U.S. official in Israel to discuss Mideast nuclear arms ban

A senior U.S. official is in Israel to discuss the possibility of a compromise that would keep alive the idea of someday banning nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, U.S. officials and U.N. diplomats said on Thursday.

Friday is the final day of a month-long review conference on the 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) at United Nations headquarters in New York. The conference has bogged down on several issues, above all the failure to convene a planned 2012 conference on a Middle East weapons of mass destruction (WMD) ban.

Without agreement on the Middle East issue, diplomats said treaty signatories might fail to agree approve final outcome document at the conference.

Last month, Egypt, backed by other Arab and non-aligned states, proposed that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon convene a regional conference on banning WMD as called for at the 2010 NPT review meeting, with or without Israel's participation. Washington and Israel oppose the idea.

The United States has been trying to come up with a compromise that satisfies the Arabs but does not alienate Israel, diplomats said.

A State Department official said on condition of anonymity that Assistant Secretary of State Tom Countryman was currently in Israel to discuss the WMD-free zone and other issues.

“Both the United States and Israel support the creation of a WMD-free zone in the Middle East,” said Kurtis Cooper, a spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations. “We are working closely with our Israeli partners to advance our mutual interests, including preserving the NPT.”

Israel neither confirms nor denies the widespread assumption that it controls the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal. Israel, which has never joined the NPT, agreed to take part in the review conference as an observer, ending a 20-year absence.

Diplomats were skeptical about Countryman's prospects for success.

The call for a 2012 conference on a regional WMD ban, approved at the 2010 NPT review meeting, infuriated Israel. But diplomats said Israel eventually agreed to attend planning meetings. The planned 2012 conference never took place, which annoyed Egypt and other Arab states.

Egypt's latest proposals, Western diplomats say, are intended to focus attention on Israel. Washington and Israel say Iran's nuclear program is the real regional threat.

Iran says its program is peaceful. It is currently negotiating with world powers to curb it in exchange for lifting sanctions.

The Jewish state has said it would consider joining the NPT only once at peace with its Arab neighbors and Iran.

Most depressing brain finding ever

Yale law school professor Dan Kahan’s new research “>piece about it in Grist:  “Science Confirms: Politics Wrecks Your Ability to Do Math.” 

Kahan conducted some ingenious experiments about the impact of political passion on people’s ability to think clearly.  His conclusion, in Mooney’s words: partisanship “can even undermine our very basic reasoning skills…. [People] who are otherwise very good at math may totally flunk a problem that they would otherwise probably be able to solve, simply because giving the right answer goes against their political beliefs.” 

In other words, say goodnight to the dream that education, journalism, scientific evidence, media literacy or reason can provide the tools and information that people need in order to make good decisions.  It turns out that in the public realm, a lack of information isn’t the real problem.  The hurdle is how our minds work, no matter how smart we think we are.  We want to believe we’re rational, but reason turns out to be the ex post facto way we rationalize what our emotions already want to believe.   

For years my go-to source for downer studies of how our hard-wiring makes democracy hopeless has been “>The answer, basically, “>Here’s “>Best Columnist award, is the “>USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.  Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

Romney says he and Netanyahu have same ‘test’ for Iran

Mitt Romney has said that he and Benjamin Netanyahu would employ the same “test” for Iran's nuclear program, but that a strike was “a long way” off.

Speaking to CNN on Oct. 9, the US Republican presidential candidate said: “My own test is that Iran should not have the capability of producing a nuclear weapon. I think that's the same test that [Israeli Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu would also apply.”

Netanyahu is insisting the “international community” — a term which Israeli politicians often use in referring to the U.S. — draw a clear “red line” in Iran's path to obtaining nuclear weapons. Crossing the line would mean military intervention.

Netanyahu has warned that vows to prevent Iran from having nuclear weapons — such as the ones made by the Obama Administration — were not enough, and that the threshold to a strike on Iran should be set at an earlier point.  

On CNN, Romney added that there should be “no daylight between the United States and Israel,” returning to a theme he has brought out frequently in recent campaign events. “We share values, and we're both absolutely committed to preventing Iran from having a nuclear weapon,” he said.

Romney also said that “we have a long way to go before military action may be necessary. And hopefully it's never necessary. Hopefully, through extremely tight sanctions, as well as diplomatic action, we can prevent Iran from taking a course which would lead to them crossing that line.”

“There's great hope and real prospects for dissuading Iran from taking a path that leads into a nuclear setting,” the former Massachusetts governor said.

If Israel were to launch a military strike, he said, “the actions of Israel would not come as a surprise to me.”

A report in Foreign Policy magazine on Oct. 8 said that Israel and the US are considering a joint surgical strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.

Syria reportedly moving chemical weapons

U.S. officials are warily watching as Syria begins moving undeclared chemical weapons out of its storage facilities.

Syria’s Assad regime may be preparing to use the weapons against rebels fighting its control, or may be moving them to safeguard them against opponents and to confuse western governments, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Opposition leaders and western governments say as many as 15,000 people have been killed by the regime in nearly 16 months of the uprising.

The weapons in transit – which reportedly include serving nerve agent, mustard gas and cyanide – are creating increasing concern in Washington and elsewhere.

“This could set the precedent of WMD [weapons of mass destruction] being used under our watch,” one U.S. official told the Wall Street Journal. “This is incredibly dangerous to our national security.”

The Obama administration has begun to hold classified briefings about the new intelligence, the paper reported.

The Syrian government rejected reports that it was moving its weapons.

“This is absolutely ridiculous and untrue,” said Syria’s foreign ministry spokesman, Jihad Makdissi, told the Journal. “If the U.S. is so well-informed, why can’t they help [U.N. envoy] Kofi Annan in stopping the flow of illegal weapons to Syria in order to end the violence and move towards the political solution?”

R-E-S-P-E-C-T for Colin Powell

Listening to Colin Powell endorse Barack Obama, I had the same divided feelings I did last spring, when I heard him speak at my daughter’s high school graduation.

He had come because he knew the family of another senior in the class well enough to accept the invitation. An hour before the students processed in, he graciously posed for a photo with each of them. When he spoke, he was warm, witty and inspirational. The story of his rise — from the South Bronx to four-star general, National Security Advisor, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Secretary of State — held a classic commencement moral: If a screw-up like me could make it, you privileged and accomplished kids will make it, too, and you’ll have a responsibility to give back to society.

Yet I couldn’t help recalling that this was the same Colin Powell whose United Nations speech five years earlier had convinced me that invading Iraq was the right thing to do. And not only me, but journalists and columnists and editorial writers around the country, many of whom I respected for their gimlet-eyed sobriety.

As assembled by former Des Moines Register editorial page editor “>investigations since his UN speech suggest that Secretary Powell misrepresented the intelligence he had and discounted “>Kamel had told both CIA analysts and UN inspectors in 1995 that Iraq had destroyed its entire stockpile of chemical and biological weapons and banned missiles.

Bioweapons factories: Secretary Powell said, “We have firsthand descriptions of biological weapons factories on wheels and on rails,” which could make enough anthrax or botulinus toxin “in a single month to kill thousands upon thousands of people.” What he didn’t say was that the “>CIA knew that the two corroborating accounts came from Iraqis who had never had direct contact with the biowarfare trucks and had not claimed to have seen them. Nor that CIA files contained information about another Iraqi defector, an engineer who had worked with Curveball, who specifically denied that they had worked on such facilities. Nor that the only American intelligence official ever to actually meet Curveball, when asked to vet this portion of the upcoming speech, warned his CIA boss that Curveball might not know what he was talking about.

Nuclear weapons: Secretary Powell said “most United States experts” believe aluminum tubes sought by Iraq were intended for use as centrifuge cylinders for enriching uranium for nuclear bombs. “Most?” In 2001, the “>experts had specifically warned him not to say that the tubes were manufactured to a tolerance ”that far exceeds U.S. requirements for comparable rockets,” but say it he did.

WMD concealment: Secretary Powell played a recording of an intercepted conversation, in Arabic, between two Iraqi military officers. The English translation he showed on a slide said this: “Clean out all of the areas, the scrap areas, the abandoned areas… Make sure there is nothing there.” Yet this is the “>pressure from Vice President Cheney and his enforcer, “Scooter” Libby, Powell succeeded in purging the speech of dozens of canards. But the speech he delivered is the same speech that, on the eve of his UN appearance, he

Liberal Academics Blind to Terror Threat

The professor narrowed his eyes, leaned back in his chair and yawned.

“You don’t really believe that do you?”

I stared back perplexed.


“That there is really some terrorist conspiracy poised against the United States.”

There was a short silence. I took a deep breath, not sure if he was serious. But when I looked in his eyes, I detected no trace of humor.

“Well, the events of Sept. 11 would certainly seem to point to it.”

He suddenly sat forward, his face growing flushed.

“Come on, Mr. Davis,” he said with an edge now in his voice. “You should know better. You’re a journalist. That neocon crap is just as easily disproved as Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. It’s clear fabrication — used by Bush and his cronies to justify an unjustifiable war. Better to check the terrorism coming out of Washington before looking elsewhere.”

I had to do a double take to remember where I was sitting and to whom I was speaking. Was this Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein or some other fringe American intellectual of the far left? Was I in Northern California or Vermont, where such pabulum passes as standard rhetoric?

No. I was in America’s intellectual heartland, Harvard University. And I was addressing one of the most noted political scientists in the country.

After a year at Harvard University, I have come to understand that the professor’s world view represents far more mainstream opinion in the intellectual community than I had ever imagined. For many of the professors, students and general community leaders in this high-brow enclave, the events of Sept. 11, 2001, are a distant memory — the stuff of nightmare perhaps but something more akin to a natural disaster than a deliberate and unprovoked attack on the United States.

Gone is any outrage against the Muslim extremists who perpetrated the atrocities of that day. Absent is any sense in which America is at war with a pitiless force pledged to the elimination of democracy and its replacement with a totalitarian system based on religious law.

Instead, the wrath of the Cambridge liberal community is taken out against the American president himself. George W. Bush, whose election is universally regarded in these circles as tainted and illegitimate, has emerged as the personification of deceit and the cause of world turmoil.

It is not unusual in such elite society to hear Bush described as Adolf Hitler reincarnate; the United States under the Bush administration as an imperialist, racist, capitalist pariah, or that Bush is needlessly spilling American blood for the sake of Middle East oil. In addition to his bungling of American foreign policy, he is saddled with the responsibility for the melting of the polar ice caps, for the human rights violations of prisoners of war in Cuba and Iraq, the despoliation of the world’s rain forests and the exploitation of child labor in Southeast Asia.

In short, it is Bush and the policies of his imperialistic thugs who revolve the spindle on the axis of evil, not Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein or any of the more nefarious leaders of the Third World.

There was once hope that Harvard would change its orientation under a more open and even-handed administration. But even the installation of the former secretary of the Treasury, Lawrence Summers, as Harvard president, has had little impact on the status quo. While Summers pledged to shake up the university, there has been no significant shift in hiring practices or in the selection of professors for tenure.

In most departments, liberal orthodoxy reigns virtually unchallenged, and in the department of government, only three professors out of 60 could be identified as conservative. When I suggested to one conservative Harvard professor that she must, because of her political views, endure great conflict with her colleagues, she looked at me glumly and could only answer, ” I wish I did have conflict. Unfortunately, nobody talks to me.”

How is it possible that during a military conflict, catalyzed by the most violent attack against America since Pearl Harbor, there could be such unparalleled denigration of a sitting U.S. president among academics?

While all previous wartime presidents had their detractors, none of them — including Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson or Franklin Delano Roosevelt — endured such a level of disparagement amounting to a characterization as fascist. The vilification of Bush among academics surely transcends normal election year politics and adds new understanding to the term “ivory tower detachment.”

Part of the answer is that for many, America’s adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq are not perceived as a response to a real military threat. In this regard, both Iraq and Afghanistan are not real wars but punitive missions, representing failure, much like Gen. John F. Pershing’s fruitless invasion of Mexico in 1916 or America’s involvement in Vietnam in the 1960s and ’70s.

Then, as now, the invasion of another country, albeit on much smaller scales, was derided as folly that threatened the peaceable reputations of sitting presidents — one who campaigned in an election year on the platform that his diplomacy had kept his country out of the World War I, and the other who had built a name as a humanitarian by pioneering legislation in civil rights and social welfare.

More than likely, the academic antipathy to Bush stems from an inability to appreciate that the rules of war have changed. Invisible enemies who operate in small, isolated units; who can plot and execute a major military assault against a superpower from a cave; who rely on highly sophisticated technologies to communicate commands to underlings; who are capable of marshaling vast financial resources to procure nuclear weaponry, and who are driven not as much by ideology as “martyrology” is a form of military conduct still largely unrecognized by academia in this century.

Seen in this light, liberal academics mistake as anomalies the events of Sept. 11 and the dozens of other major terrorist attacks around the world since then. They are unable to connect the dots between these events, because the pattern of attack does not conform to a standard military campaign, nor does it represent a serious injury to a seemingly impregnable political system.

Liberal academics, because of their grounding in the dialectics of the Cold War, are not yet capable of viewing the power of terrorist organizations in the 21st century to threaten democracy, because there is no precedent for either its success in toppling elected governments or of achieving significant military objectives.

But the result of the Spanish general election in April provides an important warning. It should make clear that the terrorist menace is no longer restricted to performances of mere political theater but is also now geared toward acts of direct political intervention. Under these circumstances, the threat to Western Civilization is as real as fascism’s was to the democracies of the 1930s.

We can now ruefully reflect on the tragic ill preparedness of the Free World to Hitler’s designs in the 1930s. Academics and intellectuals in Europe and elsewhere largely stood on the sidelines as the Nazi threat swelled.

No one should pretend that the terrorist menace, if excused and ignored by this country’s intellectuals, could not have the same devastating consequences for the United States and its allies in the future. Portraying the American president or any other American leader as a terrorist may provide cartoonists and columnists with spiteful ammunition to hurl at conservatives. But in the end, it only serves to deflect attention from the real battle and lends support to a source of evil that threatens us all.