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War on Iran has already begun. Act before it threatens all of us | Seumas Milne December 8, 2011

They don’t give up. After a decade of blood-drenched failure in Afghanistan and Iraq, violent destabilisation of Pakistan and Yemen, the devastation of Lebanon and slaughter in Libya, you might hope the US and its friends had had their fill of invasion and intervention in the Muslim world.

It seems not. For months the evidence has been growing that a US-Israeli stealth war against Iran has already begun, backed by Britain and France. Covert support for armed opposition groups has spread into a campaign of assassinations of Iranian scientists, cyber warfare, attacks on military and missile installations, and the killing of an Iranian general, among others.

The attacks are not directly acknowledged, but accompanied by intelligence-steered nods and winks as the media are fed a stream of hostile tales – the most outlandish so far being an alleged Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the US – and the western powers ratchet up pressure for yet more sanctions over Iran’s nuclear programme.

The British government’s decision to take the lead in imposing sanctions on all Iranian banks and pressing for an EU boycott of Iranian oil triggered the trashing of its embassy in Tehran by demonstrators last week and subsequent expulsion of Iranian diplomats from London.

It’s a taste of how the conflict can quickly escalate, as was the downing of a US spyplane over Iranian territory at the weekend. What one Israeli official has called a “new kind of war” has the potential to become a much more old-fashioned one that would threaten us all.

Last month the Guardian was told by British defence ministry officials that if the US brought forward plans to attack Iran (as they believed it might), it would “seek, and receive, UK military help”, including sea and air support and permission to use the ethnically cleansed British island colony of Diego Garcia.

Whether the officials’ motive was to soften up public opinion for war or warn against it, this was an extraordinary admission: the Britain military establishment fully expects to take part in an unprovoked US attack on Iran – just as it did against Iraq eight years ago.

What was dismissed by the former foreign secretary Jack Straw as “unthinkable”, and for David Cameron became an option not to be taken “off the table”, now turns out to be as good as a done deal if the US decides to launch a war that no one can seriously doubt would have disastrous consequences. But there has been no debate in parliament and no mainstream political challenge to what Straw’s successor, David Miliband, this week called the danger of “sleepwalking into a war with Iran”. That’s all the more shocking because the case against Iran is so spectacularly flimsy.

There is in fact no reliable evidence that Iran is engaged in a nuclear weapons programme. The latest International Atomic Energy Agency report once again failed to produce a smoking gun, despite the best efforts of its new director general, Yukiya Amano – described in a WikiLeaks cable as “solidly in the US court on every strategic decision”.

As in the runup to the invasion of Iraq, the strongest allegations are based on “secret intelligence” from western governments. But even the US national intelligence director, James Clapper, has accepted that the evidence suggests Iran suspended any weapons programme in 2003 and has not reactivated it.

The whole campaign has an Alice in Wonderland quality about it. Iran, which says it doesn’t want nuclear weapons, is surrounded by nuclear-weapon states: the US – which also has forces in neighbouring Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as military bases across the region – Israel, Russia, Pakistan and India.

Iran is of course an authoritarian state, though not as repressive as western allies such as Saudi Arabia. But it has invaded no one in 200 years. It was itself invaded by Iraq with western support in the 1980s, while the US and Israel have attacked 10 countries or territories between them in the past decade. Britain exploited, occupied and overthrew governments in Iran for over a century. So who threatens who exactly?

As Israel’s defence minister, Ehud Barak, said recently, if he were an Iranian leader he would “probably” want nuclear weapons. Claims that Iran poses an “existential threat” to Israel because President Ahmadinejad said the state “must vanish from the page of time” bear no relation to reality. Even if Iran were to achieve a nuclear threshold, as some suspect is its real ambition, it would be in no position to attack a state with upwards of 300 nuclear warheads, backed to the hilt by the world’s most powerful military force.

The real challenge posed by Iran to the US and Israel has been as an independent regional power, allied to Syria and the Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian Hamas movements. As US troops withdraw from Iraq, Saudi Arabia fans sectarianism, and Syrian opposition leaders promise a break with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, the threat of proxy wars is growing across the region.

A US or Israeli attack on Iran would turn that regional maelstrom into a global firestorm. Iran would certainly retaliate directly and through allies against Israel, the US and US Gulf client states, and block the 20% of global oil supplies shipped through the Strait of Hormuz. Quite apart from death and destruction, the global economic impact would be incalculable.

All reason and common sense militate against such an act of aggression. Meir Dagan, the former head of Israel’s Mossad, said last week it would be a “catastrophe”. Leon Panetta, the US defence secretary, warned that it could “consume the Middle East in confrontation and conflict that we would regret”.

There seems little doubt that the US administration is deeply wary of a direct attack on Iran. But in Israel, Barak has spoken of having less than a year to act; Binyamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, has talked about making the “right decision at the right moment”; and the prospects of drawing the US in behind an Israeli attack have been widely debated in the media.

Maybe it won’t happen. Maybe the war talk is more about destabilisation than a full-scale attack. But there are undoubtedly those in the US, Israel and Britain who think otherwise. And the threat of miscalculation and the logic of escalation could tip the balance decisively. Unless opposition to an attack on Iran gets serious, this could become the most devastating Middle East war of all.

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Afghanistan: the lost decade | Editorial December 6, 2011

There is one set of figures about the war in Afghanistan that puts the problems of trying to end it into their true perspective. The US is spending $120bn more in fighting the war this year than the Afghan exchequer is raising in tax revenue. Even the cost of the war to Britain, at £6bn (according to a former UK ambassador’s evidence to the foreign affairs select committee) is over three times what Kabul can afford. So in what sense is Kabul ready to take over Afghanistan’s security when foreign troops stop combat operations in less than three years’ time? Ten years on from the Bonn conference in 2001, with so many mistakes made, the basic questions only pile up.

Then, Pakistan‘s strategic relationship with US was not in doubt. Now, after a year in which that alliance has been stretched to breaking point, not least by the recent Nato airstrike in which 24 Pakistani troops were killed, it is. Then, the northern warlords were offered seats in government. Now, Hamid Karzai is at odds with them, particularly over their opposition to talks with the Taliban. The insurgents have been suppressed in the south as a result of the surge of US troops, but there has been a 600% rise in attacks in the east, which Nato commanders put down to Pakistan’s Interservices Intelligence (ISI). History is repeating itself. The no-shows at the conference in Bonn on Monday – Pakistan and the Pashtun who boycotted a recent Loya Jirga – were as significant as the ones who turned up.

There are slivers of good news. Secret talks between the Taliban and the Americans have survived the assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani , and progress is being made on setting up a Taliban representative office abroad. But mostly, the prosecution of the war in Afghanistan remains a triumph of hope over realism.

This is as much a British military delusion as an American one. The outgoing British deputy commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan, General James Bucknall, revealed to this newspaper that special forces operations were killing between 130 and 140 insurgent leaders every month. He used this statistic as evidence of progress in pushing the Taliban back. Yet it is these same night raids which would have to stop if substantive talks with the Taliban ever got under way. If they have an influence over them, the ISI will now actively hold back Taliban leaders from talking to the Americans. So wherein lies the general’s progress? Is it the ability after nearly six years of deployment for a provincial governor to travel between Lashkar Gah and Nad Ali by road instead of helicopter? Or the handing over of some of Helmand’s districts to ethnic Tajik Afghan forces, who are almost as foreign to the southern Pashtun Helmandis as the Brits are? Before the British blundered into Helmand there was no heartland for the Taliban to terrorise. After five years of bloody fighting, is this progress?

Even those who hope against hope that a pro-western government in Kabul can survive the withdrawal of foreign combat troops in 2014 (longer, that is, than Najibullah survived the withdrawal of Soviet forces) have to admit that the regional landscape today is far more fragile. The drone attacks that Barack Obama is ever more insistent on using in airspace that is not America’s to fly in, like Pakistan’s and Iran’s, travel in exactly the opposite direction from the one that is needed to seek Pakistan’s and Iran’s buy-in to an international settlement of the conflict. Drone attacks are the ultimate Bush-era unilateral weapon and they are so tempting to use because, unlike the investment in blood that Gen Bucknall was talking about, they don’t involve Nato casualties. But they do cause high casualties and generate unswerving local opposition to the peace Nato is trying to impose. No end to the conflict in Afghanistan or the tribal areas of Pakistan is possible, until all the governments of the region buy into it. Ten years on, that lesson has still to be learned.

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Herman Cain suspends GOP presidential campaign December 3, 2011

Herman Cain has said he is suspending his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in order to avoid news coverage that is hurtful to his family.

Cain’s announcement came five days after a woman claimed she and Cain had an affair for more than a decade, a claim that followed several allegations of sexual harassment against the Georgia businessman. Cain, whose wife, Gloria, stood behind him on the stage, made the announcement to several hundred supporters gathered at what was to have been the opening of his national campaign headquarters.

Cain had performed well in polls until news surfaced in late October that he had been accused of sexual harassment by two women during his time as president of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s.

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Number of N.J. residents receiving food stamps doubled in last four years November 30, 2011

November 29, 2011

by legitgov


Number of N.J. residents receiving food stamps doubled in last four years 27 Nov 2011 The number of New Jersey residents receiving food stamps has doubled in the past four years and is at its highest level in more than a decade, state and federal data show. As of September, the most recent data released by the state Department of Human Services, more than 400,000 households and nearly 822,000 people were enrolled in the food stamp program, meaning nearly one out of every 10 residents in New Jersey receives assistance.

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As Muslim American as apple pie | Ayesha Kazmi November 24, 2011

Only if you are from the United States will you truly understand the highbrow culture of those from north-eastern region. Besides, if you’re a fan of Thanksgiving, it is obvious that there is no contest with other festivals.

From my earliest years, it became a solidified tradition to go on long drives throughout New England to witness the foliage change, snack on maple candy, cider and donuts. I also grew up making those silly handprint turkeys in art classes at school. As an adult, I do my best to take my 9- and 7-year-old nieces every year on the same hay rides through the apple orchards I visited to pick apples when I was their age.

Growing up, I never perceived a contradiction between my classic New England American upbringing and the things that made me glaringly different from the other kids at school. Today, I could be lauded as a Pakistani Muslim American who amalgamated herself well into US culture. On the other hand, I could be designated a “coconut”.

Despite the biryani that sits next to the 22lb turkey every year at my family’s crazy thanksgiving dinners, the tension over how to delineate myself along the lines between eastern and western cultures no longer concerns me. The painful messages Muslim Americans have endured over the past decade have only strengthened that resolve: I am American as apple pie – perhaps, however, with an extra sprinkle of spice.

The Muslim experience may be new to American history, but it is an integral one. Our concerns not only exhibit the deep love Muslim Americans have for the United States in all its contradictions, but they add another complex layer to its history. Muslim Americans have been the very spectacle of eroded constitutional rights even as they simultaneously add another layer to America’s history of internal expansion, which is most paradoxically rooted in the Thanksgiving holiday.

Over the past decade, American Muslims have been forced to reconcile these incongruities, as they have come face to face with the more bitter aspects of American reality. It should come as no surprise that our nation, whose history originates with conquest, will most certainly govern us as such.

American Muslims are the new faces of the American reality, and they are not going anywhere. We partake in this Thanksgiving, being grateful that American history has grown even deeper and richer as a result of all of our experiences and interactions with it, for better or for worse, whether as indigenous peoples, or as America’s latest “suspects”.

After all, one can only truly love something when able to accept its worst blemishes. Perhaps the apples in my pie are of a more sour variety – but I still love them.

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