Nur al-Cubicle

A blog on the current crises in the Middle East and news accounts unpublished by the US press. Daily timeline of events in Iraq as collected from stories and dispatches in the French and Italian media: Le Monde (Paris), Il Corriere della Sera (Milan), La Repubblica (Rome), L'Orient-Le Jour (Beirut) and occasionally from El Mundo (Madrid).

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Turks plan long-term stay in Northern Iraq

They are calling it IraqWar II.

According to Turkish military figures cited in Le Monde, the Turks plan to completely control Iraq's northern frontier, thus creating a buffer zone. Turkish forces next plan an assault on Mt. Qandil. There are even suggestions that the Turks plan on "recapturing" Mosul and Kirkuk.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Neocon Stranglehold on US Foreign Policy

French political scientist Bertrand Badie says both Hillary and Obama are heavily influenced by Neocon thinking.

This interview appeared in Le Monde on February 12th: "Neoconservatism continues to structure the thinking of the candidates" The translation is not word-for-word (as I am pressed for time).

Q. Are there significant differences between John McCain, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton with respect to US relations to Russia and China? Once in the White House, would they harden their stance toward these two countries?

The differences among these candidates should not underestimated. But foreign policy suggested during Presidential campaign is subject to the influence of events and issues yet to emerge. Remember that during George W. Bush's first presidential campaign, foreign policy was barely mentioned and no one imagined that it would end up being the centerpiece of his policy agenda.

I would also like to say right off the bat that Neoconservatism has played such a tremendous role in structuring US foreign policy over the last 8 years that all the candidates, whether Republican or Democrat, define themselves against this policy... No clear overriding vision of an alternative has emerged.

As to Russia and China, ...because John McCain is close to George H.W. Bush in both age and conviction, he would likely implement the "realist" approach that he knew during the Cold War...Neither Hillary nor Obama have suggested a substantial change toward China or Russia. It can be seen that Washington's foreign policy is still hostage to a hegemonic, unipolar vision that no candidate suggests revising and we are unlikely to see new and original forms of international diplomacy.

What are the international stakes in the US presidential primaries?

Traditionally, foreign policy does not occupy a prominent place in campaigning except when an exceptional major international event occurs, for example, the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, or when the direct interests of US society are in the balance, as during the Vietnam conflict. Whatever the importance of the Iraq issue, it does not occupy a major place in the debate.

Given the difficulty that the Democratic candidates have in defining an alternative, foreign policy is underplayed during debates. Certainly, Barack Obama underscores his opposition to the war but Hillary Clinton has taken a strong position on the necessity of disengagement from Iraq and so there is a certain amount of consensus in the Democratic camp. But the Republicans have shown no sign of a competing vision.

What do the candidates think about the role of NATO in Afghanistan?

NATO is very likely to become a diplomatic challenge. First, because it's identity and future is uncertain and second, because the alliance is a credo of both Democratic candidates. A Democrat in the White House would regalvanize the alliances inherited from the Cold War -something like a return to the Truman Doctrine....

We could see a new partnership...and a reintegration of France into the NATO military apparatus. From Obama, we could even expect a sort of neo-Atlantism...On the other hand, John McCain would continue down the unilateral path and the ambiguities surrounding NATO would likely continue...

Yet all the candidates agree on the idea of "global NATO", which would enlarge its scope of intervention to anywhere in the world.

There is very little divergence between Obama and the current Republican administration concerning Afghanistan and Central Asia will remain for years to come a privileged place of NATO involvement....which is unsettling to everyone.

Will NATO invade Pakistan? Will it defend Taiwan against China?

Barack Obama surprised everyone by declaring during his campaign that military action against Pakistan could be necessary...the old interventionalist reflexes have not been abandoned and Afghanistan is at the center of Obama's concerns.

The risks are great. Of all the countries in the region, Pakistan is the most populous and tangled in networks of all sorts. Military action could be catastrophic, not to mention apocalyptic. Moreover, China is an outright ally of Pakistan. We are dealing with extreme danger on which we should focus.

As to Taiwan...US policy is one of attempting to cajole continental China...much uncertainty remains...

Have the recent elections in Pakistan changed anything?

Yes, certainly. Benazir Bhutto had adopted the idea of rapprochement with Washington and mobilization against the Taliban and extremist networks... If the PPP adopts this position, Islamabad's foreign policy would considerably change...

Pervez Musharref advocates that restraint and balance is a requirement for the survival of Pakistan. A close alliance with the United States, rapprochement with Karzai's Afghanistan could change the configuration of the Afghan conflict and spread it southward....

The US is pursuing a dangerous course that could radicalize certain elements...Pakistan is likely to be the baptism of fire for the new US President.

What about Cuba?

It's all about winning votes in South Florida. There is no divergence between the Democrats and the Republicans over Cuba...

[to be continued]

Friday, February 22, 2008

Don't let them tell you that Nasrallah doesn't count

Nasrallah supporters throng in downtown Beirut to hear the Hezbollah leader speak on Friday. Via L'Orient-Le Jour

Turks invade Iraq

10,000 Turkish troops crossed the border at Sirnak and are rounding up Kurds in Harkurk, Zap, Kandil, Rekan and Nerve. The Turks moved in with heavy artillery and have occupied the plain of Ganires.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Standard Operating Procedure

Errorl Morris wins second prise at the Berlin Film Festival's Golden Bear awards for his documentary on Abu Ghraib, "Standard Operating Procedure". This is the first I've heard of the film. Yay for Errol.


Saturday, February 09, 2008

The Return of Berlusconi

Romano Prodi looks like a hum-drum type of guy, having little charisma and the gray patina of a technocrat. But he and his administration did some remarkable things for Italy and it's a shame to see it all pissed away. He should be thanked for putting talented people in key positions, especially the economy, led by Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa and Mario Draghi, increasing fiscal receipts, putting national accounts back in order and pulling out of Iraq. But that is to change.

Prior to Prodi's victory, Silvio Berlusconi had given Italy its worst Finance Minister in history (Giulio Tremonti), its worst Minister for Reform in history (Roberto Calderoli) and its worst Central Bank Governor in history (Antonio Fazio). These men were ignorant, incompetent and arrogant. And these fools will likely be back in April as Italy elects a new Parliament. The Italian Right is said to be at 53% in opinion polls. A real pity.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

But who's the action figure?

Condi and Gordon are either going out on the town...or they're going to put on their jumpsuits and defeat the Taliban single-handedly. But the action figure in the background seems to have some sort of message, like STOP RIGHT THERE.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Israel: Even rainwater a weapon

A small news item but significant none the less:

ANI reports that two Lebanese villages on the frontier with Israel, Kfarkila and Adayssé, were able to thwart Israeli attempts to open the gates of overfull Israeli rainwater reservoirs and flood their fields of crops and roads. Thursday at around 3 in the afternoon, Israeli workers protected by troops attempted to over the gates. The villagers gathered en masse around the Israelis until Lebanese troops and members of the Spanish UNIFIL contingent arrived to defuse the situation.


German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung rejected any involvement of the Bundeswehr, the German Army, in southern Afghanistan, replying to a demand from his US counterpart, Robert Gates.

In a statement to the press, Mr. Jung (Conservative, CDU) confirmed that he received a letter containing the demand from US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, as reported by the daily newspaper, Süddeutsche Zeitung. « I believe that we are making a contribution, as foreseen by our mandate », said M. Jung, reminding reporters that the mandate passed by the Bundestag excluded a sustained commitment of the Bundeswehr in southern Afghanistan. «I think we should concentrate on our priority » in the North, insisted Jung.

Süddeutsche Zeitung reported that Mr. Gates' letter had an "uncustomary rude" tone in demanding a commitment from the Germans « of units with helicopters and combat troops, such as airborne units», in the South.

[Via L'Orient Le Jour]