Sunday, July 30, 2006

Juan Cole Writes on Ayatollah al-Sistani

The Bush presidency is failing and I suspect Karl Rove is sticking his finger up in the air every few days to see if Americans favor a third war somewhere in the world, a war in other words that might salvage Bush's second term. Rove is about as cynical as they come. He and Bush would endanger the US for the sake of two more years of unfettered power and right wing fantasy.

There is growing impatience in other quarters that may throw a monkey wrench in any plans Bush may have. I have been wondering when we would hear from the Ayatollah al-Sistani, one of the strongest voices for democracy among Shiite clerics. Juan Cole of Informed Comment has the story:
The US punditocracy and ruling elite is fixated on Hizbullah as a "terrorist group" even though the organization hasn't engaged in international terror against American civilians in many years. What they forget about Hizbullah is that it is also a Shiite religious party, and that that is how it is perceived for the most part by Iraqi Shiites. Some 45 percent of Lebanese are probably Shiites.

The other thing to remember is that the United States is now a Shiite Power in part, insofar as it semi-rules a Shiite-majority country, Iraq.

The Associated Press is carrying the story that Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has demanded an immediate ceasefire in Israel's war on Lebanon, in the wake of the Qana massacre:

' `Islamic nations will not forgive the entities that hinder a cease-fire,'' al-Sistani said in a clear reference to the United States.

``It is not possible to stand helpless in front of this Israeli aggression on Lebanon,'' he added. ``If an immediate cease-fire in this Israeli aggression is not imposed, dire consequences will befall the region.''
(snip)

Several questions arise: 1) Why is Sistani speaking like this? 2) What can he do about it all? and 3) What are the possible consequences if he turns anti-American in practice, not just in rhetoric, as in the past?

Be sure to read the rest. I could be misreading some of Juan Cole's earlier analysis of Sistani but I seem to recall that Sistani has been a voice of restraint at key times among the Shiites. He wants the Shiites to dominate Iraq (they are 60% of the population) but he does not want Iraq to be a copy of Iran nor is he in favor of violence. But he has his limits and he may be reaching them. In the end, Iraq belongs to the Iraqis and that is something we cannot ignore.

These are the things we have to watch for in the coming days and weeks. 1) Bush may deliberately drag us into a third war. 2) Bush may inadvertently stumble into a third war. 3) With or without Bush's permission, the Israeli right wing may drag us into a war. 4) Some other country may engage in profound stupidity and drag us all into war. 5) Bush may listen to right wing extremists and unleash an overwhelming military barrage in Iraq or elsewhere not seen since an earlier era. I hope none of these things happen.

If the wiser heads of Washington and other foreign capitals can prevail, the tensions in the broader Middle East can be eased but it will take work and the chances of war will begin to fade. There is, unfortunately, an eerie resemblance between what is going on now and the conditions that existed in the weeks before the beginning of World War I. There is much of the same stupidity in the air. And something of the same fantasies about the nature of war. Three months ago, Bush said he was turning towards diplomacy. It's time for him to stop talking about it and to do the work. Sending weapons to Israel and ignoring calls for a ceasefire do not fall in that category.

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