Whither Zinni

Those who have believed that the departure of Dubya from the oval office will mean that Israeli politicians will no longer be able to call up American presidents and tell them what to do should think twice. The story of General Anthony Zinni’s aborted appointment as ambassador to Iraq has received remarkably little attention, and it has been attributed to his being a general and his directorship with major military contractor Dyncorp. Neither explanation is plausible as Hillary Clinton certainly knew he was a general when the appointment was discussed and the issue of Dyncorp never came up in the interview process.

Zinni was offered the position after an interview with Hillary Clinton at the end of January and even received a call from Joe Biden congratulating him on the next day, but the assignment was derailed in the following week. Christopher Hill received the ambassadorship instead of Zinni and Zinni received no explanation why he had been passed over, which reportedly irritated the hell out of him.

I have been informed by a State Department contact that Zinni was rejected after Clinton came under pressure from some major supporters in New York State who told her that the appointment was unacceptable to Israel because Zinni is perceived as “hostile” to the Jewish state. Zinni has, indeed, been critical of Israel on a number of occasions. Another source in the intelligence community has told me that Zinni was perceived as bad for Israel’s security because Israel regards Iraq as a “front line state” in its confrontation with Iran. If Israel were to attack Iran it would need overflight approval over Iraq, something that Zinni would be unlikely to approve, possibly even submitting his resignation to stop such a development. It is not clear if Hill would necessarily be more amenable, but as a career diplomat not known for being outspoken or independent minded he would be unlikely to rock the boat if Washington wanted to look the other way to enable an Israeli attack.

Cross-posted at The American Conservative blog.

#200 for Abe the Warmonger

Thursday is the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln. I would be perplexed by the Lincoln cult if I thought the prime Lincoln idolizers gave a damn about individual liberty. Lincoln is lionized not because he saved self-government, but primarily because he sanctified and vastly extended Leviathan.

Here is a riff I did on Lincoln for a National Review Online symposium on Lincoln 8 years ago, and a snippet on Abe from Attention Deficit Democracy

James Bovard, February 2001:

How can the same people who vigorously support indicting Serbian leaders for war crimes also claim that Lincoln was a great American president?

Lincoln bears ultimate responsibility for how the North chose to fight the Civil War. The attitude of some of the Northern commanders paralleled those of Bosnian Serb commanders more than many contemporary Americans would like to admit.

In a September 17, 1863, letter to the War Department, Gen. William Sherman wrote: “The United States has the right, and … the … power, to penetrate to every part of the national domain. We will remove and destroy every obstacle — if need be, take every life, every acre of land, every particle of property, everything that to us seems proper.” President Lincoln liked Sherman’s letter so much that he declared that it should be published.

On June 21, 1864, before his bloody March to the Sea, Sherman wrote to the secretary of war: “There is a class of people [in the South] — men, women, and children, who must be killed or banished before you can hope for peace and order.” How would U.N. war crimes investigators react if Slobodan Milosevic had made this comment about ethnic Albanians?

On October 9, 1864, Sherman wrote to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant: “Until we can repopulate Georgia, it is useless to occupy it, but the utter destruction of its roads, houses, and people will cripple their military resources.” Sherman lived up to his boast — and left a swath of devastation and misery that helped plunge the South into decades of poverty.

General Grant used similar tactics in Virginia, ordering his troops “make all the valleys south of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad a desert as high up as possible.”

The Scorched Earth tactics the North used made life far more difficult for both white and black survivors of the Civil War.

Lincoln was blinded by his belief in the righteousness of federal supremacy. The abuses and tyranny that he authorized set legions of precedents that subverted the vision of government the Founding Fathers bequeathed to America.

****From Attention Deficit Democracy (Palgrave, 2006):

The more vehemently a president equates democracy with freedom, the greater the danger he likely poses to Americans’ rights. President Abraham Lincoln was by far the most avid champion of democracy among nineteenth century presidents—and the president with the greatest visible contempt for the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Lincoln swayed people to view national unity as the ultimate test of the essence of freedom or self-rule. That Lincoln suspended habeas corpus, jailed 20,000 people without charges, forcibly shut down hundreds of newspapers that criticized him, and sent in federal troops to shut down state legislatures was irrelevant because he proclaimed “that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”


Lysander Spooner, a Massachusetts abolitionist, ridiculed President Lincoln’s claim that the Civil War was fought to preserve a “government by consent.” Spooner observed, “The only idea . . . ever manifested as to what is a government of consent, is this—that it is one to which everybody must consent, or be shot.”

Ledeen Once Again Has His Hand on the Iranian Pulse

Michael Ledeen, who 25 months ago announced to the world that Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had died — he got this from such an exclusive source that not even Amir Taheri, another neo-con fantasist, could confirm or deny the story — once again has his hand on the pulse of the Iranian people (and possibly a mind meld on the Supreme Leader himself). In an op-ed published by the reliably hard-core Wall Street Journal editorial page today, Ledeen, who, apparently due to apparently irreconcilable differences with Danielle Pletka, took his “Freedom Chair” at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) to the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) front known as the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), not only connects last week’s successful Iranian satellite launch with “medieval Shiite texts” heralding the return of the 12th Imam and the end of days, but also reprises his certitude (dating back many years now) that the Iranian people are ready to rise in revolt against their regime.

The argument predictably concludes that “(T)he U.S. must not make the mistake of limiting demands (on Iran) to the nuclear program. A free Iran must be the objective,” and, while the logic of the whole article is a howl — no doubt adding fodder to the Journal’s news staff’s contention that the paper doesn’t need a comics section because you can find it on the editorial pages — what is most interesting is the direct appeal to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as the Obama official most likely to argue Ledeen’s position within the administration. So it seems as if even hard-line neo-cons like Ledeen see Clinton as the link in the new power configuration that may be most susceptible to their arguments for aggressive “democracy promotion” abroad.

Do you know Binyam Mohamed?

Two senior British judges accused the U.S. of threatening to stop sharing intelligence with Britain if the British Government released details of the extraordinary rendition of British citizen, Binyam Mohamed.


Perhaps this explains it:


So, while a few die hard “24” fans — and Alberto Gonzales, and Michael Mukasey — might still claim confusion about waterboarding being torture, nearly everyone else would agree that having your penis sliced with razors once a month IS torture.

According to the close-the-barn-door-late theory, should official confirmation of this behavior escape the U.S. establishment cone of silence, it would be a PR disaster. That, not the perennial whine of “National Security,” is the source of the pressure the British Judges felt.

There is a lot of smoke around the L.A. Times article suggesting Barak Obama’s Executive Order ending extraordinary renditions was bogus.

But even if Mr. Obama did end the extraordinary brand of renditions, according to a Democracy Now! interview with Michael Rattner of The Center for Constitutional Rights, there is still a hole big enough to drive tour busses full of victims into the Gulag.

Will this be another big disappointment like Mr. Obama’s plans to double the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan — and his authorization of Predator drone strikes on the tribal people of Pakistan? And will we meet other Binyam Mohameds in the future, this time created by the Obama Administration?

Andrew Sullivan Gets It About Neoconservatism’s Core

As he makes clear in this post, The Atlantic‘s Andrew Sullivan has finally come to the conclusion that the democracy claptrap that neo-conservatives have spouted since 9/11 has been a facade for their core foreign-policy worldview with Israel at its heart.

“I took neoconservatism seriously for a long time, because it offered an interesting critique of what’s wrong with the Middle East, and seemed to have the only coherent strategic answer to the savagery of 9/11. I now realize that the answer – the permanent occupation of Iraq – was absurdly utopian and only made feasible by exploiting the psychic trauma of that dreadful day. The closer you examine it, the clearer it is that neoconservatism, in large part, is simply about enabling the most irredentist elements in Israel and sustaining a permanent war against anyone or any country who disagrees with the Israeli right. That’s the conclusion I’ve been forced to these last few years. And to insist that America adopt exactly the same constant-war-as-survival that Israelis have been slowly forced into. Cheney saw America as Netanyahu sees Israel: a country built for permanent war and the “tough, mean, dirty, nasty business” of waging it (with a few war crimes to keep the enemy on their toes).”

(Sullivan’s post has predictably infuriated John Podhoretz, the keeper of the neo-con flame at Commentary.)

Given their long-established affinity for “friendly authoritarian” regimes, I never understood why so many foreign-policy and other intellectuals were gulled by the neo-cons’ efforts to dress up their Arabo- and Islamophobia in the guise of Wilsonianism and democracy promotion (although I accept that Wolfowitz — a neo-con who is not a Likudnik — may have been sincere). The contradictions in their arguments, let alone with their historical record, always seemed so glaringly obvious. (How can you be a Wilsonian and indefinitely deny self-determination to Palestinians or condition it on their becoming Finland, as one of Ariel Sharon’s closest advisers suggested?) Just this past week, I attended a presentation by Council on Foreign Relations fellow Stewart Patrick, the author of a new book on the origins of U.S. multilateralism, who described them as Wilsonians who disdain multilateral institutions. The sooner people disabuse themselves of the notion that the spread of Wilsonian democracy is a core tenet of neo-conservativism, the more realistic any discussion of the movement and its contribution to the disastrous situation both the United States and Israel now face in the Middle East will be.

A Concrete Gesture Toward Iran?

As pointed out in this post by Rasmus Christian Elling of the University of Copenhagen, the U.S. Treasury – notably Stuart Levey, whose zeal in trying to make it difficult for Iranian banking interests to do business outside their borders has been widely remarked – just designated the Free Life Party of Kurdistan (PJAK) a terrorist group, or, more accurately, a group controlled by the better known Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) of Turkey. PJAK, of course, was named by Seymour Hersh, among others, as a likely beneficiary of alleged U.S. covert aid designed to harass the Islamic Republic two years ago after it claimed responsibility for a number of deadly attacks against Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and other regime targets. Tehran itself has long claimed that PJAK is supported by the U.S. and Israel. Like the PKK, it is based in Iraqi Kurdistan.

While designating PJAK a terrorist group is unlikely to have any immediate practical impact on its operations, it raises the question, as noted by Dr. Elling, whether this marks the first concrete gesture – or token of good faith – by the Obama administration toward Iran or whether this was simply the coincidental fruition of a bureaucratic process that may have been set in motion by the publication by the New York Times of a front-page article on the relationship between PJAK and the PKK back in October, 2007. I don’t have a clear answer as yet, but the timing and the fact that Levey, who is being retained by the Obama administration in his current position as Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, has strong political instincts argues in favor of the more purposeful interpretation.

Here’s the release put out by Treasury:

February 4, 2009

Treasury Designates Free Life Party of Kurdistan a Terrorist Organization

Washington, DC – The U.S. Department of the Treasury today designated the Free Life Party of Kurdistan (PJAK), a Kurdish group operating in the border region between Iraq and Iran, under Executive Order 13224 for being controlled by the terrorist group Kongra-Gel (KGK, aka the Kurdistan Workers Party or PKK).

“With today’s action, we are exposing PJAK’s terrorist ties to the KGK and supporting Turkey’s efforts to protect its citizens from attack,” said Stuart Levey, Treasury’s Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.

Designated in December 2002 under E.O. 13224, KGK has been involved for more than 20 years in targeting Turkish government security forces, local Turkish officials, and villagers who oppose the KGK in Turkey. Turkish authorities have confirmed or suspect that KGK is also responsible for dozens of bombings since 2004 in western Turkey.

The KGK leadership authorized certain Iranian-Kurdish KGK members to create a KGK splinter group that would portray itself as independent from but allied with KGK. PJAK was created to appeal to Iranian Kurds. KGK formally institutionalized PJAK in 2004 and selected five KGK members to serve as PJAK leaders, including Hajji Ahmadi, a KGK affiliate who became PJAK’s General Secretary. KGK leaders also selected the members of PJAK’s 40-person central committee. Although certain PJAK members objected to the KGK selecting their leaders, the KGK advised that PJAK had no choice.

As of April 2008, KGK leadership controlled PJAK and allocated personnel to the group. Separately, PJAK members have carried out their activities in accordance with orders received from KGK senior leaders. In one instance, PJAK’s armed wing, the East Kurdistan Defense Forces, had been acting independently in Iran. KGK senior leaders immediately intervened, however, and recalled the responsible PJAK officials to northern Iraq.

Under E.O. 13224, any assets PJAK has under U.S. jurisdiction are frozen, and U.S. persons are prohibited from engaging in any transactions with PJAK.

Identifying Information
Kurdistan Free Life Party
Party of Free Life of Kurdistan Partiya Jiyana Azad a Kurdistane

Location: Qandil Mountain, Irbil Governorate, Iraq
Alt, Location: Razgah, Iran