Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Yesterday's stories are here(see older articles at the overflow blog).
Navy offers up to $150K for master EOD techs to re-up
Critics knock special counsel for administration ties
Times Staff Writer
April 25, 2007
WASHINGTON — Even as Special Counsel Scott J. Bloch moved forward with plans for a sweeping probe of the Bush administration, several advocacy groups complained that his ties to the administration and to conservative groups, as well as his record on gay rights and whistle-blowers, made him the wrong man for the job.
"There is a serious question as to whether Bloch will just provide cover for an administration that is covering for him," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a Democratic-leaning group.
A spokesman for the Office of Special Counsel, communications director James Mitchell, waved away the complaints, saying agency staffers have already begun to form an internal task force, led in part by career staff, to probe three broad areas of activity involving the White House and senior advisor Karl Rove.
The agency will use its subpoena power if necessary, Mitchell said. It will focus on whether White House political concerns improperly intruded on the decision to fire at least one U.S. attorney; whether Rove's office staff or others violated the Hatch Act in briefing Cabinet agency managers on political developments and Republican campaign goals; and whether the White House improperly used Republican National Committee e-mail accounts for official business.
Many of those e-mails are now missing, and Bloch has said his agency will probably join the effort to find them.
The advocacy groups charge, among other things, that Bloch initiated a policy that made it more difficult for gay employees to allege discrimination.
A whistle-blower group said Bloch had a poor record of protecting those reporting wrongdoing. And, these critics pointed out, the Office of Personnel Management is investigating alleged improper employment practices including intimidation of workers at the Special Counsel agency.
"This is a job where you don't have a lot of friends," Mitchell said. "You don't make people happy when you zap them for violations or reject their whistle-blower complaints." At Bloch's confirmation hearing, Mitchell said, the incoming director was urged to reduce the large backlog of whistle-blower and other complaints. Bloch disposed of a great many of them — so many that an advocate for environmental whistle-blowers said they had received no satisfaction from the agency.
"He just ignored them," said Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
Mitchell said office procedures on whistle-blower and other cases were reviewed by a bipartisan congressional staff in 2005 that later provided a positive report.
While Bloch has alienated advocacy groups on the left, he has also lost support from White House insiders, according to one report. The Weekly Standard, a conservative magazine, reported last year that Bloch was ostracized by the White House and might even be urged to step down.
Mitchell said such attacks are expected by investigators like Bloch. "He is a watchdog," Mitchell said. "That's what he likes to do."
by Jay Deshmukh 2 hours, 45 minutes ago
The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq criticised Baghdad on Wednesday for concealing the casualty figures from its sectarian war and charged that many detainees have "disappeared".
While placing the blame for the majority of violent civilian deaths on the insurgents and illegal militias fighting in Iraq, UNAMI expressed concern about the human rights record of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government.
In its quarterly report on the human rights situation, the UN mission said the Iraqi government had stopped providing casualty figures and denied that its previous reports had exaggerated the death toll in the conflict.
In a report on January 16, UNAMI said more than 34,400 people had died in the daily acts of violence across the country in 2006.
"The prime minister's office told UNAMI that the mortality figures contained in the report were exaggerated, although they were in fact figures compiled and provided by a government ministry," UNAMI said on Wednesday.
"It was a matter of regret that the Iraqi government did not provide UNAMI with access to the ministry of health's overall mortality figures for the reporting period.
"UNAMI emphasises again the utmost need for the Iraqi government to operate in a transparent manner and does not accept the government's suggestion that UNAMI used the mortality figures in an inappropriate fashion."
At a news conference to launch the latest report, UN human rights officer Ivana Vuco insisted: "These figures are probably the most carefully screened.
"Unofficially in follow-up meetings we were told that the government was concerned that people would misconstrue the figures to portray a grim situation," she said.
Maliki's office hit back at the UN mission and complained that its latest report lacked credibility.
"Despite the Iraqi government's full cooperation and transparency in dealing with the UN delegation in Iraq, much of the information contained in the report was not taken from credible sources," it said.
"Considering the conditions which Iraq is currently enduring, this report calls into question the credibility of the United Nations office in Iraq, aggravating the humanitarian situation instead of resolving it."
While being unable to provide statistics because of the government's decision, the new report for the first quarter of 2007 said violence remained a serious problem in Iraq, despite a US and Iraqi security operation.
"In February and March, sectarian violence claimed the lives of large numbers of civilians, including women and children, in both Shiite and Sunni neighbourhoods," the report said.
"While government officials claimed an initial drop in the number of killings in the latter half of February following the launch of the Baghdad Security Plan, the number of reported casualties rose again in March."
Iraqi and US officials insist the civilian death toll from Iraq's sectarian war has declined since the plan began on February 14, but refuse to release detailed figures to back up the assertion.
A US embassy official also criticised the UNAMI report.
He said the health ministry -- the key source for providing data to UNAMI in previous reports used to be run by loyalists of Shiite radical leader Moqtada al-Sadr and was "viewed essentially by many as not reporting accurately".
"It had a political agenda. It was trying to undermine any confidence in the programme of the government. It was giving numbers that did not have any detail background," the diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
The Baghdad Security Plan seeks to quell the violence but Vuco said it also had increased the potential for the abuse of detainees' human rights.
"The disappearance of detainees still continues," she said. "We have serious concerns that not all detainees are being registered. We found people looking for detained family members who they were unable to locate."
Most of these detainees are held for "prolonged periods of time without charge in overcrowded conditions," she said.
At least 37,641 people were being held in detention centres across Iraq as of end of March, UNAMI said, adding of these about 3,000 were detained since the Baghdad crackdown began.
The US-led coalition continued to hold 17,898 people, while the rest were in the custody of Iraqi authorities.
UNAMI said that at least 736,422 Iraqis had fled their homes since the sectarian unrest flared up in February last year, on top of 1.2 million who had been displaced previously.
You know U.S. Central Command is nuts now, right?
US Lieutenant colonel charged with aiding the enemy
---Longer Iraq Tours Good for "Army Stress," Pentagon Says
You have got to be kidding me. Check out this pure-propaganda pronouncement, from the Pentagon's official news organ, the "American Forces Press Service":
Extended Deployments Should Lessen Army Stress, Commander Says
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 24, 2007 – Extended overseas deployments affecting soldiers serving in Afghanistan and other locales overseen by U.S. Central Command should help to alleviate the stress on the Army, a senior U.S. officer in Afghanistan told Pentagon reporters today.
“I’m absolutely confident that that’s going to work and that’ll manage the pressure and the stress on the force,” Army Col. Martin Schweitzer, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team, said during a satellite-carried news conference.
All active U.S. Army units already operating within U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility, including Afghanistan, Iraq and the Horn of Africa, or en route there “will deploy for not more than 15 months and return home for not less than 12 months,” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced April 11 at a Pentagon news conference.
The change automatically increased the length of soldiers’ overseas tours in those areas from 12 to 15 months...
The 15-month deployments are needed to ensure that the Army retains the capacity to sustain the deployed force, Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, commander of Multinational Corps Iraq, said April 13 from Baghdad during a teleconference with Pentagon reporters.
The tour extensions will provide more predictability and stability for soldiers and their families, Odierno said, noting the policy “will ensure 12 months at home station between rotations.”
Schweitzer acknowledged difficulty in measuring how the extended deployment affects individual soldiers under his command. However, he expressed strong support for the personnel decisions made by senior defense department and Army leaders.
The Pentagon’s civilian and military leaders “put a lot of rigor and analytical analysis into this (tour extension) to determine what is best for the service and what is sustainable,” Schweitzer said. (emphasis mine)
Yeah, yeah. Water is dry, ice is warm, and up is down, too. This is entering into "Baghdad Bob" territory, folks. Seriously.
There are two possible interpretations of "Army stress" you could tease out of this pronouncement. The idea that longer tours will help with either is just silly.
This first is that longer tours will somehow ease pressures on the the service, institutionally. Traditionally, the Army has tried to give its troops two years at home for every year in combat. Which means deployed units should only make up about a third of the force; the other two-thirds should be at rest or in training. But with the Iraq war dragging on so long, that hasn't been possible. "Today half the Army's 43 combat brigades are deployed overseas, with the remainder recovering from their latest deployment or preparing for the next one," Time recently reported. Now, you're telling me that more time in Iraq somehow help correct that imbalance? That doesn't even pass the laugh test.
"Army stress" could also be interpreted as the burdens that soldiers and their families face, as they head off to war, again and again. That's the kind of stress Gen. Odierno seems to imply will be helped by soldiers spending an extra three months in a warzone. Again, that's a downright laughable position to take. As Phil Carter, an Iraq vet, recently noted:
There's a finite limit to the amount of time that men and women can withstand combat. British historian Richard Holmes pegged this figure at approximately 60 days of sustained combat. In Iraq, we often wondered what our finite limit was, given the stresses of our advisory mission and the frequent attacks on our compound in downtown Baqubah. You can... only... hit so many improvised explosive devices, before you burn out and need to go home.
(High five: PC)
By Robert Parry
April 25, 2007
George W. Bush admits he has no evidence that a withdrawal timetable from Iraq would be harmful. Instead, the President told interviewer Charlie Rose that this core assumption behind his veto threat of a Democratic war appropriation bill is backed by “just logic.”
“I mean, you say we start moving troops out,” Bush said in the interview on April 24. “Don’t you think an enemy is going to wait and adjust based upon an announced timetable for withdrawal?”
It is an argument that Bush has made again and again over the past few years, that with a withdrawal timetable, the “enemy” would just “wait us out.” But the answer to Bush’s rhetorical question could be, “well, so what if they do?”
If Bush is right and a withdrawal timetable quiets Iraq down for the next year or so – a kind of de facto cease-fire – that could buy time for the Iraqis to begin the difficult process of reconciliation and start removing the irritants that have enflamed the violence.
One of those irritants has been the impression held by many Iraqi nationalists that Bush and his neoconservative advisers want to turn Iraq into a permanent colony while using its territory as a land-based aircraft carrier to pressure or attack other Muslim nations.
The neocons haven’t helped by referring to Bush’s 2003 conquest as the “USS Iraq” and joking about whether next to force “regime change” in Syria or Iran, with the punch-line, “Real men go to Tehran.”
By refusing to set an end date for the U.S. military occupation, Bush has fed this suspicion, prompting many Iraqis – both Sunni and Shiite – to attack American troops. Another negative consequence has been that the drawn-out Iraq War has bought time for foreign al-Qaeda terrorists to put down roots with Sunni insurgents.
Obviously, there is no guarantee that a timetable for a U.S. withdrawal would bring peace to Iraq. The greater likelihood remains that civil strife will continue for some years to come as Iraq’s factions nurse their grievances and push for a new national equilibrium.
But the counterpoint to Bush’s veto threat against a withdrawal timetable is that his open-ended war is doomed to failure. To attain even the appearance of limited success would require American forces to effectively exterminate all Iraqis who are part of the armed resistance to the U.S. occupation.
After all, the only logical reason for not wanting the “enemy” to lie low is so American troops can capture or kill them.
That has been Bush’s strategy for the past four-plus years – longer than it took the United States to win World War II – and the military situation has only grown increasingly dire. Meanwhile, anti-Americanism has swelled around the world, especially among Muslims.
But a long, bloody stalemate is the likely result from Bush’s stubbornness. With little fanfare, the Bush administration has essentially abandoned its earlier “exit strategy” of training a new Iraqi army so as “they stand up, we’ll stand down.”
Bush’s much-touted “surge” – beefing up American forces in Baghdad and other hot spots – is an indirect acknowledgement that the training was a flop. The “surge” is a do-over of the war’s original approach of relying on American troops to bring security to the country.
The “surge” also places American troops in lightly defended outposts in Iraqi neighborhoods, rather than concentrating U.S. forces in high-security barracks. The Pentagon acknowledges that this approach will put Americans in greater danger, both from insurgents and from Iraqi police whose loyalties are suspect.
The prediction of higher U.S. casualties is already coming true, as al-Qaeda-connected terrorists and Iraqi insurgents adjust their tactics to kill the vulnerable Americans. On April 23, two suicide truck bombers rammed a U.S. Army outpost near Baqubah, exploding two bombs that killed nine American soldiers and wounded 20 others.
As Iraq’s temperatures begin to soar into the 100s, the American troops will have to fight the heat as well as the insurgents. The secure base camps were well equipped with air conditioning, water and other supplies that won’t be as accessible in the remote outposts scattered throughout hostile neighborhoods.
Supplying these American troops will be another invitation for ambushes and roadside bombs.
The chances that U.S. troops will kill Iraqi civilians will rise, too, as may have happened earlier this month when an American helicopter gunship killed an Iraqi mother and her two sons in Baghdad Al-Amel neighborhood. [Christian Science Monitor, April 24, 2007]
Bush’s insistence on an open-ended U.S. occupation also plays into the hands of foreign al-Qaeda terrorists who are estimated to number only about five percent of the armed opposition.
Captured al-Qaeda documents reveal that the terrorist group has had trouble building alliances with Iraqi insurgents. So, al-Qaeda has pinned its hopes on keeping the U.S. military bogged down in Iraq indefinitely while those bridges are built and a new generation of extremists is recruited, trained and hardened.
In addition, having the U.S. military focused on Iraq protects Osama bin Laden and other terrorist leaders holed up on the Afghan-Pakistani border.
An announced date for American withdrawal would put non-Iraqi al-Qaeda operatives in a tighter fix. Without the indefinite U.S. occupation, al-Qaeda would find it tougher to recruit young jihadists and would likely face military pressure from Iraqi nationalists fed up with foreign interference of all kinds.
That is why al-Qaeda leaders view Bush’s open-ended war in Iraq as crucial to their long-range plans for spreading their radical ideology throughout the Muslim world. As “Atiyah,” one of bin Laden’s top lieutenants, explained in a Dec. 11, 2005, letter, “prolonging the war is in our interest.”
[To read the “prolonging the war” passage from the captured Atiyah letter at the Web site of West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center, click here and then scroll down to the bottom of page 16 and the top of page 17.]
Military and intelligence analysts have told me that the “surge” is already recognized as a failure by U.S. military officers stationed in Iraq. “It’s just another layer on top of what they’ve already been doing,” one well-placed U.S. military source said.
In this view, the “surge” is more a political tactic than a military one, a way for Bush to argue for more money without strings, one more time. Presumably, after the “surge” collapses in obvious failure, Bush and his advisers will point to another mirage on the horizon.
Or, as comedian Lewis Black has put it, “Keep false hope alive.”
Given what the Iraq Study Group has called the “grave and deteriorating” conditions in Iraq, why not give a timetable for American withdrawal a chance? It potentially could help achieve three goals:
First, it might tamp down the violence from Iraqi nationalists who, if Bush’s “logic” is right, would lie low for a while. Second, it might pressure the Iraqi government to get serious about reconciliation during a respite from the violence. Third, it might help isolate al-Qaeda and deny the terrorist group the recruiting advantage from the open-ended U.S. occupation.
There also would be an incentive for the Iraqi nationalists to cooperate in reconciliation, because the United States could reverse its withdrawal plans if Iraq descended into chaos as a failed state or became a haven for al-Qaeda. At minimum, an announced U.S. withdrawal would change the current depressing political and military dynamic in Iraq.
So, a Bush victory in the funding showdown with congressional Democrats might lead to some high-fiving at the White House and mean that President Bush will have saved some political face. But the prospect of an open-ended war will condemn Iraqis and American soldiers alike to nightmarish months ahead and the certainty of many more deaths.
In effect, they will be asked to die for W.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'
Canada to ban incandescent light bulbs by 2012
Get out of there
Idan Ben-Barak, who lives in Australia, tells fellow Israelis it's time to leave Jewish State
Published: 04.25.07, 19:40 / Israel Opinion
They say that if you put a frog in a pot of lukewarm water and slowly heat up the water, the frog would not feel the gradual heating and be cooked without even attempting to jump out. For 60 years now we've been so scared of the Arabs – actually, why 60, 100 at least – that it's the only thing we see. All the rest is marginal.
Corruption? Road accidents? Pollution? Poverty? Who cares about this nonsense? Two Qassam rockets just landed in Sderot and Ahmadinejad again made some belligerent statements. We've got action. Who has the energy to deal with the small stuff? And meanwhile, the country is crumbling in our fingers. Slowly but surely.
We already got used to it: There's no minister who isn't facing a police investigation. Every police chief comes with a scandal and every IDF chief of staff is a failure. The universities are suffocating, while colleges are flourishing. Everyone is studying law and business management in order to learn about how to move money.
Anyone who's worth anything in science and technology goes abroad to pursue a career, because there are no research budgets in Israel. And let's say we're able to give rise to and even keep two or three brilliant minds here, what exactly are we going to do with all those ultra-Orthodox guys who study Torah instead of serving in the army or working? Who will keep Israel afloat in 15 years?
We tried to build a country that would be a safe place for the Jewish people and that will allow us to live there in peace. It didn't work out. It turns out we can't have it all. Perhaps it's something about the Jewish character, or perhaps it's the fact that we got stuck in the Middle East of all places, and maybe it's just bad luck.
Does anyone still believe in the IDF?
For a decade or two it seemed like it could work, but then we were proven wrong. Somewhere between the West Bank settlement of Shavei Shomron, Bnei Braq, the security zone in Southern Lebanon, Shenkin St. in Tel Aviv, and upscale Caesarea, we lost our direction and the bastards took over. Now we no longer have the energy to change anything, we don't believe anyone; we're already tired.
Apparently, at the end they won't be taking over us with tanks. In two or three decades there will be no need for that apparently. And if they do attack, with ballistic missiles from Iran and Syrian Scud missiles, does anyone still believe that the IDF can handle it? After all, this is the same IDF that was unable to organize decent backpacks for every reservist in a war that we initiated on our own. The exact same IDF that has bee pulverizing Hamas and Hizbullah for 20 years now – and look how nicely pulverized they are.
The Palestinians are not playing ball either. We tried a nice approach? We got terror attacks. We hit them hard? We got terror attacks. We occupied? Terror attacks. Evacuated? Terror attacks. Once upon a time we thought we might be able to finalize some kind of a deal with them so that the buses stop exploding, but today we understand it will be like this forever.
Defeatist? Maybe. But any good poker player knows that a point comes where we need to give up, put the cards on the table, and say goodbye. A really good player knows how to do it when he still has money left for another round on another day. A not-so-good player will find himself going home after losing his pants, if he makes it home even. So do yourself a favor. Look closely at your cards, and think about how this round will be ending in your opinion.
Some readers may wonder whether I'm some kind of leftist, Arab-loving traitor who is unconcerned about making his contribution to the country. Have no worries, I already contributed, and not at the office. I did my military service in a combat unit, I was a career officer for a while, I did reserve service, I carried loads, I was stationed at roadblocks, I guarded, I screened, I navigated, I greased, I planted landmines, I patrolled, I ambushed, and I was fired at. I know Tul Karem and Hebron better than I know Hadera and Ramat Gan.
Second-hand Israeli in good condition
And by the way, they say that thing about the frog, but they're wrong. If you try to slyly cook a real frog, at some point it will feel that it's too hot and jump out much before you reach boiling point. I wish for all of us the kind of healthy instincts a frog has.
You need to jump out of the pot. Move abroad, while it's still possible. True, for Israelis "abroad" equals "America," but you may be surprised to hear that it's not the only option. There are several countries in this world that would be very glad to get a second-hand Israeli in good condition. Canada is one of them. So is New Zealand. There are many others.
At the end of the day, gloomy prophecies and unflattering comparisons to other countries is not what will get you to board a plane. After you debate, look into it, consult, examine the details, and do the numbers, you'll be left with one question: Do I have the guts to do it?
Leaving Israel is a risky business. Not because of the departure itself, as after all we can always go back, and many people indeed to that – but rather, because it forces you to deal with yourself. It's a process of the most in-depth self-examination, whether you like it or not.
Many people who plan to emigrate say that they're scared they will end up missing their relatives, the scenery, soccer games on Friday afternoon. In many cases, they're actually scared they'll end up not missing all that. Because without it, who are you in fact? And that's what you'll find out when you go.
And no, those six months you spent in the Far East don't count, because back then you knew you'll be back and that the room at your parents' house is still waiting for you. Now, it's like you're throwing yourself into space. Bungee jumping without the rope.
Those who left and never came back apparently know why they didn't. There are about a million Israelis like that in the world today. Those who left and did return two or three years later know a few things: They know who they are and what they are. They know what they love in Israel and what they'd like to change. They know why they're staying and they know this is the country they choose to live in, for the time being at least. But those who never tried, even though they were able to, are simply chickening out.
Listen, I don't know what will happen in the future. Maybe any moment now the people of Israel will realize how close they are to the edge and wake up. Maybe we'll even be able to come up with some kind of a semi-stable arrangement with our annoying neighbors, reformulate an agenda, and elect leaders for the Zionist enterprise who don't smoke cigars or are closely associated with various millionaires and functionaries. Maybe then we'll be able to live in a normal country. And maybe not.
In rapid succession, congressional committees Wednesday ramped up their investigations of the Bush administration by approving a subpoena for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and granting immunity to a key aide to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
By 21-10, the House oversight committee voted to issue a subpoena to Rice to compel her story on the Bush administration's claim, now discredited, that Iraq was seeking uranium from Africa.
Moments earlier in the committee chamber next door, the House Judiciary Committee voted 32-6 to grant immunity to Monica Goodling, Gonzales' White House liaison, for her testimony on why the administration fired eight federal prosecutors. The panel also unanimously approved - but did not issue - a subpoena to compel her to appear.
Simultaneously across Capitol Hill, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved - but did not issue - a subpoena on the prosecutors' matter to Sara Taylor, deputy to presidential adviser Karl Rove.
And in case Gonzales thought the worst had passed with his punishing testimony last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the chairman and top Republican issued a new demand: Refresh the memory that Gonzales claimed had failed him 71 times during the seven-hour session.
"Provide the answers to the questions you could not recall last Thursday," Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and ranking Republican Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, wrote to Gonzales on Wednesday.
© 2007 Associated Press.
Yours truly at another site
Israeli troops shoot Nobel Peace Prize winner: 12424 reads
This amount of reads at this particlular site indicates a high level of public interest.
So what gives Big Media?
If you listened to Democracy Now Monday, you already know the following:
Irish Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire was among a number of people shot Friday by Israeli troops at a nonviolent protest of the "apartheid wall" in the Palestinian village of Bil'in, near Ramallah.
But if you didn't listen to Democracy Now yesterday, you probably didn't know that.Why isn't this "news" in the United States? There's nothing on the web sites of the New York Times, the Washington Post, or the Los Angeles Times, not even a wire story.
Those who blame the Palestinian people for their fate, attributing it to Palestinian violence, and faulting the Palestinians for not emulating Gandhi, King, or Mandela (whose role in the "armed struggle" is always conveniently elided for the purpose of this comparison) should periodically ask themselves, when Palestinians do engage in nonviolent protest, and are subjected to brutal repression as a result, how come the mainstream U.S. media don't pay any attention?
Wouldn't this be a precondition for a successful nonviolent protest strategy? That people find out about it? Imagine if U.S. news organizations had not reported on lunch counter sit-ins in the South, Freedom Rides, or the Montgomery bus boycott -- and the repression that resulted. What if no-one reported on the deaths of Evers, Goodman, Schwerner, Chaney. Would these protests have been as effective?
That U.S. political, diplomatic, and financial support for the Israeli government's policies in the West Bank provide crucial support for these policies should be beyond debate. Don't the American people have a right to know what's going on?
And if a Nobel peace laureate is shot at a non-violent protest using weapons paid for by the U.S. taxpayer, isn't that news?
A great deal of ink has been spilled about how the United States is perceived in the Middle East. Too little of that ink has addressed whether the perception of the United States might be the predictable result of unjust U.S. policies, and whether changing some of those policies might be part of a strategy for changing the perceptions.
A new poll from World Public Opinion.org finds that nine in ten Egyptians thinks that the U.S. is at war with Islam, and wants the U.S. to "remove its bases and military forces from all Islamic countries." Eight in ten Egyptians support attacks on U.S. troops in the region to bring this about.
U.S. policy towards the Palestinians is surely not the whole story, but it is surely an important part of the story. If the U.S. cannot, in the short term, compel Israel to accept a political settlement with the Palestinians along the lines of the international consensus -- withdrawal to the 1967 borders -- can't we at least get them to stop shooting unarmed demonstrators? Or, if even that is too much to ask, how about no shooting Nobel peace laureates?
Wednesday night Bill Moyers will examine on PBS how the U.S media failed us in the run-up to the Iraq war. Perhaps Mr. Moyers could look into how the U.S. media is failing us on our policy towards the Palestinians.
Robert Naiman is National Coordinator of Just Foreign Policy, a membership organization devoted to reforming U.S. foreign policy to reflect the values and serve the interests of the majority of Americans. Naiman edits the daily Just Foreign Policy news summary.
JFP's web site is www.justforeignpolicy.org.
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
25 Apr 2007 08:30 am
Alex Gibney's new documentary on the legalization and authorization of torture by the Bush administration debuts this weekend at the Tribeca Film Festival. See the trailer here. It's a well-crafted piece of work and a devastating exposure of the denial that still runs rampant in some quarters about what has actually been done in the name of the American people these past few years. Longtime readers of this blog know all too well many of the details - but this film does what a parasitic blog cannot, and what even all the innovative reporting on the subject has not yet been able to do. It puts it all together. It represents a moment in this war when we can actually stop and look back from rising ground, and see how far we have come from the civilized norms of warfare that the United States represented in the last century. Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld tore off that civilized veneer and repudiated that long and honorable history. From the details of approved interrogation techniques replicated by scapegoats at Abu Ghraib to the self-conscious attempts to dissemble and deceive about the Rubicon we've crossed to the simple facts of the percentage of captives at Gitmo who were actually seized by U.S. forces - a small fraction of the total - you see conscious, orchestrated sadism at work. It's a film that enrages and shocks. But it has all been in front of our noses.
I watched the whole thing intently and quietly to the end. But its final coda contains a small clip of Gibney's late father, a longtime military interrogator, and his views on what has been done to his honorable profession by the Bush White House. Alone, it made me weep. It struck a chord that still resonates: of one thing mainly, and one thing still unavoidably. Shame. Almost unspeakable shame.
(Full disclosure: Alex Gibney's brother, James, is my colleague at the Atlantic and was once a colleague at The New Republic. Photo: a detainee cell at Abu Ghraib under president George W. Bush, commander-in-chief.)
April 25, 2007
GEORGE W. BUSH'S presidency is devolving into an extended holding action. On too many fronts, his top priority now appears to be delaying the inevitable.
Donald H. Rumsfeld, the former Defense secretary, once described the Iraqi resistance as a few "dead-enders" who refused to acknowledge that the world around them had changed. Increasingly that phrase applies as a self-portrait for the administration that Rumsfeld served. Forget "the decider." Bush has become the dead-ender.
Example A is the debate over embryonic stem cell research, in which Bush has grown increasingly isolated in his determination to block broad federal funding. Religious conservatives back his stance. But when the Senate this month approved legislation to loosen the funding restraints that Bush set in 2001, the bill drew support from 525 medical, business, academic and civic organizations.
Fully 63 senators voted for the bill — all but two Democrats in attendance and 17 Republicans, including conservatives such as Trent Lott and Orrin Hatch. Among the top Republican presidential contenders, only Mitt Romney stands with Bush; John McCain voted for the bill, and Rudy Giuliani indicated support. (Full disclosure: My wife works in McCain's Senate office.) Every major Democratic presidential candidate also supports broader funding. Bush may hold the line with a veto, but the odds are overwhelming that the next president will reverse his direction.
The same is true on global warming. Bush hasn't completely ignored the problem. He's increased federal research on such green technologies as clean coal and advanced biofuels. But he opposes the critical step that could move such ideas from the lab to the marketplace: mandatory requirements for industry to reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases linked to global warming.
BUSH'S POSITION leaves him, like the polar bears threatened by receding Arctic ice, clinging to shrinking ground. In a recent Gallup Poll, four-fifths of adults supported mandatory greenhouse gas reductions. Even two-thirds of Republicans agreed.
Just as dramatic is the realignment in the boardroom. In January, leading companies, such as General Electric and Alcoa, joined with environmentalists to form the United States Climate Action Partnership, which is promoting mandatory greenhouse gas reductions. These businesses have recognized that such mandates "incentivize" green innovation; without them, companies that make the investments to reduce emissions can face a competitive disadvantage. ConocoPhillips recently became the first major U.S. oil company to sign on to the partnership.
Even the auto and utility industries, two of the biggest emission sources, are warming to mandatory carbon limits. Jeff Sterba, the incoming chairman of the Edison Electric Institute, the trade association of investor-owned utilities, says he supports "moving our country forward as quickly as possible" to compulsory carbon reductions.
On global warming, in other words, there are oil, auto and utility executives showing more urgency than Bush. That's like prisoners worrying that the warden is skimping on security.
The leading Democratic candidates all support mandatory greenhouse gas reductions. Some potential Republican nominees (particularly Romney) might join Bush in resisting these mandates. But given the coalition assembling behind them — and the recent Supreme Court decision virtually requiring the federal government to regulate greenhouse gases — the real question is not whether, but how quickly, the next president will act.
On Iraq, the path ahead is murkier, but a turn away from Bush's open-ended commitment also appears inevitable. For now, solid congressional Republican support is allowing Bush to resist Democratic proposals to unwind American involvement. But two trends are eroding Bush's stone wall.
One is the war's strain on the military. The Defense Department's announcement that it is extending tours for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan from 12 to 15 months — the longest stints since World War II — underscored the practical difficulty of sustaining such a large troop commitment.
The second is persistent public discontent over the war. In surveys, about 60% of Americans call the war a mistake. If the public remains disillusioned as 2008 nears — a good bet — the demand will grow even among Republican candidates for a plan to responsibly lead the U.S. out of Iraq.
Bush could begin building a consensus that emphasizes regional diplomacy and sharper pressure on Iraqis to reform and reconcile, and that ties a fair test of his surge with a commitment to begin withdrawing if it doesn't yield more progress than it has so far. But Bush appears determined to leave the hard job of forging a new direction to his successor.
Bush isn't looking backward on all tests. He's trolling for deals with Democrats on two big 21st century challenges — immigration and controlling entitlement costs — though the overall tension between the White House and Congress makes achieving agreement on those issues difficult.
But on stem cells, global warming and Iraq, Bush seems intent on defending the decisions he's made already, even at the price of obstructing a new consensus attempting to form around him. If Bush continues to view standing alone as the highest form of principle, he will never escape the dead end into which he's steered his second term.
Watch Cindy Sheehan - They Can’t Kill Love
The Yellow Badge of Cowardice
There was an unbelievable story in The Cove Herald last week that comes from near where George Bush and I own property: Copperas Cove, Texas. Apparently two residents: Bill and Georgia Thomas decided that the Resident in Chief deserved one of the three Purple Hearts that Bill earned in Vietnam for: “emotional wounds and scars” because people all over the world talk so badly about poor George.
This story stunned me on a day when nine US soldiers and 20 were wounded in a car bomb attack in the Iraqi province of Diyala. Over 500 Iraqis were killed or found decomposing in Baghdad last week and April ’07 is shaping up to be one of the deadliest months for US troop fatalities. This is also a day when there is a hearing into the Army’s exploitation of Pat Tillman’s death to use him as a poster boy for patriotic fervor and unfounded hero worship. Why can’t we talk about our soldier’s heroic lives and not their tragic deaths as victims of the military industrial complex.
At the funeral of my son, Casey, a one-star General presented me with a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for bravery awarded to Casey posthumously. The Thomas’ can do whatever they want with Bill’s medals, but I believe giving one to George Bush demeans Casey’s brave and honorable sacrifice. Little Georgie used his Daddy (the Congressman’s) connections to avoid serving in Vietnam and George even went so far as to go AWOL from the Alabama Air National Guard.
Casey didn’t want to go and kill people and die in his commander in chief’s war of aggression. Like the vice-commander in chief, Doomsday Dick, he had “other priorities” besides dying. Casey’s Man-Scout Badges are sitting in my grandmother’s cedar chest right next to his baby book and hand-print from pre-school.
For George, the Vietnam War Resister cum Iraqi occupation War Criminal, to say that he didn’t “deserve” the medal is an under-statement. Bush doesn’t feel emotional scars or pain, he deals them. There are many soldiers who are missing arms, legs, eyes, and souls who actually had to earn their medals under a corrupt regime that used their honor and bravery to pump up the bottom line of such companies as Doomsday Dick’s Halliburton. There are mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, grandmas and grandpas, sons and daughters who are emotionally scarred because their loved one won’t be coming home alive from a war that never had to happen. Our arms will be aching forever because we can’t hug our loved ones. Our hearts are scarred with the pain of burying someone too early and our lives are empty with the longing to see our dear one just one more time.
The Thomas’ belong to the Fox News generation that still condones and supports a murderous regime. Mr. Thomas belongs to a generation that was scarred, maimed and killed with a genocidal fever by its corrupt regimes and he still thinks that George deserves a medal for his incompetence and callousness?
What do we do in a world where black is white? War is peace” Two and two equals five and cowardice is bravery?
We rise up and become more powerful than the special interests which use both parties to keep this nation on a constant war footing. We use our voices to be mouthpieces for peace and accountability. We march on the Capitol on May 14th to demand that there is no more business as usual and that Congress realizes that every single one of them (Democrat or Republican) who voted to fund George’s war are complicit in the bottomless pain that accompanies each death, dismemberment, or disability; without sharing in one iota of the same pain.
If George likes to receive medals that he didn’t earn, Gold Star Families for Peace is going to present him with one on April 25th, (or try to) that he does deserve and has earned abundantly: the Yellow Badge of Cowardice. It doesn’t take any courage to march other people’s children off to war. George didn’t exhibit any courage when he was put to the top of the Texas Air National Guard line by his family’s friends. George puts on his smiley photo-op face to take something from a good-hearted, yet deluded couple, that he stridently avoided earning. It doesn’t take any courage to meet with a bereaved mother, but he also refuses to do that. He travels in America with more armor and fire power than a banana republic dictator, and if he is not stopped by impeachment or other peaceful means, then we will descend into that tyranny of empire…if we aren’t already there.
Please join Cindy, The Camp Casey Peace Institute, Gold Star Families for Peace, CODEPINK , Congress Reps John Conyers (D-Mi) and Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), and others, as we march on the Nation’s Capital on May 14th demanding an end to the violence in the Middle East and for the impeachment of the Bush Regime.
The Upside of Recession?
By Robert J. Samuelson
Wednesday, April 25, 2007; A17
It's increasingly clear that much of our standard economic vocabulary needs revising, supplementing or at least explaining. The customary words we use don't fully convey what's happening in the real world. Let me illustrate with two basic economic terms: inflation and recession. There are also larger lessons.
Start with inflation. You may have noticed that last week's release of the March consumer price index (CPI) -- the government's main inflation indicator -- inspired much optimism. "Inflation Fears Relax," headlined the Wall Street Journal. Stock prices jumped on the supposedly good news. But if you actually examined the CPI report, you found that prices in March rose at their highest rate since September 2005 and that, over the past three months, they've increased at a 4.7 percent annual rate. Doesn't sound like retreating inflation, does it?
What explains the discrepancy is "core inflation." That's the CPI minus food and energy prices. In March, core inflation did subside, prompting the upbeat spin. But you might wonder: We must pay for food, gasoline and electricity; why strip them out? The usual answer is: These prices jump around from month to month; they often reverse themselves (oil prices were high in the early 1980s, low in the late 1980s); core inflation better reflects the underlying trend. This is hardly wishful thinking. Since the early 1980s, the two indexes (the CPI and the core CPI) have recorded -- despite many monthly differences -- virtually identical increases.
But suppose that this relationship is breaking down. We all know about oil. Prices are about $60 a barrel. They seem unlikely to return to $28, the 2000 level. The real surprise involves food prices. In the past three months, they've risen at a 7 percent annual rate. We may be seeing the first adverse effects of the ethanol boom. Corn is a main feed grain for poultry, cattle and hogs. Corn is also the main raw material for ethanol, an alternate fuel for gasoline. Competition for grain has pushed up corn prices to about $3.50 or more a bushel, almost double a typical level. High feed prices have discouraged meat producers from expanding. The resulting tight meat supplies raise retail prices.
"Poultry is the best example," says economist Tom Jackson of Global Insight. "In the past 40 years, we almost never have year-to-year decreases in production. In the past few months, we've seen production go down." In March, the decline was 4 percent from a year earlier.
So the government's subsidies for corn-based ethanol are worsening inflation, perhaps permanently. Coupled with precarious global oil supplies -- posing a constant threat of higher energy prices -- that may make core inflation a less useful indicator. Ups and downs may no longer cancel each other. Inevitably, these developments also pose policy questions. Considering ethanol's tiny contribution to our motor fuel supply (about 4 percent), is the program worthwhile? Or is it a giveaway to corn farmers?
Now switch to recession. Since 1982, there have been only two (1990-91 and 2001). That's good. In the previous 13 years, there had been four (1969, 1973-75, 1980 and 1981-82). Almost everyone dreads another one. We've been conditioned to think of recessions as automatically undesirable. The labeling is simplistic.
Hardly anyone likes what happens in a recession. Unemployment rises, production falls, profits weaken, stocks retreat. But the obvious drawbacks blind us to collateral benefits. Downturns check inflation -- it's harder to increase wages and prices -- and low inflation has proved crucial to long-term prosperity. Downturns also punish and deter wasteful speculation. When people begin to believe that an economic boom won't ever end, they start to take foolish risks. Partly, that explains the high-tech and stock bubbles of the late 1990s and, possibly, the recent housing bubble.
Some sort of a recession might also reduce the gargantuan U.S. trade deficit, $836 billion in 2006 (just counting goods). Almost everyone believes that the U.S. and world economies would be healthier if Americans consumed less, imported less, saved more and exported more. The corollary is that Europe, Japan, China and the rest of Asia would rely more on domestic spending -- their own citizens buying more -- and less on exports.
Ideally, this massive switch would occur silently and smoothly. Realistically, the transition might not be so placid. A slowdown in Americans' appetite for imports would involve weaker overall consumer spending, about 70 percent of the U.S. economy. Such a slowdown might also be needed to persuade other countries to stimulate their domestic spending.
Almost no one wishes for a recession, but the consequences might not be all bad. The larger lessons here involve perceptions. Our regular vocabulary often fails to describe the complexities of a changing economy. We must be alert to new possibilities. Things are not always what they seem.
Comptroller suggests probe against PM
State comptroller presents report on Olmert's time as industry, trade and labor minister, accuses PM of working to advance friend's interests. Prime Minister's Office says in response, 'Olmert has lost all faith in the comptroller' Aviram Zino
Latest Update: 04.25.07, 21:55 / Israel News
"The conflict of interests which Olmert was caught up in should be viewed very severely," said State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss' harsh report on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's conduct during his time as industry, trade and labor minister.
Lindenstrauss presented the report on Olmert's actions to the Knesset and prime minister on Wednesday.
The comptroller also presented the report to Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, as a criminal act is suspected. Mazuz will now determine whether there is cause to order a criminal investigation against Olmert.
The case in question refers to a project that attorney Uri Messer wished to receive funds for from the ministry which Olmert headed. Messer is a former partner and close friend of Olmert.
Olmert is suspected of interfering with the process to promote his friend's interests.
The report details how Olmert acted to change conditions set by the professional bodies in the investment office in order to grant Messer benefits.
Part of the report read, "This is a factory that received from the investment office the status of an authorized factory in 1992 and as a result, funds from the state. Five years later, in 1997, the authorization was retracted since the factory was not built and its plans, as were authorized, were not carried out…
"Then, in 2001, the factory filed another request for authorization status, a request which was not even heard until 2003, when the project's manager hired attorney Uri Messer, who also represents Olmert on personal matters and headed the group backing Olmert's 1998 campaign for Jerusalem mayor. He was also his partner at a law firm."
"Despite their past partnership, and despite their personal ties and present attorney-client relationship, Mr Olmert did not keep himself from participating, actively and intensively, in making decisions, after being told by his professional crew that there were many reservations regarding this factory," the report said.
Lindenstrass stated that in the situation that was created, Olmert should have completely withdrawn himself from dealing with the request.
The comptroller also accused the aides of acting inappropriately, saying that in reality, they were Olmert's "long arm."
"They did not operate from an independent source of authority, but only acted in the name of the minister," he said.
The Prime Minister's Office said in response to the report, "Olmert has lost all faith in the comptroller, therefore we had no expectations from him on this matter and were not surprised.
"The conduct of the comptroller in this matter, as it has been in other critical reports, has once again unfortunately broken all records of unprofessional behavior and bias.
"This conduct is leading to the downfall of the important and illustrious establishment he heads and this is the belief of many in the public service, his predecessors and high ranking officials in his own office, both former and current," said Olmert's office.
"It would seem that the comptroller has turned himself into an object of the ratings committee, and it is ratings and media deadlines alone that guide his actions. Whenever he fears that the public agenda is not giving him the attention he believes he deserves, he tries to fabricate drama in an attempt to seize headlines.
"This happened on the eve of the prime minister's testimony before the Winograd Committee when the comptroller urgently issued a draft of one of his reports, it happened when the comptroller believed that the Winograd report would be released in late March and hurried along to issue his own report on the conduct of the Home Front without seeking the responses of those he passed judgment on; failing to carry out the most basic of professional requirements.
"And so today, on the eve of the release of the Winograd Committee's findings, he issues this current report without having taken into account any of the various responses submitted to him on the matter, as per his request, on Memorial Day, three days ago."
Olmert's office also said that "with this sad knowledge" the prime minister's attorneys have already approached the attorney general prior to release of the comptroller's report and provided him with a detailed response to the accusations.
The response, said Olmert's office, includes documented proof that counters the charges made by the comptroller as well as proof that certain facts were maliciously twisted to fit with the comptroller's thesis.
'A Shameful report'
Later Wednesday, Olmert's attorneys sent a scathing letter to Mazuz, calling the report "shameful."
"We are frustrated that the prime minister, as a politician, is always considered a member of the 'evil' group and often times its leader. We're frustrated that the state comptroller, as the former president of a district court, is always considered a member of the 'good' group, and in his own mind its leader," wrote Olmert's attorneys of Lindenstrauss.
The attorneys, Eli Zohar and Roi Bleher, claimed that Lindenstrauss marked Olmert as a target and refused to consider any of the prime minister's explanations. Zahar and Bleher said that the manner in which Olmert promoted Messer's project was exactly the same as the way he treated any number of similar projects.
"If this wasn't the prime minister of Israel, who every day fulfills one of the most complex roles in the world, and a state comptroller, who in his desire to go down in history as the man who cleaned Israel's stables is abusing much of the public resources available to him for his own personal gain – it might have been possible to laugh at Lindenstrauss' behavior. But given their status, it's only a sad affair. Very sad," they wrote.
The attorneys asked Mazuz to review the matter and rule as quickly as possible.
Amnon Meranda and Ronny Sofer contributed to this report
Locating Dartmouth House, where Hans von Sponeck, former UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq was scheduled to speak in London on April 18, was a challenge. Yet the moment I slipped quietly into the lecture hall, getting lost for an hour in the ever confusing and yet expanding city of London was the least of my concerns. His statements were shocking as were his many statistics: Iraq was simply and shamelessly robbed blind during the US-led UN sanctions. Sadly, the robbery and mismanagement continue until this day, but this time the figures are much more staggering.
As von Sponeck spoke, I reflected on my lengthy interview with Iraq’s former ambassador to the United Nations, Dr. Mohammed Al-Duri. Al Duri, being interviewed for the first time by English speaking media since claiming his post at the UN, revealed to me in early 2001, in equally shocking details, what sanctions had done to his country and people. He claimed that the UN was part of the problem. Led by two countries, the US and Britain, the UN Oil for Food Program and the “humanitarian” mission it established in Iraq was, he said, robbing the country blind and mismanaging funds, with needy Iraqi families receiving next to nothing. He spoke of the manipulation of Iraq’s wealth for political purposes and alleged that the UN was a tool in the hands of the United States government aimed at encouraging widespread popular disatisfaction with Saddam’s government before the country was dragged off to war.
In hindsight, Al-Duri’s assessment was very accurate. Promoting his new book: “A Different Kind of War,” von Sponeck reiterated in essence and substance Al-Duri’s claims; the only difference is that von Sponeck was an insider; his numbers and stories were impeccable and could hardly be contested. It’s no wonder that one and a half years after assuming his post in Baghdad in 1998, he resigned. Even at such uncongenial bureaucracy like the UN, some people still possess a living conscience; von Sponeck was and remains a man of great qualities.
By March 2003, when Iraq was invaded by American forces, the UN was generating $64 billion in sales of Iraqi oil, according to von Sponeck. But, scandalously, only $28 billion reached the Iraqi people. Around 70 percent of the Iraqi people benefited from the program. If distributed evenly, each Iraqi received half a US dollar per day. According to UN figures, an individual living under one dollar per day is classified as living in “abject poverty”. Even during the most destructive phases of war with Iran, Iraq has managed to provide relatively high living standards. Its hospitals were neither dilapidated, nor did its oil industry lie in ruins. Only after the UN sanctions in 1991 did the Iraqis suffer at such an appalling magnitude. Alas, the tyranny of Saddam expanded to become the tyranny of the international community as well.
“Neither the welfare of the Iraqi people nor the sovereignty of the Iraqis was respected,” by the UN and its two main benefactors, asserted von Sponeck. The UN Security Council’s “elected 10 or veto-wielding five” had nothing for Iraq but “empty words,” but there were “deliberate efforts to make life uncomfortable (for the Iraqis) through the Oil for Food program.” All efforts to modernize Iraq’s oil industry were blocked, said von Sponeck, all at the behest of “two governments that blocked all sorts of items,” which could’ve made that possible: Again, the United States and Britain, coincidently the same two countries that invaded and currently occupy Iraq. The logic in all of this is clear; the “preemptive” war on Iraq was factored into the sanctions from its early days.
The assessments of Al-Duri and von Sponeck converge, revealing the disagreeable intents of the US government and its followers many years before the horror of 9/11 polarized public opinion and allowed Washington’s political elites, the neoconservatives and contractors to make their case for war.
But where did the money go, during the sanctions and now, four years after the invasion?
Von Sponeck reported that a large chunk of the money generated from Iraq’s oil, 55 percent, went to fund the UN’s own inadequate “humanitarian” programs. Much of the rest was taken by the UN compensation commission, entrusted in handling claims of damages made by those allegedly harmed by the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. According to von Sponeck, the Iraqi oil pie was so large, there was plenty for everyone: Kuwait, Jordan, Turkey, and all the rest. But most ironically, the commission awarded a large sum of money to two Israeli kibbutzim in the Occupied Syrian Golan Heights, for allegedly losing some of their income due to the fact that the war damaged the tourism industry in Israel.
The robbery in Iraq hardly discontinued after the “liberation.” To the contrary, it intensified beyond belief. The US Government Accountability Office uncovered awesome discrepancies in the US military administration’s handling of the money: Billions went missing, hundreds of contractors fully compensated but whose work was never accounted for, layers upon layers of shady companies, contractors and sub-contractors (of which Halliburton and its subsidiary firm Kellogg, Brown & Root are just a mere illustration), in partnership with the new rulers of Iraq, are stealing the wealth of the once prosperous nation, leaving it in shambles.
And now, the Iraqis are facing enormous pressure to approve the new Iraqi oil and gas law. The draft bill, according to Iraqi MP Nur Al-Din Al-Hayyali, would give “50 percent of the Iraqi people’s oil wealth to foreign investing oil firms.” The nationalization of the country’s oil industry in 1972 is being reversed. The robbery that began in the early 1990s continues unabated. Shameful as it is, Iraq’s new rulers are stealing from the poor and giving the spoils to the rich.
Tariq Ali - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Milan, April - Editor of the New Left Review, well-known essayist, author of a series of suggestive historic novels about Islam, Tariq Ali visited recently Italy to participate at the presentation of the Italian translation of his “Shadows of the Pomegranate” . On the sidelines of that event, organized by the publisher Baldini Castoldi Dalai, Arabmonitor met him for an interview.
Can the anti-Muslim hate campaign spreading through the entire Western world and seemingly connected to the project for a so-called New Middle East be confronted more aggressively, not only defensively, as it is now ? Do you see the role of the hate campaign in the West in the context of a US-Western foreign policy project ?
“I don’t think there can be any doubt that there is a big campaign against Islam and the Muslim population in Europe and the form this takes is being described as islamophobia. It is directed against a population that has been living in Europe for many, many years. In the case of Great Britain, for almost 50 years, in the case of France almost as long as that. No one ever used this islamophobic language before and I believe, it is very important to stress that the use of this language and the fact that this is now a well orchestrated campaign form the top to the bottom, is, I think, a decisive move to portray the Islamic world and Islamic countries as the new enemy, something that is evil, as something that has to be combated. So you see a whole number of things that are done. You have stupid, ignorant articles published in the press, books getting published, that are written by people who tell lies. Take, for instance, this woman, Ayaan Hirsi Ali from Amsterdam, now in the United States. She has written a book filled with claims that are not factually correct. So now the whole world thinks Islam is in favour of clitorectomy, because this woman has written it, not saying that it’s a tribal custom, which Christian and other non-Muslim people within the same tribe practice in the same way. So we have to ask: why is such a bad book being published? What leads a publisher to publish a book that is bad from the start? You have other cases like that, publications that under normal criteria no serious publisher would have accepted. So this campaign has to be confronted, and I think it has to be countered aggressively in terms of argument and language. One should not be defensive about it at all. I mean, I denounce these people all the time. It’s not the case that there are no problems in the Islamic world. We know that some of them are real problems, but they’re not what these people say they are. And the most significant feature of the Arab World is the continuing occupation of that world by the West. You have Iraq occupied, you have Iran under pressure, Saudi Arabia and Egypt whose governments are completely biased and plied to the United States. You have the largest military presence of the United States in the Gulf area. You have a continued occupation of Palestine by the Israelis. So this world, this situation in which we find the Arab World, this is for me the most important problem”.
Nowadays we are witnessing an accelerated efforts of the USA and its Western allies to build up a pro-Western front in all the countries you named, from the Gulf to Yemen, Somalia, Lebanon, around Syria. The situation that has been created in Iraq prompts the question whether some kind of orderly regime, even a colonial one, can ever come out of this policy ?
“Not at all. I think the occupation of Iraq has been a total disaster, first of all, for the people of Iraq, second, for Iraq as a unified state. I think that Iraq is now dead. It has been killed by the United States, Great Britain and all those who backed them, and it’s being killed now by those who back this occupation. So Iraq has been destroyed against the wishes of the people, who don’t want it to be destroyed. All the opinion polls show that the people in Iraq want it to remain as one country. The United States however, whether they did it knowingly, or more probably as a result of total ignorance, have destroyed Iraq. And the country will be divided into three segments: the largest segment will be with Iran, the middle segment with Saudi Arabia and the Kurdish segment will become an Israeli-American protectorate. That is what I think, is going to happen. And the USA will keep military bases in the northern area. That is their plan. But there are many imponderables. The Turkish government does not like what is happening in Iraq. For its own reasons, they are threatening to intervene. So this is creating an instability of the whole region, which is shocking. There are reports done by medical people and medical institutions confirming that something close to one million Iraqis have been killed. One million Iraqis have died. And the Western citizens see this, read about it and are saying nothing to their governments”.
Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House, Angela Merkel, German Chancellor, travelled to the Middle East on the heels of UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, and all three of them said exactly the same things, voicing out the standard requests regarding the tribunal for Rafiq Hariris murderers and the recognition of Israel by Hamas. We actually heard one language, one voice, from three different people. Can this sort of recital legitimise suspects that foreign policy in the West has, in effect, been hijacked by the NATO ?
“Well, look, this does not really surprise me. Basically, the United Nations is an institution totally dominated by the United States. Its Secretaries General cannot be voted if not approved by the United States. They’re like waiters to the White House, they’re carrying out orders from the White House, so there’s nothing more to it. The shocking thing is that Russia and China, for opportunistic considerations of their own, did not veto this. They either abstained or voted with the Americans on most of these things. So there’s no opposition at all at the Security Council, which is what dominates the United Nations. So, that doesn’t surprise me. There’s no big difference between Democrats and Republicans on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. On Iraq, there is a small difference and we will see, what they will do concretely. As far as Angela Merkel is concerned, she is absolutely pro-American. Gerhard Schroeder (the former German Chancellor) was still a bit independent from Washington, but Angela Merkel is completely dominated by Washington. As for the European Union, it doesn’t have any foreign policy. Regarding the invasion of Iraq, European public opinion was completely hostile to it, the Italians, the Spanish people, everybody was against it. But the European states, desperate to show the USA their loyalty, completely ignored public opinion. All these pathetic new Eastern European states desperately show the USA their loyalty and recognize the new master. They sent him troops. Just think that at the height of the cold war, not a single Western European country sent troops to fight in Vietnam. Not a single country! And this at the height of the cold war ! But to Iraq, they sent their troops. So, I’m not surprised that Europe is such a weak and pathetic institution politically. It is sanctioning an economic common market, that’s all it is, designed to strengthen neo-liberal capitalism all over the globe. Now, you have the Finance Minister of the centre-left Italian government saying ‘we have to push through reforms’, something we’ve heard from Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair for the last 25 years or so. This is the project known as the Washington Consensus and the European Union is bound to the Washington Consensus. They cannot break away from it”.
Can we have hope that what we’re seeing, a US-NATO project to cut up the Middle East and possibly North Africa, will encounter resistance ? There is a chanche that from within the Islamic world, a power fuelled by the strength of Islam will expand to a spiritual empire all over the world, whose spiritual resistance will be capable of bringing this project to a halt ?
“I don’t think so. I don’t think that Islam is capable of producing this. One of the things that have been characteristic of Islam right from the beginning of this religion until now, is its incapacity to unite and show solidarity with each other. From the beginning, factional wars have wrecked Islam, If it had been as united, as Christianity was at the time of the Crusades, many developments in history would have gone different. Look at the Islamic world today. Most of it, I mean their leaders, is with the USA, I don’t believe that Islam is capable of providing a spiritual or inspirational leadership capable of inspiring the whole Islamic world. You will have noticed that when the war began and Iraq was invaded, there were hardly any demonstrations of Muslims, hardly any. That’s very revealing. It’s a sign that the populations in all these countries are either frightened, or despairing, or cynical. There were some demonstrations, but they were much, much smaller, than anything that happened in Europe. So now we see that some of the Islamic groups in Iraq are good at fighting and responding, but they’re not capable of thinking strategically, not even to unite Iraq. The only hope that is coming forth today, is not coming from the Islamic world, but from Latin America. That’s where resistance to the USA is strongest, because it offers an alternative which can be understood by the people”.
If Latin America offers us today a practical, feasible resistance, it is because in Latin America people are taking recourse to the institutions of their existing national states. Couldn’t we see the same development enfolding in the Middle East ?
“Who can defend national sovereignty in the Middle East ? That’s the question. And the answer is that at the moment there are no social forces which one could recognize to be capable of defending national sovereignty”.
In the Middle East we had at least one promising movement, the movement of the Muslim Brotherhood, that seemed to be capable of bringing together a popular opposition.
“They might do that, all right, but the politics of the Muslim Brotherhood is the Islamic equivalent of Christian fundamentalism. That is what they are, they’re the Muslim version of Christian Democrats. They could very well overthrow the dictatorship and they’re trying to open up negotiations with the United States through various channels, to say to them ‘why are you so worried about us? We’ll be as loyal to the United States as the Turkish government is, which is also an Islamic Christian-Democratic state”.
What about the Lebanese Hezbollah ?
“They’re very different. Hezbollah, in fact, the only force capable of defending national sovereignty in Lebanon. The Muslim Brotherhood, in my opinion, is a collaborationist organization. It has collaborated with imperialism in the past and it will be ready to do so again, if only imperialism gives it a chance”.
Do you think Israel is capable of transforming in such a way that it will become the Sate of all its citizens, with equal rights of all its citizens, independently of their religious or ethnic affiliations ?
“This is a difficult question. I think it would take possibly another 50 years. But it could happen by the end of the century. I don’t’ think that Israel, as it exists at the moment, is viable. I think the only viable solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a single state in which all Jews, Christians, Muslims, Druze and Druids and whatsoever have the same rights. It’s what we fought for in South Africa, And it’s what will have to be fought for in Israel. And people will jump up and scream: ‘no, we will never live with each other’. But living with each other is what has to be argued for. I think, it’s the only serious alternative. A Palestinian State is not possible. It would be a tiny little Bantustan run by a corrupt leadership, funded by the West and treated like an NGO. That is the PLO. That is the Palestinian Authority. It is not an authority, it is a joke. And the sooner it recognizes that it’s a joke and dissolves itself, the better. That’s what Hamas should do: they should not play this game, they should say ‘we dissolve the Palestinian Authority, it is not an authority, it is an outfit of the Israeli army. We dissolve all these bodies, we are now citizens of whatever entity there is in the region and deal with it. And then just live in their villages and towns, not trying to develop this fake apparatus of government, when that’s a joke, when they have no power at all and are treated like a joke. So all this is done to create a tiny, corrupt Palestinian elite. That’s why Hamas won the elections, because it is opposed to this. If it now capitulates to this, they will be finished”.
Shouldn’t Palestinians give up the fight for a State and concentrate on the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland ?
“Yes, that’s my opinion. I am for a single State-solution. I think the Israelis have made any other alternative impossible. So in my opinion, that is what the Palestinians in Palestine and their movements outside (of Palestine) should do: they should fight for a single State and they should transform the PLO and Hamas into a giant civil rights and liberation movement, on the model of many movements in history. They should say ‘these are the rights we will fight for and we appeal to you not to be violent with us, as we are prepared not to be violent; we are prepared to fight politically for our goals and we’ll see where our struggle takes us’. Anything else will fail. As long as the United States supports the Israelis, these solutions will be difficult. If the US wanted to, they could within five years push a solution through, but they don’t want to, they will not do it. I think, we will have to take the initiative and say: end all this farce of negotiations and this farce of Mahmoud Abbas going to the Israelis to talk like a servant, trying to force Hamas to do the same. It doesn’t serve anybody’s interest. It completely debases the Palestinian cause”.
Do you endorse the right of return of the Palestinian refugees and displaced to their homes and properties ?
“Of course, these rights are there. But these rights will be guaranteed only if there’s a new entity. The Israelis will not accept them”.