In Bid to End Sanctions
Iran Will Never Admit to Having Nukes
by Dan Ehrlich


The high stakes poker game continues as Iran seeks better relations with the West in an effort to eliminate costly economic sanctions that have crippled the nation, causing its population to become more and more rebellious.

It’s only natural for high-end western nations to welcome a détente with Iran, especially when another war is an option. The curse that plagues rational people is naively thinking they can negotiate effectively with irrational theocrats or ruthless dictators.

On the other hand what can the West do but continue sanctions or buy into the charm offensive of Iran's new president Hassan Rouhani, lifting the sanctions, safe with the knowledge that Armageddon isn’t around the corner. This is something I explained some-time ago. http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/dan-ehrlich/iran-nuclear-weapons_b_1080973.html

This new spirit of détente developed last week during US President Barack Obama’s phone with Rouhani has Israel worried. It’s leader Benjamin Netanyahu contends Iran is using conciliatory gestures as a smoke screen to conceal an unabated march toward a nuclear bomb.

You can bet that’s what he told Obama during a meeting in Washington. He wants sanctions kept in place under the equally naive belief that this will stop Iran from going nuclear. Israel should know if you want a nuclear bomb you can get one. http://news.yahoo.com/israels-netanyahu-press-obama-no-let-iran-pressure-132750665.html

There’s more worry with nations such as North Korea or Pakistan having atomic weapons, nations which are directly bordering potential enemies. These are also nations that can covertly sell their technology to countries such as Iran.

The problem with some Islamic nations such as Iran going nuclear is you never know what the future will bring…what leaders will take over the countries. Will they be liberal or extreme zealots? Just look at Pakistan.


The fact that Shiite Iran may get the bomb is more menacing to the surrounding Sunni Arab nations such as Saudi Arabia than Israel. As I wrote in past blogs, Iranian threats of destroying Israel were mainly aimed at Arabs, the people it wants to lead.

To do this is must unseat Saudi Arabia as their spiritual leader. It also wants to hold sway over all the Gulf states. Becoming a nuclear power would give it power over the Middle East.

The Saudis would be much happier as an ally of Israel, under its nuclear umbrella than Iran’s. The reality is Israel poses no threat to the Arabs…they just want trade with them.

So, what would a nuclear Iran mean? We probably wouldn’t know since Iran, as with Israel, will never admit to having the bomb. And also like Israel, just the belief around the world that it does have atomic weapons is where its power would rest.

The big worry is what happens if future Iranian leaders fit into the religious zealot category with yen for the afterlife. Remember Shiites don’t think much of this life…they’re after paradise. They may get into a showdown with Israel or Turkey and opt for greater good scenario…that being killing a few million is acceptable for the greater good.

You see regardless of the world power rhetoric, only a mad man would launch a nuclear attack on Israel since atomic weapons don’t recognize borders. The Palestinians would also be wiped out along with the populous part of Jordan and possibly much of Lebanon and Syria. And this isn’t even taking in the real possibility of a world war and worldwide economic chaos. But, it would be for the greater good.













Syria

Putin Rescues Obama with Offer 

He Couldn't Refuse--What's Next?

by Dan Ehrlich



Russia has a better handle on the Syrian situation than does America. And now a Russian president has done something no other Russian leader has ever done...erased a red line and extracted a US president from a no win situation.

Even though this might be a bitter pill for Barack Obama, he now owes Vladimir Putin a favour. Or as the Godfather might say, "There may be a time in the future when I will ask you for a favour in return."
That may be sooner than later. Putin has said if the US attacks Syria Russia may rethink its position on supplying its advanced anti missile system to Iran as well as Syria.http://news.yahoo.com/russia-toying-us-missile-sale-iran-raises-210520181.html

This will weigh on Obama's mind as will the myth of Syria actually handing over all its alleged 1,000 tons of chemical weapons to Russia. Dream on with that one. But, it makes good press.http://blogs.wsj.com/peggynoonan/2013/09/10/making-sense-of-syria/

For now Obama, officially backing off from his unwinnable congressional approval vote to attack Syria, can echo the words of Richard Nixon....what America wants is peace with honour. Well, at least his honour has been salvaged, for now. Peace in Syria is still a long way off...after all, not all its citizens have yet fled the country.

Obama, for all his intellect, is a victim of mass news media. He, as we all do, sees horrific sights in Syria of kids being killed by the score. He, as many of us, feels we must do something to end the carnage and brutality.

Back before WW2, horrific events such as the Japanese rape of Nanking, China and Jewish persecution in Germany were relegated to brief newsreel spots in cinemas and often small newspaper items. The mass media we have today didn't exist. So there wasn't the emotional impact and sense of urgency felt by people such as Obama.

The Pres knows the only way to stop the war would be to invade the country, something no American or European nation wants to do. His only stated option is to "punish" the Assad Regime via missile attacks. This would be a token gesture and if anything might make matters worse. The mere threat of such an attack has caused a new flood of refugees into Lebanon.

But, polls show a large majority of Americans against any involvement there. Aside from not wanting any more costly, in lives and money, foreign military adventures, Americans know Syria has never been our friend in the region. It's been Russia's pal since the late 1950s.

In the end, either Assad remains in power by crushing all opposition, a situation that would guarantee permanent refugee status for possibly hundred of thousands of people. Or, if he loses, the battle of the tribes would begin, with open season on the Assad's Alawites and anyone else who backed him. The bloodshed would continue, now said to be upwards of 1,000 dead per week.

What the western world has been learning from the so called "Arab Spring" is how incapable nations riddled with tribal and religious loyalties and hatreds are in creating stable democratic societies. Eventually, out of streets running red with blood, strong political or religious figures will take control as dictators, often bringing order by more brutal repression.

Which makes it all that more important to get the major players in this tragedy around a conference table in an attempt to create some order for a post war Syria. But that may be as difficult as finding all of Syria's nerve gas.

Yet, aside from all this, the big mystery remains the return favour Putin will ask of Obama within the next three years. And would Obama call his bluff on Syria


Cameron Reminds Obama 

What Makes a Relationship Special is

 The Democratic Process

by Dan Ehrlich


US-UK "Special Relationship" dead?... Hardly, since British Prime Minister David Cameron gave President Obama a gift that keeps on giving by letting Parliament decide if the UK would or wouldn't join America in attacking Syria. How's that a gift?

It has allowed the b.s. prone Obama to have a way-out of staging an attack resoundingly unpopular with the US electorate...but one in which he said was an almost certainty. Taking a lesson from Cameron, the Pres now will let Congress decide if his punishment strike is okay. "Thanks for the tip Dave."

Obama's red line has long been breached and his stern words of warning have backed him into a corner. He has to attack, even though a limited strike probably wouldn't affect the war and already seems to have made things worse. Syrians in their hundreds have been streaming into Lebanon to get away from the expected US attack.
Yet, many experts are advising against such a move considering the risks involved of expanding the civil war into a regional conflict. Then there's the US sensitive relationship with Russia. President Putin is dead set against any attack on its ally Syria.

Obama's threat to use force is based on moral grounds...the repugnant idea of using weapons of mass destruction against civilians. But the reality is his outrage is aimed at the home audience. It naively overlooks the complications of such action and ignores other international travesties against humanity...why only Syria?

On one hand he castigates the Syrian regime for its crimes against humanity. Yet, on the other he maintains the US isn't interested in regime change or changing the course of the war. It apparently is the President's view that launching a few cruise missiles at Syrian targets will satisfy the moral outrage of America.

This is nonsense. If the President is so outraged by gas attacks used by Syria, said to number more than a dozen, how can he think anything other than regime change will change anything?

Yet, the Iraq debacle keeps popping up as the reason to fear action in Syria. This is also nonsense. Iraq wasn't in the middle of civil war when we began a war there. NATO forces, mainly American, were responsible for most of the carnage. You could say they are having a civil war there now because we left.
Syria resembles the Libyan revolution more than Iraq. And what we did there was enact a NATO no fly zone over the country which seemed to help the rebels overthrow the government and create near anarchy today.

Now, however, with the sight of Israel bringing tank units up on the Golan Heights and gas masks give to the population, hearing that Russia has sent two warships into the region and noting the fear among ordinary Syrians about the impending US attack, Obama may be thanking Cameron for giving him a face saving way back from his red line. Let's do it democratically....just as the British did.


Then, if Congress backs his stance, whatever happens will be the shared responsibility of the American people. If they reject him Obama still can launch a strike, but one that will be solely off his bat.
President Risks a Pissed-Off Putin
US, UK Ready Special Relationship
Bombardment of Syrian Regime
by Dan Ehrlich

Barack Obama and David Cameron have acted together in reiterating the President’s much earlier “Red Line” warning over the use of chemical weapons in Syria’s civil war. They’re not sure they’re being used, but after more than a dozen alleged attacks and hundreds of deaths, they are waiting and waiting for a definitive “yes” or “no.”

But, according to Foreign Secretary William Hague, he’s has no doubt. ‘We believe this was a chemical attack by Assad.”

So, both the US and UK are entreating the UN to condemn the action and give the Assad regime one more chance to disarm. The big problem with that being what to do if the warning is ignored.

Creating a no fly zone as NATO did in Libya would be the obvious step as an alternative of supplying rebel forces with arms, which all parties seem hesitant to do, at least on the public stage. But before that the US and UK are favoring cruise missile strikes against Syria's military. 

There are three main reasons this hasn’t been done. First Syria has no oil, so its value to the world economy in negligible. Second, the voters in America and the UK aren’t in favour of involvement. And third, even more important, Russia has been a close buddy of Syria since the late 1950s. It has warned NATO to stay out of the conflict.

And, the USA, in particular is trying to maintain it’s live and let live relationship with post communist Russia. It doesn’t need to antagonize it and Vlad Putin any further with the Edward Snowden affair still a hot topic.

There’s also another possible danger of NATO action. It could bring Israel into the war, at least in a support capacity. Such an event could easily widen it, as Syria has claimed.

The Iran factor is more bluff than reality. It might attempt to close the Gulf to shipping, but the US and NATO naval forces could handle that.

The first thing is to prove who actually is crossing Obama’s red line. Most observers’ first thoughts were that the Syrian government was doing it. Now, some aren’t so sure with evidence rebels may have been using some sort of chemical weapons against the military as well as civilians.

I have to reason: Why would the government forces want to use weapons of mass destruction on its own capital? What would it gain? It wouldn’t end the war and only create more international pressure for intervention. And also, where is Bashir al Assad in all of this? How much power does he still hold?

On the other hand, some of the many rebel factions might use the “for the greater good” rationale, in sacrificing civilians, knowing the government will be blamed and forcing NATO into action. This is not a far fetched idea knowing how merciless some jihadists can be when doing God’s work.

However, this latest horror from Syria may finally be causing Russia to soften it stance, now pushing for UN weapons inspectors to be given greater access to hot spots. It has long been the Russian position to let the war play out on its own with the Assad government winning through attrition. Now the Putin government is coming to the realization that this conflict may be endless, tearing the country apart in the process.

The refugee crises alone is staggering for any government to fathom with more than three times the number of Palestinians that fled their homes in the 1948 Israel War of Independence. And that figure daily becomes larger.

It’s certain unless Russia changes its tune in a big way, NATO will not become actively involved in the carnage. But, as I wrote in a past blog, since France is the only country hinting military action, let the French lead the charge. But, don’t count on it.







Forever on the Run
Edward Snowden: A Vagabond Patriot Or Another CIA Target
by Dan Ehrlich


That Edward Snowden has been charged with espionage by the US Government should come as no big surprise in its never ending war against terror. It's a curious conflict where the Patriot Act can supersede the Constitution, yet still can't seem to provide the security the nation needs.

Espionage has long been synonymous with spying for a foreign nation or nations. It usually means people gaining and then passing secret government information from one nation to another. But it can also mean gaining secret information and trying to sell it to the highest bidder.

On the surface Snowden doesn't fit into any category normally associated with espionage...no top secret weapons for sale as in a James Bond film. He simply blew the whistle on a secret US operation, working in concert with the UK government, to monitor the phone calls of people...in essence phone hacking.

The irony here is, after a massive UK government inquiry into phone hacking by the news media, we now find the government is essentially doing the same thing.

This poses the question: Will Lord Leveson be recalled for a new hearing and what does actor/activist Hugh Grant have to say about this new development? Was the UK Government hacking Hacked Off?

More importantly this is another of many examples of America's security failings going back to the 1988 Pan American-Lockerbie bombing. But now we are into an era of cyber terrorism, where a lowly foreign born US Army private can have access to the most secret government documents so he can release them to the public. Appropriately Bradley Manning's conduit to his alleged treason, WikiLeaks, is now apparently assisting a possible new recruit in Snowden.

First, on the surface Snowden isn't a Manning, who ripped off hundreds of thousands of national and international files and messages for a spurious release to the public via WikiLeaks, without any thought to the damage such actions may cause.

Snowden's initial whistle blowing strikes at the very definition of espionage. He apparently did what he did for no personal gain and at the loss of the life he had known with the woman he supposedly loved. We may have to wait until the book comes out until we know the truth about that.

He says he acted as a matter of conscience to inform the public of covert actions their government was carrying out against its citizens. This too is up to speculation.

But, from the folk hero status he has quickly gained in the US, and the semantic ambiguity surrounding present-day espionage activities, it's far from certain he could be convicted in what might inadvertently become a show trial...if there were a trial at all...There's still Guantanamo.

America's does not have secret courts or Star Chambers. A trial of Snowden could bring more embarrassment on the US and UK governments as well a reveal more secrets not for the public's eyes.

On the other hand if he's allowed to remain free it would give him to opportunity to release more sensitive material, if he has any, and possibly enhance his modern day folk hero status: He sacrificed the love of his life for the love of his country.

But there is the more risky third option that may have Snowden looking over his shoulder for the rest of his life. The Obama Administration has shown that a liberal president is just as capable of killing and torturing as right wing presidents. Now that the myth that America doesn't torture or assassinate had been debunked, I wouldn't give odds on his chances in the open.

Yet, all this aside, we may need a new definition of espionage. In a free and open society, as Obama says he wants America to be, do people such as Snowden have a right and even a duty to inform the public of covert actions against them? As people have already pointed out this goes back to Daniel Ellsberg's Pentagon Papers that helped unmask the tragedy of the Vietnam War.

America, which has long pictured itself on a heroic white horse, is the only NATO member frequently involved in geo-political or ideological wars. No conflict the US has been involved in since WW2 was directly related to the nation's survival or security. Even the Iraq War was shown to be launched on grossly false intelligence.

Is it treason to blow the whistle on questionable government conduct? In a democracy, aren't the people suppose to be informed about actions taken in their name for or against them?

Secrecy has long been a trademark of British politics, right down to D Notices telling the media to remain silent on subjects deemed to be of national security. But, America has prided itself on not being like Britain, it's an open society. The press has no obligation to any government. Censorship, if any, is done voluntarily.

Snowden might be seen in that light. He's a guy that grew up in a cyber world where secret information is no longer kept in crypto-vaults, but on computer servers all over the world. It's a serious long-term problem which America, as well as many nations, have yet to fully appreciate and control...the lone rogue patriot who tells all in the public interest, a way to preserve democracy.

One might wonder what was going trough his mind to throw away a decent life and future wife for existence as a vagabond and possible CIA target.

Hamas, Taliban, Aryan Nations Bound by
One Thread: An  Obsession with Causes at the Expense of People
by Dan Ehrlich


Extremist zealots of all persuasions from Hamas, to the Taliban and even the white supremacist Aryan Nation in America have one thing in common...a devotion to selfish causes that have nothing to do human betterment or freedom.

Given the scale of the current Israeli response to rockets fired from Gaza any reasonably intelligent person has to ask: Knowing in advance what Israel's response will be why does the democratically elected Hamas government continue bombarding Israel with bigger and better rockets?

The same person might also ask: Knowing the carnage that results in Gaza from Hamas attacks on Israel, why don't the Gazans demand and end to such attacks?

The answer to the first question is rather easy to give. Ideological extremist groups such Hamas, the Taliban or even America's white supremacist cults have no feeling for people other than what use they may be in publicizing their causes. All they care about are their causes.

Why then would Hamas go so far as to fire a rocket at Jerusalem, one of Islam's holiest cities and filled with Palestinians...But, they're West Bank Palestinians.

Or why would it brag about bigger and better rockets fired at Tel Aviv when they know what the Israeli response will be; yet they still do them at the expense of their own people. To them the media based publicity, political gains and Israeli deaths are all that matter. The same is true of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Their ideology is all that matters and those who reject it will be punished or killed.

Leaders and groups that have genuine humanitarian concerns for their people are sensitive to their needs and would act to protect not harms them. To Hamas Gaza is merely a staging area for its jihad. It can be argued that groups such as Hamas would see the entire world destroyed for the sake of their ideology and goals.

As for the second question, one first must realize that the Gaza Strip is different from the West Bank in both topography and its people. West Bank Arabs are either long time residents or indigenous to the area.

Most Palestinians in Gaza are war refugees. And the Strip was the only area of Israeli captured Egyptian land that Egypt didn't want returned. This left it under Israeli occupation until Israel couldn't handle it any longer and gave it to the PLO and then Hamas took charge by election. The fact that Hamas won the election against the PLO on a manifesto that included continuing the war of destruction against Israel is a main reason why rockets regularly are launched from Gaza.

Oddly, the Gaza Strip is the only area that has a genuine historic lock on the place name of Palestine.

As you probably know, Palestine was the name the Romans placed on Judea after the final bloody Jewish revolt against Rome was crushed in 136 AD. The Romans took such heavy loses, the Emperor Hadrian renamed the region Palestine, meaning Land of the Philistines, to erase the Jewish identity with it, renaming it after the ancient enemies of Israel.

Yet the long dead Philistine civilization was actually located on the Gaza Strip, yet it wasn't a Semitic culture, having roots in Europe. It's interesting note with all the current Arab pretensions of being indigenous to Palestine, they never have dropped the Roman name for an Arabic one. That's probably because the pre Roman name was Jewish.

There seems to be two strains of thought about why the Gaza population endures so much violence. First, there are those who are willing to tough it out until they retake Israel and they see Hamas as their deliverers. After all, a terrorist group dedicated to Israel's destruction won a popular election to carry out its mandate.

Second, there are those people who would like the violence to stop, but are afraid to speak up against Hamas, the only law in town and a law unto itself. The fact remains Hamas is waging a jihad against Israel and it won't end, in the long-term, until Hamas is broken or Israel is destroyed.

It was rather cynical of the Egyptian prime minister visiting Gaza Friday, expressing his outrage over the violence and support for Hamas. This is because much of the enclave's current situation is due to Egypt not taking up Israel's offer to hand it back, allowing it to remain a free flowing near anarchy. Then again, Egypt has enough poverty of its own to take on still more.

The problem facing Israel's military in Gaza is similar to that which faces NATO in Afghanistan...But more extreme given the density of population in Gaza. How do you fight a guerrilla army that uses civilians as human shields?

The obvious answer would be having your army go in and root out the terrorists. But such action will cost the lives of your own troops as well as civilian lives.

Yet, as we have seen here, in Afghanistan and even in Pakistan, modern technology is moving us closer and closer to wars by remote controlled non-human fighters. This may be joy for the generals, but as we seen it can be hell for civilians in the remote controlled cross fire.

This will only stop when provocations stop...which means the people of Gaza must demand and end to rocket attacks against Israel.

But the tit for tat nature of this conflict has remained the same since the 1920s when Arab nationalism spurred on the first deadly attacks against Jewish settlers. This transformed pacifist left-wing Jews, hounded out of racist Europe, into fighters. No more turning the other cheek. Wit, that's a Christian trait, isn't it?

What makes the Israel-Palestinian conflict so unique is that an enemy sworn to destroy you yet, in the end, depends upon you for its very existence on several levels. Yet, until that level of existence increases by virtue of peace, proper education, jobs and lifestyle, the plight of the Gaza Strip remains grim.

Right now there is considerable popular British anger at the latest Israeli onslaught. But British and American liberals, in particular, have short memories. Just recall the reaction of the UK in WW2 to missiles being fired at it from Germany. The war being almost over didn't stop the RAF from needlessly destroying Dresden along with thousands of civilians. There's that double standard again.
US Election
Too Close to Call? A Lot Depends On How Individual Americans Think of Themselves
by Dan Ehrlich


The US presidential campaign is nearing an end with a record amount of money being spent mainly to get people to come out and vote.

In a way the American election is similar to the UK's in that no political party had really explained how an economic rebirth will take place when western fortunes are still tied hand and foot to the East, with no end to this in the distant future.

Upward of $2 billion will have been spent to build up interest among a growing disaffected mass of people who see little difference in candidates. Unheralded the big loser in this campaign is democracy.

On one hand there's a somewhat weak and beatable US presidential incumbent who hasn't made good on much of what he promised. Yet, the most popular opposition candidate to face him is an unemployed yet super rich gaff prone former governor who has no magic formula to lift the country to its former self, especially since some companies he owns have done their bit by sending American jobs overseas.

There's no real choice to excite the electorate...with the exception of Mormon voters who see one of their own, Mitt Romney, with a real chance to lead the nation.

In the end, the people have to decide which side they are on, who will benefit them the most. I suppose it comes down to whom the parties really represent. As Romney has said over and over: "Are you better off now than you were four years ago." This can be answered with another question: How will Romney make things better than they were four years ago? This comes back to a present day reality: No politician has the answer. Or at least they won't talk about the hard reality of declining economic power.

Since the post Civil War period the Republican Party has represented big business, industry and most importantly Wall Street. This hasn't changed, the party's packaging has.

After the Watergate scandal destroyed GOP credibility a re-branding campaign under Ronald Regan took place ...on one hand he stressed the religious and family values that had been the bedrock of American culture. This came after the wild and morally ambiguous 60's and 70s. And while a large section of the country could readily understand these concepts, less well understood was Reagan economic policy.

In a few years his pension for deregulation and love of supply-side economics began the rapid destruction of the US industrial and economic base (a similar scenario on a smaller scale was happening in Britain under Margaret Thatcher). Yet, every president since Reagan, Democrats and Republicans, have never meddled or changed this policy. And that's why nothing Romney or Obama say or promise will encroach on the US position in the global market.

On the other side of the coin, the Democrats have long been champions of the people. They tend to put the ordinary citizens first...except, as I said, when it comes to meddling with the global market. Most progressive laws enacted since 1900 have been created by Democrat politicians for the benefit of the people.

So, stripping away all the family value packaging, dislike of gays and abortion, if you are a lover of Wall Street and big business, Romney is your man. If you aren't, than Obama will be for you.

Even though Romney is ahead in some polls, I feel Obama will squeeze by on his base of minorities and ordinary people who have no faith in wealthy politician with minimal experience. Also, Romney's appeal to the extreme right is a turn-off to many more rational voters. As much as I see Obama as a disappointment, I still feel he would be the lesser of two evils. And, many voters will see it the same way.



Off the Fence
US, UK Pledge Support for Syrian Rebels
Amidst Increased Sectarian Warfare
by Dan Ehrlich


So, the fence sitting is over. The special relationship twins (UK and USA) are making their move in backing Syrian rebels with dollars, pounds and weapons. Yes, weapons...It's naive to think that weapons won't be bought or bartered for with western aid.

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague makes an intelligent case for such action: To insure a successor to the Assad regime is democratic and civilized.
This is the standard political cure-all for western sponsored military involvements, a nice soundbite friendly rationale that may eventually come back to haunt the West.

A main reason Bashar al-Assad will hang on to power as long as possible is knowing what will be in store for his minority Alawite clan when he and his military lose power.

In this, Syria is similar to other Arab dictatorships such as Iraq under Saddam Hussein and Libya under Gaddafi, where minorities held power by integrating their own clansmen into the government and military.

His Alawites will fight on to preserve the regime because they are fighting for their lives, and in this respect can be compared to the regime's main scapegoat Israel for whom there is no second place in any war with its Arab neighbours.

But, Assad doesn't have to look any further than Lebanon to see the possible shape of his country without him. Lebanon was once a wealthy Christian Arab dominated nation that the Assad family had long coveted as part of a greater historical Syria.

The regime then supported masses of Palestinian refugees fleeing to Lebanon after the 1970 Black September defeat in Jordan. This wave of immigration set in motion forces that resulted in a long civil war and the effective cantonization of Lebanon between rival Muslim and Christian clans.

A similar fate awaits Syria if and when Assad falls. The resulting chaos will be replaced by tribal conflict and more bloodshed. The civilized democratic voices in Syria that Hague wants to embolden, will more than likely be drowned out by the Islamist shouts and gunfire.

But this is nothing new to the West. From the Russian revolution to Afghanistan and the current Arab uprisings, attempts at installing democratic regimes have initially failed. It's up to the populations of such nations to eventually go democratic if they so choose.

The Islamist parties winning power in some of the Arab Spring nations will have to produce better lives for their people or they may find they're subjects of further pro democracy revolts.

In the past the Assad family has maintained power by first preserving the secular nature of largely Sunni Syria and second, by gradually limiting civil liberties in the name of national security, using the presence of Israel as its version of the Cold War.

It's this heavy-handed and often violent approach to civil rights that was the flashpoint for civil war here. Using Israel and America as scapegoats was no longer valid among the country's diverse population. They realized the real problem was the Assad Regime.

And it is this diversity, which is so highly prized in the West, that may become Syria's worst nightmare since the only unifying force has been the Assad Regime. Without unity there may be endless hostilities. But now the US and UK will later be able to say: "We did all we could."
Off the Fence
US, UK Pledge Support for Syrian Rebels
Amidst Increased Fighting, Conflicting Claims
by Dan Ehrlich


So, the fence sitting is over. The special relationship twins (UK and USA) are making their move in backing Syrian rebels with dollars, pounds and weapons. Yes, weapons...It's naive to think that guns won't be bought or bartered for with western aid.


UK Foreign Secretary William Hague makes an intelligent case for such action: To insure a successor to the Assad regime is democratic and civilized.

This is the standard political cure-all for western sponsored military involvements, a nice soundbite friendly rationale that may eventually come back to haunt the West.

A main reason Bashar al-Assad will hang on to power as long as possible is knowing what will be in store for his minority Alawite clan when he and his military lose power.

In this, Syria is similar to other Arab dictatorships such as Iraq under Saddam Hussein and Libya under Gaddafi, where minorities held power by integrating their own clansmen into the government and military.

His Alawites will fight on to preserve the regime because they are fighting for their lives, and in this respect can be compared to the regime's main scapegoat Israel for whom there is no second place in any war with its Arab neighbours.

But, Assad doesn't have to look any further than Lebanon to see the possible shape of his country without him. Lebanon was once a wealthy Christian Arab dominated nation that the Assad family had long coveted as part of a greater historical Syria.

The regime then supported masses of Palestinian refugees fleeing to Lebanon after the 1970 Black September defeat in Jordan. This wave of immigration set in motion forces that resulted in a long civil war and the effective cantonization of Lebanon between rival Muslim and Christian clans.

A similar fate awaits Syria if and when Assad falls. The resulting chaos will be replaced by tribal conflict and more bloodshed. The civilized democratic voices in Syria that Hague wants to embolden, will more than likely be drowned out by the Islamist shouts and gunfire.

But this is nothing new to the West. From the Russian revolution to Afghanistan and the current Arab uprisings, attempts at installing democratic regimes have initially failed. It's up to the populations of such nations to eventually go democratic if they so choose.

The Islamist parties winning power in some of the Arab Spring nations will have to produce better lives for their people or they may find they're subjects of further pro democracy revolts.

In the past the Assad family has maintained power by first preserving the secular nature of largely Sunni Syria and second, by gradually limiting civil liberties in the name of national security, using the presence of Israel as its version of the Cold War.

It's this heavy-handed and often violent approach to civil rights that was the flashpoint for civil war here. Using Israel and America as scapegoats was no longer valid among the country's diverse population. They realized the real problem was the Assad Regime.
  And it is this diversity, which is so highly prized in the West, that may become Syria's worst nightmare since the only unifying force has been the Assad Regime. Without unity there may be endless hostilities. But now the US and UK will later be able to say: "We did all we could."
Israel, USA
Options Limited with Iran Over
Alleged Nuke Weapons Program
by Dan Ehrlich


An attack by Israel against Iran is not a certainty, by a long shot, which such an action would be. Yet, doing nothing might have serious regional effects, too.

Saudi Arabia is just as worried about a nuclear-armed Iran as Israel, with some high-ranking Saudi officials saying it will seek nuclear weapons if Iran has them. One of the Wiki Leaks revelations was a desire by Saudis for Israel to bomb Iran: The enemy of my enemy is my friend scenario.

It was one thing with Israel having such weapons and another a nation such as Iran. The Saudis know Israel, joined to the hip with the US, would not nuke its Arab neighbours. Israel is not a fanatical dictatorship, has no imperial outlook, is not trying to impress its faith on Arabs and such an attack would be disastrous for everyone.

But, Iran is another story. Most things in the Middle East are connected or controlled by tribal and religious affiliations. And most Arabs are Sunni Muslims, while Iran is a Shiite nation. Iraq is the only Arab nation with a majority Shiite population. The hatred between both of these groups, the endless suicide bombings, are examples of the hatred that exists between Shiite and Sunnis in nations such as Syria and Lebanon.

The big goal of Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Ayatollahs has been to replace Saudi Arabia as the centre of Islam...pushing Shiitism to the front of the Muslim world.

To this end little Israel is the big roadblock in his way. There is literally no reason for the hatred Iran has for Israel. Under the Shah's regime relations were warm and Iran once had a thriving Jewish community.

However, when Iran went fundamentalist in the late 1970s, the country quickly adopted an anti Israel stance. Today that stance, bolstered by the Palestinian issue, helps secure Iran to the Arab world's traditional anti Israel posture.

Iran also knows it can never rise to a preeminent position in the region as long as Israel and the USA hover over the same territory.

For its part, Saudi Arabia may feel very vulnerable to religious and economic blackmail if Iran gets the bomb. Where Iran my be hesitant to Attack Israel, fearing it would also take out Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. Saudi Arabia is a vast desert nation; one they feel could be hit without destroying nearby countries.

Yet all this is only speculation, the stuff that fuels a nuclear arms race. Remember the main purpose of America's MAD (mutual assured destruction) nuclear policy, was to convince enemies not to use nuclear weapons because no one would win such a war.

Iran claims an attack upon it would engulf the entire Middle East. Given what's currently happening in the region, this is a wild overstatement. Some Arab nations, such as Saudi Arabia, would be pleased. Others undergoing internal turmoil, will be preoccupied with their own problems to jump to the defense of non Arabic Shiite Iran.

These may be plus factors for Israel in launching an attack. On the negative side is the counter attack by Iran and its proxies in Lebanon and Gaza. Does Israel want another war that would probably drag NATO in, based on a possibility, not a certainty, of Iran developing nuclear weapons? It may be the only realistic option.

Even if the broad range of economic sanctions crippling Iran work, how can anyone prove to a suspicious Arab world, that Iran doesn't have some bombs hidden away?

Remember, Iran's main goal is increasing its stature within the Islamic world. Unless Israel or the US destroys its nuclear installations, this is now assured. Iran doesn't even have to develop a bomb. Just the belief among nations that it has one will be enough to create fear and tension...and also a possible nuclear arms race in the region.
Dedicated to the Journalism Students at the University of West London
Hacks Gone, Fleet Street Buttons Up For Business
By DAN EHRLICH
Publication:
Editor & Publisher
Date:
Saturday, April 18 1998


       Talk about irony, 24-years-ago when I first set my Los Angeles eyes on Fleet Street, its most amazing aspect, other than being home to a phenomenally dynamic and competitive press system, was the amount of time its members spent getting pissed at lunch.

      Well, with the national journals long since gone, the only paper left in the immediate area being the "Jewish Chronicle," boozing  has become of such a low priority, this once sacred lunchtime practice can now get you sacked.

      The Street of Shame, formerly the western world's greatest watering hole, where news was spread and dreams made into news over liquid petite' dejeuner has been transformed into an avenue of trendy coffee bars and sandwich shops designed for the enforced tastes its new 9 to 5  "no drinking while on duty" City worker army. Just another example of American cultural imperialism?  If so,  I'm sure it won't be the last one. That's because Americans seem to be taking over the street.
  
     I somehow find it hard to fathom people like the then "Daily Mirror's" Paul Callan or the "Sun's" Roy Greenslade nipping down to the Cafe Rouge or Coffee Republic for the standard two to three hour hack libation. "I believe its your round old man. Yes, quite...the same? Oh, garcon, cinq cappuccino, si'l vous plais. And can we have another round of those yummy croissants. Merci."

     From a quick outward glance, today's Fleet Street looks just as dull and gloomy as its did when I first saw it. Of course bleak rainy winter days will do that to most places in London. Upon closer examination, however, evidence of the post media rot is everywhere, lowlighted by that universal symbol of America's international  reach, a Macdonalds hamburger bar. It's true, Big Mac on the Street of Shame, an unbeatable combo available for an unlimited time. Too bad it came too late for the press crowd.

      Sandwiched between the law courts and and the City, as the retreating Roman legions of hacks vacated the street, other more respectable people moved in...you know those whose only paper is the FT. But worse was yet to come---"Wall Street Journal" readers. That's right, Americans.

      They took over and rebuilt the "Daily Telegraph" building into a sparkling and shining art deco edifice that Superman could mistake for the "Daily Planet," but whose real name is Goldman-Sachs. And, now this mega investment bank is set to, at long last rescue "The Black Lubijanka." Looking more gray than its former glistening black appearance, the old Express Newspapers building will get the complete American treatment, the finishing touches being no booze during working hours. Again, too bad it came too late for the press crowd.      

     Across the way, the old Bouverie Street headquarters of News International has been beautifully redeveloped by the Freshman legal firm into a British version of  "L.A. Law." How appropriate that the former home of so much business to the legal community in the form of libel suits should wind up an office building for lawyers.

     But these developments are still few and far between. The trendy snack bars can't conceal the widespread graveyard atmosphere, exhibited only a short distance down Whitefriars Street. Deserted and boarded up, the former home of the Associated Newspapers, Northcliffe House, looks more like the haunted house ride at Disneyland. But come to think of it, it didn't look much different when it was in use. The corner of Tudor and Whitefriars always seemed to have a dirty and seedy atmosphere. Maybe for me that was its romantic charm.

     A dark brown Harris Tweed sports coat, matching hat, a cheap pair of dark green trousers, black boots, a traditional, but cheap Oxford Street, gents umbrella and a brief case full of showbiz and travel stories....in the mid 1970s this was my idea of a Fleet Street reporter. I didn't know I looked more like a bookie's runner. Yet, amazingly it opened doors for me to most of the national newspapers and several magazines. Or maybe it wasn't so amazing given the fast moving betting shop predilection of journos then.
    
     First, its important to point out, to those not in the know, when I hit the scene, Fleet Street was already in decline. And, as is the case with Hollywood, it was more a state of mind and name-tag for an industry than the actual home to all the national publications. For example, the "Guardian" was about a mile away on Farringdon Street and the "Times"
and "Sunday Times" were about to move to their new home over on Gray's Inn Road, now the location of ITN.

     But generally speaking, the area bordered by Blackfriars on the south, Holborn Circus on the north, Fetter Lane on the West and Ludgate Circus on the East was considered the heart and soul of British journalism.  It's also an area in which I wore out several pairs of high street shoes as a literary Fuller Brush man.

      It was a time when London had two daily newspapers, each selling more than the surviving one does today. The "Daily Mirror" was in the midst of a losing battle to hold onto its top selling position against an onslaught from the Murdoch transformed "Sun," then seen as an extreme right wing, often racist rag. Curiously it attracted loads of Black and Asian readers...the power of the Page Three Girl exposed I suppose.

     As for the "quality" press, the "Times" was running third behind the "Guardian" and its Canadian owner Lord Thompson was dying to unload it on some sucker.

     But more than anything it was a time when an outsider like me, not even working through an agent, could gain entrance to as many national publications as humanly possible in a single day.  Without appointments I could manage see any number of editors and personally pitch stories, some already written others about to be written. Try doing that now.

     I was an American journalist in London writing the kind of crap the British always maintained Americans couldn't write...pedantic tabloid human interest stories...highlighted, for example, by two simultaneous yet completely different Richard Gere pieces, one pop version in the "Sunday Mirror" and a full page straight splash over in Paris at the "International Herald Tribune." Or there was my interview with ballet star Rudolph Nureyev....one version running in the "Sunday Times" and another in the "Sunday People" showbiz diary.

     What can I say other than I was hooked on it all. I used to think Los Angeles was the centre of the universe and that I probaby would find my ultimate destination to be the editor some little suburban weekly newspaper. And, to tell you the truth I wouldn't mind doing that today. But then, I couldn't adequately take in the size of the British national press . It was mind boggling, mainly because its was so huge, yet so centralized and, as far as the tabloids went, so accessible and personable.
 
     Of course, the  key element was gaining entrance to the publications. And that was largely a matter of making the commissionaires, who I initially thought were part of some sort of paramilitary police force,  believe I belonged there, which itself was mainly knowing where I wanted to go and simply going for it.

     Very few guards would try to stop me. And if they did, my accent and some vintage bullshit would see me through every time.  For example, I recall once being challenged in the Express Building. My response: "Oh! I wonder if you could help me. I was seeing Mr. Smith in features. I stepped out to look for a loo and got lost. I can't remember if I was on the first or second floor. The floors are different here than in America." The helpful commissionaire would not only let me pass, he would tell me where I wanted to go.

     But the real beauty of the system was after I came and departed a couple of times, they thought I worked there and never gave me a second glance. In fact, my presence became so normal at the old Mirror Group Holborn Circus Building,  I used to chit chat to the guards.

     However, I soon learned most papers had more than one entrance, some which were easier to navigate than others. For example, with the Mirror Group papers, the trades entrance on New Fetter Lane was always awash with people and guards who could care less. Across the street, it wasn't much different for the "Sunday People" entrance.

    For the the "Daily Mail" and "Evening News" the Northcliffe House often unguarded staff entrance on Tudor Street was preferable to the main entrance whose commissionaires seemed as serious the the newspapers being produced there.

     Over at the Black Lubijanka not only were there two separate entrances on Fleet Street, but in an unlikely fit of desperation I could slip in unchallenged through the wide-open news print bay. News International was also a cinch as was gaining entrance to the old "Evening Standard" building on St. Andrews Place.

     I could have never contemplated doing at the "Los Angeles Times" what I had been doing in London. Even then, the editorial offices of American newspapers were inaccessible to the increasingly troublesome and violent public.

     However, today, I can say with a degree of certainty, what I did then couldn't be done now. The de centralisation and sterilization of the newspaper industry coupled with "information technology" makes multiple ad hoc business meetings impossible and, in fact,  unnecessary.  Now, trying to swan into the new ivory tower encased publications is about as difficult as a rag and bone man getting into Number 10. 

     But even more depressing is the effect the death of Fleet Street has had on the national press. The creativity and cross fertilisation brought on by a close knit journalistic community, its members mingling with each other and with the adjoining legal establishment, was unique.

     Now it's lost, with the fax replacing personal contact, E-Mail replacing the fax and televised internet conversations about to replace the lot. Britain, once again, appears to be going American, with the quality of stories declining, giving more and more power to sub editors. And what's the hot industry debate today? Are women better editors than men?

     The favourite hang-out for gossip and debate between the journalistic and legal professions was the "El Vino" wine bar, a place that was hit hard when the hacks left. According to manager Daniel Thorold, "The legal people really mourned the loss of the journalists. The combination of reporters and lawyers created  the lively, conversational and amusing situation you get when good minds are at work."

      He pointed out that old habits die hard. "We still get some of the older crowd dropping by here for dinner. But its not like it used to be." It sure isn't. For one one thing, women are now common in this spa where once they were barred.
 
      How was it?  It was busy, dynamic, competitive, exciting, frustrating and a system that was grossly over manned and inefficient. For one thing, I could never understand why papers with such big staffs needed so many freelance writers and casual shift workers. It wouldn't have happened it America, something the media bosses would learn a few years down the line.

      Now, I just didn't get off a boat and start writing for the national press. Considering I was a traditional American "who, what, where, why, when and how" broadsheet reporter, writing for the tabs was something that had to be learned.  And my school was Fleet Street News Agency, a legendary hack-paparazzi hang-out mainly for those on the way up or those on the way down, its honour graduate being the BBC's Anne Robinson.

     Sadly, it too, recently closed. There I learned the one great tabloid rule: No matter how big a story, it only has one hook, based on one thing, human interest...something to be milked dry.   

     Most weeks I would make from two to four visits to the street.  I normally had standard route that would allow me to hit as many publications as needed....the Chancery Lane tube to Holborn Circus, Fetter Lane to Fleet Street, Bouverie Street to Whitefriars, Blackfriars to Kings Reach Tower (home of IPC womens magazines) and returning to my tiny Finsbury Park flat via the Blackfriars tube station. Or I could reverse this route if I first had business with say, the "Daily Mail."

     Retracing that route today, seeing the lifeless and weatherworn shells that used to be home to the national press, I can't say its sad. It's like something out of "The Twighlight Zone," as if no publications ever existed there, with all traces of past identification removed. Only the Telegraph's old building, with its listed clock, is there there to readilly inform a tourist of what this area once meant to the nation. Of course, Reuters corporate Hq. is still on the street, but all news services are keeping company with ITN over on Gray's Inn Road.

     Thinking back, my first recollection was of gray rain soaked days, wet shoes and cold feet, punctuated by endless traffic jams on Whitefriars and Bouverie Streets.  As usual the cause was an infinite numbers of newsprint trucks blocking roads originally laid for horse drawn beer wagons.

     Once on my own, it didn't take long to realise which news rooms were more receptive to a loud and aggressive American with cold, wet feet. And of equal importance was which publications had large and anonymous gents rooms I could use.

     On aggregate, the Mirror Group won hands down. Big secluded loos, you know the type you could camp-out in for a whole day if needed, and lots of friendly people...not neccesarily in the loos however.  I'm sure this had a lot to do with the socialist bent of the papers, meaning the staffs were unprententious, less up-tight and less hostile to foreigners than some of the other sheets. Or, it could have been they were just trying to appear that way because that's the way they were supposed to appear.

     My personal favourite was the "Sunday People." The staff members, besides being the most relaxed and earthy on Fleet Street, were basically Sunday people, having two or three days during the week when they could take time to bullshit with me.
   
      I owe a debt of gratitude to people such as David Farrar and the late Bill Doran, Tony Purnell, Mervyn Pamment, Frank Jeffries and Graham Ball, just for letting me hang-out. And over at the "Sunday Mirror" deputy editor Chris Ward, womens editor Eve Pollard and a sub editor named David Montgomery bore witness to my frequent presence in their midst.

     After all, it was just across the the street from the "Sunday People."
And the reason they and other editors wanted to do that was because they were hungry journalists in a tightly competitive arena. They were gamblers working for me, betting on me. They were waging every so often I would come in with a good story that no one else would have. And, thankfully I didn't disappoint them. Hell, I'm still here. Fleet Street is gone.