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Thomas Friedman: Imperial Messenger of the Arab Spring

(Photo: AFP-Mark Ralston)

The following is an article I wrote for the Beirut-based Al Akhbar English.

It took Thomas Friedman — New York Times foreign affairs columnist and three-time Pulitzer Prize recipient for reporting and commentary on the Middle East — approximately 46 days after the outbreak of the Arab Spring in Tunisia to weigh in on the matter.

Noted champion of the notion that Iraqis should be made to “Suck. On. This” by the US military in order to “try to build one decent, progressive, democratizing society in the heart of the Arab East”, Friedman eventually turns up in a Tel Aviv hotel to discuss ramifications of the Egyptian uprising with a retired Israeli general. He then proceeds to Egypt itself, an experience that subsequently merits significant reflection:

When I was in Cairo during the Egyptian uprising, I wanted to change hotels one day to be closer to the action and called the Marriott to see if it had any openings. The young-sounding Egyptian woman who spoke with me from the reservations department offered me a room and then asked: ‘Do you have a corporate rate?’ I said, ‘I don’t know. I work for The New York Times.’ There was a silence on the phone for a few moments, and then she said: ‘Can I ask you something?’ Sure. ‘Are we going to be O.K.? I’m worried.’

I made a mental note of that conversation because she sounded like a modern person, the kind of young woman who would have been in Tahrir Square. We’re just now beginning to see what may have been gnawing at her — in Egypt and elsewhere.

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State Dept should limit self to Twitter communications

Lately I have been concerned about the job security of PJ Crowley, usual emcee of the U.S. State Department daily press briefings.

The bio on his Twitter account reads:

As U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, I carry out the Secretary’s mandate to help people understand the importance of U.S. foreign policy.”

However, recent performances would appear to be in direct contravention of this goal (see here, here and here).

Acting Deputy Department Spokesman Mark C. Toner meanwhile replaced Crowley at yesterday’s briefing, although there have thus far been no reports that Crowley has followed recently deposed U.S. allies into a coma. As the following excerpts demonstrate, Toner’s performance confirms that State Dept. employment in fact hinges upon one’s ability to be vague and self-contradictory:

ON VIETNAM

Toner reports that “we are deeply saddened by the apparent sinking of a tourist boat in Halong Bay in northern Vietnam today.”

QUESTION: Sorry, you said apparently sank?

MR. TONER: It sank, okay.

QUESTION: Yeah, it either did or didn’t.

MR. TONER: It did sink. I’m confirming that it sank.

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Learning from Israel

Israeli sunbathers felt so threatened by the impending arrival of aid to Gaza in May 2010 that they organized a 16-boat protest against the flotilla, complete with banner depicting the Turkish prime minister (Photo: Reuters)

With the release of the first part of the report from its investigation into the May 2010 attack on the humanitarian aid flotilla en route to Gaza—in which nine Turkish activists were murdered by IDF commandos—the Israeli Turkel Commission has underscored Israel’s capacity for democratic introspection.

The commission’s findings include that the commandos in question acted in self-defense and that the Israeli blockade of Gaza is not in contravention of international law. According to Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the report proves that Israel is “a law-abiding country”.

I’ve made a short list of ideas for possible commissions in other countries interested in attaining a similar status:

1. The United States.

Commission to investigate inordinate number of civilian casualties of U.S. drone attacks on Pakistan.

Possible conclusion: Drones were acting in self-defense.

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When Pakistanis Matter

Pro-humanity (Photo: AFP/Getty)

In his latest bout of hypocrisy, Barack Obama has drawn the following lesson from a suicide bombing that killed 45 people in Pakistan on Saturday:

Killing innocent civilians outside a World Food Programme distribution point is an affront to the people of Pakistan, and to all humanity.”

Actually, it is more of an affront to the people of Pakistan to only vouch for their right to life when they are killed by suicide bombers. If Obama had wanted to accurately convey his views on when it is and is not appropriate to kill Pakistani civilians, he should have expanded his pronouncement to include the following stipulations:

Killing innocent civilians outside a World Food Programme distribution point is an affront to the people of Pakistan, and to all humanity, provided the killing is perpetrated by suicide bombers—or some other undesirable Arab/Muslim phenomenon justifying continued U.S. intervention abroad—and not by U.S. military drones.”

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Al Qaeda is Deaf

Longer than Afghan-Pakistan border

A recent FoxNews.com dispatch from the “America’s Third War” series—this one entitled “Fighting Drug Cartels in Guatemala” (read: “Encouraging Drug Cartels in Guatemala Such That They Might Then Be Fought”)—ends on a warning note underscoring how America’s Third War is intimately linked to the first two:

U.S. officials who specialize in counter-narcotics worry that Al Qaeda will soon realize the porous nature of the Central American-U.S. corridor”.

My question is: when?

Is Al Qaeda oblivious to the U.S. news? For how many years must the media hype this threat before it registers?

It has already been proven that Islamic extremists are compatible with Latin American socialists, drug cartels, and other excuses for U.S. militarization. Former U.S. Marine Corps officer Oliver North confirmed in a 2006 FoxNews.com column entitled “Back Door to Terror”:

Since 9-11-01, Americans living along the U.S.-Mexican border have been warning that our porous frontier is a back door for terrorist entry into this country”.

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Travel alert to Americans in Europe: Learn how to use pay phones

(Image by Amelia Opalinska)

As if color-coded domestic terror advisories were not vague enough, the U.S. State Department has now issued a travel alert, set to expire on Jan. 31, 2011, for Americans in Europe. According to The New York Times, “The decision to warn travelers came as officials in Europe and the United States were assessing possible plots originating in Pakistan and North Africa, aimed at Britain, France and Germany.” The Christian Science Monitor notes: “Media reports have linked the plot to US drone strikes in Pakistan. But it is unclear whether the Al Qaeda plot was an attempt to respond to the drone strikes, or whether the strikes were intended to disrupt the plot – or both.”

Following are a few excerpts from the State Department teleconference briefing yesterday with Undersecretary for Management Patrick Kennedy, who does not discuss drone attacks on Pakistan but does discuss how important it is, in light of the travel alert, that Americans know how to operate foreign pay phones. Why the Pakistani government does not issue terror advisories of its own is meanwhile called into question by headlines like this one.

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: … [O]ne has to understand how I guess we get to a Travel Alert. It is a cumulative process. The State Department, every day, has personnel who monitor the world, looking at conditions that might have an impact on American citizens, and as information comes on, there could be a eureka moment where there is information that comes to our attention that – bingo, that’s it, we issue the – an alert immediately.

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Thomas Friedman charges Arabs and Muslims with building “something decent and self-sustaining in Afghanistan and Pakistan”, takes personal credit for outcome of U.S. Civil War

(Photo by Rensselaer/Kris Qua)

In another demonstration of his knack for captivating editorial ledes, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman begins his recent dispatch “www.jihad.com” as follows:

Let’s not fool ourselves. Whatever threat the real Afghanistan poses to U.S. national security, the ‘Virtual Afghanistan’ now poses just as big a threat. The Virtual Afghanistan is the network of hundreds of jihadist Web sites that inspire, train, educate and recruit young Muslims to engage in jihad against America and the West.”

It thus appears that Friedman has in the course of a mere 6 months curtailed his exuberance over the lucrative opportunities offered to Islam by the internet, which he outlined in a June 16, 2009 column entitled “The Virtual Mosque.” Writing in the aftermath of the Iranian presidential elections, Friedman gushed:

What is fascinating to me is the degree to which in Iran today — and in Lebanon — the more secular forces of moderation have used technologies like Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, blogging and text-messaging as their virtual mosque, as the place they can now gather, mobilize, plan, inform and energize their supporters, outside the grip of the state.

For the first time, the moderates, who were always stranded between authoritarian regimes that had all the powers of the state and Islamists who had all the powers of the mosque, now have their own place to come together and project power: the network. The Times reported that [Iranian opposition presidential candidate Mir-Hossein] Moussavi’s fan group on Facebook alone has grown to more than 50,000 members. That’s surely more than any mosque could hold — which is why the government is now trying to block these sites.”

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