The headlines this week will be all Iraq, all the time. President Bush will unveil his not-so-secret plan of a military “surge” to rescue Iraq from all its other disastrous surges—in civilian deaths, pervasive violence, and unemployment. FPIF analyst Dan Smith, in Bush to Iraq: More War, argues instead that “Congress needs to act as a surge suppressor and carefully look at what Bush as commander-in-chief threatens to decree.” And, indeed, the Democrats have decided to shift from the largely domestic focus of their 100-hours plan, having realized that 45% of the American electorate wants action on the Iraq War versus only 7% who wants Congress to focus on the U.S. economy or health care reform.
The Iraq War is winding down to its grim endgame. U.S. soldiers will withdraw. We just don’t know when or how.
The big question mark remains Iran. The Bush administration has not revealed its strategy. Even Seymour Hersh, who manages to coax more information out of the military-intelligence complex than any journalist alive, can’t tell us what the preemptor-in-chief has in store for Tehran. Both the State Department and Pentagon are leery of military options. But Dick Cheney, the fellow who never met an adversary he didn’t want to bomb, still believes that bombing Iran is the Hail Mary pass that can win the game in Iraq.
Israel may be willing to rush in where the Pentagon so far fears to tread. And Tel Aviv’s plan is a Cheney-on-steroids, fight-fire-with-fire nightmare. A report in early January from the Times of London suggests that Israel has drawn up secret plans for tactical strikes against Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities—using nuclear bunker busters. Not surprisingly, since it has never even admitted having a nuclear arsenal, Israel has denied the reports. Talk about grim ironies: a state that doesn’t have nuclear weapons (but everyone knows they do) nuking a state that everyone suspects of having a viable nuclear program (but which probably doesn’t).
With the military option from either Washington or Tel Aviv still up in the air, the Bush administration is vigorously pursuing a strategy of economic strangulation of Iran. The UN passed a watered-down sanctions resolution at the end of December. With Russia and China uncomfortable with isolating Tehran—and losing their own lucrative economic deals—the United States will bypass the UN and spend 2007 persuading allies to cut their own bilateral economic ties.
It will be a tough choice for Japan, Pakistan, and the European Union, explains FPIF analyst Roger Howard in Time to Lift Iran’s Sanctions. “Should they respect Washington’s wishes by distancing themselves from Iran’s energy sector, looking elsewhere for lucrative contracts to develop oil and natural gas fields, and finding other sources of energy supply? Or should they risk incurring American wrath by making such investments, facing retaliatory measures in the U.S. market that could potentially impose enormous damage on their business interests?”
Perhaps Washington is already incorporating Roger Stern’s prediction—that Iran’s energy sector has passed its peak—into its arm-twisting exhortations to allies. Tehran, too, might fear the ominous sound of a gurgle at the bottom of its oil wells and is thus eager to construct a viable civilian nuclear industry while oil exports are still generating revenue. Whatever the average Iranian citizen might think of the government in Tehran, popular support for the sovereign right to pursue a civilian nuclear program is high, as economist and FPIF contributor Eshragh Motahar discovered on a recent trip home after 30 years.
In the Horn of Africa, meanwhile, Ethiopia has been celebrating its brief Baghdad moment. At the end of December, Ethiopian forces routed the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) and reinstalled the weak, secular Somali government. The Washington Post, which has forgotten its own misreporting from Iraq, applauded Ethiopian from the sidelines and couldn’t wait to lambaste “the numerous Western ‘experts’ who predicted that Ethiopia’s intervention would trigger a regional war or an Iraq-style quagmire and who blamed the United States for tacitly supporting an attack on a Taliban-style regime.”
But as FPIF analyst Abukar Arman argues, the parallels between Somalia and Iraq are powerful and disturbing. There were much-hyped links between the ICU and al-Qaida, a flawed UN resolution, and even a whiff of nuclear intrigue. The story is far from over. “A grassroots-driven, wrathful nationalism will intensify, with ramifications beyond the Somali geographical boundaries,” Arman writes. “Indeed, unless the current trend is immediately reversed, the conflict will likely set the entire Horn of Africa on fire, spark an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, and widen the divide between the West and the Islamic world.”
Political Islam met the needs of many Somalis, FPIF contributor Michael Shank explains. The ICU might have dispersed, but Somalis will soon be nostalgic for the social services the ICU provided as well as the relative calm on the streets. “As long as Somalia feels threatened, externally or internally, political Islam will only enjoy more political and popular support,” Shank writes. “Additional attacks, like the recent U.S.-sponsored Ethiopian invasion, will only push political Islam toward exclusivity and intolerance.”
We are entering a Sankofa year, according to the new column by FPIF co-director Emira Woods. There will be several anniversaries in 2007, including the 200th anniversary of the transatlantic slave trade and the 50th anniversary of independence for several African states. It will also be a Jubilee year, and economic justice organizations will be pressing for cancellation of the debts that cripple the world’s poorest countries.
“The ‘Sankofa’ is a bird that flies forward while looking backward, with an egg symbolizing the future in its mouth,” writes Woods. It is the bird of pessoptimism. “Seize the Sankofa year,” Woods urges. “End all forms of modern day slavery and secure reparations for all debts incurred.”
The Art of Genocide
For all the bluster coming from Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran has shown many signs of wanting to deal with Washington. One indication comes from an unexpected venue. As FPIF contributor Pascale Combelles Siegel describes, the recent holocaust cartoon contest sponsored by Iran produced a surprise winner. The judges, rather than opting for an entry that denied the Holocaust, picked a Moroccan cartoon that applied Holocaust imagery to the situation in the Middle East.
Meanwhile, the heavy-metal band System of a Down is on a mission to tell the world about an earlier Holocaust—the 1915 Turkish genocide against the Armenians. A new documentary, Screamers, traces the band’s journey from headbanging in concerts to banging their heads against the walls of Congress. “Although the House International Relations Committee passed two resolutions in 2005 identifying the atrocities as genocide, the Republican-controlled leadership blocked passage in the House as a whole,” I write in a new Fiesta article about the documentary. “With Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats now in charge, however, there is a good chance that the resolutions will be brought to the floor and passed.”
Finally, E. Ethelbert Miller talks with Anan Ameri, the director of the Arab American National Museum, about Arab American art and the aptness of Jimmy Carter’s application of “apartheid” to the Palestinian situation.
FPIF, January 8, 2007