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Your humble narrator is...
...a research analyst at a think tank in the Washington DC area. Born in Israel, raised in Kentucky, movie fanatic and sports nut.
My first-hand account of the Palestinian divestment conference at the U. of Michigan

:: Saturday, February 21, 2004 ::

Read your own paper
I often get a kick out of reading articles in a newspaper that almost entirely contradict what one of their own columnists insists on in his or her columns. William Safire of the NY Times might not be too pleased with the reporting in this story:
The most active terrorist network inside Iraq appears to be operating mostly apart from Al Qaeda, senior American officials say.

Most significantly, the officials said, American intelligence had picked up signs that Qaeda members outside Iraq had refused a request from the group, Ansar al-Islam, for help in attacking Shiite Muslims in Iraq.

The request was made by Ansar's leader, a Jordanian, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and intercepted by the United States last month. The apparent refusal is being described by some American intelligence analysts as an indication of a significant divide between the groups...

In an interview today, one official cautioned that it would be a mistake to see the two groups as having diverged, and that it was too soon to say whether Al Qaeda might support Mr. Zarqawi. This official described the fact that Mr. Zarqawi had appealed for help as a sign of "emerging links" between the two groups.

"Maybe someone did say no, but that doesn't mean they'll say no tomorrow," the official said.

But, officials said, there are growing indications that the two groups are distinct and independent, and are embracing different tactics and agendas...

In public reports and private statements, American intelligence officials have been careful to portray Mr. Zarqawi as an associate of Al Qaeda rather than as a member.

But before the American invasion, Bush administration officials portrayed Mr. Zarqawi's presence in Iraq, which they said required the support of Mr. Hussein's government, as their best evidence of links between Iraq and Al Qaeda.

"Iraq today harbors a deadly terrorist network headed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an associate and collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda lieutenants," Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told the United Nations Security Council last February.
Safire's continuing insistence that Ansar constituted some sort of irrefutable link between Saddam and al-Qaeda, which has plenty of other problems with it, looks even more out of touch with reality now.
9:50 AM
:: Wednesday, February 18, 2004 ::
Gaza and the US election
Aluf Benn in Ha'aretz reports this:
Israel's evacuation of the Gaza Strip and the removal of settlements will be carried out only after the American presidential elections slated for this coming November, according to a senior Israeli diplomatic source.

The source noted that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan is liable to create political difficulties for U.S. President George Bush due to criticism from the Democrats and the American Jewish community.
The way that sounds makes little sense to me. If Israel decides to go through with some sort of unilateral withdrawal, I can't see how the Dems or most American Jews would end up in any position where they opposed the Israeli government. For instance, although AIPAC is often characterized as a right-wing/Likudnik cat's paw, their role is essentially to lobby the US government on behalf of the Israeli government, and I don't think there's ever been a split on an issue as important as settlements. When Labor was in power and pursued the Oslo process, AIPAC basically supported them, and when Likud has been in power and opposed to the process, AIPAC supported them too. They're not so committed to one side of the Israeli political spectrum over the other that they would oppose any Israeli government from the right or from the left on such a big issue.

Benn has more on this in another article of analysis:
In coming months President George Bush will be preoccupied with trying to win second term re-election. In foreign policy, he is likely to act cautiously so as to minimize risks. The last thing he needs is and upsurge of violence and entanglement in the Middle East that would expose him to criticism from Democrats over his failed handling of the Israel-Palestinian dispute...

Israeli officials are divided on what the Bush administration really wants them to do. One view is that the White House expects an "election gift," meaning pictures of Israeli settlers being uprooted and the Israeli flag being taken down in Gush Katif.

Proponents of this approach spoke about the formation of a Palestinian state this coming summer as the realization of Bush's vision - this particular detail does not seem realistic.

Backers of a second view believe Bush and his associates want just one thing from Israel - keep the quiet, and don't complicate anything before November election day.
That makes more sense. I have little doubt that the second view mentioned is the right one, that Bush and company just want things to stay quiet through the election. They never wanted to get involved with this issue in the first place. Ultimately, I think it's highly unlikely that Sharon is in any hurry to implement any sort of unilateral withdrawals, so if he can point to the US election as a reason not to go ahead with it, he will. But I doubt that a pre-November withdrawal accompanied by a brief upsurge in violence of chaos would result in any new criticisms of Bush from the Dems that wouldn't already be in play.

And, no matter what happens, I don't see this being much of an issue in the election here anyway. Bush will surely be criticized for being too detached, not involved enough, etc., but probably only in passing, as part of a larger critique of his foreign policy record. There won't be any grand alternative plans being put forth as part of the campaign.

11:47 AM
:: Monday, February 16, 2004 ::
Bush's comments yesterday on the Alex Rodriguez trade:
"I was just as surprised as the Yankee fans and the Boston Red Sox fans when I opened up my paper today," President Bush, the Rangers' former owner, told NBC at the Daytona 500. "It, obviously, is a big deal. ... A-Rod's a great player and the Yanks are going to be a heck of a team with him in the infield."
I thought he didn't read newspapers, preferring to get news from his advisors, who of course would never "editorialize" or "filter" any of the important information. Maybe he just reads the sports section.
10:27 AM

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