x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Obama follows the money

After winning his party's nomination, the US presidential candidate has made so many policy switches, so fast, "the entire Democratic Party is suffering from whiplash". Obama's change in course mirrors his fundraising shift from small to large donors. After expressing interest in opening comprehensive negotiations, Iran says its nuclear policy remains unchanged. The US Congress may call for a blockade of Iran. In Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe plans to retake parliament and starve the opposition.

"Senator Barack Obama stirred his legions of supporters, and raised our hopes, promising to change the old order of things. He spoke with passion about breaking out of the partisan mold of bickering and catering to special pleaders, promised to end President Bush's abuses of power and subverting of the Constitution and disowned the big-money power brokers who have corrupted Washington politics," The New York Times said in an editorial. "Now there seems to be a new Barack Obama on the hustings. First, he broke his promise to try to keep both major parties within public-financing limits for the general election. His team explained that, saying he had a grass-roots-based model and that while he was forgoing public money, he also was eschewing gold-plated fund-raisers. These days he's on a high-roller hunt." The New York Times reported: "Mr Obama's stepped-up schedule of big-money fund-raisers - the campaign has more than a dozen events planned over the next two weeks - showcases a formidable high-dollar donor network that is gaining more heft with an influx of former supporters of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. "The Obama campaign was initially powered last year in large part by high-dollar donors, but his schedule of traditional fund-raising events fell off this year in the face of a packed campaign schedule. Mr Obama attended only a handful of fund-raisers, relying instead on contributions over the Internet. "Now, with his schedule freed up and faced with the need to raise more than $200 million for the general election, Mr Obama's major fund-raisers are eager to have him back to headline events that require attendees at the highest echelons to contribute more than $30,000 a person to a joint fund-raising committee for the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee." The Washington Post reported on questions being raised about whether Mr Obama remained committed to a 16-month plan for withdrawing American troops from Iraq. "Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee, has long said the nation 'must be as careful getting out of Iraq as it was reckless going in.' During his hard-fought primary fight with Sen Hillary Rodham Clinton, he stuck to that 16-month timeline, building support for his candidacy among antiwar voters leery of the depth of Clinton's commitment to a pullout. "But since Obama secured the nomination, a series of pronouncements have helped ease him toward the political center. He backed a compromise on warrantless wiretapping, criticised a Supreme Court decision preventing the death penalty for child-rapists and did not criticise another decision scuttling the District of Columbia's handgun ban." In The Times, Gerard Baker wrote: "Of course there's nothing much new in what the senator has done. In the lexicon of modern American politics, it's called a pivot. You campaign hard to the party's extreme in the primary election, where the base voters tend to be. Then, when the nomination is secure and there are no more idealists to be humoured, you pivot back to the centre. The only difference is that in Mr Obama's case the pivot is so hard and so fast that the entire Democratic Party is suffering from whiplash. "A whimper of pain has gone up from the base. Those who really believed in the Audacity of Hope now fear a Timidity of Despair. Thousands of Obama supporters have signed a petition on his website begging him to reconsider his position on the illegal wiretaps - a seemingly minor campaign issue, but one that carries great talismanic symbolism for civil libertarians." Joseph L Galloway, the military columnist for McClatchy Newspapers, focused on the constitutional gravity of the wiretap issue and wrote: "Somewhere across an ocean and a desert, hiding in his cave, a man of hate named Osama bin Laden is laughing up the sleeve of his dirty robe at the thought that he and a small handful of fellow fanatics could tie a great nation in knots - knots of fear stoked by our own leaders. "We have done incalculably more and greater damage to ourselves since September 11, 2001, than a thousand bin Ladens and ten thousand al Qa'eda recruits could ever have done to us. "Franklin D Roosevelt famously declared that 'we have nothing to fear but fear itself.' Now it would seem that we have no one to fear but ourselves and our leaders."

"Iran's nuclear policy has not changed, an Iranian government spokesman said Saturday in Tehran, confirming that Iran would not comply with Security Council resolutions requiring it to stop enriching uranium," The New York Times reported. "'Iran's stand regarding its peaceful nuclear program has not changed,' the spokesman, Gholam Hossein Elham, said in his weekly meeting with reporters. "His remarks came a day after Iran formally responded to a proposal of incentives aimed at resolving the impasse over the country's nuclear program. Iran's response failed to address the crucial issue of its uranium enrichment activities, according to officials involved in the diplomacy." For The Independent, Patrick Cockburn reported on the continuing speculation that Iran could face a military attack: "Iraq will be plunged into a new war if Israel or the US launches an attack on Iran, Iraqi leaders have warned. Iranian retaliation would take place in Iraq, said Dr Mahmoud Othman, the influential Iraqi MP. "The Iraqi government's main allies are the US and Iran, whose governments openly detest each other. The Iraqi government may be militarily dependent on the 140,000 US troops in the country, but its Shia and Kurdish leaders have long been allied to Iran. Iraqi leaders have to continually perform a balancing act in which they seek to avoid alienating either country. "The balancing act has become more difficult for Iraq since George Bush successfully requested $400m (£200m) from Congress last year to fund covert operations aimed at destabilising the Iranian leadership. Some of these operations are likely to be launched from Iraqi territory with the help of Iranian militants opposed to Tehran. The most effective of these opponent groups is the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK), which enraged the Iraqi government by staging a conference last month at Camp Ashraf, north-east of Baghdad. It demanded the closure of the Iranian embassy and the expulsion of all Iranian agents in Iraq. 'It was a huge meeting' said Dr Othman. 'All the tribes and political leaders who are against Iran, but are also against the Iraqi government, were there.' He said the anti-Iranian meeting could not have taken place without US permission." In The Washington Post, the Israeli intelligence analyst for Haaretz, Yossi Melman, wrote: "If the US doesn't approve an Israeli military operation, Israel will not attack Iran. Full stop. "True the recent leaks may well serve Israeli interests to increase the pressure on the international community to act against Iran but above all they reflect confusion and power struggle within the US administration in the twilight time of a weak administration. We are still far away - a matter of at least one year - before Israel will realize that it has no other option to attack Iran's nuclear sites. And even then it would be a cautious decision, taking into consideration all the ramifications on Israel, the region and the world. And, once again, only after consulting with the next administration." In The Washington Times, the security experts, Cyrus Bina and Sam Gardiner, wrote: "Markets have been watching every move of President Bush and the Israeli government to decipher whether war with Iran is in the making. Few expected, however, that the equivalent of a green light for war would come from our Democratic-controlled congress. That is what congress is preparing to do through a resolution calling for a de facto naval blockade in the Persian Gulf to prohibit Iran from importing refined petroleum products. "The last time the United States imposed a blockade on another country was during the Cuban Missile Crisis. President Kennedy labeled the move 'quarantine' because he understood a blockade to be universally regarded as an act of war. Yet, a blockade is exactly what many politicians are considering in Washington and elsewhere. "Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reportedly suggested the idea to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during a recent meeting, and presumptive Republican nominee John McCain alluded to the same during his speech at the America Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in Washington. With hardly a word of opposition, congress is poised to pass a resolution calling on the president to enact such a blockade, possibly as early as next week. This is a de facto capitulation of the legislative body to the Bush administration."

"Fresh from his rigged election victory, Robert Mugabe and his military backers plan to assassinate or frame dozens of opposition MPs in an attempt to consolidate power and take back control of parliament," The Times reported. "The Zanu (PF) party of Mr Mugabe lost its grip on the legislature for the first time since independence when the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) took control of the lower house and drew level in the senate after the March elections. "Having overturned Morgan Tsvangirai's victory in the first round of the presidential vote with a brutal campaign of terror, President Mugabe's henchmen believe that they can retake parliament using violence or trumped-up criminal charges to drive out elected opposition MPs." In an extended report, The Washington Post described the chain of events following Mr Mugabe's acknowledgment to his top security officials, shortly after March's election, that he had lost the presidential vote. "Mugabe told the gathering he planned to give up power in a televised speech to the nation the next day, according to the written notes of one participant that were corroborated by two other people with direct knowledge of the meeting. "But Zimbabwe's military chief, Gen Constantine Chiwenga, responded that the choice was not Mugabe's alone to make. According to two firsthand accounts of the meeting, Chiwenga told Mugabe his military would take control of the country to keep him in office or the president could contest a runoff election, directed in the field by senior army officers supervising a military-style campaign against the opposition. "Mugabe, the only leader this country has known since its break from white rule nearly three decades ago, agreed to remain in the race and rely on the army to ensure his victory. During an April 8 military planning meeting, according to written notes and the accounts of participants, the plan was given a code name: CIBD. The acronym, which proved apt in the fevered campaign that unfolded over the following weeks, stood for: Coercion. Intimidation. Beating. Displacement." The Times described the rapidly deteriorating conditions in the country: "Zimbabwe is on the brink of an unprecedented famine after its worst harvest since independence in 1980. The plight of Zimbabweans is compounded by the deliberate starvation of most of the population because of their support for the opposition MDC. "A crop assessment by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) says that the country that once fed scores of famine-stricken African nations will harvest only 575,000 tonnes of maize, the national staple, from last summer's crop - only 28 per cent of the grain needed to feed the country's estimated 11.8 million people. "Already 29 per cent of the population are 'chronically malnourished,' according to the Health Ministry and the UN. A similar percentage of children suffer stunting."