Monthly Archives: June 2008
About 13 years ago, while working on a British TV magazine program, I found myself spending a couple of days with Christopher Wallace, aka Biggie Smalls/the Notorious B.I.G. (I swear, I still have the tape, but it’s analog.) This extended interview took place at the time when Tupac Shakur was yelling from the rooftops that he was going to kill Brooklyn’s greatest rapper, and getting plenty of publicity and selling records by doing so. Biggie wasn’t particularly alarmed. He’d been a hustler in Bed-Stuy for too long to take seriously threats that are broadcast. In far more colorful language, he said words to the effect of “On the streets, when someone is telling anyone who’ll listen that they’re going to kill you, you don’t have to lose any sleep over it. You’re not going to hear about beforehand when the real killer comes.”
Exactly. (Yes, I know, Biggie was eventually, tragically, murdered — but his point is proven by the fact that his killers had nothing to do with Tupac.)
And that’s why it’s hard to take seriously last week’s New York Times report about an Israeli military exercise in the Mediterranean being a “dry run” for an air attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Well, you can take it seriously as a PR stunt, aimed at sweating the Europeans into imposing more sanctions on Iran for fear that Israel will “do something crazy.” But when Israel bombed Iraq’s Osirak reactor in 1981, and when it struck what it claimed was a Syrian nuclear facility late last year, there was no coverage of the preparations for those missions in the New York Times. Continue reading
The Taliban hanged Najibullah, the last Soviet-backed Afghan president, in the streets of Kabul in 1996
Earlier this year, the Taliban tried to assassinate Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai, during a ceremony marking the 16th anniversary of the fall of the Soviet-backed Najibullah regime. The irony is that as the Taliban demonstrates that, by the classic calculus of guerrilla warfare, it is unlikely to lose (which means that NATO will) in Afghanistan, Karzai’s situation is uncomfortably similar to that of Najibullah in the late 1980s.
The lesson for South Africa is clear. Our talent pool is so piss-poor that Brazilian coaches won’t help — we need to learn from the Europeans and import Brazilian players! Continue reading
All this talk in the U.S. media about al-Qaeda being defeated is to be welcomed, since it reflects a realization, belated as it may be, that Bin Laden’s movement is not particularly strategically significant. This has always been the case, of course, even when the U.S. was going to war on the basis of the Qaeda bogey — Saddam Hussein, remember, became an intolerable menace only after 9/11, because of his “al-Qaeda connection” spuriously suggested by the Bush Administration.
Al-Qaeda is irrelevant, and yet U.S. hegemony in the Middle East is facing an unprecedented challenge from Islamist-nationalist groups. To understand the link between al-Qaeda’s weakness and the greatly expanded strength of groups such as Hamas, Hizballah, the Muslim Brotherhood and, of course, Iran, over the past seven years, it’s worth turning to the 20th century precedent: Leon Trotsky and his followers vs. the larger, nationally-focused parties of the left in the mid 20th century.
Trotsky rejected pragmatism and compromise by nationally-based leftist movements and insisted, instead, that they subordinate their specific national interests and objectives to the fantasy of “world revolution.” And as a result, long before his murder by Stalin, he found himself holed up in Mexico City, manically firing off communiques denouncing all compromise, and being largely ignored by the more substantial parties of the left world-wide. He had become an irrelevant chatterbox, caught up in a frenzy of his own rhetoric while world events simply passed him by. The same can be said of Bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri — it is not al-Qaeda, but the likes of Iran, Hamas, Hizballah, and the Muslim Brotherhood that represent the future of the nationalist-Islamist challenge to Western power in the Middle East. And that’s a profoundly important distinction: There’s no point in negotiating with al-Qaeda, whose very prominence is more a function of the U.S. reaction to its provocations than of its own organizational efforts, which represents very little on the ground, and eschews politics. But Western powers are beginning to see that there’s plenty to be gained from talking to Iran, Hamas, Hizballah etc. Continue reading
Extract from a piece I did in the National this week on the floundering effort to negotiate a U.S.-Iraq security deal to replace the current UN Resolution that expires in December:
The problem, for the US and for those Iraqi political factions most dependent on its presence, is that the vast majority of Iraqis oppose a long-term US presence, which to them feels like an occupation. The demand for the US to agree to a departure date enjoys overwhelming support – and public opinion is clearly reflected in the response of Iraqi parliamentarians to the security deal with Washington.
What the Bush administration is encountering here is the unkind reality of just how few friends America really has in Iraq. Sure, it has an alliance with the government of Mr Maliki, the prime minister, and with its largest party, the Supreme Islamic Council. And it also has cordial relations with some of the Sunni nationalist parties and, of course, with the Kurds.
But none of these groups shares the US agenda for Iraq. Instead, each has responded to the US presence as an opportunity to pursue its own ends. Each has engaged in tactical alliances with Washington in the hope of using US power against its foes in the intra-Iraqi power game.
By seeking a permanent security deal with Iraq, Bush has forced Iraqi politicians to show their hands. And none wants a long-term U.S. presence