Dec 19, 2007

Gulf arms: complex motives From ISN Security Watch

International Relations and Security Network

Gulf arms: Complex motives

Anti-aircraft guns guarding Natanz, Iran (Wikipedia)
Image: Wikipedia

A Pentagon announcement of over US$10 billion in potential Gulf arms sales has again highlighted the tensions and international power plays driving the regional arms race.

By Dominic Moran in Tel Aviv for ISN Security Watch (14/12/07)

The US is pushing ahead with plans for a major boost in arms sales to Gulf states as it seeks to draw them into an alliance against Iran while protecting its regional strategic predominance against competing powers.

The Pentagon notified Congress on 5 December of the potential sale of up to US$10.4 billion in arms and military systems to the UAE and Kuwait. President George W Bush's administration pledged up to US$20 billion in military aid to its Gulf allies in July.

Arab Gulf militaries have been progressively expanding and improving their armaments since the first Gulf War, but this process appears to have picked up pace with Iranian nuclear and missile developments and the descent of Iraq into civil war.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates pushed for a joint regional missile shield and air umbrella, and integrated maritime surveillance and early warning systems in a speech to Gulf delegates at a security meeting last week in the Bahraini capital, Manama.

Gulf states are wary of being drawn into an official regional defense partnership with the US, which could be seen as a provocation by Tehran, but have increased the frequency of their joint military parlays.

Asked by ISN Security Watch if Gulf states are resisting incorporation in a regional defense pact, Chatham House's Dr Gareth Stansfield replied: "I would say that there has been some opposition to that. I think that one thing that has happened with this recent standoff with Iran is that the Arab Gulf states have become much more aware of their own regional interactions and relations."

Controversial sale

A further Pentagon announcement is expected in January concerning the Saudi purchase of a military package expected to include advanced US manufacturer Boeing-fabricated bomb guidance technology that transforms unguided bombs into precision munitions Reuters reports. This further notification was delayed after 116 Congressmen joined a Democratic initiative calling for more time to study the Saudi weapons package.

According to the article, less controversial upcoming deals may also include Patriot upgrades for several Gulf states and the Saudi purchase of ships from a new class of coastal patrol ships for the kingdom's Gulf fleet. Middle East Online reports that the Saudis are also interested in upgrades for their F-15s and AWACS at an estimated cost of up to $US620 million.

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Dec 14, 2007

False Alarm


comment |
posted December 10, 2007
(web only)

Ted Gup

At 5:23 am the fire alarm goes off in
the Charles Hotel. I spring out of bed; grab my pants, shoes and
T-shirt; sprint down the corridor toward the red exit sign; push open
the fire door; bolt down ten flights of stairs; and emerge into a dark
and chill December morning. Cambridge still sleeps.

I make my way to the hotel's front entrance and into the lobby. Behind
the reception desk a beleaguered woman is picking up the phone every
five seconds to say "It was a false alarm... it was a false alarm... it
was a false alarm." Beside me stands a man in a camel-hair overcoat and
red baseball cap. He is chewing the stub of a stogie. He is familiar but
the name escapes me, so I ask.

"George Tenet," he says. Read More

Dec 12, 2007

The Depressed Superpower


By Gabor Steingart in Washington

As frustration takes hold in the land of
optimism, Americans are beginning to resemble Germans. They are
collectively depressed over the Iraq War, the weak dollar and the aging
of the baby boomers. Presidential candidates are left to preach change
to an electorate that is afraid of it.

All it takes to find out why America is in such a bad mood is a look
at the local section of any American newspaper, at the photos of the
smiling faces of soldiers killed in Iraq.

Voters listen to Senator Hillary Clinton at a November campaign rally in Perry, Iowa.


Voters listen to Senator Hillary Clinton at a November campaign rally in Perry, Iowa.

All it takes to discover why Americans are beginning to doubt their own
greatness is to accept an invitation to a dinner hosted by Adrian
Fenty, the mayor of Washington, DC. His vision, says Fenty, is for
students in the District of Columbia to receive their books at the
beginning of the school year, not in the middle. When asked whether he
has other visions, the mayor nods enthusiastically. His goal, he says,
is to improve security in the city's schools. Fenty wants to make sure
students in the United States capital can once again leave the
classroom without facing the threat of violence.

All it takes to understand why the United States, a once-proud
economic power, seems so unsure about itself these days is a walk
through a supermarket with author Sara Bongiorni. In her book "A Year
without 'Made in China': One Family's True Life Adventure in the Global
Economy," Bongiorni describes how even those who call themselves smart
shoppers have mixed feelings when they purchase low-priced,
foreign-made products. "When I see the label 'Made in China,' part of
me says: good for China. But another part feels a rush of
sentimentality because I've lost something without exactly knowing what
it is."

Taking a trip down America's memory lane -- to Gary, Indiana, for
instance -- is a good way to understand why Americans today are so
anxious about the future. In the days when Gary was the home of the
world's biggest steel company, the running joke was that US Steel was
so hard up for workers that it would even hire dead people.

The company attracted workers from around the world, including the
family of future pop star Michael Jackson. Gary's steelworkers pumped
prosperity into America, and the country still retains a sizeable chunk
of the past that once thrived in Gary and other places like it.

Optimism Is Becoming an Endangered Species

But Gary is an ailing city today. US Steel has moved its
headquarters elsewhere and has severely cut back its Gary operations.
Nowadays, the city isn't doing any better than its most famous son.
Both have seen better days, but the difference is that Gary doesn't
even have the money for a facelift.

Read more

Dec 9, 2007




Dec 8, 2007

Tomgram: Dilip Hiro, Bush's Losing Iranian Hand


posted December 06, 2007 10:56 am

Whatever else the release
of the 16-agency National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on the Iranian
bomb may be, it is certainly a reasonable measure of inside-the-Beltway
Bush administration decline. Whether that release represented "a pre-emptive strike against the White House by intelligence agencies and military chiefs," an intelligence "mini-coup"
against the administration, part of a longer-term set of moves meant to
undermine plans for air strikes against Iran that involved a potential
resignation threat from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and a "near mutiny" by the Joint Chiefs, or an attempt by the administration itself
to "salvage negotiations with Iran" or shift its own Iran policy, or
none of -- or some combination of -- the above, one thing can be said:
Such an NIE would not have been written, no less released, at almost
any previous moment in the last seven years. (Witness the 2005 version
of the same that opted for an active Iranian program to produce nuclear

Imagine an NIE back in 2005 that, as Dilip Hiro wrote recently,
"contradicts the image of an inward-looking, irrational, theocratic
leadership ruling Iran oppressively that Washington has been projecting
for a long time. It says: 'Our assessment that Iran halted the program
in 2003 primarily in response to international pressure indicates
Teheran's decisions are judged by a cost-benefit approach rather than a
rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic, and military

The Iranians as rational, cost-benefit calculators? Only the near
collapse of presidential and vice-presidential polling figures, and the
endless policy failures that proceeded and accompanied those numbers;
only the arrival of Robert Gates as secretary of defense and a representative
of the "reality-based community," only the weakening of the neocons and
their purge inside the Pentagon, only the increasing isolation of the
Vice President's "office" -- only, that is, decline inside the Beltway
-- could account for such a conclusion or such a release.

Whatever the realities of the Iranian nuclear program, this NIE
certainly reflected the shifting realities of power in Washington in
the winter of 2007. In a zero-sum game in the capital's corridors in
which, for years, every other power center was the loser, the
hardliners suddenly find themselves with their backs to the wall when
it comes to the most compelling of their dreams of global domination.
(Never forget the pre-invasion neocon quip: "Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran.")


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Dec 6, 2007

Primer for campaign 2008

Go to the Foreign Affairs home page

Camapign 2008
Foreign Affairs presents Campaign 2008, a series of articles by the top U.S. presidential candidates previewing the foreign policy agendas they would pursue if elected.

July/Aug 2007

• Barack Obama

• Mitt Romney

Sept/Oct 2007

• Rudolph Giuliani

• John Edwards

Nov/Dec 2007

• Hillary Clinton

• John McCain

Barack Obama photoRenewing American Leadership

"The American moment is not over, but it must be seized anew. America cannot meet this century's challenges alone; the world cannot meet them without America."

Mitt Romney photoRising to a New Generation of Global Challenges

"We must strengthen our military and economy, achieve energy independence, reenergize civilian and interagency capabilities, and revitalize our alliances."

Rudolph Giuliani photoToward a Realistic Peace

"With a stronger defense, a determined diplomacy, and greater U.S. economic and cultural influence, the next president can start to build a lasting, realistic peace."

John Edwards photoReengaging With the World

"We must restore America's reputation for moral leadership and reengage with the world, moving beyond the empty slogan "war on terror" and creating policies built on hope, not fear."

Hillary Rodham Clinton photoSecurity and Opportunity for the Twenty-first Century

"We must get out of Iraq, rediscover the value of statesmanship, and live up to the democratic values that are the deepest source of our strength."

John McCain photoAn Enduring Peace Built on Freedom

"America needs a president who can revitalize the country's purpose and standing in the world and defeat terrorist adversaries who threaten liberty at home and abroad."

The Costs of Containing Iran

Go to the Foreign Affairs home page

Washington's Misguided New Middle East Policy
Vali Nasr and Ray Takeyh
From Foreign Affairs, January/February 2008

Summary: The Bush administration wants to contain Iran by rallying the support of Sunni Arab states and now sees Iran's containment as the heart of its Middle East policy: a way to stabilize Iraq, declaw Hezbollah, and restart the Arab-Israeli peace process. But the strategy is unsound and impractical, and it will probably further destabilize an already volatile region.

Vali Nasr, Professor of International Politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and Adjunct Senior Fellow for the Middle East at the Council on Foreign Relations, is the author of "The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape the Future." Ray Takeyh is a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of "Hidden Iran: Paradox and Power in the Islamic Republic."

Over the past year, Washington has come to see the containment of Iran as the primary objective of its Middle East policy. It holds Tehran responsible for rising violence in Iraq and Afghanistan, Lebanon's tribulations, and Hamas' intransigence and senses that the balance of power in the region is shifting toward Iran and its Islamist allies. Curbing Tehran's growing influence is thus necessary for regional security.

Vice President Dick Cheney announced this new direction last May on the deck of the U.S.S. John C. Stennis in the Persian Gulf. "We'll stand with our friends in opposing extremism and strategic threats," Cheney said. "We'll continue bringing relief to those who suffer, and delivering justice to the enemies of freedom. And we'll stand with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating this region." Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has expressed a similar sentiment: "Iran constitutes the single most important single-country strategic challenge to the United States and to the kind of Middle East that we want to see." Meanwhile, Iran's accelerating nuclear program continues to haunt Washington and much of the international community, adding to their sense of urgency.

Taking a page out of its early Cold War playbook, Washington hopes to check and possibly reduce Tehran's growing influence much as it foiled the Soviet Union's expansionist designs: by projecting its own power while putting direct pressure on its enemy and building a broad-based alliance against it. Washington has been building up the U.S. Navy's presence in the Persian Gulf and using harsh rhetoric, raising the specter of war. At the same time, it funds a $75 million democracy-promotion program supporting regime change in Tehran. In recent months, Washington has rallied support for a series of United Nations resolutions against Iran's nuclear program and successfully pushed through tough informal financial sanctions that have all but cut Iran out of international financial markets. It has officially designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction and the IRG's elite al Quds Army as a supporter of terrorism, allowing the Treasury Department to target the groups' assets and the U.S. military to harass and apprehend their personnel in Iraq. Washington is also working to garner support from what it now views as moderate governments in the Middle East -- mostly authoritarian Arab regimes it once blamed for the region's myriad problems.

Washington's goal is to eliminate Iran's influence in the Arab world by rolling back Tehran's gains to date and denying it the support of allies -- in effect drawing a line from Lebanon to Oman to separate Iran from its Arab neighbors. The Bush administration has rallied support among Arab governments to oppose Iranian policies in Iraq, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories. It is trying to buttress the military capability of Persian Gulf states by providing a $20 billion arms package to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates. According to Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, one of the arms sales' primary objectives is "to enable these countries to strengthen their defenses and therefore to provide a deterrence against Iranian expansion and Iranian aggression in the future." And through a series of regional conclaves and conferences, the Bush administration hopes to rejuvenate the Israeli-Palestinian peace process partly in the hope of refocusing the energies of the region's governments on the threat posed by Iran.

Containing Iran is not a novel idea, of course, but the benefits Washington expects from it are new. Since the inception of the Islamic Republic, successive Republican and Democratic administrations have devised various policies, doctrines, and schemes to temper the rash theocracy. For the Bush administration, however, containing Iran is the solution to the Middle East's various problems. In its narrative, Sunni Arab states will rally to assist in the reconstruction of a viable government in Iraq for fear that state collapse in Baghdad would only consolidate Iran's influence there. The specter of Shiite primacy in the region will persuade Saudi Arabia and Egypt to actively help declaw Hezbollah. And, the theory goes, now that Israel and its longtime Arab nemeses suddenly have a common interest in deflating Tehran's power and stopping the ascendance of its protégé, Hamas, they will come to terms on an Israeli-Palestinian accord. This, in turn, will (rightly) shift the Middle East's focus away from the corrosive Palestinian issue to the more pressing Persian menace. Far from worrying that the Middle East is now in flames, Bush administration officials seem to feel that in the midst of disorder and chaos lies an unprecedented opportunity for reshaping the region so that it is finally at ease with U.S. dominance and Israeli prowess.

But there is a problem: Washington's containment strategy is unsound, it cannot be implemented effectively, and it will probably make matters worse. The ingredients needed for a successful containment effort simply do not exist. Under these circumstances, Washington's insistence that Arab states array against Iran could further destabilize an already volatile region.


Iran does present serious problems for the United States. Its quest for a nuclear capability, its mischievous interventions in Iraq, and its strident opposition to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process constitute a formidable list of grievances. But the bigger issue is the Bush administration's fundamental belief that Iran cannot be a constructive actor in a stable Middle East and that its unsavory behavior cannot be changed through creative diplomacy. Iran is not, in fact, seeking to create disorder in order to fulfill some scriptural promise,

Read more

Dec 4, 2007

Age of Microcelebrity, and Why Everyone's a Little Brad Pitt

By Clive Thompson Email 11.27.07 | 12:00 AM

Illustration: Abbot Miller/Pentagon

Whenever Peter Hirshberg is at a party, someone eventually pulls out a camera and takes a snapshot with him in it. Hirshberg — chair of the executive committee at the blog-search company Technorati — performs a quick mental calculation: Does the photographer look like one of those people who will immediately dash home and post all their candids to Flickr? "If I think it's going to end up on the Web, I straighten up more, try to smile the right way," Hirshberg says. "Because if it goes online, people I know will probably see it."

Hirshberg has a blog, which means a couple hundred people — some strangers, some friends — regularly follow his comings and goings, his Facebook updates, his online photo trail. Any time he does something embarrassing or stupid, those people will know. So in essence, Hirshberg has to behave like a very minor version of Brad Pitt. He's got to watch out for the paparazzi, be careful with his public image.

But he's not a celebrity. He's a microcelebrity.

Microcelebrity is the phenomenon of being extremely well known not to millions but to a small group — a thousand people, or maybe only a few dozen. As DIY media reach ever deeper into our lives, it's happening to more and more of us. Got a Facebook account? A whackload of pictures on Flickr? Odds are there are complete strangers who know about you — and maybe even talk about you.

Geoffrey Grosenbach, a programmer in Seattle, wrote a Twitter post about a new office chair he got — then discovered people in Australia chatting about his purchase. Afriend of mine learned that her microfans had formed a Yahoo group (with 125 members!) to discuss her blog. I've been touched by this trend, too: I once stumbled upon a discussion-board thread arguing over whether it's healthy for me to have a nanny look after my son during work hours — a personal detail I had revealed online.

Some of the newly microfamous aren't very happy about all the attention. Blog pioneer Dave Winer has found his idle industry-conference chitchat so frequently live-blogged that he now feels "like a presi-dential candidate" and worries about making off-the-cuff remarks. Some pundits fret that microcelebrity will soon force everyone to write blog posts and even talk in the bland, focus-grouped cadences of Hillary Clinton (minus the cackle).

But I think these gloomy predictions are probably wrong. The truth is that people are developing interesting social skills to adapt to microfame. We're learning how to live in front of a crowd.

If you really want to see the future, check out teenagers and twentysomethings. When they go to a party, they make sure they're dressed for their close-up — because there will be photos, and those photos will end up online. In managing their Web presence, they understand the impact of logos, images, and fonts. And they're increasingly careful to use pseudonyms or private accounts when they want to wall off the more intimate details of their lives. (Indeed, fully two-thirds of teenagers' MySpace accounts are private and can be viewed by invitation only.)

I now use a few coy tricks to communicate with the small group of people who follow me online. When the backlog of unanswered messages in my inbox grows too huge, I'll post a message to Facebook or Twitter pleading "Snowed under by work!" in the hope that my audience — including, ahem, my Wired editor — will cut me some slack.

In essence, I'm sending out press releases. Adapting to microcelebrity means learning to manage our own identity and "message" almost like a self-contained public relations department. "People are using the same techniques employed on Madison Avenue to manage their personal lives," says Theresa Senft, a media studies professor and one of the first to identify the rise of microcelebrity. "Corporations are getting humanized, and humans are getting corporatized."

You could regard this as a sad development — the whole Brand Called You meme brought to its grim apotheosis. But haven't our lives always been a little bit public and stage-managed? Small-town living is a hotbed of bloglike gossip. Every time we get dressed — in power suits, nerdy casual wear, or goth-chick piercings — we're broadcasting a message about ourselves. Microcelebrity simply makes the social engineering we've always done a little more overt — and maybe a little more honest.

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U.S. report contradicts Bush on Iran nuclear program


Mon Dec 3, 2007 2:27pm ET

By Matt Spetalnick

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A new U.S. intelligence report says Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and it remains on hold, contradicting the Bush administration's earlier assertion that Tehran was intent on developing a bomb.

The new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) released on Monday could hamper U.S. efforts to convince other world powers to agree on a third package of U.N. sanctions against Iran for defying demands to halt uranium enrichment activities. Iran says it wants nuclear technology only for civilian purposes, such as electricity generation. Tensions have escalated in recent months as Washington has ratcheted up the rhetoric against Tehran, with U.S. President George W.
Bush insisting in October that a nuclear-armed Iran could lead to World War Three.

But in a finding likely to surprise U.S. friends and foes alike, the latest NIE concluded: "We do not know whether (Iran)
currently intends to develop nuclear weapons." That marked a sharp contrast to an intelligence report two years ago that stated Iran was "determined to develop nuclear weapons." But the new assessment found Iran was continuing to develop technical capabilities that could be used to build a bomb and that it would likely be capable of producing enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon "sometime during the 2010-2015 time-frame."


Dec 1, 2007

New Home Sales Cut in Half

The Big Picture: Macro perspective on the capital markets, economy, geopolitics, technology and digital media

Friday, November 30, 2007 | 11:30 AM

I was chatting with a friend about our earlier post taking apart the New Housing Sales data (Sales drop 23.5%), and he asked -- "Gee, how far do you think that's from the top?"

A few clicks later -- and courtesy of Asha G. Bangalore, we learn that sales of new single-family homes are down 47.6% from their peak in July 2005.


To contextualize this, if the current path continues into 2008, Centex CEO Timothy Eller said to Bloomberg, "This looks like it's going to be the deepest correction of any housing correction since World War II."

Truly amazing.


Existing Home Sales - Sales and Prices Are Down, Inventories Keep Climbing Up
Asha G. Bangalore,
Northern Trust, November 28, 2007

Housing Slump's Third Year Will Be `Deepest' Since World War II
Dan Levy and Brian Louis
Bloomberg, Nov. 30 2007


photographs by

Myoung Ho Lee