Monthly Archives: July 2010

Dispatch Awards For The Year That Was 2008

Dispatch Awards For The Year That Was 2008

Dispatches From The Edge

Who’s On First Award? to U.S. intelligence for its analysis of al-Qaeda. According to CIA Director Michael Hayden, the organization is growing stronger and preparing to launch attacks in Africa, Europe and the Arabian Peninsula. He said there was a “bleed out” from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with al-Qaeda operatives spreading into North Africa, which they could use as a springboard for attacks on Europe.

A week later, Matthew Burrows, who heads up the long-range analysis section of the Office of National Intelligence (ONI), said “The appeal of terrorism is waning” and al-Qaeda is on the decline, having alienated supporters with indiscriminate killings. According to Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World,” a report by the ONI, “Al-Qaeda has not achieved broad support in the Islamic world. Its harsh pan-Islamist ideology and policies appear only to a tiny minority of Muslims.”

Enabling Paranoia Award to the U.S. Congress for its resolute stand against terrorism. In 2003, Congress identified 160 sites in the country that might be potential targets for terrorist attacks. In 2004 that list had grown to 1,849. In 2005 the number was 28,360. In 2006 there were 77,769. By February 2008, the potential number of sites had grown to 300,000, including the Illinois Apple and Pork Festival. Being a “designated site” entitles local authorities to apply for Home Land Security money for equipment and police.

Lapdog Award to Canada’s Conservative government for first listing the U.S. as a country which uses torture—along with Israel, Afghanistan, China, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Syria—and then reversing themselves and apologizing when Washington protested.

Shortly thereafter, a secret Canadian government report found that Canadian Omar Khadr, who is been held at Guantanamo Bay since he was 16-years old, had been tortured. The torture included extended periods of sleep deprivation. When the evidence was presented to Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, he dismissed it, saying, “Canada has sought assurances that Mr. Khadr…will be treated humanely.”

One of Khadr’s Canadian lawyers, Dennis Edney, said Harper’s comment “defies belief.” The detainee’s American military lawyer said that the report “shows the assurances the Canadian government has been offering all these years were false. It’s shameful that the Canadian government is continuing to allow this to go on.”

A Purple Heart Award to Jeff Black, director of Idaho Peace Officer Standards and Training Academy for coming up with a slogan for graduates: “Don’t suffer from PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder], go out and cause it.” PTSD, along with Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (MTBI), is the signature wound soldiers returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from. Estimates are that 40 percent of the veterans of both wars suffer from PTSD and MTBI.

The symptoms of both are very similar, and include anti-social behavior, aggression, sleeplessness, impotence, depression, and heightened incidences of suicide.

The U.S. military recently decided not to award Purple Hearts to PSTD and MTBI sufferers.

History Get Me A Rewrite Award to former President George W. Bush for his comment comparing the demand for a withdrawal from Iraq to similar demands to end the Vietnam War:

One unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of American withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like ‘boat people,’ ‘re-education camps,’ and ‘killing fields.”

During the war the U.S. dropped more bombs on Southeast Asia than the allies had dropped in World War II, killed some three million people, maimed millions more, and added such words to our vocabulary as “free fire zone” and “strategic hamlet.” The “killing fields” were a direct result of the U.S. bombing of Cambodia and the CIA engineered overthrow of Prince Norodom Sihanouk, and his replacement with military dictator, Lon Nol. The Khmer Rouge in turn overthrew Lon Nol and murdered of two million Cambodians. An intervention by the Vietnamese ended the genocide and drove the Khmer Rouge from power.

Lt. William Calley Award to DynCorp, a mercenary organization hired by the U.S. to provide security in Iraq. A Dyn Corp soldier, who was a former U.S. Army vet and prison guard, told the New Yorker, “The real problem in this war on terror is you guys, the press. Ties our hands. The only way to fight this is to give them back the same medicine, like Operation Phoenix, in Vietnam. My Lai—what Calley did there was probably just orders.”

Operation Phoenix—which My Lai was part of—executed between 50,000 and 70,000 “Viet Cong supporters” in Vietnam. The My Lai massacre of Mar. 16, 1968 was led by Lt. William Calley. There is no agreement on the number who died at My Lai, but it was over 500, mainly women and children.

The “Beam Me Up Scotty” Award to the Pentagon for trying to create a hologram for the children of parents deployed in war zones. The kids will “boot” up their parents on a home computer and, according to the Pentagon, “The child should be able to have a simulated conversation with a parent about generic, every day topics.” The child “may get a response from saying ‘I love you,’ or “I miss you,’ or “Good night.’”

According to Navy Commander Russell Shilling, the psychologist overseeing the program, “The children don’t quite understand Mommy and Daddy being deployed” and “That kind of interaction…is very important.”

The parent would record comments before they were deployed and then artificial intelligence software that runs the hologram would respond to a child’s question or comment.

So if Jimmy or Jane says “Mommy come home,” does the program answer “Be all you can be?” or maybe bust the kid for undermining morale?

Ass-Backward Award to Lockheed Martin, the largest arms company in the world, for building the littoral combat ship “Freedom” before it completed all the designs. The ship—at $600 million plus—was first welded together and then designed, delaying construction and increasing costs. “It’s not good to be building while you’re designing,” said Vice. Adm. Paul E. Sullivan, who supervises ship building for the Navy.

Creative Accounting Award to the Pentagon, which is on track to spend $110 billion on missile defense by 2013 (the system has already cost $150 billion since it was launched in 1983) without any idea of what it will end up with. The accounting methodology is called “spiral development,” which, in the words of a Pentagon directive means, “end-state requirements are not known at program initiation.” In essence, “spiral development” means there are no set dates, no costs ceilings, no designated outcome and no way to determine if an outcome is achieved.

SNAFU Award to the U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Floyd Carpenter, who headed the investigation of the Feb. 23 crash of the $1.5 billion B-2 Stealth bomber, “Spirit of Kansas,” on the island of Guam. According to the investigation, moisture in the plane’s sensors made the B-2’s computer cause the plane to climb too sharply, causing it to stall and crash.

Carpenter said, “The aircraft actually performed as it was designed. In other words all systems were functioning normally.”

Except, perhaps, the part about crashing.

Great Moments in Journalism Award to FOX News for its coverage of the massacre of 90 Afghan civilians—including 60 children and 15 women—at the village of Azizabad by U.S. fighter bombers. The U.S. military initially denied the story and said the dead were “insurgents.” A Pentagon spokesperson said an “independent journalist” embedded with the U.S. troops that called in the air strike “corroborated” their story.

The “independent journalist”: Oliver North, working for Fox News. North was at the center of the Iran-Contra Conspiracy to overthrow the Sandinista government of Nicaragua and shredded files to keep them from government investigators.

Man’s Best Friend Award to the Blackwater security firm, which supplies mercenaries for the U.S. Iraq and Afghanistan. The company—several members of whom were recently indicted for killing up to 17 civilians in Iraq—is being investigated for shipping assault weapons and silencers hidden in large sacks of dog food into Iraq.

Certain weapons, including silencers, are banned for use by security firms because they are considered incompatible with the job of guarding diplomats.

The only reason you need a silencer is if you want to assassinate someone,” former CIA intelligence officer John Kiriakou told ABC.

The United Nations has accused the U.S. of running “death squads” in Iraq and Afghanistan, and of assassinating people opposed to U.S. policies in both countries.

Unclear On The Concept Award to U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, ranking Republican member of the House Armed Services Committee, who attacked the Inspector General’s Office for its investigation of a Pentagon program to put retired military officers on TV and radio as “force multipliers” for the Bush Administration’s message on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo, and terrorism.

Hunter said the retired officers were a “great asset” for the country and completely independent. “The idea that somehow Don Rumsfeld got these people in a room and told them what to say, if you believe that you don’t believe in the independence of these generals. None of them are used to having people tell them what to do.”

The most common phrase heard in the military? “Yes, sir.”

Word Smithing Award to Navy Commander Pauline Storum who defended the conditions at Guantanamo Bay prison and challenged the charge that the camp uses solitary confinement. Storum said the camp has “single-occupancy cells.”


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Dispatches Awards For The Year That Was 2007

Dispatches Awards For The Year That Was 2007

Dispatches From The Edge

Conn Hallinan

The following are Dispatches’ annual “I Don’t Believe I Am Actually Reading This” Awards.

Psychic Insight Award goes to U.S. Maj. Gen. Richard Huck, former commander of the Second Marine Division in Iraq. Members of Kilo Company in his division went on a rampage Nov. 19, 2006, and killed 24 Iraqi civilians. Huck said he never looked into the massacre because it was not uncommon for civilians to be killed during a combat operation.

“In my mind’s eye I saw insurgent fire, I saw Kilo Company fire,” said Huck during a military hearing this past May, explaining that he could see how “neutrals in those circumstances could be killed.”

The general did not explain exactly how the eye in his mind works.

An Honorable Mention in this category went to the pilots of U.S. aircraft and helicopters for their Nov. 16 attack on a group of Iraqis in the town of Taji north of Baghdad. The Iraqis were members of a Sunni militia that had just captured five members of al-Qaeda. According to a military spokesperson, the U.S. pilots detected “hostile intent” from the group—a neat trick considering they were several hundred feet up in the air— and opened fire, killing 50 Sunni militia members and their five prisoners.

The Long Sorrow Award* goes to officials of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq who took members of the Iraqi government and military to visit Northern Ireland in order to demonstrate how building walls between the Catholic and Protestant communities greatly reduced the damage caused by sectarian violence. With Ireland as a template, the Iraqis can now look forward to more than four centuries of inter-communal warfare.

*The Irish call their 800 plus year struggle against the English, “the long sorrow.”

Great Moments in Objectivity Award goes to Jim Albaugh, chief of defense operations for the Boeing Corporation. Speaking during an air show in Paris this past June, Albaugh urged that U.S. military spending be kept at record levels in order to deal with terrorists and the threat of China.

The question is, what happens when we come out of Iraq and Afghanistan and the supplementals [additional payments used to fund the war] start to dry up?” he asked.

Boeing is worried about cuts in the $200 billion Future Combat System—lots of high tech whiz bangs, including robot tanks, helicopters, and planes—in which the company has a major stake. Boeing also may lose $400 million if congressional Democrats block the building of a third anti-ballistic missile site in Europe.

Lest one think that Albaugh’s view of the world and the need for enhanced military spending is self-serving, the Boeing official said that he was “pretty objective” about the whole thing.

The Entrepreneurship Award to Charlene Corley, owner of C&D Distributors in Lexington, S.C., for her creative approach to spending taxpayer’s money. C&D Distributors charged the U.S. Army $998,798 for two 19-cent washers. The firm has collected $20.5 million over a six-year period.

Great Moments in Irony Award to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Meeting with reporters at the U.S. Ambassador’s house in Moscow, she accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of undermining the country’s courts, media and legislative bodies.

In any country, if you don’t have countervailing institutions, the power of any one president is problematic for democratic development,” she said.

The same day that Rice was chiding Putin for amassing too much executive power, a coalition of liberals from the American Freedom Campaign and conservatives from the American Freedom Agenda asked presidential candidates to sign a pledge to roll back the enormous power President Bush has amassed.

The pledge reads: “We are Americans, and in our America we do not torture, we do not imprison people without charge or legal remedy, we do not tap people’s phones and e-mails without court order, and above all, we do not give any president unchecked power. I pledge to fight to protect and defend the Constitution from attack by any president.”

Ron Paul was the only Republican candidate who signed the pledge. Five of the eight Democrats also signed. Hillary Clinton, Joseph Biden and John Edwards did not, but issued statements denouncing torture, wiretapping without warrants, and imprisonment without judicial review.

Rice’s statement in Moscow brings to mind Lily Tomlin remark about the Bush Administration: “No matter how cynical you get, you just can’t keep up with these people.”

Bunker Hill Award goes to Canadian Lt. Col. Jamie Robertson who denounced the Taliban in Afghanistan this past July for refusing “to fight fair,” relying on roadside bombs and suicide attacks instead of “directly confronting Canadian troops in combat.”

After failing to achieve any success…in conventional warfare, the insurgents have resorted to IED (improvised explosive devices) and other terrorist tactics,” said Robertson, deputy director of public affairs operations for the Canadian armed forces.

Which is kind of the idea behind guerilla warfare, something the Canadian military apparently hasn’t worked out yet.

Back in 1776, Major General William Howe, who led the British assault at Bunker Hill, expressed similar complaints about the “rabble in arms,” which inflicted over 1,000 casualties on his men. The colonials, on the other hand, thought it was an excellent idea for the British to wear bright red uniforms and stand in long, straight lines out in the open while the rebels got to shoot at them from behind barricades.

The Grinch Award goes to Ronald R. Aument, deputy undersecretary for Veterans Affairs, who opposed giving full veteran benefits to Filipinos who fought with the U.S. Army during the WW II.

Aument said such benefits would cost $4 billion over the next decade (the Congressional Budget Office estimates the cost will be only $1 billion), but the major reason the Bush Administration opposes the benefits is that it would allow Filipino veterans living in the Philippines to have a higher standard of living than most other Filipinos.

VA benefits paid to beneficiaries living in the United States, such as U.S. veterans, do not enable those beneficiaries to live higher than the general U.S. population,” Aument told the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs. “We do not support the bill because it would disproportionately favor Filipino veterans over U.S. veterans.”

More than 200,000 Filipinos were drafted into the U.S. Army in 1941. Some were captured and imprisoned, while others led a successful guerilla war against the Japanese. The Filipinos were promised full veterans benefits, but the promise was arbitrarily canceled in 1946.

Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho), the leading Republican on the Committee, said he too was concerned about paying the benefits. “The same benefit paid to veterans in the Philippines would provide income that is almost four times the average household income in that country,” he said.

The average household income in the Philippines is $4,133, compared to $48, 201 in the U.S. The benefits for low-income Filipinos over 65 would be just under $11,000 a year. There are about 20,000 Filipino vets still living, most in their 80s and 90s.

Merry Christmas from the Bush Administration.

The Totally Whacko Award to U.S. Lt. Col. Edward M. Bush III, spokesperson for the Joint Task Force at Guantanamo Bay, who accused London lawyer Clive Stafford Smith of smuggling “contraband” to prisoners the Bush Administration is holding in the Cuban facility.

Contraband items are taken seriously, said Bush III, “They may be used in such a way to conduct harm or self-harm for which the Joint Task Force is liable.”

The “contraband”? Underpants and Speedo swim suits.

Smith denies the charge, saying his job “involves legal briefs, not the other sort.” The lawyer also said he was “baffled” by the Speedo charge. He said his client “is hardly in a position to go swimming, since the only available water is the toilet in his cell.”


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The Year That Was Awards 2006

The Year That Was Awards 2006

Dispatches From The Edge

Conn Hallinan

Each year Dispatches From the Edge gives its annual IDBIAART (I Don’t Believe I Am Actually Reading This) Awards for the past year. The following are the Awards for 2006.

Marching Together with Our Allies Award goes to the Bush Administration for refusing to allow any U.S. military personnel to attend British inquests on the deaths of United Kingdom soldiers from “friendly-fire” in Iraq. In the latest incident, Lance Corporal Matthew Hull was killed when a U.S. pilot attacked a British convoy near Basra. The White House refused to allow the pilot to attend the inquest.

British Justice Minister Harriet Harman told the Daily Mail “The families want to know how their loved ones were killed. They have got that right.” Harman went on to say that the “special relationship” between the U.S. and Britain “demands honesty and openness. They are our allies in Iraq and should respect the grief of the families and not hide from the court. If any of our soldiers were involved in American friendly-fire deaths we would expect them to attend hearings.”

Harman dressed down the American Ambassador over the Bush Administration’s stonewalling of the inquest request. She apparently did so without clearing it with Prime Minister Tony Blair—“fresh evidence of the crumbling authority of the PM,” notes the Mail.

The Justice Ministry had guaranteed that there would be no legal or financial sanctions against the U.S. pilot, but the White House refused to release the name of the airman or allow him to attend the inquest.

Oxfordshire Coroner Andrew Walker, who conduced the inquiry, strongly supported Harman’s demand for an American presence. Walker also conducted the inquest on two Royal Air Force pilots shot down by a U.S. Patriot missile during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and he found that U.S. Marines had committed an “unlawful killing” when they gunned down British reporter Terry Lloyd during the invasion.

Hull’s widow, Susan Hull, said, “The people who are left behind want some answers.”

They are not likely to get them from this White House.

Lt. William Calley Award goes to Avigdor Lieberman, Israeli Knesset member, leader of the right wing, racist Yiseral Beiteinu Party (Israel is our home) and newly appointed Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Strategic Affairs. Lieberman advocates the death penalty for Knesset members who talk with Hamas members, urges the destruction of all commercial centers, gas stations and banks in the occupied territories, and calls for expelling all Israeli-Arabs who do not take a loyalty oath to the state of Israel.

Lieberman’s party has 11 seats in the Knesset, and Hebrew University political scientist Ze’ev Sternhell says he “is perhaps the most dangerous politician in the history of the state of Israel.”

Asked what he thought should be done with the 10,000 Palestinians presently held without charge by Israeli authorities, he said that all of them should be taken to the Red Sea and drowned—and he, Avigdor Lieberman, would provide the buses to transport them.

Honor Among Thieves Award goes to Ahmed Chabali, the shady Iraqi exile who fed now disgraced New York Times investigative reporter Judith Miller phony information about Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction and pressured the U.S. to dissolve the Iraqi army and dismiss all members of the Baath Party.

Asked by the New York Times Magazine why Iraq is now such a disaster, Chabali replied “The Americans sold us out” and “The real culprit in all this is [Paul] Wolfowitz,” the neo-conservative former assistant secretary of defense and now president of the World Bank.

What should the Americans have done? According to Chabali, turn Iraq over to him and cleric Moktada al-Sadr.

Adam Smith Privatization Award goes to the U.S. Coast Guard for turning over its $17 billion modernization program—lock, stock and barrel—to Lockheed Martin, the world’s biggest arms company, and Northrop Grumman. The two companies turned out ships with hull cracks—a bad idea if you want to use them in the water—cutters whose engines don’t work, an Eagle Eye unmanned air vehicle that crashes, and radios that are not water proofed. The companies also produced a long-range High Altitude Endurance Unmanned Air Vehicle for use in Alaska. Unfortunately, the craft can’t operate in bad weather.

Who would have thought that would be a problem in Alaska?

While the Coast Guard easily won the award this year, word in the industry is that the Homeland Security Department will make a strong run at the crown next year. It has handed the Boeing Corporation $7 billion to plan, supervise and execute a strategy to tighten U.S. borders to stop illegal immigration.

There is a possibility, however, that through a little inter-service cooperation, both organizations might share the award next year. For instance, Coast Guard cutters could be transferred to the deserts of the South Texas border region, where they are unlikely to sink.

Historical Insight Award goes to George W. Bush for comments during his March visit to Pakistan. Asked by journalists if Pakistan would get the same nuclear technology deal that the White House had just signed with India, Bush replied, “I explained that Pakistan and India are different countries with different needs and different histories.”

Apparently the Pakistanis had no idea this was the case.

Bush’s award means that the President has won this laurel two years running. Last year he was the hands down winner when he told the Brazilian press: “Wow! Brazil is big.”

Great Moments in Literature Award goes to the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) which gave its annual journalism award to Michael Crichton for State of Fear,” his novel debunking global warming.

The book has come under heavy fire from climate experts—Stanford climatologist Stephen H. Schneider called it “demonstrably garbage”—although it was praised by the former chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, James Inhofe (R-OK). Inhofe, recently replaced as chair by Barbara Boxer (D-CA), calls global warming “the greatest hoax ever perpetuated on the American people.”

Oklahoma is a long way from the coast.

AAGP Communications Director Larry Nation admitted that Crichton was not a journalist, and that “State of Fear” was fiction, but maintained the science fiction book “ has the absolute ring of truth.”

Rudyard Kipling Award to Brigadier General Edward Butler, commander of British forces in Afghanistan. Speaking about the recent upsurge in fighting, Butler said, “We knew it was going to be a tough fight. The Afghan has fighting in his blood.”

The commander was speaking from Helmand Province, which Britain has occupied, on and off, for just short of 200 years.

Hearts and Minds Award to the Third Battalion, Eighth U.S. Marine Regiment, in Ramadi, Iraq. A poster in the unit’s headquarters reads: “Be polite, be professional and have a plan to kill everyone you meet.”

The runner up in this category was a slogan for a unit T-shirt in the same regiment: “Kilo Company: Killed more people than cancer.”

Real Historical Insight Award (posthumous) to T.E. Lawrence for his 1919 dispatch from Iraq:

“We have been led into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honor. We have been tricked into it by a withholding of information. The Baghdad communiqués are belated, insincere, incomplete. Things have been far worse that we have been told. Our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows. We are today not far from disaster.”

* * *

Lifetime Achievement Award to Stew Albert (Dec. 4, 1939-Jan. 30, 2006) for his courage and intelligence in the battle to end oppression. In the long fight ahead, he will be missed. Slan lan avic, Minstrel Stew. This harp shall praise thee. May we meet again in Tara’s hall.


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Annual Awards For The Year That Was 2005

Dispatches From The Edge

Annual Awards For The Year That Was


At the end of each year, Dispatches gives out its annual IDBIAART (I Don’t Believe I Am Actually Reading This) Awards for special contributions to international relations during the past year.

The Historical Amnesia Award goes to former Nixon Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird who in a recent Foreign Affairs article argued in favor of “Iraqification,” by using the Vietnam War as an example:

“The truth about Vietnam that the revisionist historians conveniently forget,” writes Laird, “is that the United States had not lost when we withdrew in 1973. I believed then and still believe today that given enough outside resources, South Vietnam was capable of defending itself, just as I believe Iraq can do the same now.”

It is not clear whether the American Embassy in Baghdad has a helicopter-landing pad on its roof

The Speaking Power to Truth Award goes to David H. Wilkins, U.S. ambassador to Canada who warned Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin that if he did not stop “attacking the U.S.” Americans might decide to retaliate by cutting trade with its northern neighbor.

Wilkins was responding to critical remarks that Martin made concerning U.S. tariff policy on Canadian lumber, smuggled American guns being used in Toronto gang wars, and the Bush Administration’s opposition to the Kyoto climate accords.

Canada took the tariff issue to court and won $5 billion, but Washington successfully appealed to the U.S.-dominated World Trade Organization and refuses to pay up. The guns that have contributed to making Toronto gangs a good deal deadlier are purchased in the U.S. because Canada has restrictive laws on handgun and assault rifle ownership. And the Administration is on record opposing Kyoto.

Following Wilkins’ comments, Martin’s poll numbers went up.

The “Stop Wallowing In The Past” Award goes to French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy who wrote in Le Journal du Dimanche that France should refrain from “an excess of repentance” over its colonial past.

The comments were in reference to a recent uproar over a law passed last February instructing teachers to acknowledge the “positive role” of the French colonial empire, particularly in North Africa.

The law ignited widespread outrage in the Caribbean, where protests forced Sarkozy to cancel plans to visit the French West Indies islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe.

The Algerian government is particularly incensed. France carried out a long and bloody colonial war in Algeria that included the well-documented use of torture and the extra-judicial murders of insurgents and civilians by French police, paratroopers and the Foreign Legion.

French colonial behavior in West Africa and Indochina was little better, and a major reason for the present impoverishment of Haiti was that France forced the tiny island to pay enormous reparations to former slave owning sugar growers who lost their plantations when native Haitians liberated their country.

Sarkozy—presently the front runner in the 2007 French presidential elections—was recently criticized for calling young rioters in France “scum” and promising to “eradicate the gangrene” from more than 300 cities that erupted in violence two months ago. Widespread youth joblessness and racism by the police are generally accepted as the sparks that set off the conflagration.

France,” writes Sarkozy, “is a great country because it has a great history.”

The Three Card Monte in Economics Award goes to European Union (EU) Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, who recently proposed a “concession” to developing countries on trade: the EU would drop agricultural subsidies if developing countries would open their manufacturing and service sectors to the developed world.

But Mendelson knows that EU agricultural subsidies are not sustainable in the long run anyhow, hence he is “conceding” nothing that wouldn’t happen in the next few years in any event. And because developing countries’ service and industrial products cannot compete with the EU, the poor nations would essentially agree to deindustrialize their economies and return to their previous status as raw material baskets for their former colonial overseers.

If the developing nations accept the idea, Mandelson will be a hero to EU exporters. If the developing nations refuse, they will be tagged as anti-global obstructionists.

This round of world trade talks was supposed to be about “development.” Instead the big nations have turned it into a “now you see it, now you don’t” game.

The Sowing the Wind Award goes to conservative Australian Prime John Howard, who in the aftermath of mob attacks on “Muslims” at a beach resort south of Sidney, told the media, “I don’t believe Australia is a racist country.”

Gangs of up to 5,000 young white men, assaulted what they perceived as Lebanese men, women and children, chanting, “We grew up here, you flew here,” and wearing t-shirts proclaiming “Ethnic Cleansing Unit.”

Up until 1970, Australia officially had a “whites only” immigration policy, and Howard has used the “threat” of Asian and Middle Eastern immigrants to pass a draconian mandatory detention policy for asylum seekers. Asylum applicants have been locked up on an island prison, where conditions are crowed and grim. A number of asylum candidates sewed their lips together to protest their inability to speak with immigration authorities.

As part of his campaign to whip up anti-immigrant hysteria, Howard claimed that immigrant “boat people” were throwing their children into the sea. The charge was later proven false.

Howard has also refused to apologize to Australia’s Aborigines for the way they have been treated since the British first established a penal colony on the subcontinent. More than 90 percent of the native population was wiped out, many by disease, some by design. Entire bands of Aborigines were executed for stealing sheep. Aborigines were also exposed to nuclear tests during the 1950s. They are still seeking redress from both the Australian and the British government for radiation poisoning and elevated cancer rates.

At the time of the riots, Howard was attending a conference of Asian countries in Malaysia. He told the press, “People will not make judgments on Australia based on incidents that happen over a few days.”

The opposition Labor Party, however, said, “The key challenge for Mr. Howard is not to pretend that this doesn’t affect the way in which the world sees Australia. It does. Images of the riots are being beamed across the world.”

The Geographically Inappropriate Metaphor Award goes to an unnamed Special Operations officer for the U.S. military’s European Command who described the Bush Administration’s $500 million program to fight “terrorism” in the Sahara Desert as “draining the swamp.”

Poor Babies Award goes to 62 percent of 500 U.S. families with an average of $26 million in liquid net assets who feel they are “under assault” in the media. A study by the Worth-Taylor Harrison Survey also found that 69 percent of the families felt they were portrayed badly.

(What is this domestic item doing in Dispatches? Since most capital is international, this passes muster. But in any case, who could resist?)

Jim Taylor, a co-director of the survey, said “They [the families] perceive the media to be dominated by images of indulgent and criminal wealth—from Donald Trump to Paris Hilton to Bernie Ebbers,” adding, “They have really strong feelings about the extent to which they are under assault.”

Life is a vale of tears.

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State of the Union

State of the Union

Foreign Policy in Focus

Conn Hallinan


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


“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.


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

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


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


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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Challenging A Unipolar World

Challenging A Unipolar World

Conn Hallinan

Foreign policy In Focus


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


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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