Morning Report: December 15, 2006

In the news. Yemen's role in terror, Rice's words on the Middle East, a step forward in the Garden State, and a new face at the UN. Plus, civil war looms in Gaza, but Brussels can sleep soundly tonight. But TRWSNBN doesn't make today's news.

Yemen: AQ HQ. Armies of Liberation cites Jed Babbin quoting a Pentagon briefing: 'Another part of the briefings focused on al-Qaeda, and its own coalition of allied groups that is spread throughout the Middle East and parts of Africa. The briefing talked in terms of "leadership nodes," "operational cells" and "support nodes", dotting them all over a densely-packed map that ran from Waziristan to Mogadishu to Algiers. It bears translation from Pentagonese. Al-Qaeda has evolved greatly from its early days of personalization in Usama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and a few others. Our military leaders now characterize it as a "franchise" that shares communications, some funding and sometimes coordinates actions. Some terrorism experts now say that al-Qaeda is less than that, a loosely-knit network of terrorist groups that coordinate only in giving credit to bin Laden for propaganda purposes. It's impossible to define it with precision, but the map showed al-Qaeda leaders headquartered in nine places including Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Waziristan (eastern Pakistan), two places in Iraq (Baghdad and northeastern Iraq), northern Uzbekistan and (and here the map is a bit imprecise) two places in Somalia. Al-Qaeda's objective, we must remember, is the same as that of Iran, but in a much different form.' [Edited. There are many ways to spell the name of the terrorist group, but "al-Queda" isn't one of them. -aa] Jane adds: 'Yemen is a central node in that the insurgency in northeastern Iraq has significant support from within Yemen, the links between Yemeni and Saudi al-Qaeda are broad, and many of the Jihaddists in Somalia arrived via Yemen.' Be sure to stay on top of Yemen-related events with Armies of Liberation. (Armies of Liberation)

Rice: No engagement of Iran, Syria on Iraq. Reuters: 'U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has rejected a bipartisan panel's recommendation that the Bush administration engage Syria and Iran in efforts to stabilize Iraq, The Washington Post reported on Friday. The "compensation" required for any such deal might be too high, Rice told the paper in an interview. Rice said she did not want to trade away Lebanese sovereignty to Syria or allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon as a price for peace in Iraq, the Post reported. She also argued that neither Syria nor Iran should need incentives to help achieve stability in Iraq, the Post reported. "If they have an interest in a stable Iraq, they will do it anyway," Rice said.' Morning Report dares to hope that the old Condi may be making a comeback. (Reuters)

New Jersey approves civil unions. New York Blade: 'New Jersey legislators passed a "civil unions" bill yesterday that grants same-sex couples all the rights and privileges of heterosexual marriage but does not confer the name "marriage" upon those unions. Legislators and gay rights activists alike agreed that this was just the first step in the march toward marriage. "Mark my words, marriage equality will be the law of the land within the next two years," said Steven Goldstein, chair of Garden State Equality, New Jersey’s LGBT rights organization.' (New York Blade)

Palestinian civil war watch. Debka: 'Casualties from gunfights in Ramallah and Gaza between rival Palestinian Hamas and Fatah factions after Hamas vows to even score for attempt on life of Hamas PM Ismail. Mahmoud Abbas’ loyalists fired on Haniya's convoy as it entered Gaza, killing a bodyguard, injuring five including his son. Hamas accused Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan of orchestrating the attack.' AP: Hamas militants, angry that Israel was preventing Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh from returning to Gaza, burst into the Rafah border terminal Thursday, sparking a gunbattle with guards before taking control of the crossing. Two Hamas militants were wounded. Travelers at the terminal dived for cover and a top Hamas official furiously tried to persuade the militants to disperse. Following the gunbattle, European monitors said the border would not be reopened Thursday, apparently leaving Haniyeh stranded in Egypt.' Sandmonkey can scarcely contain his anguish. (various)

Ban Ki-Moon on United Nations agenda. AP via Mercury News: 'South Korea's Ban Ki-moon laid out an ambitious agenda as the next U.N. secretary-general, promising to become personally engaged in efforts to bring peace to the Mideast and Darfur and to clean up the world body. The 62-year-old career diplomat, who was sworn in Thursday to a five-year term that begins Jan. 1, also said he plans "concerted action" to achieve U.N. development goals that include cutting extreme poverty by half and universal education by 2015. ... In his sharpest comments, Ban said Iran's call for Israel's destruction and its dismissal of the Nazi Holocaust were "unacceptable" - and he called on all countries to respect "both in rhetoric and practice" that it is not acceptable to call for the elimination of any state or people. Ban also expressed concern about the regional and global implications of Tehran's nuclear program and urged the Iranian government to engage in negotiations with the six parties that offered a package of incentives if it suspends uranium enrichment. As South Korea's foreign minister, Ban was deeply involved in the six-nation effort to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program. He said he will be watching the talks, which resume Monday in Beijing, and thinking about initiatives he can take as secretary-general. Ban also said he planned to become "directly engaged" in efforts to bring peace to Sudan's Darfur region, adding his first trip may be to an African Union summit in late January.' (AP)

Flanders flounders. There has not, we reapeat, NOT been a coup in Belgium. Fox News sets the record straight: 'BRUSSELS, Belgium — Suddenly and shockingly, Belgium came to an end. State television broke into regular programming late Wednesday with an urgent bulletin: The Dutch-speaking half of the country had declared independence and the king and queen had fled. Grainy pictures from the military airport showed dark silhouettes of a royal entourage boarding a plane. Only after a half hour did the station flash the message: "This is fiction." It was too late. Many Belgians had already fallen for the hoax. ... The RTBF's phony newscast reported that the "Flemish parliament has unilaterally declared the independence of Flanders" and that King Albert and Queen Paola had left on the first air force plane available.' (Fox)

Commentary. No one can say what is going on behind the scenes; we may be sure that strings are being pulled, arms are being twisted, and favors are being called in. Sometimes I despair of ever making any sense of the cryptic signals the world's leaders send from one day to the next: What did Condi mean by this? Did Olmert really mean to say that? What was Blair getting at when he said ... ? And so on.

I've been kind of holding my breath since November (actually longer than that) because it has appeared that the Bush Administration has turned its back on the Bush Doctrine. And that may be the case. Or maybe there are other cards being played in a back room somewhere where we can't see them, and eventually, mysteriously, the pieces will fall into place.

So I don't know whether Rice's strong words on Iran and Syria mean anything or not, and I don't know whether the new guy at the UN will change things or not. But you know, tomorrow is another day.