Hard News by Russell Brown

Foreign affairs

We've heard the familiar chorus of whingeing this week about Phil Goff's decision to meet with the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, but the fact is we're not the only country whose foreign policy Israel is attempting to dictate at the moment.

The French foreign minister is, of course, meeting Arafat - and so has the Japanese foreign minister, at the cost of a meeting with Ariel Sharon, it seems. Bulgaria's minister eventually cancelled his meeting with Arafat - but also decided he would not meet the Israeli Prime Minister either. Bizarrely, the Israelis and the Americans, have even been trying to stop their anointed favourite, Palestinian PM Mahmoud Abbas, meeting with Arafat.

If The Americans are as committed to democracy as Denis Dutton contends in his latest embarrassing brain fart (read the Cato Institute's comment on The National Security Strategy of the United States of America after reading Dutton if you like) then they really ought to start respecting it. For all his failings, and for all the shortcomings of his election, no one really doubts that it is Arafat who has the popular mandate amongst the Palestinians. Trying to quarantine him from his own Prime Minister might seem expedient, but it will not work.

An analysis from Israel's Ha'aretz newspaper examines the 14 reservations issued by the Israeli Cabinet with regard to the US road map already accepted by the Palestinians:

In one fell swoop the reservations do away with long months of negotiations during which the Quartet, and then the U.S., rejected most of them. The authors of the document apparently assumed that President George Bush was only asking for the formal approval of the Sharon government to the road map, and to hell with the implementation.

In the document, not the slightest effort at moderating the reservations is made, nor is an effort made to hide the intention of neutering the road map. This is like thumbing one's nose at the U.S., the European Union, Russia and the UN. Not surprisingly, the Palestinians flared up yesterday when they heard the reservations.

Meanwhile, the Chilean government has caved into US pressure by removing Juan Gabriel Valdes as its ambassador to the United Nations. This is universally seen as a concession to get Chile's free trade deal with the US back on the table. Sound familiar? And a bit creepy?

A Herald poll today finds New Zealanders still staunchly behind their government's stance on Iraq, but, polite to the last, believing Helen Clark did the right thing when she apologised over the Al Gore thing. Meanwhile, John Armstrong provides a useful perspective on Jim Anderton's possibly ill-advised sally forth in the defence of the Prime Minister against American "bullying": his support for the coalition government's commitment of New Zealand troops to Afghanistan destroyed the Alliance - and this is the American way of saying thank you? Problem is, there is no brownie points system being operated by the Bush administration: minor (and not so minor) nations will do as they're told all the time, okay?

The extent to which the action in Iraq has yet to play out has been spelled out by a deadly string of attacks on US troops in the past week. Freelance military analyst Phil Carter has some interesting comments on what mistakes were made. The dissolution of the Iraqi army has been hailed by British diplomats as a sign that the new American administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, has a better grip on the job than his predecessor, but others are concerned at the risk created by the enforced unemployment of 400,000 young male Iraqis. The purge on armed forces within the country has even taken in the militia that the Pentagon bought for its pet Iraqi, Ahmed Chalabi, but the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution isn't playing so nice.

Salam Pax has posted a lot of new material to his Baghdad blog, Where's Raed?, and it remains not only the most direct, but the funniest source of on-the-ground information from Iraq. If you read nothing else, read this. A UPI story quotes Salam from his trip south, endorsing the widespread view that the British have made a vastly better job of Basra than the Americans have managed anywhere else.

Another very good commentary has been written by returning Iraqi exile Kana Makiya:

Yet, there was another sense in which the landscape was deeply familiar. In a surreal way, the Beltway has transported its bureaucratic wrangling halfway around the world. I came to Iraq last week to attend a conference at Ur, near Nassiriyah, of 80 Iraqis to discuss the postwar political situation. The meeting, held in the supposed birthplace of Abraham, yielded a broad consensus among the Iraqi participants: In the immediate term, we need law and order, humanitarian assistance, and an all-Iraqi, secular political authority. Yet many, if not most, of the decisions necessary for implementation of these goals remain deferred, victims of what is known in Washington as the "interagency process." Competing agencies - the State Department, the CIA, the military's Central Command (CENTCOM), and the Pentagon - have different agendas for postwar Iraq, and, therefore, different Iraqis whom they seek to promote. These warring agendas have stalled the distribution of aid and the promotion of security and have led to what every Iraqi I have spoken with considers his or her deepest fear: anarchy.

Washington Report on Middle Eastern Affairs rounds up the sleaze on Richard Perle.

Death camp plans for Guantanamo Bay: no jury, no right of appeal.

Alternet rounds up the latest on Saving Private Lynch.