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RAPID RESPONSE (Archives)...Daily Commentary on News of the Day
This is a new section.  It will offer fresh, quick reactions by myself to news and events of the day, day by day, in this rapid-fire world of ours.  Of course, as in military campaigns, a rapid response in one direction may occasionally have to be followed by a "strategic withdrawal" in another direction.  Charge that to "the fog of war", and to the necessary flexibility any mental or military campaign must maintain to be effective.  But the mission will always be the same: common sense, based upon facts and "real politick", supported by a visceral sense of Justice and a commitment to be pro-active.  That's all I promise.
GS

Click here to return to the current Rapid Response list

SUNDAY through WEDNESDAY, February 25 through 28, 2007

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ZENIT News Agency, The World Seen from Rome
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Bishops Wary of Vaccine Mandate for Preteens
Urge Governor to Leave Decision in Parents' Hands

AUSTIN, Texas, FEB. 22, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Bishops are asking Governor Rick Perry to reconsider an executive order mandating a vaccine against sexually transmitted infections for girls as young as 11.

On Feb. 5, the governor signed an order making it mandatory for all girls entering sixth grade to receive the HPV vaccination statewide by 2008.

The Texas Catholic bishops' conference issued a statement Wednesday, asking the governor "to rescind his executive order and allow the public debate to go forward on this important healthcare issue."

The vaccine, Gardasil, protects against several strains of the human papillomarvius virus. There are numerous strains of HPV, the most common sexually transmitted infection in the world, resulting in genital warts in some cases

HPV can also lead to cervical cancer, which strikes about 10,000 women annually in the United States, and kills 3,700, according to the American Cancer Society.

The statement made by the Texas bishops discussed parental concerns about their daughters' innocence, the possibility of encouraging promiscuity, and giving young girls a false sense of security regarding sexually transmitted disease. "

[I]t is not a magic bullet and is only one avenue for disease prevention," the bishops said.

More caution

The prelates stress that "the Church recognizes that the most effective way to avoid contracting the virus is for men and women to abstain from sexual relations before marriage and to remain faithful within marriage."

The bishops also mention the unknown physical effects this vaccine may have.

The studies have only followed vaccinated women for five years, all on girls 16 and older, they explain. Little testing has been done on the vaccine's effects on younger girls.

The bishops urged caution until more studies have been done. Additionally, the National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC) has issued a statement about exemption from general vaccination but included specific information about the HPV vaccine.

The NCBC statement said "that while there is no moral objection to vaccination against HPV in and of itself, the choice to have a child immunized against HPV must ultimately rest with the parents."

"The NCBC strongly opposes the mandating of vaccinations for non-highly contagious but communicable diseases because they do not pose the same public health threat as do the highly contagious diseases," the statement says.

The bioethics center is particularly opposed when the mandate is "a condition for admission to public or private schools since the diseases transmitted by behavior do not pose the same public health risks as contagious diseases as defined above."

SATURDAY, February 24, 2007

As a former ROTC member and a veteran of the U.S. Army Medical Corps, I must ask WHAT IS GOING ON WITH THE ARMY?  It abuses and debilitates the National Guard and the Army Reserves in the last several years in Iraq.  Its leaders are evidently opposed to a fair Draft, a life experience that served our youth very well for decades at a critical time in their lives.  It addresses its increasing difficulty in meeting enlistment and re-enlistment quotas by watering down qualifications for membership.  We read recently that it avoids developing and maintaining ROTC programs in large Eastern cities, some of the most promising locations, despite the fact that most of its officer corps comes from the ROTC.  We also learn that the Army has not been adequately prepared to deal properly with our wounded from Iraq and has been late and/or recalcitrant with their disability rights.  And some of its most senior generals acted in the last few years like Charlie McCarthys to then-Secretary Rumsfeld's Edgar Bergen, waiting until they retired to speak out...with or without the benefit of book royalties.  To whom do our military owe their ultimate Duty and Honor...to a slavish adherence to a chain of command - or to their fellow soldiers and to the American people?  Is this what we can expect from our highly-vaunted "professional army"?  Or, as we have seen with our "professional" politicians, is this what happens when we lose the services of citizen - soldiers and public servants?  Once our efforts in the Middle East and in Afghanistan have stabilized, our leaders in Washington should implement a complete and independent investigation into those and all related efforts and decisions.  This has been a new and severe kind of challenge.  But the last few years have not been our finest hour.

GS

FRIDAY, February 23, 2007

If we are to have any kind of "victory" in the Middle East, we will have to know a great deal more about that region, about its inhabitants and about Islam than our leaders appeared to know in the months and years leading up to the March, 2003 invasion of Iraq. Notwithstanding America's right to pre-emptive self-defense, that had to be their great failing.  GS

The myth of Muslim support for terror
By Kenneth Ballen, Fri Feb 23, 3:00 AM ET

WASHINGTON - Those who think that Muslim countries and pro-terrorist attitudes go hand-in-hand might be shocked by new polling research: Americans are more approving of terrorist attacks against civilians than any major Muslim country except for Nigeria.
The survey, conducted in December 2006 by the University of Maryland's prestigious Program on International Public Attitudes, shows that only 46 percent of Americans think that "bombing and other attacks intentionally aimed at civilians" are "never justified," while 24 percent believe these attacks are "often or sometimes justified."

Contrast those numbers with 2006 polling results from the world's most-populous Muslim countries - Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nigeria. Terror Free Tomorrow, the organization I lead, found that 74 percent of respondents in Indonesia agreed that terrorist attacks are "never justified"; in Pakistan, that figure was 86 percent; in Bangladesh, 81 percent.

Do these findings mean that Americans are closet terrorist sympathizers?

Hardly. Yet, far too often, Americans and other Westerners seem willing to draw that conclusion about Muslims. Public opinion surveys in the United States and Europe show that nearly half of Westerners associate Islam with violence and Muslims with terrorists. Given the many radicals who commit violence in the name of Islam around the world, that's an understandable polling result.

But these stereotypes, affirmed by simplistic media coverage and many radicals themselves, are not supported by the facts - and they are detrimental to the war on terror. When the West wrongly attributes radical views to all of the world's 1.5 billion Muslims, it perpetuates a myth that has the very real effect of marginalizing critical allies in the war on terror.

Indeed, the far-too-frequent stereotyping of Muslims serves only to reinforce the radical appeal of the small minority of Muslims who peddle hatred of the West and others as authentic religious practice.

<>Terror Free Tomorrow's 20-plus surveys of Muslim countries in the past two years reveal another surprise: Even among the minority who indicated support for terrorist attacks and Osama bin Laden, most overwhelmingly approved of specific American actions in their own countries. For example, 71 percent of bin Laden supporters in Indonesia and 79 percent in Pakistan said they thought more favorably of the United States as a result of American humanitarian assistance in their countries - not exactly the profile of hard-core terrorist sympathizers. For most people, their professed support of terrorism/bin Laden can be more accurately characterized as a kind of "protest vote" against current US foreign policies, not as a deeply held religious conviction or even an inherently anti- American or anti-Western view.
<>
<>In truth, the common enemy is violence and terrorism, not Muslims any more than Christians or Jews. Whether recruits to violent causes join gangs in Los Angeles or terrorist cells in Lahore, the enemy is the violence they exalt.

Our surveys show that not only do Muslims reject terrorism as much if not more than Americans, but even those who are sympathetic to radical ideology can be won over by positive American actions that promote goodwill and offer real hope.

America's goal, in partnership with Muslim public opinion, should be to defeat terrorists by isolating them from their own societies. The most effective policies to achieve that goal are the ones that build on our common humanity. And we can start by recognizing that Muslims throughout the world want peace as much as Americans do.

* Kenneth Ballen is founder and president of Terror Free Tomorrow, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to finding effective policies that win popular support away from global terrorists.

THURSDAY, February 22, 2007
GS

SUNDAY trough WEDNESDAY, February 18 through 21, 2007
GS

SATURDAY, February 17, 2007

Here is another invaluable message from Professor Bernard Lewis on Islam.  To ignore his views and advice will be a disaster for world peace.  And yet, that is exactly what the Western world and the liberals in this country are doing.  Shades of Neville Chamberlain in the late 1930's.  GS

ITEM 5: Jonathan Rosenblum: Bernard Lewis on How the Islamist World Sees Its Battle with the West

Bernard Lewis on How the Islamist World Sees It's Battle with the West
by Jonathan Rosenblum
Jerusalem Post
February 8, 2007

Last week, I was privileged to attend a lecture by Bernard Lewis at
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The audience greeted the
nonagenarian scholar with a degree of reverence and adulation that
probably no other academic in the world commands. Many stood at the
end of his presentation, and I fully expected to hear cries of "Bravo!
Bravo!" Younger members of the audience will one day tell their
children how they heard Lewis, still in full command of his subject,
in much the way that aging baby-boomers regale their offspring with
memories of Grateful Dead concerts.

Lewis was part of a double feature that began with the screening of
Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West, a powerful
documentary that has been widely shown on American TV, but for some
inexplicable reason has yet to appear on Israel TV. One of the film's
great merits is the prominence given to the testimony of Arabs and
Muslims. Nonie Darwish, daughter of the Egyptian military commander of
Gaza in the '50s, killed in battle with Israeli forces; Walid Shoehat
(an alias), a former PLO member and Israeli security prisoner,
Brigitte Gabriel, a black Lebanese Christian, raised to hate Jews, and
The Jerusalem Post's own Khaled Abu Toameh, whose courage and
reporting it would be impossible to praise too highly, all appear
frequently.

Equally powerful is the late Alfons Heck, a commander in the Hitler
Youth, who compares the indoctrination of Muslim youth to that of Nazi
Germany, and wonders at the world's inability to see the parallel.
Martin Gilbert, Churchill's official biographer, recounts how
Churchill saw himself as a failure for his inability to make his
countrymen see the looming danger posed by Hitler.

Gilbert clearly feels the same sense of frustration today at the
Western world's refusal "to connect the dots" and see radical Islam as
a global problem. Recognizing radical Islam as a single problem,
Gilbert archly observed, would obligate the West to do something - and
that it has no more interest in doing than Chamberlain had in
confronting Hitler. (Incidentally, the film contains clips of the
smugly smiling Chamberlain on his return from Munich, as he proclaims
"peace in our time" to a roaring throng.)

The pairing of Obsession and Bernard Lewis proved a happy one. No one
is better positioned to comment on the deformations that have seized
the Muslim world than he. He has been studying the Muslim world for 70
years, and writes with great affection and respect for the historical
achievements of Muslim civilization and religion. At the same time, he
has become the leading student of what went wrong with the Muslim
world and led to the radical Islam, seeking world dominion, so
horrifyingly portrayed in Obsession.

Lewis noted, for instance, that classical anti-Semitism, in the sense
of attributing cosmic evil to Jews, has no historical antecedents in
the Muslim world. The Ottoman sultans were adamant in rejecting the
blood libel. European anti-Semitism is a late import into Islam,
fostered by the close association of the Nazis with the Mufti of
Jerusalem and Ba'athist groups in Iraq and Syria.

ONE OF the most important points made by Lewis concerned the
historiography of the Islamists. Most in the West view the fall of the
Soviet Union as a consequence of the Reagan administration's decision
to confront it and engage it in an arms race that proved ruinous to
the Soviet economy, but that is not how the Islamists see things. In
their view, the Soviet Union was destroyed by mujahideen in
Afghanistan, who drove the mighty Soviet army from the country. And
that view, says Lewis, is not entirely implausible.

Osama bin Laden wrote at the time that Muslims had defeated the more
dangerous of their two main enemies, and that defeating the effeminate
Americans would prove easier. The appetite of the Islamists in Teheran
to expand the area under their control has been similarly whetted by
ongoing Western fecklessness.

"Iran is a mortal threat," says Lewis. And he does not believe
Ahmadinejad will be deterred from using nuclear weapons by the fear of
retaliation. Mutual assured destruction does not work - indeed it may
even be an incentive - to those who view a nuclear conflagration as
hastening the advent of the hidden 12th imam. If they martyr their own
people in the process, Lewis commented, they have only done them a
favor by providing them a quick pass to the great brothel in the sky.

THE DAY after the Lewis lecture, I had lunch with a senior American
official in the country for the Herzliya Conference, and mentioned
Lewis's point about jihadist historiography. The need to avoid
providing further credence to that narrative, he replied, is precisely
why the United States cannot allow Iran to go nuclear or be perceived
as fleeing Iraq. Either event would only confirm the narrative of
Islam's advance and Western weakness. Iranian possession of the Bomb
would cause to skyrocket the status of a state with an explicitly
expansionist agenda under the banner of Islam. Every anti-Western
terror group in the world would seek protection under Iran's nuclear
umbrella.

To stress the point, the official emphasized one of Obsession's main
points - appeasement of expansionist powers only leads to a far more
destructive confrontation later on - and referred me to a nearly
20-year-old Commentary article on the Munich agreements. Had France
and England adopted a tough stance at Munich, Hitler's generals were
prepared to unseat him. Instead, Czechoslovakia was stripped of its
main defense line in the treacherous Sudeten mountains. It was, in
Hitler's words, "served up to me," and a clear path to Eastern Europe
provided for the Germans. Czechoslovakia's wealth and well-developed
military industries thereafter played a major role in powering the
Nazi war machine.

Unfortunately, the West still remains divided between America and a
Europe unwilling to acknowledge the threat at its doorsteps, and in
many cases within its gates. That same divide exists within America
itself. As Jeff Jacoby points out, every Republican presidential
hopeful lists the battle against the jihadists/global jihad/radical
Islam/totalitarian Islam at the top of their priorities for the years
to come. That battle barely rates a mention on the Web sites of any of
the eight declared Democratic candidates.

The future depends on who wins the debate in the West no less than it
did at Munich.

FRIDAY, February 16, 2007
GS

THURSDAY, February 15, 2007

While Congress fiddles with its "non-binding" and totally political resolution, Senator Lieberman burns with a defense of freedom - including pre-emptive self-defense - which should warm us all.  GS


ITEM 14: “The Power of Freedom”: A Speech by Sen. Joe Lieberman to the Munich Conference on Security Policy

“The Power of Freedom”
A Speech by Senator Joseph I. Lieberman
To the Munich Conference on Security Policy
February 11, 2007
 
Distinguished delegates

As the discussions at this important conference have made clear, we gather at a time of grave and deepening dangers to our community of nations. Since meeting here a year ago, there have been disappointing developments in the war we are in with radical Islam. The insurgency in Afghanistan has strengthened. The situation in Iraq has grown worse. Iran continues to develop its nuclear program. Despite hopes of a thaw in the political order across the greater Middle East, the forces of extremism are surging in Lebanon and Palestine.

In the face of these setbacks, the clarion calls for the democratization of the Middle East heard just a short while ago have grown softer. Where once we spoke confidently about more political and economic liberty as the best response to the violence of radical Islam, now we hear far less of that.

Others go further still. They look at the violence in Iraq and say not only has democracy failed to be the solution; it is a cause of the problem.

They look at the election of Hamas in the Palestinian Territories and conclude that the people of the Middle East are not ready for the democracy so much of the world enjoys.

This morning I want to explain why I believe these arguments, and the approach they counsel, are mistaken, why they misunderstand the nature of the terrorist threat we face, and the larger war of ideas we must fight and win.

Today, a vast number of nations in the world find themselves part of a global struggle with Islamist extremism. It stretches from the mountains of Afghanistan to the deserts of Iraq, from the cities of Western Europe to the jungles of Southeast Asia. Although this enemy has headquarters in Waziristan and Teheran, it is neither a monolithic movement nor a single organization that can be isolated and destroyed by military force alone. Terrorism is its chosen method, but not its primary motivation.

What we are fighting is an ideology-the totalitarian ideology of radical Islam, as brutal and hostile to personal freedom as the fascism and communism we fought and defeated in the last century.

To prevail against an ideology requires more than battlefield victories; it demands we fight, and win, a larger, longer, harder war of ideas and values, competing with Islamist extremism for the hearts and minds of Muslim men and women across the greater Middle East and throughout the world, including here in Europe.

Radical Islam has positioned itself carefully in this ideological contest. It has effectively exploited a deep reserve of anger, frustration, and disappointment about the status quo. It has tapped into local grievances-about economic inequality and corruption, about political oppression and disenfranchisement-and attempted to globalize them.
 
In this sense, the war of ideas is an asymmetric war. The movement of ideas cannot be tracked like the march of armies, the shipment of weapons, or the flow of money. They cannot be intercepted by force of arms, in which we are so much stronger than our enemies. And when ideas clash, the outcome is both unpredictable and opaque, unfolding on a battlefield where culture, psychology, history, religion, and education provide the most critical terrain.

To defeat the ideology of radical Islam demands not just that we fight for our security, but that we argue for our ideas and values. To discredit a totalitarian vision committed to the use of violence, we must offer our own, more powerful vision of freedom, justice, and opportunity.

These are not Western values. They are universal values. In fact, of the three largest democratic states in the world today, two are not Western-namely India and Indonesia.

No single culture or civilization has a monopoly on the principles of liberal democracy, as their advance over so much of the globe, including Europe, during the past half century has proven.

They are, however, the ideals that have guided much of American foreign policy from the inception of our republic, and they are the ideals that animate our most important and lasting relationships in the world today. They are at the core of the transatlantic alliance, and they are at the core of the new partnerships we are building in this new century. And so, too, they belong at the center of the long, difficult global struggle ahead against Islamic extremism.

We cannot win this larger war of ideas with totalitarianism, however, if we lose confidence in our own democratic values.

That is why the backlash against democracy promotion we hear today is so misguided and self-defeating.

After beginning to open the door to greater political freedoms and economic opportunities in the Muslim world, the worst thing we could do now is to slam it shut. Of course, democracy means more than elections. But it also means, at times, that people we do not like-and who do not like us-will win an election.

Every nation’s circumstances are different, and every nation’s path to freedom is unique. But the presumption should always be against those who argue in favor of the “stability” of dictators and against the basic rights of mankind.

That was certainly the presumption that formed the foundation of NATO at the dawn of the Cold War and that has sustained our alliance.

Nearly sixty years after its creation, it is easy to forget just how audacious an idea the transatlantic alliance was at the time it was proposed.

The United States had a long tradition of avoiding entangling alliances. The countries of Western Europe had a recurring history of falling into war with one another.

And yet, the founders of our alliance believed they could transcend these differences and divisions-with an architecture designed not merely around our shared security interests, but also around our shared values. Thus it presented something new: a promise not just of security, but of a better, freer way of life.

Our present war of ideas demands boldness in equal measure. The fact is, we lack the means to wage a long, ideological struggle in the Muslim world. Our vulnerability in this regard lies not in the content of our convictions, but in the constraints of our institutions.

We need new capabilities to win this war of ideas, and that means dramatic reforms.

Many of these reforms must involve innovative changes in the way our governments are organized, improving our capacity to reach out and make real the practical dividends of democracy to millions of Muslims worldwide.

It also may require bold changes to our international institutions. NATO itself is in the midst of a transformation, from a regional defense pact to a global security organization, capable of operating out of area. As we discussed yesterday, the alliance has assumed new responsibilities over the past decade-first in Bosnia, then in Kosovo, and now in Afghanistan. It is entering into new dialogues with nations in the Persian Gulf, the Mediterranean, and the Pacific. And it has welcomed numerous new members-with more soon to follow.

I believe, however, we must be prepared to go even farther.

I want to ask you to consider today if it is now time not just for a transatlantic organization capable of acting globally, but a more formal global alliance that binds together democratic nations-irrespective of where they are located.

NATO is the gold standard for the security of free nations, but freedom’s cause does not and cannot end at Europe’s or America’s borders. On the contrary, as our current struggle against radical Islam is global, our alliance must be global. In the Black Sea region, in the Middle East, in Central Asia, and beyond, NATO must be prepared not only to act. I ask that we also begin to consider welcoming new members, beyond Europe, that are willing to meet the high political and military standards of our alliance.

On the one hand, this means a willingness to incorporate strong democratic states like Japan and Australia with which we are already partnering and that can make major contributions to our capabilities as an alliance.

But it also means opening the door to membership by fledging democracies like Georgia and Afghanistan, bringing them under our collective security umbrella.

By providing a formal guarantee that free nations will stand united, a global NATO would profoundly reshape the ideological battlefield of the twenty-first century.

Much as the founding of NATO in 1949 put to rest doubts about America’s long-term commitment to the security of Europe, so too would a global NATO end any uncertainty that exists today about the West’s long-term commitment to democracy in nations around the world, including, particularly, in the Muslim world. It would make clear that our presence in places like Afghanistan is not just a temporary arrangement, subject to the whims of public opinion and the leaders of the moment, but part of a deeper, formal alliance bound by common principles from which we cannot and will not withdraw.

These are the same principles enshrined in the original NATO charter, which declares the alliance is founded on “democracy, individual liberty, and rule of law.”

These principles know no borders-and they are under attack today across many borders. Our enemies are clear about who they are. Radical Islamists have stated openly, in the words of one jihadist group:  “We have declared a bitter war against the principle of democracy and all those who seek to enact it.”

I cannot speak about the global war of ideas without also acknowledging our struggle in Iraq.

I understand the frustration and anger that the Iraq war has created in America and toward America throughout the world, but I ask that those feelings not blind us to the larger truths about the enemy we are fighting, and about our shared interest in its defeat.

We are fighting in Iraq against the same violent ideology of radical Islam that NATO is fighting in Afghanistan and against which so many of our societies are struggling worldwide. The asymmetrical war of ideas I have discussed is irretrievably bound up in the outcome of the war in Iraq, as our common enemy keenly appreciates-at times it seems, better than we do.

As we have seen in Iraq, America is capable of mistakes large and small, but we are a principled nation, not a pariah nation.

Surely principled in the sense that America remains the indispensable nation in the fight for freedom throughout the world, precisely because we are willing to put our powers-economic, diplomatic, and, yes, military-in pursuit of our principles. But we have not and cannot act alone.

President Putin said yesterday that there is -one single center of power-in the world today. He is correct.

But that power is not the United States. It is the power of freedom.

Freedom speaks all languages and knows no borders. Walls and prisons cannot contain it, and totalitarianism cannot defeat it.

But the cause of freedom does not belong to one nation alone. On the contrary, the greatest triumphs of democracy in the twentieth century were achieved by the strength of our alliances, including particularly NATO.

Today once again our community of democratic nations faces profound challenges, and we have encountered disappointing setbacks.

But these challenges must call us now to remember who we are and what we stand for and to summon the will to defend both.

Rather than falling victim to doubt or exhaustion or division, let us sustain and strengthen our faith in all that binds and animates us-the values of freedom and tolerance and justice and democracy. Let us move forward, united and confident in our ultimate victory-the victory of freedom.

Thank you.

WEDNESDAY, February 14, 2007
GS

SUNDAY through TUESDAY, February 11 through 13, 2007
GS

SATURDAY, February 10, 2007

Now for some "big ticket items".
 
GS

FRIDAY, February 9, 2007
GS

MONDAY through THURSDAY, February 5 through 8, 2007

The next big thing in the Middle East is not the "surge", but the belated change in attitude and role of the Saudis.  Although traditionally operating in the background, this is the "800 pound gorilla" in that region.  GS

NYT
February 6, 2007
In Public View, Saudis Counter Iran in Region
By MICHAEL SLACKMAN

JIDDA, Saudi Arabia, Feb. 5 — With the prospect of three civil wars looming over the Middle East — and Iran poised to gain from them all — Saudi Arabia has abandoned its behind-the-scenes checkbook diplomacy and taken on a central, aggressive role in reshaping the region’s conflicts.

On Tuesday, the kingdom is playing host in Mecca to the leaders of Hamas  and Fatah, the two feuding Palestinian factions, in what both sides say could lead to a national unity government and reduced bloodshed. Last fall, senior Saudi officials met secretly with Israeli leaders about how to establish a Palestinian state.

In recent months, Saudi Arabia has also increased its public involvement in Iraq and its support of the Sunni-led government in Lebanon. The process is shaping up as a counteroffensive to efforts by Iran to establish itself as the regional superpower, according to diplomats, analysts and officials here and throughout the region. Some even say that the recent Saudi commitment to temper the price of oil is aimed at undermining Iran’s economy, although officials here deny that.

“We realized that we have to wake up,” said a high-ranking Saudi diplomat who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media. “Someone rang the bell, ‘Be careful, something is moving.’ ”

The shift is occurring with encouragement from the Bush administration. Its goal is to see an American-backed alliance of Sunni Arab states including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt, along with a Fatah-led Palestine and Israel, opposing Iran, Syria and the radical groups they support.

Yet Riyadh’s goals may not always be in alignment with those of the White House, and could complicate American interests.

The Saudi effort has been taken in collaboration with its traditional Persian Gulf allies and Egypt and Jordan, but it also represents another significant shift in a region undergoing a profound reshuffling. The changes are linked to the toppling of Saddam Hussein <http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/h/saddam_hussein/index.html?inline=nyt-per>  and the transfer of power from Sunni Muslims to Shiites in Iraq, analysts said. They also reach back many years to the gradual decline in influence of Cairo and the collapse of a pan-Arab agenda, analysts and diplomats said.

“The Saudis felt that the Iranian role in the region has become influential, especially in Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon, and that the Iranian role was undermining their role in the region,” said Muhammad al-Sakr, head of the foreign affairs committee in the Kuwaiti Parliament. “Usually the Saudis prefer to maneuver behind the scenes. Lately they’ve been noticeably active.”

Saudi Arabia has taken public initiatives in the past, including one in 2002, when at an Arab League  meeting it proposed a regional peace agreement with Israel in exchange for Israel’s withdrawing to its 1967 boundaries. But it prefers to work quietly, and has not recently taken such a sustained public posture.

“This is not leadership by choice; it is leadership by necessity,” said Gamal Abdel Gawad, an expert at the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. “There is a leadership vacuum in the region, and they have to step forward, or Iran will.”

The United States, which is pushing the Saudis to take on this role, is alarmed at rising Iranian influence in Iraq and Lebanon, and with the Palestinian government of Hamas.

But the two countries, though sharing broad goals, have different views of the players in each conflict. For example, while the Bush administration sees the conflict in Iraq as one between allies and terrorists, the Saudis tend to see it as Sunnis versus Shiites — and they favor the Sunnis, while the Americans back the Shiite-led government. And while Saudi Arabia wants to lure Hamas away from Iran’s influence and back into the Arab fold, the United States views Hamas as a terrorist organization.

Nonetheless, both Washington and Riyadh believe that one important way to block Iran and calm the many fires in the region is to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — or at least appear to be trying to.

On the surface, the effort by Saudi Arabia to establish itself as a counterpoint to Tehran is a contest between the main sects of Islam: Shiites, led by Iran, and Sunnis, led by Riyadh. Iran, which is Persian and not Arab, is the only state that is led by Shiite religious figures. Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam, and its king draws legitimacy as the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, in Mecca and Medina.

The kingdom has been accused of stoking sectarian tensions as a way to drain popular support from Iran and its proxies, like Hezbollah <http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/h/hezbollah/index.html?inline=nyt-org>  — a charge officials here deny but for which there is some evidence.

In an interview on Jan. 27 that appeared in the daily Saudi newspaper Al Seyassa, King Abdullah was asked about widespread rumors that Shiites were trying to convert Sunnis. Iranian officials have dismissed such reports as a disinformation campaign aimed at inciting sectarian tensions.

“We are following up this matter and are aware of the Shiite proselytism and what point it has reached,” the king was quoted as saying. “This majority will not abandon its beliefs. At the end of the day it is the decision of the majority of Muslims that counts. Other creeds do not appear able to infiltrate the Sunni majority or undermine its historical authority.”

Sectarian overtones aside, the battle is also about political power, national interests and preserving the status quo. Riyadh and its allies see a threat to their own power and security in the rise of Iran and the Shiite revival. They have expressed fear at Iran’s insistence on pursuing a nuclear program, and anxiety over the rise in popularity of Hezbollah, the Shiite militia in Lebanon.

The Saudi shift, many here say, dates from last summer, when Israel failed to crush Hezbollah during 34 days of bombing, shocking officials here and throughout the region at the strength of Hezbollah, seen as Iran’s regional proxy army.

In the interview with Al Seyassa, the king advised Iranian leaders “to know their limits.”

Saudi analysts said another key moment came after the midterm elections in the United States when the Republicans lost control of Congress. That was read here as a sign that the United States might soon withdraw its troops from Iraq, leaving an open field to the Iranians.

“The outcome confirmed our worst fears,” said Awadh al-Badi, director of the department of research and studies at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies in Riyadh. “It said that we could no longer be sure of the Americans.”

In January, the kingdom initiated talks with the Iranians to mediate the growing stalemate in Lebanon, where Hezbollah has faced off with the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora in sometimes violent confrontations. King Abdullah then held a surprise meeting with leaders of Hezbollah.

The kingdom has played host to numerous meetings of Sunni and Shiite leaders as well as of so-called moderate Muslim leaders in recent months, possibly to emphasize its custodianship of Islam’s holiest sites. And it has decided that it will be the host of the next meeting of the Arab League, in Riyadh.

Officials said they hoped at that meeting to smooth relations with Syria after its president, Bashar al-Assad, insulted the Saudi king and President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt in a speech last summer. Officials believe that Syria had moved closer to Iran because of its isolation, and that that shift has given Iran a bridge to the Arab world.

“Politically speaking, Syria is not in the fold,” said an Egyptian diplomat who spoke on the condition he not be identified. “Maybe the goal is to bring Syria back to the Arab world.”

If so, that, too, could antagonize Washington, which wants to isolate Syria further.

Saudi Arabia’s more pronounced public posture to counter Iran’s rise also reflects realities that, while not new, have been underscored by the crises in the region. In particular, Arab officials and analysts say, the Arab world is not unified by a common social, political and economic agenda, and the traditional center of influence in Cairo has shifted to the oil-rich gulf.

In his recent newspaper interview, King Abdullah made that point, lamenting the failure of Arab countries to unite, while alluding to Iran’s efforts to exploit the inability of Arabs to solve their own problems.

“We do not want any other party to manipulate our causes, profiteer from them, and draw strength from them,” he said. “We do not want any other country to exploit our causes to bolster its position in its global conflicts.”

Michael Slackman reported from Jidda, and Hassan M. Fattah from Riyadh. Mona el-Naggar contributed reporting from Cairo, and Helene Cooper from Washington.

SATURDAY and SUNDAY, February 3 and 4, 2007

Here's another laundry list of concerns, in no particular order. 
GS

FRIDAY, February 2, 2007

There are days and weeks, rapidly becoming months and years, when the "news of the day" is filled with ignorance, stupidity, cowardice, avarice and self-service...like the never-ending election season that it has now become.  We could talk about Senator Joe Biden's alleged insensitivity and his even worse and unnecessary apologies.  Or we could talk about the stupendous failures of "government", local and national, like the Northrop-Boeing Tanker controversy, or the Coast Guard mis-management of its newest cutter production, or the rampant sale of valuable "surplus" military hardware to our enemies, or the oxymoron called "airport security", or the continuing failures of Federal as well as local governments in New Orleans post-Katrina, or the corruption and poor construction results involving American efforts to rebuild Iraq infrastructure, or the entire Iraq debacle born of good intentions and bred in abysmal historical insight and inflexible arrogance.
 
Or instead, we could call attention to the dignity of human life at both ends of life's spectrum.  For the very beginning, see George Will's article regarding the coming death-knell for humans with Down's Syndrome, courtesy of your friendly obstetrician with his genetic testing and counseling.  (Newsweek, Jan. 29, 2007, p72). 
Note: forwarded message attached.  For the end, please consider the following.  GS

>
>FROM A CRABBY OLD MAN------- A poem on life
>
> When an old man died in the geriatric ward of a small hospital near
>Tampa, Florida, it was believed that he had nothing left of any value.
>Later, when the nurses were going through his meager possessions, they
>found this poem. Its quality and content so impressed the staff that copies
>were made and distributed to every nurse in the hospital.
> And this little old man, with nothing left to give to the world, is
>now the author of this "anonymous" poem winging across the Internet.
>
> "Crabby Old Man"
>
> What do you see nurses? .....What do you see?
> What are you thinking......when you're looking at me?
> A crabby old man, ....not very wise,
> Uncertain of habit .......with faraway eyes?
> Who dribbles his food.......and makes no reply.
> When you say in a loud voice....."I do wish you'd try!"
> Who seems not to notice ..the things that you do.
> And forever is losing ..............a sock or shoe?
> Who, resisting or not...........lets you do as you will,
> With bathing and feeding ...... the long day to fill?
> Is that what you're thinking? Is that what you see?
> Then open your eyes, nurse......you're not looking at me.
> I'll tell you who I am ..... as I sit here so still,
> As I do at your bidding,.......as I eat at your will.
>
>
> I'm a small child of Ten......with a father and mother,
> Brothers and sisters,..... who love one another
> A young boy of Sixteen ...........with wings on his feet
> Dreaming that soon now. .........a lover he'll meet.
> A groom soon at Twenty ........my heart gives a leap.
> Remembering, the vows........that I promised to keep.
> At Twenty-Five, now.......... I have young of my own.
> Who need me to guide ....... and a secure happy home.
> A man of Thirty ....... my young now grown fast,
> Bound to each other........ with ties that should last.
> At Forty, my young sons ......have grown and are gone,
> But my woman's beside me........to see I don't mourn.
> At Fifty, once more, ......... babies play 'round my knee,
> Again, we know children ........ my loved one and me.
> Dark days are upon me .......... my wife is now dead.
> I look at the future .............I shudder with dread.
> For my young are all rearing .......young of their own.
> And I think of the years..... and the love that I've known.
> I'm now an old man.........and nature is cruel.
> Tis jest to make old age ......look like a fool.
> The body, it crumbles..........grace and vigor, depart.
> There is now a stone........where I once had a heart.
> But inside this old carcass ..... a young guy still dwells,
> And now and again ........my battered heart swells.
> I remember the joys.............. I remember the pain.
> And I'm loving and living.......... ..life over again.
> I think of the years .all too few......gone too fast.
> And accept the stark fact........that nothing can last.
>
> So open your eyes, people ........open and see..
> Not a crabby old man. Look closer....see........ME!!
>
> Remember this poem when you next meet an older person who you might
>brush aside without looking at the young soul within.....we will all, one
>day, be there, too!

THURSDAY,  February 1, 2007

THIS IS THE SHAME AND THE DANGER OF IT ALL: CONVERTING AMERICAN EFFORTS IN IRAQ INTO THE 2008 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN.  GS

Robert Kagan: Grand Delusion: Politicians in Both Parties Act as if They Can Make the War Go Away Soon.  It Won’t.

Grand Delusion
Politicians in Both Parties Act as if They Can Make the War Go Away Soon. It Won't.
By Robert Kagan
Washington Post
Sunday, January 28, 2007; Page B07

It's quite a juxtaposition. In Iraq, American soldiers are finally beginning the hard job of establishing a measure of peace, security and order in critical sections of Baghdad -- the essential prerequisite for the lasting political solution everyone claims to want. They've launched attacks on Sunni insurgent strongholds and begun reining in Moqtada al-Sadr's militia. And they've embarked on these operations with the expectation that reinforcements will soon be on the way: the more than 20,000 troops President Bush has ordered to Iraq and the new commander he has appointed to fight the insurgency as it has not been fought since the war began.

Back in Washington, however, Democratic and Republican members of Congress are looking for a different kind of political solution: the solution to their problems in presidential primaries and elections almost two years off. Resolutions disapproving the troop increase have proliferated on both sides of the aisle. Many of their proponents frankly, even proudly, admit they are responding to the current public mood, as if that is what they were put in office to do. Those who think they were elected sometimes to lead rather than follow seem to be in a minority.

The most popular resolutions simply oppose the troop increase without offering much useful guidance on what to do instead, other than perhaps go back to the Baker-Hamilton commission's vague plan for a gradual withdrawal. Sen. Hillary Clinton wants to cap the number of troops in Iraq at 137,500. No one explains why this is the right number, why it shouldn't be 20,000 troops lower or higher. But that's not really the point, is it?

Other critics claim that these are political cop-outs, which they are. These supposedly braver critics demand a cutoff of funds for the war and the start of a withdrawal within months. But they're not honest either, since they refuse to answer the most obvious and necessary questions: What do they propose the United States do when, as a result of withdrawal, Iraq explodes and ethnic cleansing on a truly horrific scale begins? What do they propose our response should be when the entire region becomes a war zone, when al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations establish bases in Iraq from which to attack neighboring states as well as the United States? Even the Iraq Study Group acknowledged that these are likely consequences of precipitate withdrawal.

Those who call for an "end to the war" don't want to talk about the fact that the war in Iraq and in the region will not end but will only grow more dangerous. Do they recommend that we then do nothing, regardless of the consequences? Or are they willing to say publicly, right now, that they would favor sending U.S. troops back into Iraq to confront those new dangers? Answering those questions really would be honest and brave.

Of course, most of the discussion of Iraq isn't about Iraq at all. The war has become a political abstraction, a means of positioning oneself at home.

To the extent that people think about Iraq, many seem to believe it is a problem that can be made to go away. Once American forces depart, Iraq will no longer be our problem. Joseph Biden, one of the smartest foreign policy hands in the Senate, recently accused President Bush of sending more troops so that he could pass the Iraq war on to his successor. Biden must assume that if the president took his advice and canceled the troop increase, then somehow Iraq would no longer be a serious crisis when President Biden entered the White House in 2009.

This is a delusion, but it is by no means only a Democratic delusion. Many conservatives and Republicans, including erstwhile supporters of the war, have thrown up their hands in anger at the Iraqi people or the Iraqi government. They, too, seem to believe that if American troops leave, because Iraqis don't "deserve" our help, then somehow the whole mess will solve itself or simply fade away. Talk about a fantasy. The fact is, the United States cannot escape the Iraq crisis, or the Middle East crisis of which it is a part, and will not be able to escape it for years. And if Iraq does collapse, it will not be the end of our problems but the beginning of a new and much bigger set of problems.

I would think that anyone wanting to be president in January 2009 would be hoping and praying that the troop increase works. The United States will be dealing with Iraq one way or another in 2009, no matter what anyone says or does today. The only question is whether it is an Iraq that is salvageable or an Iraq sinking further into chaos and destruction and dragging America along with it.

A big part of the answer will come soon in the battle for Baghdad. Politicians in both parties should realize that success in this mission is in their interest, as well as the nation's. Here's a wild idea: Forget the political posturing, be responsible, and provide the moral and material support our forces need and expect. The next president will thank you.

Robert Kagan, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund, writes a monthly column for The Post. His latest book is "Dangerous Nation," a history of American foreign policy.


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