British MPs say no to Syria attack

Earlier in the day I was listening to much of the UK Commons debate on whether to attack Syria. I could not help but feel it buttressed the general consensus among most of us in political science who study executive-legislative politics that a parliamentary system is just so vastly superior to America’s presidential one.

And I thought that even when I assumed Cameron would get his wish at the end. Wow, this is a stunning development. In the Guardian’s running commentary on the debate and vote, there is a statement from Philip Cowley (who studies parliamentary revolts) via Twitter in which he says:

Not seen division lists, but that gvt rebellion must be bigger than the one that brought down Chamberlain in 1940

And I am not sure folks will continue calling Ed Miliband (Opposition leader) politically weak anymore! He forced Cameron to consider amendments, and, combined with considerable lack of support for attacking Syria even within the PM’s Conservative Party, Cameron lost a big one.

See also Steven Taylor.

Libyan rebels call for airstrikes

This item, near the end of an Al Jazeera article on the pro-Gaddafi offensive against the rebel-held city of Marsa El Brega, surprised me:

Meanwhile, the rebel National Libyan Council in east Libya called for UN-backed air strikes on foreign mercenaries used by Gaddafi against his own people.

Hafiz Ghoga, a spokesman for the council based in Benghazi, told a news conference that Gaddafi was using “African mercenaries in Libyan cities” which amounted to an invasion of the oil producing North African nation.

“We call for specific attacks on strongholds of these mercenaries,” he said, but added: “The presence of any foreign forces on Libyan soil is strongly opposed. There is a big difference between this and strategic air strikes.”

Such a request would go a step or more beyond the previously requested imposition of a “no-fly zone.” However, even the latter operation would entail airstrikes and complex logistics, implying the operational distinction is not as great as it at first seems. Tactically, it would be a much bigger intervention, however. It would go beyond merely denying Gaddafi the means to use loyal air forces and entail destruction of fighting assets, and, obviously, significant casualties.

So my question for readers: is armed intervention (of what ever form) a good idea?

This is well beyond my field of specialization. But, for what it may be worth, part of me suspects the US and allies will end up intervening anyway. This regime and its maniacal leader are not going quietly, and there is a serious risk of a “failed state” situation. Such a result on the northern shores of the Mediterranean is, without exaggeration, a serious threat (shipping lanes, refugee flows, potential terrorism, etc.) that Europe and the US can’t abide. So is it better to intervene sooner than later?

Of course, there is another side of me that says foreign intervention can only make a bad situation worse.

I don’t know, but I am sure glad I don’t have to make the decision.


(Substantially extended from the original, with some personal observations from having lived in and walked around this general area.)

Confused by the Shepherd Hotel controversy that has burst (back) into the news this week? You should be. It is a confusing situation. Certainly not as simple as most of the voices in the media (of whatever position) make it seem.

If you want to cut through the confusion, read Yaacov Lozowick’s “virtual tour” of the area.

I know this area, although by no means intimately. But the maps and satellite views Yaacov posts include the area where I lived for about three months last year. One of the things that most struck me about this area, which is over the Green Line, is just how intermixed it is. The neighborhood in question, Sheikh Jarah, as well as where I stayed, French Hill, were both in the Jordanian-occupied zone from 1948-67 and are typically, if misleadingly, referred to in the media as “East Jerusalem.” In French Hill, the population is mostly Jewish (including a substantial community of post-1967 immigrants from English-speaking countries, as well as academics and staff at Hebrew University), but there is a large minority of Arabs. Both the Jerusalem municipality bus lines and the Arab East Jerusalem bus lines course through the area. (Yes, there are separate bus lines; one sees Arab passengers on the Jerusalem buses, but evidently not Jews on the Arab buses, and the company running the latter does not appear to have a website in either English or Hebrew, only Arabic.) A short walk southwestward from the Student Village in French Hill, where my University-provided accommodation was, one passes by Arab-run falafel shops and Arab houses, with some consular residences mixed in. Other apartment complexes in the area are mostly Jewish, including some Haredi (ultra-Orthodox). A walk towards the east takes one past Hadassah Hospital, at the entrance to which there is an Arab-run kiosk (cigarettes, ice cream, etc.) and a series of mostly Arab-populated apartment complexes on one side of the street and more HU student housing on the other side. The University student population is itself quite mixed. Sheikh Jarrah and French Hill blend in to one another, although Sheikh Jarah is clearly mostly Arab-populated. Right between these neighborhoods are the National Police HQ and several other government buildings, as well as some international hotels (where the staff seems mostly Arab) and consular facilities.

It is far from an ideal “integrated” set of neighborhoods, and tensions in Sheikh Jarrah have been high for some time. But my point (and Yaacov’s) is that it is misleading to see a sharp division between the “Jewish” and “Arab” cities of Jerusalem, as most media accounts suggest.

The idea of drawing a border through this region as part of a “peace agreement” mystifies me. I can’t see how it could be done, honestly.

The comment form is open–I think, and for how long, who knows.

Beneath the clouds

Gideon Levy (one of my favorite Israeli columnists) on Ayman Mohyeldin (whom he describes as “My hero of the Gaza war”);

At age 29, he has already seen one war, in Iraq, but he says this war [in Gaza] is more intense. He is frustrated that his broadcasts are carried virtually everywhere in the world except the United States, his own country, the place he thinks it is most important that these images from Gaza be seen.

Frustrating indeed. As Levy notes about Mohyeldin’s employer:

Al Jazeera English is not what you might think. It offers balanced, professional reporting from correspondents both in Sderot and Gaza. And Mohyeldin is the cherry on top of this journalistic cream. I wouldn’t have needed him or his broadcasts if not for the Israeli stations’ blackout of the fighting.

I have watched a lot of news from many sources during these last two weeks of fighting in the Gaza Strip. The US media has been, unsurprisingly, embarrassingly bad. Unforgivably, horrendously bad. (Typical example: Corresponded in flak jacket on Israeli side of border saying “We can hear there is fighting over there.”) What Israelis are seeing from their own broadcasters could hardly be worse, but certainly is not better.

From my limited exposure (via Mosaic) I agree with Levy that Al Jazeera English is excellent and balanced. I would not necessarily say the same about the Arab language services (from which I get snippets, dubbed, also on Mosaic).

Regular updates from beneath the cloud of the US media are available at the Al Jazeera English website.

Georgia’s parties and the election boycott

I am not going to weigh in on the Russia-Georgia war, partly because it is well outside my areas of professional competence, partly because it is just depressing, and partly because I have seen the sort of comments other blogs are getting ((Any comments expressing support for the military actions of either side will be summarily deleted.)) since this simmering conflict broke into the world’s headlines on (not coincidentally) the day the Olympics ((Another event I am staying away from.)) started.

However, just before the fighting erupted, I received, via a Google news alert, the following item about the aftermath of the (partial) opposition boycott of Georgia’s recent parliamentary elections. It is interesting inasmuch as it provides some insights into the domestic political situation facing the Georgian government in recent months. It also notes challenges parties might face in coordinated action (including election boycotts) in electoral systems that are at least partly nominal (such as Georgia’s MMM system), as well as the problems multiple (small) opposition parties have coordinating with one another:

Some Candidates Against Boycott (Civil Georgia, 24 May 2008 ((Not sure why I just got it. Maybe I had had it for a while, but not since May.))). Excerpted here, without further comment:

Two MP candidates from two separate opposition parities have said they will join the new parliament, despite their respective parties’ announcement in favor of boycott.

Roman Marsagishvili, who won a majoritarian MP contest in the Kazbegi single-mandate constituency under the Republican Party ticket, said he would join the new parliament. “I am a majoritarian MP and I will defend the interests of the [Kazbegi] constituency. I am not interested in anything else. I am interested in the interests of people of my constituency, who elected me,” he told Rustavi 2 TV on May 24.

Although the Republican Party has failed to clear 5% threshold to endorse [elect?] its MP candidates under the party-list system, two of its majoritarian MP candidates won the elections – another in Tsageri single-mandate constituency. The Republican Party leaders have said they would welcome decision by those opposition parties, which have cleared 5% threshold, to boycott the new parliament.

Once popular singer and songwriter, Nugzar Ergemlidze, who is number four in the Labor Party’s list of MP candidates and who has never been engaged in any political activities before, also said on May 24 that he did not agree with boycott, although his party leader, Shalva Natelashvili, said on May 23 that he would join the nine-party opposition bloc’s decision not to enter in the new parliament.

The third group, the Christian-Democratic Party, which has also cleared the 5% threshold, has yet to announce its final decision. However, the party leader, Giorgi Targamadze, has already suggested that his party would not favor the boycott.


Dr. King

Excerpted and re-posted from two plantings of previous years.

Seventy nine years ago today, Martin Luther King, Jr., was born.

Spend some time today, or any day, on the website, listening to and reading some of his inspiring speeches of peace and unity.

As great a speech as his famous “I have a dream” is, another has always inspired me even more: “I’ve Been To The Mountain Top.” In this speech he says, in part:

Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be.

And, of course:

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

The very next day, April 4, 1968, Dr. King was assassinated.

I want to thank Tom Grant for the link to the site that contains text and audio clips of King’s speeches. And I want to second Tom’s own words of remembrance:

Today, we don’t have leaders like King, or organizations like the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to stand in the path of fear and coercion. It is hard to be unafraid. However, … terrorists and tyrants alike depend on fear. If you do not want to grant them a victory, spend Martin Luther King Day, and every day after it, refusing to be terrified.

And how many Americans are aware of Dr. King’s words, largely suppressed by our media, against imperialism and militarism?

Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover, when the issues at hand seem as perplexing as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict, we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty. But we must move on.


As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked, and rightly so, “What about Vietnam?” They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.

Afghanistan and 2008 US presidential politics

Six more Canadian soldiers were killed yesterday in Afghanistan while riding in a “mine-resistant vehicle.”

Meanwhile, BBC World Service ran a radio documentary this morning about rampant corruption in Afghanistan. Police jobs are auctioned, because people are willing to pay to get in for the graft opportunities. The corruption may be driving more people to support Taliban insurgents. For all their brutality, the Taliban is remembered for being relatively clean, the BBC reported.

With the ever-present possibility of an early election given Canada’s parliamentary system and current minority government, the question of when to bring an end to the Afghanistan commitment is very much a matter of debate between the parties in that country. Yet the operation is almost totally noncontroversial in the US.

Even Bill Richardson, the only candidate among those with some realistic chance of getting the Democratic nomination who is calling for a complete withdrawal from Iraq–“no residual bases left behind” –calls for increasing the US role in Afghanistan:

We must redeploy some of our troops to Afghanistan to stop the resurgence of the Taliban and to fight the real terrorists who attacked this country on 9-11.

That was a defensible position in 2004. Is it still in 2007?

Will any contender for the leadership of the USA dare suggest moving towards closure to the open-ended commitment in Afghanistan? Don’t count on it. Not even Dennis Kucinich mentions Afghanistan prominently on his issues page. Mike Gravel at least mentions it, sort of in passing, in the context of opposing military action against Iran (which he makes his second issue after Iraq). There appears to be almost total consensus that the commitment is worth continuing. Maybe it is, but it might be nice to debate the question.

Beware of rolling heads

Now that Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Dan Halutz is gone (at last) due to failures during the Lebanon war, how long can Olmert and Peretz cling to their jobs?

In an update to the previous post, I note the possibility (suggested by The Head Heeb) that the Israel-Syria peace initiative that was leaked earlier this week could be part of a move by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and her supporters to move against Olmert. A new government without Olmert (and Peretz) could be in a stronger position to re-start talks that apparently have been stalled for six months.

The timing of Halutz’s departure–and the pressure it puts on Olmert and Peretz to assume political responsibility–and the leak on peace talks may not be coincidental. Stay tuned.

Big steps in Nepal

The “People’s Movement” of last April that forced King Gyanendra to back down from his claimed absolute powers and that led to a cease-fire in the long-running internal war bears significant institutional fruit this week.

The Nepalese House of Representatives is being formally dissolved as the Maoist rebels lay down their arms. An interim constitution will come into effect, and members will take their seats in a 330-member Interim House. The Interim House will consist of 83 delegates appointed by the rebels, 83 by the leftist party CPN-UML and 85 by the Nepali Congress Party. (I wonder how that balance of representation was determined; it also is not clear to me how the remaining 79 seats were distributed, but Nepal has quite a stew of political parties.)

Under the interim constitution, all powers formerly vested in the monarchy will be transferred to the post of Prime Minister.

Elections to a constituent assembly to draft a permanent constitution are scheduled for June.

The United Nations has played a key part in brokering the peace process, which includes the rebels’ locking up their weapons at designated camps, while the army locks up a similar quantity of its weapons. The rebels are to remain in the camps through the elections.

Update: See Jonathan Edelstein’s post of 23 January, in which he notes that the Maoists’ success in recruiting civil-society and Dalit representatives for some of their seats in parliament lends “support to the theory that their organization and discipline will allow them to continue to drive the political process. Given that the Maoists’ long-term democratic credentials are still in considerable doubt, this raises questions about exactly where the transition might lead.”

Israeli Supreme Court rejects plea for broad probe of war

The panel of the High Court reviewing a petition from The Movement for Quality Government in Israel to demand a State Commission of Inquiry on the summer, 2006, war in Lebanon, rejected the petition in a 4-3 vote. As Haaretz reports, the Justices nonetheless criticized the government for creating a much weaker panel to review the actions leading up to and during the war, which the petitioner sought to replace with a more independent State Commission:

The High Court’s abstention does not indicate its contentment with the way in which the government made the decision, nor does it give its seal of public approval for appointing the committee…

IDF admits it targeted civilian areas with cluster bombs

I wish I could say this was a surprise. After months of claiming otherwise, there is now growing evidence that the IDF General Staff itself selected targets throughout Lebanon to be hit with cluster munitions.

The attempt to fight a war against a popular militia with air power was foolish enough. Using cluster bombs to do so is criminal. There is no other word for it. Cluster munitions are designed for their effectiveness at killing large formations of enemy troops, because each shell contains hundredes of bomblets that disperse in a wide area. Used in towns and cities, they kill civilians. This is the very opposite of the “precision” targeting the Israeli government officials claimed to be using during the summer war in Lebanon. In fact, a reserve officer states that his orders were to “flood” the areas being targeted.