Friday, August 13, 2004

 

Wolfowitz, Pentagon want $500 million to build network of "friendly" foreign militias

Why have I not heard more about this in the US press? Here are two reports from foreign newspapers: The Straits Times, The Manila Times. The Daily Star reports that:
the weirdness meter is bursting through the roof in Washington this week - to judge by the Pentagon's proposal to Congress to provide $500 million to build a network of friendly militias around the world to purge terrorists from "ungoverned areas." The man who pressed this case before Congress earlier this week was Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, a key architect of the Iraq war and the wider neoconservative ideology that underpins it. The rationale behind this idea is that conventional American armed forces - despite their impressive technical prowess, political will and human determination - cannot fight or win wars against small bands of irregular guerrillas or terrorists who find sanctuary in remote regions in lands like Afghanistan, Pakistan or Yemen. Smaller local militias, this thinking goes, would have a better chance of fighting such battles and winning such wars.
This is sick. I think that Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz et. al. have had enough of the US government trying to make the US military "play by the rules." The easiest solution? Funnel money to armed groups that have no state oversight and can do as they please. The Daily Star rightly points out:
The United States has funded and used such militias for years, including legitimate patriots but also criminal gangs and terrorists in places like Central America and Asia. The most embarrassing example of this strategy was the American funding and support for the Afghan jihadists who fought with Osama bin Laden against the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Lesson: funding and using foreign militias is a short-sighted strategy because these groups take on a life of their own and they use Washington as much as it uses them. They can develop into organizational Frankensteins that turn against their masters, and in the end they do more harm than good.
Even if they don't turn against us they can still wreak horrific damage to the countries that they operate in. A look at Latin America offers a pretty clear illustration. The Daily Star chalks the effort up to desperation in the Pentagon, but says:
Desperation is a poor driver of a great power's global strategy, and Wolfowitz and his Pentagon colleagues would do well to explore other routes to reach their reasonable objective: rooting out terrorists and making the world a safer place. A better approach than promoting militias that often verge on the edge of criminality and lawlessness is, rather, to affirm the rule of law and the universal application of a single standard of legality and legitimacy. This can be done by Washington implementing all UN resolutions with equal vigor, supporting democrats instead of tyrants in Asia and the Middle East, and, most importantly, promoting the rule of law in our lands instead of funding lawlessness in the form of militias.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

 

Guardian breaks down the drop in US press coverage of Iraq

Here it is: War? What war? What honestly bothers me the most is how all these TV execs say "Well, people are more concerned with the political scene" or "Of course we still focus plenty on Iraq." But I see easily twice as much coverage on Lori Hacking, Scott Peterson, and Kobe Bryant when I turn on the TV. And when then much of the conversation has turned from what is happening in Iraq to how Iraq is going to effect the outcome of the presidential election. Well, that's a fine debate, but how can we judge how it will effect the election unless we know what the hell is going on there? The Guardian hits it right on the head with this illustrative example:
To be sure, the 24-hour cable shows are the news outlets that have ratcheted down their Iraq reporting the most over the past six weeks. That became glaringly obvious during the Democratic national convention in Boston, where many pundits and producers spent much of the time ignoring the politics and bemoaning how little actual news there was to report.

Yet here's a small sampling of what happened in Iraq that same week, little of which was deemed newsworthy enough to seriously interrupt the endless, repetitive cable TV discussion about swing voters and Teresa Heinz Kerry's "shove it" remark:

· July 26: Attackers shot and killed Iraq's senior interior ministry official and two of his bodyguards in a drive-by shooting.
· July 26: A suicide bomber detonated a car filled with explosives, mortars and rockets near the gates of a US base in Mosul, killing three.
· July 27: The dead body of a kidnapped Turkish truck driver was found.
· July 27: One Iraqi was killed and 14 coalition soldiers were injured when a mortar hit a Baghdad residential district.
· July 28: A car bomb exploded on a busy boulevard in Baquba, killing 68 people and wounding nearly 100. The attack stood as the deadliest insurgent strike since the US occupation began last year.
· July 28: Seven Iraqi soldiers and 35 insurgents were killed during a firefight in Suwariyah.
· July 29: Reeling from the violence and a wave of kidnappings, Iraqi officials once again postponed a three-day national conference to choose an interim assembly in preparation for the country's first elections.

 

Defining Terror

There is an insightful article in today's Ha'aretz by Meron Benvenisti about how "terrorism" is defined by a society, specifically looking at Israeli society. I think that this article is important not simply for those who are interested in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, but in better understanding how the US is waging its own 'war on terrorism' with no established definition of what is meant by 'terror'. In essence Benvenisti points to how Palestinian terror has been defined in Israel not by methods, but by beliefs, goals, and ideology. Thus, "the concept that terror is any Palestinian activity aimed against the Israeli rule in the occupied territories."
This general definition, which no doubt entrenched itself in the wake of acts of murder and terror against innocent people, is accepted by the overwhelming majority. A small minority, which distinguishes between terror and legitimate resistance to the occupation, does not dare open its mouth lest it immediately be accused of justifying the Palestinian murders and be crucified in the city square.

The head of MI and the head of the Shin Bet did not invent the general definition of "terror." It has been accompanying the Israeli-Palestinian conflict going back to its roots, and serving the Israeli "battle mythos" well. More than characterizing the acts, it defines their cause: since the Palestinians' goals are illegitimate to the Israelis, then the means they use are also illegitimate. Violence intended to obtain improper goals is a crime whose perpetrator is a terrorist and murderer, destined to die. The MI and Shin Bet heads do not doubt for a moment their absolute right to decide when the use of violence is legitimate, and certainly think they have a monopoly on the legitimate violence.

Any attempt to rebel against this monopoly on the Palestinians' part is harshly punished. The frightened Israeli public, eager for revenge for its hundreds of casualties, stands as one behind the quest to the bottom of the barrel. This is a quest involving violence in the guise of enforcing law and order, but combines a cynical use of the enforcement power to realize national goals, which have nothing to do with vanquishing terror.
I think that it is hardly a stretch to apply this analysis to the United States. For example, Iraq, and before that Afghanistan, has been repeatedly couched in official language (and in the news, etc.) as part of the broader 'war on terror'. The idea that terror extends beyond methodology, since it can hardly be argued that the Iraqi government or Iraqi military used terrorist tactics against the US before or during the war, into ideology is reaffirmed in this sense. Iraq is part of the 'war on terror' because Saddam Hussein opposed the US ideologically, he sympathized with anti-US and anti-Israel terrorist organizations, etc. And of course, there is the situation with the "detainees" and "enemy combatants." They are afforded the rights of neither prisoners of war nor of criminals. Benvenisti adroitly addresses this same vaguity in Israeli society's treatment of Palestinians.
The Israelis cannot define, when it suits them, the situation as "war" - which enables massive use of force but grants the other side the status of a fighting side - and at other times define the situation as "disorder" requiring police measures against rioters and terrorists.
By refusing to set clear definitions, the state is allowed to exercise its monopoly on 'legitimate' violence (as percieved by the average citizen) almost without question. Allowing terror to be defined largely by ideology (especially now that the phrase used more and more - including in the 9/11 commission's report - is Islamist terror) sets the end of this war in a distant utopia with a long, hard road in between. The anti-communist zealots in this country have always criticized the naive, utopian bent of communism's appeal. I only with the same people would apply the same scrutiny to the 'war on terrorism'.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

 

EU wants to know what products come from Israeli settlements

According to the Financial Times, the EU and Israel will soon ink a deal whereby all products stamped "Made in Israel" must also identify their exact place of origin, thus allowing the EU to identify which products come from the settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. In addition, those that come from the settlements will be subect to a duty that other Israeli products would not. Some Israeli companies and settlement advocates are up in arms by the deal, which they view as putting Israel's interest in being friendly with Europe above its commitment to the settlements.
The economic impact of the EU's tariff measure on the Israeli economy is negligible. Exports from settlements account for around $120m (€97.5m, £65.3m) of Israel's $7bn annual sales to the EU. The additional tariff burden will be less than $10m a year.

“That may be nothing overall but for individual businesses here it's 100 per cent,” said Ron Nachman, mayor and founder of Ariel. “The Israeli government was forced into this deal. The Europeans made Israel's $7bn exports hostage to the $120m.”
However, it also needs to be noted that companies are "forced" and "held hostage" by the Israeli government which advocates their investment in the settlements by offering certain incentives and priveleges and threatening to revoke these priveleges if companies move out of the occupied territories. One example:
Beigel and Beigel, a food unit of Unilever Israel, was planning to relocate its Barkan factory to southern Israel but that the government was reported last month to have turned down its request for a development grant to encourage it to remain in the West Bank.

 

Welcome to the new cold war

Iran has issued an extraordinary list of demands to Britain and other European countries, telling them to provide advanced nuclear technology, conventional weapons and a security guarantee against nuclear attack by Israel.
So says Anton La Guardia of the Telegraph (UK). Shockingly, Tehran's request is said to have "gone down very badly" with the Brits. This is a pretty ballsy move by Iran, but it's not shocking considering the position in which they currently find themselves. Bordered by Iraq and Afghanistan (both of which have been invaded by the United States in the past three years), listed by George W. Bush as part of the "Axis of Evil," looking at an increasingly aggressive and unconstrained Israel (with 100s of nuclear weapons and the advanced military to deliver them), its not too far out to think of a few reasons that Iran would want to develop a few nukes of their own. The US, of course, seems determined to press the issue, and I don't think that Iran, with the help that they've gotten from Pakistan, is too far away from having nuclear weapons capabilities. All of which means.... GOOD TIMES AHEAD!

 

al Jazeera responds

Maher Abdallah, head of international relations at al-Jazeera, responds to the Iraqi interim government's decision to shut down the station for a month in Iraq. Abdallah writes:
This might be a new venture for the interim government of Allawi, but it is not a new experience for al-Jazeera. Our offices have been closed in many an Arab capital before.

The wording of the justification of such action may differ from one country to another, but the gist is always the same: undermining state security (normally code for criticising the leadership); providing a platform for terrorists (usually means political opposition); and insulting the people of the country (normally means criticising a failed policy).

In the face of these policies, al-Jazeera has always had a simple approach: we are willing to stand corrected when shown that we were wrong, and to offer equal air time for the official version of events.
Abdallah's conclusion is something that Allawi, Bush, and others should take heed of: "Blaming the messenger for bad news might help in hiding these from the public for a while. But it doesn't make them go away." Although I guess Bush just hopes that he can hide it from the public for a couple more months. George Bush has to be loving Amber Frey right now.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

 

The War on Islam, cont'd

There is a worthwhile piece on CommonDreams from Parvez Ahmed, a CAIR boardmember, about the media's roll in fostering an environment of Islamophobia in the United States. Ahmed argues that it isn't just the Bill O'Reillys, Sean Hannitys, and Michael Savages (who regularly, outspokenly, and unabashedly attack Islam in the most bigoted manner) that twist the "average American"'s view of Islam and Muslims, but the US media in general who, if they do not actively partake in the twisting, sit back without questioning it.
The 9/11 Commission reported with alarming alacrity that 'Islamist terrorism' is the greatest threat posed to the United States. A University of Washington professor of Islamic studies Brannon Wheeler now questions why the commission did not use any Islamic scholar to 'explain Islam, Muslim religious activism or bin Laden.' Journalists in expected their watchdog role should have been more diligent, asking the commission to explain 'Islamist' instead of leaving its meaning open to the imagination of uninformed readers.

Another recent headline stated, 'Saudi security forces kill Islamic militants.' Perhaps a better choice would have been 'Islamic forces kill Saudi militants.' After all Saudi Arabia is a self-described Islamic country whose security forces are 'Islamic' and the militants unmistakably Saudi.

On August 5 three stories came across AP news wires - the arrest in a sting operation of two Muslims, the arrest of a man who allegedly had plans to bomb a federal building, and FBI raid on a home investigating anthrax. Guess which story made your headline news?

Such repetitive slant in media coverage builds an environment in which bigotry fosters. It is thus not surprising that radio and television talk shows are resplendent with both caller and host assertions that Muslims have either not condemned terrorism or have only six degrees of separation from it. A Pew Forum survey shows that 44 percent of Americans believe Islam encourages violence and 49 percent believe one in two Muslims to be anti-American. Neither public opinion reflects reality.
The fact that pretty much half of Americans believe that (at least) one in two Muslims is anti-American is pretty sad. Polls and studies (such as the recent one by Shibley Telhami at UMD) show that increasingly Muslims around the world who have negative views of US foreign policy believe that the US is not acting simply out of strategic reasons, such as control of oil or support for Israel, but in order to hurt Muslims. It seems that this "clash of civilizations" world view feeds off itself as each group increasingly confronts the other side as a monolithic enemy, at the same time setting itself up to be painted the same way by the other. I think there is time to change the tide. I think if Kerry wins the election, one of the things that he needs to make a top priority is to change the language of the war on terror away from "Islamist terror", "jihadists", and "Islamofacism" that has moved from Michael Savage right wing mania into the mainstream discussion. This is very, very important.

 

Most Recent Peace Index Findings in Ha'aretz

The results of the most recent Peace Index survey in Israel shows that support for the Gaza disengagement plan is slipping a little. I've long held the opinion that I'll believe the Gaza withdrawal when I see it (at least as long as Sharon is PM), and I think that the results of this survey give a good indication of why any Likud-led government in Israel (especially now that Labor has made it clear that differences on economic policy are going to be a major obstacle to a Labor-Likud coalition) is going to have a hard time pulling off the pulling out.
In light of the settlers' intensifying struggle to prevent a withdrawal and evacuation of settlements, we checked which of the two camps the public now perceives as more right-the one claiming that it is forbidden to give up any part of Eretz Israel for historical, religious, or security reasons, or the one claiming it is necessary to give up on the territories because otherwise there will be no solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It turned out that in choosing between these two clear-cut alternatives, the majority-51 percent-chose the alternative of ceding territory as more right, on the assumption that only then is peace possible, while the minority-37 percent-see those opposing any land concession as more right (another 8 percent believe in giving up only part of the territories).

The parties for which a majority of voters favor the camp opposing concessions are the National Union (80 percent), NRP (79 percent), Shas (59 percent), and Likud (50 percent), whereas a majority of Meretz (96 percent), Labor (85 percent), and Shinui (80 percent) voters opt for the other camp.
See, the problem is not that a majority of Israelis don't favor the Gaza withdrawal. They do. Even with support "slipping a little" in the most recent survey, there is a solid majority behind the withdrawal. The problem is that 50% of Likud is going to favor the die-hard, stay-til-the-end settlers in the territories over a withdrawal. And there isn't going to be a way for people not to take sides - the settlers are going to force the issue. So the Likud leadership can't effectively function with only 50% support within its own party members. And right now, without Labor (and certainly Meretz has no intention of joining a Likud government), the only party that will tip the balances towards withdrawal is Shinui. But Shinui doesn't have enough seats by themselves, which means that Likud is going to have to include a party that tips back the other way, against withdrawal. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that Shinui will sit in a government with any of the religious parties (as they claimed they would never do in the election) and if they do go back on their election promise, they will certainly lose the support of many of the people who voted for them in the last election, making their position in a unity government weaker still. Thus, without a Labor-Likud-Shinui unity government, it will be pretty close to a political impossibility for Sharon to pull off the Gaza withdrawal. So says I, with all hopes that I am proved wrong.

Monday, August 09, 2004

 

Kerry proposes anti-terror neighborhood watch groups

This is a horrible idea. First of all, counter-terrorism should probably be something handled by the experts. What exactly is a neighbor going to know that will tip him or her off to the "terrorist" tendencies of somebody that the CIA or FBI wouldn't know? This is the TIPS program to the 10th degree. This seems to be just asking for anti-Arab, anti-Muslim profiling. Does John Kerry really want the Annie Jacobsen's of the world out patroling the streets of America on the lookout for terrorists? I certainly hope not. I tend to think that if we actually need this we are already doomed, and if we don't we are just asking for trouble and fomenting ethnic and religious divides. Thanks to the Angry Arab for noticing this.

 

Shocking News!

The latest from the Guardian: Iraq Reliant on U.S. Troops for Security. And this is news?

 

Allawi government shuts down al Jazeera

So, if I have this correct, the best way to democracy are (1) take active steps towards declaring martial law and (2) shut down media outlets that aren't in step with the party line. Months after being liberated from Saddam Hussein by the US, the Iraqi people have now been liberated again, from al Jazeera television. Only a "temporary measure," Iraqi Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib said the closure was intended to give the station "a chance to re-adjust their policy against Iraq." Of course, some crazy conspiracy theorists might think that this has something to do with the US (who just happens to hate al Jazeera and occupy militarily Iraq... but other than that, no connections), according to the YahooNews article:
In an Arab world rife with conspiracy theories, the decision to close the offices of the popular channel could reinforce the perception that decisions by Iraq's interim government are influenced by the United States, which has long complained about Al-Jazeera's coverage.
I don't know why everybody is always trying to blame America. Abu Aardvark offers this analysis:
Wish I could say that this is a surprise, but it isn't. The Iraqi opposition in exile has long harbored a grudge against al Jazeera, and now that they're in "power" they get to act on it. And the Americans, far from urging them to show restraint or to honor media freedoms, are egging them on and offering an excellent example of democratic practice.

Ah, the heck with it. This administration and its Iraqi allies are very much on the same page when it comes to the Arab media: the more controlled, the less free, the better. So even though the closure of al Jazeera is new news, the story of our authoritarian approach to the Arab media itself is old news. Old and depressing and so very, very counterproductive.

 

AEI op-ed on Arab Democracy

On the verge. Yes, that's where the American Enterprise Institute believes that George W. Bush has brought the Arab world. Right up to the brink. So close you can taste it. And Kerry is going to take all that hard work and throw it out the window, so says Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute in today's New York Times. In the interest of saving time (my own time, not yours, of course) I am going to simply post my reaction to it that I already sent in an email earlier. And I quote myself:
an interesting article. however, i believe that the entire premise of the article, that there is a difference between the "realism" of kerry and the "idealism" of bush, is fundamentally flawed. while there are differences between the foreign policies of the two, i don't think they break down along "realism" vs. "idealism" lines. i think the main differences are in areas of the level of aggressiveness and the militarization of foreign policy. i think pretty much everybody agrees that democracy in the middle east would be a good thing - bush, kerry, everyone. do you then dismiss somebody because they are not democratically elected and embrace those that are? looking at pakistan, uzbekistan, and palestine, it's pretty obvious that bush is hardly more an "idealist" than a "realist". to me the difference is on the issue of "regime change" (in other words, the military overthrow of those currently in power in the middle east). here, bush argues that regime change will lead to increased democracy (we'll see if it happens) and kerry seems to argue more than increased democracy (through US support of reformers and democratic movements in the middle east) will lead to regime change. pletka says that bush has made democracy a topic of discussion of debate in the middle east, while kerry's counsel of despair (we can't impose democracy, there is a danger in things happening too fast and too violent) damns the middle east to continued despotic rule. while i am no supporter of kerry's middle east policy, i think that there is a certain logic to these warnings - we hear of al-aqsa martyrs brigade members burning government buildings, kidnapping government officials, interupting government meetings because they want reform. if these are the great results of bush's headway in the middle east, i think we need to take a step back and rethink things. the PA does need reform, but should it be delivered by a group of masked gunmen? are these the reformers we want empowered in the middle east? personally, i would say no.
Let's also keep in mind that the regime change that Bush has brought about (in Iraq and Afghanistan) hasn't actually led to democracy yet. There have not been elections in either Iraq or Afghanistan. One could argue that America is safer without the Taliban and Saddam Hussein in power (although this, too, is debatable), but that isn't Pletka's argument.

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