the bodies out. The BBC says, a diplomat familiar with the report said that "had Israel responded to the requests, 'rather than deliberately ignoring them', the observers would still be alive."

This incident sounds oddly like the Israeli attack on the American spy ship USS Liberty in June of 1967, during the Six Day War, which killed 34 Americans and wounded over a hundred. Then as now, the Americans were close to the fighting and at the time and some theories suggest that Israel; bombed, shelled, torpedoed and napalmed the Liberty in order to keep the Americans reporting Israeli activities in the town of El Arish. (The only thing that kept Israeli troops from being dropped on to the deck of the Liberty by helicopters to finish the job, was that they heard the Liberty's May Day signal being acknowledged by the USS Seretoga.) It is possible the Israelis back then were concerned that the spy ship might have been monitoring their killing of Egyptian prisoners of war and were determined to prevent this news from getting out. Maybe this time the UN observers witnessed something the Israelis were doing they didn't want exposed to the world. The over -the-top effort to completly anihillate the UN outpost is precisely the same way the Israelis went after the Liberty.

In this war many are warning that, through miscalculation or accident, things could suddenly go very wrong. It is instructive to remember that, initially the US navy and president Johnson thought that the ongoing attack on the Liberty was being conducted by the Russians, and in responce Navy fighters loaded with nuclear weapons were launched from the USS America. At the last minute it was determined that the attackers were Israeli and the planes were recalled.
Who knows what the Israelis are up to here, but it is quite clear the Israelis couldn't have been ignorant of the status of the target they repeatedly bombed for hours.

One of these days . . . to the moon?

[Contrary to what it may seem, this isn’t actually an anti-Israeli blog.]

Writing shortly after the 36th anniversary of the moon landing by Apollo 12 on July 20th 1969, I'd like to say how happy I am that the space shuttle Discovery and its crew got back safe-and-sound and in one piece last Monday. And I'm delighted that my dire predictions of doom went unfounded. Knowing the history of the shuttle and the obvious dangers of manned space travel, I don't think it so far fetched to have been worried that something might go wrong. NASA administrator Michael Griffin was taking a calculated risk by sending the old rust bucket back into space. Because, keep in the mind, every time the shuttle blasts off it does so with a 1 in 50 chance of blowing up.

John M. Logsdon, the Director of the Space Policy Institute at Georgetown University and a member of the Columbia investigation is quoted in a NYT article saying the successful shuttle mission "shows that with appropriate care and vigilance, the odds of operating the shuttle with acceptable risks are good." However, Roger Pielke Jr., Director of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado, points out in the same article that, "if the reliability of the shuttle is 99 percent, as the NASA has suggested, then there is a significant possibility there will be another lost shuttle before NASA completes the program."

So, as I say, although I'm glad that everything went according to schedule and the mission was completed. But I'm still puzzled as to why we're risking lives and spending so much time, money and effort to keep this space fossil flying. My question remains; what was accomplished on this mission that furthers our knowledge of space travel? Instead of exploring the mysteries of galaxies being born or examining far away solar systems, the shuttle's crew spent most of their very expensive time taking hundreds of high resolution photos of the shuttle. Nasa has spent zillions on adding new cameras and monitoring equipment to watch for flying bits of insulation and not too surprisingly they soon found the ever irksome gap-fillers dangling. This caused some consternation, but later it turned out to be nothing.

Sure they did a few space walks, but only to test something called "carbon-carbon" (brought to you by the department of redundancy department) a new method to keep the wings from falling off. Now what in the hell, you may ask, is "carbon carbon? The AP reports that carbon carbon is a "peanut butter-like repair goo," designed by the best minds our country has to offer, to spread on the skin of the shuttle to prevent it from suffering the fate of the Columbia.

AP: "The test produced many bubbles that could allow killer heat to penetrate [the shuttle] on reentry. This time, initial results showed some bubbles formed but did not join to become big, dangerous ones. [astronauts Piers Sellers and Michael Fossum] spread a thin layer of the mixture, then kept flipping it. At first, the astronauts said bubbles kept forming, but they were able to keep then to a minimum.:

Boy, you really have to watch out for those big dangerous bubbles. In the process of doing these very important experiments Sellers lost the space spatula he was using to spread the space peanut-butter and it went floating off into the void. The AP reported that "military monitors of space debris were notified of the new hazard to track." I hope they don't miss that big asteroid that's headed our way while they're focused on the spatula.

While I was reading about the spatula and the gap fillers I was thinking what a contrast this was to the grand visions Nasa had for the post Apollo future. Back in 1969 they were thinking that by now we'd already be on Mars. Andrew Chaikin in his excellent book "A Man on the Moon" writes that when Nixon got into office he commissioned the Space Task Group to come up with a plan for the post Apollo era. Nasa administrator Tom Paine wanted to follow through with Kennedy's notions of the United States becoming a spacefaring nation. Apollo had given us the means to go to other plants, so all we needed to do was take advantage of that technology.

Chaikin writes: "The task group's timetable called for a twelve-man space station and a reusable space shuttle as early as 1975, depending on funding. By 1980 the station would have gone to a fifty-man space base; five years later there would be a hundred men in orbit. Meanwhile, there would be a base in lunar orbit by 1976, with a base on the lunar surface two years later. Then, as early as 1981, the first manned expedition to Mars would depart earth orbit." [page 232]

We went to the moon in a space ship built with duct tape and bailing wire, with computers that were made of wires with little indentations that denoted 1 and 0; and we did it in less than 10 years having started from scratch. 30 years later we're worrying about birds pooping on our space ships waiting to take off, while the Chinese are way closer to putting a man on the moon than we are; never mind W.'s plans for going to Mars!

At the same time Fossum and Sellers were splattering each other with carbon carbon, a businessman was launching his own inflatable space ship, the Genesis. Robert Bigelow plans to build an orbital outpost made of sections of inflatable segments strung together to make a space hotel or even a sports arena. This is the kind of imagination and moxy we need to regain our position as the premier spacefaring nation in the world.

We either have to get serious about building a space ship that won't blow up every 50 times it goes up and come up with a coherent plan to go to another planet, or we need to drop the idea of manned space missions entirely and put our money and scientific genius into exploring the universe with cheap but effective craft like the Mars rovers. It's not like money grows on trees and W. has already broke the bank with his perfect little war in Iraq, so we have to make a choice. Otherwise, we're just going to wind up watching the rest of the world pass us by in scientific breakthroughs while we debate whether the Bible should be taught in science class.

The NYT reported on Saturday that Nasa bigwigs pulled a switcheroo back in February that changed the organization's mission statement. Since 2002 the statement read: "To understand and protect our home planet; to explore the universe and search for life; to inspire the next generation of explorers . . . as only Nasa can." Now, they've eliminated the 'understand and protect our home planet' part and replaced those words with: "To pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery and aeronautics research." David E. Seitz, a spokesman for Nasa, says this was done to focus the agency’s attention on W.'s plans for manned missions to the Moon and Mars.

Of course, the real reason is that W. doesn't want to understand and protect our home planet because that might mean doing something about global warming. This all goes back to Nasa scientist John Hansen, who I've written about before, who has been causing a stir about climate change for a very long time. To W. & co. he's a pain in the ass they want silenced. A while back the administration placed one of their political commissars, George Deutsch, in the Nasa press department to make sure these egg-head scientists weren't peeing on W.'s parade. [NYT]

The fact that Hansen kept citing the 'understand and protect our home planet' part of the mission statement as a rationale for Nasa doing something about climate change has caused some people to think this is the reason behind the change in the mission statement. David Seitz says it's all "pure coincidence." Yeah, I believe that, don't you?
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