Opinion

Bernd Debusmann

Obama, Iran and a push for policy change

Bernd Debusmann
Feb 25, 2011 15:27 UTC

Could the administration of President Barack Obama hasten the downfall of Iran’s government by taking an opposition group off the U.S. list of terrorist organizations? To hear a growing roster of influential former government officials tell it, the answer is yes.

The opposition group in question is the Mujadeen-e-Khalq (MEK) and the growing list of Washington insiders coming out in its support include two former Central Intelligence Agency chiefs (James Woolsey and Michael Hayden), two chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Peter Pace and Hugh Shelton), former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, former Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge and former FBI head Louis Freeh.

The MEK was placed on the terrorist list in 1997, a move the Clinton administration hoped would help open a dialogue with Iran, and since then has been waging a protracted legal battle to have the designation removed. Britain and the European Union took the group off their terrorist lists in 2008 and 2009 respectively after court rulings that found no evidence of terrorist actions after the MEK renounced violence in 2001.

In Washington, initial support for “de-listing” came largely from the ranks of conservatives and neo-conservatives but it has been spreading across the aisle and the addition of a newcomer of impeccable standing with the Obama administration could herald a policy change not only on the MEK but also on dealing with Tehran.

The newcomer is Lee Hamilton, an informal senior advisor to President Obama, who served as a Democratic congressman for 34 years and was co-chairman of the commission that investigated the events leading to the September 11, 2001 attacks on Washington and New York.

Who is the superpower, America or Israel?

Bernd Debusmann
Feb 21, 2011 17:19 UTC

On February 18, the United States vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution on Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories. The vote raises a question: Who dominates in the alliance between America and Israel?

Judging from the extent to which one partner defies the will of the other, decade after decade, the world’s only superpower is the weaker partner. When push comes to shove, American presidents tend to bow to Israeli wishes. Barack Obama is no exception, or he would not have instructed his ambassador at the United Nations to vote against a policy he himself stated clearly in the summer of 2009.

“The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop,” he said in a much-lauded speech in Cairo.

Egypt, America and a blow to al Qaeda

Bernd Debusmann
Feb 14, 2011 14:38 UTC

These must be difficult times for Osama bin Laden and his Egyptian deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri. The uprising that swept away Hosni Mubarak after 18 days of huge demonstrations, none in the name of Islam, does not fit their ideology. In the war of ideas, al Qaeda suffered a major defeat.

Its leaders preach that the way to remove “apostate” rulers — and Mubarak was high on the list — is through violence. Al Qaeda’s ideology does not embrace the kind of people power that brought down the Berlin wall, forced Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines into exile, and filled Cairo’s Tahrir Square with tens of thousands of peaceful protesters day after day.

They waved the red-white-and-black flags of Egypt, not the green banners of Islam, in peaceful demonstrations that amounted to “a huge defeat in a country of central importance to its image,” in the words of Noman Benotman, the former leader of a Libyan group often aligned with al Qaeda. “We are witnessing Osama bin Laden’s nightmare,” wrote Shibley Telhami, an Arab scholar at the University of Maryland.

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