I just finished reading Bashar Assad's interview/chest-puffing-exercise with Newsweek editor Lally Weymouth. According to Assad, Syria has not "closed" the offices of Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, but has prevented "activities" by these groups (this is contrary to the demands given by Colin Powell). He says that the closure of those offices will only come through diplomatic negotiations with Israel, leading to a withdrawal from the Golan Heights. He said some other interesting things too. It is difficult to tell whether this is just posturing, or whether he is really telling the truth here. For his sake, I hope that it is posturing.
He also denied a report in Ma'ariv that the Syrians were speaking with Israel through clandestine contacts in order to reopen negotiations on the Golan before the outbreak of Gulf War II.
Here are some highlights.
Have you closed some offices?
You use the word "closed." I talked with Mr. Powell about stopping "activities," not closures. The [Palestinians] have information offices and can appear on TV. But [restricting them] is related to the Golan -- to resuming the peace talks on the Syrian track.
Did you give Powell some assurance that there would be some restrictions placed on these groups?
We talked about all these issues but no final decision was made. We are still talking.
There have been stories in the Israeli press about recent meetings between a Syrian official and an Israeli over starting up peace negotiations. Is there any truth to this?
This is the Israeli way -- they try to make it appear as if Syria is working in secrecy. Why should we create back channels? This does not give you popular support ... which is very important if you are engaged in a peace process. Neither now nor in the future will Syria engage in secret negotiations.
Did you make a mistake in opposing the war with Iraq, keeping Iraqi oil flowing to Syria and allowing weapons to go across your border into Iraq?
We were not close to [Iraqi President] Saddam [Hussein] and did not have an embassy in Baghdad. I never met him or talked with him on the phone. What you said about the oil is true. We had economic relations with Iraq. What you said about this government allowing armaments to go to Iraq is not correct. [But] arms were smuggled into Iraq by individuals; the government had nothing to do with it.
Did Iraqi regime leaders come here during the war?
Yes, some of them came to the border. They weren?t allowed to come in. Some of them were captured by the Americans.
Didn't some come here?
Somebody came before [the war].
We allowed families to come to Syria, women and children. But we were suspicious of some of the relatives -- that they had positions in the past and were responsible for killings in Syria in the '80s.
The Atlantic Monthly has an interview with Iranian author Azar Nafisi, which is simply lyrical. If she writes even half as well as she speaks, she must be damn good. The most surprising thing I learned from reading the interview was that Jane Austen is one of the most controversial and censored western authors in Iran. That was a shock to me. I always thought of her as the kind of writer I might read to cure a bout of insomnia, but certainly not as a radical figure. I suppose that proves Nafisi's thesis that the current generation of Iranians are expressing our own currents of freedom in ways that we hardly even consider anymore. She is at her best here:
When your reality is so absurd that the country's chief censor for film is a man who is literally blind, what can you do with it? At least you have to have a good laugh. Even now, some of my students who are still in Iran will call me sometimes and we will just laugh our heads off.
I used to think that life over there is so fictional, so unreal, that it really stunted our creative powers. If I were going to come up with a metaphor for the Islamic Republic, I would use the blind censor, but the blind censor is already there. What could I make up about a system that censors Desdemona out of Othello? It is very frustrating to be a fiction writer in Iran.
The Iraqi blogger, Salam Pax, who is better than any five bloggers I know, is back in business. I was worried that maybe the US Army killed him by accident, or that the Ba'athists killed him on purpose. It is great to hear his cynical voice again. All of his writings in the interim (from March 24 when his internet went down until May 1) have been posted, and it is classic Salam. My favorite passage is this one, from April 10.
On the 9th we saw on TV the images of looting. The Iranian news channel (Al-Alam) showed the images and since this channel can be picked up by a normal antenna everybody who had an electricity generator got news that the lawless phase of this attack has reached Baghdad. Farhud has started in Baghdad. Farhud. The first one was the Farhud of the jews of Baghdad after they have been driven out of their homes, don’t ask me about dates. Diana told me about that one, I never knew that the word was used to describe the plunder that happened to the homes of the Iraqi jews – Farhud al yahood. Then an organized Farhud in Kuwait, that one was very systematic and state organized. Today I tell you History does only repeat itself once but it hits you a third time in the eye. To see your city destroyed before your own eyes is not a pain that can be described and put to words. It turns you sour or was that bitter, it makes something snap in you and you lose whatever hope you had. Undone by your own hands. Close your doors. Shut your eyes. Hope the black clouds of this ugliness do not reach you.
According to the Washington Post, hundreds of people are protesting in the streets of Kabul today over what they see as American indifference to their plight. The Karzai administration is truly weak, and he basically acts as the mayor of Kabul and nothing else, so disappointment in his governance there is a very important matter. Karzai isn't even able to pay the salaries of the people who allegedly work for him.
Protesters lamented that the U.S.-backed administration of President Hamid Karzai is so weak that it can't meet its payroll, and thousands of government workers nationwide have gone without salaries for months.
Said Reshad, 19, said his father works at the Finance Ministry and hasn't received a paycheck in three months. His family of nine has begun selling household belongings.
"We sold the carpets and the refrigerator," Reshad said. "Now we'll borrow money to live. Finally, we'll have to start stealing something to eat. We'll join the Taliban just to support our family. If they give us money, we'll join them."
The Karzai administration, for example, needs more help from international donors in meeting its monthly payroll, Hilal said. In the Interior Ministry alone, 96,000 workers, most of them policemen and border patrol officers, haven't been paid in two months, he said.
This is a serious issue, and cuts to the very heart of the stability of post-Taliban Afghanistan. As the person the Post quoted above said, if the Taliban returns with money, they will follow the Taliban. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard is already starting to play a modernity-unfriendly role in various parts of Afghanistan, and it is only a matter of time before others pick up the slack. The amazing thing is that this has been going on for months and Bush hasn't lifted a finger to give Karzai some relief. There is no central authority in Afghanistan currently, and some of the warlords have armies and budgets no lesser than that of Karzai himself. This needs to be addressed, it's as simple as that. There is no excuse for this kind of thing.
Blogger is upgrading to a new version called Dano. Eventually everyone will be pushed onto the new system, but for now early adopters can try it out and work through all the kinks. I decided to fashion a new blog to try it out (instead of experimenting with this one). It's called The Bridgewater Treatise, and I plan on using it as a place where people can easily look at documents I've collected that might otherwise get lost in the fray.
My impressions of the new Blogger? The interface is a lot sexier than before, and they've added some new template tags, but it is basically the same old Blogger. Allegedly they've fixed most of the bugs that plagued (and continue to plague) the old Blogger, which is an awesome thing if true. Still, I think I'll put off migrating Phaedo over to Dano for a few days, just to make sure everything is going well.
In Roland Foster related news there are no new developments (but I've been busy the past few days, so cut me some slack). The affair has, however, brought some interesting traffic (one person looking for "fisting instructions" on Google and another for "masturbation tips" at Earthlink). Hope you guys remember to check out the wonderful poetry below.
Jack Shafer, over at Slate, says that Iraq's forbidden weapons will turn up in just two weeks. His proof: Sy Hersh says they won't.
Today the Washington Times is posting high an article by Bill Gertz claiming that France distributed visas to senior Iraqi officials, which may have allowed them to flee to Europe after the fall of Baghdad. According to Gertz, the documents originated from a French consulate in Syria, but he doesn't mention when the visas were requested or when they were distributed.
The French government secretly supplied fleeing Iraqi officials with passports in Syria that allowed them to escape to Europe, The Washington Times has learned.
An unknown number of Iraqis who worked for Saddam Hussein's government were given passports by French officials in Syria, U.S. intelligence officials said.
The French support, which was revealed through sensitive intelligence-gathering means, angered Pentagon, State Department and intelligence officials in Washington because it undermined the search for senior aides to Saddam, who fled Iraq in large numbers after the fall of Baghdad on April 9.
It seems clear that they were given out before the war, possibly quite a while before, so I don't think this really says too much about France (doubtless some of them had American visas of an equal vintage). Also, the nature of the "sensitive intelligence-gathering means" isn't elaborated upon. If I had to guess, I would say that it is probably an informant of some sort, which reduces the credibility of the information somewhat (i.e. I don't think they have actual documents here).
All that being said, just a few minutes later, I bring up the Washington Post website and what do my eyes behold?
U.S., France to Lead Security Study; After Split on Iraq War, Nations Join to Prevent Passport Forgery
Unwisely, I happened to have been drinking a glass of water at the time, and well...you know what happened next. I guess I should clean off my keyboard now....
Ye olde famous Post/Times dissonance. I guess the moral of the story is that one should never read the Post and Times in rapid succession, especially not with a mouth full of liquid. Always wait at least a half hour before diving into a completely different world.