CGI Update

It seems the real action is on the eastern shore of the island — Hugo Chavez spoke to the UN General Assembly and called George W. Bush the devil. Daniel Trotta reported for Reuters

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called George W. Bush “the devil himself” and told the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday the U.S. president had left the smell of sulfur hanging in the chamber from his appearance the previous day.

The U.S. rival and close ally of Cuban leader Fidel Castro used his speech before the assembly to accuse the United States of myriad evils such as helping render the U.N. Security Council worthless by robbing small nations of power.

“The devil himself is right in the house. And the devil came here yesterday. Right here,” said Chavez, who also called Bush a “world dictator.”

Speaking from the same podium from which Bush had addressed the assembly on Tuesday, Chavez said “it smells of sulfur still today, this table that I am now standing in front of.”

“The hegemonistic pretensions of the American empire are placing at risk the very existence of the human species,” Chavez said. “We appeal to the people of the United States and of the world to halt this threat which is like a sword hanging over our heads.”

I can’t see how Chavez’s rhetoric helps anybody, but I thought you would get a kick out of it.

“We’re not going to address that kind of comic strip approach to international affairs,” said US ambassador to the UN John Bolton, as he adjusted his cape. Then Bolton leaped into the sky and flew across the East River, yelling “Your ass is MINE, Voinovich! Captain Zemo doesn’t forget!”

And here I am stuck in the basement of the Sheraton, blogging.

I am continuing this first-hand blog coverage of the “urgent issues and innovative solutions” panel at the Clinton Global Initiatives conference; see earlier post here. I’m spending so much time on this panel that I’m missing the afternoon working sessions, but there was a lot said that I wanted to be sure somebody wrote about.

Remember awhile back when ABC’s Brian Ross reported that Osama bin Laden had been offered sanctuary in Pakistan? Musharraf said this agreement was not made between the government of Pakistan and terrorists. Rather, it was an agreement between a jirga (consultative council) of tribal elders in North Waziristan and the Taliban. Government officials were represented in the negotiations, but it’s actually the jirga‘s agreement, according to Musharraf. The basic provisions of the agreement are these:

1. Members of al Qaeda may remain in North Waziristan as long as there is no al Qaeda activity either in North Waziristan or across the border in Afghanistan.

2. Same thing goes for members of the Taliban.

3. There must also not be attempts at “Talibanization” in North Waziristan. “Talibanization” was defined by President Musharraf as a mindset that rejects music and television and enforces strict codes of conduct and appearance, such as making all men wear beards. The Taliban may not force other people in a community to abide by their rules, in other words.

There were no follow up questions on this point, so one asked Musharraf if this agreement might give sanctuary to Osama bin Laden if he popped up in North Waziristan and abided by the rules.

Musharraf said this agreement is already working. Yesterday some Pakistani Taliban crossed the border into Afghanistan to do mischief. Local tribal leaders who were signatories to the agreement arrested ten of these Taliban and turned them over to the Pakistani government.

Musharraf spoke at length at what he called “misperceptions” about terrorism and Islam. The turmoil began with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Pakistan joined the West in this fight against Soviet expansion. Pakistan’s contributions to the Cold War were critical to defeating the Soviets, he said.

But now we suffer from the fallout, he said. We helped the West, but in 1989 we were left high and dry to fend for ourselves. We took in 4 million refugees from Afghanistan, including Muhajadeen, and we got no assistance from the West. Then the Taliban formed. On top of this, he continued, we have problems on our eastern borders with terrorism in Kashmir. Our national fabric was destroyed by the fallout from Afghanistan, and we got no assistance whatsoever to rebuild it.

The real problem is not terrorism, he said, but extremism, and you can’t defeat extremism militarily. Instead, one must address problems in the “environment,” by which I infer he meant society and culture, so that the environment is no longer conducive to growing terrorism. Muslims feel they are being targeted by the West, which fuels alienation, which fuels extremism. Incidents like the infamous Danish cartoon flap only rubs salt in the wounds. Further, the extremists are convinced that modernization is westernization. Yet there is nothing in Islam that forbids modernization. And since Islam encourages making decisons by consensus, it is not in theory hostile to democracy.

Al Qaeda and the Taliban are very different, from Musharraf’s perspective, because the Taliban has its roots in the people of Pakistan, whereas al Qaeda are foreigners. This makes the Taliban a more intractable problem for Musharraf.

And the absolute foundation of Muslim unrest, said Musharraf, is the “Palestinian dispute.”

I see that Dave Johnson has posted about this morning’s panel also. And here is a real boring “MSM” story about the conference so far.

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Here’s some nooz for you, and maybe news, also: This morning’s “urgent issues and innovative solutions” panel here at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) conference featured an interesting exchange between Thomas “My World Is Flat” Friedman and President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan.

This is from my notes, and the quotes may not be exact. Musharraf was asked to speak to the situation in Afghanistan. The increasing power of the Taliban, said Musharraf, has a lot to do with the presence of foreign troops; the people of Afghanistan feel antipathy toward foreign troops.

Including U.S. troops, Friedman asked. Yes, said Musharraf.

So, we are part of the solution and part of the problem, said Friedman.

Part of the problem, said Musharaff.

(Scattered applause from audience.)

Jude Nagurney Camwell of Iddybud had the sense to bring a recording device, so she’s got an audio of the whole thing. Maybe one of us can figure out how to post an audio link to selected portions of the program.

Javier Solona, who is Secretary General of the Council of the European Union, inspired another nooz zinger. He was speaking to the work he did to diffuse tensions surrounding the Danish cartoon flap. Of course we respect free speech, he says, but if we are serious about reducing the divides that exist in the world, we need to exercise some responsibility and prudence in the terms we use to talk about Islam

Is one of those terms Islamic fascism? Friedman asked. Solona sort of nodded and shrugged, but I didn’t catch an audible answer.

Did I mention First Lady Laura Bush was there?

The Clinton Global Initiative is, basically, a big whoop-dee-doo conference of heads of state and other big shots of business and religion to address global challenges. There are working sessions in four general areas: (1) energy and climate change; (2) global health; (3) poverty alleviation;and (4) reducing religious and ethnic conflict. I plan to listen in to these from the press room. What makes CGI different from other big whoop-dee-doo conferences is that people are challenged to make specific action commitments, and if they don’t keep their commitments they don’t get to come to next year’s CGI. In this way, people can’t just show up for the free buffets and not think about global challenges until the next conference.

The commitment process is vaguely similar to accepting Jesus at a revival; some people who have made commitments come up to the podium and publicly sign their agreement, then get their picture taken with Big Bill. You can browse commitments here. Last year’s was the first CGI conference, at which 300 commitments worth $2.5 billion were made.

Now, back to the nooz.

The plenary session took place in huge conference room at the Sheraton on the Upper West Side. Some of us bloggers planted ourselves on the edge of the platform built for the television cameras. We had a line of tripods in back of us and a line of very large security guys — Secret Service, maybe — in front of us. You can spot the security guys because they all have plastic coils coming out of their ears and running down the back of their coats. As I couldn’t see much else, I watched the back of the coat in front of me. It was black. Sometimes the security guy would shift his position a bit, and then I could glimpse one of the big screens or even the actual person speaking.

President Clinton spoke first and talked about how CGI is about tackling big global challenges in bite-size pieces. Then Laura Bush spoke about how her husband’s administration wants to build partnerships between governments and business to address poverty. These transactions must be transparent, Mrs. Bush said, and government must invest in their people. Wow sounds like the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast, huh? Oh, wait …

Then Steve Chase and Jean Chase and some other guy accepted Jesus and signed their commitments, and we crashed ahead to the above-mentioned panel.

Beside Friedman, Musharraf, and Solona, the panelists were President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia and President Alvaro Uribe Velez of Colombia. President Velez emphasized his country’s need for reduction in violent crime and the need for agrarian reform, notably reform that would prevent so many farmers from growing coca. President Johnson-Sirleaf wants to help her people grow beyond subsistence farming and help young people develop the job skills that would attract capital investment in her country.

Musharraf provided most of the morning’s juicy bits. He discussed the difference between al Qaeda and the Taliban, from his perspective — al Qaeda members tend to be foreigners who move into Pakistan, but the Taliban takes root among the local folks. According to Musharraf, Mullah Omar (remember Mullah Omar? I haven’t heard his name in quite a while) still runs the Taliban.

I’m going to come back and add to this in a bit; let me get this much published while the wireless connection is working.

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I’m hanging out at the Clinton Global Initiative conference in the Manhattan Sheraton today, since the Clinton folks offered press credentials and I thought, what the hell. I can go pretend to be a reporter, or something. There are supposed to be other bloggers here beside the group in Harlem last week, most of whom probably couldn’t make it.

So I packed up my laptop and emergency clean shirt, and here I am.

This morning’s big news is that the White House has, apparently, dropped their plans to “clarify” Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. Kate Zernike writes for the New York Times:

The new White House position, sent to Capitol Hill on Monday night, set off intensified negotiations between administration officials and a small group of Republican senators. The senators have blocked President Bush’s original proposal for legislation to clarify which interrogation techniques are permissible and to establish trial procedures for terrorism suspects now in United States military custody.

The two sides were said to be exchanging proposals and counterproposals late Tuesday in a showdown that could have substantial ramifications for national security policy and the political climate heading toward Election Day.

The developments suggested that the White House had blinked first in its standoff with the senators, who include John W. Warner of Virginia, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and John McCain of Arizona. But few details were available, and it was not clear whether a compromise was imminent or whether the White House had shifted its stance significantly.


The senators propose to provide clearer guidelines for interrogators by amending the War Crimes Act to enumerate several “grave breaches” that constitute violations of Common Article 3.

Several issues appeared to remain in flux, among them whether the two sides could agree on language protecting C.I.A. officers from legal action for past interrogations and for any conducted in the future. Beyond the issue of interrogations, the two sides have also been at odds over the rights that should be granted to terrorism suspects during trials, in particular whether they should be able to see all evidence, including classified material, that a jury might use to convict them. [Emphasis added]

See Digby for more commentary.

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