Category Archives: Policy

The New Scramble For Africa

The New Scramble for Africa

Foreign Policy In Focus

Aug. 31, 2011

Is current U.S. foreign policy in Africa following a blueprint drawn up almost eight years ago by the rightwing Heritage Foundation, one of the most conservative think tanks in the world? While it seems odd that a Democratic administration would have anything in common with the extremists at Heritage, the convergence in policy and practice between the two is disturbing.

Heritage, with help from Joseph Coors and the Scaife Foundations, was founded in 1973 by the late Paul Weyrich, one of the most conservative thinkers in the U.S. and a co-founder of the Moral Majority. While the Moral Majority whipped up the culture wars against abortion and gays, Heritage lobbied for an aggressive foreign policy and American military supremacy.

In October 2003, James Carafano and Nile Gardiner, two Heritage Foundation heavyweights, proposed a major shift in U.S. military policy vis-à-vis the African continent. Carafano is a West Point graduate who heads up the Foundation’s foreign policy section, and Gardiner is the director of Heritage’s Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom.

In a “Backgrounder” article entitled “U.S. Military Assistance for Africa: A Better Solution,” the two called for the creation of a military command for the continent, a focus on fighting “terrorism,” and direct military intervention using air power and naval forces if “vital U.S. interests are at stake.” Such interventions should avoid using ground troops, the authors argue, and should include the participation of other allies.

Almost every element of that proposal has come together over the past year, though some pieces, like African Command (Africom) and the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Initiative, were in place before the Obama administration took office.

The Libya war seems almost straight off of Heritage’s drawing board. While the U.S. appeared to take a back seat to its allies, NATO would not have been able to carry out the war without massive amounts of U.S. military help. It was the U.S. who took out the Libyan anti-air craft systems, blockaded the coast, collected the electronic intelligence, fueled the warplanes, and supplied munitions when NATO ran low.

While the UN resolution forbade using ground troops, U.S. special forces and CIA teams, along with special units from Britain, France, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates organized the rebels, coordinated air strikes, and eventually pulled off an amphibious operation that sealed Tripoli’s fate.

The Heritage scholars were also clear what they meant by vital U.S. interests: “With its vast natural and mineral resources, Africa remains strategically important to the West, as it has been for hundreds of years, and its geostrategic significance is likely to rise in the 21st century. According to the National Intelligence Council, the United States is likely to draw 25 percent of its oil from West Africa by 2015, surpassing the volume imported from the Persian Gulf.”

It was a sentiment shared by the Bush Administration. “West Africa’s oil has become a national strategic interest,” said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Walter Kansteiner in 2002.

The UN tasked NATO with protecting civilians in Libya, but France, Britain, the U.S. and their Gulf allies focused on regime change. Indeed, when leaders of the African Union (AU) pushed for negotiations aimed at a political settlement, NATO and the rebels brusquely dismissed them.

The NATO bombing “really undermined the AU’s initiates and effort to deal with the matter in Libya,” complained South African President Jacob Zuma. More than 200 prominent Africans released a letter Aug. 24 condemning the “misuse of the United Nations Security Council to engage in militarized diplomacy to effect regime change in Libya,” as well as the “marginalization of the African Union.”

The suspicion that the Libya war had more to do with oil and gas than protecting civilians is why the AU has balked at recognizing the rebel Transitional National Council. For much of Africa, the Libya war was a “shot heard ‘round the continent,” and there is a growing unease at the West’s “militarized diplomacy.”

Though the Defense Department’s African Contingency Operation Training and Assistance Program, the U.S. is actively engaged in training the militaries of Mali, Chad, Niger, Benin, Botswana, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Gabon, Zambia, Uganda, Senegal, Mozambique, Ghana and Malawi, and Mauretania.

In June 2006, NATO troops stormed ashore on Sao Vicente island in the Cape Verde archipelago in operation “Steadfast Jaguar” (an odd choice of monikers, since jaguars are natives of the New World, not Africa). The exercise, which brought together a host of nations, including France, Germany, Spain, Greece, the U.S. and Poland, was aimed at “protecting energy supplies” in the Niger Delta and Gulf of Guinea.

Major oil producers in the region include Angola, Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Chad and Mauritania.

Protecting energy supplies from whom?

In the case of the Niger Delta, it means protecting oil companies and the Nigerian government from local people fed up with the pollution that is killing them, and corruption that denies them any benefits from their resources. Under the umbrella of the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), locals are waging a low-key guerilla war that at one point reduced oil supplies by 20 percent.

MEND is certainly suspicious of American motives in the region. “Of course, it is evident that oil is the key concern of the U.S. in establishing African Command,” says the organization’s spokesman, Jomo Gbomo.

The Nigerian government labels a number of restive groups in Nigeria as “terrorist” and links them to al-Qaeda, including Boko Haram in the country’s north.

But labeling opponents “terrorists” or raising the al-Qaeda specter is an easy way to dismiss what may be real local grievances. For instance, Boko Haram’s growing penchant for violence is more likely a response to the heavy handedness of the Nigerian Army than an al-Qaeda inspired campaign.

Terrorism and the protection of civilians may be the public rationale for intervention, but the bottom line looks suspiciously like business. Before the guns go silent in Libya, one British business leader complained to The Independent that Britain was behind the curve on securing opportunities. “It‘s all politics, no commercial stuff. I think that is a mistake. We need to be getting down there as soon as possible,”

The Spanish oil company Reposal and the Italian company Eni are already gearing up for production. “Eni will play a No.1 role in the future,” says Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini. Almost 70 percent of Libya’s oil goes to four countries, Spain, Germany, France and Italy. Qatar, which is already handing oil sales in Eastern Libya, will also be on the ground floor as production ramps up.

A major loser in the war—and some would argue, not by accident—is China. Beijing had some 75 companies working in Libya and 36,000 personnel, and accounted for about 11 percent of Libya’s pre-war exports. But because China complained that NATO had unilaterally changed the UN resolution from protecting civilians to regime change, Beijing is likely to suffer. Abdeljalil Mayouf, information manager of the rebel oil firm AGOCO told Reuters that China, Brazil and Russia would be frozen out of contracts.

Brazil and Russia also supported negotiations and complained about NATO’s interpretation of the UN resolution on Libya.

For Heritage, keeping China out of Africa is what it is all about. Peter Brookes, the former principal Republican advisor for East Asia on the House Committee on International Relations, warned that China was hell-bent on challenging the U.S. and becoming a global power, and key to that is expanding its interests in Africa. “In a throwback to the Maoist revolutionary days of the 1960s and 1970s and the Cold War, Beijing has once again identified the African continent as an area of strategic interest,” he told a Heritage Foundation audience in a talk entitled “Into Africa: China’s Grab for Influence and Oil.”

Beijing gets about one third of its oil from Africa—Angola and Sudan are its major suppliers—plus important materials like platinum, copper, timber and iron ore.

Africa is rife with problems, but terrorism is not high on that list. A severe drought has blistered much of East Africa, and, with food prices rising, malnutrition is spreading continent-wide. The “war on terrorism” has generated 800,000 refugees from Somalia. African civilians do, indeed, need help, but not the kind you get from fighter-bombers, drone strikes, or Tomahawk cruise missiles dispatched at the urging of right-wing think tanks or international energy companies.

—30—

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Kashmir: Obama and the Vale of Tears

Kashmir: Obama & the Vale of Tears

Dispatches From The Edge

Nov. 30, 2010

There are lots of dangerous places in this world: Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Bolivia, Iran, Palestine, Yemen, and Somalia to name a few. But there is only one that could destabilize a goodly part of the globe and end up killing tens of millions of people. And yet for reasons of state that is the one place the Obama administration will not talk about: Kashmir.

And yet this is a region that has sparked three wars between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, is in the midst of serious political upheaval, and is central to reducing tensions in Central and South Asia.

None of these facts come as a surprise to Obama. While running for office in 2008 he explicitly called for a solution to Kashmir.  “It won’t be easy, but it is important,” he told Joe Klein of Time magazine.

Given that India and Pakistan came within a hair’s breath of a full-scale nuclear confrontation during the 1999 Kargil incident, the importance seems obvious.

According to a recent study in Scientific American—“Local Nuclear Wars and Global Suffering”—such an exchange would kill and maim untold millions, flood the surrounding region with nuclear fallout, and create a “nuclear winter” for part of the globe.

Kashmir also fuels extremists in the region—both Hindu and Islamic—which in turn destabilizes Pakistan and Afghanistan. The conflict has killed between 50,000 and 80,000 people, “disappeared” several thousand others, seen thousands imprisoned and tortured, and subjected millions of Kashmiris to an onerous regime of occupation, with laws drawn straight from Britain’s colonial past.

Why then would President Obama remain silent on the subject, particularly since the outlines of a solution have been in place since 2007?

Commenting on Obama’s recent trip to Asia, Robert Kaplan, author of “Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power,” says “In geopolitical terms, the President’s visit” was about “one challenge: the rise of China on land and sea.”

Indeed, this past year has seen Washington hurl one missive after another at Beijing. The U.S. strongly backed Japan over its recent dust up with Chinese fishing vessels in the East China Sea. Washington also intervened between China and several Southeast Asian nations over tensions around the Spratly and Paracel islands. The U.S. and South Korea recently carried out naval maneuvers close to China’s shores, Washington announced new arms sales to Taiwan, and during the recent G20 meetings in Seoul, Obama tried to pin the blame for a global currency crisis on Beijing.

While Washington denies it has any plans to “surround” China with U.S. allies, that seems to be exactly what it is doing when it courts Indonesia, tightens its alliance with Japan, and sets up new military bases in Australia. But the jewel in this anti-Chinese crown is India, and Washington will do whatever it takes to bring New Delhi on board.

The Obama administration has already endorsed the Bush administration’s 1-2-3 Agreement that allows India to violate the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. Not only does the Agreement undermine one of world’s most important nuclear treaties, but, in a letter to the International Atomic Agency and the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group, Pakistan warned that the Agreement “threatens to increase the chances of a nuclear arms race in the sub-continent.”

While in India, Obama announced it would end most “dual use” technology restrictions, allowing India to buy material that could end up enhancing its military. The U.S. also agreed to sell $5.8 billion in military transport planes to New Delhi.

But of all these, the decision to avoid Kashmir may be the most dangerous and destabilizing.

Tensions over Kashmir go back to 1947, when India and Pakistan first came into being. At the time, largely Muslim Kashmir was ruled by a Hindu prince, who decided to go with India even though, under the British formula for dividing the two countries, Kashmir should have become part of Pakistan. When Pakistan responded by infiltrating soldiers into Kashmir, it touched off a war that, to one degree or other, has gone on for 63 years.

Today Kashmir is divided between the Northern Areas and Azad Kashmir held by Pakistan, and the Indian-controlled Kashmir and largely Hindu Jammu. A Line of Control that divides the two areas.

In 1989 Kashmiris staged a revolt, and Pakistan began infiltrating paramilitaries across the Line to attack Indian forces in Kashmir. That war dragged on until 2007, when Pakistan and India began secret back channel negotiations towards achieving a settlement. The talks, however, were scuttled when military dictator-turned-president Pervez Musharraf lost power, and militant jihadis attacked Mumbai in 2009, killing 165 people. India charged that Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the Inter-Service Directorate was behind the attack.

As difficult as the situation in Kashmir seems, according to journalist and writer Steve Coll, it is solvable and a failure to deal with it is dangerous. “The conflict has again and again spilled outside of Kashmir.”

Coll is a former reporter and editor at the Washington Post, author of numerous books on the Middle East and Central Asia, and president of the New American Foundation.

U.S. policy has been to keep Kashmir and Afghanistan as separate problems, but, Cole argues, “that policy is no longer consistent with the facts.” Muzamil Jaleel of the daily Indian Express agrees that the two countries “are linked so much now that India and Pakistan are fueling ethnic tension in Afghanistan.”

The current unrest in Kashmir, which has claimed more than 100 lives, is very different than the previous war. It is largely a non-violent movement composed almost exclusively of local Kashmiris rather than fighters infiltrated from Pakistan. It also has a strong contingent of young people, whose tech-savvy skills have put Kashmir’s resistance on the Internet. A decade ago Indian troops could wall off Kashmir. Today, the whole world is watching.

Cole contends the framework for a settlement is fairly straightforward.

First, India would have to rein it its 500,000 troops and paramilitaries. At the same time, the draconian Special Powers Act—originally designed to crush opposition to British rule in Ireland and currently used by the Israelis in the Occupied Territories—would have to be shelved. The laws give virtual immunity to widespread human rights violations by the Indian authorities and allow imprisonment without charges.

Second, the Line of Control would become an international border, but a porous one that allows free passage for Kashmiris.

Third, the residents of Kashmir and Jammu would be given a certain amount of local autonomy.

In the long run, the people of Kashmir ought to be able to hold a referendum about their future. The UN originally proposed such an undertaking, but first Pakistan and then India scotched it, fearful that residents might vote to join one or the other country. In fact, most residents would likely vote for independence.

An autonomous or even independent Kashmir is not only in the interests of the 10 million or so people that inhabit one of the most beautiful—and tragic—areas of the world, it would help defuse terrorism in Pakistan and India. To sacrifice that for what can only be a temporary alliance against an emerging China is profoundly short sighted.

Washington’s silence is no longer a viable option. “We are not asking the Americans to take a position against India and for Kashmir. We are just saying that there is a general recognition that India and Pakistan need to be pushed in terms of a dialogue,” Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the spiritual leader of Kashmir’s separatists, told the Financial Times.

Others warn that Indian repression of the current non-violent movement might drive it to take up arms. “The status quo is not digestible for Kashmiris,” Sheikh Showkat Hussan, a Kashmir law professor, told the Financial Times.

Today, Kashmir is a vale of tears, a place capable of sparking off a nuclear war that would affect everyone on the globe. It need not be so.

–30–

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Money Wars: Beating Up On Beijing?

Money Wars: Beating Up On Beijing?

Dispatches From The Edge

Oct. 25, 2010

 

 

Are the U.S. and China on a collision course? Consider the following:

 

During the 2010 mid-term elections, some 30 candidates for the House and Senate are blasting China for everything from undermining America’s financial structure to fueling the U.S. unemployment crisis.

 

The Obama Administration is accusing China of manipulating its currency to sabotage the U.S. exports trade, and the U.S. House of Representatives just passed a bill to slap huge tariffs on Chinese goods unless Beijing allows the renminbi, China’s currency, to appreciate.

 

A recent Financial Times article on the failure of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to resolve the currency issue says, “The hostility between Washington and Beijing has escalated into something resembling trench warfare.” Last year a CNN poll found that 71 percent of Americans thought China was an economic threat, and 51 percent of those polled thought Beijing represented a military threat as well.

 

If one adds to the above the growing tensions with China in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Straits, some kind of dust up seems almost inevitable, though any “collision” would be a diplomatic one. But a major diplomatic fallout between the world’s two largest economies has global implications.

 

What is going on here? Is China indeed manipulating its currency to beggar the U.S.? Does it bear some responsibility for the high jobless rate and the inability of the American economy to recover from the deep recession?

 

The answer is both yes and no, and thereby hangs a tale.

 

The U.S. charges that China is deliberately undervaluing its currency, the renminbi, which makes Chinese export goods cheaper than its competitors and thus undermines other countries exports.

 

China is indeed manipulating its currency, although it is hardly alone. In one way or another, Brazil, Japan, Switzerland, Thailand, South Korea and others have recently acted to keep their currencies competitive. Nor is currency manipulation something new. During the 1980s the Reagan Administration and Japan jimmied their currencies to deal with a huge trade gap. Indeed, the current free market orthodoxy regarding currency is a recent phenomenon in world finances, a reflection of the “Washington Consensus” model that has dominated institutions like the IMF and the World Bank for the last two decades.

 

How one sees the current dispute depends on where one sits. With U.S. unemployment above 10 percent, Americans are focused on policies that will bring that rate down. But from China’s point of view, any major upward evaluation of the renminbi would simply transfer U.S. jobless rates to China.

 

Since it would also reduce the value of the dollar, it would lower the value of the massive debt the U.S. owes China. “And that, to the Chinese, would feel suspiciously like a default,” says Stephen King, chief economist for HSBC.

 

In short, a lose-lose deal for Beijing.

 

From the Chinese side of the equation, the U.S. is essentially trying to unload the consequences of the economic meltdown that Wall Street caused onto them. And they dispute the fact that the huge trade surplus is all that relevant to the current crisis.

 

According to Avinash D. Persuad, chair of Intelligence Capital Limited, even if China’s $175 billion trade were to somehow vanish, it would only have a 0.25 percent impact on global GDP. “The Chinese economy is one quarter of the U.S. economy, and at the peak of the U.S. trade deficit, China’s surplus was less than a third of it. David may have toppled Goliath, but he couldn’t carry him,” says Persuad.

 

Exports have certainly been important to China, but they have only accounted for 10 to 15 percent of growth over the past decade. The main engine for Chinese growth has been investment. According to the World Bank Growth Commission, of the 13 countries that have enjoyed 7 percent growth rates over the past 10 years, all had high investment rates. These countries suppressed consumption by keeping wages low, allowing them to amass enormous pools of capital to pour into upgrading infrastructure or subsidizing industry.

 

The Chinese economy is booming—it never fell below 8 percent growth during the recession—but it has some vulnerabilities. The Chinese recognize that they need to shift their economy, away from an over reliance on exports to one based more on internal consumption,. To this end, private wages and consumption have been growing at a respectable 8 to 10 percent yearly. The thinking is that as consumption goes up, China will absorb more of its own products, and thus the trade deficit will go down.

 

China’s new five-year plan is trying to do exactly this. Shifting some of the economy away from the wealthy coastal areas toward the more depressed inland part of the country will help alleviate some of the wealth gap between city and country, and encourage urbanization in the interior. All of these moves will increase consumption.

 

If China were to suddenly raise the value of its currency, however, it would tank a number of export industries and flood China with unemployment. Since the jobless have no money, consumer spending would fall, setting off yet another round of layoffs and plant closings. This is, of course, exactly what Americans are discovering.

 

Beijing has begun raising the value of renminbi—it has risen 2.5 percent since June—but the slow pace has not satisfied Washington.  The Americans are making other demands as well. For instance, the U.S. would like China to lower its interest rates, which the Americans argue would encourage consumption.

 

But as Michael Pettis, a professor of finance at Guanghua School in Beijing University and a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment, points out,  “This would be terrible for China. Lower interests rates and more credit will fuel a real estate boom and boost both capital-intensive manufacturing and infrastructure overcapacity—all without rebalancing consumption.”

 

From China’s point of view the problem is not its currency, but the lack of controls over American finance that can lead to tsunamis of money flooding into underdeveloped countries. In 1997, waves of international investment money poured into Thailand, tanking the currency  and spreading a recession,  the so-called “Asian Flu,” throughout the region. The Thais took action Oct. 12 to block a similar “hot wave” of money pouring into the country by imposing a 15 percent withholding tax on capital gains and interest payments on government and state-owned company bonds.  Besides Thailand and South Korea, other countries in Asia, including Singapore and Taiwan, have also intervened to keep their financial ships on an even keel.

 

Europeans are blowing hot and cold on currency intervention. Last year and this past winter and spring, the EU had good reasons for remaining quiet about the subject of undervalued currencies. The Euro lost 17 percent of its value vis-à-vis the dollar over the Greek financial crisis, which had the effect of powering up European exports, in particular, by Germany.

 

Germany—the world’s second biggest exporter after China—is as much concerned about the dollar as the renminbi. “We expect the U.S. to continue its policy of printing money,” Aton Borner, president of the German exporters’ association, BGA, told the Financial Times. “This will trigger a currency devaluation spiral that will hit Europe the most.” The dollar has dropped 20 percent against the Euro since June, and German exports have fallen for two months in a row.

 

The Europeans are certainly concerned about the currency crisis, although they are a good deal more sotto voice than the Americans.  “It’s not helpful to use bellicose statements when it comes to currency or to trade,” says French finance minister Christine Lagarde.

 

Governments that don’t take care of their own during an economic crisis will eventually pay a price at the polls. Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim is certainly concerned about defending Brazil’s currency, but he is careful about applying pressure as a way of finding solutions. “We have good coordination with China, and we’ve been talking to them,” he said, adding, “We can’t forget that China is our main customer.”

 

China charges that the U.S. is scapegoating it for problems that the U.S. created for itself, and there is certainly a strong odor of China bashing these days, even from intelligent and thoughtful people like Paul Krugman, Nobel laureate and New York Times columnist.

 

Krugman says that while he wants to avoid “hard ball policies,” he says “China is adding materially to the world’s economic problems at a time when those problems are already severe. It is time to take a stand.” Krugman suggests the U.S. should put a 10 percent surcharge on imports from China, a move more likely to ignite a global trade war than bring China to heel.

 

Last weekend’s meeting of the G20, representing the world’s leading economies, firmly rejected an American proposal aimed at the Chinese (and also the Germans) and opted for a less confrontational approach. The meeting in Seoul, South Korea essentially asked everyone to play nice. Whether they will or not remains to be seen. The subject is sure to come up again in November when G20’s heads of states get together.

 

The solution is not a quick re-evaluation of the currency, says the Carnegie Endowment’s Pettis, but “statesman-like behavior, in which the major economies agree to resolve their trade balances over several years.”

 

“Statesman-like behavior” is not exactly what is coming out of Washington these days.

 

—30—

 

 

 

 

 

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State of the Union

State of the Union

Foreign Policy in Focus

Conn Hallinan

1-29-2003

There were no surprises in President Bush’s address to Congress, except maybe the firm statement that within a month our country will be at war. The State of the Union is less a blueprint for the future than a series of metaphors and symbols, be they words like “resolve” or the empty chair in the President’s box representing the dead of Sept. 11. 2001.

Sitting in that box was a firefighter hero from the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon, as well as an Afghanistan veteran. But absence can be a powerful symbol as well, and there were numerous metaphorical blank spots in the tier of seats that surrounded the President’s family

There were not many allies in that box: no France, no Germany, no Canada, no Russia, no China.

There were no representatives of the 160,000 veterans suffering from Gulf War Syndrome.

There were none of the 13 million Iraqi children that, according to Eric Hoskins, leader of the Independent Study Team, “are at a grave risk of starvation, disease, death and psychological trauma.” The Team is in Iraq examining the possible impact of war,

There were no governors, whose states are going bankrupt while the White House cuts domestic spending, jacks up the deficit to $315 billion, and gets ready to spend $100 billion plus on a new war.

There was no one representing the 42 million Americans without health care, or college students, whose average educational debt is now $27,600.

Some would have showed up if they could have.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi might have made it, but not many Italians. Most of them are deeply opposed to the upcoming war. Tony Blair would have been there, but not the 68 percent of the British who take exception to his war policy. Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar would have made a solo appearance: The Spanish church, non-governmental organizations and the opposition issued a blistering “no to war” statement Jan. 26.

Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld’s “new Europe” would have had seats— Poland, Rumania, Hungary and Bulgaria— but given that their combined Gross Domestic Product couldn’t spring for a single B-2 bomber, it’s hard to imagine how they will be of much help.

The oil companies could have had their own section, although they didn’t really need it. They are the Administration, including the President (Arbusto Energy and Harkin Oil); Vice-President Dick Cheney (Halliburton Oil); Army Secretary Thomas White (Enron); Commerce Secretary Don Evans (Tom Brown Inc., an oil exploration company); and National Security Advisor, Condoleezza Rice (Chevron).

Lest anyone dismiss the oil connection as “cynical,” keep the following in mind: According to Cheney’s National Energy Policy Development Group, U.S. domestic oil production will decline 12 percent over the next 20 years, while oil consumption will increase by one-third, two-thirds of which must be imported. Since the Middle East has 65 percent of the world’s oil reserves, and Iraq might just have as much as– or more than– Saudi Arabia, is it “cynical” to suggest that oil is a big part of this? As one unnamed U.S. diplomat told the Sunday Herald (Scotland), “the impending U.S. regime change in Baghdad is a strategic necessity.”

Also notably missing from the box were the majority of economists

who think the Administration’s $674 billion tax cut for the wealthy is seriously loopy and will have virtually no effect on stimulating the economy.

While growth is up slightly (just over 2 percent) so is joblessness, and if unemployment doesn’t start coming down from its present 6 percent, consumers may stop using their plastic. Watch out then. “The American consumer has been the last gasp for the U.S. economy, “says Stephen Roach, Chief Economist for Morgan Stanley, “If the consumer weakens further, there is not a whole lot left.”

If the war goes wrong (and with war, one can never tell), the Center for Strategic and International Studies projects that the jobless rate could jump to 7.5 percent and the price of gasoline to $3 a gallon. That would tank the economy.

As the $10 trillion American economy goes, so goes most the world.

Europe’s financial situation is delicate, Japan is recession-bound, Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore are in trouble, and Latin America is still on life support. “This is not a good time for the world to be able to absorb the cost of war,” says Brian Fabbri, an economist with the French bank BNP Paribas.

And yet we go to war regardless of the domestic and international consequences and without even a dim idea of what of lies at the other end. “War destroys any conception of goals, including any conception of the goals of war,” the writer/philosopher Simone Weil once noted,”It even destroys the idea of putting an end to war.”

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Religion & Foreign Policy: Politics by Other Means

Religion & Foreign Policy: Politics by Other Means

Foreign Policy In Focus

Conn Hallinan

9-12-2007

“Religion, sometimes, is a continuation of politics by other means,” notes Jon Alterman, director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies Middle East division, and it was hard to avoid that thought about last month’s conference of Christians United for Israel (CUFI) in Washington D.C. (1)

There was Gary Bauer, former head of the right-wing evangelical Christian organization, the Family Research Council, bringing a crowd of 4,000 conventioneers to their feet with a prayer that “the people of Israel…—even under American pressure—never give up even one centimeter” of land in the Occupied Territories.

According to the weekly Jewish newspaper, The Forward, a choir struck up “Blow the Trumpets in Zion, Zion,” while delegates “danced between the rows waving Israeli and American flags; some people wept.”(2)

If there was something slightly bizarre about apocalyptic Christians weeping over the fact that Israel might trade land for peace, there was nothing fringy about the foreign policy heavy weights CUFI has gathered under its wing. On hand to address the convention was Senator Joseph Lieberman, Republican heavy weight Newt Gingrich and the man who will quite likely to be the next prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu.

The force behind CUFI, Texas Pastor John Hagee, counts President George Bush, Republican Presidential hopeful Senator John McCain, and the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee among his supporters, as well as a number of Democratic legislators, including U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel of New York.

Hagee’s organization—active in all 50 states—is currently pressuring Congress to confront Hezbollah in Lebanon, increase aid to Israel, and toughen sanctions on Iran, although the Texas minister himself doesn’t think Teheran will respond to anything but war: “It is time for America to adopt Senator Lieberman’s words and consider a military pre-emptive strike against Iran.” Hagee also advocates attacking Syria and the Palestinians. (3)

Lieberman and Hagee are not the only ones talking about attacking Iran these days. President Bush recently told the American Legion convention, “Iran’s actions threaten the security of nations everywhere…we will confront this danger before it is too late. (4) According to an “informal poll” taken by ex-Middle East CIA field officer, Robert Baer, “The feeling is we will hit the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps” within six months. The Sunday Times reported Sept. 2 “The Pentagon has drawn up plans for massive air strikes against 1200 targets in Iran, designed to annihilate the Iranian military capacity in three days.”

Are Christian evangelicals, in what is arguably the most religious administration in U.S. history, driving the Bush Administration’s agenda in the Middle East and Africa? Or is the religious content of U.S. foreign policy “politics by other means”? Is the current culture war against Islam by people like historian Bernard Lewis, philosopher Francis Fukuyama and Pope Benedict XVI, a return to the religious mania of the First Crusade, or does it have more in common with TV evangelists whose concerns are the contents of their parishioner’s wallets rather than the state of their souls?

Certainly the Bush Administration has appointed religious activists to key policy positions. Long-time religious activist and neo-conservative Elliot Abrams, former chair of U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom, has helped focus U.S. foreign policy on “religious persecution” in Sudan, Russia and China. (5) According to Newsweek, his co-chair, right-wing Catholic activist Nina Shea, made “Christian persecution Washington’s hottest topic.” (6)

The Bush Administration’s Special Envoy to the Sudan, Robert Seiple, is the former CEO of World Vision, a Christian aid and advocacy organization. According to John Eibner, chief executive officer of Christian Solidarity International, “pressure” from Christian groups played an important role in pushing the U.S. to get involved in Sudan. (7)

But is U.S. Africa policy driven by religious activists, or by the fact that by the year 2015 some 25 percent of U.S. oil imports will come from that continent?

Christian evangelicals have also made deep inroads into the American military.

Lt. Gen. William Boykin, currently a deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence, argues that the fight in Iraq is between a “Christian nation” and “Satan,” and can only be won “if we come against them in the name of Jesus.” (8)

The Pentagon is a strong supporter of Operation Straight Up (OSU), which delivers entertainment and sermons to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. OSU describes its mission as a “crusade”—an incendiary word in the Middle East—and distributes a “left behind” video game where players fight the Antichrist represented by the United Nations. Former Air Force Academy graduate Mickey Weinstein, who heads up the Military Freedom Foundation, describes OSU as “the Christian Taliban.” (9)

According to a 2006 study for the U.S. War College by Col. William Millonig, Christian evangelical influence in the armed forces began during the Vietnam War. He concludes that “conservative Christian and Republican values have affected the military’s decision making and policy recommendations,” warning that “America’s strategic thinkers, both military and civilian, must be aware of this and its potential implications on policy formulation.”

Again, however, are the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan driven by a religious agenda, or the fact that 65 percent of the world’s remaining oil reserves are in the Middle East?

Religion has long played a role in the West’s relationship to the rest of the world, but more as a way to divide populations than convert them. Ireland and India are cases in point.

England invaded Ireland in 1170, but for the first 439 years it was a conquest in name only. In 1609, however, James I founded the Plantation of Ulster, imported 20,000 Protestant settlers, and introduced religious strife as a political tactic. By favoring Protestants over the native Catholics in politics and economics—the so-called “Ulster Privilege—the English pitted both groups against one another.

The tactic was enormously successful, and England used it throughout its colonial empire. Nowhere were the British so successful in transplanting the Irish model than in India.

But in India’s case it was unnecessary to import a foreign religion. The colonial authorities had India’s Muslim and Sikh minorities to use as their wedge. As the historian Alex von Tunzelmann argues in “Indian Summer,” it was the British who defined India’s communities on the basis of religion: “Many Indians stopped accepting the diversity of their own thoughts and began to ask themselves in which of the boxes they belonged.” (10)

Muslims and Sikhs were favored for the few civil jobs and university slots open to Indians, a favoritism that generated tensions among the three communities, just as it had in Northern Ireland. The colonial regimes exploited everyone in both countries, but for some the burden was heavier. When communities in both countries fell to fighting over the few crumbs available to them, the British authorities stepped in to keep order, sadly shaking their heads about the inability of people in both countries ever to govern themselves.

While Sir John Davis was describing the Irish as “degenerate” with the “heart of a beast,” (11) Lord Hastings was arguing that “the Hindoo appears a being nearly limited to animal functions and even in them indifferent…with no higher intellect than a dog.” (12)

Lest one dismiss the above characterizations as typical 19th Century colonial racism, Winston Churchill once commented, “I hate the Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.” (13)

Churchill’s intolerance, however, had a very practical side to it. As prime minister he once said that he hoped that the tension between Hindus and Muslims would remain “A bulwark of British rule in India.”

The British were not alone in using religion as a tactic to divide and conquer. The French employed it quite successfully in Lebanon and Vietnam. In the former, Paris favored Maronite Christians over Muslims (and Sunni Muslims over Shiite Muslims), and in the latter, Catholics over Buddhists.

No colonial tactic is successful forever, however, and in the aftermath of World War II the empires collapsed. But the use of religion as a device to divide and conquer leaves considerable wreckage in its wake.

The current peace between Catholics and Protestants in Ulster is holding, but it took countless lives and almost 400 years to achieve.

The partition of India on religious grounds cost more than a million lives and displaced some 12 million people. Pakistan and India have fought four wars since 1947, and the last one came distressingly close to going nuclear.

And tensions between communities in India are still high. The right-wing Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party led nationwide riots over a 16th Century mosque in Ayodhya, and five years ago, 2000 Muslims were massacred in Gujarat by Hindu extremists. (14)

Exploiting religious differences hardly ended with the demise of the great colonial empires.

The French continue to exploit religious divisions in Lebanon, and the U.S. is currently trying to cobble together a Sunni united front to confront Washington’s three opponents in the Middle East: Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. Syria is mostly Sunni, but Bashar al-Assad’s regime is dominated by Alawites, a variety of Shiism. Some 60 percent of Lebanon is Shiite.

But Shiites only constitute about 12 percent of Islam, and while Washington talks of a “Shiia crescent” as if it constituted some kind of united front, in fact there are enormous differences between Arab Syria and Lebanon, and non-Arabic speaking Iran.

Islam is a polyglot of cultures and ethnicities—the largest Muslim country is Indonesia— but that point gets lost in the current culture war directed at Islam.

Historian Bernard Lewis recently told the Jerusalem Post that Muslims “seem about to take over Europe” because Europeans have “surrendered” to Islam in the name of “political correctness” and “multi-culturalism.” (15) Philosopher Francis Fukuyama argues that France’s opposition to the Iraq War was “in part to appease Muslim opinion,” and Omer Taspinar of the Brookings Institute claims that European Muslims “are becoming a more powerful political force than the fabled Arab street.”

But as Jytte Klausen of Brandeis University points out, since only 10.25 percent of the Muslim population in Europe can vote, there is “very little cost” for political parties to ignore the concerns of Muslim communities.

Researchers Jonathan Laurence and Justin Vaisse, who studied France’s Muslims, conclude there is “no such thing as a Muslim community,” and polls found that French Muslims listed “economic inequality” as their first concern. Foreign policy came in twelfth.

Indeed, as Patrick Weil of the Sorbonne points out, the myth that Muslims somehow influenced France’s foreign policy “is the same argument as saying the Bush decision to go to Iraq was because of the Israeli lobby.” Muslims did oppose the war, as did most Europeans. (16)

If religion influences foreign policy, it is because it dovetails with the policies of powerful economic interests, which is not to say that religion always defers to secular self-interest. Once conjured up, it can take on a life of its own.

In “Les Blancs,” Lorraine Hansberry’s edgy play about colonial Kenya, the play’s central character, Tshembe, points out that while concepts like race and religion are indeed instruments which men use to rule over one another, those contrivances create their own reality. “Men invoke the device of religion to cloak their conquests,” Tshembe tells a clueless American reporter. “You and I may recognize the fraudulence of the device, but the fact remains that a man who has a sword run through him because he refuses to become a Moslem or a Christian…is suffering the utter reality of the device. And it is pointless to pretend that it doesn’t exist—merely because it is lie.” (17)

In the Middle East and Sudan, religion certainly appears to be the “continuation of politics by other means.” Whether it is President George Bush invoking the threat of a world-wide Muslim Caliphate, or Pope Benedict XVI warning that Islam promotes violence, religion is increasingly being used to ramp up the fear factor in international politics. But as with Europe’s great religious wars, in the end religion in foreign policy is a device that allows the strong to seize the resources of the weak in the name of a higher power.

–30—

1)-Omayma Abdel-Latif, al-Ahram Weekly, 3/17/07

2) The Forward, 8/20/07 “Pro-Israel Christians Mobilize”

3)Ibid

4)Phrase III of Bush’s War, Patrick Buchanan, 9/5/07

5) Right Web profile

6) Right Web profile

7) The Economist 12/3/05

8) Thomas Williams & JP Briggs II, Truthout Special Report, “Fringe Evangelicals Distort U.S. Military Policy, 8/24/07

9) Max Blumenthal, The Nation, 8/7/07

10) “Exit Wounds: The Legacy of Indian Partition,” Pankaj Mishra, New Yorker Magazine, 8/13/07

11) Sir Henry Maine, “Dissertations on the Early History of Institutions, London 1914

12) JH Plumb, England in the 18th Century, Penguin, 1950

13) Exit Wounds

14) “India’s Internal Partition, Ramachandra Guha, NYT, 8/15/07

15) Jerusalem Post, 1/29/07

16) “Europe’s Muslims United in Name Only,” Financial Times, 8/24/07

17) Les Blancs, Act 2, Scene 2, by Lorraine Hansberry

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Pile-On Patriots

Pile-On Patriots

SF Examiner

Nov. 2, 2001

Benjamin Franklin once observed that “They that can give up essential liberty in order to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither safety or liberty.” Outdated sentiment for asimpler era? Or wise counsel in a time of crisis when “pile-on patriotism” is all the rage.

Listening to the Republicans these days (the only voice in town since the Democrats voluntarily disbanded shortly after Sept. 11) it seems that if we don’t toss out the Bill of Rights, rubber stamp right-wing judges, drill the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, cut taxes for the wealthy, and rev up a $200 billion weapon system, we might as well join Osama bin Ladin in one of those caves.

What passes for politics in this country over the past month brings to mind an infamous dictum from an earlier war: “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.” Consider the collateral damage to date.

* Anti-terror legislation, or the “Patriot Act” (old Ben would have appreciated the irony of that moniker) will put the CIA and the National Security Agency back into the business of domestic spying; allow covert searches with only minimal judicial oversight; and expand the definition of “terrorism” so broadly that it could easily include legal political protests. “This bill goes light years beyond what is necessary to combat terrorism,” Laura Ashley, director of the ACLU’s Washington office told the Nation magazine.

The FBI has already unleashed its “Carnivore” software on the Internet, which means it, and 39 other federal agencies, will know where you web surf, what you buy there, and what’s in your email. None of this, mind you, would have had the slightest deterrence on the Sept. 11 events, as Attorney General John Ashcroft admitted to the House Judiciary Committee.

*Republicans are charging Democrats with a lack of patriotism for not immediately confirming White House judicial nominees. Orrin Hatch, ranking Senate Judiciary Committee Republican, said, “Anyone who is interested in helping the president in the war on terrorism should support the president’s judicial nominees.” Given that the Senate has already decided to junk the Bill of Rights, what the hell, why not get rid of “advise and consent” as well?

*Interior Secretary Gale Norton says that Afghan war requires drilling in Alaska. “We have always said that national security is part of the reason we need to get the energy program in place” she told the Washington Times. What Norton is not taking questions on these days is how her office cooked figures collected by the US Fish and Wildlife Services indicating that the drilling would have a major impact on caribou. The study showed a 19 percent drop off in caribou births in developed areas of the wildlife area, so the Secretary and her advisors replaced it with one sponsored by British Petroleum. Well, “cooked” is a kind of benign term for what Norton did: she lied.

*House Republicans wrapped themselves in the flag and rammed through a $100 billion “economic stimulus package” of tax cuts to corporations and the wealthy. When the Democrats suggested that maybe the “stimulus” should be aimed at the hundreds of thousands of laid off workers, Texas Republican Dick Armey said that such aid would be “contrary to the American spirit.” Armey had no such problem in dishing out tax cuts of $1.4 billion to IBM, $800 million to General Motors, and $670 million to General Electric. Funny the way that “spirit” stuff works.

*For the past month Boeing and Lockheed Martin have trotted out mom and apple pie in their competition to build the $200 billion Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), dropping $100,000 on full page ads in the Washington Post and New York Times. Last week Lockheed Martin won the dash for the trough, landing the biggest weapon system in history. Do we need the JSF? Nope. U.S. F-14s, F-15s, F-16, and F-18s are still the big dogs on the block, with no competition in sight. But patriotism demands sacrifice. And not to worry yourself about Boeing. It gets to build the $100 billion Raptor fighter. No losers in this game.

The arms corporations are not alone in jumping on the patriotism pile. General Motors launched its “Keep America Rolling” ads in the wake of Sept. 11, with a voice-over intoning “The American dream. We refuse to let anyone take it away. Believe in the dream. Believe in each other.” And right alongside the auto giant are Bloomingdales, Anheuser-Busch, and a New York Stock Exchange ad featuring “My Country,’Tis of Thee.”

Congress may be reluctant to help out laid off workers, but it doesn’t have a problem bailing out the airline industry to the tune of $15 billion, and it’s already preparing legislation to underwrite the insurance industry by covering 80 percent of the first $20 billion in losses and 90 percent of anything above $20 billion.

And standing in the wings are the media, claiming that its losses should be covered by removing regulations that block mergers. Given that the number of corporations controlling the media has shrunk from 50 in 1984 to less than 10 today, it is not real clear what “regulations” the industry has in mind. But again, if the Bill of Rights, advise and consent, and plain common sense is out of style, why not? How about simplifying matters and just hand over everything to Time Warner-AOL?

What we have had in this country since Sept. 11 is a one party state, and it’s a party that doesn’t have the slightest compunction about using patriotism to carry out an agenda that the majority of people in this country would reject if they had a chance.

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Nursing the Pinion

Nursing the Pinion

SF Examiner

5-7-2002

There are a lot of fancy phrases for saying that history has a bad habit of coming back to haunt one, particularly when you don’t pay attention to its lessons, or re-write it because its inconvenient: Being hoist on one’s own petard; nursing the pinion that impels the steel; what goes around, comes around. But in the end they all mean the same thing: This was a bad idea the first time, and really bad the second.

But there was Vice-President Dick Cheney on television last week talking about how “You’ve got to deal with some bad guys” in the fight against terrorism. And just in case you thought the Bush Administration was irony challenged, he delivered those words on Oliver North’s talk show. North, as you recall, was point man for the Reagan Administration’s covert operations in Nicaragua, where we did indeed deal with some “bad guys.”

Don’t take my word for it. Read who North and his colleagues (including Mr. Cheney) were bedding down with in the U.S.’s effort to overthrow the Sandinista government. In 1987, Edgar Chamorro, a leading member of the Directorate of the Nicaraguan Democratic Front, the so-called “Contras”, told the New York Times:

“During my four years as a ‘Contra’ Director, it was premeditated policy to terrorize civilian noncombatants to prevent them from cooperating with the government. Hundreds of civilian murders, mutilations, tortures and rapes were committed in pursuit of this policy, of which the ‘contra’ leaders and their CIA superiors were well aware.”

We also dealt with a lot of “bad guys” when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan back in 1979. The Reagan Administration, seeing an opportunity to score points in the Cold War, poured money, arms and resources into firing up a jihad. While the cover story was supporting democracy, as soon as the Soviets withdrew in 1989, the CIA dropped Afghanistan like a hot potato. In the words of Milt Bearden, CIA Station Chief in Islamabad, “We got the hell out of there.” What Afghanistan got was the Taliban, and what the world got was people we recruited and trained, like Osama bin Ladin, our government’s poster boy for terrorism.

Bearden made those remarks in last month’s massive New York Times series on terrorism, titled “Holy Warriors.” The pieces were suitable chilling, spotlighting bin Ladin as a sort of super-terrorist, attributing things to him that ranged from likely to silly. At one point the articles accursed bin Ladin of master minding the 1993 “ambush” that killed 18 American soldiers in Somalia. For a minute by minute analysis of that debacle I suggest a pager turner called “Black Hawk Down.” Suffice it to say that the operation was in not an “ambush,” but the attempted kidnapping of the Somalian leader Mohammad Adid by a gung-ho American commander (approved by then head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell) that went tragically wrong for everyone involved. Besides the young U.S. Rangers, at least 500 Somalians died, and possibly as many as 1,000. Osama bin Ladin’s “tie” to the event was that a few Somalians had served in Afghanistan, a handful with bin Ladin’s organization, Al Qaeda.

The series linked virtually every terrorist attack since 1991 to bin Ladin and his organization. This is not only bad history, but a wrongheaded way of looking at how to confront the very real dangers of terrorism, ignoring the role that the U.S. played in nursing the pinion. The terrorism the Times writes about is not the result of some crazed mastermind or Islam as a religion. In almost every case, it is the consequence of people driven to the edge by grinding poverty, the horrors of war, or a government in which they have no voice. Knock off Osama bin Ladin, and it will have virtually no effect on the kind of terrorism the Times is going on about.

Focusing on the likes of bin Ladin diverts people’s attention from what the U.S. is up to in Colombia, which is exactly the same thing we were up to in Nicaragua, only it’s 2001, not 1987. Our “bad boys” this time around go by the name of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, the right-wing “paramilitaries” allied with the Colombian Army in its war with two leftist guerilla groups. These are really bad guys. They walked into the town of Hato Nuevo Jan. 28 and murdered 10 people. A week earlier they hacked 26 villagers to death in Chengue.

As in Afghanistan and Nicaragua, the U.S. has decided to throw in with the Colombian Army and the paramilitaries in the name of “national security,” in this case suppressing the production of cocaine and heroin. Actually, 200 million barrels of untapped oil has more to do with it, but that is another column. While the Clinton and Bush administrations deny any links between the government forces and the paramilitaries, Human Rights Watch recently charged there is “abundant, detailed and continuing evidence of direct collaboration between the military and paramilitary groups; that many Army officers implicated in death squad killings remain on active duty; and that the Army will not serve arrest warrants on paramilitaries involved in murder. Indeed, the leader of the paramilitaries, Carlos Castano, has collected 22 such warrants. According to human rights organizations, 85 percent of the killings in Colombia are carried out by the paramilitaries.

“Bad guys,” but our bad guys, according to Cheney.

So once again, the U.S. is involved in recruiting, training and supporting terrorism. Once again, in the interests of “national security”, we will find ourselves allied with murderers, rapists and torturers. Once again we have nursed that tiny pinion gear to turn a great wheel. And once again, our media has so thoroughly re-written history, that most people will never know what we are brewing up in Colombia.

Conn Hallinan

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