Category Archives: Policy

Challenging A Unipolar World

Challenging A Unipolar World

Conn Hallinan

Foreign policy In Focus

1-14-2008

One of the more interesting phenomena to emerge from the U.S. debacle in Iraq is the demise of the uni-polar world that rose from the ashes of the Cold War. A short decade ago the U.S. was the most powerful political, economic and military force on the planet. Today its army is straining under the weight of an unpopular occupation, its economy is careening toward recession, and the only “allies” we can absolutely depend on in the United Nations are Israel, Palau, and the Marshall Islands.

Rather than the “American Century” the Bush Administration neo-conservatives predicted, it is increasingly a world where regional alliances and trade associations in Europe and South America have risen to challenge Washington’s once undisputed domination.

When Argentina thumbed its nose at the U.S.-dominated World Bank and International Monetary Fund, it had the powerful Mercosur trade association to back it up. When the U.S. tried to muscle Europe into ending agricultural subsidies (while keeping its own) the European Union refused to back down.

And now India, China and Russia are drifting toward a partnership—alliance is too strong a word— that could transform global relations and shift the power axis from Washington to New Delhi, Beijing, and Moscow.

It is a consortium of convenience, as the interests of the three countries hardly coincide on all things.

In security matters, for instance, the Chinese look east toward Taiwan, the Indians north to Pakistan, and the Russians west at an encroaching North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). There are still tensions between China and India over their 1962 border war, and bad feelings between Russia and China go all the way back to the Vietnam War.

But growing trade, security issues, and an almost insatiable hunger for energy has brought the three together in what Russian President Vladimir Putin calls a “trilateral” relationship.

The initial glue was a common interest in the gas and oil supplies of Central Asia.

In 2001, China, Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan formed the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) to challenge U.S. moves to corner Central Asia’s gas and oil reserves and to counter the growing presence of NATO in the Pacific Basin. SCO has since added India and given observer status to Iran, Pakistan, Mongolia, and Afghanistan.

Access to energy is almost an existential issue for China and India. China imports half its oil, and energy shortages could derail the highflying Chinese economy. India imports 70 percent of its oil, and, unlike China, it has no strategic reserves.

Both nations have made energy a foreign policy cornerstone. China is pumping billions of dollars into developing Caspian Sea oil and gas fields and building pipelines, while India is busy negotiating a pipeline deal with Iran.

The India-Iran deal has come under considerable pressure from Washington. Nicholas Burns, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, told the Financial Times that Washington hoped “very much that India will not conclude any long-term oil and gas agreements with Iran.”

However, Indian Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram says, “We should do it—Iran has the gas and we need the gas.” India is estimated to have up to $40 billion in gas and oil interests in Iran, and the pipeline is projected to cost $10 billion.

To much unhappiness in Washington, China just inked a $2 billion deal to develop Iran’s Yadavaran gas and oil field.

The International Energy Agency predicts that energy needs will be 50 percent higher in 2030 than they are today, and that developing countries will soak up 74 percent of that rise. China and India will account for 45 percent of those energy needs, and by sometime after 2010, China will be the largest energy user in the world.

This past October, the nations which border the Caspian Sea—Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan—jointly declared that they “will not allow other countries to use their territories for acts of aggression or other military operations against any party.” The declaration was seen as directly aimed at U.S. bases in Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan.

There are also growing trade ties among China, India and Russia.

Trade between India and China was $24 billion in 2007, the same as trade between India and the U.S., and is projected to jump to $40 billion by 2010. Both nations have agreed to reopen an overland route through the Himalayas that has been closed for 44 years.

In 1992 India launched its “Look East” policy, and Asia now constitutes 45 percent of India’s trade. India is the third largest economy in the region, followed by China and Japan.

India desperately needs up to $500 billion in investments to upgrade its infrastructure. South Korea and Singapore are already major investors, and the Russians have shown interest as well. India would love a piece of Russia’s $1 trillion in foreign exchange reserves.

There are growing security ties as well, some of which have a decided downside.

China is relying on Russia for many of its new weapons, including the high performance SU-33 fighter, which can be adapted for use on aircraft carriers. The Chinese say they plan to build several carriers, which would allow them to challenge the current U.S. domination of the Taiwan Straits.

India has just concluded an agreement to buy and jointly assemble Russia’s new fighter, the SU-30, which in recent war games outmaneuvered and outfought the U.S. F-16. New Delhi will buy Russia’s fifth generation fighter, the Future Tactical Aviation Concept, rather than the U.S. F-22 or the European F-35. The Russians are also modernizing India’s Vikramaditya aircraft carrier and have agreed to a joint production agreement to build Russia’s new tank, the T-90.

While none of the three countries’ military budgets approach U.S. military spending, never-the-less, tens of billions of dollars are being funneled into armaments at a time of growing economic inequity in all three nations.

According to the United Nations Development Report, inequality in India has grown faster in the last 15 years than it did in the preceding 50. Mortality for children under the age of five is three times that of China, and greater than Bangladesh and Nepal. Some 46.7% of India’s children are underweight, and 44.9 percent are stunted in growth.

Those figures for China are 10 percent and 14.2 percent respectively.

While India’s poor were getting poorer, India’s 311 billionaires saw their collective wealth jump 71 percent in 2006.

China and Russia do not have the same inequity gulf as India, but there is widening economic disparity in both countries that military spending certainly makes more difficult to address.

Another troubling side to this increasing trilateral cooperation is that the three countries have agreed to support one another on the issue of “terrorism” and “separatism.” In practice, that may give China a free hand in its largely Muslim Xingjian Province, and in Tibet. It might mute criticism of Moscow’s war in Chechnya, and give cover for India to step up its military actions against Maoist “Naxilites,” and put the clamps on restive minorities on its northwest border.

The relationship among the three countries can hardly be called an “alliance.” The Indian military regularly takes part in joint military maneuvers with the U.S. and, so far, military cooperation between India, China and Russia is low level. But all have common interests in securing energy resources and, if not confronting the U.S., at least not letting Washington dictate to them on international and internal issues.

The U.S. is still the big dog on the block, but it can no longer just bark to get its way.

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Fiat Lux

Fiat Lux

SF Examiner

10-24-2001

If there is one thing the world should have learned in the last 30 years, it is that terrorism is a political, not a military problem. And to reduce it to the latter simply sows another generation of dragons’ teeth. The examples abound.

When American embassies were bombed in Kenya and Tanzania, the Clinton Administration pounded Osma bin Ladin’s camps in Afghanistan. We need not dwell on the effectiveness of that response. The blank spots in New York’s skyline are eloquent testimony to the futility of military solutions.

Israel’s invasion and 18-year occupation of Lebanon in an effort to root out “terrorism” resulted in nothing but tens of thousands of civilian deaths, hundreds of dead and wounded Israeli soldiers, and finally, ignominious retreat. The Israeli’s are in the process of writing the same script in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

The story plot in all these places—Kashmir, Sri Lanka, Mindanao, Chechnya, Colombia, Macedonia, Algeria, and a dozen other places in the world—is much the same: Grievances about political power or access to economic resources are met with force. That, in turn, sparks terrorism. Retaliation follows, setting off endless rounds of bloodletting.

Sometimes the terrorists deliberately court repression, always a fertile recruiting ground. We certainly did that in Afghanistan, where the CIA poured in $6 billion to destabilize a regime on the Soviet border. As former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brsezinski commented, “We didn’t push the Russians to intervene, but we consciously increased the probability that they would do so. The secret operation was an excellent idea. Its effect was to draw the Russians into the Afghan trap.”

The invasion did indeed destabilize the Soviet Union, but in the process killed one million Afghans and helped place in power one of the most savagely repressive regimes in the world.

But it does not have to be so. Ireland is a case in point. Bombings, shootings, and intra-communal violence were endemic from 1967 to 1985, in spite of a massive military presence, extra-legal internment, death squads, and repression. It was only when the process moved from the streets to the negotiating table that “terrorism” began to abate. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) has held to that peace for seven years, although its Protestant counterparts have backslid in recent months. If Ireland remains “terror free,” it will because the political process has trumped the phony issue of IRA arms, and the Protestants finally decide that political power is something you share, not corner.

Will such agreements end all terrorism? No. There will always be crazies like the Real IRA or the Protestant Red Hand Defenders death squads who will bomb and murder, but without any support in their respective communities, they will fade. The only danger is from those who want the status quo, and use the actions of a fringe as an excuse to sabotage the peace process, thus bestowing veto power on the most violent and reactionary elements in both communities.

People who blow up pizza parlors filled with teenagers, throw bombs at Catholic children trying to go to school, or ram skyscrapers filled with secretaries have made the wrong choices in life and politics. Whatever conditions led people to make those choices are canceled out by the fundamentally reactionary, inhuman and criminal nature of their acts. They must be brought to justice.

But it has to be a justice for all. Crimes against humanity are crimes, no matter who perpetuates them. It is criminal to blow up Israelis in pizza parlors, but it is also criminal to shoot Palestinian children, rocket houses in Gaza, and occupy land in violation of international law. Justice must be for everyone or for no one.

If we are serious about fighting terrorism, we must examine its roots. This is not to excuse criminality; it is to try to understand why so many people in the world are unhappy with our country and to alter the policies that have brought us to this point.

When we threw in with the likes of Osama bin Ladin and the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, we made a conscious choice to undermine a moderately reformist government because it was friendly with our Cold War enemy, the Soviet Union. We made the same decision in 1953 in Iran, installing the Shah over a democratically elected government, earning the deep antipathy Iranians have for the U.S. We did the same thing in Guatemala, overthrowing the democratic Arbenz government to install a series of military regimes that were, in essence, little more than death squads with a national anthem.

So maybe this is bad idea, right? And maybe we ought to come clean and own up to what role we played in 1973 military coup in Chile, and our participation in Operation Condor that tortured and murdered thousands of dissenters throughout Latin America. If we did that, if we opened the books and took responsibility for the some of the horrors we have unleashed on the world, we would have the moral—and more importantly—political high ground.

Most Americans knew nothing about these awful things. That, in part, is why they are so stunned by the events of Sept. 11. If most Americans had known about our role in Iran, Afghanistan, Guatemala, Chile, and elsewhere, I strongly suspect they would not have stood for it. When they found out the truth about Vietnam, they said “out, now” loud and clear.

We must track down the monsters who killed all those people Sept. 11. But we must also look at our own monsters. “Fiat Lux” is the slogan of the university where I work: Let there by light. Excellent idea. Everywhere, on everything, and everyone.

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Sun King Returns

Sun King Returns

SF Examiner

11-27-2001

A long, long time ago, in a political galaxy far away, President Nixon’s Attorney General John Mitchell told right-wing critics of the Administration not to bother themselves over the President’s image as a moderate, because in practice he would do their bidding: “Watch what we do, not what we say,” he remarked. Looking at the actions of the Bush Administration since Sept. 11 suggests the ghost of one of Nixon’s old thugs has taken up residence in 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

While the White House has wrapped itself in the vocabulary of “freedom and democracy,” its actions have been aimed at nothing less than dismantling the US Constitution and amassing the kind of imperial power we haven’t seen since the days of absolute monarchs. It would make the old crook Nixon positively envious. Consider the following actions since Sept. 11.

Military tribunals have been established to try foreigners charged with terrorism. The tribunals, staffed by five military officers, will be held in other countries, admit hearsay testimony, accept illegally seized evidence, and require only a 2/3 vote to inflict the death penalty. There are no appeals. And who defines who is a terrorist? George W. Bush.

The Administration argues it needs the tribunals because speed is essential, but evidence suggests that dispatch is less a concern than outcome. When one of two Libyans charged with bombing Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie Scotland was acquitted, a Justice Department official told the New York Times that it was “not an outcome we would want.” Don’t like the verdict? Pack the court. As Vice-President Richard Cheney said, a military tribunal “guarantees that we’ll have the kind of treatment of these individuals that we believe they deserve.” Hell, why waste time with show trials. Just march ‘em out and string them up.

The fact that the 1993 bombers of the World Trade Center were successfully prosecuted in civilian court is brushed aside, as is the fact that such tribunals are a direct violation of the Fourth and Sixth amendments to the U.S. Constitution (which apply to “persons” and “ accused,” not just citizens). To guarantee the military Star Chamber makes no mistakes about handing out verdicts they “ deserve,” the Administration also has the right to eavesdrop on attorney-client communications. No sense in gambling when you can load the dice.

And just in case you think all of this is temporary, a close reading of the new anti-terrorist “Patriot Act” should dispel the myth that the Act will vanish in 2005. Only a tiny portion of the law will disappear. The police will still have a permanent right to conduct Internet surveillance without a court order; secretly search homes and businesses without notification; and share secret Grand Jury evidence with the CIA. Phone companies, internet providers, and credit reporting firms must supply customer information and phone numbers to the FBI, and Section 505 prevents those companies from disclosing that monitoring.

The Administration has also removed a wide range of public information from its web sites. While the White House claims such information could be a roadmap for terrorists, what was removed looks more like a blueprint for silencing critics of corporate polluters. The US Geological Service has erased material on water pollution, and the Environmental Protection Agency has eliminated information from its Risk Management Plan (RMP) on the dangers of chemical accidents. Chemical companies have long lobbied to remove that information from the RMP, in spite of the fact that both the FBI and the US Congress concluded that it posed no danger for terrorist activity. So are we protecting the nation or Monsanto?

While Attorney General John Ashcroft has been busily incarcerating some 1,200 “suspects” (at last count), “interviewing” 5,000 Arab males age 18-23, he has yet to hold a press conference on his Department’s plan to root out the “terrorists” who have sent anthrax threats to more than 200 abortion centers throughout the country. The Justice Department is more than willing to round up Middle East suspects, but I wouldn’t hold your breath that they will be sharing a cell with members of the Army of God or Operation Rescue.

The White House has also unilaterally abrogated international treaties on arms control, biological warfare, and global warming, as well as blocking a Congressionally mandated law on the release of a predecessor’s records.”There’s just a philosophy in the Administration that the public doesn’t have a right to know,” says Phil Schiliro, U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman’s (D-Ca) chief of staff, “Now they can justify it with national security, but that’s more for convenience.”

What we are witnessing is the dismantling of our nation, with all its delicate checks and balances. The White House’s response to all this? “Wartime powers rest fundamentally in the hands of the executive branch” says Bush’s press secretary Ari Fleischer, in the spirit of the French “Sun King,” Louis IV, who once proclaimed: “ I am the state.”

Conn Hallinan

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Elections 2001

Elections 2001

San Francisco Examiner

11-24-2000

I told myself I wasn’t going to write a column about the elections or the Florida vote. What’s the point? Do you know a columnist who hasn’t? And won’t it be over before it’s printed? But dammed if the whole craziness doesn’t pull one in, like a sort of political Event Horizon, that bizarre zone bordering a Black Hole.

At first, the cynical part of me dismissed the media’s non-stop obsession as little more than proof of the late A.J. Leibling’s Second Law of Journalism: “There is an inverse relationship between the number of reporters at an event, and the importance of the event.”

But then the numbers began coming in: The TV audience for the returns was bigger than the audience for the last “Survivor” show. The bored voter index dropped from 48 percent to 17 percent. Want to start a conversation? Walk into a, 1) Grocery store; 2) Laundromat; 3) Elevator, and ask anyone, “So, what do you think about the election?” Instead of a shrug or a blank stare, you are likely to get a real discussion.

Media obsession, however, has not necessarily translated into good journalism.

First off, the job the networks did on election night played no small part in starting the whole mess. First CBS, ABC, NBC, and CNN called Florida for Gore, then reversed field, and finally stampeded for Bush when Fox News declared the Texas Governor the winner. Now it turns out George Bush’s first cousin, John Ellis, was at Fox’s helm, and in constant contact with the Republican campaign throughout the night. Fox apologized, and the other networks are conducting a review of their own conduct.

Second, the media has deep sixed what may be the real story of the Florida election: The systematic disenfranchisement of African-American voters and direct violations of the 1965 federal Voting Rights Act. In a November 14 letter, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) called on Attorney General Janet Reno to investigate what it called “substantial evidence” for systematic irregularities and discrimination in Black and Haitian precincts.

According to testimony gathered by the NAACP, thousands of African-Americans were denied the right to vote, required to show photo IDs when whites were not, and had polling places moved without forwarding addresses. Haitian Creole speakers were denied assistance, even though Florida law allows interpreters into the voting booths. In a number of cases, police demanded to see voter IDs.

The CBC letter also points to similar incidents in Virginia, North Carolina and Missouri. So far, however, the Black Caucus’ complaint has gone largely unreported. Given the closeness of the count in Florida, this hardly seems an issue the media should go silent around. Nor does one have to be paranoid to suggest that pre-election polls showing overwhelming preference by African-Americans for Gore over Bush might influence the behavior of certain overly partisan voting officials. Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris’ duel role as election arbiter and Bush For President state co-chair is a case in point.

Sooner or later, of course, all this will pass. Someone will be President, the public will change channels, and the media will go back to…what? The temptation will be more of the same: Four years of partisan bitterness, civil war and political gridlock leading up to a sequel in 2004: “The Bush vs Gore Rematch.”

Or the media can learn a very valuable lesson from this imbroglio: their audience is a lot more engaged with political issues than it thought. Americans are not apathetic or cynical, they’re ambivalent. With the campaign (and the candidates) we all just went through, who can blame them? But ambivalence is not disengagement.

Further, regardless of what finally happens in Florida, there are still some stories out there that ought not vanish down the memory hole when the dust settles.

First and foremost, was there an attempt to systematically disenfranchise minority voters in Florida, and other parts of the nation? Given that “minorities” now make up close to 30 percent of the population, and are a majority in California, that is not an abstract question

Secondly, what role did the media itself play in influencing the behavior of voters on election night?

Some serious sanity just might come out of all this craziness.

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Diversity and the press

Diversity and the press

San Francisco Examiner

12-22-2000

In the wake of the election debacle in Florida, in particular the widespread disenfranchisement of African-American and Haitian voters, there are some hard questions the media needs to ask itself.

Why did the mainstream media first miss, and then bury, this story? Why was the focus on the infamous “butterfly” ballot in Miami, and not on the exclusion of thousands of legally registered Black voters, or the systematic harassment of voters in Black precincts? Imagine, if you will, that South Florida was Serbia, and Black voters were anti-Milosovic. Wouldn’t the press have portrayed “lost” registration forms, shuttered polling places, and heavy police presence as little more than a ham-fisted attempt to steal an election? How does the press see something in Serbia that it cannot see in South Florida?

For at least part of that answer, all the press has to do is gaze in the mirror. The image reflected back will be white, male, 32 years of age, college educated, Protestant, and middle-class. That is the portrait of the average journalist in the U.S., and very few of them (or the people who fit that profile) were blocked from casting votes this past November.

The press in this country has an ugly little secret: it isn’t even vaguely like the country it purports to cover. In 1968, the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, commonly called the Kerner Report, took the media to task for its own racism. In Chapter 15, the Commission faulted the news media for “basking in a white world, looking out of it, if at all, with a white man’s eyes and a white perspective.” At the time, national minorities made up less than 1 percent of the media.

Chapter 15 was so searing an indictment, that the National Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) pledged to make newsrooms representative of the nation by the year 2000. It is now 33 years later, and with minorities making up about 27.5 percent of the country, it’s time to look at the report card.

Out of 54,000 newsroom employees nationwide, minorities make up 11.1 percent. The breakdown is: 5.1 percent African-Americans; 3 percent Latinos; 2 percent Asian; 1 percent Native Americans. Some 45 percent of the nation’s dailies have never had a minority reporter or editor.

And the situation is getting worse, not better. The National Assn. of Black Journalists recently charged that newsroom employment, “shows a decline in the percentage of African Americans employed by the nation’s mainstream newspapers.” It is much the same for Asians, Latinos and Native Americans. And how did the ASNE respond to all this? It moved the goal posts to 2025, and whined about a “lack of credentials” among minority journalists.

Whenever you hear the words “credentials,” “experience,” or “training,” reach for your Kerner Report. True, 87 percent of the entry level jobs in journalism are filled by people with B.A.s in journalism. But how then to explain the fact that minorities with B.A.s in journalism are three times more likely to be jobless than their white counterparts, and three times more likely to be part time? Wrong B.A. or wrong color?

Not that there isn’t a problem on the educational side. There are fewer than 500 minority journalism professors in the country, and most of them are not on a tenure track. This means there are very few teachers to mentor minority students, who start off in the hole to begin with. Experience with high school and college newspapers plays an important role in acceptance rates to journalism schools, not to mention entrance level jobs in the industry. But many minorities come from an economic class where working while going to school is a given. Holding a job and going to school doesn’t leave much time for extra-curricular activities like working for the school newspaper. The result in a sort of class triage, and as a result, high school and college newspapers across the country remain overwhelmingly white.

Besides being unfair and un-American, it makes for very bad journalism and the marginalization of stories concerning national minorities. How many readers know that both the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights are investigating charges by the NAACP and other civil rights organizations that there were massive violations of the Voters Rights Act on Election Day? That isn’t front-page news? The subject of thundering editorials?

Would increasing the number of minority reporters and editors solve all this? It would certainly help, but this is an institutional problem, not just an employment issue. Reporters don’t determine what stories get into a newspaper. As the press critic A.J. Liebling once commented, “reporters have all the independence of a piano key.” No matter how many reporters of color there are, if the owners and the higher-ups are all white, that will be the prism though which the news is filtered.

But all great changes begin with little things. Having your newsroom look like the nation is a good place to start.

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Dismantling Treaties

Dismantling Treaties

SF Examiner

July 18, 2001

Watching various representatives of the Bush Administration systematically dismantling more than 30 years of international arms agreements brings to mind the 18th Century Irish poem (and hopeful prayer) on the arrogance of Empire: “The winds have scattered, the world’s forgotten, Alexander, Caesar and all who held their sway. Behold, Tara is grass and Troy lieth low. And perchance the English their day will come.”

It did, as it came to Greece, Rome, Parthia, and all great empires, ancient and modern. For three centuries, Rome’s legions marched and ruled where they pleased; for a 100 years the sun never set on British soil. Today, the Italian military is more the butt of jokes than a force which struck fear from Scotland to Nubia, and England slowly drifts toward being a nation of fisherman once again. And when will our time come?

The U.S. presently has some 61 military bases scattered throughout 19 countries. We spend more on weapons and the military than all our allies and enemies put together. We have fleets of ships and aircraft and enough nuclear weapons to erase life from the planet. We can quite literally do almost anything we please. And in terms of international arms agreements, that is exactly what we are doing.

The Bush Administration has already made it clear that it intends to abrogate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty by violating Article VI, which bans the testing or deployment of any anti-missiles system at sea, in the air, or on land. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told the Senate Arms Services Committee July 13 that, with regards to the ABM Treaty, the U.S. is “on a collision course. No one is pretending that what we’re doing is consistent with the treaty. We have got to withdraw from it or replace it.”

Since the ABM Treaty is the cornerstone of the Strategic Arms Reduction treaties (START I and II), we can also pretty much chuck the limit on warheads and missile launchers out the window. This limit was predicated on the fact that no one would build an interceptor system. Build an interceptor system and the gloves are off, as Russian President Vladimir Putin made clear last month.

But throttling the ABM Treaty is only part of what the White House has in mind. Wolfowitz also took aim at the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which has effectively halted the development of a new generation of smaller and more mobile nuclear warheads. Some 161 nations have ratified it, including 31 of the 44 nuclear or nuclear-potential countries. While the U.S. Senate refuses to approve the Treaty, the U.S. has agreed to abide by it. Wolfowitz, however, say the U.S. must “contemplate” a return to nuclear testing. Since the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is based on the fact that no one will test, and hence gain an advantage over an opponent, we can toss out that treaty as well. Not only will other countries acquire nuclear weapons if the Non-Proliferation Treaty bites the dust, but we will live in a world where miniaturized nuclear weapons will be the standard. You won’t need a suitcase to flatten San Francisco, just an overnight bag.

We have already dumped the Kyoto Agreement on global warming, refused to sign the anti-landmine treaty, won’t even consider being part of the International Criminal Court, are balking on an international treaty to trace small arms, and have even starting making noises about getting out the treaty banning chemical and biological warfare.

Won’t this alienate out allies? “Who cares?” says the White House. “Our legions can march where they will. Our gunboats can shell whomever we please. We will only be bound by treaties that serve our interests, and if the wogs don’t like it, we’ll give ‘em a taste of steel or a whiff of grapeshot.” Claudius and Wellington talked like that. It is the vocabulary of empire.

Empire is not a concept most Americans are very comfortable with. But as Chalmers Johnson argues in his recent book on American foreign policy, “Blowback,” it is time “for Americans to consider why we have created an empire—a word we shy away from—and what the consequences may be for the rest of the world and ourselves.”

An immediate consequence of our imperial thinking is that the world is very rapidly going to be a much more dangerous place, not just because of the absence of restraints on nuclear weapons, but the fear that empires always engender in others. This process has already begun. Last month the Group of Five, a coalition of Central Asian nations that formally made up the Soviet Union’s southern flank, invited the People’s Republic of China to join them in a discussion of mutual security issues. Right now the vulnerability of China’s 18 intercontinental ballistic missiles to the American ABM system, plus a beefing up of U.S. forces in the Pacific, is high on China’s worry list. In mid-July, the Army announced the basing of a “rapid strike brigade,” the US’s new fast deployment unit, in Hawaii. The U.S. will create four such units at a cost of $1 billion apiece over the next few years, and two will be deployed in the Pacific basin.

For the time being the U.S. can march the North Atlantic Treaty Organization right up to the borders of Russia. We can tell the world to eat carbon dioxide. We can shatter international arms treaties with impunity and dismiss the outcry at our actions with the conqueror Terrence’s dictum, “To the victor goes the spoils.”

But the world has forgotten Terrence and no longer trembles in the presence of Rome or London. Empires fall, in part, because human beings have an allergy to being ruled over or dictated to, in part because shortsighted acts have a habit of coming back to haunt one. That is why Johnson entitled his book “Blowback,” a term for the unintended consequences of a policy. Hence, the U.S. aids Islamic Mujadaheen in Afghanistan, members of which eventually blow up the World Trade Center and the USS Cole. We create a contra force in Nicaragua, members of which become major players in the international drug trade.

Neither the world nor ourselves can afford the egotism of Empire. The next “winds that scatter” may be of the thermonuclear variety.

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Democracy Goes South

Democracy Goes South

FPIF

9-6-2002

In the aftermath of Sept. 11, The Bush Administration’s rationale for why it all happened was: “They” (left undefined) hated “American democracy.” With the U.S. going into its second year of “the war against terrorism,” that democracy stuff has gone south awful fast.

At home, Attorney General John Ashcroft has pretty much shredded those sections of the Constitution having to do with legal protections and the presumption of innocence. Jose Padilla and Yaser Esam Hamdi, both American citizens, have simply been locked away, possibly forever. No charges have been filed against them, no bail set, and neither are allowed to consult lawyers.

Remember when the Congress had to declare war? No longer. According to Vice-President Dick Cheney, the President doesn’t need Congress because Bush has “inherent presidential power to act” in defense of “vital national interests” that “comes from the Constitution and not Congress.”

George W. agrees. While the President says he thinks people have the right to “express their opinions…Americans needs to know…I’ll be making up my mind on how to best protect our country.” So much for the Constitution. Well, it was a fussy old document anyhow.

While the White House is briskly interring democracy at home, it is busily using the “war on terrorism” to bolster regimes whose general reaction to the word “democracy” is to reach for their Lugers.

This past July, the U.S. State Department weighed in on behalf of the Indonesian government and Exxon Mobil to try to derail an International Labor Rights Fund lawsuit in the province of Aceh by villagers who charge that troops guarding natural gas and oil pumping facilities routinely beat, rape, kidnap and murder the locals.

State Department legal advisor William Taft IV argued that the suit would have an “adverse impact on significant interests of the United States, including…the ongoing struggle against international terrorism.” Exxon Mobil is the world’s largest energy company, and the Aceh fields generate about $1 billion a year for the Indonesian government.

In one of the more bizarre aspects of the whole matter, Taft not only cited “the ongoing war against Al Qaeda and other dangerous terrorist organizations” as reason for dismissing the suit, but added competition from “China,” which he said would be “far less concerned with human rights abuses.” Huh?

A similar suit brought against the Rio Tinto mining company for poisoning areas of Papua New Guinea was dismissed when the State Department told the court that the suit would hurt American interests. The dismissal prompted Milt Rosenthal of the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights to charge that “The war on terrorism is now going to be used as a cover for all kinds of corporate malfeasance.”

Right on cue, Unocal, presently being sued for using forced labor to build a pipeline in Myanmar, asked the court to dismiss the suit on the same grounds. The arguments in the Exxon Mobil case are “equally applicable” to Unocal, company’s lawyers argue, and the suit would have “a chilling effect on investment and efforts to induce the home country to improve human rights.”

The Bush Administration is also using “the war on terrorism” to restart military aid to Indonesia, relying on the time worn canard that U.S. training will make the Indonesian military more sensitive to human rights. Given the track record of that organization—butchering 600,000 of its own citizens in 1965; murdering 200,000 East Timorese from 1975 to 1999; killing 6000 residents of Aceh, 2000 in the last year alone; suppressing an indigenous movement in Papua New Guinea—that will be a neat trick.

The Indonesians look at military ties as an opportunity to get more efficient at the business of killing people it doesn’t like, not as a chance to learn about human rights. “The highest priority is to support the effort to maintain our operational readiness,” Lt. Gen. Agus Widjpjo told the Financial Times, “As for human rights: Ask any Indonesian officer,’Do you need that kind of training?’ and he will say no.”

That sentiment is hardly restricted to the military. Early this year, President Magawati Sukarnoputri told military cadets that “you can do your duty without being worried about human rights.” She was right on target. All of the military officers charged with war crimes for the 1999 orgy of murder and destruction in East Timor were acquitted last month. The only person convicted was a civilian, thus perpetuating the myth that the rampage by Indonesian paramilitaries had nothing to do with the Army, when in fact the latter were armed and trained by the former.

No top ranked officers or civilians, even those named by the Indonesian Human Rights Commission, were ever charged with the rampage that killed more than 2,000 Timorese and destroyed 70 percent of the tiny nation’s infrastructure.

In her Aug.1 speech to the National Assembly, Sukarnoputri made it clear what her program would be to end the 26 year old fight by Aceh residents for greater control of the Province’s natural resources: “The government intends to take further actions to restore the peace in Aceh by crushing the armed separatist movement.” The $28 million the White House intends to funnel to the Indonesian police and an army special anti-terrorism unit will help her to do just that.

Throughout the Cold War, the only criteria for getting U.S. support was whether a country was sufficiently anti-Communist. Behind that screen we backed most of the major dictators and military regimes of the 20th Century, including Saddam Hussein. The “war on terrorism” has become the new screen, and behind it awful things are happening from Indonesia to Colombia.

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