President Bush

Damascus – Syria was ready to improve relations with Saudi Arabia and Egypt, but would not take part in the US-sponsored Annapolis peace conference, President Bashar Assad said in an interview with Tunisia’s Ash-Shrouk newspaper published by Syrian papers Thursday.Assad said Syrian relations with both countries were ‘not as they should be,’ and that ‘Syria doesn’t mind making an initiative to improve these relations.’

Damascus’ relations with longtime US allies Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan have been cool, partly over what they see as Syria’s role in promoting Iranian interests in the Arab world.

‘It’s in Syria’s interest to have Arab solidarity … to discuss what we should do, especially with regards to the next months,’ which would shape the country’s destiny, Assad said.

He said his country would send envoys to Arab countries soon to discuss the recent non-binding US Senate resolution that proposed a reshaping of Iraq into three sectarian or ethnic territories, underlining the need to assist Iraq to face the resolution.

Assad also said his country would not take part in the US- sponsored November peace conference as Syria would ‘not participate in a conference that lacks the chances of success.’

Assad also says that the Golan must be included on the agenda if the U.S. wants Syria’s participation. Full article here. Of course, Syria’s position on the Peace Conference comes within weeks after Israel’s recent air strike on Syria:

On September 6, Israeli war planes entered Syrian airspace. Syria initially claimed that the planes fled after being engaged by Syrian air defenses, dumping their ammunition on a deserted area. While Israel has remained largely silent over the incident, U.S. and British media sources, citing U.S. and Israeli officials, report that a successful military strike took place. Israeli opposition party leader Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to confirm these claims in a television interview on September 19. On October 1, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad admitted that a strike had taken place, saying that Israeli jets had struck an unused military building. Reports, however, have suggested that the target of the raid was either a shipment of arms from Iran to Hezbollah or a nuclear installation being constructed by Syria with the assistance of North Korea. Syria and North Korea both deny these claims.

Full article here. Complicating matters is the report that the Bush administration, which apparently had been briefed by Israel prior to the air strike, has an internal disagreement over how to proceed with Syria:

A sharp debate is under way in the Bush administration about the significance of the Israeli intelligence that led to last month’s Israeli airstrike inside Syria, the New York Times reported Wednesday.

At issue is whether intelligence that Israel presented months ago to the White House — to support claims that Syria had begun early work on what could become a nuclear weapons program with help from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) — was conclusive enough to justify military action by Israel and a possible rethinking of American policy toward the two nations.

U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and conservative hawks in the Bush administration have been portraying the Israeli intelligence as credible and arguing that it should cause the U.S. to reconsider its diplomatic overtures to Syria and the DPRK.

By contrast, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her allies within the administration have said they do not believe that the intelligence presented so far merits any change in the American diplomatic approach.

Full article here.


At the APEC conference in Sydney, Australia, President Bush let slip that he might have another four-letter acronym organization on his mind when he thanked “Austrian” (sic) prime minister John Howard for being a “kind host” for the “OPEC summit.” Full article here.

And well he should be thinking of OPEC today. As oil prices hover around the $77 level, OPEC meets next week to discuss its moves as we enter the fourth quarter — typically a high-demand time of year — amid the wheezing of Western economies:

SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) — The world’s major oil producers have a big decision to make when they meet next week: how to deal with signs of softening global economies and the usual run up in fourth-quarter oil demand as crude prices head toward record levels.

One thing’s for sure. Even though members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries have quite a few options to consider, their most likely move in such a time of uncertainty would be to leave production levels alone — for now, most analysts said.

“It is the express[ed] objective for OPEC to sell oil at as high a price as possible for as long a period of time as possible, without causing increased inflation or jeopardizing global economic stability,” said John Person, president of

Whether the cartel can achieve that and how it will go about doing it is another matter.

Full article here. Certainly this morning’s U.S. employment numbers, showing an unexpected drop for the month of August, must be complicating OPEC’s strategy.

Meanwhile … soon to be unemployed: President Bush.

SYRIA is to demand American help in securing the return of the Golan Heights from Israel as the price of co-operation over Iraq.

With the White House under pressure to talk to its adversary, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has resolved that his assistance will not come cheaply.

Mr Assad has been considering how to respond to an American overture following reports that the Iraq Study Group will recommend that the US engage Syria and Iran in talks on Iraq, a position backed by British Prime Minister Tony Blair last week.

The Syrian President wants the US and Britain to use their influence with Israel to raise the return to Syria of the Golan Heights, seized by the Israelis in the 1967 Six Day War.

“It will be the top demand,” said Ayman Abdel Nour, a leading reformer in the ruling Baath party.

Full piece here.

The U.S. government was tipped off years ago that invading Iraq would likely be problematic.A series of secret war games in 1999 predicted that an invasion of Iraq would require 400,000 troops, and even then chaos might ensue.

In its “Desert Crossing” games, 70 military, diplomatic and intelligence officials assumed the high troop levels would be needed to keep order, seal borders and take care of other security needs. The game also predicted that “a change in regimes does not guarantee stability.”

There are currently about 144,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, down from a peak of about 160,000 in January.

The documents came to light through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Via The Denver Channel.

Meanwhile, conservative water-carrier Richard Perle and the Military Times are expressing their frustration with White House policy as well:

A leading conservative proponent of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq now says dysfunction within the Bush administration has turned U.S. policy there into a disaster.

Richard Perle, who chaired a committee of Pentagon policy advisers early in the Bush administration, said had he seen at the start of the war in 2003 where it would go, he probably would not have advocated an invasion to depose Saddam Hussein. Perle was an assistant secretary of defense under President Reagan.

“I probably would have said, ‘Let’s consider other strategies for dealing with the thing that concerns us most, which is Saddam supplying weapons of mass destruction to terrorists,'” he told Vanity Fair magazine in its upcoming January issue.

Meanwhile, the Military Times Media Group, a Gannett Co. subsidiary that publishes Army Times and other military-oriented periodicals, said Friday it was calling for Bush to fire Rumsfeld. An editorial due to be published Monday says active-duty military leaders are beginning to voice misgivings about the war’s planning and execution and dimming prospects for success. It declares that “Rumsfeld has lost credibility with the uniformed leadership, with the troops, with Congress and with the public at large.”

The editorial concludes by saying that regardless of which party wins in next week’s election, the time has come “to face the hard bruising truth: Donald Rumsfeld must go.”

Full article here.

I’m not predicting the end of the American era, not by a long shot. The U.S. business culture is as pragmatic and effective as its political culture is dysfunctional. But has there been a worse moment for American power since Ronald Reagan celebrated morning in America almost a quarter of a century ago? I can’t think of one.

Interesting reading from the Washington Post’s Sebastian Mallaby here.

The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously on Saturday to impose financial and weapons sanctions on North Korea for its claimed nuclear test in a resolution that Pyongyang immediately rejected.
The U.S.-drafted resolution, which said the reclusive communist state’s action was a “clear threat to international peace and security,” allows nations to stop cargo going to and from North Korea to check for weapons of mass destruction or related supplies.

The resolution bars trade with North Korea in dangerous weapons. It also impose bans on heavy conventional weapons and luxury goods and asks nations to freeze funds connected with North Korea’s unconventional arms programs.

Full article here.

Of course, the U.S. has been unwilling to confirm that North Korea’s test actually took place, although today U.S. intelligence officials told their Japanese and South Korean counterparts that the presence of radiation detected by U.S. aircraft suggested the possibility of a nuclear test. Regardless of whether or not the test took place, as President Bush said last week, the mere fact that North Korea is claiming to have tested nukes poses a threat to global peace and security.

Okay, we understand his point — but the incentives may be all wrong here. Wouldn’t this be a safer world if everyone said they were testing nukes but no one actually was testing nukes?

War with Iran—a war that would unleash an apocalyptic scenario in the Middle East—is probable by the end of the Bush administration. It could begin in as little as three weeks. This administration, claiming to be anointed by a Christian God to reshape the world, and especially the Middle East, defined three states at the start of its reign as “the Axis of Evil.” They were Iraq, now occupied; North Korea, which, because it has nuclear weapons, is untouchable; and Iran. Those who do not take this apocalyptic rhetoric seriously have ignored the twisted pathology of men like Elliott Abrams, who helped orchestrate the disastrous and illegal contra war in Nicaragua, and who now handles the Middle East for the National Security Council. He knew nothing about Central America. He knows nothing about the Middle East. He sees the world through the childish, binary lens of good and evil, us and them, the forces of darkness and the forces of light. And it is this strange, twilight mentality that now grips most of the civilian planners who are barreling us towards a crisis of epic proportions.

These men advocate a doctrine of permanent war, a doctrine which, as William R. Polk points out, is a slight corruption of Leon Trotsky’s doctrine of permanent revolution. These two revolutionary doctrines serve the same function, to intimidate and destroy all those classified as foreign opponents, to create permanent instability and fear and to silence domestic critics who challenge leaders in a time of national crisis. It works. The citizens of the United States, slowly being stripped of their civil liberties, are being herded sheep-like, once again, over a cliff.

But this war will be different. It will be catastrophic. It will usher in the apocalyptic nightmares spun out in the dark, fantastic visions of the Christian right. And there are those around the president who see this vision as preordained by God; indeed, the president himself may hold such a vision.

More wild stuff here. Happy Friday the 13th, everyone!

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