Slush funds and sleaze

One of the great successes of the Obama administration has been its ability to divert attention from the wars the United States is still fighting, such as Afghanistan. Given Obama’s decision to escalate and extend that war is looking worse and worse with time, you can understand why they are doing this. It’s possible that sending more troops bought Obama time and is making it easier to get out now; the problem is that we ended up squandering more lives and money without getting a significantly better outcome.

My real fear is that this is merely a preamble to telling ourselves a lot of self-serving myths about that war. Count on it: Our exit from Afghanistan will be accompanied by a lot of feel-good stories about the U.S./NATO effort there designed to convince Americans that the surge “worked” and that we really did give it our all. If things go south later on, that will be the Afghans’ fault, not ours, and so it won’t be necessary to learn any lessons from our mistakes.

Stephen M. Walt

Foreign Policy, United States

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Israeli yellow card for US on Iran

Though a military conflict in the Persian Gulf does not appear to be imminent, the situation in the region today somewhat resembles that in Europe just prior to World War I, a top Russian security analyst told Asia Times Online. While nobody wants a war, the different actors could easily be drawn into one, said Dr Victor Mizin, vice president of the Center for Strategic Assessments in Moscow.

It is conceivable that the Iranians might try to weaponize in the future their nuclear potential, Mizin said, much like the Indians did in the past, largely under pressure from their own nuclear scientists. In this case, Israel would likely “be doomed to use force” despite pressure from Washington and military assessments that a successful operation would require the attacker “to knock out immediately some 2,000 targets” including nuclear facilities, military and missile bases, and air defense installations.

Victor Kotsev

Asia Times Online

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Obama: Syrian chemical strike would force U.S. to ‘rethink’

President Barack Obama said Tuesday that the United States would “rethink” its policy on Syria if he receives proof that the Damascus regime has used chemical weapons.

But he expressed caution about recent intelligence reports, telling a White House news conference: “I’ve got to make sure I’ve got the facts. That’s what the American people would expect.”

“If I can establish in a way that not only the United States but also the international community feel confident in the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, then that is a game changer,” he warned.

Bashar al-Assad’s government has been accused of using weapons loaded with nerve agents against targets in civilian areas during its battle with an armed rebellion against his rule.

Washington has previously warned that the use of so-called weapons of mass destruction would be a “red line” that Assad must not cross if he is to avoid triggering an international response.

Obama did not rule out eventual U.S. military action, but remained cautious.

“By game changer, I mean we would have to rethink the range of options that are available to us. We are invested in trying to bring back a solution inside of Syria,” he told reporters.

AFP / Al Arabiya

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CIA-funded corruption: Karzai admits to being on secret US payroll

Top Afghan officials have been on the CIA’s payroll for over a decade, receiving tens of millions of US dollars in cash. Afghan President Hamid Karzai admitted to receiving the clandestine financial support, but dismissed the sum as a “small amount.”

A New York Times report has revealed that unparalleled corruption in the Afghan government has been encouraged by the US Central Intelligence Agency. Since the start of the decade-long war, CIA agents have delivered cash to Afghan officials in “suitcases, backpacks and, on occasion, plastic shopping bags.”

“We called it ‘ghost money,’” said Khalil Roman, President Hamid Karzai’s former chief of staff from 2002 to 2005, adding that it “came in secret, and it left in secret.” There is no evidence that President Karzai was a recipient of any of the money, as Afghan officials claim the cash was distributed by president’s National Security Council, the report said.

Russia Today, Moscow

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Entering a resource-shock world

Brace yourself. You may not be able to tell yet, but according to global experts and the US intelligence community, the earth is already shifting under you. Whether you know it or not, you are on a new planet, a resource-shock world of a sort humanity has never before experienced.

Two nightmare scenarios – a global scarcity of vital resources and the onset of extreme climate change – are already beginning to converge and in the coming decades are likely to produce a tidal wave of unrest, rebellion, competition and conflict. Just what this tsunami of disaster will look like may, as yet, be hard to discern, but experts warn of “water wars” over contested river systems, global food riots sparked by soaring prices for life’s basics, mass migrations of climate refugees (with resulting anti-migrant violence) and the breakdown of social order or the collapse of states. At first, such mayhem is likely to arise largely in Africa, Central Asia and other areas of the underdeveloped South, but in time all regions of the planet will be affected.

To appreciate the power of this encroaching catastrophe, it’s necessary to examine each of the forces that are combining to produce this future cataclysm.

Michael Klare

Al Jazeera, Qatar

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The irony of Muslim terrorism

It is truly a sad state when the group affected the most by the current climate following the Boston marathon bombings have to wait for an outsider to speak some sense on their behalf. It is not that Muslims lack the capacity to express themselves and engage in an intellectual dialogue. But when the rhetoric all over the media continues to assert the label “radical Islam” whenever these events and their like are discussed, being a Muslim is equated with at the very least being suspicious.

What makes it worse is that radical comes from the Late Latin, meaning “roots”. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the term radical means, “of, relating to, or proceeding from a root; of or relating to the origin”. In other words, what is being said is that the Tsarnaev brothers and anyone else who allegedly gets involved in terrorist activities are the ones who are properly practising the root teachings of Islam. This makes it highly problematic that Muslims have embraced such terminology as they try to defend their faith and community from being stigmatised and defined by these acts.

Moreover, the manner in which Tamarlan Tsarnaev has been supposedly “radicalised” into an “extremist” form of Islam gives the impression that he was really being a practising Muslim in the extreme sense. Thus further embedding the idea that Islam is the problem, which is a simpleton’s conclusion.

Mohamed Ghilan

Al Jazeera, Qatar

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Political corruption and the ‘free trade’ racket

In polite circles in the United States, support for free trade is a bit like proper bathing habits: It is taken for granted. Only the hopelessly crude and unwashed would not support free trade.

There is some ground for this attitude. Certainly, the US has benefited enormously by being able to buy a wide range of items at lower cost from other countries. However, this does not mean that most people in the country have always benefited from every opening to greater trade.

And it certainly does not mean that the country will benefit from everything that those in power label as “free trade”. That is the story we are seeing now as the Obama administration is pursuing two major “free trade” agreements that in fact have very little to do with free trade and are likely to hurt those without the money and power to be part of the game.

The deals in questions, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the US-European Union “Free Trade” Agreement are both being pushed as major openings to trade that will increase growth and create jobs. In fact, eliminating trade restrictions is a relatively small part of both agreements, since most tariffs and quotas have already been sharply reduced or eliminated.

Dean Baker

Al Jazeera, Qatar

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