Juan Cole en Why Ed Snowden Can't Get a Fair Trial in Our National Security State <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Eric Holder calls Snowden&#039;s work a public service, but no current Obama administration members would say the same.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/photo4_img.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p><a href="">Former US Attorney General Eric Holder</a> said in an interview that what NSA whistle blower Edward Snowden did was illegal but added “”We can certainly argue about the way in which Snowden did what he did, but I think that he actually performed a public service by raising the debate we engaged in and by the changes that we made . . .”</p><p>But nobody in the Obama administration still in office ever said that Snowden did a public service. He certainly did, since the NSA and other intelligence organizations had gone rogue. In essence, they unilaterally abrogated the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution. PBS Frontline alleged that the NSA did not even read Obama into their warrantless surveillance of millions of Americans until 2010! In a system like that, the president isn’t really the president– the Deep State does as it pleases.</p><p>It is also clear that the NSA has been sharing metadata with local law enforcement, which has been using it to build cases against people without ever seeking a warrant, and then lying to judges about how they knew someone was, e.g., in touch with a drug dealer by phone. In other words, NSA surveillance has corrupted the entire justice system of the United States and made the Fourth Amendment a dead letter.</p><p><a href="">Such sharing of illicitly-gathered private information among US government agencies </a>is becoming routine. (These cases have nothing to do with terrorism.)</p><p>So Holder’s sudden appreciation of Snowden is hypocritical. He went on to say,</p><p>“He’s broken the law. In my view, he needs to get lawyers, come on back and decide what he wants to do — go to trial, try to cut a deal . . . But in deciding what an appropriate sentence should be, a judge could take into account the usefulness of having that national debate . . .”</p><p>Mr. Holder is a man of the US justice system and knows exactly how it functions, so he knows very well that Snowden will not be allowed to present a whistle blower defense if he is tried in the US and that no judge will be allowed to take his public service into account.</p><p>So Holder is lying. The only question is why. Is this an attempt to go on justifying the Obama administration’s despicable war on whistle blowers? Or does Holder think Snowden will be so stupid as to be enticed back with a few false promises?</p><p>Here is a revised version of what I wrote on this issue when other Obama administration officials made similar dishonest statements, substituting Holder:</p><p>[<i> Revised and expanded</i>]</p><p>Holder is either amazingly ignorant or being disingenuous when he suggests that Snowden would be allowed to “make his case” if he returned to the US. No one outside the penal justice system would ever see him again, the moment he set foot here, assuming he was not given a prior deal. He could maybe try to explain himself to the prison guards, assuming they didn’t stick him in solitary. Here are some reasons Mr. Snowden would be unwise to trust himself to that system, given the charges against him:</p><p>1. The <a href="">United Nations Special Rapporteur</a> found that the US was guilty of cruel and inhuman treatment of Chelsea (Bradley) Manning, who was responsible for the Wikileaks and revelations of US killing of unarmed journalists in Iraq. Manning was kept in solitary confinement and isolated 23 hours a day for months on end, was kept naked and chained to a bed, and was subjected to sleep deprivation techniques, all three well known forms of torture, on the trumped up pretext that he was suicidal (his psychiatrist disagreed).</p><p>2. The <a href="">Espionage Act under which Snowden would likely be tried is a fascist law from the time when President Woodrow Wilson</a> (like Obama a scholar of the constitution) was trying to take the US into the war, and was used to repeal the First Amendment right of Americans to protest this action. It was used to arbitrarily imprison thousands and is full of unconstitutional provisions. In recent decades the act was used against whistleblowers only three times, but Barack Obama loves it to death. It is an embarrassment that it is still on the books and it reflects extremely badly on Obama and on Eric Holder that they revived it as a tool against whistle blowing (which is most often a public service).</p><p>3. John Kiriakou, who revealed CIA torture under Bush-Cheney, <a href="">was prevented by the Espionage Act</a> from addressing the jury to explain the intentions behind his actions and therefore forced into a plea bargain. None of the CIA officers who perpetrated the torture or their superiors, who ordered it, have been punished, but Kiriakou went to prison and<a href="">and his family suffered because of the lack of income. </a>The US public deserved to know about the torture rather than having Obama bury it the way he has buried so many other things wrong with the system.</p><p>4. National security officials such as Snowden <a href="">are not covered by protections for whistleblowers in the Federal government, as Thomas Drake discovered.</a> Drake helped bring to public attention the National Security Agency abuses that Snowden eventually made more transparent. But he was forced to plea bargain to a charge of misusing government computers. He lost his career and his retirement, for trying to let us know that when faced with a choice between a surveillance system that was indiscriminate and one that was targeted, the US government went indiscriminate. Indiscriminate is unconstitutional.</p><p><img alt="" src="" typeof="foaf:Image" /></p><p>. Not only did the US torture Manning, US officials have on many occasions practiced arbitrary arrest and imprisonment and torture. Most often these policies have been enacted abroad, as <a href=",8542,1211872,00.html">at Abu Ghraib</a>, Bagram, Guantanamo, and black sites in countries such as Poland. But arbitrary arrest, trigger-happy killings, and extended solitary confinement are all practiced domestically as well, on America’s <a href="">vast gulag of 2.4 million prisoners</a>, 4/5s of them black or brown. A fourth of all the prisoners in jail in the entire world of 7 billion people <i>are in the United States</i>. At any one time <a href="">80,000 US prisoners are in 23-hour-a-day solitary confinement. </a>Abu Ghraib wasn’t a low-level military excess. It was simply the transposition to Iraq of the ideals of an incarcerating society, dedicated to disciplining and interrogating those who fall into the system’s hands. You don’t get these outcomes– a fourth of the world’s prisoners and a small city worth people in solitary confinement– by accident. These abuses are systemic, and worsened by the privatization of prisons. Eric Holder’s notion that there is a fair trial to be had for Snowden in this cruelly flawed system is bizarre.</p><p><img alt="" src="" typeof="foaf:Image" /></p><p>Holder is a bright and informed man and knows all this. I vote for disingenuous. He is just trying to deflect Snowden’s obvious popularity with the public and is trying imply that Snowden’s revelations put the issue behind us. <a href="">They haven’t</a>.</p><p>Related video : Newsy: “Eric Holder Gives Snowden Props For Performing A ‘Public Service'"<iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" width="560"></iframe></p><p> </p> Thu, 02 Jun 2016 14:00:00 -0700 Juan Cole, Informed Comment 1057671 at Civil Liberties Civil Liberties Edward Snowden national security eric holder privacy cyber security How Americans Hate: 8-Fold Increase in Islamophobic Crime Since 2000 <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">FBI reports show it keeps getting worse.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_84396691.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p><i>This post originally ran on Truthdig contributor <a href="" target="_blank" title="Juan Cole’s website">Juan Cole’s website</a>.</i></p><p>Congress passed the Hate Crime Statistics Act in 1990, and since then the FBI has been issuing annual reports on crimes of bias or hate crimes.</p><p>I thought it might be useful to compare the <a href="" target="_blank">year 2000</a>, Bill Clinton’s last in office, with<a href="" target="_blank">2013</a> and with <a href="" target="_blank">2014</a>, the last two for which statistics are available, to see how the nation has changed.  Unsurprisingly, there has been an <strong>eight-fold increase</strong> in anti-Muslim hate crimes during these 14 years.</p><p>There are lots of caveats here.  The FBI depends on local police departments to report hate crimes, who in turn depend on victims to report them in the bulk of cases.  The whole country is not even covered.</p><p>Muslim-Americans are disproportionately first- and second-generation immigrants and while they are typically middle or upper middle class, they often came from countries where the police are not your friends, and they may be hesitant to report hate crimes against them.</p><p>Then, there aren’t that many hate crimes reported.  In 2000 there were 9,924 victims and in 2014 that number had fallen to only 6,727 victims.</p><p>Also, hate crimes based on religion are a small proportion of the whole.  In 2014 nearly half (47%) of hate crimes in the US were based on race, and African-Americans are the majority (62.7%) of the victims of those crimes.  That is, 29% of all hate crimes are directed against African-Americans, who are 12% of the population nationally.</p><p>It would be interesting to know if any anti-Muslim hate crimes take the form primarily of racial hatred against Arabs, South Asians, African-American Muslims or white Muslims (viewed as quislings by racists?).  But Arabs are not a category and I presume are being counted as white (22% of hate crimes are directed against this group), and South Asians in the US are counted as Asians (6.2% of hate crimes are directed at them and they are 5% of the population nationally).</p><p><img alt="" src="" typeof="foaf:Image" /></p><p>Only 18.6% of hate crimes in 2014 were based on religion.  This proportion has been stable since 2000, when 18.6% of hate crimes were based on religion.</p><p><img alt="" src="" typeof="foaf:Image" /></p><p>So here’s the thing.  Both in 2000 and in 2014, the most frequent victims of religious hate crimes were Jews.  In 2000 hatred for them accounted for 75% of incidents. <a href="" target="_blank">  In 2013</a>, 60 percent of religious hate crimes were motivated by anti-Jewish bias.  In 2014, they accounted for 56.8 percent of the victims of religious hate crimes.</p><p>What we can see is a welcome decline in the proportion of hate crimes directed against Jews, though of course it is way too high given that they are less than two percent of the American population.</p><p>In 2000, both anti-Catholic and anti-Protestant hate crimes ran at about 3.8 percent of religious crimes of bias, respectively.</p><p>But in 2000, anti-Muslim hate crimes came in at only 1.9% of this category.</p><p>In 2013, the percentage of hate crimes directed at Catholics was up to 6%, that is, they increased by about a third, and this was true in 2014, as well. </p><p>(It is possible that the anti-Catholic animus is a proxy for anti-Latino feeling.  But it is worth mentioning that hate crimes against Latinos are put in the category of “ethnic” rather than “racial” hate crimes, and that the Latino share of victimization by such crimes fell from 61% to 47% between 2000 and 2014.)</p><p>The percentage accounted for by anti-Protestant feeling remained the same in 2013, at about 3.8 percent, but in 2014 it actually fell, to 2.5 percent.</p><p>So the other big change besides the 25% decline in Antisemitic incidents was a vast increase in the proportion of hate crimes that are directed at Muslims.  In 2013, it was 13.7%.  In 2014 it jumped again, to 16.1%.  That is, the proportion of religious crimes of bias that are directed at Muslims has increased by a <strong>factor of 8</strong> since 2000.</p><p>Note that according to most social science surveys, there are about half as many American Muslims as American Jews.  Muslims constitute roughly 1% of the US population but about 3% of all hate crimes target them.</p><p>We can see in these statistics some of the reason for which the most pond-scum-ish of the GOP candidates are running on anti-Muslim hatred.  Their polling is telling them about this big increase in Islamophobia that is visible in the hate crime statistics.  And rather than running away from the sort of bigots who commit these hate crimes, they are eagerly courting their votes. </p><p>The fear that all right-thinking Americans now have is that the flame-throwing rhetoric of the GOP demagogues will put up the number of hate crimes nationally in 2016 and after, and that the proportion that target Muslims and Latinos will expand yet again.  We should never forget that hate is not just an emotion displayed by an ugly set of the mouth at a rally; it turns into broken noses and broken ribs and burned-down buildings.  Those are the genies the hate-mongers are summoning for us.</p> Fri, 15 Apr 2016 13:26:00 -0700 Juan Cole, Truthdig 1054539 at Belief Belief Election 2016 The Right Wing islamophobia racism hate crimes islam hate groups 3 Ways Arab Millennials Are Transforming the Middle East <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Don&#039;t believe the hype about the Arab Spring being over, no matter what the news from Iraq, Libya and Egypt.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_139195163.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p><em>To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from <a href=";id=1e41682ade">here</a>.</em></p><p>Three and a half years ago, the world was riveted by the massive crowds of youths mobilizing in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to demand an end to Egypt’s dreary police state.  We stared in horror as, at one point, the Interior Ministry mobilized camel drivers to attack the demonstrators.  We watched transfixed as the protests spread from one part of Egypt to another and then from country to country across the region.  Before it was over, four presidents-for-life would be toppled and others besieged in their palaces.</p><p>Some 42 months later, in most of the Middle East and North Africa, the bright hopes for more personal liberties and an end to political and economic stagnation championed by those young people have been dashed.  Instead, a number of Arab countries have seen counter-revolutions, while others are engulfed in internecine conflicts and civil wars, creating Mad Max-like scenes of post-apocalyptic horror.  But keep one thing in mind: the rebellions of the past three years were led by Arab millennials, twentysomethings who have decades left to come into their own.  Don’t count them out yet.  They have only begun the work of transforming the region.</p><p>Given the short span of time since Tahrir Square first filled with protesters and hope, care should be taken in evaluating these massive movements.  During the Prague Spring of 1968, for instance, a young dissident playwright, Vaclav Havel, took to the airwaves on Radio Free Czechoslovakia and made a name for himself as Soviet tanks approached.  After the Russian invasion, he would be forbidden to stage his plays and 42 months after the Prague Spring was crushed, he was working in a brewery.  Only after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 would he emerge as the first president of the Czech Republic.</p><p>Three and a half years into the French Revolution, the country was only months away from the outbreak of a pro-royalist Catholic peasant revolt in the Vendée, south of the Loire Valley.  The resulting civil war with the republicans would leave more than 100,000 (and possibly as many as 450,000) people dead.</p><p><strong>Preparing the Way for a New Arab Future</strong></p><p>There are of course plenty of reasons for pessimism in the short and perhaps even medium term in the Middle East.  In Egypt, Ahmad Maher, a leader of the April 6 Youth, famed for his blue polo shirts and jaunty manner, went from advising the prime minister on cabinet appointments in the summer of 2011 to a three-year prison term at hard labor in late 2013 for the crime of protesting without a license.  Other key revolutionaries of 2011, like dissident blogger <a href="" target="_blank">Alaa Abdel Fattah</a> and leftist activist and organizer <a href="" target="_blank">Mahienoor El Masry</a>, are also in jail, along with many journalists, including <a href="" target="_blank">three from Al Jazeera</a>, two sentenced to seven years in jail and one to 10, simply for doing the most basic reporting imaginable.</p><p>When it comes to youth revolutions, however, it’s a pretty good bet that most of their truest accomplishments will come at least a couple of decades later.  The generation of young Arabs who made the revolutions that led to the unrest and civil wars of the present is in fact distinctive -- substantially more urban, literate, media-savvy, and wired than its parents and grandparents.  It’s also somewhat less religiously observant, though still deeply polarized between nationalists and devotees of political Islam.</p><p>And keep in mind that the median age of the 370 million Arabs on this planet is only 24, about half that of graying Japan or Germany.  While India and Indonesia also have big youth bulges, Arab youth suffer disproportionately from the low rates of investment in their countries and staggeringly high unemployment rates.  They are, that is, primed for action.</p><p>“Youth” as a category is always going to encompass very diverse populations, but it’s the self-conscious activists claiming to act in the name of their generation who make youth movements.  Not all age cohorts in modern Arab history have created organizations on the basis of generational aspirations and discontents (as some of the Baby Boomers did in the 1960s in the United States).  However, the Arab youth born roughly between the years 1980 and 2000, who came into their own in the new century, have organized a plethora of generationally based movements, many named for the dates of their initial demonstrations, including April 6 Youth, Revolutionaries Libya 17, and Reunion.</p><p>In the brief period when they were riding high, they routinely spoke of themselves self-consciously as "youth" and made demands no less self-consciously in the name of their "generation."  The two most famous of those demands were "the people want the fall of the regime" and (especially in Egypt) "bread, freedom, and social justice."  Many of these groups are now banned by counter-revolutionary generals or by restored and ascendant secret police, while others have faded away in the face of the rise of paramilitary forces and militias -- the very opposite of engaged youth movements and deadly to their open-minded values.</p><p>Even banished or suppressed, however, their contributions to political life in the region should not be discounted.  And where they still exist, they matter.  In the summer and fall of 2013 in <a href="" target="_blank">Tunisia</a>, for instance, youth organizations allied with the country's major labor union to pressure the government, led by a party of the religious right, to step down in preparation for new elections and to allow principles like women's equality to be put into a new constitution.</p><p><strong>Three Achievements of the Arab Spring</strong></p><p>Two or three decades from now, the twentysomethings of Tahrir Square or the Casbah in Tunis or Martyrs' Square in Tripoli will, like the Havels of the Middle East, come to power as politicians.  For that we have to wait.  In the meantime, we can at least try to understand just what their movements have meant for the region.  Those tea leaves are, after all, in plain sight and ready to be read.</p><p>Here are three of their achievements that seem likely to be lasting, whatever the upheaval in the region:</p><p><strong>1. The emergence of dynasties and family cartels as the leadership of the Arab republics has been rejected.</strong></p><p>Back in 2000, sociologist Saad Eddin Ibrahim <a href="" target="_blank">coined</a> the phrase jumlukiyyah, a melding of the Arabic words for "republic" and "monarchy." This phenomenon of "monarpublicanism," he pointed out, was the dynastic principle that then governed the leadership succession in much of the Middle East.  Unlike in republics elsewhere in which unrelated presidents and prime ministers are supposed to succeed one another in accordance with the popular will, Ibrahim suggested that the way Bashar al-Assad succeeded his father Hafez in Syria was a bellwether for the region.</p><p>Saif al-Islam Gaddafi seemed poised to eventually take over from his mercurial father, Muammar, in Libya.  Hosni and Suzanne Mubarak were said to be grooming their younger son Gamal to step into the presidency after the old man passed from the scene in Egypt.  In Yemen, President for Life Ali Abdallah Saleh was promoting his son Ahmad, a general in the army, as his successor.  Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali 's presidential palace was being eyed by his wife, social climber Leila Trabelsi, and his son-in-law, billionaire Sakher El Materi.</p><p>Ibrahim was jailed by a petty and vindictive Egyptian regime simply for being a sociologist and observing the reality around him (even if he was ultimately acquitted of wrongdoing).  One goal of the youth movements in Egypt and elsewhere was distinctly Ibrahimist: to destroy the principle of monarpublicanism, turn out those presidents-for-life, and ensure that their children did not succeed them.  All of them were to be made accountable for their family crimes after free and fair elections.</p><p>Because of those youth revolutions, Hafez al-Assad of Syria was the sole republican monarch who passed his country on to his son -- and even then, Bashar has been able to cling to power in just half of his country and only by resorting to atrocities so extensive that they amount to crimes against humanity.  Elsewhere, the crown princes of the corrupt old republics are often in exile, court, or prison.  Saif al-Islam Gaddafi is on trial in Tripoli.  Tunisia is attempting to extradite Sakher al-Materi from the Seychelles Islands.  Gamal Mubarak is on trial for stock exchange manipulation.  General Ahmad Ali Saleh, the son of the deposed dictator, is being <a href=";SubID=7933&amp;MainCat=5" target="_blank">investigated</a> on charges of embezzlement, while his father, accused of plotting a coup, has lost much of his remaining power.</p><p>Youth opposition to the emergence of royal dynasties in the Arab republics sprung not just from a distaste for the betrayal of republican political principles but from a conviction that such ruling families had become corrupt, nepotistic cartels.  As the<a href=",_protesting_a_pasha-the-tiger_world/" target="_blank">U.S. embassy</a> in Tunis <a href="" target="_blank">observed</a> in 2006, "In Tunisia’s small subset of commercial actors, it seems at least half of the elite are rumored to be somehow related or connected to the President."</p><p>In such circumstances, licenses for companies, jobs in the state bureaucracy, and other economic opportunities were monopolized by and for the ruling family and its circle of cronies.  The protesters saw this level of corruption as a brake on economic growth, leaving those outside the charmed circle doomed to work as menials, to unemployment, or to exile abroad.  Worse, if the plans for non-royal succession were implemented, these exclusionary, corrupt, and stagnant systems would be perpetuated many decades into the future.</p><p>Jumlukiyyah is now in the junk heap of history.</p><p><strong>2. The age of presidents-for-life and complete lack of political accountability is coming to a close.</strong></p><p>Even in neo-authoritarian Egypt, the new constitution allows a president only two four-year terms.  In some Arab countries, politicians have begun showing a willingness to step down when the public demands accountability or in order to uphold the rule of law or simply to avoid looking like the autocrats who had been angrily overthrown.  In response to a public outcry, Tunisian Prime Minister Ali Larayedh of the ruling Renaissance (al-Nahdah) Party, the largest in parliament, <a href=",%2520in%2520which%2520had%2520been%2520freely%2520and%2520fairly%2520elected%2520in%2520October%2520of%25202011.%2520%2520%2520Tunisians%2520in%2520fall%2520of%25202013%2520demanded%2520that%2520he%2520step%2520down">did so</a> in early January in favor of a technocratic cabinet, which could be expected to fairly oversee new parliamentary elections.  It was the first voluntary civilian succession in the country’s history.</p><p>This May in Libya, a complete security mess, the minority Muslim Brotherhood faction in parliament and its allies attempted to put one of their own in the prime ministerial slot. They claimed that conservative businessman Ahmad Maitig had been elected with the requisite 120 votes; the nationalist opposition insisted he had only collected 113.  When the issue went to Libya's supreme court and it ruled against him, Maitig <a href="" target="_blank">relinquished</a> his claim, citing the need to uphold the rule of law, and joining the ranks of Larayedh and other leaders who declined to cling to power and risk further polarization of their fragile societies.</p><p>Iraq stands in contrast, and serves as an object lesson in this regard.  Arab Spring protests broke out there in both Sunni and Shiite areas in early 2011.  In response, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki <a href="" target="_blank">initially pledged</a> not to seek a third term.  He soon thought better of the promise.  Nonetheless, Sunni Arab youth in Fallujah and elsewhere continued to use techniques borrowed from the Tahrir movement to highlight their marginalization in Shiite-dominated Iraq.</p><p>Early in 2013, Maliki’s troops <a href="" target="_blank">shot down</a> Sunni demonstrators coming to Fallujah, which led to further youth protests and demands for accountability for those deaths.  The government responded with more force.  Had Maliki accommodated the demands of those demonstrators, in both Sunni and Shiite areas, he might have been able to forge new forms of national unity.  Instead, by crushing the civil youth movements, he left the door open to the radical insurgents of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.</p><p><strong>3.  A more multicultural vision of how society should work is now on the Arab agenda.</strong></p><p>Previous generations of Arab leaders and movements were often blind to the ways in which pride in the heritage of Arabic-speaking peoples could shade into discriminatory attitudes toward non-Arabs in Muslim-majority states.  Sometimes such societies had difficulty treating non-Muslims as equals.  Many youth activists were (and remain) dedicated to a more multicultural vision of Arab society.</p><p>The attempt of elected Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood to rule through a clique of fundamentalists (who constitute a minority of Egyptians) deeply offended activist youth.  Morsi rejected the idea of a government of national unity despite his narrow margin of victory and instead filled high offices with fundamentalist allies.  Last year, he was overthrown, at least in part because millions of youth and workers again took to the streets.  In the aftermath, explicitly religious or sectarian parties have been banned -- though the military, which backed the mobilization of the young against Morsi, is again ascendant and has now turned on them, too.</p><p>The 2011 youth movement in Egypt also sought Christian-Muslim unity.  In Tahrir Square on Fridays, Coptic Christian youth would stand guard while Muslims prayed.  On Sundays, Muslim activists protected Christians as they held open-air masses.  Youth activists were disgusted when Muslim Brotherhood rule meant the bringing of blasphemy charges against Coptic schoolteachers.  Even North Africa's most serious ethnic divide, between Arabs and minority Berbers or Amazigh,<a href="" target="_blank">shows signs</a> of beginning to be ameliorated in Morocco under the pressure of the 2011 protests.</p><p>Like much of the rest of the Arab Spring, the urge of the millennial generation across North Africa and the Middle East for a more multicultural world seems far from realization, but they have put it on a future Arab agenda.  Its moment will return.</p><p><strong>Waiting for the Arab Summer</strong></p><p>Analysts have tended to focus on the high politics of the Arab youth revolutions and so have missed the more important, longer-term story of a generational shift in values, attitudes, and mobilizing tactics.  The youth movements were, in part, intended to provoke the holding of genuine, transparent elections in which the millennials were too young to stand for office.  This ensured that actual politics would be dominated by older Arab Baby Boomers, many of whom are far more interested in political Islam or praetorian authoritarianism.</p><p>The first wave of writing about the revolutions of 2011 discounted or ignored religion because the youth movements were predominantly secular and either liberal or leftist in approach.  When those rebellions provoked elections in which Muslim fundamentalists did well, a second round of books lamented a supposed "Islamic Winter."</p><p>The "Islamic Winter" paradigm has now faded in the countries that experienced the youth revolutions, with the reassertion of the military and the nationalists in Egypt and the severe reversals the religious militias have faced in central Syria.  In Libya, Muslim fundamentalist candidates could not get a majority in parliament in 2012.  Similar processes have long been in train in Algeria.  Even in Tunisia, where the religious right formed the first post-revolution government, they were only able to rule in coalition with secularists and leftists.</p><p>In the meantime, many of the millennial activists who briefly turned the Arab world upside down and provoked so many changes are putting their energies into non-governmental organizations, thousands of which have flowered, barely noticed, in countries that once suffered from one-party rule.  In this way, they are learning valuable organizational skills that -- count on it -- will one day be applied to politics.  Others continue to coordinate with labor unions to promote the welfare of the working classes.  Their dislike of nepotism, narrow cliques, and ethnic or sectarian rule has already had a lasting impact on the politics of the Arab world.  So don’t for a second think that the Arab Spring is over, no matter the news from Libya, Egypt, Iraq, or elsewhere.</p><p>Over the next two or three decades, as they come into their own politically, expect big changes in the region.  Someday, there will undoubtedly be an Arab Summer and the youth of this era will be honored for what they did against all odds.  Mubarak’s hired thugs attempted to ride them down with camels.  That regime isn't there anymore and the millennials are biding their time.  We haven't heard the last of their generation.</p> Sun, 29 Jun 2014 14:39:00 -0700 Juan Cole, AlterNet 1007953 at World News & Politics World arab spring egypt iraq Top 10 Reasons the GOP's Benghazi Witch Hunt Is Just a Fundraising Ploy <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The GOP is flailing around looking for an issue — any issue to help fundraising for the fall congressional campaigns.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/benghazi.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Since Obamacare is increasingly a wildly popular success, the GOP is flailing around looking for an issue, any issue to help fundraising for the fall congressional campaigns. In a vote that will live in infamy, the House GOP has decided to create a select committee to investigate the 2012 Benghazi consular attack yet again. They may as well exhume poor Ambassador Chris Stevens’ body and steal the gold from his teeth fillings.</p><p>CNN reports:</p><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="//" width="480"></iframe></p><p>Since they insist on continuing to purvey the same falsehoods about Benghazi (which I visited a few months before the tragic attack), I continue to post much the same refutation. Some of these points <a href="">are being revised from an earlier posting</a>.)</p><p>1. Republicans keep posturing that their questions about Benghazi are intended to bolster US security. In fact, they are harming it. Republican hearings in the House of Representative have disgracefully <a href="">revealed the names of Libyans talking to the US consulate</a>, thus endangering their lives and harming US efforts to understand the situation in the country, since who would risk talking to the embassy if they know about Darrell Issa’s big mouth? Moreover, the constant baseless Republican drumbeat about the Benghazi events has caused the State Department to pull dependents from Tunis and Tripoli and keep only a skeleton crew there. These steps have limited US diplomatic activity in two transitional countries of the Arab upheavals of 2011, and so damaged US interests. The real, actual Libya needs US aid and training but all the GOP wants to do is discourage career diplomats from having anything to do with it. This standoffishness on the actual Libya is a US security problem waiting to happen. Sen. John McCain knows better than to behave this way.</p><p>2. The GOP figures keep saying that it was obvious that there was no demonstration at the Benghazi consulate against the so-called “film,” the ‘Innocence of Muslims’ that attacked the Prophet Muhammad. But in fact <a href="">Libyan security officials repeatedly told wire services on September 12 that there was such a demonstration</a>, and that the attack issued from those quarters. An American resident in Benghazi at that time <a href="">confirmed to me that there were such demonstrations that day</a>. Likewise, <a href="">Reuters correspondent Hadeel Shalchi, who was on the scene in Benghazi</a> on September 11, 2012, wrote:</p><blockquote><p>The ambassador, Christopher Stevens, and the other Americans were killed after Islamist gunmen attacked the U.S. consulate and a safe house refuge in Benghazi on Tuesday night. The attackers were part of a mob blaming America for a film they said insulted the Prophet Mohammad.</p></blockquote><p><a href="">In December ’13 a long NYT article by David Kirkpatrick</a>, based on months of research in Benghazi, which most of the House GOP couldn’t find on a map, confirmed that the militants who gathered in front of the consulate were motivated by anger over the film. Kirkpatrick did challenge the characterization of this gathering as a civil demonstration, saying it was a band of extremists. But my interlocutor in Benghazi did report anti-film demonstrations in Benghazi that day. The secular-minded revolutionary militia that guarded the US consulate for the Libyan government kept the demonstrations far enough away from the consulate gates that they would not have shown up in security videos.</p><p>3. What the House should really investigate is who really <a href="">funded and encouraged the production of that get-up ‘film’ attacking Islam, “The Innocence of Muslims.”</a> It was redubbed after being shot, such that the cast had no idea they were in a bigoted attack film. The makers of the film, including a far right wing American militia figure, sent it determinedly to Egyptian hard line Salafi Muslims until part of it was finally shown on a Salafi television channel. They were clearly trying as hard as they could to provoke attacks on US facilities. Isn’t this a sort of terrorism in itself? Was it a Republican Party black money group hoping to provoke a diplomatic hostage crisis that would damage President Obama’s chances of reelection? Why did GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney keep <a href="">comparing President Obama to former president Jimmy Carter</a> in spring of 2012? Carter had been bedeviled by the Iran/ US embassy hostage crisis. Had Romney’s speech writers heard from the US Islamophobic network that there was likely to be embassy trouble that summer and that it might make Obama look weak? Why are GOP leaders so determined to deny that the film helped provoke the Benghazi attack? Are they afraid that sooner or later a link between GOP funders and the film will emerge, and they want to hold themselves harmless? Why do Muslim-hating political campaigns break out regularly every two years in the US, pushed by Republican candidates? Will there be another one in summer-fall of 2014?</p><p>4. Benghazi, a city of over a million, is not dominated by “al-Qaeda,” contrary to what Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has repeatedly said or implied. The city had successful municipal elections in May, just before I got there. <a href="">The number one vote-getter was a woman professor of statistics at the university</a>. While political Islam is a force in Benghazi, only some relatively small groups are militant, and it has to compete with nationalist, tribal and regional ideological currents. In Libya’s parliamentary elections of July, 2012, the Muslim Brotherhood did very poorly and nationalists came to power. Women won 20% of the seats! The elected Speaker of Parliament, Muhammad Magarief, <a href="">called for a secular constitution for Libya and a separation of religion and state</a>.</p><p>5. Contrary to repeated assertions that it was obvious that terrorist groups were rampaging around in the city, <a href="">members of the Benghazi municipal council</a> told then US ambassador Chris Stevens that security in the city was improving in summer, 2012.</p><p>In fact, <a href="">one Senator John McCain said during a visit</a> to Libya February 2012, ““We are very happy to be back here in Libya and to note the enormous progress and changes made in the past few months… We know that many challenges lie ahead… but we are encouraged by what we have seen.” Doesn’t sound to me like McCain was running around like Chicken Little warning that the sky was about to fall on US diplomats there. Want to know who else came along on that trip? Lindsey Graham, who likewise didn’t issue any dire warnings in its aftermath.</p><p>6. Contrary to the “Libya-is-riddled-with-al-Qaeda” meme of the GOP politicians, there is a strong civil society and tribal opposition to fundamentalist militias in Benghazi, of which Amb. Chris Stevens was well aware. Tripoli-based journalist Abd-al-Sattar Hatitah explained in the pages of the pan-Arab London daily al-Sharq al-Awsat [Sept. 30, 2012, trans. USG Open Source Center]:</p><blockquote><p>“It appears that the simple rule Benghazi’s people thought of applying was based on other experiences in which the radical Islamists or militants in general managed to grow, prosper, and expand by seeking protection from the tribes, as happened in Afghanistan, Somalia, and Yemen. But the civil movements which became very active [in Benghazi] after the fall of Al-Qadhafi’s regime were the ones that formed alliances this time with the tribes, the notables, wise men councils, and civil society figures against the militants. This is akin to the “Sahwat” in Iraq. The alliance managed to expel the brigades from the town and encouraged the nascent Libyan authorities to tighten their restrictions on all armed manifestations…</p><p>He adds that [a meeting by secular notables with the tribes] was also attended by representatives from the army chiefs-of-staff and the Interior Ministry as well as a number of members from the National Congress (parliament). “All civil society organizations also took part with us. Everybody consented to issuing the statement against the presence of the [fundamentalist] brigades and we distributed 3,000 copies. “</p></blockquote><p>After the attack on the US consulate, tens of thousands of people in Benghazi demonstrated against the violence and in favor of the US and Stevens. Then they attempted <a href="">to sweep the fundamentalist militias from the city</a>.</p><p>7. Al-Qaeda is not for the most part even a “thing” in Libya. The only formal al-Qaeda affiliate in the region is al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which is not a Libyan but an Algerian organization. Just calling all Salafi groups “al-Qaeda” is propaganda. They have to swear fealty to Ayman al-Zawahiri (or in the past, Usama Bin Laden) to be al-Qaeda. The main al-Qaeda connection in Benghazi is to Abu Yahya al-Libi, who was killed in northern Pakistan by a US drone strike in June. Some of his close relatives in Benghazi may have been angry about this (depending on how well they liked him), but they are not known to form a formal al-Qaeda cell. There are also young men from Dirna in the Benghazi area, some of whom fought against the US in Iraq. Their numbers are not large and, again, they don’t have al-Zawahiri’s phone number on auto-dial. Sen. McCain was a big supporter of the US intervention in Libya and seems to have been all right with Abdul Hakim Belhadj being his ally, even though in the zeroes Belhadj would have been labeled ‘al-Qaeda.’</p><p>8. Ansar al-Sharia (Helpers of Islamic Law) is just an informal grouping of a few hundred hard line fundamentalists in Benghazi, and may be a code word to refer to several small organizations. There are no known operational links between Ansar al-Sharia and al-Qaeda. It is a local thing in Benghazi. This point was confirmed by <a href="">Kirkpatrick’s NYT report</a></p><p>9. <a href="">Leaders of Ansar al-Sharia have denied that they directed their organization to attack the US consulate</a> and have condemned the attack.</p><p>10. Lindsey Graham and others point to instances of political violence summer 2012 in Benghazi as obvious harbingers of the September 11 consulate attack. But it was a tiny fringe group, the Omar Abdel Rahman Brigades, that claimed responsibility for setting off a small pipe bomb in front of the gate of the US consulate last June. <a href="">This is what the US statement</a> said last June:</p><blockquote><p>“There was an attack late last night on the United States office in Benghazi,” a US embassy official said, adding that only the gate was damaged and no one was hurt. The diplomat said a homemade bomb had been used in the attack on the office, set up after the 2011 uprising against Muammar Qadhafi and kept open to support the democratic transition “</p></blockquote><p>You’d have to be a real scaredy cat to pack up and leave because of a thing like that, which is what Sen. Graham keeps saying should have been the response. Likewise the same small cell was responsible for attacks on the office of the Red Cross and on a convoy of the British consulate, which injured a consular employ. Security isn’t all that great in Benghazi, though actually I suspect the criminal murder rate is much lower than in any major American city. I walked around freely in Benghazi in early June, 2012, and couldn’t have disguised my being a Westerner if I had wanted to, and nobody looked at me sideways. A pipe bomb and a shooting, neither of them fatal, did not stand out as dire in a city full of armed militias, most of them grateful to the US and Britain for their help in the revolution. You can understand why the Red Cross packed it in after a couple of attacks, but the US government is not the Red Cross.</p> Sat, 10 May 2014 12:33:00 -0700 Juan Cole, 991199 at The Right Wing The Right Wing World benghazi obama gop If the Christian Right Really Wants to Get Worked Up About Sexual Controversy, They Should Read These 5 Bible Passages <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">&#039;Wise&#039; King Solomon kept 300 sex slaves.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/screen_shot_2014-02-17_at_3.14.15_pm.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p><a href="" title="David Edwards at Raw Story">David Edwards at Raw Story</a> quotes Mitt Romney from Meet the Press as saying “But I think marriage should be defined in the way that it has been defined for several thousand years . . .” implying, by the Bible. (Mitt says it is all right with him if gay people just shack up with each other, but he feigns not to know that this would deprive them of all sorts of legal rights with their spouses, including simple hospital visits or spousal health care from the other person’s employment).</p><p>Ancient scripture can be a source of higher values and spiritual strength, but any time you in a literal-minded way impose specific legal behavior because of it, you’re committing anachronism. Since this is the case, fundamentalists are always highly selective, trying to impose parts of the scripture on us but conveniently ignoring the parts even they can’t stomach as modern persons.</p><p>Edwards puts his barb in the title, pointing out that biblical marriage included polygamy. Of course, since Romney is a Mormon, maybe he still surreptitiously believes in that. Since Edwards didn’t follow through with the thought in his title, I thought I’d review the top five worst moments in biblical marriage that are much worse than gay marriage:</p><p>1. Let’s take Solomon, who maintained 300 concubines or sex slaves. 1 Kings 11:3: “He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray.” Led him astray! That’s all the Bible minded about this situation? Abducting 300 people and keeping them immured for sex? And the objection is only that they had a lot of diverse religions and interested Solomon in them? (By the way, this is proof that he wasn’t Jewish but just a legendary Canaanite polytheist). Mitt, I think a settled gay marriage is rather healthier than imprisoning 300 people in your house to have sex with at your whim.</p><p>2. Not only does the Bible authorize slavery and human trafficking, but it urges slaves to “submit themselves” to their masters. It should be remembered that masters had sexual rights over their property assuming the slave-woman was not betrothed to another, and so this advice is intended for concubines as well as other slaves. And, the Bible even suggests that slaves quietly accept sadism and cruelty from their masters: 1 Peter 2:18: “Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the cruel.” So a nice gay marriage between two legal equals with no acts of cruelty would be much better than this biblical nightmare.</p><p>3. Then there is Abraham, who made a sex slave of his wife’s slave, the Egyptian girl Hagar, and then abandoned her to cruel treatment.</p><p>Genesis 16:1-6:</p><blockquote><p>Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; 2 so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.” Abram agreed to what Sarai said. 3 So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. 4 He slept with Hagar, and she conceived. When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. 5 Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the Lord judge between you and me.” 6 “Your slave is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her.</p></blockquote><p>So let’s get this straight. Abraham isn’t said to have married Hagar. Apparently he and Sarah had separate property, because Hagar remains her slave. So he slept with someone else’s slave and got her pregnant. And then when that caused trouble between his wife and her slave, he washed his hands of his property-lover and let his wife mistreat her. As we know from 1 Peter, Hagar was supposed graciously to put up with this, but she was made of fiercer stuff than that, and you really have to root for her in this rather sick family situation.</p><p>A nice gay marriage, now that is positively normal compared to this obviously unhealthy set of relationships.</p><p>4. According Mark 12:19, guys, if your brother kicks the bucket, you have to marry your sister-in-law and knock her up. Since the Bible approved of multiple wives, you have to do this even if you’re already married. If you think in-laws are hard to get along with now, try being married to them. A simple gay household would be have much less drama, Mitt.</p><p>5. So I don’t think this happens very much, but guys, in biblical marriage you might have to cut your wife’s hand off if she defends you too vigorously. That’s right. Say you’re at a bar and this big bald badass with tats starts smashing your face in. And say your wife likes you and wants to stop the guy from giving you a concussion. Say she reaches down and gets him by the balls. So the Bible would reward her for loyalty and bravery and fast thinking, right?</p><p>Nope. Now you have to cut off her hand. I mean have to. You’re not allowed to have a moment of weakness and think about how pretty her fingers are. Off with it, to the wrist.</p><p>Mittens, you think I’m making this up, right?</p><p>Deuteronomy 25:11-12:11</p><blockquote><p>If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts, 12 you shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity.</p></blockquote><p>I’m not sure exactly what kind of weird marriage Deuteronomy is recommending, where certain actions taken by they wife to keep herself from being turned into a widow are punished by her husband by chopping off her hand.</p><p>But I am sure that gay marriages are more understanding and rational that that!</p><p>And here’s a sixth bonus passage: The Bible doesn’t even approve of marriage at all! 1 Corinthians 7:8 “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I do.” So contrary to Mitt’s notion that the Bible authorizes only a single kind of marriage, of which it approves, actually it much prefers believers to die out in a single generation. Only the weak and unbiblical get married.</p><p>So this is the real problem. People like Romney shouldn’t be married in the first place, much less holding up some imaginary ideal of biblical marriage for everybody. And if all the biblical literalists would just obey 1 Corinthians, the whole problem would be over with in just a generation. Then the rest of us could get some peace and make rational policy on social issues.</p><p>And as for getting married biblically, you can do that in all kinds of imaginative ways– take two wives and someone else’s sex slave as Abraham did, or 300 sex slaves as Solomon did (not to mention the 700 wives), or your brother’s widow in addition to your own wife. And remember, if your sex slave runs away because you’re cruel to the person, the Bible (Philemon) says that other people have the duty to return the slave to you, i.e. basically imposes the duty of trafficking slaves back to sadistic sex maniacs who exploit them. But if the owner is nice and a good Christian, he might consider letting the sex slave go. But he doesn’t have to.</p> Mon, 17 Feb 2014 12:07:00 -0800 Juan Cole, 959720 at Belief Belief Sex & Relationships bible Top Ten Things That Don't Make Sense About Obama's Security State <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">All the stories about the government&#039;s quest for Total Information Awareness about the phone calls, email, internet searches, etc. raise some questions.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/obam.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>In <a href="" target="_blank"> a Reuters Exclusive, John Shiffman and Kristina Cooke reveal</a> that the National Security Agency shares information it gleans from warrantless surveillance of Americans with the Special Operation Division of the Drug Enforcement Agency, which then uses the metadata to develop cases against US citizens. The DEA then routinely lies to the judge and defense attorneys during discovery about how its agents initially came by their suspicions of wrongdoing. But you could imagine a situation where a young woman repeatedly called a boyfriend who was secretly known to the DEA to be a drug dealer, but whose crimes were unknown to her. And you could imagine law enforcement entrapping her into making a small drug buy. And then you could imagine their secretly basing their case against her in part on her phone calls to a known dealer. But this latter information would be denied to her defense attorney and the judge, making it harder to discern the entrapment.</p><p>All these stories about the government's quest for Total Information Awareness about the phone calls, email, internet searches, etc. of 312 million ordinary Americans raise some questions in my mind. There are so many things about these stories that don't make sense.</p><ol><li>The government says that they need everyone's phone records because they want to see who calls known overseas terrorists from the US. But if the NSA had a telephone number of a terrorist abroad and wanted to see if it was called from the US, why couldn't it just ask the telephone company for the record of everyone who called it? It isn't true that it would take too much time. It would be instant. Obviously, the government wants the telephone records of millions of Americans for some other reason.</li><br /><li>If the real reason they are getting our phone records from the phone companies <a href="" target="_blank">is to check for drug sales and other petty crime inside the US not related to terrorism</a>, and if they are lying to judges about how they initially came to know of these crimes, aren't the NSA, DEA and other government officials violating the Constitutional guarantee of due process? Are they focusing on drug buys because law enforcement can confiscate the property of drug dealers, whereas busting other kinds of crime actually costs time and money? And, hasn't their dishonesty and its revelation just put in danger thousands of drug convictions?</li><br /><li>If the NSA and FBI have all the phone records, bank account information and credit card transactions of everyone, why haven't they been able to find any bankers or financiers who engaged in illegal activity while they were plunging ordinary Americans into poverty and homelessness with the Depression of 2008-2009? After all, they seem to have been able to discover illegal activity by former New York governor Elliott Spitzer, by illegally spying on his bank accounts. Was Spitzer, who was trying to crack down on Wall Street, the only prominent figure in New York engaged in such activities? Maybe some Masters of the Universe on Wall Street were, too? Surely there are telephone, bank and credit card records showing the guilt of the latter?</li><br /><li>If the NSA and ATF have the telephone, credit card and internet records of all Americans, why don't they stop mass shootings? After all, you can't order numerous guns and massive amounts of ammunition and also Batman costumes on line without generating searchable records? Maybe they aren't paying attention to people who suddenly develop an interest in having lots of very large drum magazines for semi-automatic weapons.</li><br /><li>Isn't there a constitutional crisis if the NSA is spying on phone records of people in Colorado where that state legalized the sale of marijuana, and uses its STASI tactics to finger Coloradans legally buying pot and then hauls those people off to federal prison? Where in the constitution does it say that the Federal government can overrule a state about internal state commerce? Where does it say that the Federal government can subvert the state's legislative intention by secretly spying on state residents without a warrant and in contravention of state law?</li><br /><li>Can Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) <a href="" target="_blank">be impeached for denying other representatives in congress basic information about the NSA domestic spying programs</a> and then misrepresenting the decision as a joint one of the Intelligence Committee, and then insisting that the decision is classified from other members of Congress? Can President Obama be impeached for lying to the American people and saying that all members of Congress have been extensively briefed on the NSA spying?</li><br /><li>The government has charged Edward Snowden with espionage because it says his revelations about how the US government is spying on the American public without a warrant will harm our ability to fight terrorism. But if the NSA could overhear al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahir telling his lieutenant in Yemen to carry out a terrorist strike on US embassies, then how could it be that Edward Snowden harmed their ability to monitor such communications?</li><br /><li>If the US drone strikes on al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen are working, why is AQAP after all these years able to make us close 19 African and Middle Eastern embassies for a week?</li><br /><li>Does the FBI actually <a href="" target="_blank">have the authority to order internet companies</a> to let them install "eavesdropping technology [port readers] deep inside companies' internal networks to facilitate surveillance efforts"?</li><br /><li>Why doesn't one of the telecoms adopt a policy of destroying the records of where its customers have been, and who they called, immediately after each call- keeping only a record of how much the call cost? The government can't demand information that a company doesn't have. Wouldn't millions of consumers immediately switch to that carrier? Would the government allow the company to do this? If not, what happened to our Free Enterprise system? Ronald Reagan used to warn that if we gave the government too much power, one day we might suddenly wake up in the Soviet Union of America. Has this day arrived? </li></ol> Sun, 11 Aug 2013 11:58:00 -0700 Juan Cole, Informed Comment 881233 at Civil Liberties Civil Liberties obama nsa security state security fbi cell phones Hey Bill Maher, Being Liberal Doesn't Excuse You From Islamophobia <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">A look at why the comedian seems to have so much animus against Muslims.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/images/managed/media_maher_1174874314.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>Comedian Bill Maher puts himself in the company of “9/11 liberals” who believe that Islam as a religion is different and decidedly worse than all other religions. He said Friday that <a href="">‘at least half of all Muslims believe it is all right to kill someone who insults ‘the Prophet.’</a> His bad faith is immediately apparent in the reference to 9/11, not the work of mainstream Muslims but of <a href="">a political cult whose members often spent their time in strip clubs.</a></p><p>Now, it may be objected that Maher has made a career of attacking all religions, and promoting irreverence toward them. So Islam is just one more target for him. But that tack wouldn’t entirely be true. He explicitly singles Islam out as more, much more homocidal than the other religions. He is personally unpleasant to his Muslim guests, such as Keith Ellison. His reaction to the youth of the Arab Spring gathering to try to overthrow their American-backed dictators was “the Arabs are revolting.” Try substituting “Jews” to see how objectionable that is.</p><p>Maher ironically has de facto joined <a href="">an Islamophobic network</a> that is funded by the Mellon Scaife Foundation and other philanthropies tied to the American Enterprise Institute, etc. which is mainly made up of evangelical Christians, bigoted American Jews who would vote for the Likud Party if they could, and cynical Republican businessmen and politicians casting about for something with which to frighten working class Americans into voting for them.</p><p>Maher is a consistent liberal and donated $1 million to the Obama campaign, so he is in odd company in targeting Muslims this way. So what explains this animus against Muslims in particular? The only thing he has in common with the Islamophobic Right is his somewhat bloodthirsty form of militant Zionism. He strongly supported the Israeli attack on helpless little Lebanon in 2006, in which the Israelis dropped a million cluster bombs on the farms of the south of that country. He talks about how the besieged Palestinians of Gaza deserve to be “nuked.” His interviews with Likudnik Israeli officials are typically fawning, unlike his combative style with other right wing guests.</p><p>In short, Maher is in part reacting as a nationalist to Muslims as a rival national group, and his palpable hatred for them is rooted not in religion but in national self-conception. It is a key tactic of militant Zionism to attempt to demonize and delegitimize Muslims; you don’t have to apologize for colonizing or imposing Apartheid on Palestinians, after all, if they aren’t really human beings. In addition, like many Americans, <a href="">Maher sees the United States, Europe and Israel as ‘the West’ locked in a rivalry</a> with an alien, Islamic civilization that is intrinsically fanatical and backward (his fellow-traveller on this issue, Pamela Geller, uses the word ‘savage.’) Maher is aware of the history of Christian bloodthirstiness, of course, but he often speaks of it as being in the past. He seems to see contemporary Muslims as having the same sorts of flaws (Inquisition, Crusades) as medieval Christianity.</p><p>Maher is not important, but his thesis is widely put forward, and it matters in real people’s lives. There is a <a href="">nation-wide campaign by religious bigots</a> (most of them sadly evangelical Christians) to prevent American Muslims from building mosques in their communities, and one of the reasons often given is ‘fear’ that the Muslims are homicidal and so the mosque is a conspiracy to commit murder waiting to happen. Maher’s singling out of Muslim as different willy-nilly encourages people to treat them as different, i.e., to discriminate against them.</p><p>It is significant that Maher tries to pin the label ‘murderer’ on the Muslims (or half of them?) Because one of the centerpieces of classical Western hatred of Jews was the blood libel, the allegation that they stole the babies of Christians and sacrificed them in secret rituals. It is hard to see what the difference is between that and arguing that some 3 million American Muslims are walking around like a grenade with the pin pulled out. Both blood libels configure a non-Christian group as homicidal, and locate the impulse for their alleged killing sprees in secret religious beliefs opaque to the normal Christian.</p><p>Refuting Maher would be tedious and, as others have noted, like nailing jello to the wall, since he doesn’t have a cogent set of testable theses about Muslims, he just despises them. For what it is worth, <a href="">It is fairly easy to show that Maher’s specific assertions about Muslims</a>, and more especially about American Muslims, are simply not true. Most reject militant groups, and nearly 80% want a two-state solution on Israel and Palestine, i.e. they accept Israel assuming Palestinian statelessness is ended.</p><p>Crowd politics is different in various parts of the world and it is certainly true that riots can be provoked in each culture by different things. It is a straw man to say Muslims “would” kill people for insulting Muhammad. How many such killings happen each year? where? And it stacks the deck against them to single out their motive from other possible impetuses to violence. Is the complaint that they are more violent than other people (not in evidence)? Or that their motives for violence are peculiar (depends on how you classify them)? In the United States, the police beating of Rodney King resulted in 3000 shops being burned down in Los Angeles. Race seems to be the thing that sets off riots in the US. Rioting over race relations is so common that major such incidents, as in Cincinnati, often do not even get national press.</p><p>The touchiness of Muslims about assaults on the Prophet Muhammad is in part rooted in centuries of Western colonialism and neo-colonialism during which their religion was routinely denounced as barbaric by the people ruling and lording it over them. That is, defending the Prophet and defending the post-colonial nation are for the most part indistinguishable, and being touchy over slights to national identity (and yes, Muslimness is a kind of national identity in today’s world) is hardly confined to Muslims.</p><p>In India, <a href="">dozens of Christians have sometimes been killed by rioting Hindus angry</a> over allegations of missionary work. Killing people because you think they tried to convert members of your religion to another religion? Isn’t it because such a conversion is an insult to your gods?</p><p>In Myanmar, angry Buddhists have attacked <a href="">the hapless Muslim minority</a>, sometimes alleging they were avenging an instance of the rape of a Buddhist girl (i.e. these are like lynchings in the Jim Crow South).</p><p>Or then there have been Sri Lanka Buddhist attacks on <a href="">Tamil Christians</a>. In fact, Sri Lanka Buddhists have erected a nasty police state and shown a propensity for violence against the Tamil minority, some elements of which have had revolutionary or separatist aspirations (not everybody in the group deserves to be punished for that).</p><p>And, militant Israeli Jews have <a href="">set fire to Muslim mosques</a> in Palestine and recently <a href="">tried to “lynch” three Palestinians in Jerusalem.</a> If Maher thinks only Muslims are thin-skinned, he should try publicly criticizing Israeli policy in America and see what happens to him.</p><p>Since Iraq didn’t have ‘weapons of mass destruction’ and wasn’t connected to 9/11, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that 300 million Americans brutally attacked and militarily occupied that country for 8 1/2 years, resulting in the deaths of perhaps hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, the wounding of millions, and the displacement of millions more, mainly because Iraq’s leader had talked dirty about America. Now that is touchy.</p><p>Americans tut-tutting over riots in the Arab world appear to have led sheltered lives. In most of the world, crowd actions are common over all kinds of issues, beyond the ones of race, class and college sports teams that routinely provoke them here. When I was living in India there were always items in the newspaper about a bus driver accidentally running over a pedestrian, and then an angry mob forming that killed the bus driver. Neighborhood nationalism. The same sort of crowds gather when a blaspheming author drives his discourse into the sanctity of their neighborhood. It is appalling, but I’m not sure what exactly you would do about that sort of thing. It certainly isn’t confined to Muslims.</p><p>In fact, the crowd that attacked the US embassy in Cairo was just 2000 or so people, tiny by Egyptian standards. A demonstration that only attracted 2000 people would usually be considered a dismal failure in Cairo. Likewise, for all its horror and destructiveness, the crowd that assaulted the US consulate in Benghazi was very small, a few hundred people. Many of them have now been chased out of town by outraged Libyans disturbed at this affront to their city’s reputation as a cradle of a revolution made for the sake of human rights. A<a href=";config=ccQVbeV4dWtbXYtIOV7bJ0">careful comparison in percentage terms of the size of the crowds</a> that protested Mubarak’s rule in Cairo (hundreds of thousands) with the size of those who protested the so-called film attacking the Prophet Muhammad, shows that the latter is hardly worth mentioning.</p><p>Maher is using his position as a comedic gadfly to promote hatred of one-sixth of humankind, and that is wrong, any way you look at it.</p> Tue, 25 Sep 2012 13:05:00 -0700 Juan Cole, Informed Comment 716623 at World Civil Liberties Media World maher islam Top 10 Ways Corporate Food Is Making Us Fat and Threatening Our Food Supplies <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">It all starts with the collosal power that organized businesses have over Congress. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/photo_1348377710971-1-0.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>While it is much better than the fascisms of the Right and the Left, one of the big drawbacks of corporate democracy is that the people are often outgunned. Large corporations account for half of the national economy and pay more for lobbyists to write and pass laws in Congress favorable to themselves than they do in Federal taxes. The way in which the Congressional committees that are supposed to watch certain industries actually become beholden to them is called ‘legislative capture.’</p><p>For this reason, I don’t entirely trust the US government any more to look out for our health. We are increasingly exposed to thousands of chemicals that haven’t really been tested (plastics are full of them). We’re not even given the courtesy of knowing which foods are genetically modified so we can make a market choice for the natural ones.</p><p>Here are the top ten disturbing news stories about our food that have come across my screen in recent days, and which inspire a certain amount of alarm in me.</p><p>1. Sugary, i.e. non-diet soft drinks make you fat, especially if you are genetically at greater risk of being fat. <a href="" target="_blank">According to a study about to appear in the New England Journal of Medicine</a>, teens who had genes that disposed them to put on weight easily were twice as likely to be obese if they drank a lot of soda pop. Pre-modern human beings who lived in conditions of food scarcity probably tried to bulk up when they saw a drought becoming prolonged, and there would have been a survival advantage to being able to put on weight quickly when you were trying. So likely those teens’ bodies thought all the sugar they were being fed was a sign of famine coming, and obliged by storing a lot of fat to get through it. For a certain percentage of the population, extra calories are actually subject to a multiplier effect inside their own bodies. (It can even happen to <a href=",,20632406,00.html" target="_blank">Lady Gaga</a>.)</p><p>Soft drinks have like 160- 180 calories per can and nobody can afford all that in their diet even once daily.</p><p>In other words, not only is Mayor Bloomberg’s policy of banning supersized soft drinks in New York justified, actually people should just never drink sugary soft drinks.</p><p>2. Here’s the kicker. It isn’t just the sugar that puts some people at risk of obesity. It is bisphenol A or BPA, a chemical used to coat the aluminum cans in which soft drinks come (as well as soup and other cans) so as to prevent them from rusting. A <a href="" target="_blank">recent study in JAMA found </a>that the one fourth of the thousands of children and adolescents in their study that had the most BPA in their urine were twice as likely to be obese as those in the one fourth that had the least BPA. So I guess if they were drinking sugary sodas out of cans, they were really doomed to be obese. BPA has been implicated in other studies in “diabetes, cardiovascular disease, reproductive disorders, and obesity in adults.”</p><p>Think you can get away from BPA by avoiding cans and going to plastic bottles instead? Think again. <a href="" target="_blank">It is widely used in the making of clear plastics, and there is evidence that it seeps into us from them</a>.</p><p><a href="" target="_blank">Glass is better.</a></p><p>When exactly will the US government have enough evidence to ban BPA? When we’re all 400 pounds?</p><p>3. The <a href="" target="_blank">Consumer Union has found concerning levels of arsenic</a> in American-grown rice. Apparently much rice in the US is grown in the Southwest and West on land that used to be used for cotton, on which arsenic-laden pesticides were used for decades. Arsenic can cause cancer. Me, I never like to hear the phrases “arsenic” and “in your food” in the same sentence.</p><p>4. Over-use of <a href="" target="_blank">antibiotics may be making us fat</a>. There is now scientific evidence that the antibiotics activate bacteria that are good at turning carbohydrates into fat. That is, the Atkins and Manhattan diets may work mainly because a lot of people’s gut microbe population had already been messed with by the antibiotics. People are always trying to get antibiotics for their children with viruses, which can’t anyway be treated that way. Ironically, they may not only be giving them medicine inappropriate to their malady but may be priming them for diabetes and heart disease later in life.</p><p>5. Speaking of antibiotics, <a href="" target="_blank">150 scientists and physicians are calling for the end of non-medical antibiotics being routinely administered to livestock</a>All that is happening is that we are evolving bacteria to be resistant to antibiotics, and are already killing 100,000 Americans a year that way (more than die of AIDS). This baneful practice, they warn, has to stop.</p><p>6. Genetically modified corn, treated with the pesticide Roundup, <a href="" target="_blank">were found by a French team of scientists to cause more frequent and more rapidly growing tumors in rats</a> than ordinary corn. The study has been criticized and it is based on a small N. But, I’ll tell you what. Let us decide. Could we please have the genetically modified vegetables marked as such, Congress? I know we ordinary folk don’t pay you the way the corporations pay you, but you are supposed to be representing us lab rats too.</p><p>7. The <a href="" target="_blank">global collapse of bee colonies, a severe threat to the world food supply, according to three new studies</a>, is likely being in some part caused by a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids. France and Germany have already banned them. But Corporatocracy America has not. Are there other factors involved in the great bee die-off? Sure, but why not remove a major factor when we can? Oh, and by the way, see 4 above, because another cause may be genetically modified plants that have absorbed pesticides into their genetic structure.</p><p>8. It is not just what corporations put in our food. It is also how they produce it that endangers us. <a href="" target="_blank">Industrialized, often state-subsidized</a> fishing is rapidly depleting world fish stocks. I’ve heard David Suzuki worry that half of all marine species could be extinct in 50 years at this rate, between overfishing and ocean acidification (caused by all the extra carbon we are pumping into the air at the Koch brothers’ behest).</p><p>9. <a href="" target="_blank">Blooms and dead zones in coastal waters from the run-off from corporate farming of massive amounts of nitrogen fertilizer</a> are threatening the health of our seas.</p><p>10. <a href="" target="_blank">40% of US corn production goes to making ethanol, and at a time of drought</a> and high food prices, this policy is indefensible. The US has to relax the laws mandating ethanol. Although ethanol claims to be carbon-neutral because the corn takes carbon dioxide out of the air when it is growing, processing it into ethanol releases a lot of greenhouse gases. Moreover the policy of burning it in cars is apparently on the verge of causing malnutrition.</p> Sun, 23 Sep 2012 12:49:00 -0700 Juan Cole, Informed Comment 715417 at Food Food food corporations corporate Ten Likely Consequences of Muslim anti-US Embassy Riots <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Someone just wants to set the world on fire.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/cairoemb.jpeg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>1. Tourism in Egypt and Tunisia, the economies of which heavily depend on it, is likely to take a nosedive this fall. It is a shame, because <a href="">Tunisia had been hoping for a near return to 2010 levels of 7 million visitors this year</a>. And Egypt’s tourism <a href="">was up 16% over the previous year</a>, though still down by 300,000 visitors a month from summer of 2010.</p><p>2. Likewise, foreign investment will be discouraged. Ironically, the embassy riots broke out <a href="">while a delegation of 100 US business executives was in Cairo looking for investment opportunities.</a> Some of those planning to stay beyond Tuesday are said to have abruptly left the country and <a href="">canny observers spoke of the good will generated during the visit being squandered.</a></p><p>3. Decline of tourism and of foreign investment implies even higher unemployment in countries already plagued by lack of jobs.</p><p>4. In Egypt and Tunisia, the Muslim fundamentalist-dominated governments may well get blamed for failing to maintain public order. In opinion polling, security and fear of crime are major concerns on the part of ordinary Egyptians.</p><p>5. Both the Muslim Brotherhood and the al-Nahdah in Tunisia, fundamentalist parties that did well in the first post-revolution elections, face new parliamentary elections in the near future. If they are in bad odor with the public for failure to provide public order, and for implicitly helping the Salafi rioters, and for failure to improve the economy, they could be punished at the polls. It would be ironic if the impassioned reaction of fundamentalists to a phantom Islamophobic film so turned off the public as to lead to the Muslim religious parties being turned out of office in the next elections.</p><p>6. As a result of these considerations, <a href="">the fundamentalists will blame outside agents provocateurs for the violence, and Israel for provoking it,</a>trying to convince the public that Muslim fundamentalists had nothing to do with the issue.</p><p>7. The attack on the US consulate in Benghazi and the killing of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others almost certainly spells an end to any American interest in intervening in Syria. The longevity of Bashar al-Assad’s secular Baathist regime, now attempting to crush rebels that include a small number of radical Muslim vigilantes, may have just been lengthened. Meanwhile, the Muslim world will be unembarrassed that they got so upset about a Youtube trailer but didn’t seem to care if hundreds of Syrians were killed, arrested and/or tortured every day.</p><p>8. The <a href="">attack on the embassy in Sanaa, Yemen, by some 4,000 angry protesters,</a> will likely draw the US even more into internal Yemeni disputes, since Washington will want to try to destroy the fundamentalist movements there. US drone strikes on radical Muslim movements of an al-Qaeda sort have become commonplace in Yemen. However, no one in the United States will know that Yemen ever existed or that the embassy was attacked, or that the US is pursuing a policy of drone strikes in that country.</p><p>9. Assuming there aren’t any diplomats taken hostage, President Barack Obama will look presidential in dealing with these deaths in Benghazi and his electoral chances may improve.</p><p>10. Mitt Romney <a href="">will go on switching back and forth among his various opinions of the Islamophobic film and of President Obama’s</a> reaction to the Libyan consulate attack.</p><p> </p> Sat, 15 Sep 2012 13:15:00 -0700 Juan Cole, Informed Comment 711088 at World World egypt libya Innocence of Muslims Ten Big Lies Paul Ryan Keeps Repeating That the Corporate Media Refuses to Push Back On <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">A remarkably dishonest campaign is getting even worse, with no accountability from the TV networks.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_70082101.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>This year’s Republican campaign may be the most dishonest in history. A couple of weeks ago I listed 10 major falsehoods and gaffes of Republican VP candidate Paul Ryan. He repeated several of them in his Tampa speech, and added a few more. In honest political debate, when a candidate says something that is not true, he is confronted by journalists and the public, and either gives evidence that it is true, or backs off. Ryan continues to insist on repeating known falsehoods, to the extent that even Fox Cable News lamented his dishonesty.</p><p>Voters need to ask who Ryan represents. It is people who make a million dollars a year or more. Everything he says is intended to produce policy that benefits them, and which hurts working people. Millionaires don’t like having to pay for government-provided infrastructure, or health care for workers, and don’t like having to put up with unions. The rest of us like driving on roads without potholes, over bridges that don’t fall down, and not being bankrupted when we need an operation. Since most Americans would be crazy to vote for policies that only benefit our three million wealthiest, out of 310 million, Ryan tries to appeal to workers with religion (banning abortion). He needs to put together a coalition of millionaires and some religious workers in order to win. But even that wouldn’t be enough. He has to get people on his side who would be hurt by his policies. And that requires that he simply lie to them.</p><p>So here are some new lies he just retailed, along with a reiteration of my earlier refutation of points drawn from his stock speeches, which he put right back in his Convention speech.</p><p>1. Ryan blamed the US credit rating downgrade on President Obama. <a href="">But it was caused by the Republican Congress’s threat not to raise the debt ceiling. </a>That is, the fault for the credit rating downgrade from AAA to AA belongs with… Paul Ryan.</p><p>2. Ryan continues to claim that President Obama said business owners did not build their own businesses. Obama said that business owners benefit from government infrastructure and programs, which they did not build. No small business owner has built an inter-state highway or bridge, but those are the means whereby their goods get to market. Ryan’s (and the GOP’s) talking point in this regard is a typical Karl Rove Big Lie, and among an informed electorate it ought to discredit them.</p><p>3. Ryan depicted Obamacare as virtually a turn to Soviet-style totalitarianism, as incompatible with liberal freedoms for the individual. But the logical conclusion is that Ryan’s running mate, Mitt Romney, turned Massachusetts into a Gulag.</p><p>4. Ryan slammed President Obama for not implementing the deficit-cutting measures recommended by the Simpson-Bowles commission. <a href="">But he himself voted against Simpson-Bowles.</a></p><p>5. <a href="">Ryan keeps attacking Prsident Obama’s stimulus program now</a>. But in 2002 when then President George W. Bush proposed stimulus spending, Ryan supported it. “What we’re trying to accomplish today with the passage of this third stimulus package is to create jobs and help the unemployed,”Ryan told MSNBC in 2002. Ryan says that the stimulus had not positive effects, while economists say it saved or created millions of jobs and pulled the US out of a near-Depression.</p><p>6. Even more embarrassing, <a href="">in 2010, Ryan asked for $20 million in stimulus money from Obama for companies in his district, then repeatedly denied requesting stimulus funds.</a> He finally admitted he had done so, but continues to slam the stimulus program as a failure (even though the economy pulled out of a Depression as a result of it).</p><p>7. Ryan <a href="">slammed President Obama for the closure of an auto plant</a> that closed in late 2008 under George W. Bush. Ryan’s running mate, Mitt Romney, opposed Obama’s actual auto bailout, which was a great success and returned Detroit to profitability.</p><p>8. Paul Ryan charges that Barack Obama has ‘stolen’ $700 billion from medicare for his Obamacare. In fact, these expense reductions do not cut Medicare benefits, <a href="">and, moreover, Romney and Ryan supported these reductions!</a> The difference is that they would give the savings to the affluent, whereas Obama uses them to cover the presently uninsured.</p><p>9. Ryan continues to push his longstanding plans for a steal-from-the-elderly-and-give-to-the-rich medicare plan, which President Obama warned would cost ordinary recipients over $6000 a year extra. <a href="">Politifact checked and rated Obama’s charge as correct, though they noted</a> that the figures referred to CBO analyses of Ryan’s last plan, not his ‘new’ one, which hasn’t been subjected to similar analysis. Ryan certainly recently put forward a plan that would cost ordinary people that much extra.</p><p>10. Ryan neglected to note that under the tax plan he favors, Gov. Mitt Romney would pay less than 1% in annual federal taxes, highlighting Romney’s already low rate compared to ordinary Americans (slightly lower than Ryan’s own!) and putting the spotlight back where Ryan’s appointment was supposed to misdirect it.</p> Fri, 31 Aug 2012 15:30:00 -0700 Juan Cole, Informed Comment 703022 at Election 2016 Election 2016 Media News & Politics romney ryan latinos election 2012 10 Pieces of Bad News for Romney Heading into the GOP Convention <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Isaac isn&#039;t the only storm the Romney-Ryan campaign is sailing through.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/gopcon.jpeg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p> </p><p>1. <a href=";pagewanted=all">Ron Paul declined the opportunity to speak at the Republican Convention</a> because he does not “fully support” Mr. Romney. Paul as the leader of the Libertarian wing of the party and as someone who appeals to youth may just have done some damage, fomenting division at Tampa in Republican ranks.</p><p>2. Romney staffers were hoping for a bounce in Florida because the GOP convention is being held in Tampa. But former <a href="">Republican governor of Florida Charlie Crist has come out</a> for President Obama.</p><p>3. <a href="">Some 60% of likely voters say Obama is in tune with the problems of women. Only 30% say that about</a> Romney.</p><p>4. Romney is so <a href="">tone deaf that he keeps talking about his Swiss and Cayman Islands secret bank accounts.</a> His complaint that he is not going to manipulate his life by closing them reminds me of the BP chairman’s complaint that the Gulf oil spill was making his life miserable.</p><p>5. A new poll of likely voters <a href="">gives Obama a 9-point lead in Pennsylvania.</a>Romney is way behind in electoral college delegates and would need to shift a major state like Pennsylvania into the red column if he is going to win. But that strategy may not be feasible for him.</p><p>6. Romney’s <a href="">relationship to Bain Capital and the continued tax benefits</a> he received from it at a time he says he had already left, may reemerge as campaign issues.</p><p>7. The specter of Todd Akin of “legitimate rape” notoriety haunts Tampa.<a href="">Mike Huckabee, who will address the convention, may be planning to defend the Missouri senate candidate</a> who said women can’t get pregnant from being raped. Romney has been running hard away from Akin even as the GOP platform has adopted the “no exceptions” Akin plank in opposition to abortion. See number 3 above.</p><p>8. <a href="">53% of voters say that Obama “cares about the needs of people;”</a>Romney? Only 39% say that about him.</p><p>9. The American public <a href="">likes Federal services</a> and does not want to give them up for the sake of tax cuts for billionaires. Romney’s plan? Cut Federal services so as to give his rich cronies tax breaks.</p><p>10. Romney had hoped for the undivided attention of the press and the public at Tampa, so as to launch himself into the last phase of the campaign. But he may well have to compete with <a href="">Hurricane Isaac, especially</a> if it gathers strength in the Gulf and slams into the coast.</p> Mon, 27 Aug 2012 13:40:00 -0700 Juan Cole, Informed Comment 700075 at Election 2016 Election 2016 News & Politics election 2012 GOPcon 5 Reasons Israel Is Losing the Public Relations Battle <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">There are some very good reasons -- none of them anti-Semitic -- why Israel is sinking in the perception of the outside world.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/images/managed/storyimages_1342126324_shutterstock94989136.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p> Right-wing Israeli officials are concerned about attempts to "delegitimize" Israel, and fund former officials and intellectuals to attempt to combat this perceived trend. But it seems obvious that Israel is gradually sinking in the perception of the outside world, and there are concrete reasons for this change. Most of them derive from the train wreck that is Israeli Occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and the Israeli blockade on the civilians of the Gaza Strip. Others derive from the hawkishness of the Likud government and its Kadima predecessor. </p> <p> They have nothing to do with anti-Israel sentiments or hatred of Jews. No one is condemning the municipality of Haifa or the administration of Tel Aviv. The criticisms are criticisms of aggressive expansionism and a trigger-happy government. The criticisms are getting louder and more mainstream, with potentially deleterious effects on Israel’s economy as time goes on.</p> <p> <strong>1. Giving the finger to any ‘peace process'</strong></p> <p> <a href="">Israeli land theft in the Palestinian West Bank has reached epic proportions under PM Binyamin Netanyahu</a>, with settlement populations surging 18%. The right-wing in Israel is so isolated from the real world that they have <a href="">begun claiming that the Palestinian territories are not even occupied</a>. They claim that the Palestinian rejection of Israel’s right to exist forces them to occupy Palestine (in fact, the PLO recognized Israel as part of the Oslo accords, after which the Israelis screwed the Palestinians over royally).</p> <p> They distort history and say the most ridiculous things, such as that the League of Nations Mandate awarded to Britain in the 1920s allows them now to steal Palestinian land and water without recompensing them. The brazenness and zombie-like relentlessness of this march onto other people’s land has provoked an increasingly influential international boycott movement, targeting the "settler-industrial complex" that preys on the hapless Palestinians under Israel’s control. <a href="">That is why the Church of England recently endorsed a World Council of Churches-inspired program</a> that brings people to the Occupied Territories to see for themselves what Occupation is doing to the stateless and rights-less Palestinians. The resolution was a major defeat for the Likud, right-wing branches of Zionism. </p> <p> Likewise, the <a href="">US Presbyterian Church very nearly adopted a resolution to disinvest from companies perceived as enabling the Israeli land grab in the West Bank.</a> As it was, they urged positive investment to help the Palestinian victims of Israeli injustice. These votes are straws in the wind. As Israel moves formally to incorporate the West Bank into itself, it must offer citizenship to the Palestinians on the land it covets, or else it would perpetuate the new apartheid.</p> <p> <strong>2. Hypocrisy</strong></p> <p> Israel’s prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu keeps threatening to launch a war on Iran and urging my country to sacrifice its young men, to stop Iran from continuing to enrich uranium. (Iran says the enrichment is for peaceful energy purposes and there is no good evidence to the contrary.)</p> <p> Israel itself not only enriched uranium, it made 400 nuclear bombs. There are <a href="">allegations by an Israeli and American journalist that Israel’s Mossad spy agency has murdered a series of Iranian scientists</a>. (If Iran were alleged to have done something similar at Dimona in Israel, all hell would have broken loose.)</p> <p> And, it now turns out that <a href="">Binyamin Netanyahu was involved in a spy ring that smuggled nuclear triggers out of the United States to Israel.</a> Israel is alleged routinely to threaten to use its nuclear weapons if it doesn’t get its way, deploying a sort of nuclear blackmail. It is very hard to see why Iran’s population should be reduced to a fourth-world standard of living by international sanctions for doing much, much less than Israel has done, or why Netanyahu should be able to smuggle US high-tech out of this country with impunity.</p> <p> <strong>3. Disregard for the rule of law</strong></p> <p> The Israeli practice of kidnapping Palestinians at will and holding them indefinitely without trial is abhorrent to all civilized persons. (They call it <a href="">administrative detention</a> in Tel Aviv.) If a Palestinian is suspected of having actually committed a crime, then it should be possible to present evidence for it and to try the person.</p> <p> Israel took the Palestinian soccer player Mahmoud Sarsak into custody three years ago, and only just released him under severe international pressure. The Israelis say he is an Islamic Jihad terrorist, but clearly have no good evidence for this charge or they would have tried him. Instead, they just put him away, apparently forever. He went on a hunger strike that endangered his life, and provoked <a href="">widespread protests from the soccer playing lobby</a>. But Sarsak’s plight also elicited a condemnation from the <a href="">Austrian senate (Bundesrat)</a>. Israeli complaints that criticizing "administrative detention" is "anti-Semitic" and that after all Syria is doing something much worse are absolutely painful to hear. It is playground ethics: "he hit me first," "you just don’t like me," "why punish me when other kids have done really bad things?"</p> <p> The Israelis would benefit from a reading of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and of the US Bill of Rights on issues such as a fair and speedy trial for everyone arrested, and from an acquaintance with the basic international law of Occupations, which rules out most of their practices toward the Palestinians. Note that when the Bush administration attempted to make Guantanamo a legal black hole, the US Supreme Court struck it down.</p> <p> <strong>4. Punitive policies toward non-combatants</strong></p> <p> The Israeli blockade on the civilian population of Gaza is evil, creepy and illegal in international law. That is why the international community is pushing back. For instance, <a href="">UNESCO is establishing a science chair at a university in Gaza</a>. Israel is the occupying authority in Gaza, and is therefore bound by the Geneva Convention of 1949 on the treatment of its subjects. Some 40% of Palestinian families there are refugees from what is now Israel, expelled by militant members of the Yishuv in 1948, and many of them still live in camps. The blockade has reduced some 56% of them to food insecurity.</p> <p> Israel surrounds the Strip, and destroyed its airport and seaport, preventing it from exporting most of what it makes and produces, and limiting imports. The little territory of 1.6 million Palestinians <a href="">suffers severe health</a> as well as <a href="">mental health damage from these Israeli policies</a>. No Israeli official can explain what future the residents of Gaza might have that is not a kind of Israel-imposed hell. (And no, they aren’t generic "Arabs" who will melt into the great sea of other "Arabs" as the more racist Israelis might hope.)</p> <p> Israeli relations with Turkey, long excellent, have been deeply harmed by the blockade and Israel’s attack on a civilian Turkish aid ship that tried to get supplies to the non-combatant population there. Israel refuses to apologize for killing nine aid workers, including an American citizen.</p> <p> <strong>5. Violations of international law</strong></p> <p> Israel’s occupation forces it into a whole range of illegal and reprehensible behaviors. This is nothing to do with Jews or Israel, it is to do with occupations. <a href="">The Israelis have been arresting minors</a>, sentencing them to harsh terms and fines, and treating them much differently than they would Jewish minors guilty of the same offenses. The British Foreign Office has just condemned these practices.</p> <p> Israeli policies are no more off limits to criticism than are Argentinian or Indonesian ones, despite what the country’s remarkably thin-skinned and intolerant partisans often allege. And, when the chorus of criticism is coming from Anglicans, Presbyterians, the UK Foreign Office, the Austrian Senate, and UNESCO, that is a pretty wide set of world institutions not easily pigeon-holed as mere bigots. Maybe it is time for the Israeli government to reconsider the self-destructive course it is on, which likely will lead to the end of the state some decades hence, as Israeli President Shimon Peres is frantically warning.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Juan Cole is a professor of history at the University of Michigan and maintains the blog <a href="">Informed Comment</a>. </div></div></div> Thu, 19 Jul 2012 10:00:01 -0700 Juan Cole, Informed Comment 671639 at World World News & Politics Media israel public opinion How America Went Rogue: What We All Need to Know About Our Government's Shadow Wars <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Reagan’s shadow government was a disaster, but it was a pygmy compared with Obama’s.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/images/managed/storyimages_1334604477_screenshot20120416at3.27.29pm.png" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p><font color="#222222" face="Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">Covert operations are nothing new in American history, but it could be argued that during the past decade they have moved from being a relatively minor arrow in the national security quiver to being the cutting edge of American power. Drone strikes, electronic surveillance and stealth engagements by military units such as the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), as well as dependence on private corporations, mercenary armies and terrorist groups, are now arguably more common as tools of US foreign policy than conventional warfare or diplomacy. But these tools lend themselves to rogue operations that create peril for the United States when they blow back on us. And they often make the United States deeply unpopular.</font></p> <p><font color="#222222" face="Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">Shadow power has even become an issue in the presidential campaign. Newt Gingrich advocates ramped-up “covert operations” inside Iran. President Obama replied to Mitt Romney’s charge that he is an “appeaser” by suggesting that his critics “ask bin Laden” about that.</font></p> <p><font color="#222222" face="Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">Obama often speaks of the “tide of war receding,” but that phrase refers only to conventional war. In Afghanistan, where the administration hopes to roll up conventional fighting by the end of 2013, it is making plans for long-term operations by special forces through units such as JSOC. It is unclear what legal framework will be constructed for their activities, other than a wink and a nod from President Hamid Karzai.</font></p> <p><font color="#222222" face="Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">Although the Iraqis managed to compel the withdrawal of US troops by the end of last year, Washington is nevertheless seeking to remain influential through shadow power. The US embassy in Baghdad has 16,000 employees, most of them civilian contractors. They include 2,000 diplomats and several hundred intelligence operatives. By contrast, the entire US Foreign Service corps comprises fewer than 14,000. The Obama administration has decided to slash the number of contractors, planning for an embassy force of “only” 8,000. This monument to shadow power clearly is not intended merely to represent US interests in Iraq but rather to shape that country and to serve as a command center for the eastern reaches of the greater Middle East. The US shadow warriors will, for instance, attempt to block “the influence of Iran,” according to the Washington Post. Since Iraq’s Shiite political parties, which dominate Parliament and the cabinet, are often close to Iran, that charge would inescapably involve meddling in internal Iraqi politics.</font></p> <p><font color="#222222" face="Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">Nor can we be sure that the CIA will engage only in espionage or influence-peddling in Iraq. The American shadow government routinely kidnaps people it considers dangerous and has sent them to black sites for torture, often by third-party governments to keep American hands clean. As usual with the shadow government, private corporations have been enlisted to help in these “rendition” programs, which are pursued outside the framework of national and international law and in defiance of the sensibilities of our allies. How the United States might behave in Iraq can be extrapolated from its recent behavior in other allied countries. In November 2009 an Italian court convicted in absentia twenty-three people, most of them CIA field officers who had kidnapped an alleged Al Qaeda recruiter, Abu Omar, on a Milan street in the middle of the day and sent him to Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt for “interrogation.” Obama has explicitly continued this practice as a “counterterrorism tool,” though he says torture has been halted. Iraq is likely to continue to be an arena of such veiled struggles.</font></p> <p><font color="#222222" face="Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">The Obama administration’s severe unilateral sanctions on Iran and attempts to cut that country off from the world banking system have a shadow power aspect. Aimed at crippling Iran’s oil exports, they are making it difficult for Iran to import staples like wheat. Although Washington denies carrying out covert operations in Iran, the US government and allies like Israel are suspected of doing just that. According to anonymous US intelligence officials and military sources interviewed by The New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh, the United States has trained members of the MEK (Mojahedin-e Khalq, or People’s Jihadis), based in Iraq at Camp Ashraf, to spy on Iran and carry out covert operations there, just as Saddam Hussein had done, though any American support for the organization would directly contradict the State Department listing of it as a terrorist organization. The MEK is suspected of carrying out a string of assassinations against Iranian nuclear scientists, but US intelligence leaks say Israel’s Mossad, not the CIA, is the accomplice. Indeed, the difficulty of disentangling Washington’s shadow power from that of its junior partners can be seen in the leak by US intelligence complaining that Mossad agents had impersonated CIA field officers in recruiting members of the Jundullah terrorist group in Iranian Baluchistan for covert operations against Iran. Jundullah, a Sunni group, has repeatedly bombed Shiite mosques in Zahedan and elsewhere in the country’s southeast. Needless to say, the kind of overt and covert pressure Obama is putting on Iran could easily, even if inadvertently, spark a war.</font></p> <p><font color="#222222" face="Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">The recent release of more than 5 million e-mails hacked from the server of the private intelligence firm Stratfor shows that it did more than analysis. It engaged in surveillance and intelligence activities on behalf of corporate sponsors. Dow Chemical, for example, hired Stratfor to monitor a protest group agitating on the issue of the catastrophic 1984 gas leak in Bhopal, India, which killed at least 3,500. WikiLeaks maintains that Stratfor exemplifies the “revolving door” between private intelligence firms and the US government agencies that share information with them.</font></p> <p><font color="#222222" face="Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">The increasingly frequent use of civilian “security contractors” -- essentially mercenaries -- should be a sore point for Americans. The tens of thousands of mercenaries deployed in Iraq were crucial to the US occupation of that country, but they also demonstrate the severe drawbacks of using shadow warriors. Ignorance about local attitudes, arrogance and lack of coordination with the US military and with local police and military led to fiascoes such as the 2007 shootings at Baghdad’s Nisour Square, where Blackwater employees killed seventeen Iraqis. The Iraqi government ultimately expelled Blackwater, even before it did the same with the US military, which had brought the contractors into their country.</font></p> <p><font color="#222222" face="Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">* * *</font></p> <p><font color="#222222" face="Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">The bad feelings toward the United States generated by hired guns can also be seen in the infamous Raymond Davis incident in Lahore, Pakistan. On January 27, 2011, Davis, a CIA contractor, was waiting at a traffic light when two Pakistanis pulled up next to him on a motorcycle. Davis, who later alleged that one of them had a gun, became alarmed and shot the men. The driver survived the initial volley and tried to run away, but Davis shot him twice in the back. Instead of fleeing the scene, he spent time searching and then photographing the bodies and calling the US consulate for an extraction team. Undercover CIA field officers raced toward the site of the shooting in a consulate SUV, hoping to keep Davis out of the hands of Pakistani authorities, who were approaching, sirens blaring. In its haste, the extraction team killed a motorcyclist and failed in its mission. Davis was taken into custody. His cellphone yielded the identities of some forty-five members of his covert network in Pakistan, who were also arrested.</font></p> <p><font color="#222222" face="Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">The incident provoked rolling street demonstrations and enraged Pakistanis, who are convinced that the country is crawling with such agents. Davis was jailed and charged with double homicide, and only released months later, when a Persian Gulf oil monarchy allegedly paid millions on behalf of the United States to the families (in Islamic law, families of a murder victim may pardon the murderer on payment of a satisfactory sum). It was a public relations debacle for Washington, of course, but the salient fact is that a US public servant shot two Pakistanis (likely not terrorists) in cold blood, one of them in the back.</font></p> <p><font color="#222222" face="Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">American drone strikes on individuals and groups in the tribal belt of northwestern Pakistan, as well as in Yemen, also typify Washington’s global shadow wars. The United States has 7,000 unmanned aerial vehicles, which it has deployed in strikes in six countries. Both the CIA and the US military operate the drones. Rather than being adjuncts to conventional war, drone strikes are mostly carried out in places where no war has been declared and no Status of Forces Agreement has been signed. They operate outside the framework of the Constitution, with no due process or habeas corpus, recalling premodern practices of the English monarchy, such as declaring people outlaws, issuing bills of attainder against individuals who offend the crown and trying them in secret Star Chamber proceedings.</font></p> <p><font color="#222222" face="Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">Despite President Obama’s denials, the Britain-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism has found that not only are civilians routinely killed by US drone strikes in northern Pakistan; often people rushing to the scene of a strike to help the wounded are killed by a second launch. The BIJ estimates that the United States has killed on the order of 3,000 people in 319 drone strikes, some 600 of them civilian bystanders and 174 of those, children. Some 84 percent of all such strikes were launched after Obama came to office.</font></p> <p><font color="#222222" face="Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">Moreover, the drone operations are classified. When asked about strikes, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton refuses to confirm or deny that they have occurred. The drones cannot be openly debated in Congress or covered in any detail by the US media. Therefore, they cannot be the subject of a national political debate, except in the abstract. The Congressional intelligence committees are briefed on the program, but it is unlikely that any serious checks and balances can operate in so secret and murky a realm, and the committees’ leaders have complained about the inadequacy of the information they are given. No hearing could be called about them, since the drone strikes cannot be publicly confirmed. Classified operations create gods, above the law.</font></p> <p><font color="#222222" face="Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">* * *</font></p> <p><font color="#222222" face="Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">The WikiLeaks State Department cables reveal that Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh secretly authorized US drone strikes, pledging to take the blame from their angry publics. But a private conversation with a single leader, repeatedly denied thereafter in public, is hardly a treaty. The only international legal doctrine (recognized in the United Nations charter) invoked to justify drone strikes is the right of the United States to defend itself from attack. But it cannot be demonstrated that any drone strike victims had attacked, or were in a position to attack, the United States. Other proposed legal justifications also falter.</font></p> <p><font color="#222222" face="Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">The doctrine of “hot pursuit” does not apply in Yemen or Somalia, and often does not apply in Pakistan, either. The only due process afforded those killed from the air is an intelligence assessment, possibly based on dubious sources and not reviewed by a judge. Those targeted are typically alleged to belong to Al Qaeda, the Taliban or some kindred group, and apparently thought to fall under the mandate of the September 14, 2001, Congressional Authorization for the Use of Military Force by the president against those behind the September 11 attacks and those who harbored them. The AUMF could probably legitimately be applied to Ayman al-Zawahiri’s Al Qaeda faction, which still plots against the United States. But a new generation of Muslim militants has arisen, far too young to be implicated in 9/11 and who may have rethought that disastrous strategy.</font></p> <p><font color="#222222" face="Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">Increasingly, moreover, “Al Qaeda” is a vague term somewhat arbitrarily applied by Washington to regional groups involved in local fundamentalist politics, as with the Partisans of Sharia, the Yemeni militants who have taken over the city of Zinjibar, or expatriate Arab supporters in Pakistan of the Haqqani network of Pashtun fighters -- former allies of the United States in their struggle against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. How long will the AUMF be deployed in the Muslim world to authorize cowboy tactics from the skies? There is no consistency, no application of the rule of law. Guilt by association and absence of due process are the hallmarks of shadow government. In September the Obama administration used a drone to kill a US citizen in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki. But since the Supreme Court had already ruled, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (2006), that the AUMF could not authorize military tribunals for Guantánamo detainees that sidestepped civil due process -- and since the subsequent Military Commissions Act of 2006 allows such tribunals only for aliens -- it is hard to see how Awlaki’s right to a trial could be summarily abrogated. Two weeks after he was killed, his 16-year-old son, also a US citizen and less obviously a menace to the superpower, was also killed by a drone.</font></p> <p><font color="#222222" face="Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">By contrast, the United States and its allies are sanguine about a figure like the Libyan Abdel Hakim Belhadj, now in charge of security in Tripoli, who fought in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union and was later held in US black sites. Released, he emerged as a rebel leader in Libya last year. The circumstantial case against him would easily allow a US drone strike on him even now under the current rules, but he was rehabilitated because of his enmity toward Muammar el-Qaddafi.</font></p> <p><font color="#222222" face="Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">* * *</font></p> <p><font color="#222222" face="Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">Among the greatest dangers to American citizens from Washington’s shadow power is “blowback,” the common term for a covert operation that boomerangs on its initiator. Arguably, the Reagan administration marked a turning point in the history of US infatuation with shadow power. Reagan strong-armed King Fahd of Saudi Arabia into providing funds to the right-wing Contras in Nicaragua, and the president developed his own resources for the Contras by illegally selling weapons to Iran (despite its being on the terrorist watch list and ineligible for such sales). Washington also joined Fahd in giving billions of dollars of arms and aid to the fundamentalist mujahedeen in Afghanistan (“freedom fighters,” Reagan called them, “the equivalent of America’s founding fathers”), where Arab volunteers ultimately coalesced into Al Qaeda. They later used the tradecraft they had absorbed from CIA-trained Afghan colleagues to stage operations in the Middle East against US allies and to carry out the 9/11 attacks. Two allied groups that received massive aid from the Reagan administration became among the deadliest US enemies in Afghanistan after 2002: the Haqqani network and the Hizb-i-Islami. Blowback goes hand in hand with covert operations.</font></p> <p><font color="#222222" face="Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">The use of mercenaries and black units by the US government undermines discipline, lawfulness and a strong and consistent chain of command. Regular armies can be deployed and then demobilized, but Al Qaeda-like networks, once created, cannot be rolled up so easily, and they often turn against former allies. Black intelligence and military operations with virtually no public oversight can easily go rogue.</font></p> <p><font color="#222222" face="Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">Reagan’s shadow government was a disaster, but it was a pygmy compared with Obama’s. Americans will have to be prepared for much more blowback to come if we go on like this -- not to mention further erosion of civil liberties at home, as the shadow government reaches back toward us from abroad. (Electronic surveillance without a warrant and the militarization of our police forces are cases in point.) Moreover, the practices associated with the shadow government, because of the rage they provoke, deepen mistrust of Washington and reduce the international cooperation that the United States, like all countries, needs. The shadow government masquerades as a way to keep the United States strong, but if it is not rolled back, it could fatally weaken American diplomacy.</font></p> <p><font color="#222222" face="Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><br /> Juan Cole is the Richard P. Mitchell Professor of History and the director of the Center for South Asian Studies at the University of Michigan. His latest book, Engaging the Muslim World, is available in a revised paperback edition from Palgrave Macmillan. He runs the Informed Comment website.</font></p> <p><font color="#222222" face="Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">Copyright © 2012 The Nation – distributed by Agence Global<br /></font></p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Juan Cole is a professor of history at the University of Michigan and maintains the popular blog <a href="">Informed Comment</a>. </div></div></div> Sun, 22 Apr 2012 20:00:01 -0700 Juan Cole, The Nation 670446 at World World war pakistan yemen drones Why Washington's Iran Policy Could Lead to Global Disaster <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">What history should teach us about blockading Iran.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p> </p> <p><em>To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the </em><a href=""><em>latest updates from here.</em></a><em>  </em><em><br /></em></p> <p> </p> <p>It’s a policy fierce enough to cause great suffering among Iranians -- and possibly in the long run among Americans, too.  It might, in the end, even deeply harm the global economy and yet, history tells us, it will fail on its own.  Economic war led by Washington (and encouraged by Israel) will not take down the Iranian government or bring it to the bargaining table on its knees ready to surrender its nuclear program.  It might, however, lead to actual armed conflict with incalculable consequences.   </p> <p>The United States is already effectively embroiled in an economic war against Iran.  The Obama administration has subjected the Islamic Republic to the most crippling economic sanctions applied to any country since Iraq was reduced to fourth-world status in the 1990s.  And worse is on the horizon.  A financial blockade is being imposed that seeks to prevent Tehran from selling petroleum, its most valuable commodity, as a way of dissuading the regime from pursuing its nuclear enrichment program. </p> <p>Historical memory has never been an American strong point and so few today remember that a global embargo on Iranian petroleum is hardly a new tactic in Western geopolitics; nor do many recall that the last time it was applied with such stringency, in the 1950s, it led to the overthrow of the government with disastrous long-term blowback on the United States.  The tactic is just as dangerous today.</p> <p>Iran’s supreme theocrat, <a href="">Ayatollah Ali Khamenei</a>, has repeatedly condemned the atom bomb and nuclear weapons of all sorts as tools of the devil, weaponry that cannot be used without killing massive numbers of civilian noncombatants.  In the most emphatic terms, he has, in fact, pronounced them forbidden according to Islamic law.  Based on the latest U.S. intelligence, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has <a href="">affirmed</a> that Iran has not made a decision to pursue a nuclear warhead.  In contrast, hawks in Israel and the United States<a href="">insist</a> that Tehran’s civilian nuclear enrichment program is aimed ultimately at making a bomb, that the Iranians are pursuing such a path in a determined fashion, and that they must be stopped now -- by military means if necessary. </p> <p><strong>Putting the Squeeze on Iran</strong></p> <p>At the moment, the Obama administration and the Congress seem intent on making it impossible for Iran to sell its petroleum at all on the world market.  As 2011 ended, Congress passed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that <a href="">mandates</a> sanctions on firms and countries that deal with Iran’s Central Bank or buy Iranian petroleum (though hardship cases can apply to the Treasury Department for exemptions).  This escalation from sanctions to something like a full-scale financial blockade holds extreme dangers of spiraling into military confrontation.  The Islamic Republic tried to make this point, indicating that it would not allow itself to be strangled without response, by conducting <a href="">naval exercises</a> at the mouth of the Persian Gulf this winter.  The threat involved was clear enough: about one-fifth of the world’s petroleum <a href=",_no_exit_in_the_persian_gulf/">flows through</a> the Gulf, and even a temporary and partial cut-off might prove catastrophic for the world economy.</p> <p>In part, President Obama is clearly attempting by his sanctions-cum-blockade policy to dissuade the government of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu from launching a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.  He argues that severe economic measures will be enough to bring Iran to the negotiating table ready to bargain, or even simply give in. </p> <p>In part, Obama is attempting to please America’s other Middle East ally, <a href="">Saudi Arabia</a>, which also wants Iran’s nuclear program mothballed.  In the process, the U.S. Department of the Treasury has even had Iran’s banks <a href="">kicked off</a> international exchange networks, making it difficult for that country’s major energy customers like South Korea and India to pay for the Iranian petroleum they import.  And don’t forget the administration’s most powerful weapon: most governments and corporations do not want to be cut off from the U.S. economy with a GDP of more than $15 trillion -- still the largest and most dynamic in the world. </p> <p>Typically, the European Union, fearing Congressional sanctions, has<a href="">agreed to cease</a> taking new contracts on Iranian oil by July 1st, a decision that has placed special burdens on struggling countries in its southern tier like Greece and Italy.  With European buyers boycotting, Iran will depend for customers on Asian countries, which jointly purchase some 64% of its petroleum, and <a href=",_sinking_the_petrodollar_in_the_persian_gulf/">those of the global South</a>.  Of these, China and India have declined to join the boycott.  South Korea, which buys $14 billion worth of Iranian petroleum a year, accounting for some 10% of its oil imports, has pleaded with Washington for an exemption, as has Japan which got 8.8% of its petroleum imports from Iran last year, more than 300,000 barrels a day -- and more in absolute terms than South Korea.  Japan, which is planning to cut its Iranian imports by 12% this year, has already <a href="">won an exemption</a>.</p> <p>Faced with the economic damage a sudden interruption of oil imports from Iran would inflict on East Asian economies, the Obama administration has instead attempted to <a href="">extract pledges</a> of future 10%-20% reductions in return for those Treasury Department exemptions.  Since it’s easier to make promises than institute a boycott, allies are lining up with pledges. (Even Turkey has gone this route.) </p> <p><a href=""><img src="" alt="" hspace="6" vspace="6" align="left" /></a>Such vows are almost certain to prove relatively empty.  After all, there are few options for such countries other than continuing to buy Iranian oil unless they can find new sources -- unlikely at present, despite Saudi promises to ramp up production -- or drastically cut back on energy use, ensuring economic contraction and domestic wrath. </p> <p>What this means in reality is that the U.S. and Israeli quest to cut off Iran’s exports will probably be a quixotic one.  For the plan to work, oil demand would have to remain steady and other exporters would have to replace Iran’s roughly 2.5 million barrels a day on the global market.  For instance, Saudi Arabia has increased the amount of petroleum it pumps, and is promising a further rise in output this summer in an attempt to flood the market and allow countries to replace Iranian purchases with Saudi ones. </p> <p>But experts <a href="">doubt</a> the Saudi ability to do this long term and -- most important of all -- global demand is not steady.  It’s crucially on the rise in both China and India.  For Washington’s energy blockade to work, Saudi Arabia and other suppliers would have to reliably replace Iran’s oil production and cover increased demand, as well as expected smaller shortfalls caused by crises in places like Syria and South Sudan and by declining production in older fields elsewhere.  </p> <p>Otherwise a successful boycott of Iranian petroleum will only put drastic upward pressure on oil prices, as Japan has politely but firmly pointed out to the Obama administration.  The most likely outcome: America’s closest allies and those eager to do more business with the U.S. will indeed reduce imports from Iran, leaving countries like China, India, and others in Asia, Africa, and Latin America to dip into the pool of Iranian crude (possibly <a href="">at lower prices</a> than the Iranians would normally charge). </p> <p>Iran’s transaction costs are certainly increasing, its people are beginning to suffer economically, and it may have to <a href="">reduce its exports somewhat</a>, but the tensions in the Gulf have also caused the price of petroleum futures to rise in a way that has probably offset the new costs the regime has borne.  (Experts also estimate that the Iran crisis has already <a href="">added 25 cents</a> to every gallon of gas an American consumer buys at the pump.)</p> <p>Like China, India <a href="">has declined</a> to bow to pressure from Washington.  The government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, which depends on India’s substantial Muslim vote, is not eager to be seen as acquiescent to U.S. strong-arm tactics.  Moreover, lacking substantial hydrocarbon resources, and given Singh’s ambitious plans for an annual growth rate of 9% -- focused on expanding India’s underdeveloped transportation sector (70% of all petroleum used in the world is dedicated to fuelling vehicles) -- Iran is crucial to the country’s future.  </p> <p>To sidestep Washington, India has worked out an agreement to pay for half of its allotment of Iranian oil in rupees, a soft currency.  Iran would then have to use those rupees on food and goods from India, a windfall for its exporters.  Defying the American president yet again, the Indians are even offering a tax break to Indian firms that trade with Iran.  That country is, in turn, offering to pay for some Indian goods with gold.  Since India runs a trade deficit with the U.S., Washington would only hurt itself if it aggressively sanctioned India.</p> <p><strong>A History Lesson Ignored</strong></p> <p>As yet, Iran has shown no signs of yielding to the pressure.  For its leaders, future nuclear power stations promise independence and signify national glory, just as they do for France, which gets nearly 80% of its electricity from nuclear reactors.  The fear in Tehran is that, without nuclear power, a developing Iran could consume all its petroleum domestically, as has happened in Indonesia, leaving the government with no surplus income with which to maintain its freedom from international pressures. </p> <p>Iran is particularly jealous of its independence because in modern history it has so often been dominated by a great power or powers.  In 1941, with World War II underway, Russia and Britain, which<a href="">already controlled</a> Iranian oil, launched an invasion to ensure that the country remained an asset of the Allies against the Axis.  They put the young and inexperienced Mohammed Reza Pahlevi on the throne, and sent his father, Reza Shah, into exile.  The Iranian corridor -- what British Prime Minister Winston Churchill called “the bridge of victory” -- then allowed the allies to effectively channel crucial supplies to the Soviet Union in the war against Nazi Germany.  The occupation years were, however, devastating for Iranians who experienced soaring inflation and famine.</p> <p>Discontent broke out after the war -- and the Allied occupation -- ended.  It was focused on a 1933 agreement Iran had signed with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) regarding the exploitation of its petroleum.  By the early 1950s, the AIOC (which later became British Petroleum and is now BP) was paying more in taxes to the British government than in royalties to Iran for its oil.  In 1950, when it became known that the American ARAMCO oil consortium had offered the king of Saudi Arabia a 50-50 split of oil profits, the Iranians demanded the same terms.</p> <p>The AIOC was initially adamant that it would not renegotiate the agreement.  By the time it softened its position somewhat and began being less supercilious, Iran’s parliamentarians were so angry that they did not want anything more to do with the British firm or the government that supported it. </p> <p>On March 15, 1951, a democratically elected Iranian parliament summarily nationalized the country’s oil fields and kicked the AIOC out of the country.  Facing a wave of public anger, Mohammed Reza Shah acquiesced, appointing Mohammed Mosaddegh, an oil-nationalization hawk, as prime minister. A conservative nationalist from an old aristocratic family, Mosaddegh soon visited the United States seeking aid, but because his nationalist coalition included the Tudeh Party (the Communist Party of Iran), he was increasingly smeared in the U.S. press as a Soviet sympathizer.</p> <p>The British government, outraged by the oil nationalization and fearful that the Iranian example might impel other producers to follow suit, froze that country’s assets and attempted to institute a global embargo of its petroleum.  London placed harsh restrictions on Tehran’s ability to trade, and made it difficult for Iran to convert the pounds sterling it held in British banks.  Initially, President Harry Truman’s administration in Washington was supportive of Iran.  After Republican Dwight Eisenhower was swept into the Oval Office, however, the U.S. enthusiastically joined the oil embargo and campaign against Iran. </p> <p>Iran became ever more desperate to sell its oil, and countries like Italy and Japan were tempted by “wildcat” sales at lower than market prices.  As historian Nikki Keddie has showed, however, Big Oil and the U.S. State Department deployed strong-arm tactics to stop such countries from doing so. </p> <p>In May 1953, for example, sometime Standard Oil of California executive and “petroleum adviser” to the State Department Max Thornburg <a href=";pg=PA127&amp;lpg=PA127&amp;dq=Keddie+Thornburg+Luce+Iran&amp;source=bl&amp;ots=awAvWVpwlf&amp;sig=3EnmsIsP9W3lLdVpPgL5-CQkAS4&amp;hl=en&amp;sa=X&amp;ei=9DKCT4yQEIrWtgf-3vGtBg&amp;sqi=2&amp;ved=0CCsQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&amp;q&amp;f=false">wrote</a> U.S. ambassador to Italy Claire Booth Luce about an Italian request to buy Iranian oil:  “For Italy to clear this oil and take additional cargoes would definitely indicate that it had taken the side of the oil ‘nationalizers,’ despite the hazard this represents to American foreign investments and vital oil supply sources.  This of course is Italy’s right.  It is only the prudence of the course that is in question.”  He then threatened Rome with an end to oil company purchases of Italian supplies worth millions of dollars.</p> <p>In the end, the Anglo-American blockade devastated Iran’s economy and provoked social unrest.  Prime Minister Mosaddegh, initially popular, soon found himself facing a rising wave of labor strikes and protest rallies.  Shopkeepers and small businessmen, among his most important constituents, pressured the prime minister to restore order. When he finally did crack down on the protests (some of them staged by the Central Intelligence Agency), the far left Tudeh Party <a href="">began withdrawing</a> its support.  Right-wing generals, dismayed by the flight of the shah to Italy, the breakdown of Iran’s relations with the West, and the deterioration of the economy, were open to the <a href="">blandishments</a>of the CIA, which, with the help of British intelligence, decided to organize a coup to install its own man in power.</p> <p><strong>A Danger of Blowback</strong></p> <p>The story of the 1953 CIA coup in Iran is <a href="">well known</a>, but that its success depended on the preceding two years of fierce sanctions on Iran’s oil is seldom considered.  A global economic blockade of a major oil country is difficult to sustain.  Were it to have broken down, the U.S. and Britain would have suffered a huge loss of prestige.  Other Third World countries might have taken heart and begun to claim their own natural resources.  The blockade, then, arguably made the coup necessary.  That coup, in turn, led to the rise to power of Ayatollah Khomeini a quarter-century later and, in the end, the present U.S./Israeli/Iranian face-off.  It seems the sort of sobering history lesson that every politician in Washington should consider (and none, of course, does).</p> <p>As then, so now, an oil blockade in its own right is unlikely to achieve Washington’s goals.  At present, the American desire to force Iran to abolish its nuclear enrichment program seems as far from success as ever.  In this context, there’s another historical lesson worth considering: the failure of the <a href="">crippling sanctions</a> imposed on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the 1990s to bring down that dictator and his regime.</p> <p>What that demonstrated was simple enough: ruling cliques with ownership of a valuable industry like petroleum can cushion themselves from the worst effects of an international boycott, even if they pass the costs on to a helpless public.  In fact, crippling the economy tends to send the middle class into a spiral of downward mobility, leaving its members with ever fewer resources to resist an authoritarian government.  The decline of Iran’s once-vigorous Green protest movement of 2009 is probably connected to this, as is a growing sense that Iran is now under foreign siege, and Iranians should rally around in support of the nation. </p> <p>Strikingly, there was a <a href="">strong voter turnout</a> for the recent parliamentary elections where candidates close to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei dominated the results.  Iran’s politics, never very free, have nevertheless sometimes produced surprises and feisty movements, but these days are moving in a decidedly conservative and nationalistic direction.  Only a few years ago, a majority of Iranians disapproved of the idea of having an atomic bomb.  Now, according to a recent Gallup poll, <a href="">more support</a> the militarization of the nuclear program than oppose it.  </p> <p>The great oil blockade of 2012 may still be largely financially focused, but it carries with it the same dangers of escalation and intervention -- as well as future bitterness and blowback -- as did the campaign of the early 1950s.  U.S. and European financial sanctions are already beginning to interfere with the import of staples like wheat, since Iran can no longer use the international banking system to pay for them.  If children suffer or even experience increased mortality because of the sanctions, that development could provoke future attacks on the U.S. or American troops in the Greater Middle East. (Don’t forget that the Iraqi sanctions, considered responsible for the deaths of some 500,000 children, were <a href="">cited</a> by al-Qaeda in its “declaration of war” on the U.S.) </p> <p>The attempt to flood the market and use financial sanctions to enforce an embargo on Iranian petroleum holds many dangers.  If it fails, soaring oil prices could set back fragile economies in the West still recovering from the mortgage and banking scandals of 2008.  If it overshoots, there could be turmoil in the oil-producing states from a sudden fall in revenues. </p> <p>Even if the embargo is a relative success in keeping Iranian oil in the ground, the long-term damage to that country’s fields and pipelines (which might be ruined if they lie fallow long enough) could harm the world economy in the future.  The likelihood that an oil embargo can change Iranian government policy or induce regime change is low, given our experience with economic sanctions in Iraq, Cuba, and elsewhere.  Moreover, there is no reason to think that the Islamic Republic will take its downward mobility lying down. </p> <p>As the sanctions morph into a virtual blockade, they raise the specter that all blockades do -- of provoking a violent response.  Just as dangerous is the specter that the sanctions will drag on without producing tangible results, impelling covert or overt American action against Tehran to save face. And that, friends, is where we came in.</p> <p><em>Juan Cole is the Richard P. Mitchell Professor of History and the director of the Center for South Asian Studies at the University of Michigan.  His latest book, </em><a href="">Engaging the Muslim World</a><em>, is available in a revised paperback edition from Palgrave Macmillan. He runs the</em><a href=""><em>Informed Comment</em></a><em> website. To listen to Timothy MacBain's latest Tomcast audio interview in which Cole discusses the consequences of sanctions on Iran, click <a href="">here</a>, or download it to your iPod <a href=";amp;subid=&amp;amp;offerid=146261.1&amp;amp;type=10&amp;amp;tmpid=5573&amp;amp;">here</a>.</em></p> <p>Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch and join us on<a href="">Facebook.</a></p> <p>Copyright 2012 Juan Cole</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Juan Cole is a professor of history at the University of Michigan and maintains the popular blog <a href="">Informed Comment</a>. </div></div></div> Thu, 12 Apr 2012 05:00:01 -0700 Juan Cole, 670325 at News & Politics iran us blockade 10 Catholic Teachings Conservatives Reject While Obsessing About Birth Control <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Santorum and Gingrich are both Catholics, and wear their faith on their sleeves, but they are hypocritical in picking and choosing when they wish to listen to the bishops.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>The right wing Republican politicians who have been denouncing the requirement that female employees have access to birth control as part of their health benefits as an attack on religious freedom completely ignore the church teachings they don’t agree with. Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich are both Catholics, and wear their faith on their sleeves, but they are hypocritical in picking and choosing when they wish to listen to the bishops. </p> <p>1. So for instance, <a href="">Pope John Paul II was against anyone going to war against Iraq</a> I think you’ll find that <a href="">Rick Santorum managed to ignore that Catholic teaching</a>.</p> <p>2.The Conference of Catholic Bishops <a href="">requires that health care be provided to all Americans</a>. I.e., Rick Santorum’s opposition to universal health care is a betrayal of the Catholic faith he is always trumpeting. </p> <p>3. The Catholic Church <a href="">opposes the death penalty for criminals</a> in almost all situations. (Santorum <a href="">largely supports executions</a>.)</p> <p>4. The US Conference of Bishops <a href="">has urged that the federal minimum wage be increased</a>, for the working poor. Santorum in the Senate <a href="">repeatedly voted against the minimum wage.</a></p> <p> 5. <a href="">The bishops want welfare for all needy families</a>, saying “We reiterate our call for a minimum national welfare benefit that will permit children and their parents to live in dignity. A decent society will not balance its budget on the backs of poor children.” Santorum is a critic of welfare.</p> <p>6. The US bishops say that <a href="">“the basic rights of workers must be respected–the right to productive work, to decent and fair wages, to the organization and joining of unions…”</a>. Santorum, who used to be supportive of unions in the 1990s, has now, predictably, <a href="">turned against them.</a></p> <p>7. Catholic bishops <a href="">demand the withdrawal of Israel from Palestinian territories occupied in 1967</a>. Rick Santorum denies that there are any Palestinians, so I guess he doesn’t agree with the bishops on that one. </p> <p>8. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops <a href="">ripped into Arizona’s law on treatment of immigrants</a>, Cardinal Roger Mahony characterized Arizona’s S.B. 1070 as “the country’s most retrogressive, mean-spirited, and useless anti-immigrant law,” saying it is based on “totally flawed reasoning: that immigrants come to our country to rob, plunder, and consume public resources.” He even suggested that the law is a harbinger of an American Nazism! Santorum <a href="">attacks ‘anchor babies’ or the provision of any services to children of illegal immigrants born and brought up in the US</a>. </p> <p>9. The Bishops have urged that <a href="">illegal immigrants not be treated as criminals</a> and that their contribution to this country be recognized.</p> <p>10. The US Conference of Bishops <a href="">has denounced, as has the Pope, the Bush idea of ‘preventive war’</a>, and has come out against an attack on Iran in the absence of a real and present threat of an Iranian assault on the US. In contrast, Santorum wants to play Slim Pickens in <em>Dr. Strangelove</em> and ride the rocket down on Isfahan himself. </p> <p>The conflict is between Federal authorities and the US Catholic bishops over rules requiring employees of Catholic institutions such as universities and hospitals to have birth control pills supplied to them as part of their health insurance. Because of Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical, <em>Humanae Vitae</em>, the contemporary Roman Catholic church has taken the stand that artificial birth control is immoral. The bishops therefore object to having the church be forced to supply it as part of their employees’ health care packages.</p> <p>The problem is that birth control is legal in the United States, and birth control pills are used for other purposes than contraception (in fact, contraception may not even be the purpose of the majority of prescriptions). Contrary to what Santorum alleges, the prescriptions are relatively expensive for poor and working class families.</p> <p>Religious practices in the United States are trumped by secular law all the time when there is a conflict. Thus, <a href=";handle=hein.journals/wasbur37&amp;div=18&amp;id=&amp;page=">Native Americans who believe in using peyote as part of their religious rituals</a> were fired from their government jobs for doing so, and the US Supreme Court upheld it in 1990.</p> <p>Likewise, traditionalist members of the Sikh religion believe that a man should avoid cutting his hair, and should bind it up in a turban. So what if an orthodox Sikh gets a job as a construction worker? He can’t get a hard hat on over the turban. Does he have the right to forgo the hard hat on the construction site, so as to retain his turban? The question went to the US courts, and they said Sikhs have to wear hard hats. If a brick fell on the turban and killed the Sikh worker, his family could after all sue the construction company for negligence since it did not require him to wear a hard hat. </p> <p>Or there are many instances in which <a href="">Muslim religious laws and practices have been over-ruled in the United States by the courts.</a> American law forbids Muslim-American men to take a second wife, something legal to them in many of their home countries. State law tends to award community property in cases of divorce instead of the much smaller payments men can make to divorced women in Islamic law, even if the couple have specified in their marriage contract that Muslim law (sharia) will govern these issues.</p> <p>I don’t think there is any question that Federal law, and state law, can trump Roman Catholic religious sentiments, just as they trump the religious sentiments and practices of other religious communities where issues of secular justice and equity are at stake.</p> <p>The tradition of American progressive thought is tolerant of religion even while usually not being religious itself. In my view this attitude of tolerance is rooted in James Madison’s theory of democracy, which is that it is best preserved by lively arguments among groups in the body politic that disagree with one another. Thus, while the Roman Catholic church authorities adopted a negative stance toward modernity, cultural pluralism, and democracy in the nineteenth century, the Catholic community in the United States nevertheless contributed in important ways to modernity, cultural pluralism and democracy. Arguably, had the US been entirely Protestant, its law and practice would have evolved in a less pluralistic and tolerant direction.</p> <p>A flourishing Catholic community contributed to social debates and so improved American democracy– witness <a href="">Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker</a> movement. And, the reformist theologians of the twentieth century, most of them European or Latin American, cultivated by American Catholics, made important contributions to our understanding– Karl Rahner, Edward Schillebeeckx, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Hans Kueng, Paulo Freire, and Gustavo Gutierrez. I would argue that Vatican II was an important event in American religious life across the board, not just for American Catholics. It is lack of appreciation of Madisonian conceptions of democracy of pluralism and checks and balances that led the late Christopher Hitchens to disregard altogether the enormous positive contribution of the Church, whether to the education of the poor and working classes or to teaching social justice. (By the way, the argument for democracy depending on diverse voices and vigorous debate is also an argument for the benefits for the US of the advent of Islam in American public life). </p> <p>So, the arguments the bishops are making about the balance between conscience and the obligations of civil law should be welcomed by all Americans as part of our national dialectic.</p> <p>President Obama is to be applauded for at least trying to find a compromise that doesn’t dragoon Catholic institutions into betraying that conscience. In the end, of course, civil law must uphold equitable treatment of all women, and a satisfactory compromise may not be possible. We will be the better for having the debate, and attempting to find a modus vivendi.</p> <p>What isn’t helpful is to have loud-mouthed hypocrites who reject all the humane principles for which the Catholic Church stands getting on a high horse about a third-order teaching such as artificial birth control (on which the position of the church has changed over time, and may change again).</p> <p> </p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Juan Cole is a professor of history at the University of Michigan and maintains the popular blog <a href="">Informed Comment</a>. </div></div></div> Mon, 13 Feb 2012 07:00:01 -0800 Juan Cole, 669585 at News & Politics Belief The Right Wing politics religion jesus republicans contraception catholic church christianity mitt romney birth control institutions bishops humanity compassion controversy principles teachings follow How Students Landed on the Front Lines of Class War <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">University students find themselves victimized by the same neoliberal agenda that has created the current economic crisis.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p> The deliberate pepper-spraying by campus police of nonviolent protesters at UC Davis provoked national outrage. But the horrific incident must not cloud the real question: What led comfortable, bright, middle-class students to join the Occupy protest movement against income inequality and big-money politics in the first place?</p> <p>The University of California system raised tuition by more than <a href="">9 percent</a> this year, and the California State University system upped tuition by 12 percent. The UC system is seriously contemplating a humongous <a href="">16 percent</a> tuition increase for fall 2012. This year, for the first time, the amount families pay in UC tuition <a href="">will exceed</a> state contributions to the university system.</p> <p>University students, who face tuition hikes and state cuts to public education, find themselves victimized by the same neoliberal agenda that has created the current economic crisis, and which profoundly endangers democratic values.</p> <p>The ideal that California embraced in its 1960 <a href="">master plan</a> for higher education, that it should be inexpensive and open to all Californians, is being jettisoned without much debate. The master plan exemplified the thinking on education and democracy typical of Founding Fathers such as Thomas Jefferson. In 1786, Jefferson <a href="">wrote</a> from Europe to a friend:</p> <blockquote> <p>Preach, my dear Sir, a crusade against ignorance; establish and improve the law for educating the common people. Let our countrymen know that the people alone can protect us against these evils [of tyranny], and that the tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance. …</p></blockquote> <p>That is, Jefferson believed that the alternative to publicly funded education was the rise of an oppressive oligarchy that would manipulate the ignorant majority.</p> <p>While the bad economy and the peculiarities of California governance have provoked the state’s budget crisis, the defunding of public higher education has unfolded progressively across the country for two decades. From 1987 through 2007, state support <a href="">declined</a> by about 9 percent overall per student across the United States; for the flagship research campuses, the decline was around 13 percent. The last <a href="">three years</a> have seen especially deep cuts. </p> <p>The increasing privatization of higher education is part and parcel of the neoliberal agenda, which seeks to subordinate everything to soulless markets. As <a href="">Henry A. Giroux</a> writes: “In England and the United States, universities and businesses are forming stronger ties; the humanities are being underfunded; student tuition is rising at astronomical rates; knowledge is being commodified; and research is valued through the lens of an audit culture.”</p> <p>Market fundamentalism is notoriously more interested in process than in outcome, in “efficiency” than in higher ethical values. Those who might applaud the end of the state universities and their transformation into private institutions neglect their essential role in the formation of cultural capital and in promoting social mobility, not to mention in keeping America strong against global competitors (the number of Ph.Ds produced annually is a common index of competitiveness).</p> <p>The assault on publicly funded higher education is wrapped up in the discontents that provoked the Occupy Wall Street movement. Inexpensive state universities are central to the ability of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to move up in the world. The United States used to be known as a society where those at the bottom could hope to get ahead, and where being born with a silver spoon in your mouth was no guarantee of lifetime prosperity. Now, <a href="">upward mobility</a> has gotten harder, the rich more often stay rich, and Europe is the land of opportunity. European state support for institutions of higher education is key to that mobility. The United States of America, born in a rejection of an aristocracy by birth, is increasingly a land of hereditary oligarchs.</p> <p>Not only is a more rigid class structure implied by the decline of public support for state universities, but more fixed race boundaries are, as well. State universities are the most important vehicle for minority students in attaining a degree. While <a href="">800,000</a>minority students attend public universities, fewer than 200,000 can be found on private campuses. If the state universities become as expensive as the privates, the impact on minorities could be severe. It should be noted that the choices made by California are not “natural” or “inevitable.”  Maryland dealt with the recent crisis in a <a href="">progressive way</a> by freezing tuition and raising the corporate tax rate to create a Higher Education Investment Fund. </p> <p>Why have so many state legislatures betrayed their original commitments to American education? Some have preferred to keep state taxes on the wealthy and on corporations low rather than to keep up with demand for places at state universities. Others have different priorities.</p> <p>A year and a half ago, then-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger <a href="">complained</a> that California was spending nearly 11 percent of its budget on prisons and only 7.5 percent on the university system. He noted, “Thirty years ago, 10 percent of the general fund went to higher education and 3 percent went to prisons.”  The spike in penitentiary spending is artificial, and does <a href="">not reflect</a> crime trends. Since the early 1990s, crime in the state has fallen, whereas the prison population has skyrocketed.</p> <p>Stiffer penalties have been set even for victimless, nonviolent, drug-related crimes. California is also one of those states with a “three strikes and you’re out” law, which fills prisons with petty shoplifters while setting more lenient penalties for massive white-collar embezzlement. The Legislature has removed judges’ discretion in releasing prisoners early for good behavior. The clout of the California Correctional Peace Officers’ Union and what has been called the “prison-industrial complex” has played a <a href="">big role</a> in pushing irrational legislation that has swollen the prison population.</p> <p>Nationally, the emphasis on supposed law-and-order issues and the epochal mistake of a “war on drugs” that has criminalized a largely inoffensive and medically useful substance like marijuana have gone hand in hand with a <a href="">militarization</a> of law enforcement. That is, the defunding of higher education in favor of an enormous gulag dovetails with a rise in the paramilitary repression of the population as one of America’s premier industries.</p> <p>Not only are UC Davis students being hit with massive tuition increases to pay for the penitentiaries and their policing, they are also being treated like unruly inmates by a militarizing police force. In the meantime, the country is taking giant strides toward the future Jefferson feared, of poorly educated citizens at risk of being manipulated by rising oligarchs.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Juan Cole is a professor of history at the University of Michigan and maintains the popular blog <a href="">Informed Comment</a>. </div></div></div> Wed, 23 Nov 2011 08:00:01 -0800 Juan Cole, Truthdig 668584 at News & Politics News & Politics Economy students college class war davis pepper spray student debt tuition university of california occupy wall st uc davis occupy the board of educa tuition hikes What Norway's Terrorist Has in Common With the American Tea Party and Right Wing <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Why seeing the world in black and white is so dangerous.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>The revelation by CNN that Norwegian right wing terrorist Anders Behring Breivik<a href=""> kept a diary in which he obsessed about the dangers of cultural Marxism, multiculturalism, and the “Islamification” of Europe</a> will remind many Americans of the tactics of our own right wing (only these themes have been taken up by people much more mainstream in the US than Breivik is in Norway!) The movement to ban the shariah, the castigation of a progressive income tax as “Marxist,” the condemnation of multiculturalism as a threat to Western values, are all themes commonly heard in the US Tea Party and in the right wing of the Israel lobbies.</p> <p>It would be wrong, of course, to suggest that anyone who hits these themes is a terrorist in waiting or supports violence.</p> <p>But here is the reason for which such rhetoric is dangerous and can easily lead to social violence.</p> <p>It is black and white, allowing no nuance. Immigration is not a smooth process, and is attended with problems in some cases. The history of the United States, an immigrant society, suggests that whatever the problems are, they are not insuperable. But Breivik saw Muslim immigration in particular as a threat to the very identity of Europe. That is, if the immigration from the Middle East were allowed to continue, then ultimately there would be no Europe, just a big Iran on all sides of the Mediterranean. Moreover, he imagined this process of Islamification as happening very quickly.</p> <p>Breivik’s thinking is not new under the sun. Protestant Nativists of the <a href="">“Native American” and later “Know-Nothing” (i.e. secret society) movement</a> in the 1830s through 1850s in the United States felt exactly the same way about Catholic immigrants to the US. America wouldn’t be America if this went on. Their values were inherently incompatible with the Constitution. Their loyalties were to an anti-modern foreign court dedicated to reinforcement of political and intellectual tyranny. The hordes of them would take over the country before too long. The combination of black-and-white thinking and a conviction that undesirable change is coming very rapidly often provokes violence. Brian Porter’s <a href=";qid=1311502568&amp;sr=8-1%20">When Nationalism Learned to Hate</a> makes the point about Poland, that peaceful democratic processes depend crucially on patience and a conviction that the future can be won. When members of a movement become impatient and believe that the situation could quickly and unalterably shift against them, they are much more likely to turn to violence.</p> <p>Catholic immigrants to the US, like Muslim immigrants to Europe, cannot in fact be characterized in a black and white way. Catholics in the contemporary US are politically and socially diverse, but on the whole are more <a href="">socially liberal than evangelical Protestants.</a> That is, if the Know-Nothings were afraid of an anti-Enlightenment religious movement, it would have been to their own, Protestant ranks, that they should have looked.</p> <p>Likewise, making a black-and-white division between “Christian” Europe and “Islam” is frankly silly. The European continent is itself a fiction (it is geologically contiguous with North Africa, and there is no eastern geographical feature that divides it from Afro-Asia). Islam has been the religion of millions of Europeans over the past 1400 years, whether in Umayyad Spain, Arab Sicily, or Ottoman Eastern Europe, and Muslim contributions to European advances are widely acknowledged.</p> <p>As for contemporary Muslims in Europe, they are diverse. Overwhelmingly, e.g., <a href="">Parisian Muslims say that they are loyal to France</a>. About half of the Turks in Germany are from the Alevi sect, a kind of folk Shiism, and most of those are not very religious and politically are just social democrats (oh, the horror of Breivik’s nightmare– Muslim progressives in Europe!) That the few hundred thousand Muslims in Spain (pop. 45 mn.) , or the 4 million in Turkey (5 percent of the population) could effect a revolution in European affairs of the sort Breivik fears is frankly absurd, especially since Muslims are not a political bloc who agree with one another about politics and society. They are from different countries and traditions. Many do not have full citizenship or voting rights, most of the rest are apolitical. But even if they became a substantial proportion of the population, they would be unlikely to change Europe’s way of doing things that much.</p> <p>Breivik, of course, also exercised black-and-white thinking about the left of center currents in Europe, amalgamating them all to Marxism, presumably of a Soviet sort, and seeing them as taking over. In fact, ironically, it is parties and rhetoric that Breivik would have approved of that are making the most rapid strides in Europe. Right wing parties that would once have been pariahs have been power brokers in Sweden and Finland, and Nicolas Sarkozy has borrowed so much rhetoric from the LePens that some accuse him of legitimizing them.</p> <p>Worrying about the impact of immigration is not pernicious. Opposing leftist political ideas is everyone’s right in a democracy. Disagreeing over religion is natural.</p> <p>But when you hear people talking about lumping all these issues together; when you hear them obliterating distinctions and using black-and-white rhetoric; when you hear them talk of existential threats, and above all when you see that they are convinced that small movements that they hate are likely to have an immediate and revolutionary impact, then you should be afraid, be very afraid. That is when extremism learns to hate, and turns to violence.</p> <p>Democracy depends on a different kind of rhetoric. Healthy politics is about specific programs, not about conspiracy theories as to what underlies someone’s commitment to a program. Most Americans don’t want people to die because of not being able to afford health care. Lambasting that sentiment as tyrannical Bolshevism is a recipe for social conflict.</p> <p>Unfortunately, some unscrupulous billionaires, Rupert Murdoch and the Koch Brothers prominent among them, have honed <a href="">their propaganda skills in the media and public life</a>. The promotion of hate, panic, and fear, especially if it is tied to specific political, ethnic and religious groups, always risks violence.</p> <p>The real message of Breivik is that we should all take a deep breath and step back from the precipice.</p> <div style="margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 15px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 5px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-width: 0px; border-right-width: 0px; border-bottom-width: 0px; border-left-width: 0px; border-style: initial; border-color: initial; outline-width: 0px; outline-style: initial; outline-color: initial; font-size: 13px; vertical-align: baseline; background-color: transparent; line-height: inherit; text-align: center; ">© 2011 Juan Cole</div> <p> </p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Juan Cole is a professor of history at the University of Michigan and maintains the popular blog <a href="">Informed Comment</a>. </div></div></div> Sun, 24 Jul 2011 07:00:01 -0700 Juan Cole, Informed Comment 667090 at The Right Wing The Right Wing christian tea party Police Downloading Your Data off Your Phone After Pulling You Over -- A Nightmare Reality <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Obama is siding with police who want to use GPS devices to track you without a warrant.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p><em>This</em><a href=""><em>article first appeared on TruthDig</em></a><em>.</em></p> <p>President Barack Obama is actually siding with police who want to use GPS devices to track you without a warrant. It always disturbed me when on "Star Trek" the captain asked the ship's computer where a crew member was and was told the person's exact location. Even civilians such as the ship's physician and the empathy counselor were not immune from these inquiries, the answers to which could after all sometimes have been embarrassing. Is America heading toward being one big star ship, where government officials can casually inquire at will into our whereabouts and private doings?<br /><br /> Among the many elements of the Obama administration that have disappointed civil libertarians is its interest in spying on Americans. The Bush administration had instituted massive warrantless wiretapping and gathering of telephone records, with the complicity of most telecom corporations. Those who care about the Bill of Rights had hoped that Eric Holder's Department of Justice would take a stand for the Fourth Amendment, which should be on the endangered species list along with the golden tree frog and the St. Helena dragonet.<br /><br /> The administration is appealing a Washington, D.C., federal appeals court ruling that threw out the case that law enforcement had built against a suspected cocaine distributor because the officers attached a global positioning satellite tracking device to his automobile without a warrant and then followed his movements for a whole month. That they tracked the suspect for so long without bothering to involve a judge was one basis for the ruling.<br /><br /> Supporters of warrantless surveillance of this sort argue that a person's movements in public are not protected by the Fourth Amendment. But GPS tracking is very precise and can follow a car everywhere--onto farms or estates and into enclosed garages on private property. If there is evidence that a crime is being committed in, say, a garage, then a warrant should be obtained from a judge. In the absence of such evidence it is unconstitutional for the government to monitor the precise location of a piece of private property being driven on or parked on private property.<br /><br /> It should be remembered that it is perfectly possible for the police to make a mistake or act maliciously and to monitor someone who is innocent. The ACLU charges that these practices are increasingly common. If police and other security personnel are allowed to engage in domestic surveillance of this sort without a court warrant, they can start following large numbers of innocent people and learn details of their private lives. Just this year, Tacoma, Wash., police engaged in unconstitutional surveillance of anti-war activists, using an employee at a military base, which is even more troubling. Blanket permission for law enforcement to conduct warrantless GPS tracking of activists could reveal their private peccadilloes, which in turn could be used to blackmail them.<br /><br /> Another egregious case is that of college student Yasir Afifi, who found an FBI tracking device on his automobile during an oil change. Afifi, from a mixed American and Egyptian heritage, has no known associations with radicals, but his father had been active in the local Muslim community until his death last year and the family sends remittances to relatives in Egypt, a pattern of behavior that may have triggered the surveillance. Disturbingly, the federal Ninth District Court of Appeals found that the FBI had a right to put the device on Afifi's car as it sat in his driveway. This ruling violates the principle of "curtilage," which holds that the area immediately around a person's house is protected from unreasonable search by the Fourth Amendment. In a fiery dissent, Judge Alex Kozinski complained that his colleagues' decision gives "the government the power to track the movements of every one of us, every day of our lives." It is not known whether the FBI, who monitored Afifi for three to six months, ever obtained a court warrant or, if so, how many months it covered.<br /><br /> In the Washington, D.C., appellate court decision, handed down last fall, Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg shot down the argument that GPS tracking was like tailing a suspect in public. He wrote, "We hold the whole of a person's movements over the course of a month is not actually exposed to the public because the likelihood a stranger would observe all those movements is not just remote, it is essentially nil."<br /><br /> The decision made a distinction between a brief initial evidence-gathering foray and an intensive monthlong act of spying: "It is one thing for a passerby to observe or even to follow someone during a single journey as he goes to the market or returns home from work. It is another thing entirely for that stranger to pick up the scent again the next day and the day after that, week in and week out, dogging his prey until he has identified all the places, people, amusements, and chores that make up that person's hitherto private routine."<br /><br /> Part of what defines public and private is a reasonable citizen's expectations. You wouldn't expect all your movements for a month to be public, even if they were in an automobile. It is that understandable expectation of privacy that brings the Fourth Amendment into play. Ginsburg continued, "A reasonable person does not expect anyone to monitor and retain a record of every time he drives his car, including his origin, route, destination, and each place he stops and how long he stays there; rather, he expects each of those movements to remain disconnected and anonymous." The full court of nine judges upheld the three-judge panel's decision to throw out the case, which was against nightclub owner Antoine Jones.<br /><br /> The federal rulings so far on GPS tracking have been all over the map, so to speak, and that the Fourth Amendment will meaningfully survive the almost cosmic electronic surveillance capabilities of our burgeoning national security state is not at all clear. So far many of our eminent federal judges seem perfectly content with having police officers sneak around in our driveways, with allowing them to attach tracking devices to our private property, and with permitting them then to monitor everywhere we go and everyone we visit, without a warrant, for months at a time. Judge Ginsburg and two colleagues are so far all that stand in the way of this dystopian future becoming our present reality. Unfortunately, because Obama and Holder disagree with Ginsburg, his principled arguments will prevail only if they are permitted to do so by the likes of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Welcome to Starship Amerika.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Juan Cole is a professor of history at the University of Michigan and maintains the popular blog <a href="">Informed Comment</a>. </div></div></div> Wed, 20 Apr 2011 13:00:01 -0700 Juan Cole, Truthdig 666062 at Civil Liberties Media Civil Liberties media technology police michigan telecom gps Was the West's Intervention in Libya Justified? <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Juan Cole defends the use of force to aid the Libyan rebel movement. Professor Prashad warns the US has involved itself in a decades-long internal Libyan struggle.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><div id="transcript"><p>As President Obama defends the U.S.-led military attacks on Libya, we host a debate. University of Michigan Professor Juan Cole has just published an article titled “An Open Letter to the Left on Libya." Cole defends the use of military force to prevent a massacre in Benghazi and to aid the Libyan rebel movement in their liberation struggle. In opposition to U.S. intervention in Libya, University of Trinity Professor Vijay Prashad warns the United States has involved itself in a decades-long internal Libyan struggle while it ignores violent crackdowns by U.S.-backed governments in Bahrain, Yemen and other countries in the region.</p> <p><strong>AMY GOODMAN:</strong> To discuss Libya and the latest developments across the Middle East and North Africa, we’re joined by two guests. Vijay Prashad is chair in South Asian History and professor of international studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, author of 11 books, most recently <em>The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World</em>. He opposes the U.S.-led intervention in Libya. And we’re joined by Juan Cole, professor of history at the University of Michigan. His blog, "Informed Comment," is online at <a href=""></a>. His most recent book is called <em>Engaging the Muslim World</em>.</p> <p>Professor Cole, you support the U.S.-led intervention in Libya. You wrote about it in a <a href="">piece</a> called "An Open Letter to the Left on Libya." Professor Cole is joining us from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Lay out your argument for intervention, Professor Cole.</p> <p><strong>JUAN COLE:</strong> Well, intervention is always a problematic thing, and it could go badly wrong, I have to admit from the outset. But you had a situation in Libya which was pretty peculiar. The uprising was a popular uprising. You had crowds coming out into the streets in downtowns, in Zawiyah, in Zuwarah, in so many of the cities of that country, and Benghazi. You had very substantial numbers of the officer corps defecting to the crowds, declaring for them. And it was chaotic, and it was not well coordinated, but it was nationwide. And I would estimate that, at its height, the people had thrown off Gaddafi’s rule in something on the order of 80 to 90 percent of the country. And mostly, it was done nonviolently.</p> <p>And then the Gaddafi sons, who command these special forces and the tank commanders, made an attempt to put this down. And they did it in the most brutal way possible. They mounted tanks, 30, 40, 50 tanks, sent them into the downtowns of places like Zawiyah, and they just shelled civilian crowds, protesters. They shelled buildings. They brutalized people over days, until they scared everybody and put them down, and then they sent secret police around to round up alleged ringleaders and reestablish secret police rule. And they did this in town after town after town. And then they started rolling the tanks to the east, and they were on the verge of taking the rebel stronghold, Benghazi. And there certainly would have been a massacre there in the same way that there was in Zawiyah, if it hadn’t been stopped at the last moment by United Nations allies.</p> <p>And here we had a situation where the Arab League met and demanded a no-fly zone. The U.S. Senate voted a resolution for a no-fly zone. The United Nations Security Council passed a resolution, 1973, asking not only for a no-fly zone, but for all measures necessary to protect civilian life. And now you have NATO and Arab League members like Qatar and the UAE patrolling Libya’s skies, intervening against those tanks that were wreaking that havoc on ordinary people.</p> <p>This is not something that could have been done in most situations. I mean, you were bringing up places like Yemen. Bombing Yemen would produce no result whatsoever, and I don’t think anybody has asked for Yemen to be bombed. But in Libya, it made a difference. It saved Benghazi. It saved this popular protest movement, which, by the way, includes so many workers and ordinary people. Some of the cities which have thrown off Gaddafi, like Misurata, were known, for instance, for their steel mill. These are progressive forces who were fighting a wretched secret police regime.</p> <p><strong>AMY GOODMAN:</strong> We’re also joined by Vijay Prashad. You are opposed to the intervention. Why?</p> <p><strong>VIJAY PRASHAD:</strong> Well, it’s a long story, and it should go back to a particular kind of understanding of Libyan history, where Libya, from the Ottoman period, has had a divide between the east and the west.</p> <p>Certainly, Gaddafi, since the 1980s, has been a reactionary leader in Libya, and I have never, ever felt—and I’ve written from the ’80s onward—that Gaddafi is on the side of reaction, rather than a progressive. So let there be no mistake that what I would like to suggest is not a defense of Gaddafi by any means.</p> <p>On the other hand, there has been a protest movement in the east, as I said, that goes back several decades. Most recently, on February 17th, 2006, there was an uprising in Benghazi. It was put down. And then, the anniversary came on February 17th of this year. There was an attempt to revive the protest, taking inspiration from other parts of North Africa and the Gulf. So, yes, indeed, there was a popular uprising. It was stronger in the east than in the west, although in working-class areas in Tripoli, there was some sporadic rising that was observed, in Tajura and other neighborhoods. So, that is correct.</p> <p>But very quickly, the French and the United States government came in and attempted to, I think, transform the Arab spring to their advantage. So, for instance, when we talk about the rebel leadership in Benghazi, one should keep in mind that the two principal military leaders, one of whom was a former interior minister in the Gaddafi regime, and the second gentleman was a general who led troops in Chad in the 1980s and was then taken up with the Libyan National Salvation Front, went off to live in Vienna, Virginia, for 30 years, about a 10-minute drive from Langley, and returned to Benghazi to, in a sense, I think, hijack the rebellion on behalf of the forces of reaction. It’s very important to recognize, as Juan said quite correctly, that it’s Qatar and the UAE and the Gulf—the GCC, the Gulf—what is it?—Coordination Council that is behind this—you know, which is the principal Arab support for the humanitarian intervention, as it were, and these are the same places where—the same organization, which has attempted and has now put down the uprising in Bahrain. You had the Saudi Prince Faisal Al Turki talking about the GCC becoming perhaps a NATO of the Gulf region. So, I would like to suggest that, you know, even by February 26th, 27th, when NATO—when the United Nations first took up the Libyan case, the rebellion was not quite a rebel army as it was in Tahrir Square. It had already been substantially co-opted by the people who were on behalf of NATO and the United States.</p> <p>So the first thing I would say is we should be very careful when we think of the rebels. We should not confuse all the rebellions across the Arab world and consider them all to be the same. There are some important differences. And secondly, the United States and NATO has its own agenda here. And when one supports an intervention, I think one should be very careful to see whose intervention we are supporting. Is this on behalf of those young people, the workers and others, with whom we have, you know, allegiances and alliances? Is it going to be on their behalf? Or is it going to be on behalf of people like Khalifa Hifter, the colonel who has returned from Vienna, Virginia, to lead the troops in Benghazi? So I would just like to say that my sense of dismay at this intervention is precisely because I think it’s for the bad side of history, and in some ways it is a measure to clamp down on the Arab spring, to take attention away, as well, from Bahrain and other places, rather than a part of the Arab spring.</p> <p><strong>AMY GOODMAN:</strong> Professor Juan Cole, your response?</p> <p><strong>JUAN COLE:</strong> Well, I just think it’s a mistake to characterize a mass movement of millions of people with reference to one or two individuals. And it’s simply not the case that this was primarily—or, that is to say, only—an eastern uprising. The city of Zuwarah, which is about the farthest west you can get among major population centers, threw off Gaddafi. Zawiyah, which is in the west, threw off Gaddafi. Zintan, a major tribal center of the Zintan tribe, threw off Gaddafi, and Gaddafi’s tanks are still trying to take it back. And Misurata, which is a western city, a major western city of nearly 600,000, threw off Gaddafi. So the east-west divide is a nonstarter here. The west also didn’t want Gaddafi. I would suggest that much of Tripoli didn’t want him, and in especially the working-class districts, Souk Al-Jummah and others, as was mentioned. So, this was a very widely based, geographically and class-wise, widely based uprising.</p> <p>That there are one or two individuals that you can name who came back to Benghazi and declared themselves leaders is irrelevant. We don’t know what the leadership will look like going forward. There are also, you know, allegations that some of the fighters had fought U.S. troops in Iraq and are, quote-unquote, "al-Qaeda." There’s this tendency to try to take one or two individuals and use them as a proxy to stereotype this uprising. You know, it’s just the youth of Libya, it’s the youth of Benghazi, and often city notables and workers’ unions and so forth. It’s just the people. And you’re going to have all kinds of people there, and some of them are criminals, and some of them might have a terrorist past, and some of them might be hooked up with the CIA. I don’t know. But it’s—you can’t use that as a stereotype for the whole movement and say, therefore, it’s all right if these people are massacred with tank and artillery shells as they stand peacefully in the center of a city square like that of Benghazi.</p> <p><strong>AMY GOODMAN:</strong> I wanted to turn to a clip of President Obama last night. In some of his most detailed comments on the Middle East and North Africa uprisings to date, Obama said the U.S. is broadly supportive of the protesters’ demands.</p> <blockquote> <p><strong>PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:</strong> Ten days ago, having tried to end the violence without using force, the international community offered Gaddafi a final chance to stop his campaign of killing or face the consequences. Rather than stand down, his forces continued their advance, bearing down on the city of Benghazi, home to nearly 700,000 men, women and children who sought their freedom from fear.</p></blockquote><blockquote> <p>At this point, the United States and the world faced a choice. Gaddafi declared he would show no mercy to his own people. He compared them to rats and threatened to go door to door to inflict punishment. In the past, we had seen him hang civilians in the streets and kill over a thousand people in a single day. Now we saw regime forces on the outskirts of the city.</p></blockquote><blockquote> <p>We knew that if we wanted—if we waited one more day, Benghazi, a city nearly the size of Charlotte, could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world. It was not in our national interest to let that happen. I refused to let that happen. And so, nine days ago, after consulting the bipartisan leadership of Congress, I authorized military action to stop the killing and enforce U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973.</p></blockquote> <p><strong>AMY GOODMAN:</strong> And then, this is President Obama talking about his broad support for the pro-democracy movements in North Africa and the Middle East.</p> <blockquote> <p><strong>PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:</strong> I believe that this movement of change cannot be turned back and that we must stand alongside those people who believe in the same core principles that have guided us through many storms: our opposition to violence directed at one’s own people; our support for a set of universal rights, including the freedom for people to express themselves and choose their leaders; our support for governments that are ultimately responsive to the aspirations of the people. Born as we are out of a revolution by those who longed to be free, we welcome the fact that history is on the move in the Middle East and North Africa and that young people are leading the way, because wherever people long to be free, they will find a friend in the United States.</p></blockquote> <p><strong>AMY GOODMAN:</strong> President Obama last night, talking about the justification for intervention in Libya and going beyond. Professor Vijay Prashad of Trinity College, your response?</p> <p><strong>VIJAY PRASHAD:</strong> Well, wherever people would like to be free, unless they live in Bahrain, Yemen and, you know, for a long time, even in Egypt, until the tide was too strong for the Americans to push it back.</p> <p>You know, the resolutions that the United Nations passed—1970 was the first resolution, and then 1973—are deeply ambiguous resolutions. They got the support of the Arab League. They got the support tacitly, although they abstained of the Chinese and the Russians, because they said that there was going to be no attempt at assisting the rebels, there was only going to be the obligation to protect civilians. So, President Obama has been playing a tightrope between "we are protecting civilians" and "we want to get rid of Gaddafi."</p> <p>The second thing, get rid of Gaddafi or give assistance to the rebels, is contrary to the U.N. Resolution 1973, and it should be borne in mind that as much as he said we will not commit ground troops, the United States has already committed ground forces. These may not be boots on the ground, but they’re the AC-130 aircraft and the A-10 aircraft, which are both low-flying ground troop support aircrafts. These are not to create a no-fly zone; these are to attack ground troops. So the United States has already taken a position in the middle of a civil war. You know, it has already established that it is, in a sense, the armed wing of the rebels.</p> <p>So, in that sense, President Obama not once in his speech mentioned the rebels themselves. Like Juan, he spoke of the people versus Gaddafi. And I think that that might be too restricting or too general, perhaps, of a framework to understand this. Now, I, too, believe that there is a broad swath of opinion against Gaddafi, but I think that what this intervention has done is it’s narrowed options. And it’s not that two or three people are controlling the entire dynamic, but it is their faction because they have very close ties now with the principal military power in operation in Libya. It is because of their close ties to the principal military power that their hand is strengthened against the other people in the rebellion. We have seen this over and over again during the moment of so-called humanitarian intervention, that sometimes the worst elements take over a popular movement because they have the closest links to imperial forces. You know, there is a broad movement, and that broad movement is going to be sidelined. It’s very interesting that President Obama never talked about the rebels. He only kept indicating the endgame, which is that Gaddafi must go, that itself in contravention to U.N. Resolution 1973. I found it a very peculiar speech. There was no mention of Bahrain, no mention of the Saudi troops crossing the causeway into Manama, no mention of their quest for freedom.</p> <p><strong>AMY GOODMAN:</strong> Juan Cole, your response?</p> <p><strong>JUAN COLE:</strong> Well, I don’t think the situation is comparable to Bahrain. I would like to see the Bahrain monarchy, which is a Sunni monarchy ruling over a Shiite majority, show greater flexibility in meeting popular demands for constitutional revision, for better representation of the Shia in the parliament, for moving the monarchy towards a constitutional monarchy. But to compare tiny Bahrain, where there has been some violence against protesters, to Libya, where there was a national popular uprising and where, in Libya, thousands are dead, not 20, it’s just not on the same scale.</p> <p>And the other thing is, you know, let us be practical, let us be pragmatic. We are people of the left. We care about the ordinary people. We care about workers. We care about the aspirations of the people, and the United States should certainly be putting pressure on the Bahrain monarchy to accommodate them. And in fact, the U.S. has put pressure on it, to the extent that the Saudi government is furious with the United States. I mean, we’re saying it’s not doing enough. The reactionary forces in the Gulf are angry that we’re doing too much. And however, you know, a military intervention in Bahrain is not a practical option, and I cannot see in what way it could even have any hope of success. The Bahraini protesters themselves would object to a direct U.S. or NATO military intervention in Bahrain.</p> <p>In Libya, the people asked for this intervention: they asked for a no-fly zone. And I would be the first to admit that this is going beyond a no-fly zone. There’s also a no-drive zone. The British and the French and the American fighter pilots have taken out tank positions and artillery positions that had been used to subdue villages and towns that had gone into opposition. The Gaddafi regime has been rolled back by these attacks, and that’s part of what the Western understanding, or the NATO and the Arab League understanding, of the U.N. resolution is, is that Gaddafi was wrong to roll tanks and artillery against these civilian crowds and that those have to be withdrawn. And where they’re not withdrawn, they’ll be attacked.</p> <p><strong>AMY GOODMAN:</strong> Let me just put the final question—</p> <p><strong>JUAN COLE:</strong> So, I don’t—I don’t agree that the resolution, which is worded somewhat ambiguously, that the spirit of it has so far been violated. And President Obama made it quite clear that the United States doesn’t intend to press an invasion of a sort that would overthrow Gaddafi directly.</p> <p><strong>AMY GOODMAN:</strong> Let me ask Vijay Prashad, on this issue of Benghazi, that—the promised massacre of the people of Benghazi, what should have happened? How would that have been prevented?</p> <p><strong>VIJAY PRASHAD:</strong> Firstly, I’m not convinced that there would have been a massacre. I think that there were troops inside Benghazi. They are the troops that were trained and armed by the Libyan regime. They had repulsed an attempt into Benghazi. The tanks were outside the city when they were bombed by French planes.</p> <p>What I would have liked to have seen was some more action from the—you know, the Arab League to think about, for instance, a war refugee corridor out of Benghazi into the Egyptian border. There is a road that goes directly. It’s interesting that the Egyptian army did not act at all in this, to come and create some kind of corridor. There were war refugees fleeing Tripoli into Tunisia, but there was nothing comparable on the eastern side. This had already become a civil war, and no longer was it simply an unarmed population fighting against a state. It had become a civil war. The real humanitarian intervention there would have been to have conducted the creation of a corridor, a momentary ceasefire, let people leave as war refugees, and then see what happens, because this is not strictly the case in Benghazi of unarmed civilians fighting against a state. It is precisely why General Ham of the African Command said that from a cockpit it is very hard to know whether you’re defending civilians or whether you’re assisting rebels.</p> <p><strong>AMY GOODMAN:</strong> We going to have to leave it—</p> <p><strong>VIJAY PRASHAD:</strong> And he said, in the briefing room we were able to tell it was rebels, but really it was also civilians.</p> <p><strong>AMY GOODMAN:</strong> Vijay Prashad, Juan Cole, we will leave it there, but the debate goes on. Juan Cole, professor at the University of Michigan, blogs at "Informed Comment" at <a href=""></a>—most recent book, <em>Engaging the Muslim World</em>. Vijay Prashad, chair of South Asian History and professor of international studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut—his latest book, <em>The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World</em>.</p> </div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Amy Goodman is the host of the nationally syndicated radio news program, <a href="">Democracy Now!</a>. Juan Cole is a professor of history at the University of Michigan and maintains the popular blog <a href="">Informed Comment</a>. </div></div></div> Tue, 29 Mar 2011 09:00:01 -0700 Vijay Prashad, Amy Goodman, Juan Cole, Democracy Now! 665781 at World World cole intervention libya An Open Letter to the Left on Libya: Why Intervention in Libya Is a Good Thing <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Juan Cole: &quot;I am unabashedly cheering the liberation movement on, and glad that the UNSC-authorized intervention has saved them from being crushed.&quot;</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Now that Qaddafi’s advantage in armor and heavy weapons is being neutralized by the UN allies’ air campaign, <a href="">the liberation movement is regaining lost territory</a>. Liberators took back Ajdabiya and Brega (Marsa al-Burayqa), key oil towns, on Saturday into Sunday morning, and seemed set to head further West. This rapid advance is almost certainly made possible in part by the hatred of Qaddafi among the majority of the people of these cities. The Buraiqa Basin contains much of Libya’s oil wealth, and the Transitional Government in Benghazi will soon again control 80 percent of this resource, an advantage in their struggle with Qaddafi.</p> <p>I am unabashedly cheering the liberation movement on, and glad that the UNSC-authorized intervention has saved them from being crushed. I can still remember when I was a teenager how disappointed I was that Soviet tanks were allowed to put down the Prague Spring and extirpate socialism with a human face. Our multilateral world has more spaces in it for successful change and defiance of totalitarianism than did the old bipolar world of the Cold War, where the US and the USSR often deferred to each other’s sphere of influence.</p> <p>The United Nations-authorized intervention in Libya has pitched ethical issues of the highest importance, and has split progressives in unfortunate ways. I hope we can have a calm and civilized discussion of the rights and wrongs here.</p> <p>On the surface, the situation in Libya a week and a half ago posed a contradiction between two key principles of Left politics: supporting the ordinary people and opposing foreign domination of them. Libya’s workers and townspeople had risen up to overthrow the dictator in city after city– Tobruk, Dirna, al-Bayda, Benghazi, Ajdabiya, Misrata, Zawiya, Zuara, Zintan. Even in the capital of Tripoli, working-class neighborhoods such as Suq al-Jumah and Tajoura had chased out the secret police. In the two weeks after February 17, there was little or no sign of the protesters being armed or engaging in violence.</p> <p>The libel put out by the dictator, that the 570,000 people of Misrata or the 700,000 people of Benghazi were supporters of “al-Qaeda,” was without foundation. That a handful of young Libyan men from Dirna and the surrounding area had fought in Iraq is simply irrelevant. The Sunni Arab resistance in Iraq was for the most part not accurately called ‘al-Qaeda,’ which is a propaganda term in this case. All of the countries experiencing liberation movements had sympathizers with the Sunni Iraqi resistance; in fact opinion polling shows such sympathy almost universal throughout the Sunni Arab world. All of them had at least some fundamentalist movements. That was no reason to wish the Tunisians, Egyptians, Syrians and others ill. The question is what kind of leadership was emerging in places like Benghazi. The answer is that it was simply the notables of the city. If there were an uprising against Silvio Berlusconi in Milan, it would likely unite businessmen and factory workers, Catholics and secularists. It would just be the people of Milan. A few old time members of the Red Brigades might even come out, and perhaps some organized crime figures. But to defame all Milan with them would be mere propaganda.</p> <p>Then Muammar Qaddafi’s sons rallied his armored brigades and air force to bomb the civilian crowds and shoot tank shells into them. Members of the Transitional Government Council in Benghazi estimate that 8000 were killed as Qaddafi’s forces attacked and subdued Zawiya, Zuara, Ra’s Lanuf, Brega, Ajdabiya, and the working class districts of Tripoli itself, using live ammunition fired into defenseless rallies. If 8000 was an exaggeration, simply “thousands” was not, as attested by Left media such as Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now! As Qaddafi’s tank brigades reached the southern districts of Benghazi, the prospect loomed of a massacre of committed rebels on a large scale.</p> <p>The United Nations Security Council authorization for UN member states to intervene to forestall this massacre thus pitched the question. If the Left opposed intervention, it de facto acquiesced in Qaddafi’s destruction of a movement embodying the aspirations of most of Libya’s workers and poor, along with large numbers of white collar middle class people. Qaddafi would have reestablished himself, with the liberation movement squashed like a bug and the country put back under secret police rule. The implications of a resurgent, angry and wounded Mad Dog, his coffers filled with oil billions, for the democracy movements on either side of Libya, in Egypt and Tunisia, could well have been pernicious.</p> <p>The arguments against international intervention are not trivial, but they all did have the implication that it was all right with the world community if Qaddafi deployed tanks against innocent civilian crowds just exercising their right to peaceful assembly and to petition their government. (It simply is not true that very many of the protesters took up arms early on, though some were later forced into it by Qaddafi’s aggressive military campaign against them. There still are no trained troops to speak of on the rebel side).</p> <p>Some have charged that the Libya action has a Neoconservative political odor. But the Neoconservatives hate the United Nations and wanted to destroy it. They went to war on Iraq despite the lack of UNSC authorization, in a way that clearly contravened the UN Charter. Their spokesman and briefly the ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, actually at one point denied that the United Nations even existed. The Neoconservatives loved deploying American muscle unilaterally, and rubbing it in everyone’s face. Those who would not go along were subjected to petty harassment. France, then deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz pledged, would be “punished” for declining to fall on Iraq at Washington’s whim. The Libya action, in contrast, observes all the norms of international law and multilateral consultation that the Neoconservatives despise. There is no pettiness. Germany is not ‘punished’ for not going along. Moreover, the Neoconservatives wanted to exercise primarily Anglo-American military might in the service of harming the public sector and enforced ‘shock therapy’ privatization so as to open the conquered country to Western corporate penetration. All this social engineering required boots on the ground, a land invasion and occupation. Mere limited aerial bombardment cannot effect the sort of extreme-capitalist revolution they seek. <a href="">Libya 2011 is not like Iraq 2003 in any way</a>.</p> <p>Allowing the Neoconservatives to brand humanitarian intervention as always their sort of project does a grave disservice to international law and institutions, and gives them credit that they do not deserve, for things in which they do not actually believe.</p> <p>The intervention in Libya was done in a legal way. It was provoked by a vote of the Arab League, including the newly liberated Egyptian and Tunisian governments. It was urged by a United Nations Security Council resolution, the gold standard for military intervention. (Contrary to what some alleged, the abstentions of Russia and China do not deprive the resolution of legitimacy or the force of law; only a veto could have done that. You can be arrested today on a law passed in the US Congress on which some members abstained from voting.)</p> <p>Among reasons given by critics for rejecting the intervention are:</p> <p>1. Absolute pacifism (the use of force is always wrong)</p> <p>2. Absolute anti-imperialism (all interventions in world affairs by outsiders are wrong).</p> <p>3. Anti-military pragmatism: a belief that no social problems can ever usefully be resolved by use of military force.</p> <p>Absolute pacifists are rare, and I will just acknowledge them and move on. I personally favor an option for peace in world policy-making, where it should be the default initial position. But the peace option is trumped in my mind by the opportunity to stop a major war crime.</p> <p>Leftists are not always isolationists. In the US, progressive people actually went to fight in the Spanish Civil War, forming the Lincoln Brigade. That was a foreign intervention. Leftists were happy about Churchill’s and then Roosevelt’s intervention against the Axis. To make ‘anti-imperialism’ trump all other values in a mindless way leads to frankly absurd positions. I can’t tell you how annoyed I am by the fringe left adulation for Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on the grounds that he is ‘anti-imperialist,’ and with an assumption that he is somehow on the Left. As the pillar of a repressive Theocratic order that puts down workers, he is a man of the far Right, and that he doesn’t like the US and Western Europe doesn’t ennoble him.</p> <p>The proposition that social problems can never be resolved by military force alone may be true. But there are some problems that can’t be solved unless there is a military intervention first, since its absence would allow the destruction of the progressive forces. Those arguing that “Libyans” should settle the issue themselves are willfully ignoring the overwhelming repressive advantage given Qaddafi by his jets, helicopter gunships, and tanks; the ‘Libyans’ were being crushed inexorably. Such crushing can be effective for decades thereafter.</p> <p>Assuming that NATO’s UN-authorized mission in Libya really is limited (<a href="">it is hoping for 90 days</a>), and that a foreign military occupation is avoided, the intervention is probably a good thing on the whole, however distasteful it is to have Nicolas Sarkozy grandstanding. Of course he is not to be trusted by progressives, but he is to his dismay increasingly boxed in by international institutions, which limits the damage he could do as the bombing campaign comes to an end (Qaddafi only had 2000 tanks, many of them broken down, and it won’t be long before he has so few, and and the rebels have captured enough to level the playing field, that little further can be accomplished from the air).</p> <p>Many are crying hypocrisy, citing other places an intervention could be staged or worrying that Libya sets a precedent. I don’t find those arguments persuasive. Military intervention is always selective, depending on a constellation of political will, military ability, international legitimacy and practical constraints. The humanitarian situation in Libya was fairly unique. You had a set of tank brigades willing to attack dissidents, and responsible for thousands of casualties and with the prospect of more thousands to come, where aerial intervention by the world community could make a quick and effective difference.</p> <p>This situation did not obtain in the Sudan’s Darfur, where the terrain and the conflict were such that aerial intervention alone would have have been useless and only boots on the ground could have had a hope of being effective. But a whole US occupation of Iraq could not prevent Sunni-Shiite urban faction-fighting that killed tens of thousands, so even boots on the ground in Darfur’s vast expanse might have failed.</p> <p>The other Arab Spring demonstrations are not comparable to Libya, because in none of them has the scale loss of life been replicated, nor has the role of armored brigades been as central, nor have the dissidents asked for intervention, nor has the Arab League. For the UN, out of the blue, to order the bombing of Deraa in Syria at the moment would accomplish nothing and would probably outrage all concerned. Bombing the tank brigades heading for Benghazi made all the difference.</p> <p>That is, in Libya intervention was demanded by the people being massacred as well as by the regional powers, was authorized by the UNSC, and could practically attain its humanitarian aim of forestalling a massacre through aerial bombardment of murderous armored brigades. And, the intervention could be a limited one and still accomplish its goal.</p> <p>I also don’t understand the worry about the setting of precedents. The UN Security Council is not a court, and does not function by precedent. It is a political body, and works by political will. Its members are not constrained to do elsewhere what they are doing in Libya unless they so please, and the veto of the five permanent members ensures that a resolution like 1973 will be rare. But if a precedent is indeed being set that if you rule a country and send tank brigades to murder large numbers of civilian dissidents, you will see your armor bombed to smithereens, I can’t see what is wrong with that.</p> <p>Another argument is that the no-fly zone (and the no-drive zone) aimed at overthrowing Qaddafi not to protect his people from him but to open the way for US, British and French dominance of Libya’s oil wealth. This argument is bizarre. The US declined to do oil business with Libya in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s, when it could have, because it had placed the country under boycott. It didn’t <i>want</i> access to that oil market, which was repeatedly proffered to Washington by Qaddafi then. After Qaddafi came back in from the cold in the late 1990s (for the European Union) and after 2003 (for the US), sanctions were lifted and Western oil companies flocked into the country. US companies were <a href="">well represented</a>, along with BP and the Italian firm ENI. BP signed an expensive exploration contract with Qaddafi and cannot possibly have wanted its validity put into doubt by a revolution. There is no advantage to the oil sector of removing Qaddafi. Indeed, a new government may be more difficult to deal with and may not honor Qaddafi’s commitments. There is no prospect of Western companies being allowed to own Libyan petroleum fields, which were nationalized long ago. Finally, it is not always in the interests of Big Oil to have more petroleum on the market, since that reduces the price and, potentially, company profits. A war on Libya to get more and better contracts so as to lower the world price of petroleum makes no sense in a world where the bids were already being freely let, and where high prices were producing record profits. I haven’t seen the war-for-oil argument made for Libya in a manner that makes any sense at all.</p> <p>I would like to urge the Left to learn to chew gum and walk at the same time. It is possible to reason our way through, on a case-by-case basis, to an ethical progressive position that supports the ordinary folk in their travails in places like Libya. If we just don’t care if the people of Benghazi are subjected to murder and repression on a vast scale, we aren’t people of the Left. We should avoid making ‘foreign intervention’ an absolute taboo the way the Right makes abortion an absolute taboo if doing so makes us heartless (inflexible a priori positions often lead to heartlessness). It is now easy to forget that Winston Churchill held absolutely odious positions from a Left point of view and was an insufferable colonialist who opposed letting India go in 1947. His writings are full of racial stereotypes that are deeply offensive when read today. Some of his interventions were nevertheless noble and were almost universally supported by the Left of his day. The UN allies now rolling back Qaddafi are doing a good thing, whatever you think of some of their individual leaders.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Juan Cole is a professor of history at the University of Michigan and maintains the popular blog <a href="">Informed Comment</a>. </div></div></div> Tue, 29 Mar 2011 05:00:01 -0700 Juan Cole, 665780 at World World un libya Uprisings in Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt -- America Is Paying the Price for Supporting Corrupt Dictatorships in the Muslim World <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Paranoia about Muslim fundamentalist movements and terrorism is causing Washington to make bad choices that will ultimately harm American interests and standing abroad.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p><em>To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from <a href=""> here</a>.</em></p> <p>Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently took a four-day tour of the Middle East, at each stop telling various allies and enemies, in classic American fashion, what they <em>must</em> do.  And yet as she spoke, events in Lebanon, <a target="_blank" href="">Iraq</a>, <a target="_blank" href="">Algeria</a>, and <a target="_blank" href="">even Egypt</a> seemed to spin ever more out of American control.  Meanwhile, the regime in <a target="_blank" href="">Tunisia</a>, one of the autocratic and repressive states Washington has been supporting for years even as it prattles on about <a target="_blank" href="">“democracy”</a> and “human rights,” began to crumble.   </p> <p>In Doha, Qatar, in front of an elite audience peppered with officials from the region, Clinton suddenly issued a <a target="_blank" href="">warning</a> to Arab leaders that people had “grown tired of corrupt institutions and a stagnant political order” and that “in too many ways, the region’s foundations are sinking into the sand.” With Tunisia boiling over and food riots in Algeria and <a target="_blank" href="">Jordan</a>, she insisted that it was time for America’s allies to mend their ways and open themselves to “reform.” A <em>New York Times</em> <a target="_blank" href="">report</a>, typical of coverage here, described her talk as a “scalding critique” which also “suggested a frustration that the Obama administration’s message to the Arab world had not gotten through.”</p> <p>And there, of course, was the rub.  After all, since Barack Obama entered the Oval Office in January 2009, U.S. foreign policy has essentially been in late-second-term-Bush mode and largely on autopilot, led by a holdover Secretary of Defense and a Secretary of State who might well have been chosen by John McCain, had he won the presidency.  Look at Clinton’s address again and, beyond a reasonably accurate description of some regional problems (and that frustration), only the vaguest of bromides are on offer.</p> <p>The problem: Washington’s foreign-policy planners seem to be <a target="_blank" href="">out of ideas</a>, literally brain-dead, just as the world is visibly in flux.  In their reactions, even in their rhetoric, there is remarkably little new under the sun, though from Tunisia to India, China to Brazil, our world is changing before our eyes.  </p> <p>One of the new things on this planet has certainly been WikiLeaks, whose document dumps were initially greeted by the Obama administration with stunned puzzlement and then with an instructively blind and repressive <a target="_blank" href="">fury</a>.  (Forget the fact that the State Department should be thanking its lucky stars for WikiLeaks’ <a target="_blank" href="">latest document dump</a>.  <a target="_blank" href="">Overshadowed</a> by the Pentagon as it is, all the ensuing attention gave it a prominence that is increasingly ill-deserved.)  As <a target="_blank" href="">TomDispatch regular</a> Juan Cole, who runs the invaluable <a target="_blank" href="">Informed Comment</a> website and is the author of <em><a target="_blank" href="">Engaging the Muslim World</a></em>, makes clear, it’s not just America’s Arab allies who are “sinking into the sand.”  These days, for the Obama administration, it’s a quagmire world.  (To catch Timothy MacBain's latest TomCast audio interview in which Cole discusses Washington’s backing of corrupt autocratic regimes globally, <a target="_blank" href="">click here </a>or, to download it to your iPod, <a target="_blank" href=";subid=&amp;offerid=146261.1&amp;type=10&amp;tmpid=5573&amp;">here</a>.) <em>-- Tomdispatch Editor</em>, Tom Engelhardt.</p> <p><em>Note: Events in Egypt are unfolding rapidly. <a href="">The UK Guardian is posting live updates.</a></em></p> <p><span style="font-size: small;"><strong>The Corruption Game <br /> What the Tunisian Revolution and WikiLeaks Tell Us about American Support for Corrupt Dictatorships in the Muslim World</strong> </span><span style="font-size: medium;"><br /></span>By <a href="" target="_blank">Juan Cole</a></p> <p>Here’s one obvious lesson of the Tunisian Revolution of 2011: paranoia about Muslim fundamentalist movements and terrorism is causing Washington to make bad choices that will ultimately harm American interests and standing abroad.  State Department cable traffic from capitals throughout the Greater Middle East, made public thanks to WikiLeaks, shows that U.S. policy-makers have a detailed and profound picture of the depths of corruption and nepotism that prevail among some “allies” in the region. </p> <p>The same cable traffic indicates that, in a cynical Great Power calculation, Washington continues to sacrifice the prospects of the region’s youth on the altar of “security.”  It is now forgotten that America’s biggest foreign policy headache, the Islamic Republic of Iran, arose in response to American backing for Mohammad Reza Pahlevi, the despised Shah who destroyed the Iranian left and centrist political parties, paving the way for the ayatollahs’ takeover in 1979. State Department cables published via WikiLeaks are remarkably revealing when it comes to the way Tunisian strongman Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and his extended family (including his wife Leila’s Trabelsi clan) fastened upon the Tunisian economy and sucked it dry.  The riveting descriptions of U.S. diplomats make the presidential “family” sound like <em>True Blood’s</em> vampires overpowering Bontemps, Louisiana.</p> <p>In July of 2009, for instance, the U.S. ambassador <a href="" target="_blank">dined with</a> Nesrine Ben Ali el-Materi and Sakher el-Materi, the president’s daughter and son-in-law, at their sumptuous mansion.  Materi, who rose through nepotism to dominate Tunisia’s media, provided a 12-course dinner with Kiwi juice -- “not normally available here” -- and “ice cream and frozen yoghurt he had flown in from Saint Tropez,” all served by an enormous staff of well-paid servants.  The ambassador remarked on the couple’s pet tiger, “Pasha,” which consumed “four chickens a day” at a time of extreme economic hardship for ordinary Tunisians. </p> <blockquote> </blockquote> <p>Other cables <a href="" target="_blank">detail the way</a> the Ben Ali and Trabelsi clans engaged in a Tunisian version of insider trading, using their knowledge of the president’s upcoming economic decisions to scarf up real estate and companies they knew would suddenly spike in value.  In 2006, the U.S. ambassador estimated that 50% of the economic elite of Tunisia was related by blood or marriage to the president, a degree of nepotism hard to match outside some of the Persian Gulf monarchies. </p> <blockquote></blockquote> <p>Despite full knowledge of the corruption and tyranny of the regime, the U.S. embassy <a href="" target="_blank">concluded</a> in July 2009: “Notwithstanding the frustrations of doing business here, we cannot write off Tunisia. We have too much at stake. We have an interest in preventing al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and other extremist groups from establishing a foothold here. We have an interest in keeping the Tunisian military professional and neutral.” </p> <blockquote></blockquote> <p>The notion that, if the U.S. hadn’t given the Tunisian government <a href="" target="_blank">hundreds of millions of dollars</a> in military aid over the past two and a half decades, while helping train its military and security forces, a shadowy fringe group calling itself “al-Qaeda in the Maghreb” might have established a “toehold” in the country was daft.  Yet this became an all-weather, universal excuse for bad policy.</p> <blockquote></blockquote> <p>In this regard, Tunisia has been the norm when it comes to American policy in the Muslim world.  The Bush administration's firm support for Ben Ali makes especially heinous the suggestion of some neoconservative pundits that George W. Bush's use of democratization rhetoric for neo-imperialist purposes somehow inspired the workers and internet activists of Tunisia (none of whom ever referenced the despised former US president).  It would surely have been smarter for Washington to cut the Ben Ali regime off without a dime, at least militarily, and distance itself from his pack of jackals.  The region is, of course, littered with dusty, creaking, now exceedingly nervous dictatorships in which government is theft.  The U.S. receives no real benefits from its damaging association with them.</p> <blockquote></blockquote> <p><strong>No Dominoes to Fall</strong></p> <blockquote></blockquote> <p>The Bush administration’s deeply flawed, sometimes dishonest Global War on Terror replayed the worst mistakes of Cold War policy. One of those errors involved recreating the so-called domino theory -- the idea that the U.S. had to make a stand in Vietnam, or else Indonesia, Thailand, Burma and the rest of Asia, if not the world, would fall to communism.  It wasn’t true then -- the Soviet Union was, at the time, less than two decades from collapsing -- and it isn’t applicable now in terms of al-Qaeda.  Then and now, though, that domino theory prolonged the agony of ill-conceived wars.</p> <blockquote></blockquote> <p>Despite the Obama administration’s abandonment of the phrase “war on terror,” the impulses encoded in it still powerfully shape Washington’s policy-making, as well as its geopolitical fears and fantasies.  It adds up to an absurdly modernized version of domino theory.  This irrational fear that any small setback for the U.S. in the Muslim world could lead straight to an Islamic caliphate lurks beneath many of Washington’s pronouncements and much of its strategic planning. </p> <blockquote></blockquote> <p>A clear example can be seen in the embassy cable that acquiesced in Washington’s backing of Ben Ali for fear of the insignificant and obscure “al-Qaeda in the Maghreb.” Despite the scary name, this small group was not originally even related to Usamah Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda, but rather grew out of the Algerian Muslim reformist movement called Salafism. </p> <blockquote></blockquote> <p>If the U.S. stopped giving military aid to Ben Ali, it was implied, Bin Laden might suddenly be the caliph of Tunis.  This version of the domino theory -- a pretext for overlooking a culture of corruption, as well as human rights abuses against dissidents -- has become so widespread as to make up the warp and woof of America’s secret diplomatic messaging.</p> <blockquote></blockquote> <p><strong>Sinking Democracy in the Name of the War on Terror</strong></p> <blockquote></blockquote> <p>Take Algeria, for instance.  American military assistance to neighboring Algeria <a href=";id=23276" target="_blank">has typically grown</a> from nothing before September 11th to nearly a million dollars a year. It may be a small sum in aid terms, but it is rapidly increasing, and it supplements far more sizeable <a href="" target="_blank">support</a> from the French.  It also involves substantial training for counterterrorism; that is, precisely the skills also needed to repress peaceful civilian protests. </p> <blockquote></blockquote> <p>Ironically, the Algerian generals who control the strings of power were the ones responsible for radicalizing the country’s Muslim political party, the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS).  Allowed to run for office in 1992, that party won an overwhelming majority in parliament.  Shocked and dismayed, the generals abruptly abrogated the election results.  We will never know if the FIS might have evolved into a parliamentary, democratic party, as later happened to the Justice and Development Party of Turkey, the leaders of which had been Muslim fundamentalists in the 1990s. </p> <blockquote></blockquote> <p>Angered at being deprived of the fruits of its victory, however, FIS supporters went on the offensive. Some were <a href="" target="_blank">radicalized and formed</a> an organization they called the Armed Islamic Group, which later became an al-Qaeda affiliate. (A member of this group, Ahmed Ressam, <a href="" target="_blank">attempted to enter</a> the U.S. as part of the "millennial plot" to blow up Los Angeles International Airport, but was apprehended at the border.)  A bloody civil war then broke out in which the generals and the more secular politicians were the winners, though not before 150,000 Algerians died.  As with Ben Ali in neighboring Tunisia, Paris and Washington consider President Abdel Aziz Bouteflika (elected in 1999) a secular rampart against the influence of radical Muslim fundamentalism in Algeria as well as among the Algerian-French population in France.</p> <blockquote></blockquote> <p>To outward appearances, in the first years of the twenty-first century, Algeria regained stability under Bouteflika and his military backers, and the violence subsided.  Critics <a href="" target="_blank">charged</a>, however, that the president connived at legislative changes, making it possible for him to run for a third term, a decision that was bad for democracy.  In the 2009 presidential election, he faced a weak field of rivals and his leading opponent was a woman from an obscure Trotskyite party.</p> <blockquote></blockquote> <p><a href="" target="_blank"><img vspace="6" hspace="6" align="left" alt="" src="" /></a>Cables from the U.S. embassy (revealed again by WikiLeaks) reflected a profound unease with a growing culture of corruption and nepotism, even though it was not on a Tunisian scale.  Last February, for example, Ambassador David D. Pearce <a href="" target="_blank">reported</a> that eight of the directors of the state oil company Sonatrach were under investigation for corruption.  He added, “This scandal is the latest in a dramatically escalating series of investigations and prosecutions that we have seen since last year involving Algerian government ministries and public enterprises.  Significantly, many of the ministries affected are headed by ministers considered close to Algerian President Bouteflika…” </p> <blockquote></blockquote> <p>And this was nothing new. More than three years earlier, the embassy in Algiers was already sounding the alarm.  Local observers, it reported to Washington, were depicting President Bouteflika’s brothers “Said and Abdallah, as being particularly rapacious.”  Corruption was spreading into an increasingly riven and contentious officer corps.  Unemployment among youth was so bad that they were taking to the Mediterranean on rickety rafts in hopes of getting to Europe and finding jobs.  And yet when you read the WikiLeaks cables you find no recommendations to stop supporting the Algerian government.</p> <blockquote></blockquote> <p>As usual when Washington backs corrupt regimes in the name of its war on terror, democracy suffers and things slowly deteriorate.  Bouteflika’s flawed elections which aimed only at ensuring his victory, for instance, actively discouraged moderate fundamentalists from participating and some observers now think that Algeria, already roiled by food riots, could face Tunisian-style popular turmoil.  (It should be remembered, however, that the Algerian military and secret police, with years of grim civil-war experience behind them, are far more skilled at oppressive techniques of social control than the Tunisian army.) </p> <blockquote></blockquote> <p>Were oil-rich Algeria, a much bigger country than Tunisia, to become unstable, it would be a strategically more striking and even less predictable event.  Blame would have to be laid not just at the feet of Bouteflika and his corrupt cronies, but at those of his foreign backers, deeply knowledgeable (as the WikiLeaks cables indicate) but set in their policy ways.</p> <blockquote></blockquote> <p><strong>The Ben Alis of Central Asia</strong></p> <blockquote></blockquote> <p>Nor is the problem confined to North Africa or even anxious U.S.-backed autocrats in the Arab world.  Take the natural gas and gold-rich Central Asian country of Uzbekistan with a population of about 27 million, whose <a href="" target="_blank">corruption</a> the U.S. embassy was cabling about as early as 2006.  The dictatorial but determinedly secular regime of President Islam Karimov was an early Bush administration ally in its Global War on Terror, quite happy to provide Washington with torture-inspired confessions from “al-Qaeda” operatives, most of whom, <a href="" target="_blank">according to</a> former British ambassador Craig Murray, were simply ordinary Uzbek dissidents.  (Although Uzbeks have a Muslim cultural heritage, decades of Soviet rule left most of the population highly secularized, and except in the Farghana Valley, the Muslim fundamentalist movement is tiny.)  Severe human rights abuses finally caused even the Bush administration to criticize Karimov, leading Tashkent to withdraw basing rights in that country from the U.S. military. </p> <blockquote></blockquote> <p>In recent years, however, a <a href="" target="_blank">rapprochement</a> has occurred, as Washington’s regional security obsessions once again came to the fore and the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s northwest tribal belt ramped up.  The Obama administration is now convinced that it needs Uzbekistan for the transit of supplies to Afghanistan and that evidently trumps all other policy considerations.  As a result, Washington is now providing Uzbekistan with <a href="" target="_blank">hundreds of millions of dollars</a> in Pentagon contracts, a recipe for further corruption. </p> <blockquote></blockquote> <p>Last spring, one Central Asian government -- Kyrgyzstan’s -- <a href="" target="_blank">fell</a>, thanks to popular discontent, which should have been a warning to Washington, and yet U.S. officials already appear to have forgotten what lessons those events held for its policies in the region. As long as ruler Kurmanbek Bakiev allowed the U.S. to use Manas Air Base for the transit and supply of American troops in Afghanistan, Washington overlooked his corruption and his authoritarian ways.  Then it turned out that his regime was not as stable as had been assumed.</p> <blockquote></blockquote> <p>Here’s a simple rule of thumb in such situations: bad policy creates even worse policy.  The Obama administration’s mistake in ramping up its Afghan War left it needing ever more supplies, worrying about perilous supply lines through Pakistan, and so vulnerable to transit blackmail by the ruling kleptocracies of Central Asia.  When their populations, too, explode into anger, the likely damage to U.S. interests could be severe. </p> <blockquote></blockquote> <p>And keep in mind that, as the State Department again knows all too well, Afghanistan itself is increasingly just a huge, particularly decrepit version of Ben Ali’s Tunisia. U.S. diplomats were at least somewhat wary of Ben Ali.  In contrast, American officials wax fulsome in their public praise of Afghan President Hamid Karzai (even if privately they are all too aware of the weakness and corruption of “the mayor of Kabul”).  They continue to insist that the success of his government is central to the security of the North American continent, and for that reason, Washington is spending billions of dollars propping him up.</p> <blockquote></blockquote> <p><strong>Corruption Triumphant in the Name of Counterterrorism</strong></p> <blockquote></blockquote> <p>Sometimes it seems that all corrupt regimes backed by the U.S. are corrupt in the same repetitive way.  For instance, one form of corruption U.S. embassy cables particularly highlighted when it came to the Ben Ali and Trabelsi clans in Tunisia was the way they offered “loans” to their political supporters and family members via banks they controlled or over which they had influence. </p> <blockquote></blockquote> <p>Since these recipients understood that they did not actually have to repay the loans, the banks were weakened and other businesses then found it difficult to get credit, undermining the economy and employment. Thanks to the Jasmine revolution, the problem finally is beginning to be addressed. After the flight of Ben Ali, the Central Bank director was <a href="" target="_blank">forced to resign</a>, and the new government seized the assets of the Zitoune Bank, which belonged to one of his son-in-laws. </p> <blockquote></blockquote> <p>Similarly, in Afghanistan, <a href="" target="_blank">Da Kabul Bank</a>, founded by Karzai ally Sherkan Farnood, was used as a piggy bank for Karzai’s presidential campaign and for loans to members of his family as well as the families of the warlords in his circle. Recipients included Karzai’s brother Mahmoud Karzai and Haseen Fahim, the son of his vice president and former Northern Alliance warlord Marshal Mohammad Fahim.  Some of the money was used to buy real estate in Dubai.  When a real estate bust occurred in that country, the value of those properties as collateral plummeted. </p> <blockquote></blockquote> <p>With recipients unable to service or repay their debts, the bank teetered on the edge of insolvency with potentially dire consequences for the entire Afghan financial system, as desperate crowds gathered to withdraw their deposits.  In the end, the bank was taken over by an impoverished Afghan government, which undoubtedly means that the American taxpayer will end up paying for the mismanagement and corruption. </p> <blockquote></blockquote> <p>Just as the Ben Ali clique outdid itself in corruption, so, too, Karzai’s circle is full of crooks.  American diplomats (<a href="" target="_blank">among others</a>) have, for instance, accused his brother Wali Ahmed of deep involvement in the heroin trade.  With dark humor, the American embassy in Kabul reported last January that Hamid Karzai had nominated, and parliament had accepted, for the counter-narcotics post in the cabinet one Zarar Ahmad Moqbel.  He had earlier been Deputy Interior Minister, but was removed for corruption.  Another former Deputy Interior Minister evidently even informed embassy officials that “Moqbel was supported by the drug mafia, to include Karzai’s younger half-brother Ahmed Wali Karzai and Arif Khan Noorzai.”  This is being alleged of Afghanistan's current counter-narcotics czar!</p> <blockquote></blockquote> <p>Or take the example of Juma Khan Hamdard, whom Karzai appointed governor of Paktya Province in the Pashtun-dominated eastern part of Afghanistan.  A little over a year ago, the embassy <a href="" target="_blank">accused him</a> of being the leader of “a province-wide corruption scheme.”  He is said to have been “the central point of a vast corruption network involving the provincial chief of police and several Afghan ministry line directors.” </p> <blockquote></blockquote> <p>According to that WikiLeaks-released cable, Hamdard’s network had set up a sophisticated money-skimming operation aimed at milking U.S. funds going into reconstruction projects.  They gamed the bids on the contracts to do the work and then took cuts at every stage from groundbreaking to ribbon-cutting. </p> <blockquote></blockquote> <p>In addition, Governor Hamdard was reported to have longstanding ties to the Hizb-i Islami militia/party movement of Gulbaddin Hikmatyar, one of the Pashtun guerrilla leaders trying to expel the U.S. and NATO from the country, who, U.S. officials claim, is in turn in a vague alliance with the Taliban.  Hamdard allegedly also has a business in Dubai in which Hikmatyar’s son is a partner, and is accused in the cable of funneling jewels and drug money to Hikmatyar loyalists.  As with Tunisia, the public rhetoric of counterterrorism belies a corrupt and duplicitous ruling elite that may, by its actions, foster rather than forestall radicalism.</p> <blockquote></blockquote> <p><strong>Harsh Truths</strong></p> <blockquote></blockquote> <p>For a superpower obsessed with conspiracy theories and invested in the status quo, knowing everything, it turns out, means knowing nothing at all.  WikiLeaks has done us the favor, however, of releasing a harsh set of truths.  Hard-line policies such as those of the Algerian generals or of Uzbekistan’s Karimov often radicalize economically desperate and oppressed populations.  As a result, U.S. backing has a significant probability of boomeranging sooner or later.  Elites, confident that they will retain such backing as long as there is an al-Qaeda cell anywhere on the planet, tend to overreach, plunging into cultures of corruption and self-enrichment so vast that they undermine economies, while producing poverty, unemployment, despair, and ultimately widespread public anger. </p> <blockquote></blockquote> <p>It is not that the United States should be, in John Quincy Adams’s phrase, going out into the world to find dragons to slay.  Washington is no longer all-powerful, if it ever was, and President Obama’s more realistic foreign policy is a welcome change from George W. Bush’s frenetic interventionism. </p> <blockquote></blockquote> <p>Nonetheless, Obama has left in place, or in some cases strengthened, one of the worst aspects of Bush-era policy: a knee-jerk support for self-advertised pro-Western secularists who promise to block Muslim fundamentalist parties (or, in the end, anyone else) from coming to power.  There should be a diplomatic middle path between overthrowing governments on the one hand, and backing odious dictatorships to the hilt on the other. </p> <blockquote></blockquote> <p>It’s time for Washington to signal a new commitment to actual democracy and genuine human rights by simply cutting off military and counterterrorism aid to authoritarian and corrupt regimes that are, in any case, digging their own graves.</p> <p> </p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Juan Cole is a professor of history at the University of Michigan and maintains the popular blog <a href="">Informed Comment</a>. </div></div></div> Tue, 25 Jan 2011 11:00:01 -0800 Juan Cole, 665050 at News & Politics us foreign policy egypt wikileaks tunisia Tunisian Revolution Shakes and Inspires Middle East <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Every state and movement in the Middle East is reading into the events in Tunisia its own anxieties and aspirations.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>The Tunisian uprising that overthrew the 23-year-old regime of strongman Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali had resonances throughout the Middle East. Leaders of countries invested in the region’s authoritarian and highly unequal status quo rejected the political revolution, while groups and states that want change welcomed it. The spectacle of masses of demonstrators pouring down Avenue Bourguiba in Tunis on Friday, overwhelming security forces and putting the president to flight, raised the hopes of the dispossessed and the downtrodden, even as it inspired a gathering dread in the breasts of the region’s dictators and absolute monarchs. Whether or not, as many observers rushed to predict, a wave of discontent will radiate from Tunis throughout the Arab world (and there are reasons to be cautious about that prospect), the “Jasmine Revolution” is a Rorschach test for distinguishing reactionaries from innovators in the region.</p> <p>Israeli Deputy Prime Minister <a target="_blank" href="">Silvan Shalom worried</a> that the Tunisian events might lead to regime change in other countries. Originally from Tunisia himself, Shalom expressed disquiet that a more democratic Middle East might not share with Tel Aviv a concern with fighting what he called radical fundamentalists, who he said threaten Israel. He was probably talking about the possibility of, say, the Muslim Brotherhood taking over Egypt or Jordan, both of which have peace treaties with Israel that are likely be abrogated if another government comes to power. It is hypocritical, however, for the Israelis, who are always criticizing the Arab world for being undemocratic, to express such anxiety about the prospect of democratization.</p> <p>Among the more forthright condemnations in the Arab world of the crowd action ironically came from an old revolutionary and populist, Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi. An ally of Ben Ali, <a target="_blank" href="">Gadhafi insisted</a> that the dictator was still the country’s legal president, and was the best person to rule it. He upbraided his Tunisian neighbors for their impatience, since Ben Ali had anyway Thursday pledged to step down in 2014. All the Tunisians had accomplished, he lamented, was to trade out one known president for an unknown one. He also denounced as fabrications the U.S. cables <a target="_blank" href="">revealed by WikiLeaks </a>that detailed Ben Ali’s corruption. (A WikiLeaks cable had reported on Gadhafi’s own foibles, including his voluptuous, ever-present Ukrainian nurse.)</p> <p>The quirky Libyan leader’s cautions were clearly aimed as much at his own people as at Tunis. Although Gadhafi rules brutally, he has been better than other rulers of oil states about sharing the wealth (a notion Ben Ali appears never to have heard of). It is not clear that Libyans, recently able to export and develop their petroleum after years of international boycotts over alleged terrorist acts emanating from their government, want to rock the boat. The only<a target="_blank" href=""> recent major protests in Libya</a> have been by the poor over delays in completing the construction of government-funded housing.</p> <p>In Jordan, the protests have been more substantive and broadly based. After a big rally condemning unemployment and high food prices Friday, some 3,000 <a target="_blank" href="">trade unionists, leftists and Muslim fundamentalists </a>staged a protest outside the parliament building in Amman on Sunday. They demanded that Prime Minister Samir Rifai step down in favor of a leader closer to the people, and speakers warmly congratulated the Tunisian people on their victory.</p> <p>In Iraq, Arab inhabitants of the Kurdish-dominated province of Kirkuk threatened to mount a <a target="_blank" href="">Tunisian-style uprising</a> against Kurdish security forces and the Kurdish-dominated police. The ethnic super-province of Kurdistan, dominated by the Kurdish ethnic group, which does not speak Arabic, is attempting to annex Kirkuk to itself, alarming Iraqi Arabs who live there and feel they would face discrimination under such a circumstance.</p> <p>The Lebanese Shiite party-militia, <a target="_blank" href=";language=ar">Hezbolla</a>h, expressed its pride in what the Tunisians had accomplished, and compared the Tunisian events to the 1978-79 revolution in Iran. Iran, itself shaken by its own popular uprising in summer 2009, has been more measured in its comments. Both Syria and Iran blamed Ben Ali’s troubles on his<a target="_blank" href=""> overly cozy relationship</a>with a fickle United States.</p> <p>Every state and movement in the Middle East is reading into the events in Tunisia its own anxieties and aspirations. Powerful states facing opposition such as Libya and Israel were unnerved, and the Tunisians have done us the favor of allowing us to see the similarities between Tripoli and Tel Aviv in this regard. Both appear to feel themselves under siege by rapid and unwelcome change in the region. Oppressed minorities, such as Arabs in Kurdish-dominated areas of Iraq, took heart from the Tunisian achievement. Those movements challenging the status quo, whether Hezbollah in Lebanon or leftists and Muslim fundamentalists in Jordan, were the most vocal in congratulating Tunisia and associating themselves with its achievement. The status quo states afraid of change, including Libya and Israel, have powerful allies in the West and substantial monetary resources. The odds are stacked against people power of the Tunisian sort.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Juan Cole is a professor of history at the University of Michigan and maintains the popular blog <a href="">Informed Comment</a>. </div></div></div> Wed, 19 Jan 2011 08:00:01 -0800 Juan Cole, Truthdig 664962 at World Civil Liberties World middle east revolution tunisia ben ali WikiLeaks: Israel Plans Total War on Lebanon, Gaza <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The Israeli military is planning out massive bombings of areas full of innocent civilians.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>The Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten has summarized an Israeli military briefing by Israeli Chief of Staff Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi of a US congressional delegation a little over a year ago and concludes that:</p> <blockquote> <p>The memo on the talks between Ashkenazi and [Congressman Ike] Skelton, as well as numerous other documents from the same period of time, to which Aftenposten has gained access, leave a clear message: The Israeli military is forging ahead at full speed with preparations for a new war in the Middle East.</p></blockquote> <p>The paper says that US cables quote Ashkenazi telling the US congressmen, "I'm preparing the Israeli army for a major war, since it is easier to scale down to a smaller operation than to do the opposite."</p> <p>The general's plans are driven by fear of growing stockpiles of rockets in Hamas-controlled Gaza and in Hizbullah-controlled Southern Lebanon, the likely theaters of the planned major new war. Ashkenazi does not seem capable of considering that, given a number of Israeli invasions and occupations of those regions, the rockets may be primarily defensive.</p> <p>Ashkenazi told the visiting delegation that Israeli unmanned drones had had great success in identifying rocket emplacements in southern Lebanon, and that it had been aided in this endeavor by the US National Security Agency,which spies on communications.</p> <p>The new, major war will be a total war on civilians, Ashkenazi boasted: "In the next war Israel cannot accept any restrictions on warfare in urban areas." (I den neste krigen kan Israel ikke godta noen restriksjoner på krigforing i byområder in Norwegian, or let us just translate it into the original German: In den nächsten Krieg, den Israel kann keine Beschränkungen Kriegsführung in städtischen Gebieten.) Mind you, the civilian deaths deriving from this massive and unrestricted bombing campaign on targets in the midst of civilian urban populations will be "unintentional." Planning to bomb civilian areas with foreknowledge that you will thereby kill large numbers of civilians is a war crime.</p> <p>Ashkenazi also admitted to then Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) that Hamas is not in control of even more radical groups, which had infiltrated cells into Hamas itself, and which had rocket-making capabilities. In public, Israeli officials routinely demonize Hamas for every rocket fired from the lawless, besieged territory of Gaza, but here in private Ashkenazi was admitting the opposite. He even admitted that Israeli intelligence had no means to distinguish the even-more-radical from the merely Hamas.</p> <p>Other State Department documents on the same theme say that last year this time Hizbullah had about 20,000 rockets, some of which can now reach Tel Aviv, and that the Shiite militia will attempt to stretch out its supplies for a two-month-long war, and would try to lob about 100 rockets at Tel Aviv per day.</p> <p>In the 2006 Israeli war on Lebanon, one fourth of the Israeli population was be forced to move house. It will be more this time, and for longer.</p> <p>The memos reveal that none of the goals of Israel's 2006 war on Lebanon and its 2008-9 war on little Gaza were achieved, and that both Hamas and Hizbullah have effectively re-armed. What makes Ashkenazi think things would be different this time? Israel hawks have doomed themselves to the particular hell of Sisyphus, forced to roll the same stone up the hill over and over again with no hope of ever balancing it on the summit.</p> <p>You know, Israel could have a peace treaty with Syria and Lebanon tomorrow by giving back the Golan Heights and the Shebaa Farms, and by accepting a two-state solution. Instead, its Dr. Strangeloves are planning out massive bombings of areas thick with innocent civilians and willing to subject Tel Aviv to two months worth of rocket fire.</p> <p>Nor will the United States be held harmless from the blowback in the region caused by another Israeli war of aggression. Before September 11, Israel hawks used to make fun of Americans who warned that eventually there would be hell to pay for the Israeli strangulation of the Palestinians (for the argument, see this posting). And, imagine what a war would do to gasoline prices and to the world economy. My deepest fear is that US support for Israeli militarism, and the terrorism that support inevitably engenders, will be what finally finishes off the civil liberties enshrined in the American Constitution.  </p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Juan Cole is a professor of history at the University of Michigan and maintains the popular blog <a href="">Informed Comment</a>. </div></div></div> Mon, 03 Jan 2011 04:00:01 -0800 Juan Cole, Informed Comment 664775 at World World israel gaza wikileaks Afghanistan: Obscenely Well-Funded, But Largely Unsuccessful War Rages on Out of Sight of the American Public <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">That there has been heavy fighting in Afghanistan this fall would come as a surprise to most Americans. 10 NATO troops were killed this past Saturday and Sunday alone.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Not only is it unclear that the U.S. and NATO are winning their war in Afghanistan, the lack of support for their effort by the Afghanistan president himself has driven the American commander to the brink of resignation. In response to complaints from his constituents, Afghanistan’s mercurial President Hamid Karzai called Sunday for American troops to <a href="">scale back</a> their military operations. The supposed ally of the U.S., who only last spring petulantly threatened to join the Taliban, astonished Washington with this new outburst, which prompted a warning from Gen. David Petraeus that the president was making <a href="">Petraeus’ position</a> “untenable,” which some speculated might be a threat to resign.</p> <p>During the past two months, the U.S. military has fought a major campaign in the environs of the southern Pashtun city of Kandahar, launching night raids and attempting to push insurgents out of the orchards and farms to the east of the metropolis. Many <a href="">local farmers</a> were displaced, losing their crops in the midst of the violence, and forced to become day laborers in the slums of Kandahar. Presumably these Pashtun clans who found themselves in the crossfire between the Taliban and the U.S. put pressure on Karzai to call a halt to the operation.</p> <p>That there has been heavy fighting in Afghanistan this fall would come as a surprise to most Americans, who have seen little news on their televisions about the war. Various <a href="">websites noted</a> that 10 NATO troops were killed this past Saturday and Sunday alone, five of them in a single battle, but it was hardly front page news, and got little or no television coverage.</p> <p>The midterm campaign circus took the focus off of foreign affairs in favor of witches in Newark and eyes of Newt in Georgia. Distant Kandahar was reduced to an invisible battle in an unseen war, largely unreported in America’s mass media, as though it were irrelevant to the big campaign issues—of deficits and spending, of taxes and public welfare. Since it was President Obama’s offensive, Democrats could not run against it. Since it is billed as key to U.S. security, Republicans were not interested in running against it. Kandahar, city of pomegranates and car bombs, of poppies and government cartels, lacked a partisan implication, and so no one spoke of it.</p> <p>In fact, the war is costing on the order of <a href="">$7 billion a month</a>, a sum that is still being borrowed and adding nearly $100 billion a year to the already-burgeoning national debt. Yet in all the talk in all the campaigns in the hustings about the dangers of the federal budget deficit, hardly any candidates fingered the war as <a href="">economically unsustainable</a>.</p> <p>The American public cannot have a debate on the war if it is not even mentioned in public. The extreme invisibility of the Afghanistan war is apparent from a Lexis Nexis search I did for “Kandahar” (again, the site of a major military campaign) for the period from Oct. 15 to Nov. 15. I got only a few dozen hits, from all American news sources (National Public Radio was among the few media outlets that devoted substantial airtime to the campaign).</p> <p>The campaign in the outskirts of Kandahar had been modeled on last winter’s attack on the farming area of Marjah in Helmand Province. Marjah was a demonstration project, intended to show that the U.S., NATO and Afghanistan security forces could “take, clear, hold and build.”</p> <p>Petraeus’ counterinsurgency doctrine depends on taking territory away from the insurgents, clearing it of guerrillas, holding it for the medium term to keep the Taliban from returning and to reassure local leaders that they need not fear reprisals for “collaborating,” and then building up services and security for the long term to ensure that the insurgents can never again return and dominate the area. But all these months later, the insurgents still <a href="">have not been cleared</a> from Marjah, which is a site of frequent gun fights between over-stretched Marines and Taliban.</p> <p>There is no early prospect of Afghan army troops holding the area, or of building effective institutions in the face of constant sniping and bombing. Marjah is only 18 square miles. Afghanistan is more than 251,000 square miles. If Marjah is the model for the campaign in the outskirts of Kandahar, then the latter will be a long, hard slog. Kandahar is even more complicated, since the labyrinthine alleyways of the city and its hundreds of thousands of inhabitants offer insurgents new sorts of cover when they are displaced there from the countryside.</p> <p>Counterinsurgency requires an Afghan partner, but all along the spectrum of Afghan institutions, the U.S. and NATO are seeking in vain for the “government in a box” once promised by Gen. Stanley McChrystal. The people in the key provinces of Helmand and Kandahar are <a href="">largely hostile</a> to U.S. and NATO troops, seeing them as disrespecting their traditions and as offering no protection from violence. They see cooperating with the U.S. as collaboration and want Mullah Omar of the Taliban to join the government.</p> <p>Although the U.S. and NATO have spent $27 billion on <a href="">training Afghan troops</a>, only 12 percent of them can operate independently. Karzai and his circle are <a href="">extremely corrupt</a>, taking millions in<a href="">cash payments from Iran</a> and looting a major bank for <a href="">unsecured loans</a>, allowing the purchase of opulent villas in fashionable Dubai. It is no wonder that Petraeus is at the end of his rope. The only question is why the Obama administration is not, and how long it will hold to the myth of counterinsurgency.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Juan Cole is a professor of history at the University of Michigan and maintains the popular blog <a href="">Informed Comment</a>. </div></div></div> Thu, 18 Nov 2010 06:00:01 -0800 Juan Cole, Truthdig 664281 at World World News & Politics Economy afghanistan petraeus counterinsurgency karzai kandahar Asian Powers Are Starting to Call the Shots, and the US Can't Do Anything About It <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Just how weakened the United States has been in Asia is easily demonstrated by the series of rebuffs its overtures have suffered from regional powers.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Blocked from major new domestic initiatives by a Republican victory in the midterm elections, President Barack Obama promptly lit out for Asia, a far more promising arena.  That continent, after all, is rising, and Obama is eager to grasp the golden ring of Asian success. </p> <p>Beyond being a goodwill ambassador for ten days, Obama is seeking sales of American-made durable and consumer goods, weapons deals, an expansion of trade, green energy cooperation, and the maintenance of a geopolitical balance in the region favorable to the United States.  Just as the decline of the American economy hobbled him at home, however, the weakness of the United States on the world stage in the aftermath of Bush-era excesses has made real breakthroughs abroad unlikely. </p> <p>Add to this the peculiar obsessions of the Washington power elite, with regard to Iran for instance, and you have an unpalatable mix.  These all-American fixations are viewed as an inconvenience or worse in Asia, where powerful regional hegemons are increasingly determined to chart their own courses, even if in public they continue to humor a somewhat addled and infirm Uncle Sam.</p> <p>Although the United States is still the world’s largest economy, it is shackled by enormous public and private debt as well as fundamental weaknesses.  Rivaled by an increasingly integrated European Union, it is projected to be overtaken economically by China in just over a decade.  While the president’s first stop, India, now has a nominal gross domestic product of only a little over a trillion dollars a year, it, too, is <a href="" target="_blank">growing rapidly</a>, even spectacularly, and its GDP may well quadruple by the early 2020s.  The era of American dominance, in other words, is passing, and the time (just after World War II) when the U.S. accounted for half the world economy, a dim memory.</p> <p>The odd American urge to invest heavily in perpetual war abroad, including “defense-related” spending of around a <a href="" target="_blank">trillion dollars</a> a year, has been a significant factor further <a href="" target="_blank">weakening the country</a> on the global stage.  Most of the conventional weapons on which the U.S. continues to splurge could not even be deployed against nuclear powers like Russia, China, and India, emerging as key competitors when it comes to global markets, resources, and regional force projection.  Those same conventional weapons have proved hardly more useful (in the sense of achieving quick and decisive victory, or even victory at all) in the unconventional wars the U.S. has repeatedly plunged into -- a sad fact that Bush’s reckless attempt to occupy entire West Asian nations only demonstrated even more clearly to Washington’s bemused rivals. </p> <p>American weapons stockpiles (and copious plans for ever more high-tech versions of the same into the distant future<strong>)</strong> are therefore remarkably irrelevant to its situation, and known to be so.  Meanwhile, its economy, burdened by debts incurred through wars and military spending sprees, and hollowed out by Wall Street shell games, is becoming a B-minus one in global terms.</p> <p><strong>A Superpower With Feet of Clay</strong></p> <p>Just how weakened the United States has been in Asia is easily demonstrated by the series of rebuffs its overtures have suffered from regional powers.  When, for instance, a tiff broke out this fall between China and Japan over a collision at sea near the disputed Senkaku Islands, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered to mediate.  The offer was <a href="" target="_blank">rejected out of hand</a> by the Chinese, who appear to have <a href="" target="_blank">deliberately halted exports</a> of strategic rare-earth metals to Japan and the United States as a hard-nosed bargaining ploy.  In response, the Obama administration quickly turned mealy-mouthed, affirming that while the islands come under American commitments to defend Japan for the time being, it would take no position on the question of who ultimately owned them.</p> <p>Likewise, Pakistani politicians and pundits were <a href="" target="_blank">virtually unanimous</a> in demanding that President Obama raise the issue of disputed Kashmir with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during his Indian sojourn.  The Indians, however, had already <a href="" target="_blank">firmly rejected</a> any internationalization of the controversy, which centers on the future of the Muslim-majority state, a majority of whose inhabitants say they <a href="" target="_blank">want independence</a>.  Although Obama had expressed an interest in helping resolve the Kashmir dispute during his presidential campaign, by last March his administration was already <a href="" target="_blank">backing away</a> from any mediation role unless both sides asked for Washington’s help.  In other words, Obama and Clinton promptly caved in to India’s insistence that it was the regional power in South Asia and would brook no external interference. </p> <p>This kind of regional near impotence is only reinforced by America’s perpetual (yet ever faltering) war machine.  Nor, as Obama moves through Asia, can he completely sidestep controversies provoked by the Afghan War, his multiple-personality approach to Pakistan, and his administration’s obsessive attempt to isolate and punish Iran.  As Obama arrives in Seoul, for instance, Iran will be on the agenda.  This fall, South Korea, a close American ally, managed to play a game of one step forward, two steps back with regard to Washington-supported sanctions against that energy-rich country. </p> <p><a href="" target="_blank"><img vspace="6" hspace="6" align="left" alt="" src="" /></a>The government did close the Seoul branch of Iran’s Bank Milli, sanctioning it and other Iranian firms.  Then, the South Koreans turned around and, <a href=",Authorised=false.html" target="_blank">according to</a> the <em>Financial Times</em>, appointed two banks to handle payments involving trade between the two countries via the (unsanctioned) Tehran Central Bank.  In doing so, the government insulated other South Korean banks from possible American sanctions, while finding a way for Iran to continue to purchase South Korean autos and other goods. </p> <p>Before the latest round of U.N. Security Council sanctions South Korea was doing <a href="" target="_blank">$10 billion a year</a> in trade with Iran, involving some 2,142 Korean companies.  Iran’s half of this trade -- it provides nearly 10% of South Korea’s petroleum imports -- has been largely unaffected.  South Korea’s exports to Iran, on the other hand, have fallen precipitously under the pressure of the sanctions regime.  Sanctions that hold Iran harmless but punish a key American ally by hurting its trade and creating a balance of payments problem are obviously foolish. </p> <p>The Iranian press claims that South Korean firms are now <a href="" target="_blank">planning</a> to invest money in Iranian industrial towns.  Given that Obama has expended political capital persuading South Korea to join a U.S.-organized free trade zone <em>and</em> change its tariffs to avoid harming the American auto industry, it is unlikely that he could now seek to punish South Korea for its quiet defiance on the issue of Iran.</p> <p>China is the last major country with a robust energy industry still actively investing in Iran, and Washington <a href="" target="_blank">entertains dark suspicions</a> that some of its firms are even transferring technology that might help the Iranians in their nuclear energy research projects.  This bone of contention is likely to form part of the conversation between Obama and President Hu Jintao before Thursday’s G20 meeting of the world’s wealthiest 20 countries. </p> <p>Given tensions between Washington and Beijing over the massive balance of trade deficit the U.S. is running with China (which the Obama administration attributes, in part, to an overvalued Chinese currency), not to speak of other contentious issues, Iran may not loom large in their discussions. One reason for this may be that, frustrating as Chinese stonewalling on its currency may seem, they are likely to give even less ground on relations with Iran -- especially since they know that Washington can’t do much about it.  Another fraught issue is <a href="" target="_blank">China’s plan</a> to build a nuclear reactor for Pakistan, something that also alarms Islamabad’s nuclear rival, India.  </p> <p><strong>Rising Asia</strong></p> <p>If you want to measure the scope of American decline since the height of the Cold War era, remember that back then Iran and Pakistan were American spheres of influence from which other great powers were excluded.  Now, the best the U.S. can manage in Pakistan is the political (and military) equivalent of a condominium or perhaps a time-share -- and in Iran, nothing at all. </p> <p>Despite his feel-good trip to India last weekend, during which he announced some important business deals for U.S. goods, Obama has remarkably little to offer the Indians.  That undoubtedly is why the president unexpectedly announced Washington’s <a href="" target="_blank">largely symbolic support</a> for a coveted seat as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, a ringing confirmation of India’s status as a rising power. </p> <p>Some Indian politicians and policy-makers, however, are insisting that their country’s increasing demographic, military, and economic hegemony over South Asia be recognized by Washington, and that the U.S. cease its support of, and massive arms sales to, Pakistan.  In addition, New Delhi is eager to expand its geopolitical position in Afghanistan, where it is a major funder of civilian reconstruction projects, and is apprehensive about any plans for a U.S. withdrawal from that country.  An Indian-dominated Afghanistan is, of course, Pakistan’s worst fear. </p> <p>In addition, India’s <a href="" target="_blank">need for petroleum</a> is expected to grow by 40% during the next decade and a half.  Energy-hungry, like neighboring Pakistan, it can’t help glancing longingly at Iran’s natural gas and petroleum fields, despite Washington’s threats to slap third-party sanctions on any firm that helps develop them.  American attempts to push India toward dirty energy sources, including nuclear power (the waste product of which is long-lived and problematic) and shale gas, as a way of reducing its interest in Iranian and Persian Gulf oil and gas, are another Washington “solution” for the region likely to be largely ignored, given how close at hand inexpensive Gulf hydrocarbons are.</p> <p>It is alarming to consider what exactly New Delhi imagines the planet’s former “sole superpower” has to offer at this juncture -- mostly U.S. troops fighting a perceived threat in Afghanistan and the removal of Congressional restrictions on sales of advanced weaponry to India.  The U.S. military in Afghanistan is seen as a proxy for Indian interests in putting down the Taliban and preventing the reestablishment of Pakistani hegemony over Kabul.  For purely self-interested reasons Prime Minister Singh has long taken <a href="" target="_blank">the same position</a> as the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives, urging Obama to postpone any plans to begin a drawdown in Afghanistan in the summer of 2011. </p> <p>The most significant of the Indian purchases trumpeted by the president last weekend were military in character.  Obama <a href="" target="_blank">proclaimed</a> that the $10 billion in deals he was inking would create 54,000 new American jobs.  Right now, it’s hard to argue with job creation or multi-billion-dollar sales of U.S.-made goods abroad.  As former secretary of labor Robert Reich has <a href="" target="_blank">pointed out</a>, however, jobs in the defense industry are expensive to create, while offering a form of artificial corporate welfare that distorts the American economy and diverts resources from far more crucial priorities.  </p> <p>To think of this another way, President Obama is in danger of losing control of his South Asian foreign policy agenda to India, its Republican supporters in the House, and the military-industrial complex.</p> <p>As the most dynamic region in the world, Asia is the place where rapid change can create new dynamics.  American trade with the European Union has grown over the past decade (as has the EU itself), but is unlikely to be capable of doubling in just a few years.  After all, the populations of some European countries, like powerhouse Germany, will probably shrink in coming decades. </p> <p>India, by contrast, is projected to overtake China in population around 2030 and hit the billion-and-a-half-inhabitants mark by mid-century (up from 1.15 billion today).  Its economy, like China’s, has been growing 8% to 9% a year, creating powerful new demand in the world market.  President Obama is <a href="" target="_blank">hoping</a> to see U.S. exports to India double by 2015.  Likewise, with its economy similarly booming, China is making its own ever more obvious bid to stride like a global colossus through the twenty-first century. </p> <p><strong>The Hessians of a Future Asia?</strong></p> <p>Unsurprisingly, beneath the pomp and splendor of Obama’s journey through Asia has lurked a far tawdrier vision -- of a much weakened president presiding over a much weakened superpower, both looking somewhat desperately for succor abroad. If the United States is to remain a global power, it is important that Washington offer something to the world besides arms and soldiers.</p> <p>Obama has been on the money when he’s promoted green-energy technology as a key field where the United States could make its mark (and possibly its fortune) globally.  Unfortunately, as elsewhere, here too the United States is <a href="" target="_blank">falling behind</a>, and a Republican House as well as a bevy of new <a href="" target="_blank">Republican governors</a> and state legislatures are highly unlikely to<a href="" target="_blank">effectively</a> promote the greening of American technology. </p> <p>In the end, Obama’s trip has proven a less than effective symbolic transition from George W. Bush’s muscular unilateralism to a new American-led multilateralism in Asia.  Rather, at each stop, Obama has bumped up against the limits of American economic and diplomatic clout in the new Asian world order. </p> <p>George W. Bush and Dick Cheney thought in terms of expanding American conventional military weapons stockpiles and bases, occupying countries when necessary, and so ensuring that the U.S. would dominate key planetary resources for decades to come.  Their worldview, however, was mired in mid-twentieth-century power politics. </p> <p>If they thought they were placing a marker down on another American century, they were actually gambling away the very houses we live in and reducing us to a debtor nation struggling to retain its once commanding superiority in the world economy.  In the meantime, the multi-millionaires and billionaires created by neoliberal policies and tax cuts in the West will be as happy to invest in (and <a href="" target="_blank">perhaps live</a> in) Asia as in the United States.</p> <p>In the capitals of a rising Asia, Washington’s incessant campaign to strengthen sanctions against Iran, and in some quarters its <a href="" target="_blank">eagerness</a> for war with that country, is viewed as another piece of <a href="" target="_blank">lunatic adventurism</a>.  The leaders of India, China, and South Korea, among other countries, are determined to do their best to sidestep this American obsession and <a href=",_pipelineistan%27s_new_silk_road__/" target="_blank">integrate</a> Iran into their energy and trading futures. </p> <p>In some ways, the darkest vision of an American future arrived in 1991 thanks to President George H. W. Bush.  At that time, he launched a war in the Persian Gulf to protect local oil producers from an aggressive Iraq.  That war was largely paid for by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, rendering the U.S. military for the first time a sort of global mercenary force.  Just as the poor in any society often join the military as a way of moving up in the world, so in the century of Asia, the U.S. could find itself in danger of being reduced to the role of impoverished foot soldier fighting for others’ interests, or of being the glorified ironsmiths making arsenals of weaponry for the great powers of the future.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><em>Juan Cole is the Richard P. Mitchell Professor of History and the director of the Center for South Asian Studies at the University of Michigan.  His latest book, </em><a href="" target="_blank">Engaging the Muslim World</a><em>, is just out in a revised paperback edition from Palgrave Macmillan. He runs the <a href="" target="_blank">Informed Comment</a> website.</em> </div></div></div> Thu, 11 Nov 2010 09:00:01 -0800 Juan Cole, 664209 at World World united states asia geopolitics Harvard Professor's Shocking Proposal: Starve the Palestinians in Gaza into Having Fewer Babies <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">At a recent conference, Prof. Martin Kramer called for population growth in the Muslim world to be restrained and made a series of other outrageous claims.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Martin Kramer <a href="">revealed his true colors at the Herzliya Conference</a>, wherein he blamed political violence in the Muslim world on population growth, called for that growth to be restrained, and praised the illegal and unconscionable Israeli blockade of civilian Gazans for its effect on reducing the number of Gazans.<br /><br /><a href="">[Commentator] M. J. Rosenberg argued that Kramer's speech is equivalent to a call for genocide</a>. It certainly is a call for eugenics. <br /><br /> It is shocking that Kramer, who has made a decade-long career of attacking social science understanding of the Middle East and demonizing anyone who departs even slightly from his rightwing Israeli-nationalist political line, should be given a cushy office at Harvard as a 'fellow' while spewing the most vile justifications for war crimes like the collective punishment of Gazan children.<br /><br /> Kramer is after all not nobody. He was an adviser to the Giuliani presidential campaign. He is listed as an associate of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the influential think tank in Washington of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. He is associated with Daniel Pipe's 'Middle East Forum,' a neo-McCarthyite organization dedicated to harassing American academics who do not toe the political line of Israel's ruling Likud Party.<br /><br /> Kramer's remarks are wrong, offensive and racist by implication. He is driven to them by his nationalist ideology, which cannot recognize the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians by Israelis in 1948, cannot see that most Palestinians have been deprived by Israeli policies of citizenship rights (what Warren Burger called 'the right to have rights', as Margaret Somers pointed out), and that Palestinians are even at this moment being deprived of basic property and other rights by Israeli occupation. To admit that any of these actions produces a backlash is to acknowledge the Palestinian movements as forms of national liberation activism, and to legitimize Palestinian aspirations. Rightwing Zionism is all about erasing the Palestinians from history. And now Kramer wants to make it about erasing future Palestinian children!<br /><br /> Where have we seen the picture Kramer draws before? It is just a recycled form of Malthusianism, where the population growth rates of "some people" is seen as dangerous to society. Barbara Brown wrote of Apartheid South Africa:<br />  </p> <blockquote>' [White] South Africans who express a [concern with Black population growth] perceive a close relationship between population growth rates and political instability. There are two variants of this approach. The first holds that a growing black and unemployed population will mean increased poverty which will in turn lead to a black revolt. . .<br /><br /> In an opening address to a major private sector conference on 'population dynamics' in South Africa, the president of the 1820 Foundation argued that 'Rapid population growth translates into a steadily worsening employment future, massive city growth . . . and an increase in the number of poor and disadvantaged. All are rightly viewed as threats to social stability and orderly change.' <br /><br /> A second, but smaller, group believes the black threat arises simply out of the changing ratio of white to black. This group sees that 'THE WHITES ARE A DWINDLING MINORITY IN THE COUNTRY' and argues that this situation will lead to a 'similar reduction of white political authority'. <br /><br /> Some argue for birth control on even more overtly racist grounds, but few people in leadership positions do so, at least publicly. Debates in the House of Assembly have included remarks to the effect that blacks are unable to make a contribution to South African society and so should be encouraged to limit their numbers. The organiser of a 'Population Explosion' conference, a medical doctor who is deputy director of the Verwoerd Hospital, argued that whites must organise a family planning programme for blacks because the latter group is biologically incapable of exercising foresight.'</blockquote> <p><br /> - Barbara B. Brown, "Facing the 'Black Peril': The Politics of Population Control in South Africa," <i>Journal of Southern African Studies</i>, Vol. 13, No. 2(Jan., 1987), pp. 256-273, this quote pp. 263-64.<br /><br /> There are other notorious examples of this sort of argument, including <a href="">eugenics theorist Madison Grant, who warned in the early 20th century that white Americans were being swamped by inferior eastern and southern Europeans such as Poles, Italians, and Jews</a>. <br /><br /> How ironic, that Kramer should now resort to the very kind of arguments Grant used to condemn Martin Kramer's ancestors being allowed to come to the United States.<br /><br /> As usual, Kramer, a notorious anti-intellectual opposed to the mainstream academic study of the Middle East, is wrong as a matter of social science.<br /><br /> Population growth in and of itself explains nothing, and certainly not terrorism. Between 1800 and 1900, Great Britain's population tripled, whereas France underwent a demographic transition and grew very slowly. Yet Britain experienced no revolution, no great social upheavals in that period. France, in contrast, lurched from war to war, from empire to monarchy to empire to Republic, and saw the rise of a plethora of radical social movements, including the Paris Commune. <br /><br /> High population growth can be a problem for development, and can contribute to internal conflict over resources, but it is only one factor. If economic growth outstrips population growth (say the economy grows 7 percent and population grows 3 per year), then on a per capita basis that is the same as 4 percent economic growth per capita per annum, which would be good for most countries. Or if a place is thinly populated and rich in resources, population growth may not be socially disruptive. Most countries in the world have grown enormously in population during the past century, yet they display vastly different rates of social violence.<br /><br /> Although under some circumstances, rapid population growth can contribute to internal social instability, it is irrelevant to international terrorism as a political tactic. The deployment of terror, which the US Federal Code defines as the use of violence against civilians for political purposes by a non-state actor, is always a form of politics. The Zionist terrorists who blew up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem in 1946, which killed 91 persons and wounded 46, did not act because Jewish Irgun members had too many brothers and sisters. (And if you think about who exactly might have made an argument of that form in the 1940s, it becomes clear how smelly Kramer's is.) Irgun blew the hotel up because British Mandate intelligence had offices there, and because these Zionist activists did not care if they killed dozens of civilians.<br /><br /> Studies of groups that deploy violence against civilians for political purposes show that <a href="">[pdf link] they are characterized by higher than average education and income, which correlate with smaller family size</a>. <br /><br /> Political violence is about grievances, land, resources and politics. Palestinians were no more violent than any other group in the Middle East until they were ethnically cleansed and their property was stolen by Jewish colonists in their homeland, for which they never received compensation. As Robert Pape has shown, suicide bombings cluster in the area in and around Israel, in Iraq and Afghanistan/ Northern Pakistan, places where people feel militarily occupied. But there are none in Mali or Benin, countries with among the highest population growth rates in the world. <br /><br /> Kramer's argument is implicitly racist because he applies the population-growth calculus mainly to Arabs, whose family size he minds in ways that he does not others. Belize and the Cameroons have higher population growth rates than Libya. Is Kramer afraid of those two countries? Why is it only Arab children he marks as a danger?<br /><br /> If population growth rates were the independent variable in predicting a turn to terrorism, moreover, <a href="">the fast-growing ultra-Orthodox or Haredi Jewish population of Israel would be a concern</a>. But in fact they refuse to serve in the Israeli army and so are the least violent part of the population (though there have been occasional Haredi attacks on Palestinians.)<br /><br /> Kramer will find, in his new role as the Madison Grant of the twenty-first century, that his arguments are a double-edged sword that even more unsavory persons than he will gleefully wield against groups other than Arabs.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Juan Cole is a professor of history at the University of Michigan and maintains the popular blog <a href="">Informed Comment</a>. </div></div></div> Fri, 26 Feb 2010 07:00:01 -0800 Juan Cole, 661163 at World World israel gaza eugenics population growth muslim world martin kramer herzilya conference gazans The Ten Worst Nightmares Bush Inflicted on America <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Here are my picks for the top ten worst things about the wretched period, which will continue to follow us until citizens stand up to fix them.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>By spring of 2000, Texas governor George W. Bush was wrapping up the Republican nomination for president, and he went on to dominate the rest of the decade.</p> <p>If Dickens proclaimed of the 1790s revolutionary era in France that it was the best of times and the worst of times, the reactionary Bush era was just the worst of times. I declare it the decade of the American oligarchs. Just as the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet Union allowed the emergence of a class of lawless 'Oligarchs' in Russia, so Neoliberal tax policies and deregulation produced American equivalents. (For more on the analogy, see <a href="" target="_blank" class="external">Michael Hudson</a>.) We have always had robber barons in American politics, but the Neoliberal moment created a new social class.</p> <p>At about 1.3 million adults, it is not too large to have some cohesive interests, and its corporations, lobbyists, and other institutions allow it to intervene systematically in politics. It owns 45 percent of the privately held wealth and is heading toward 50, i.e. toward a Banana Republic. Thus, we have a gutted fairness doctrine and the end of anti-trust concerns in ownership of mass media, allowing a multi-billionaire like Rupert Murdoch to buy up major media properties and to establish a cable television channel which is nothing but oligarch propaganda. They established 'think tanks' like the American Enterprise Institute, which hires only staff that are useful agents of the interests of the very wealthy, and which produce studies denying global climate change or lying about the situation in Iraq.</p> <p>Bush-Cheney were not simply purveyors of wrong-headed ideas. They were the agents of the one percent, and their policies make perfect sense if seen as attempts to advance the interests of this narrow class of persons. It is the class that owns our mass media, that pays for the political campaigns of 'our' (their) representatives, that gives us the Bushes and Cheneys and Palins because they are useful to them, and that blocks progressive reform and legislation with the vast war chest funneled to them by deep tax cuts that allow them to use essential public resources, infrastructure and facilities gratis while making the middle class pay for them.</p> <p>Here are my picks for the top ten worst things about the wretched period, which, however, will continue to follow us until the economy is re-regulated, anti-trust concerns again pursued, a new, tweaked fairness doctrine is implemented, and we return to a more normal distribution of wealth (surely a quarter of the privately held wealth is enough for the one percent?) It isn't about which party is in power; parties can always be bought. It is about how broadly shared resources are in a society. Egalitarianism is unworkable, but over-concentration of wealth is also impractical. The latter produced a lot of our problems in the past decade, and as long as such massive inequality persists, our politics will be lopsided.</p> <p>10. <a href="" target="_blank" class="external">Stagnating worker wages and the emergence of a new monied aristocracy</a>. Of all the income growth of the entire country of the United States in the Bush years, the <a href="" target="_blank" class="external">richest 1 percent of the working population</a>, about 1.3 million persons, grabbed up over <b>two-thirds</b> of it. The Reagan and Bush cuts in tax rates on the wealthy have created a dangerous little alien inside our supposedly democratic society, of the super-rich, with their legions of camp followers (sometimes referred to as 'analysts' or 'economists' or 'journalists'). The new lords and ladies are the Dick and Liz Cheneys and the people for whom they shill. They are the Rupert Murdochs and the <a href="" target="_blank" class="external">Richard Mellon Scaifes</a>, and they are guaranteed to own more and more of the country as long as more progressive taxation (i.e. pre-Reagan, not pre-Bush) is not restored. They are the ones who didn't want a public universal health option, did not want the wars abroad to end abruptly, did not want the Copenhagen Climate convention to succeed. They are driven by pure greed and narrow profit-seeking for themselves. They always get their way, and they always will as long as you poor stupid bastards buy the line that when the government raises their taxes, it is taking something away from you. It is the alliance of the Neoliberal super-rich with the new lower middle class populists led by W. and now by Sarah Palin that produces clown politics in the US unmatched in most advanced industrial countries with the possible exception of Italy.</p> <p>9. Health and food insecurity increased for ordinary Americans. Health care costs skyrocketed. Most Americans in the work force who have health care are covered via their employers. <a href="" target="_blank" class="external">'From 1999 to 2009 health insurance premiums increased 132%"</a> for the companies paying most of the costs of coverage to their employees. Euromonitor adds, "Average private health insurance premiums for a family of four in 1999 were US$5,485 per annum or 7.2% of household disposable income. 2008 premiums were estimated at US$12,973 per annum or 14.8% of average household disposable income." By Bush's last year in office, <a href="" target="_blank" class="external">food insecurity among American families was at a 14-year high</a>. About 49 million Americans, one in six of us, worried about having enough food to eat at some points in that year, and resorted to soup lines, food stamps, or dietary shortcuts. Some 16 million, according to the NYT, suffered from '"very low food security," meaning lack of money forced members to skip meals, cut portions or otherwise forgo food at some point in the year.' Hundreds of thousands of children are going hungry in the richest country in the world. From being a proud, wealthy people, our social superiors reduced us to the estate of third-world peasants, so as to make sure their bonuses were bigger.</p> <p>8. The environment became more polluted. The Bush administration was <a href=";aid=9030" target="_blank" class="external">the worst on record on environmental issues</a>. Carbon emissions grew unchecked, and the threat of <a href=",8599,1905102,00.html" target="_blank" class="external">climate change accelerated.</a> In fact, Bush <a href="" target="_blank" class="external">muzzled government climate scientists</a> and had their reports rewritten by lawyers from Big Oil.</p> <p>7. The <a href="" target="_blank" class="external">imperial presidency</a> was ensconced in ways it will be difficult to pare back. But note that its powers were never used against the oligarchs (unlike the case in Putin's Russia), but rather deployed to ensure the continued destruction of the labor movement and the political bargaining power of workers and the middle class, and to harass and disrupt peace, rights and environmental movements. A part of this process was the abrogation of <a href="" target="_blank" class="external">fourth amendment</a> protections against arbitrary search, seizure and snooping into people's mail and effects, and of other key constitutional rights under vague and unconstitutional rubrics such as 'providing material aid to terrorists,'(rights which seem unlikely ever to be restored).</p> <p>6. The Katrina flood and the destruction of much of historic African-American New Orleans, and the massive failure of the Bush administration to come to the aid of one of America's great cities. The administration's unconcern about the unsound dam infrastructure, about climate change, and about the fate of the victims are all a wake-up call for what all of us have in store from the small social class that Bush served.</p> <p>5. The Bush administration's post-2002 mishandling of Afghanistan, where the Taliban had been overthrown successfully in 2001 and were universally despised. The Bush administration's attempt to assert itself with a big troop presence in the Pashtun provinces, its use of search and destroy tactics and missile strikes, its neglect of civilian reconstruction, and its failure to finish off al-Qaeda, allowed an insurgency gradually to grow. It should have been nipped in the bud, but was not. Once an insurgency becomes well established, it is defeated militarily only about 20 percent of the time. Eight years later, the Neoconservative thrust into Central Asia (in search of hydrocarbon leverage, or in a geopolitical pissing match with Russia and China?) of the early years of this decade has bequeathed us yet another war, this time one that could destabilize neighboring Pakistan-- the world's sole Muslim nuclear power.</p> <p>4. The Iraq War, which the US illegally launched a war of aggression that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, displaced 4 million (over as million abroad), destroyed entire cities such as Fallujah, set off a Sunni-Shiite civil war, allowed Baghdad to be ethnically cleansed of its Sunnis, practiced systematic and widespread torture before the eyes of the Muslim Middle East and the world, and immeasurably strengthened Iran's hand in the Middle East. All this on false pretexts such as 'weapons of mass destruction' or 'democratization,' for the sake of <a href="" target="_blank" class="external">opening the Iraqi oil markets to US hydrocarbon firms</a>-- a significant faction of the oligarchic class. Cost to the US in American military life: 4,373 dead as of Dec 15 and 31,603 wounded in combat. The true totals of war-related dead and injured are higher, since 30,000 troops who were only diagnosed with brain injuries on their return to the US are not counted in the statistics, <a href="" target="_blank" class="external">according to Michael Munk</a>. The cost of the Iraq War when everything <a href="" target="_blank" class="external">is taken into account will likely be $3 trillion</a>.</p> <p>3. The great $12 trillion Bank Robberry, in which unscrupulous bankers and financiers were deregulated and given free rein to create worthless derivatives, sell impossible mortgages to uninformed marks who could not understand their complicated terms, and then to roll this garbage up into securities re-sold like the Cheshire cat, with a big visible smile of asserted value hanging in the air even as their actual worth disappeared into thin air. Having allowed the one-percent oligarchs to capture most of the increase of the country's wealth in recent decades, Bush and Paulsen now initiated the surrender to them of nearly a further <b>entire year's gross domestic product of the US</b>, stealing it from the rest of us by deficit budget financing that will have the effect of deflating our savings and property values and relative value of our currency against other world currencies. That is, we are to be further beggared for sake of the super-rich. And while the banks and bankers are held harmless, the hardworking Americans who have lost and will lose their homes are extended virtually no help. While 500,000 American children will go hungry at least some of the time this year, the Oligarchs at Goldman, Sachs, will get millions in bonuses, on the backs of the ordinary taxpayers. It seems likely to me that the creation of a pool of vast excess liquidity for the super-rich by the Reagan-Cheney tax cuts was what impelled them to develop the derivatives, since they had too much capital for ordinary investment purposes and were restlessly seeking new gaming tables. The conclusion is that until we <a href="" target="_blank" class="external">get our gini coefficient back into some sort of synch</a>, we are likely at risk for further such meltdowns.</p> <p>2. The September 11 attacks on New York and Washington by al-Qaeda, an organization that stemmed from the Reagan administration's anti-Soviet jihad in the 1980s and which decided that, having defeated one superpower, it could take down the other. Al-Qaeda's largely Arab volunteer fighters had confronted the Soviets over their occupation of a major Muslimm country, Afghanistan. Bin Laden was himself a Neoliberal Oligarch, but he broke with the Gulf consensus of seeking a US security umbrella, thus creating a fissure within his powerful social class. Al-Qaeda viewed the US as only a slightly less objectionable occupier, though they were willing to make an atliance of convenience in the 1980s. But they were increasingly enraged and galvanized to strike, they said, by the post-Gulf-War sanctions on Iraq that killed 500,000 children, the debilitating Israeli occupation of the Palestinians, and the establishment of US bases in the holy Arabian Peninsula (with its oil riches that Bin Laden believed were being looted for pennies by the West, aided by a supine and corrupt Saudi dynasty). Al-Qaeda was a small fringe crackpot group of murderous conspiracy theorists, since most of what they considered an American 'occupation' of Muslims was no such thing. The leasing of Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia was comparable to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan? They intended to make themselves look like a world-historical force, and the US new Oligarchs, who no longer had the international Communist conspiracy with which to scare the American public into letting them have their way, were happy to buy in to the hyping of al-Qaeda, as well. But the catastrophe was not only the attacks, deadly and horrific though they were, but the alacrity with which Americans rsurrendered their birthright of yeoman liberties to a Bonapartist regime that ran roughshod over law, the constitution, the Congress, and anyone, such as Ambassador Joe Wilson, who dared oppose it.</p> <p>1. The constitutional coup of 2000, in which Bush was declared the winner of <a href="" target="_blank" class="external">an election he had lost</a>, with the deployment of the most ugly racial and other low tricks in the ballot counting and the intervention of a partisan and far right-wing Supreme Court (itself drawn from or serving the oligarchs), and which gave us the worst president in the history of the union, who proceeded to drive the country off a cliff for the succeeding 8 years. And that is because he was not our president, but theirs.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Juan Cole is a professor of history at the University of Michigan and maintains the popular blog <a href="">Informed Comment</a>. </div></div></div> Tue, 22 Dec 2009 09:00:01 -0800 Juan Cole, Informed Comment 660102 at News & Politics News & Politics wars bush inequality decade 100 Years of Imperial Paranoia About the Pashtuns <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The doomsday rhetoric in Washington over lightly settled, mountainous Pashtun tribal lands is strikingly similar to that of the British Empire.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Despite being among the poorest people in the world, the inhabitants of the craggy northwest of what is now Pakistan have managed to throw a series of frights into distant Western capitals for more than a century. That's certainly one for the record books.</p> <p>And it hasn't ended yet. Not by a long shot. Not with the headlines in the U.S. papers about the depredations of the Pakistani Taliban, not with the CIA's drone aircraft striking gatherings in Waziristan and elsewhere near the Afghan border. This spring, for instance, one counter-terrorism analyst stridently (and wholly implausibly) <a href="">warned</a> that "in one to six months" we could "see the collapse of the Pakistani state," at the hands of the bloodthirsty Taliban, while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton <a href=",8599,1895167,00.html">called</a> the situation in Pakistan a "mortal danger" to global security.</p> <p>What most observers don't realize is that the <a href="">doomsday rhetoric</a> about this region at the top of the world is hardly new. It's at least 100 years old. During their campaigns in the northwest in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, British officers, journalists and editorialists sounded much like American strategists, analysts, and pundits of the present moment. They construed the Pashtun tribesmen who inhabited Waziristan as the new Normans, a dire menace to London that threatened to overturn the British Empire.</p> <p>The young Winston S. Churchill even wrote a book in 1898, <i>The Story of the Malakand Field Force</i>, about a late-nineteenth-century British campaign in Pashtun territory, based on his earlier journalism there. At that time, London ruled British India, comprising all of what is now India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, but the British hold on the mountainous northwestern region abutting Afghanistan and the Himalayas was tenuous. In trying to puzzle out -- like modern analysts -- why the predecessors of the Pakistani Taliban posed such a huge challenge to empire, Churchill singled out two reasons for the martial prowess of those Pashtun tribesmen. One was Islam, of which he <a href=";lpg=PA205&amp;dq=Pathans%20%22Winston%20Churchill%22&amp;lr=&amp;num=30&amp;as_brr=3&amp;pg=PA18">wrote</a>, "That religion, which above all others was founded and propagated by the sword -- the tenets and principles of which are instinct with incentives to slaughter and which in three continents has produced fighting breeds of men -- stimulates a wild and merciless fanaticism."</p> <p>Churchill actually revealed his prejudices here. In fact, for the most part, Islam spread peacefully in what is now Pakistan, by the preaching and poetry of mystical Sufi leaders, and most Muslims have not been more warlike in history than, for example, Anglo-Saxons.</p> <p>For his second reason, he settled on the environment in which those tribesmen were supposed to thrive. "The inhabitants of these wild but wealthy valleys" are, he explained, in "a continual state of feud and strife." In addition, he insisted, they were early adopters of military technology, so that their weapons were not as primitive as was common among other "races" at what he referred to as "their stage" of development. "To the ferocity of the Zulu are added the craft of the Redskin and the marksmanship of the Boer," he <a href=";lpg=PA205&amp;dq=Pathans%20%22Winston%20Churchill%22&amp;lr=&amp;num=30&amp;as_brr=3&amp;pg=PA17">warned</a>.</p> <p>In these tribesmen, he concluded, "the world is presented with that grim spectacle, 'the strength of civilization without its mercy.'" The Pashtun were, he added, excellent marksmen, who could fell the unwary Westerner with a state-of-the-art breech-loading rifle. "His assailant, approaching, hacks him to death with the ferocity of a South-Sea Islander. The weapons of the nineteenth century are in the hands of the savages of the Stone Age."</p> <p>Ironically, given Churchill's description of them, when four decades later the Pashtuns joined the freedom movement against British rule that led to the formation of independent Pakistan and India in 1947, politicized Pashtuns were notable not for savagery, but for joining Mahatma Gandhi's campaign of non-violent non-cooperation.</p> <p>Nevertheless, the Churchillian image of primitive, fanatical brutality armed with cutting edge technology, which singled Pashtuns out as an extraordinary peril to the West, survived the Victorian era and has now made it into the headlines of our own newspapers. Bruce Riedel, a former Central Intelligence Agency analyst, was tasked by the Obama administration to evaluate security threats in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Arnaud de Borchgrave of the <i>Washington Times</i> reported breathlessly on July 17th that Riedel had concluded:</p> <p> </p> <blockquote>"A jihadist victory in Pakistan, meaning the takeover of the nation by a militant Sunni movement led by the Taliban... would create the greatest threat the United States has yet to face in its war on terror... [and] is now a real possibility in the foreseeable future."</blockquote> <p>The article, in true Churchillian fashion, is <a href="">entitled</a> "Armageddon Alarm Bell Rings."</p> <p>In fact, few intelligence predictions could have less chance of coming true. In the 2008 parliamentary election, the Pakistani public voted in centrist parties, some of them secular, virtually ignoring the Muslim fundamentalist parties. Today in Pakistan, there are about 24 million Pashtuns, a linguistic ethnic group that speaks Pashto. Another 13 million live across the British-drawn "Durand Line," the border -- mostly unacknowledged by Pashtuns -- between Pakistan and southern Afghanistan. Most Taliban derive from this group, but the vast majority of Pashtuns are not Taliban and do not much care for the Muslim radicals.</p> <p>The Taliban force that was handily defeated this spring by the Pakistani army in a swift campaign in the Swat Valley in the North-West Frontier Province, amounted to a mere 4,000 men. The Pakistani military is 550,000 strong and has a similar number of reservists. It has tanks, artillery, and fighter jets. The Taliban's appeal is limited to that country's Pashtun ethnic group, about 14% of the population and, from everything we can tell, it is a minority taste even among them. The Taliban can commit terrorism and destabilize, but they cannot take over the Pakistani government.</p> <p>Some Western analysts worry that the Taliban could unite with disgruntled junior officers of the Pakistani Army, who could come to power in a putsch and so offer their Taliban allies access to sophisticated weaponry. Successful Pakistani coups, however, have been made by the chief of staff at the top, not by junior officers, since the military is quite disciplined. Far from coup-making to protect the Taliban, the military has actually spent the past year in hard slogging against them in the Federally Administered Tribal Area of Bajaur and more recently in Swat.</p> <p>Today's fantasy of a nuclear-armed Taliban is the modern equivalent of Churchill's anxiety about those all-conquering, ultramodern Pashtun riflemen with the instincts of savages.</p> <p><b>Frontier Ward and Watch</b></p> <p>On a recent research trip to the India Office archives in London to plunge into British military memoirs of the Waziristan campaigns in the first half of the twentieth century, I was overcome by a vivid sense of <i>déjà vu</i>. The British in India fought three wars with Afghanistan, losing the first two decisively, and barely achieving a draw in the third in 1919. Among the Afghan king Amanullah's demands during the third war were that the Pashtun tribes of the frontier be allowed to give him their fealty and that Britain permit Afghanistan to conduct a sovereign foreign policy. He lost on the first demand, but won on the second and soon signed a treaty of friendship with the newly established Soviet Union.</p> <p>Disgruntled Pashtun tribes in Waziristan, a no-man's land sandwiched between the Afghan border and the formal boundary of the British-ruled North-West Frontier Province, preferred Kabul's rule to that of London, and launched their own attacks on the British, beginning in 1919. Putting down the rebellious Wazir and Mahsud tribes of this region would, in the end, cost imperial Britain's treasury three times as much as had the Third Anglo-Afghan War itself.</p> <p>On May 2, 1921, long after the Pashtun tribesmen should have been pacified, the Manchester <i>Guardian</i> carried a panicky news release by the British Viceroy of India on a Mahsud attack. "Enemy activity continues throughout," the alarmed message from Viceroy Rufus Isaacs, the Marquess of Reading, said, implying that a massive uprising on the subcontinent was underway. In fact, the action at that point was in only a small set of villages in one part of Waziristan, itself but one of several otherwise relatively quiet tribal areas.</p> <p><a href=""><img vspace="6" hspace="6" align="left" alt="" src="" /></a>On the 23rd of that month, a large band of Mahsud struck "convoys" near the village of Piazha. British losses included a British officer killed, four British and two Indian officers wounded, and seven Indian troops killed, with 26 wounded. On the 24th, "a picket [sentry outpost] near Suidgi was ambushed, and lost nine killed and seven wounded." In nearby Zhob, the British received support from friendly Pashtun tribes engaged in a feud with what they called the "hostiles," and -- a modern touch -- "aeroplanes" weighed in as well. They were, it was said, "cooperating," though this too was an exaggeration. At the time, the Royal Air Force (RAF) was eager to prove its colonial worth on the imperial frontiers in ways that extended beyond simple reconnaissance, even though in 1921 it maintained but a single airplane at Peshawar, the nearest city, which had "a hole in its wing." By 1925, the RAF had gotten its wish and would <a href=";lpg=PA47&amp;ots=aCenNWv_BX&amp;dq=Mahsud%20Soviets&amp;pg=PA49">drop</a> 150 tons of bombs on the Mahsud tribe.</p> <p>On July 5, 1921, a newspaper report in the Allahabad <i>Pioneer</i> gives a sense of the tactics the British deployed against the "hostiles." One center of rebellion was the village of Makin, inhabited by that same Mahsud tribe, which apparently wanted its own irrigation system and freedom from British interference. The British Indian army held the nearby village of Ladka. "Makin was shelled from Ladka on the 20th June," the report ran.</p> <p>The tribal fighters responded by beginning to move their flocks, though their families remained. British archival sources report that a Muslim holy man, or <i>faqir</i>, attempted to give the people of Makin hope by laying a spell on the 6-inch howitzer shells and pledging that they would no longer explode in the valley. (Overblown imperial anxiety about such <i>faqirs</i> or <i>akhonds</i>, Pashtun religious leaders, inspired Victorian satirists such as Edward Lear, who began one poem, "Who, or why, or which, or what, Is the Akond of Swat?")</p> <p>The <i>faqir's</i> spells were to no avail. The shelling, the <i>Pioneer</i> reported, continued over the next two days, "with good results." Then on the 23rd, "another bombardment of Makin was carried out by our 6-inch howitzers at Ladka." This shelling "had a great moral effect," the newspaper intoned, and revealed with satisfaction that "the inhabitants are now evacuating their families." The particular nature of the moral effect of bombarding a civilian village where women and children were known to be present was not explained. Two days later, however, thanks to air observation, the howitzers at Ladka and the guns at "Piazha camp" made a "direct hit" on another similarly obscure village.</p> <p>Such accounts of small, vicious engagements in mountainous villages with (to British ears) outlandish names fit oddly with the strange conviction of the elite and the press that the fate of the Empire was somehow at stake -- just as strangely as similar reports out of exactly the same area, often involving the very same tribes, do in our own time. On July 7, 2009, for instance, the Pakistani newspaper <i>The Nation</i> published a typical daily <a href="">report</a> on the Swat valley campaign which might have come right out of the early twentieth century. Keep in mind that this was a campaign into which the Obama administration forced the Pakistani government to save itself and the American position in the Greater Middle East, and which displaced some two million people, risking the actual destabilization of the whole northwestern region of Pakistan. It went in part:</p> <p> </p> <blockquote>"[T]he security forces during search operation at Banjut, Swat, recovered 50 mules loaded with arms and ammunition, medicines and ration and also apprehended a few terrorists. During search operation at Thana, an improvised explosive device (IED) went off causing injuries to a soldier. As a result of operation at Tahirabad, Mingora, the security forces recovered surgical equipment, nine hand grenades and office furniture from the house of a militant."</blockquote> <p>The unfamiliar place names, the attention to confiscated mules, and the fear of tribal militancy differed little from the reports in the <i>Pioneer</i> from nearly a century before. Echoing Viceroy Rufus Isaacs, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton <a href="">said</a> on July 14th, "Our national security as well as the future of Afghanistan depends on a stable, democratic, and economically viable Pakistan. We applaud the new Pakistani determination to deal with the militants who threaten their democracy and our shared security."</p> <p>As in 1921, so in 2009, the skirmishes were ignored by the general public in the West despite the frenzied assertions of politicians that the fate of the world hung in the balance.</p> <p><b>A Paranoid View of the Pashtuns, Then and Now</b></p> <p>On July 21, 1921, a "correspondent" for the Allahabad <i>Pioneer</i> -- as anonymous as he was vehement -- explained how some firefights in Waziristan might indeed be consequential for Western civilization. He attacked "Irresponsible Criticism" of the military budget required to face down the Mahsud tribe. He asked, "What is India's strategical position in the world today?" It was a leading question. "Along hundreds of miles of her border," he then warned darkly in a mammoth run-on sentence, "are scores of thousands of hardy fighters trained to war and rapine from their very birth, never for an instant forgetful of the soft wealth of India's plains, all of whom would descend to harry them tomorrow if they thought the venture safe, some of whom are determinedly at war with us even now."</p> <p>Note that he does not explain the challenge posed by the Pashtun tribes in terms of typical military considerations, which would require attention to the exact numbers, training, equipment, tactics and logistics of the fighters, and which would have revealed them as no significant threat to the Indian plains, however hard they were to control in their own territory. The "correspondent" instead ridicules urban "pen-pushers," who little appreciate the "heavy task" of "frontier ward and watch."</p> <p>Not only were the tribes a danger in themselves, the hawkish correspondent intoned, but "beyond India's border lies a great country [Afghanistan] with whom we are not even yet technically at peace." Nor was that all. The recently-established Soviet Union, with which Afghanistan had concluded a treaty of friendship that February, loomed as the real threat behind the radical Pashtuns. "Beyond that again is a huge mad-dog nation that acknowledges no right save the sword, no creed save aggression, murder and loot, that will stay at nothing to gain its end, that covets avowedly a descent upon India above all other aims."</p> <p>That then-Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin, who took an extremely dim view of colonialism and seriously considered freeing the Central Asian possessions of the old tsarist empire, was then contemplating the rape of India is among the least believable calumnies in imperial propaganda. The "correspondent" would have none of it. Those, he concludes, who dare criticize the military budget should try sweet-talking the Mahsud, the Wazir and the Bolsheviks.</p> <p>In our own day as well, pundits configure the uncontrolled Pashtuns as merely the tip of a geostrategic iceberg, with the sinister icy menace of al-Qaeda stretching beneath, and beyond that greater challenges to the U.S. such as <a href=";CFTOKEN=18818985&amp;jsessionid=8830d80a1e4919e93fa8c4d5797a266a764a">Iran</a> (incredibly, sometimes charged by the U.S. military with supporting the hyper-Sunni, Shiite-hating Taliban in Afghanistan). Occasionally in this decade, attempts have even been made to tie <a href="">the Russian bear</a> once again to the Pashtun tribes.</p> <p>In the case of the British Empire, whatever the imperial fears, the actual cost in lives and expenditure of campaigning in the Hindu Kush mountain range was enough to ensure that such engagements would be of relatively limited duration. On October 26, 1921, the <i>Pioneer</i> reported that the British government of India had determined to implement a new system in Waziristan, dependent on tribal mercenaries.</p> <p>"This system, which was so successfully inaugurated in the Khyber district last year," the article explained, "is really an adaptation of the methods in vogue 40 years ago." The tribal commander provided his own weapons and equipment, and for a fee, protected imperial lines of communication and provided security on the roads. "Thus he has an interest in maintaining the tranquility of his territory, and gives support to the more stable elements among the tribes when the hotheads are apt to run amok." The system would be adopted, the article says, to put an end to the ruinous costs of "punitive expeditions of merely ephemeral pacificatory value."</p> <p>Absent-minded empire keeps reinventing the local tribal levy, loyal to foreign capitals and paid by them, as a way of keeping the hostiles in check. The U.S. Council on Foreign Relations <a href="">reported late last year</a> that "U.S. military commanders are studying the feasibility of recruiting Afghan tribesmen... to target Taliban and al-Qaeda elements. Taking a page from the so-called 'Sunni Awakening' in Iraq, which turned Sunni tribesmen against militants first in Anbar Province and then beyond, the strategic about-face in Afghanistan would seek to extend power from Kabul to the country's myriad tribal militias." Likewise, the Pakistani government has attempted to deploy tribal fighters against the Taliban in the Federally Administered areas such as Bajaur. It remains to be seen whether this strategy can succeed.</p> <p>Both in the era between the two world wars and again in the early twenty-first century, the Pashtun peoples have been objects of anxiety in world capitals out of all proportion to the security challenge they actually pose. As it turned out, the real threat to the British Isles in the twentieth century emanated from one of what Churchill called their "civilized" European neighbors. Nothing the British tried in the North-West Frontier and its hinterland actually worked. By the 1940s the British hold on the tribal agencies and frontier regions was shakier than ever before, and the tribes more assertive. After the British were forced out of the subcontinent in 1947, London's anxieties about the Pashtuns and their world-changing potential abruptly evaporated.</p> <p>Today, we are again hearing that the Waziris and the Mahsuds are dire threats to Western civilization. The tribal struggle for control of obscure villages in the foothills of the Himalayas is being depicted as a life-and-death matter for the North Atlantic world. Again, there is aerial surveillance, bombing, artillery fire, and -- this time -- displacement of civilians on a scale no British viceroy ever contemplated.</p> <p>In 1921, vague threats to the British Empire from a small, weak principality of Afghanistan and a nascent, if still supine, Soviet Union underpinned a paranoid view of the Pashtuns. Today, the supposed entanglement with al-Qaeda of those Pashtuns termed "Taliban" by U.S. and NATO officials -- or even with Iran or Russia -- has focused Washington's and Brussels's military and intelligence efforts on the highland villagers once again.</p> <p>Few of the Pashtuns in question, even the rebellious ones, are really Taliban in the sense of militant seminary students; few so-called Taliban are entwined with what little is left of al-Qaeda in the region; and Iran and Russia are not, of course, actually supporting the latter. There may be plausible reasons for which the U.S. and NATO wish to spend blood and treasure in an attempt to forcibly shape the politics of the 38 million Pashtuns on either side of the Durand Line in the twenty-first century. That they form a dire menace to the security of the North Atlantic world is not one of them.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Juan Cole is the Richard P. Mitchell Professor of History at the University of Michigan. His most recent book, <a href="">Engaging the Muslim World</a> (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), was published this spring. He has appeared widely on television, radio, and on op-ed pages as a commentator on Middle East affairs, and has a regular column at <a href=""></a>. He has written, edited, or translated 15 books, and authored 65 journal articles and chapters. He is the proprietor of the <a href="HTTP://WWW.JUANCOLE.COM/"> Informed Comment</a> weblog on current affairs. </div></div></div> Mon, 27 Jul 2009 21:00:01 -0700 Juan Cole, 657043 at World World afghanistan united states pakistan pashtuns Let's Hope India Doesn't React Like We Did to 9/11 <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The choices India makes now about the threat of terrorism will help determine what kind of superpower it will be.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p><font size="2" face="Arial">Many Indians have called the attacks in Mumbai "India's 9/11." As an American who lived in India, I can feel India's anguish over these horrific and indiscriminate acts of terror.</font></p><p><font size="2" face="Arial">Most Indian observers, however, were critical in 2001 (and after) of how exactly the Bush administration (i.e. Dick Cheney) responded to September 11. They were right, and they would do well to remember their own critique at this fateful moment.</font></p><p><font size="2" face="Arial">What where the major mistakes of the United States government, and how might India avoid repeating them?</font></p><p><font size="2" face="Arial"><b>Remember Asymmetry</b></font></p><p><font size="2" face="Arial">The Bush administration was convinced that 9/11 could not have been the work of a small, independent terrorist organization. They insisted that Iraq must somehow have been behind it. States are used to dealing with other states, and military and intelligence agencies are fixated on state rivals. But Bush and Cheney were wrong. We have entered an era of asymmetrical terrorism threats, in which relatively small groups can inflict substantial damage.</font></p><p><font size="2" face="Arial">The Bush administration clung to its conviction of an Iraq-al-Qaeda operational cooperation despite the excellent evidence, which the FBI and CIA quickly uncovered, that the money had all come via the UAE from Pakistan and Afghanistan. There was never any money trail back to the Iraqi government.</font></p><p><font size="2" face="Arial">Many Indian officials and much of the Indian public is falling into the Cheney fallacy.<b></b>Even if the attackers were from the Lashkar-e Taiba, we should not jump to the conclusion that this mission was planned or authorized by the Pakistani government, which has cracked down on the LeT since 2002. </font></p><p><font size="2" face="Arial"><b>Keep Your Eye on the Ball</b></font></p><p><font size="2" face="Arial">The Bush administration took its eye off al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and instead put most of its resources into confronting Iraq. But Iraq had nothing to do with al-Qaeda or the Taliban. Eventually this American fickleness allowed both al-Qaeda and the Taliban to regroup.</font></p><p><font size="2" face="Arial">Likewise, India should not allow itself to be distracted by implausible conspiracy theories about high Pakistani officials wanting to destroy the Oberoi Hotel in Mumbai. (Does that even make any sense?) Focusing on a conventional state threat alone will leave the country unprepared to meet further asymmetrical, guerrilla-style attacks.</font></p><p><font size="2" face="Arial"><b>Avoid Easy Bigotry about National Character</b></font></p><p><font size="2" face="Arial">Many Americans decided after 9/11 that since 13 of the hijackers were Saudi Wahhabis, there is something evil about Wahhabism and Saudi Arabia. But Saudi Arabia itself was attacked repeatedly by al-Qaeda in 2003-2006 and waged a major national struggle against it. You can't tar a whole people with the brush of a few nationals that turn to terrorism.</font></p><p><font size="2" face="Arial">Worse, a whole industry of Islamphobia grew up, with dedicated television programs (0'Reilly, Glen Beck), specialized sermonizers, and political hatchetmen (Giuliani). Persons born in the Middle East or Pakistan were systematically harassed at airports. And the stigmatization of Muslim Americans and Arab Americans was used as a wedge to attack liberals and leftists, as well, however illogical the juxtaposition may seem.</font></p><p><font size="2" face="Arial">U.S. law enforcement did ensure that despite some stray initial hate-crimes, Muslim Americans largely remained secure, and India might emulate that commitment.</font></p><p><font size="2" face="Arial">The silver lining in these dark days in India is that, despite the danger of it, there has been no mob action against Muslims, which would have ineluctably dragged the country into communal violence. </font></p><p><font size="2" face="Arial">The terrorists that attacked Mumbai killed and wounded Muslims along with other Indians. So it was not an attack on non-Muslims alone.</font></p><p><font size="2" face="Arial">There has also been a welcome tendency to view terrorists as terrorists alone, and not as Hindu or Muslim terrorists, particularly since the arrests for the earlier <a set="yes" linkindex="34" target="_blank" href="">Malegaon blasts</a>. </font></p><p><font size="2" face="Arial">Besides, from all indications, the terrorists were not Muslims in any meaningful sense of the word. They were cultists. Some of them brought <a set="yes" linkindex="35" target="_blank" href="">stocks of alcohol for the siege they knew they would provoke</a>. Even if they were trained by the LeT, they were clearly not pious Muslims. </font></p><p><font size="2" face="Arial"><font size="2" face="Arial"><b>Address Security Flaws, but Keep Civil Liberties Strong</b></font></font></p><p><font size="2" face="Arial"><font size="2" face="Arial">The 9/11 hijackings exploited three simple flaws in airline security of a procedural sort. Cockpit doors were not thought to need strengthening. It was assumed that hijackers could not fly planes. And no one expected hijackers to kill themselves. Once those assumptions are no longer made, security is already much better. Likewise, the Mumbai terrorists exploited flaws in coastal, urban and hotel security, which need to be addressed.</font></font></p><p><font size="2" face="Arial"><font size="2" face="Arial">But Bush and Cheney hardly contented themselves with counter-terrorism measures. They dropped a thousand-page "p.a.t.r.i.o.t. act" on Congress one night and insisted they vote on it the next day. They created outlaw spaces like Guantanamo and engaged in torture (or encouraged allies to torture for them). They railroaded innocent people. They deeply damaged American democracy.</font></font></p><p><font size="2" face="Arial"><font size="2" face="Arial">India's own democracy has all along been fragile. I actually travelled in India in summer of 1976 when Indira Gandhi had declared "Emergency," i.e., had suspended civil liberties and democracy (the only such period in Indian history since 1947). India's leadership must not allow a handful of terrorists to push the country into another Emergency. It is not always possible for lapsed democracies to recover their liberties once they are undermined.</font></font></p><p><font size="2" face="Arial"><font size="2" face="Arial"><b>Avoid War</b></font></font></p><p><font size="2" face="Arial"><font size="2" face="Arial">The Bush administration fought two major wars in the aftermath of 9/11 but was never able to kill or capture the top al-Qaeda leadership. Conventional warfare did not actually destroy the Taliban, who later experienced a resurgence. The attack on Iraq destabilized the eastern stretches of the Middle East, which will be fragile and will face the threat of further wars for some time to come.</font></font></p><p><font size="2" face="Arial"><font size="2" face="Arial">War with Pakistan over the Mumbai attacks would be a huge error. President Asaf Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani certainly <em>would</em> not have <em>had</em><b></b>anything to do with those attacks. Indeed, the bombing of the Islamabad Marriott, which was intended to kill them, was done by exactly the same sort of people as attacked Mumbai. Nor was Chief of Staff Ashfaq Kiyani involved. Is it possible that a military cell under Gen. Pervez Musharraf trained Lashkar-e Tayiba terrorists for attacks in Kashmir, and then some of the LET went rogue and decided to hit Mumbai instead? Yes. But to interpret such a thing as a Pakistan government operation would be incorrect.</font></font></p><p><font size="2" face="Arial"><font size="2" face="Arial">With a new civilian government, headed by politicians who have themselves suffered from Muslim extremism and terrorism, Pakistan could be an increasingly important security partner for India. Allowing past enmities to derail these potentialities for detente would be most unwise. India would do well to make common cause with and get the support of sympathetic elements in Pakistan who have the same enemy in these terrorists, no matter how limited their sphere of influence is.</font></font></p><p><font size="2" face="Arial"><font size="2" face="Arial"><b>Don't Swing to the Right</b></font></font></p><p><font size="2" face="Arial"><font size="2" face="Arial">The American public, traumatized by 9/11 and misled by propaganda from corporate media, swung right. Instead of rebuking Bush and Cheney for their sins against the Republic, for their illegal war on Iraq, for their gutting of the Bill of Rights, for their Orwellian techniques of governance, the public gave them another 4 years in 2004. This Himalayan error of judgment allowed Bush and Cheney to go on, like giant termites, undermining the economic and legal foundations of American values and prosperity.</font></font></p><p><font size="2" face="Arial"><font size="2" face="Arial">The Bharatiya Janata Party, which has extensive links with Hindu extremist groups, is already attacking the Congress Party for allegedly being soft on Muslim terrorism. Let's not forget that the BJP almost dragged India into a nuclear war with Pakistan in 2002, and it seeded RSS extremists in the civil bureaucracy, and for the Indian public to return it to power now would risk further geopolitical and domestic tensions. More importantly, India lost its focus at that time in its fight against terrorism which should have been concentrated on strengthening security and intelligence resources and responses.</font></font></p><p><font size="2" face="Arial"><font size="2" face="Arial">India may well become a global superpower during the coming century. The choices it makes now on how it will deal with this threat of terrorism will help determine what kind of country it will be, and what kind of global impact it will have. While it may be hypocritical of an American to hope that New Delhi deals with its crisis better than we did, it bespeaks my confidence in the country that I believe it can.</font></font></p><p><font size="2" face="Arial"> </font></p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Juan Cole is a professor of history at the University of Michigan and maintains the popular blog <a href="">Informed Comment</a>. </div></div></div> Mon, 01 Dec 2008 21:00:01 -0800 Juan Cole, Outlook India 651823 at News & Politics ForeignPolicy terrorism india pakistan superpower mumbai Forget the Surge -- Violence Is Down in Iraq Because Ethnic Cleansing Was Brutally Effective <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The bloodbath in Baghdad has resulted in fewer ethnically mixed neighborhoods, leading to the recent drop in violence.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><b>Editor's note:</b> John McCain's latest stumble in discussing Iraq -- in which he muddled the timeline of the so-called "surge" -- was treated by most of the press <a href="">as an unfortunate gaffe</a>, rather than further proof that the aspiring commander in chief does not know what he's talking about when it comes to the war and occupation. (One CNN report actually ran the headline: "McCain Broadens Definition of the Surge.") Meanwhile, the Republican nominee's recent attacks on Barack Obama for failing to admit the success of the "surge" was widely reported by the same members of the media, whose dominant and uncritical narrative has long been that, as McCain and Bush contend, the "surge" has been an unqualified success. "Why can't Obama bring himself to acknowledge the surge worked better than he and other skeptics thought that it would?" a <i>USA Today</i> editorial asked last week.<br /><br />In the article below, Juan Cole takes a closer look at the "surge," weighing the troop increase alongside the numerous other contributing factors to the decline in violence. At the same time, he reminds us that, regardless of the relative decrease in bloodshed -- and what may be behind it -- the country is still a frightfully unstable place for Iraqis. "Most American commentators are so focused on the relative fall in casualties that they do not stop to consider how high the rates of violence remain," he writes. Few people would consider Afghanistan, where last year an average of 550 people were killed per month, a safe place. Yet, "that is about the rate recently (in Iraq), according to official statistics." <i>-- AlterNet War on Iraq editor Liliana Segura</i><br /><br />***<br /><br />I want to weigh in as a social historian of Iraq on the controversy over whether the "surge" "worked." The <i>New York Times</i> reports:<blockquote>Mr. McCain bristled in an interview with the CBS Evening News on (July 22) when asked about Mr. Obama's contention that while the added troops had helped reduce violence in Iraq, other factors had helped, including the Sunni Awakening movement, in which thousands of Sunnis were enlisted to patrol neighborhoods and fight the insurgency, and the Iraqi government's crackdown on Shiite militias.</blockquote><blockquote>"I don't know how you respond to something that is such a false depiction of what actually happened," Mr. McCain told Katie Couric, noting that the Awakening movement began in Anbar Province when a Sunni sheik teamed up with Sean MacFarland, a colonel who commanded an Army brigade there.</blockquote><blockquote>"Because of the surge we were able to go out and protect that sheik and others," Mr. McCain said. "And it began the Anbar Awakening. I mean, that's just a matter of history."</blockquote><blockquote>The Obama campaign was quick to note that the Anbar Awakening began in the fall of 2006, several months before President Bush even announced the troop escalation strategy, which became known as the surge.</blockquote><blockquote>And Democrats noted that the sheik who helped form the Awakening, Abdul Sattar Buzaigh al-Rishawi, was assassinated in September 2007, after the troop escalation began.</blockquote><blockquote>But several foreign policy analysts said that if Mr. McCain got the chronology wrong, his broader point -- that the troop escalation was crucial for the Awakening movement to succeed and spread -- was right. "I would say McCain is three-quarters right in this debate," said Michael E. O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.</blockquote>The problem with this debate is that it has few Iraqis in it.<br /><br />It is also open to charges of logical fallacy. The only evidence presented for the thesis that the "surge" "worked" is that Iraqi deaths from political violence have declined in recent months from all-time highs in the second half of 2006 and the first half of 2007. (That apocalyptic violence was set off by the bombing of the Askariya shrine in Samarra in February 2006, which helped provoke a Sunni-Shiite civil war.) What few political achievements are attributed to the troop escalation are too laughable to command real respect.<br /><br />Proponents are awfully hard to pin down on what the "surge" consisted of or when it began. It seems to me to refer to the troop escalation that began in February 2007. But now the technique of bribing Sunni Arab former insurgents to fight radical Sunni vigilantes is being rolled into the "surge" by politicians such as McCain. But attempts to pay off the Sunnis to quiet down began months before the troop escalation and had a dramatic effect in al-Anbar Province long before any extra U.S. troops were sent to al-Anbar (nor were very many extra troops ever sent there). I will disallow it. The "surge" is the troop escalation that began in the winter of 2007. The bribing of insurgents to come into the cold could have been pursued without a significant troop escalation, and was.<br /><br />Aside from defining what proponents mean by the "surge," all kinds of things are claimed for it that are not in evidence. The assertion depends on a possible logical fallacy: post hoc ergo propter hoc. If event X comes after event Y, it is natural to suspect that Y caused X. But it would often be a false assumption. Thus, actress Sharon Stone alleged that the recent earthquake in China was caused by China's crackdown on Tibetan protesters. That is just superstition, and callous superstition at that. It is a good illustration, however, of the very logical fallacy to which I am referring.<br /><br />For the first six months of the troop escalation, high rates of violence continued unabated. That is suspicious. What exactly were U.S. troops doing differently from September than they were doing in May, such that there was such a big change? The answer to that question is simply not clear. Note that the troop escalation only brought U.S. force strength up to what it had been in late 2005. In a country of 27 million, 30,000 extra U.S. troops are highly unlikely to have had a really major impact, when they had not before.<br /><br />As best I can piece it together, what actually seems to have happened was that the escalation troops began by disarming the Sunni Arabs in Baghdad. Once these Sunnis were left helpless, the Shiite militias came in at night and ethnically cleansed them. Shaab district near Adhamiya had been a mixed neighborhood. It ended up with almost no Sunnis. Baghdad in the course of 2007 went from 65 percent Shiite to at least 75 percent Shiite and maybe more. My thesis would be that the United States inadvertently allowed the chasing of hundreds of thousands of Sunni Arabs out of Baghdad (and many of them had to go all the way to Syria for refuge). Rates of violence declined once the ethnic cleansing was far advanced, just because there were fewer mixed neighborhoods.<br /><br />This MNF graph courtesy of <a linkindex="3" href="">Think Progress</a> makes the point:<br /><br /><img src="" height="292" width="390" /><br /><br />As <a linkindex="4" href="">Think Progress quoted CNN correspondent Michael Ware</a>:<blockquote>The sectarian cleansing of Baghdad has been -- albeit tragic -- one of the key elements to the drop in sectarian violence in the capital. It's a very simple concept: Baghdad has been divided; segregated into Sunni and Shia enclaves. The days of mixed neighborhoods are gone. If anyone is telling you that the cleansing of Baghdad has not contributed to the fall in violence, then they either simply do not understand Baghdad or they are lying to you.</blockquote>Of course, Gen. David Petraeus took courageous and effective steps to try to stop bombings in markets and so forth. But I am skeptical that most of these techniques had macro effects. Big population movements because of militia ethnic cleansing are more likely to account for big changes in social statistics.<br /><br />The way in which the escalation troops did help establish Awakening Councils is that when they got wise to the Shiite ethnic cleansing program; the United States began supporting these Sunni militias, thus forestalling further expulsions.<br /><br />The Shiitization of Baghdad was thus a significant cause of falling casualty rates. But it is another war waiting to happen, when the Sunnis come back to find Shiite militiamen in their living rooms.<br /><br />In al-Anbar Province, among the more violent in Iraq in earlier years, the bribing of former Sunni guerrillas to join U.S.-sponsored Awakening Councils had a big calming effect. This technique could have been used much earlier than 2006; indeed, it could have been deployed from 2003 and might have forestalled large numbers of deaths. Condi Rice forbade U.S. military officers from dealing in this way with the Sunnis for fear of alienating U.S. Shiite allies such as Ahmad Chalabi. The technique was independent of the troop escalation. Indeed, it depended on there not being much of a troop escalation in that province. Had large numbers of U.S. soldiers been committed to simply fight the Sunnis or engage in search-and-destroy missions, they would have stirred up and reinforced the guerrilla movement. There were typically only 10,000 U.S. troops in al-Anbar before 2007, as I recollect. (It has a population of a million and a half or so.) If the number of U.S. troops went up to 14,000, that cannot possibly have made the difference.<br /><br />The Mahdi Army militia of Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr concluded a cease-fire with U.S. and Iraqi troops in September 2007. Since the United States had inadvertently enabled the transformation of Baghdad into a largely Shiite city, a prime aim of the Mahdi Army, they could afford to stand down. Moreover, they were being beaten militarily by the Badr Corps militia of the pro-Iranian Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and by Iraqi security forces, in Karbala, Diwaniya and elsewhere. It was prudent for them to stand down. Their doing so much reduced civilian deaths.<br /><br />Badr reassertion in Basra was also important, and ultimately received backing this spring from Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. There were few coalition troops in Basra, mainly British, and most were moved out to the airport, so the troop escalation was obviously irrelevant to improvements in Basra. Now British Prime Minister Gordon Brown <a set="yes" linkindex="5" href="">seems to be signaling that most British troops will come home in 2009</a>.<br /><br />The vast increase in Iraqi oil revenues in recent years, and the cancellation of much foreign debt, has made the central government more powerful vis-a-vis the society. Al-Maliki can afford to pay, train and equip many more police and soldiers. An Iraq with an unencumbered $75 billion in oil income begins to look more like Kuwait, and to be able to afford to buy off various constituencies. It is a different game than an Iraq with $33 billion in revenues, much of it precommitted to debt servicing.<br /><br /><a set="yes" linkindex="6" href="">McCain was wrong to say that U.S. or Iraqi casualty rates were unprecedentedly low in May</a>.<br /><br />Most American commentators are so focused on the relative fall in casualties that they do not stop to consider how high the rates of violence remain. Kudos to <a linkindex="7" href=",0,3829013.column">Steve Chapman for telling it like it is.</a><br /><br />I'd suggest some comparisons. The Sri Lankan civil war between Sinhalese and Tamils has killed an average of 233 persons a month since 1983 and is considered one of the world's major ongoing trouble spots. That is half the average monthly casualties in Iraq recently. In 2007, the conflict in Afghanistan killed an average of 550 persons a month. That is about the rate recently, according to official statistics, for Iraq. The death rate in 2006-2007 in Somalia was probably about 300 a month, or about half this year's average monthly rate in Iraq. Does anybody think Afghanistan or Somalia is calm? Thirty years of Northern Ireland troubles left about 3,000 dead, a toll still racked up in Iraq every five months on average.<br /><br />All the talk of casualty rates, of course, is to some extent beside the point. The announced purpose of the troop escalation was to create secure conditions in which political compromises could be achieved.<br /><br />In spring of 2007, Iraq had a national unity government. Al-Maliki's cabinet had members in it from the Shiite Islamic Virtue Party, the Sadr Movement, the secular Iraqi National list of Iyad Allawi, the Sunni Iraqi Accord Front, the Kurdistan Alliance, and the two Shiite core partners, the Islamic Mission (Da'wa) Party and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq.<br /><br />Al-Maliki lost his national unity government in the summer of 2007, just as casualties began to decline. The Islamic Virtue Party, the Sadrists and the Iraqi National List are all still in the opposition. The Islamic Mission Party of al-Maliki has split, and he appears to remain in control of the smaller remnant. So although the Sunni IAF has agreed to rejoin the government, al-Maliki's ability to promote national reconciliation is actually much reduced now from 14 months ago.<br /><br />There has been very little reconciliation between Sunni and Shiite. The new de-Baathification law, which ostensibly was aimed at improving the condition of Sunnis who had worked in the former regime, was loudly denounced by the very ex-Baathists who would be affected by it. In any case, the measure has languished in oblivion and no effort has been made to implement it. Depending on how it is implemented, it could easily lead to large numbers of Sunnis being fired from government ministries and so might make things worse.<br /><br />An important step was the holding of new provincial elections. Since the Sunni Arabs boycotted the last ones in January 2005, their provinces have not had representative governments; in some, Shiite and Kurdish officials have wielded power over the majority Sunni Arabs. Attempts to hold the provincial elections this fall have so far run aground on the shoals of ethnic conflict. Thus, the Shiite parties wanted to use ayatollahs' pictures in their campaigns, against the wishes of the other parties. It isn't clear what parliament will decide about that. More important is the question of whether provincial elections will be held in the disputed Kirkuk Province, which the Kurds want to annex. That dispute has caused <a set="yes" linkindex="8" href="">(Kurdish) President Jalal Talabani to veto the enabling legislation</a> for the provincial elections, which may set them back months or indefinitely.<br /><br />There is also no oil law, essential to allow foreign investment in developing new fields.<br /><br />So did the "surge" "work"?<br /><br />The troop escalation in and of itself was probably not that consequential. That the troops were used in new ways by Petraeus was more important. But their main effect was ironic. They calmed Baghdad down by accidentally turning it into a Shiite city, as Shiite as Isfahan or Tehran, and thus a terrain on which the Sunni Arab guerrilla movement could not hope to fight effectively.<br /><br />It is Obama who has the better argument in this debate, not McCain, who knows almost nothing about Iraq and Iraqis and who overestimates what can be expected of 30,000 U.S. troops in an enormous, complex country.<br /><br />But the problem for McCain is that it does not matter very much for policy who is right in this debate. Security in Iraq is demonstrably improved, for whatever reason, and the Iraqis want the United States out. If things are better, what is the rationale for keeping U.S. troops in Iraq? <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Juan Cole is a professor of history at the University of Michigan and maintains the popular blog <a href="">Informed Comment</a>. </div></div></div> Mon, 28 Jul 2008 21:00:01 -0700 Juan Cole, 648521 at War on Iraq World iraq mccain surge Juan Cole -- Iraq Civil War Round-Up <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The latest, as violence flares up across Iraq.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><br />People are asking me the significance of the fighting going on in Basra and elsewhere. My reading is that the US faced a dilemma in Iraq. It needed to have new provincial elections in an attempt to mollify the Sunni Arabs, especially in Sunni-majority provinces like Diyala, which has nevertheless been ruled by the Shiite Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq. But if they have provincial elections, their chief ally, the Islamic Supreme Council, might well lose southern provinces to the Sadr Movement. In turn, the Sadrists are demanding a timetable for US withdrawal, whereas ISCI wants US troops to remain. So the setting of October, 2008, as the date for provincial elections provoked this crisis. I think Cheney probably told ISCI and Prime Minister al-Maliki that the way to fix this problem and forestall the Sadrists coming to power in Iraq, was to destroy the Mahdi Army, the Sadrists' paramilitary. Without that coercive power, the Sadrists might not remain so important, is probably their thinking. I believe them to be wrong, and suspect that if the elections are fair, the Sadrists will sweep to power and may even get a sympathy vote. It is admittedly a big 'if.'<br /><br /><a href="">Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that</a> Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki continues to refuse to negotiate with the Mahdi Army militiamen, and said, "They have no other choice but to surrender." He did extend the deadline for them to surrender heavy arms from 3 days to 10, and promised monetary rewards to those who complied. Al-Maliki said he was unconcerned with political parties, but that he could not abide armed gangs that interfered with the work of the government. He was referring to the Mahdi Army.<br /><br />Clashes continued between government troops and the Mahdi Army on Thursday in Basra and other cities in the south for the third straight day. Some 45 are said to be dead in Kut, the capital of Wasit province, and US helicopter gunships are said to have killed 60 in Hilla south of Baghdad.<br /><br />On Friday morning, <a href="">there are reports of clashes</a> in Nasiriya and Mahmudiya.<br /><br /><a href=",1,3783015.story">The LA Times says of the fighting in Basra</a> on Thursday, when its downtown was a ghost town:<blockquote>' Residents said food prices were soaring because it was difficult to get goods into the city, where clashes continued Thursday. In a Sadr stronghold in west Basra, hundreds of people led by tribal sheiks held a protest demanding that the government halt the military operation and restore electricity and water, which they said had been cut three days earlier. '</blockquote>McClatchy reports that so far the 30,000 Iraqi government troops in Basra have proven unable to dislodge the Mahdi Army from its strongholds:<blockquote>' In Basra, the Mahdi Army retained control of its four main strongholds of al Hayaniyah, al Qibla, al Timimiyah and Khamsa Mil. Al Timimiyah is in the center of the city, and the three other areas are on the main road from Baghdad to Basra. '</blockquote>Water, electricity and medicine were said to be lacking for people in Basra.<br /><br /><a href="">BBC reports that on Friday morning</a>, there was a lull in the fighting and people were coming out:<blockquote>' "Today since early morning it's quiet. No shooting. And the people in Basra are going out of their houses for shopping. The buses have started working. And the cars are also working on the streets," the councillor said. '</blockquote>In Baghdad, al-Hayat says, thousands of protesters came out to rally against Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, demanding that he resign and threatening him with a trial worse than that of Saddam Hussein.<br /><br />Clashes broke out between Mahdi Army militiamen and government security forces in 10 Baghdad districts, but appear to have subsided when a curfew was imposed, which forbids vehicles to circulate until Sunday.<br /><br />The Green Zone, where the US embassy and other US facilities are, took more heavy mortar fire on Thursday. An American earlier wounded in that sort of bombardment later died.<br /><br /><a href=";issueno=10713&amp;article=464540&amp;feature=">Al-Sharq al-Awsat reports in Arabic</a> that various parties in parliament are responding differently to al-Maliki's military campaign in Basra. The Shiite United Iraqi Alliance, with 85 members in parliament, strongly supported the operation. The major component of the UIA is the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, led by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, a rival of the Sadrists of Muqtada al-Sadr. Ironically, ISCI is denouncing the maintaining of a paramilitary by a party; yet it has its own militia, the Badr Corps.<br /><br />In contrast, the Sunni fundamentalist Iraqi Accord Front is opposed to the attack on the Mahdi Army, with its leader Adnan Dulaimi, saying that it does not work to the benefit of Iraq.<br /><br />A member of Iyad Allawi's National Iraqi List, which has 22 seats in parliament, said it was necessary to stop the activities of lawless gunmen. But Izzat al-Shahbandar warned that if the campaign went on very long, it could derail the political process in Iraq.<br /><br /><a href="">McClatchy reports civil war violence</a> in Iraq for Thursday:<blockquote>' Baghdad</blockquote><blockquote> 12 mortars hit the Green Zone starting at 10 am until this report was prepared at 2 pm, Thursday, said Iraqi Police. The U.S. Embassy said no one was injured.</blockquote><blockquote> 2 mortar rounds fell on Ur neighbourhood, east Baghdad near an open air marketplace killing one civilian, injuring two.</blockquote><blockquote> 2 mortar rounds hit Karrada Kharij Street, central Baghdad injuring 1 civilian.</blockquote><blockquote> 17 wounded Iraqi Army soldiers from Basra were taken to al-Yarmouk Hospital for treatment.</blockquote><blockquote> Clashes in al-Mansour district, from Iskan neighbourhood to Abu Jafar al-Mansour began this morning between Mahdi Army members and security forces. 3 Iraqi Army soldiers were injured and the clashes continued at the time of publication.</blockquote><blockquote> A parked car bomb exploded near the Red Crescent office, Andalus Square, in central Baghdad causing some material damages to its outer wall.</blockquote><blockquote> Clashes between Mahdi Army members and National Police in al-Amin neighbourhood started this morning and continue until the preparation of this report at 2 pm. Casualties have not been reported until this time.</blockquote><blockquote> The office of al-Da'wa Party in al-Shaab neighbourhood has been torched, causing only material damages.</blockquote><blockquote> 3 mortars hit al-Alawi bus station, central Baghdad, killing 2 civilians, injuring 15.</blockquote><blockquote> Updating Sadr City news, since the fighting started on Monday until now, the toll has reached 38 killed and 47 wounded, Iraqi police said.</blockquote><blockquote> Gunmen kidnapped the civil spokesman of the Baghdad Security Plan, Tahseen al-Shaikhli. An armed group attacked his home, took him captive, let his family go and torched his house. They also took a government pick up truck, loaded it with 26 pieces of weaponry belonging to his security detail.</blockquote><blockquote> 8 Iraqi soldiers were wounded in clashes between Iraqi Army and members of the Mahdi Army in Talbiyah, north Baghdad at around 3 pm Thursday.</blockquote><blockquote> Random fire by gunmen passing in a speeding car killed a father and his son, 13 years old in Talbiyah, north Baghdad at 5 this afternoon.</blockquote><blockquote> 1 civilian injured when gunmen opened fire randomly across Sabah al-Khayat Square in Shaab area in north Baghdad at around 5 pm.</blockquote><blockquote> 1 mortar round fell in Battawin neighbourhood, which is a largely commercial area in central Baghdad, injuring 2 civilians at 5 pm.</blockquote><blockquote> Clashes between gunmen and Iraqi Army in Zafaraniyah, southeast Baghdad at around 5.30 pm left 2 soldiers seriously injured.</blockquote><blockquote> 2 mortar rounds hit the Ministry of Interior, al-Tasfeerat compound in central Baghdad at 6 pm killing 1 employee and injuring 4.</blockquote><blockquote> A mortar shell hit a residential building in Karrada Dakhil, central Baghdad at 6.15 pm, injuring 2 residents and causing material damage.</blockquote><blockquote> Clashes broke out between National Police and gunmen in Husseiniyah neighbourhood at around 6.30 pm and the clashes continued at the time of publication.</blockquote><blockquote> 4 mortar rounds hit the US military base in Rustamiyah at 6.30 pm. No casualties were reported and no comment was available from the US military at the time of publication.</blockquote><blockquote> Gunmen target a police patrol at the entrance of al-Hurriyah neighbourhood at 8 pm injuring 1 policeman.</blockquote><blockquote> Thursday at 8 pm the Shoala Police Station fell in the control of an armed group.</blockquote><blockquote> 5 unidentified bodies were found in Baghdad by Iraqi Police today. 1 in Ur, 1 in Zayuna, 1 in Husseiniyah, 1 in Mansour, 1 in Alawi al-Hilla, Sheikh Ma'roof.</blockquote><blockquote> Basra</blockquote><blockquote> Fighting in Basra between the Mahdi Army and the security forces has been ongoing since early Tuesday, and the toll of the fighting is at least 97 killed and around 300 injured, a medical source in the Directorate of Health in Basra said.</blockquote><blockquote> Hilla</blockquote><blockquote> Clashes have resumed in the city centre of Hilla city causing the injury of 30 people, 22 of whom were police and army, 8 civilians amongst who was a woman and the death of 1 soldier and 2 policemen.</blockquote><blockquote> Clashes in Chiffel neibourhood inside Hilla city continue, and the offices of al-Da'wa Party and the Supreme Council were torched by members of al-Mahdi Army causing the death of 3 policemen and the injury of 4.</blockquote><blockquote> Maysan</blockquote><blockquote> Gunmen torch Badr Organization Bureau located in Hitteen Square, in the centre of Amara city. They launched 4 RPGs at the bureau, three of which hit the bureau and burned the building to the ground. The fourth hit an adjacent house, injuring one of its inhabitants.</blockquote><blockquote> Clashes between Iraqi Army and Mahdi Army members as the regular army was crossing what is commonly known as the Yugoslav Bridge, north Amara. 2 civilians were killed and 7 injured by cross fire.</blockquote><blockquote> Salahuddin</blockquote><blockquote> Gunmen attack a Sahwa, US sponsored militia, member's house in al-Khadhraa neighbourhood, downtown Samara and kill both him and his son and injured his wife and one of his daughters. Joint forces, Iraqi army and US military announce a curfew in order to search for the armed group, said First Lieutenant Muthanna Shakir. US military did not include this report in their release.</blockquote><blockquote> A roadside bomb exploded yesterday, Wednesday targeting a Support Force, CLC, checkpoint on the main road near Awja city injuring 7 Sahwa members and 2 civilians.</blockquote><blockquote> A mortar shell fell on Tel al-Jarad, Baiji city, yesterday evening killing a woman Mona Ajaj, injuring 5 civilians, amongst whom were 3 children and a woman.</blockquote><blockquote> IED exploded targeting a soldier as he left his home going to work, in Malha neighbourhood, north Baiji, causing his death.</blockquote><blockquote> Diyala</blockquote><blockquote> 5 unidentified bodies were found in a mass grave by security forces in al-Zor area, Muqdadiyah district, 25 km to the east of Baquba.</blockquote><blockquote> Local police found 4 bodies in al-Asaiba village, Shahraban district, 8 km south of the town of Baladruz. . .</blockquote><blockquote> A roadside bomb exploded targeting a civilian car in the town of Khanaqin injuring 2 civilians.</blockquote><blockquote> The District Commissioner's office in Khan Beni Saad was targeted with mortar fire by the Mahdi Army today. The security forces announced a curfew in the town in order to track the armed group.</blockquote><blockquote> Anbar . . .</blockquote><blockquote> 5 Iraqi Army soldiers from Anbar were killed in the fighting in Basra. Their bodies were returned to their families today.</blockquote><blockquote> Kirkuk</blockquote><blockquote> A suicide car bomb targeted an Asayesh, a Kurd security intelligence agency, vehicle killing an officer, Captain Tayib Mahmoud, and injuring 2 of his security detail and 5 civilians in the proximity of the explosion. The incident took place in al-Quds Street, Tiseen neighbourhood, downtown Kirkuk city early Thursday morning.</blockquote><blockquote> Gunmen assassinated the Commander of Garmian Peshmerga Forces, of the KDP. The gunmen opened fire upon his motorcade in a town near Daqooq, south Kirkuk, killing him and 4 of his security detail. '</blockquote> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Juan Cole is a professor of history at the University of Michigan and maintains the popular blog <a href="">Informed Comment</a>. </div></div></div> Fri, 28 Mar 2008 04:00:01 -0700 Juan Cole, Informed Comment 645598 at War on Iraq World iraq cheney maliki sadr siic Iraq's Three Civil Wars <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">There are three major conflicts in Iraq -- and the U.S. is virtually powerless to stop them.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->All war situations are a little bit opaque, but from reading the Iraqi press in Arabic, I conclude that there are three major struggles for power of a political and violent sort. What's striking is how little relevance the United States has. It is a superpower, and it is militarily occupying the country, but it appears most frequently to be in the position of going to the parties and saying, "Hey, guys, cut it out. Make nice. Please." It's odd that it should be so powerless in some ways, but let me explain.<br /><br />So, what are the three wars? There's a war for Basra in the deep south. This is a port city on the Shatt al-Arab. It's the body of water where the Tigris and the Euphrates come together, and they flow together, then out to the Persian Gulf. In the old days, it was a major port, Al Basrah, because the ships could come up the Shatt al-Arab from the Persian Gulf. Now they'll stop instead at a smaller port named Umm Qasr near to Basra, and this is how you get things in and out of Iraq. Last I checked, Iraq was exporting 1.8 million barrels a day of petroleum. Where is it exporting from? Largely from Basra. (There is some, about 300,000 barrels a day going out through the north, but it's a relatively minor amount.) So, basically, import, export, lifeline, and petroleum, are all that is centered in Basra, and if Basra were to collapse, then Iraq collapses. I don't see how the government survives, how anything goes positive in Iraq if Basra collapses, and I cannot figure out what's causing it not to collapse. There is not a good situation down there, as I'll explain.<br /><br />Then, there's a war for Baghdad. This is the one that Americans tend to know about because the U.S. troops are in Baghdad, and so it's being fought all around our guys, and we are drawn into it from time to time. The American public, when it thinks about this war, mainly thinks about attacks on U.S. troops, which are part of that war because the U.S. troops were seen by the Sunni Arabs as adjuncts to the Shiite paramilitaries, and they have really functioned that way. Most American observers of Iraq wouldn't say that the U.S. is an enabler of the Mahdi Army and the Badr Corps paramilitaries of these Shiite fundamentalist parties, but you could make the case that, functionally speaking, that's how it's worked out. The U.S. has mainly taken on the remnants of the Ba'ath party, the Salafi jihadis, and other Sunni groups, and has tried to disarm them, tried to kill them, and has opened a space for the Shiite paramilitaries to claim territory and engage in ethnic cleansing and gain territory and power. So that battle between the Sunni Arabs and the Shiite Arabs is going on in Baghdad, is going on in the hinterlands of Baghdad, up to the northeast to Diyala Province, and then south to Babil and so forth.<br /><br />And finally, as if all that weren't enough, there is a war in the north for control of Kirkuk, which used to be called by Saddam "Ta'mim Province". Kirkuk Province has the city of Kirkuk in it and very productive oil fields, in the old days at least. Kirkuk is not part of the Kurdistan Regional Authority, which was created by melding three northern provinces together into a super province; however, the Kurdistan Regional Authority wishes to annex Kirkuk to the authority.<br /><br />Regional governments are super-provinces or provincial confederations. Try to imagine what happened -- Iraq had 18 provinces in the old days, but it now has 15 provinces and one regional authority. It would be as though Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana got together, erased their state borders, elected a joint parliament and a prime minister, and then told the Federal leaders in Washington that if they would like to communicate with any of those states, they need to go through the regional prime minister, and by the way, we're not sending any more money to Washington. And don't even think about keeping federal troops on our soil. So, this is what the Kurds have done. They've erased the provincial boundaries that created one Kurdistan government that had -- it has -- its own military. They're giving out visas independent of Baghdad. They're inviting companies in to explore for oil independent of Baghdad. They're the Taiwan of the Middle East. They're an independent country. They just don't say that they are because it would cause a war.<br /><br />There is a war for Kirkuk in the sense that there are Arabs and Turkmen there that don't want to be part of the Kurdistan Regional Authority. The Kurds, on the other hand, are very insistent on having Kirkuk because if Kurdistan has Kirkuk in the long run, it means Kurdistan is a viable country in its own right. The Turks don't want the Kurds to have Kirkuk, and so on and so forth. And the fighting around Kirkuk -- not only in Kirkuk City and the rest of the province, but in places like Hawija -- extends down to Mosul, a largely Arab city in Ninawa (Ninevah), where 70,000 Kurds have been chased out of Mosul. There's this ethnic cleansing phenomenon of Arab, Kurdish, and Turkmen fighting. There's an international dimension because the Kurdistan Regional Authority would like eventually to be an independent country. They're regional expansionists and would like to add more parts of Iraqi provinces to themselves, part of Diyala, all of Kirkuk, part of Ninawa and so forth, and they seem to have an eye on Kurdish populated regions in Iran and in Turkey, ultimately adding them to themselves. This is an aggrandizing, regional, ethnically based new state in the Middle East and, I think, it bears some resemblance to the phenomenon of Serbian nationalism in the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. We all know what kind of trouble that caused, and I think similar trouble is coming in the north of Iraq.<br /><br />Now, why is the U.S. irrelevant to these wars? Well, there are no U.S. troops in the deep south, or none to speak of. The Mahdi army of the Shiite cleric Muqtada Al Sadr basically controls Maysan Province, which is nearby to Basra, and they won it in the elections. No U.S. troops to my knowledge are in Kurdistan. There's a U.S. base out at the airport in Kirkuk, but the U.S. forces are very thin on the ground up north, and the reason for that is partially that, in 2003, when the invasion occurred, the Fourth Infantry Division was supposed to come through Turkey into Northern Iraq, and the Turkish Parliament declined to allow that to happen. So, the U.S. never really did conquer Northern Iraq. It has a base around Mosul and so forth, but I don't think there are more than a couple of thousand U.S. troops in Mosul, for instance, a major city. It's a million and a half people. It's a very important area.<br /><br />So two of these struggles are going on virtually without reference to U.S. troops -- because there aren't very many around in those regions -- and one of the struggles is going on with 160,000 U.S. troops present, but apparently unable to do anything about it.<br /><br /><b>The South</b><br /><br />The Basra Provincial Council has 41 members, and 21 of the members of the council supported, in the aftermath of the election, the Islamic Virtue Party, which follows Ayatollah Mohammad Sadeq al-Sadr, who was killed by Saddam in 1999. The Islamic Virtue Party is one of a number of offshoots of his movement. The one that's most famous is run by his son, Muqtada al-Sadr, who formed the Mahdi Army. The Islamic Virtue Party is extremely popular among the Shiites of Basra, more moderate than Muqtada al-Sadr's branch of the movement, but these things are relative and I don't see them always acting in a very moderate way.<br /><br />They elected the governor, and The Islamic Virtue Party have a paramilitary, but they also control the government, so they can induct members of their paramilitary into the police and the local security forces. They control the guards who guard the refineries. The other 20 members of this council support the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. That's led by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, a cleric who was in exile in Iran for 20 years. The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq is an umbrella organization of Shiite parties which was founded at the suggestion of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1982 in Tehran, among Iraqi expatriate Shiites who had fled to Iran from Iraq to escape Saddam's persecution. There were some 400,000 Iraqi Shiites in Iran. They will all come back now, but many of them were organized by the Supreme Council, so in Iraq the Supreme Council is viewed by a lot of people as a kind of proxy for the Iranian government. It is also closely allied with the Bush administration and for that reason, the Bush administration doesn't talk about it as a proxy of the Iranian government even though it blames all the other Shiites for being pro-Iranian.<br /><br />A recent British parliamentary report concluded that there's continuing violence against civilians in Basra. There are reprisals against former members of the Ba'ath party, and several tens of thousands of Sunnis in Basra are sometimes targeted by Shiites as having supported Saddam. In some cases, this is correct. Then there was local resistance to the British military presence and so British troops on patrol would get blown up by roadside bombs; there would be sniping at them, and so forth. Then, there are Marsh Arab tribal Mafias. The Marsh Arab population of some half a million Iraqis in the south dwelled in the marshes. They made their living from farming and fishing in the marshes. The marshes are also great for hiding out if you're a criminal, so there's lots of smuggling and illicit things going on down there and guerrillas can also hide out there. So south Iraq is riddled with Marsh Arab Mafia families, and they fight turf wars with each other and with Shiite militias to control parts of Basra.<br /><br />And finally there's party and militia competition in Basra. The Islamic Virtue Party, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, and the Sadr movement all have paramilitaries. They're all engaged in political competition with one another, but they also fight turf wars with one another with their militias. So all of that is going on, and over time Basra's security has gotten worse and worse. And it's not just Basra. There's been fighting between the Shiite factions in a number of southern cities, like Diwaniyah and Amara, where Badr Corps elements and Mahdi Army elements fight each other. Now, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the party that had been based in Iran, had a paramilitary called the Badr Corps, trained by the Iran's Revolutionary Guards. From the Bush administration's point of view, the Revolutionary Guards bad. Badr Corps, good. I can't entirely understand how they're different from one another, but anyway, that's the way it works. And both the Badr Corps and the Mahdi Army have kidnapped people, run secret courts and prisons, tortured people, and extracted ransom from them.<br /><br />By May of 2006, a year and a half ago, Basra was being reported in the Arabic press as being in chaos, dominated by militias and lawless gangs. It was announced on May of 2006 by the Basra police that in the previous month there had been 800 assassinations. What are they fighting over? They're fighting over rights to gasoline smuggling.<br /><br />There's a political crisis in Basra as well. The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq won the federal parliamentary elections more or less in January and again in December of 2005. They were very influential on the appointment of cabinet ministers. In the first transitional government, they were eager to get the Islamic Virtue Party on their side, because the Islamic Virtue Party had Basra and was already in the petroleum business. It turned out to be a bad idea, because from the Islamic Virtue Party's point of view, this is an opportunity for upward integration.<br /><br />If you control the federal petroleum ministry and you also control Basra, then you're really on the way to controlling Iraq. The Supreme Council gradually figured this out and so the next time they had a chance they put in Hussain al-Shahristani as the oil minister, who's from the Supreme Council side.<br /><br />So the Islamic Virtue Party was very, very upset about not having the federal petroleum ministry anymore. They got in a snit and withdrew from the Shiite Coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance that is led by the Supreme Council. When they did that the Supreme Council got in a snit and said, "Well, if you're not going to be part of our federal government, we're not going to any longer support you regionally," so they engineered a vote of no confidence against the governor of Basra. But then he declined to step down; his attitude was, "I've got a paramilitary," and "make me." So he seems to still be governor. As we speak, I can't see that Basra has a government. Its governor has been deposed and the council is divided against itself, but the Islamic Virtue Party controls a lot of resources. It controls a lot of the police, it controls the guards of the refineries and so forth, and presumably is continuing to embezzle and to smuggle petroleum. The party has the kind of resources from having been the dominant party in Basra, such that it can't easily be dislodged even though by civil law it should have been.<br /><br />Supplying at least some order to Iraq were the British troops, but they kept getting blown up and this was unpopular with the British public. So especially as Tony Blair went out and Gordon Brown came in, they're being drawn down. Militarily, if you're not going to keep a substantial garrison there that could actually hope to defend itself, you might want to get them out all together quick. But if they're gone, then with all of those militias and Marsh Arab Mafias fighting each other, what if things go completely to pot in Basra and you can't get the petroleum out anymore? Who's going to pay the government salaries back in Baghdad? Are you going to bring down U.S. troops to do it? It doesn't seem to be on the horizon of anybody's concern that if Basra collapses, Iraq collapses, and Basra is well on its way.<br /><br /><b>Baghdad</b><br /><br />The Sunni Arabs were the dominant social class or social group in Iraq until the overthrow of the Ba'ath regime, an Arab nationalist regime dominated at the upper echelons by Sunni Arabs and by the Tikritis around Saddam Hussein. When the U.S. overthrew that government, overthrew that social group, a de-Ba'athification committee was set up to fire people who had been in the Ba'ath party. Initially they were only supposed to fire people who had been high-level, but they went wild. So a lot of people were being fired, and they were the only breadwinners in their family because the government was the major source of income.<br /><br />This was one of the roots of the insurgency, and didn't have to be that way. In the fall of 2003, the U.S. military had some polling done. They found 14 percent of Sunni Arabs saying that it was legitimate to hit U.S. targets in Iraq. They did this poll again in August of 2006, and over 70 percent said it's legitimate to hit U.S. targets. So it wasn't the case that we started out with a hostile population that was determined to kill U.S. troops. Over the next three years, I think through search and destroy missions and poor policy, the U.S. angered the Sunni Arab population. It's not a unified population. In fact, it's very fragmented politically. The Ba'ath Party is a major group. There are tribal groups, and then there are Salafi Sunni revivalists of the Zarqawi type, some Iraqi, some foreign. And Iraqi, Sunni Arabs are very, very unhappy about the new political situation, because from their point of view, they think Iraq is majority Sunni. It's not.<br /><br />The Kurds have an alliance with the Shiites right now, so the Sunni Arabs have gotten cut out of the deal and despite, I think, some efforts to avoid Iraq becoming a tyranny of the majority, it has become one. So the Sunni Arabs will never, ever win any vote in Parliament, from now until eternity. They will always lose on any important issue they bring up. Shiites will outvote them. The Sunni Arabs haven't liked anything the parliament has done, including the new constitution that allowed the regional confederacies to be formed, because the Shiites and the Kurds have set things up so that the regional confederacies have 100 percent claim on all new natural resource finds, which will cut the Sunnis out.<br /><br />Now, one of the key strategies for the Sunni Arab guerrilla movement has been to try to take Baghdad, and in 2004 and 2005, they actually seemed at some points to be on the verge of doing so. Baghdad is at the center of the area where the Shiites and the Sunnis meet, the Shiites in the south coming up, the Sunnis in the north and west coming down. And Baghdad could go either way. The Sunnis had multiple strategies. One was just to keep hitting the U.S. troops as much as they could to discourage the U.S. public and get the troops out. Another was to leverage their control of the northern and western hinterland of Baghdad so as to push the Shiites out of east Baghdad and make them move south, and so you have these constant attempts to cut off Baghdad from fuel, which were often quite successful. You had drives within Baghdad of ethnic cleansing of Shiites who lived in Sunni neighborhoods pushing the Shiites east and ultimately hoping to push them out of Baghdad altogether, and so getting very near to the Green Zone. So this is what that particular civil war looks like -- it's the area right around Baghdad that's producing this violence between Sunni Arabs and Shiite Arabs.<br /><br />What turned things around was that in February of 2006, Sunni Arab guerrillas blew up the Samarra shrine where the father and grandfather of the "Mahdi" -- the "rightly guided" one to come -- have a tomb and a shrine. And although they didn't kill anybody when they blew it up, it just infuriated the Shiites and they went out on the streets with guns looking for Sunnis to kill. Any old Sunni would do, and they would go into Sunni mosques and shoot down Sunni preachers, then they would torch the mosque. Four were burned down, over 50 were damaged, maybe 100. The Sunni guerrilla movement had been trying to provoke the Shiites to do this for some time, because they thought, you get a civil war going in Iraq, it's too hot for the Americans to stay, the Americans will leave, and then we'll finish off the Shiites and make the coup and come back to power. This was their plan.<br /><br />It grew each month, so by June or July of 2006, you had two and three thousand people being killed a day. There was death squad activity at night, right under the noses of the U.S. troops. The Iraqi police had to establish a special unit in Baghdad of the Corpse Patrol. They were found -- the U.N. investigated this -- to have chemical burns and signs of electrical burns. These people were being tortured and then killed, and they were being tortured because the Shiite militias wanted to get information from them about Sunni Arab insurgent activities.<br /><br />Now, when you read that the surge has calmed Iraq, that there's been a great success in tamping down violence, the surge really coincided with a massive ethnic cleaning of the Sunnis of Baghdad. Baghdad is a Shiite city now. You figure it's a city of six, six and a half million. If you've got a shift of 10 percent that way, you're talking about 600,000 people being ethnically cleansed. They're killed, they're chased away, they're living in Amman or Damascus now, or with relatives up in Anbar. So how has this happened is that the American surge, I believe -- and this is a little bit speculative, but it's the only way I can understand it -- the American surge concentrated on disarming the Sunni Arab population. If you disarm the Sunni Arabs, and the Shiite militias are still armed, and the Shiite militias want the Sunni Arabs gone, what's going to happen? Now the Sunni Arabs are defenseless. So that's what the surge really was. The surge, from an Iraqi point of view, equaled the ethnic cleaning of the Sunnis of Baghdad, so that's why the Sunni Arabs have withdrawn from the al-Maliki government and that's why the people of al-Anbar province and so forth are very happy that they have done so, because they said the al-Maliki government, in cahoots with the Americans, has presided over the end of Sunni Baghdad.<br /><br /><b>The Kurds</b><br /><br />The Kurds are not just in the Kurdistan Regional Authority region. They stretch into Turkey, they stretch down to Diyala province and over into Iran. There are even some in the Caucasus. There are two million in Syria, so if you really got this Kurdistan thing going as a new state in the region and it was ethnically based and it got all of the Kurds inside it, you're dismembering, like, five countries, and there's going to be trouble over that. Even just dismembering Iraq is going to cause trouble, and even just annexing large numbers of Sunni Arabs, Shiite, and Shiite and Sunni Turkmen into the Kurdistan Regional Authority, which is what happens if they grab Kirkuk, it's going to cause a lot of trouble. Now, not only are they trying to get Kirkuk but they also have their eye on Mosul, which is a city of about 80 percent Sunni Arab, and they've started giving safe haven to the Kurdish Workers Party guerrillas. This is a radical, almost Pol Pot style of movement of the 1980s and '90s in southeastern Turkey. Kurds weren't treated well in Turkey. Turkey has this very strong kind of monochrome Turkish nationalism, so that they would even deny there are any Kurds. So they felt marginalized and some of them joined this guerrilla movement.<br /><br />The guerrilla movement is extremely violent, and although the Turkish government was violent in putting it down as well, the guerrilla movement would kill local Kurds for what they called "collaboration". And now, the Kurdistan Regional Authority under Massoud Barzani in Iraq is giving them safe harbor, so as far as I can tell, they're going over and killing Turkish troops and then coming back and hiding in Iraq. Turkey is a NATO ally of the United States, and in September alone I think that the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) guerrillas killed 28 Turkish troops. Can you imagine what would happen if some guerrilla group came over the border into the United States from Tijuana and killed 28 U.S. troops? So the Turks want to invade, and you've got a situation where a NATO ally wants to invade the country that we are militarily occupying in order to kill terrorists, that we consider terrorists in the State Department, who are being coddled by our main ally in Iraqi politics, the Iraqi Kurds.<br /><br />You can see what a mess it is. There are the three civil wars, and there is the irrelevance of the United States, because I don't see that it's been able to do anything about any of the three. I don't see how this thing is going to turn out well. <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Juan Cole is a professor of history at the University of Michigan and maintains the popular blog <a href="">Informed Comment</a>. </div></div></div> Wed, 05 Mar 2008 21:00:01 -0800 Juan Cole, MIT Center for International Studies 645021 at War on Iraq World iraq sunni turkey shiite kurds baghdad kirkuk sadr mahdi army u.s. military presence New Iraqi Law on Baath Worries Ex-Baathists <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The passage of the new law will be hailed by the War party as a major achievement. But as usual they&#039;re misreading what really happened.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->So the big political news today is that the Iraqi parliament on Saturday <a href="">finally passed a revision of the "De-baathification" law</a> issued by US viceroy Paul "Jerry" Bremer in May of 2003. That law got tens of thousands of Sunni Arabs fired from their government jobs and excluded from public life and helped kick off the Sunni-Shiite civil war we having been living through for the past few years.<br /><br />The passage of the new law will be hailed by the War party as a major achievement. But as usual they will misread what really happened.<br /><br />If the new law was good for ex-Baathists, then the ex-Baathists in parliament will have voted for it and praised it, right? And likely the Sadrists (hard line anti-Baath Shiites) and Kurds would be a little upset.<br /><br />Instead, parliament's version of this law was spearheaded by Sadrists, and the ex-Baathists in parliament criticized it.<br /><br />Somehow that little drawback suggests to me that the law is not actually, as written, likely to be good for sectarian reconciliation.<br /><br /><a href=";issue=10638&amp;article=453776">Al-Sharq al-Awsat writes in Arabic that</a> the parliamentarians who criticized the law were drawn from the National Dialogue Council led by ex-Baathist Salih Mutlak, from the Iraqi National List of Iyad Allawi (an ex-Baathist), and from two of the three parties that make up the Sunni Arab National Accord Front.<br /><br />So the parties in parliament that have the strong Baathist legacy did not like the law one little bit. But they are the ones that it was intended to mollify!<br /><br />Parliament has been unable to get a quorum on several recent occasions, and barely mustered a quorum on Saturday, with 143 members in attendance out of 275. The new law passed with a narrow majority. The vote count was not published anywhere I could find it, but it could have been as low as 72.<br /><br />Now, when the Iraqi cabinet of PM Nuri al-Maliki initially introduced the draft bill into parliament last November 25, the Sadr Movement deputies rhythmically pounded their desks in protest. The Sadrists have a special and abiding hatred for the Baath Party, which killed both major clergymen that they venerate, Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr (d. 1980) and Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr (d. 1999). But on Saturday the Sadrists spoke for the new law. Very suspicious.<br /><br /><i>Al-Sharq al-Awsat</i> says that the current head of the De-Baathification Commission, Falah Hasan Shanshal, is a member of the Sadr Movement. He said, "The law was legislated to punish anyone who committed a crime against the children of the Iraqi people . . . and in tandem, to provide that anyone who had not committed crimes must retire. Those persons may also return to public life, with the exception that some cannot work as bureaucrats in the judicial, ministerial or security bureaucracies, or in the ministries of Foreign Affairs or Finance. He added that "everyone agreed on punishing the Baath Party as a party that committed crimes against the Iraqi people." He expressed the hope that the law would be quickly ratified by the presidential council.<br /><br />Baha' al-A`raji is a Sadrist and the chairman of the Legislative Committee in parliament. He said that the law in its current form differs essentially from the bill that was sent over from the cabinet. Al-A`raji told al-Sharq al-Awsat that "Some members could not vote for some passages or articles in the current version of the law . . . or could not accept the law in its entirety. But a majority of parliament voted for the law." He added that the law "took into account all the suggestions of the Sadr Movement." The Sadrists had demanded that the De-Baathification Commission not be dissolved, but would accept a change in name for it. They had demanded that the Baath Party remain dissolved, and that the high-ranking members of the party be forbidden to enter the new political life or serve as bureaucrats. The Sadrists had also insisted that any high-ranking Baathists presently employed by the new Iraqi government must be fired!<br /><br />The headlines are all saying that the law permits Baathists back into public life. It seems actually to demand that they be fired or retired on a pension, and any who are employed are excluded from sensitive ministries.<br /><br />Al-A'raji was completely unsympathetic to opponents of the law, which he said was now unstoppable.<br /><br />Members of the Iraqi National Front (Allawi's group), the National Dialogue Front (Mutlak), and two of the three constituent parties of the Iraqi Accord Front (Sunni Arabs), along with some IAF independents, denounced the law in a circulated, signed letter. They said that the law would be "difficult to implement." They indicated that they had not voted for it and do not support it. They called it "unrealistic" because it contains an article forbidding the Baath Party "from returning to power ideologically, administratively, politically or in practice, and under any other name." The law's opponents charged that this language was unconstitutionally vague and could easily be "misused."<br /><br />What are the ex-Baathists afraid of? Well, they are ex-Baathists in politics. So this objectionable passage seems to make it possible for the Sadrists, e.g., to keep people like Iyad Allawi from ever again enjoying high office. His secular, nationalist Iraqi National party could easily just be branded too close to the original Baath Party and dissolved, and he could be excluded from high office by this new provision.<br /><br /><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Juan Cole is a professor of history at the University of Michigan and maintains the popular blog <a href="">Informed Comment</a>. </div></div></div> Sun, 13 Jan 2008 21:00:01 -0800 Juan Cole, Informed Comment 643710 at War on Iraq World iraq sunnis debaathification Romney: Some Beliefs are More Equal than Others <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Romney&#039;s &quot;landmark&quot; speech didn&#039;t follow in Kennedy&#039;s footsteps -- it was the antithesis of JFK&#039;s call for religious tolerance.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Mitt Romney's speech in Texas on Thursday was supposed to be an attempt to fend off religious bigotry. Instead, it betrays some prejudices of its own (against secular people), and seems to provoke others to bigotted statements. It has been likened to the speech of John F. Kennedy on his Catholicism. But we knew John F. Kennedy, and Mitt Romney is no John F. Kennedy. Kennedy strongly affirmed the separation of religion and state. Romney wants to dragoon us into a soft theocracy (not as a Mormon but as a Republican allied to the Pat Robertsons of the world). Kennedy wanted to be accepted as an American by other Americans. Romney wants to be accepted as a conservative Christian by other conservative Christians.<br /><br />This conundrum is the price the Republican Party is paying for pandering to the religious Right. Can a secular person even win the Republican nomination any more? If you make yourself captive of the Protestant Right, then you will discover that they believe Mormons are heretics. The Republican Party has established its own litmus test, and since it has been a dominant party in recent years, we've all been affected by it. Romney's plight in finding it hard to be accepted by that constituency mirrors the plight of secular and unchurched Americans, on whom the very people Romney is sucking up to want to impose their narrow and sectarian values.<br /><br /><a href="" target="_blank">The unsavory aspects of this entire discourse are apparent in the op-ed of Naomi Schaeffer Riley for the Wall Street Journal</a>. While she depicts Mormons in a positive light, she displays the most gut-wrenching bigotry toward Muslims. She writes:<blockquote><br />A recent Pew poll shows that only 53% of Americans have a favorable opinion of Mormons. That's roughly the same percentage who feel that way toward Muslims. By contrast, more than three-quarters of Americans have a favorable opinion of Jews and Catholics. Whatever the validity of such judgments, one has to wonder: Why does a faith professed by the 9/11 hijackers rank alongside that of a peaceful, productive, highly educated religious group founded within our own borders?<br /></blockquote>I just wanted literally to puke on my living room carpet when I read this bilge. Islam is not'the faith professed by 9/11 hijackers.' Islam is the religion of probably 1.3 billion persons, a fifth of humankind, which will probably be a third of humankind by 2050. Islam existed for 1400 years before the 9/11 hijackers, and will exist for a very long time after them. Riley has engaged in the most visceral sort of smear, associating all Muslims with the tiny, extremist al-Qaeda cult.<br /><br />We could play this game with any human group. Some Catholics were responsible for the Inquisition. Shall we blame Catholicism for that, or all Catholics? Of course not. Jewish Zionists expelled hundreds of thousands of innocent Palestinians from their homes in 1948. Is that Judaism's fault or that of Jews in general? Of course not.<br /><br />She goes on to further stick her foot in her mouth by complaining that she heard conservative Christians call Mormonism'the fourth Abrahamic religion' (alongside Judaism, Christianity and Islam) and complains that they compared a Muslim belief she considers'wacky' to Mormon stories. It is all right for her to call folk Islamic motifs wacky, mind you. She's only interested in being fair to Mormons, not to Muslims. Mormons are good people, but <a href="" target="_blank">some of their forebears were also involved in violence in the 19th century of a sort that other Americans viewed as terrorism</a>.<br /><br />Riley's remarks exemplify the problems with Romney's speech, which demands fairness for his group but not for, e.g., secularists.<br /><br />Thus, he says:<blockquote><br />In John Adams' words: "We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. ...Our Constitution," he said, "was made for a moral and religious people." Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom."</blockquote>What Romney omits is that many of the "religious people" among the founding fathers were Deists, who did not believe in revelation or miracles or divine intervention in human affairs. Thomas Jefferson used to sit in the White House in the evening with scissors and cut the miracle stories out of the Gospels so as to end up with a reasoned story about Jesus of Nazareth, befitting the Enlightenment.<br /><br />Some Founding Fathers were Christians, some were not, at least not in any sense that would be recognized by today's Religious Right. Jefferson believe that most Americans would end up Unitarians.<br /><br />As for the insistence that you need religion for political freedom, that is silly. Organized religion has many virtues, but pushing for political liberty is seldom among them. Religion is about controlling people. No religiously based state has ever provided genuine democratic governance. You want religion in politics, go to Iran.<br /><br />Liberty can survive religion, especially a multiplicity of religions within the nation. Because that way there is not a central faith that imposes itself on everyone, as Catholicism used to in Ireland or Buddhism used to in Tibet. But organized religion would never ever have produced the First Amendment to the US constitution, and the 19th century popes considered it ridiculous that the state should treat false religions as equal to the True Faith.<br /><br />Deists, freethinkers and Freemasons–the kind of people that Romney was complaining about– produced the First Amendment. When Tom Jefferson tried out an earlier version of it in Virginia, some of the members of the Virginia assembly actually complained that freedom of religion would allow the practice of Islam in the US. Jefferson's response to that kind of bigotry was that other people believing in other religions did not pick his pocket or break his leg, so why should he care how they worshipped? And that's all Romney had to say. But he did not want to say that. Romney said the opposite. He implied that is is actively bad for a democracy if people are unbelievers or if there is a strict separation of religion and state.<br /><br />We know the Founding Fathers and Romney is no founding father.<br /><br />By Romney's definition of freedom, Sweden and France, where 50% and 40% of the population, respectively, does not believe in God, cannot have a proper democracy. But of course Swedish democracy is in many respects superior to that in the United States.<br /><br /><a href="" target="_blank">The text of Mitt Romney's sermon is here</a>.<br /><br />Romney says:<blockquote>But in recent years, the notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meaning. They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God. Religion is seen as merely a private affair with no place in public life. It's as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America-the religion of secularism. They are wrong.'</blockquote>Look, the reason that Americans took religion out of the public sphere was because the religious kept fighting with each other in the most vicious way. We had violence <a href=";pg=PA211&amp;lpg=PA211&amp;dq=united+states+philadelphia+catholic+protestant+fighting+in+schools+1870s&amp;source=web&amp;ots=mNHiPwQO0y&amp;sig=VbX78bpdDhG-TZWFvQfpt_UEaIY" target="_blank">between Catholics and Protestants</a> in schools in the 19th century because religion was in the public schools, and therefore each branch of Christianity wanted to dominate and control it. You take religion out of the schools, suddenly people stop fighting about it.<br /><br />People like Romney who want to put religion back into the public sphere are just going to cause a lot of trouble. 14% of Americans don't believe in God. Another 5% belong to minority religions (and both categories are rapidly growing). That nearly 20% doesn't necessarily want sectarian Christian symbols in public schools. Even a lot of the 80% that are some kind of Christian don't belong to a church and aren't necessarily orthodox in their views.<br /><br />So Romney's so-called plea for tolerance is actually a plea for the privileging of religion in American public life. He just wants his religion to share in that privilege that he wants to install. Ironically, the very religious pluralism of the United States, which he appears to praise, will stand in the way of his project.<br /><br /><br /><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Juan Cole is a professor of history at the University of Michigan and maintains the popular blog <a href="">Informed Comment</a>. </div></div></div> Sun, 09 Dec 2007 06:00:01 -0800 Juan Cole, Informed Comment 643034 at Civil Liberties Civil Liberties religion election08 romney Iraq Oil Bonanza for Hunt; Displacement, Hunger, Alcoholism, Addiction for Iraqis <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Texas oil cronies readying to clean up.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><a href="">My Texas oil theory of the Cheney wing's decision to go to war against Iraq</a> got some (admittedly ex post facto) support on Sunday when it was announced that Hunt Oil is doing a deal for petroleum development in Iraqi Kurdistan. (Such Kurdistan deals are not typically being put through the federal government in Baghdad, and Oil Minister Hussein Shahristani is threatening to cancel them out if they are not approved centrally.)<br /><br />One of the things that has prevented Iraqis from just starving to death, given the very high levels of unemployment and insecurity, is the old government food rationing system, which is still in place but increasingly tattered. <a href="">Rations have been reduced by 35 percent, and of the 5 million Iraqis who depend on them (about a fifth of the country), two million are having trouble receiving the rations because they live in high-risk areas.</a> Now the news is that with Ramadan looming, where square meals at sunset and in the morning before dawn are all that keep people going during the fast, the rations may not be available in nearly the required amounts. Iraqi foodstuffs are increasingly threadbare or rotten, and delivering the rations to risky areas is very difficult. (Imagine the difficulty in feeding the 200,000 Fallujans, 80 percent of whom are unemployed, given that no one is allowed to drive vehicles in that city).<br /><br />Hunger is already a widespread problem in Iraq, and is likely to become more of one as time goes on.<br /><br /><a href="">Iraq's physician shortage is also worsening dramatically</a>:<blockquote>' According to the Iraqi Medical Association (IMA), the shortage of doctors and nurses in Iraq is now critical and having a devastating effect, especially on small towns and villages.</blockquote><blockquote>"Our latest research shows that up to 75 percent of doctors, pharmacists and nurses have left their jobs at universities, clinics and hospitals," Walid Rafi, a senior member of the IMA, told IRIN. Of these, at least 55 percent have fled abroad, he added.</blockquote> According to Rafi, low salaries and the shortage of equipment and medicines, are other push factors. "Medical staff earn US$50-300 per month. They might persevere for a while but if the opportunity arises, they don't think twice and leave the country," Rafi said.' <a href="">The Iraqi Psychiatric Association estimates that in the past two months, the number of patients treated for alcoholism grew to be 36 percent greater</a> than during the same period a month ago. Anecdotal evidence suggests that drinking to excess is widespread and getting worse rapidly. It is, of course, a further sign of despair, like massive out-migration. I saw it happen in Lebanon in the early years of the civil war there. <a href="">Drug use and drug smuggling are also big problems</a>.<br /><br /><a href="">The new chairman of the Expediency Council, Akbar Rafsanjani</a>, is suggesting that Iran and Iraq establish an "Islamic Common Market."<br /><br /><a href="">Another general, Wesley Clark</a>, gives his report on Iraq. His conclusion: diplomatic engagement with Iran and Syria is the only realistic way out.<br /><br /><a href="">Former State Department diplomat John Brown has some advice for General Petraeus:</a> which is that the US is occupying Iraq, and therefore will never really have the allegiance of the people, just as the Soviets could not actually convince the Czechs about that universal workers' solidarity thing. <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Juan Cole is a professor of history at the University of Michigan and maintains the popular blog <a href="">Informed Comment</a>. </div></div></div> Mon, 10 Sep 2007 09:00:01 -0700 Juan Cole, Informed Comment 641354 at War on Iraq World ForeignPolicy iraq oil hunger healthcare Big Lies Surround the Iraq "Surge" <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Juan Cole slices and dices the administration&#039;s spin.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><i>This originally appeared on Dr. Cole's blog, Informed Comment</i>.<br /><br />A Government Accounting Office <a href="">report has found that the Iraqi government has not met 13 of 18 benchmarks</a> set by the US Congress. The report was leaked before it could be doctored by the Bush administration, which promptly denounced it and pledged to . . . doctor it.<br /><br />Another thing that could be said is that of the 18 congressional benchmarks some are frankly trivial. The trivial ones are the only ones met.<br /><br />I personally find the controversy about Iraq in Washington to be bizarre. Are they really arguing about whether the situation is improving? I mean, you have the <b>Night of the Living Dead</b> over there. People lack potable water, cholera has broken out even in the good areas, a third of people are hungry, <a href="">a doubling of the internally displaced to at least 1.1 million</a>, and a million pilgrims dispersed just this week by militia infighting in a supposedly safe all-Shiite area. The government has all but collapsed, with even the formerly cooperative sections of the Sunni Arab political class withdrawing in a snit (much less more Sunni Arabs being brought in from the cold). The parliament hasn't actually passed any legislation to speak of and often cannot get a quorum. Corruption is endemic. The weapons we give the Iraqi army are often sold off to the insurgency. Some of our development aid goes to them, too.<br /><br />The average number of Iraqis killed in 2007 per day exceeds those killed in 2006. <a href="">Independent counts by news organizations do not agree with Pentagon estimates about drops in civilian deaths over-all</a>. Nation-wide attacks in June <a href="">reached a daily all-time high of 177.5</a>. True, violence in Baghdad has been wrestled back down to the levels of summer, 2006 (hint: it wasn't paradise), but violence levels are up in the rest of the country. If you compare each month in 2006 with each month in 2007 with regard to US military deaths, the 2007 picture is dreadful.<br /><br />I saw on CNN this smarmy Bush administration official come and and say that US troop deaths had fallen because of the surge, which is why we should support it. Just read the following chart bottom to top and compare 2006 month by month to 2007. US troop deaths haven't fallen. They are <b>way</b> up. Besides, they would be zero if the US were not occupying Iraq militarily, so if we should support a policy that leads to fewer troop deaths, that is the better policy.<br /><br />Here are the US troop death via <a href=""></a>.<br /><br /><pre>8-2007 77 8-2006 65</pre><pre>7-2007 79 7-2006 43</pre><pre>6-2007 101 6-2006 61</pre><pre>5-2007 126 5-2006 69</pre><pre>4-2007 104 4-2006 76</pre><pre>3-2007 81 3-2006 31</pre><pre>2-2007 81 2-2006 55</pre><pre>1-2007 83 1-2006 62</pre><br /><br />I mean, how brain dead do the Bushies think we are, peddling this horse manure that US troop deaths have fallen? (There are always seasonal variations because in the summer it is 120 F. in the shade and guerrillas are too heat-exhausted to fight; but the summer 2007 numbers are much greater than those for summer 2006; that isn't progress.) And why does our corporate media keep repeating this Goebbels-like propaganda? Do we really live in an Orwellian state?<br /><br /><center><a href="" target="_new"><img src="" width="400" border="0" alt="Click for larger version" /></a><br /><a href="" target="_new">(click for larger version)</a></center><br /><br />Repeat: US troop deaths in Iraq have <b>not</b> fallen and that is not a reason to support the troop escalation. And, violence in Iraq has <b>not</b> fallen because of the surge. Violence is way up this year. <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Juan Cole is a professor of history at the University of Michigan and maintains the popular blog <a href="">Informed Comment</a>. </div></div></div> Sat, 01 Sep 2007 04:00:01 -0700 Juan Cole, Informed Comment 641225 at War on Iraq World iraq casualties surge spin Bush and Napoleon Both Believed Their Own Propaganda About a "Greater Middle East" <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">There are times when the resonances of history are positively eerie. The parallels of Napoleon&#039;s occupation of Egypt with Bush&#039;s disaster in Iraq are enough to make you jump out of your chair.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->French Egypt and American Iraq can be considered bookends on the history of modern imperialism in the Middle East. The Bush administration's already failed version of the conquest of Iraq is, of course, on everyone's mind; while the French conquest of Egypt, now more than two centuries past, is all too little remembered, despite having been led by Napoleon Bonaparte, whose career has otherwise hardly languished in obscurity. There are many eerily familiar resonances between the two misadventures, not least among them that both began with supreme arrogance and ended as fiascoes. Above all, the leaders of both occupations employed the same basic political vocabulary and rhetorical flimflammery, invoking the spirit of liberty, security, and democracy while largely ignoring the substance of these concepts.<br /><br />The French general and the American president do not much resemble one another -- except perhaps in the way the prospect of conquest in the Middle East appears to have put fire in their veins and in their unappealing tendency to believe their own propaganda (or at least to keep repeating it long after it became completely implausible). Both leaders invaded and occupied a major Arabic-speaking Muslim country; both harbored dreams of a "Greater Middle East"; both were surprised to find themselves enmeshed in long, bitter, debilitating guerrilla wars. Neither genuinely cared about grassroots democracy, but both found its symbols easy to invoke for gullible domestic publics. Substantial numbers of their new subjects quickly saw, however, that they faced occupations, not liberations.<br /><br />My own work on Bonaparte's lost year in Egypt began in the mid-1990s, and I had completed about half of Napoleon's Egypt: Invading the Middle East before September 11, 2001. I had no way of knowing then that a book on such a distant, scholarly subject would prove an allegory for Bush's Iraq War. Nor did I guess that the United States would give old-style colonialism in the Middle East one last try, despite clear signs that the formerly colonized would no longer put up with such acts and had, in the years since World War II, gained the means to resist them.<br /><br /><b>The republic militant goes to war</b><br /><br />In June of 1798, as his enormous flotilla -- 36,000 soldiers, thousands of sailors, and hundreds of scientists on 12 ships of the line -- swept inexorably toward the Egyptian coast, the young General Napoleon Bonaparte issued a grandiose communiqué to the bewildered and seasick troops he was about to march into the desert without canteens or reasonable supplies of water. He declared, "Soldiers! You are about to undertake a conquest, the effects of which on civilization and commerce are incalculable."<br /><br />The prediction was as tragically inaccurate in its own way as the pronouncement George W. Bush issued some two centuries later, on May 1, 2003, also from the deck of a great ship of the line, the aircraft carrier the USS Abraham Lincoln. "Today," he said, "we have the greater power to free a nation by breaking a dangerous and aggressive regime. With new tactics and precision weapons, we can achieve military objectives without directing violence against civilians."<br /><br />Both men were convinced that their invasions were announcing new epochs in human history. Of the military vassals of the Ottoman Empire who then ruled Egypt, Bonaparte predicted: "The Mameluke Beys who favor exclusively English commerce, whose extortions oppress our merchants, and who tyrannize over the unfortunate inhabitants of the Nile, a few days after our arrival will no longer exist."<br /><br />Bonaparte's laundry list of grievances about them consisted of three charges. First, the beys were, in essence, enablers of France's primary enemy at that time, the British monarchy which sought to strangle the young French republic in its cradle. Second, the rulers of Egypt were damaging France's own commerce by extorting taxes and bribes from its merchants in Cairo and Alexandria. Third, the Mamluks ruled tyrannically, having never been elected, and oppressed their subjects whom Bonaparte intended to liberate.<br /><br />This holy trinity of justifications for imperialism -- that the targeted state is collaborating with an enemy of the republic, is endangering the positive interests of the nation, and lacks legitimacy because its rule is despotic -- would all be trotted out over the subsequent two centuries by a succession of European and American leaders whenever they wanted to go on the attack. One implication of these familiar rhetorical turns of phrase has all along been that democracies have a license to invade any country they please, assuming it has the misfortune to have an authoritarian regime.<br /><br />George W. Bush, of course, hit the same highlights in his "mission accomplished" speech, while announcing on the Abraham Lincoln that "major combat operations" in Iraq "had ended." "The liberation of Iraq," he proclaimed, "is a crucial advance in the campaign against terror. We've removed an ally of al Qaeda, and cut off a source of terrorist funding." He put Saddam Hussein's secular, Arab nationalist Baath regime and the radical Muslim terrorists of al-Qaeda under the sign of September 11th, insinuating that Iraq was allied with the primary enemy of the United States and so posed an urgent menace to its security. (In fact, captured Baath Party documents show that Saddam's fretting security forces, on hearing that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had entered Iraq, put out an all points bulletin on him, imagining -- not entirely correctly -- that he had al-Qaeda links.) Likewise, Bush promised that Iraq's alleged "weapons of mass destruction" (which existed only in his own fevered imagination) would be tracked down, again implying that Iraq posed a threat to the interests and security of the U.S., just as Bonaparte had claimed that the Mamluks menaced France.<br /><br />According to the president, Saddam's overthrown government had lacked legitimacy, while the new Iraqi government, to be established by a foreign power, would truly represent the conquered population. "We're helping to rebuild Iraq, where the dictator built palaces for himself, instead of hospitals and schools. And we will stand with the new leaders of Iraq," Bush pledged, "as they establish a government of, by, and for the Iraqi people." Bonaparte, too, established governing councils at the provincial and national level, staffing them primarily with Sunni clergymen, declaring them more representative of the Egyptian people than the beys and emirs of the slave soldiery who had formerly ruled that province of the Ottoman Empire.<br /><br /><b>Liberty as tyranny</b><br /><br />For a democracy to conduct a brutal military occupation against another country in the name of liberty seems, on the face of it, too contradictory to elicit more than hoots of derision at the hypocrisy of it all. Yet, the militant republic, ready to launch aggressive war in the name of "democracy," is everywhere in modern history, despite the myth that democracies do not typically wage wars of aggression. Ironically, some absolutist regimes, like those of modern Iran, were remarkably peaceable, if left alone by their neighbors. In contrast, republican France invaded Belgium, Holland, Spain, Germany, Italy, and Egypt in its first decade (though it went on the offensive in part in response to Austrian and Prussian moves to invade France). The United States attacked Mexico, the Seminoles and other Native polities, Hawaii, the Spanish Empire, the Philippines, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic in just the seven-plus decades from 1845 to the eve of the U.S. entry into World War I.<br /><br />Freedom and authoritarianism are nowadays taken to be stark antonyms, the provinces of heroes and monsters. Those closer to the birth of modern republics were comforted by no such moral clarity. In Danton's Death, the young Romantic playwright Georg Büchner depicted the radical French revolutionary and proponent of executing enemies of the Republic, Maximilien Robespierre, whipping up a Parisian crowd with the phrase, "The revolutionary regime is the despotism of liberty against tyranny." And nowhere has liberty proved more oppressive than when deployed against a dictatorship abroad; for, as Büchner also had that famed "incorruptible" devotee of state terror observe, "In a Republic only republicans are citizens; Royalists and foreigners are enemies."<br /><br />That sunlit May afternoon on the USS Abraham Lincoln, President Bush seconded Büchner's Robespierre. "Because of you," he exhorted the listening sailors of an aircraft carrier whose planes had just dropped 1.6 million pounds of ordnance on Iraq, "our nation is more secure. Because of you, the tyrant has fallen, and Iraq is free."<br /><br />Security for the republic had already proved ample justification to launch a war the previous March, even though Iraq was a poor, weak, ramshackle Third World country, debilitated by a decade of sanctions imposed by the United Nations and the United States, without so much as potable drinking water or an air force. Similarly, the Mamluks of Egypt -- despite the sky-high taxes and bribes they demanded of some French merchants -- hardly constituted a threat to French security.<br /><br />The overthrow of a tyrannical regime and the liberation of an oppressed people were constant refrains in the shipboard addresses of both the general and the president, who felt that the liberated owed them a debt of gratitude. Bonaparte lamented that the beys "tyrannize over the unfortunate inhabitants of the Nile"; or, as one of his officers, Captain Horace Say, opined, "The people of Egypt were most wretched. How will they not cherish the liberty we are bringing them?" Similarly, Bush insisted, "Men and women in every culture need liberty like they need food and water and air. Everywhere that freedom arrives, humanity rejoices; and everywhere that freedom stirs, let tyrants fear."<br /><br />Not surprisingly, expectations that the newly conquered would exhibit gratitude to their foreign occupiers cropped up repeatedly in the dispatches and letters of men on the spot who advocated a colonial forward policy. President Bush put this dramatically in 2007, long after matters had not proceeded as expected: "We liberated that country from a tyrant. I think the Iraqi people owe the American people a huge debt of gratitude. That's the problem here in America: They wonder whether or not there is a gratitude level that's significant enough in Iraq."<br /><br />Liberty in this two-century old rhetorical tradition, moreover, was more than just a matter of rights and the rule of law. Proponents of various forms of liberal imperialism saw tyranny as a source of poverty, since arbitrary rulers could just usurp property at will and so make economic activity risky, as well as opening the public to crushing and arbitrary taxes that held back commerce. The French quartermaster Francois Bernoyer wrote of the Egyptian peasantry: "Their dwellings are adobe huts, which prosperity, the daughter of liberty, will now allow them to abandon." Bush took up the same theme on the Abraham Lincoln: "Where freedom takes hold, hatred gives way to hope. When freedom takes hold, men and women turn to the peaceful pursuit of a better life."<br /><br /><b>"Heads must roll"</b><br /><br />In both eighteenth century Egypt and twenty-first century Iraq, the dreary reality on the ground stood as a reproach to, if not a wicked satire upon, these high-minded pronouncements. The French landed at the port of Alexandria on July 1, 1798. Two and a half weeks later, as the French army advanced along the Nile toward Cairo, a unit of Gen. Jean Reynier's division met opposition from 1,800 villagers, many armed with muskets. Sgt. Charles Francois recalled a typical scene. After scaling the village walls and "firing into those crowds," killing "about 900 men," the French confiscated the villagers' livestock -- "camels, donkeys, horses, eggs, cows, sheep" -- then "finished burning the rest of the houses, or rather the huts, so as to provide a terrible object lesson to these half-savage and barbarous people."<br /><br />On July 24, Bonaparte's Army of the Orient entered Cairo and he began reorganizing his new subjects. He grandiosely established an Egyptian Institute for the advancement of science and gave thought to reforming police, courts, and law. But terror lurked behind everything he did. He wrote Gen. Jacques Menou, who commanded the garrison at the Mediterranean port of Rosetta, saying, "The Turks [Egyptians] can only be led by the greatest severity. Every day I cut off five or six heads in the streets of Cairo…. [T]o obey, for them, is to fear." (Mounting severed heads on poles for viewing by terrified passers-by was another method the French used in Egypt…)<br /><br />That August, the Delta city of Mansura rose up against a small French garrison of about 120 men, chasing them into the countryside, tracking the blue coats down, and methodically killing all but two of them. In early September, the Delta village of Sonbat, inhabited in part by Bedouin of the western Dirn tribe, also rose up against the Europeans. Bonaparte instructed one of his generals, "Burn that village! Make a terrifying example of it." After the French army had indeed crushed the rebellious peasants and chased away the Bedouin, Gen. Jean-Antoine Verdier reported back to Bonaparte with regard to Sonbat, "You ordered me to destroy this lair. Very well, it no longer exists."<br /><br />The most dangerous uprisings confronting the French were, however, in Cairo. In October, much of the city mobilized to attack the more than 20,000 French troops occupying the capital. The revolt was especially fierce in the al-Husayn district, where the ancient al-Azhar madrassa (or seminary) trained 14,000 students, where the city's most sacred mosque stood, and where wealth was concentrated in the merchants and guilds of the Khan al-Khalili bazaar. At the same time, the peasants and Bedouin of the countryside around Cairo rose in rebellion, attacking the small garrisons that had been deployed to pacify them.<br /><br />Bonaparte put down this Egyptian "revolution" with the utmost brutality, subjecting urban crowds to artillery barrages. He may have had as many rebels executed in the aftermath as were killed in the fighting. In the countryside, his officers' launched concerted campaigns to decimate insurgent villages. At one point, the French are said to have brought 900 heads of slain insurgents to Cairo in bags and ostentatiously dumped them out before a crowd in one of that city's major squares to instill Cairenes with terror. (Two centuries later, the American public would come to associate decapitations by Muslim terrorists in Iraq with the ultimate in barbarism, but even then hundreds such beheadings were not carried out at once.)<br /><br />The American deployment of terror against the Iraqi population has, of course, dwarfed anything the French accomplished in Egypt by orders of magnitude. After four mercenaries, one a South African, were killed in Falluja in March of 2004 and their bodies desecrated, President Bush is alleged to have said "heads must roll" in retribution.<br /><br />An initial attack on the city faltered when much of the Iraqi government threatened to resign and it was clear major civilian casualties would result. The crushing of the city was, however, simply put off until after the American presidential election in November. When the assault, involving air power and artillery, came, it was devastating, damaging two-thirds of the city's buildings and turning much of its population into refugees. (As a result, thousands of Fallujans still live in the desert in tent villages with no access to clean water.)<br /><br />Bush must have been satisfied. Heads had rolled. More often, faced with opposition, the U.S. Air Force simply bombed already-occupied cities, a technology Bonaparte (mercifully) lacked. The strategy of ruling by terror and swift, draconian punishment for acts of resistance was, however, the same in both cases.<br /><br />The British sank much of the French fleet on August 1, 1798, marooning Bonaparte and his troops in their newly conquered land. In the spring of 1799, the French army tried -- and failed -- to break out through Syria; after which Bonaparte himself chose the better part of valor. He slipped out of Egypt late that summer, returning to France. There, he would swiftly stage a coup and come to power as First Consul, giving him the opportunity to hone his practice of bringing freedom to other countries -- this time in Europe. By 1801, joint British-Ottoman forces had defeated the French in Egypt, who were transported back to their country on British vessels. This first Western invasion of the Middle East in modern times had ended in serial disasters that Bonaparte would misrepresent to the French public as a series of glorious triumphs.<br /><br /><b>Ending the era of liberal imperialism</b><br /><br />Between 1801 and 2003 stretched endless decades in which colonialism proved a plausible strategy for European powers in the Middle East, including the French enterprise in Algeria (1830-1962) and the British veiled protectorate over Egypt (1882-1922). In these years, European militaries and their weaponry were so advanced, and the means of resistance to which Arab peasants had access so limited, that colonial governments could be imposed.<br /><br />That imperial moment passed with celerity after World War II, in part because the masses of the Third World joined political parties, learned to read, and -- with how-to-do-it examples all around them -- began to mount political resistance to foreign occupations of every sort. While the twenty-first century American arsenal has many fancy, exceedingly destructive toys in it, nothing has changed with regard to the ability of colonized peoples to network socially and, sooner or later, push any foreign occupying force out.<br /><br />Bonaparte and Bush failed because both launched their operations at moments when Western military and technological superiority was not assured. While Bonaparte's army had better artillery and muskets, the Egyptians had a superb cavalry and their old muskets were serviceable enough for purposes of sniping at the enemy. They also had an ally with advanced weaponry and the desire to use it -- the British Navy.<br /><br />In 2007, the high-tech U.S. military -- as had been true in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s, as was true for the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s -- is still vulnerable to guerrilla tactics and effective low-tech weapons of resistance such as roadside bombs. Even more effective has been the guerrillas' social warfare, their success in making Iraq ungovernable through the promotion of clan and sectarian feuds, through targeted bombings and other attacks, and through sabotage of the Iraqi infrastructure.<br /><br />From the time of Bonaparte to that of Bush, the use of the rhetoric of liberty versus tyranny, of uplift versus decadence, appears to have been a constant among imperialists from republics -- and has remained domestically effective in rallying support for colonial wars. The despotism (but also the weakness) of the Mamluks and of Saddam Hussein proved sirens practically calling out for Western interventions. According to the rhetoric of liberal imperialism, tyrannical regimes are always at least potentially threats to the Republic, and so can always be fruitfully overthrown in favor of rule by a Western military. After all, that military is invariably imagined as closer to liberty since it serves an elected government. (Intervention is even easier to justify if the despots can be portrayed, however implausibly, as allied with an enemy of the republic.)<br /><br />For both Bush and Bonaparte, the genteel diction of liberation, rights, and prosperity served to obscure or justify a major invasion and occupation of a Middle Eastern land, involving the unleashing of slaughter and terror against its people. Military action would leave towns destroyed, families displaced, and countless dead. Given the ongoing carnage in Iraq, President Bush's boast that, with "new tactics and precision weapons, we can achieve military objectives without directing violence against civilians," now seems not just hollow but macabre. The equation of a foreign military occupation with liberty and prosperity is, in the cold light of day, no less bizarre than the promise of war with virtually no civilian casualties.<br /><br />It is no accident that many of the rhetorical strategies employed by George W. Bush originated with Napoleon Bonaparte, a notorious spinmeister and confidence man. At least Bonaparte looked to the future, seeing clearly the coming breakup of the Ottoman Empire and the likelihood that European Powers would be able to colonize its provinces. Bonaparte's failure in Egypt did not forestall decades of French colonial success in Algeria and Indochina, even if that era of imperial triumph could not, in the end, be sustained in the face of the political and social awakening of the colonized. Bush's neocolonialism, on the other hand, swam against the tide of history, and its failure is all the more criminal for having been so predictable. <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Juan Cole teaches Middle Eastern and South Asian history at the University of Michigan. His most recent book, <i>Napoleon's Egypt: Invading the Middle East</i> (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007) has just been published. He has appeared widely on television, radio and on op-ed pages as a commentator on Middle East affairs, and has a regular column at <a href=""></a> and blogs at <a href="">Informed Comment</a>. </div></div></div> Fri, 24 Aug 2007 21:00:01 -0700 Juan Cole, 641121 at News & Politics bush iraq history egypt napoleon Al-Maliki Declines Turkish Terror Treaty; Kurds Pass Oil Law <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Iraqi-Turkish relations are strained, and the Kurds pass an oil law before the national government in Baghdad.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><a href="">Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki appears to have been ambushed by Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan on his visit to Ankara</a>, when Erdogan suddenly presented him with a thoroughgoing counter-terrorism treaty to sign, pledging the Iraqi government to go after the PKK (Kurdish Workers Party), which it branded a terrorist organization. Al-Maliki declined to sign that broad document. Instead, he signed a much narrower <a href="">memorandum of understanding</a> that he would attempt to expel the PKK from Iraq. He is said to have avoided calling the PKK a terrorist organization (the US government categorizes it that way) because his Kurdish allies nixed it.<br /><br />Al-Maliki is not in a position, politically speaking, to crack down hard on the PKK, several thousand of whose fighters are being given safe harbor by the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq. Al-Maliki has been deserted by some of his former Shiite allies in parliament, including the Islamic Virtue Party (Fadhila), the Sadr Movement, and the secular Shiites of the Iraqi National List. He has also lost the Sunni Arab bloc, the Iraqi Accord Front. He would be open to failing a vote of no confidence without the backing of the Kurdistan Alliance. Therefore, he has to keep Massoud Barzani happy. He has no choice if he wants to go on being prime minister. And Barzani is the architect of the policy of giving the PKK a haven in Iraq.<br /><br />The money graf from Aljazeera is:<br /><blockquote>' Al Jazeera's Hoda Abdel Hamid, reporting from the Kurdish region of Erbil in Iraq, said most people there did not believe an invasion would actually happen, but would back the PKK against what they see as an oppressive regime, if it did. There is also suspicion that the real reason behind the threats has to do with not wanting an autonomous Kurdish region just across its border.'</blockquote><br /><a href="">The Turkish paper Sabah complained that al-Maliki had freely branded the PKK a terrorist organization</a> when speaking to the press corps on board his plane to Ankara. But when suddenly faced with the prospect of signing a formal commitment that branded them as such, he turned evasive.<br /><br />The real achievement of the trip was probably the <a href="">understandings reached on energy issues</a>. If security can improve to the point where Iraqi petroleum and gas are exported via Turkey, Turkey can make billions off tolls. At the moment, pipeline sabotage has prevented much in the way of exports from the Kirkuk fields to the Mediterranean via Turkey.<br /><br /><a href=";link=118854">Meanwhile, the Kurdistan Regional Government passed its own petroleum law on Monday</a>, even though the Federal parliament has not yet passed its. The Kurds are claiming extensive autonomy from Baghdad for their petroleum industry.<br /><br /><a href="">Sawt al-Iraq, writing in Arabic</a>, reports that the Association of Muslim Scholars (Sunni fundamentalists) immediately called on foreign firms to boycott Kurdistan oil investments. AMS, which stands for a strong central government and opposes loose federalism, is linked to the 1920 Revolution Brigades guerrilla group.<br /><br /><a href=";SECTION=NATIONAL&amp;TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&amp;CTIME=2007-08-07-03-21-11">Turkish-US relations are still shaky, and Turkey is threatening to stop supplies going across its territory</a> to US troops in Iraq if Congress passes a resolution recognizing the WWI genocide against the Armenians conducted by Ottoman officers.<br /><br /><a href="">Iraqi guerrillas killed 26 US troops in the first week of August, with 6 killed on Monday alone</a>. Several were killed in Diyala Province by Sunni Arab guerrillas, whom they have been fighting. <a href="">Guerrillas killed another 4 on Tuesday with roadside bombs</a>.<br /><br />The US military appears to continue to ascribe all roadside bombings in Baghdad deploying explosively formed projectiles to Shiite militiamen, but this conclusion is shaky for all sorts of reasons. There is every reason to believe that Sunni Arab guerrillas could manufacture these devices, since the plates involved are made for the Iraqi oil industry, as well. And, if Iran did give any to anyone it would have been to the Badr Corps paramilitary, which may have failed to secure its warehouses or which may have some corrupt members that have sold off some of the munitions.<br /><br />Unfortunately, the Pentagon allegations, which are attempting to implicate Iran in the killing of US troops, have already been used by Senator Joe Lieberman in a saber-rattling resolution against Tehran, and are a foot in the door for the war party in Washington with regard to getting up military action against Iran. That it is mostly based on innuendo, unsubstantiated assumptions, and faulty reasoning will do us no good if the politicians start believing this stuff and using it to throw more billions to Boeing, Lockheed Martin and other arms manufacturers.<br /><br /><a href="">Reuters details civil war violence for Tuesday</a>, including the discovery of 16 bodies in the streets of Baghdad and several roadside bombs and mortar attacks. <a href="">McClatchy gives further incidents</a>. <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Juan Cole is a professor of history at the University of Michigan and maintains the popular blog <a href="">Informed Comment</a>. </div></div></div> Wed, 08 Aug 2007 11:00:01 -0700 Juan Cole, Informed Comment 640842 at War on Iraq World iraq turkey kurds maliki oil law erdogan Top Ten Iraq Myths for 2006 <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Sunnis, Civil War, Sadr and the prospects of &#039;victory.&#039;</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->1. Myth number one is that the United States "can still win" in Iraq. Of course, the truth of this statement, frequently still made by William Kristol and other Neoconservatives, depends on what "winning" means. But if it means the establishment of a stable, pro-American, anti-Iranian government with an effective and even-handed army and police force in the near or even medium term, then the assertion is frankly ridiculous. The Iraqi "government" is barely functioning. The parliament was not able to meet in December because it could not attain a quorum. Many key Iraqi politicians live most of the time in London, and much of parliament is frequently abroad. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki does not control large swathes of the country, and could give few orders that had any chance of being obeyed. The US military cannot shore up this government, even with an extra division, because the government is divided against itself. Most of the major parties trying to craft legislation are also linked to militias on the streets who are killing one another. It is over with. Iraq is in for years of heavy political violence of a sort that no foreign military force can hope to stop.<br /><br />The United States cannot "win" in the sense defined above. It cannot. And the blindly arrogant assumption that it can win is calculated to get more tens of thousands of Iraqis killed and more thousands of American soldiers and Marines badly wounded or killed. Moreover, since Iraq is coming apart at the seams under the impact of our presence there, there is a real danger that we will radically destabilize it and the whole oil-producing Gulf if we try to stay longer.<br /><br />2. "US military sweeps of neighborhoods can drive the guerrillas out." The US put an extra 15,000 men into Baghdad this past summer, aiming to crush the guerrillas and stop the violence in the capital, and the number of attacks actually <b>increased</b>. This result comes about in part because the guerrillas are not outsiders who come in and then are forced out. The Sunni Arabs of Ghazaliya and Dora districts in the capital <b>are</b> the "insurgents." The US military cannot defeat the Sunni Arab guerrilla movement or "insurgency" with less than 500,000 troops, based on what we have seen in the Balkans and other such conflict situations. The US destroyed Falluja, and even it and other cities of al-Anbar province are not now safe! The US military leaders on the ground have spoken of the desirability of just withdrawing from al-Anbar to Baghdad and giving up on it. In 2003, 14 percent of Sunni Arabs thought it legitimate to attack US personnel and facilities. In August, 2006, over 70 percent did. How long before it is 100%? Winning guerrilla wars requires two victories, a military victory over the guerrillas and a winning of the hearts and minds of the general public, thus denying the guerrillas support. The US has not and is unlikely to be able to repress the guerrillas, and it is losing hearts and minds at an increasing and alarming rate. They hate us, folks. They don't want us there.<br /><br />3. The United States is best off throwing all its support behind the Iraqi Shiites. This is the position adopted fairly consistently by <a href="">Marc Reuel Gerecht</a>. Gerecht is an informed and acute observer whose views I respect even when I disagree with them. But Washington policy-makers should read <a href="">Daniel Goleman's work on social intelligence</a>. Goleman points out that a good manager of a team in a corporation sets up a win/win framework for every member of the team. If you set it up on a win/lose basis, so that some are actively punished and others "triumph," you are asking for trouble. Conflict is natural. How you manage conflict is what matters. If you listen to employees' grievances and try to figure out how they can be resolved in such a way that everyone benefits, then you are a good manager.<br /><br />Gerecht, it seems to me, sets up a win/lose model in Iraq. The Shiites and Kurds win it all, and the Sunni Arabs get screwed over. Practically speaking, the Bush policy has been Gerechtian, which in my view has caused all the problems. We shouldn't have thought of our goal as installing the Shiites in power. Of course, Bush hoped that those so installed would be "secular," and that is what Wolfowitz and Chalabi had promised him. Gerecht came up with the ex post facto justification that even the religious Shiites are moving toward democracy via Sistani. But democracy cannot be about one sectarian identity prevailing over, and marginalizing others.<br /><br />The Sunni Arabs have demonstrated conclusively that they can act effectively as spoilers in the new Iraq. If they aren't happy, no one is going to be. The US must negotiate with the guerrilla leaders and find a win/win framework for them to come in from the cold and work alongside the Kurds and the religious Shiites. About this, US Ambassador in Baghdad Zalmay Khalilzad has been absolutely right.<br /><br />4. "<a href="">Iraq is not in a civil war," as Jurassic conservative Fox commentator Bill O'Reilly insists</a>. There is a well-established social science definition of civil war put forward by Professor J. David Singer and his colleagues: "Sustained military combat, primarily internal, resulting in at least 1,000 battle-deaths per year, pitting central government forces against an insurgent force capable of effective resistance, determined by the latter's ability to inflict upon the government forces at least 5 percent of the fatalities that the insurgents sustain." (Errol A. Henderson and J. David Singer, "Civil War in the Post-Colonial World, 1946-92," Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 37, No. 3, May 2000.)" See my article on this <a href="">in</a>. By Singer's definition, Iraq has been in civil war since the Iraqi government was reestablished in summer of 2004. When I have been around political scientists, as at the ISA conference, I have found that scholars in that field tend to accept Singer's definition.<br /><br />5. "The second Lancet study showing 600,000 excess deaths from political and criminal violence since the US invasion is somehow flawed." <a href="">Les Roberts replies here</a> to many of the objections that were raised. See also <a href="">the transcript of the Kucinich-Paul Congressional hearings</a> on the subject. Many critics refer to the numbers of dead reported in the press as counter-arguments to Roberts et al. But "passive reporting" such as news articles never captures more than a fraction of the casualties in any war. I see deaths reported in the Arabic press all the time that never show up in the English language wire services. And, a lot of towns in Iraq don't have local newspapers and many local deaths are not reported in the national newspapers.<br /><br />6. "Most deaths in Iraq are from bombings." The Lancet study found that the majority of violent deaths are from being shot.<br /><br />7. "Baghdad and environs are especially violent but the death rate is lower in the rest of the country." The Lancet survey found that levels of violence in the rest of the country are similar to that in Baghdad (remember that the authors included criminal activities such as gang and smuggler turf wars in their statistics). The Shiite south is spared much Sunni-Shiite communal fighting, but criminal gangs, tribal feuds, and militias fight one another over oil and antiquities smuggling, and a lot of people are getting shot down there, too.<br /><br />8. "Iraq is the central front in the war on terror." From the beginning of history until 2003 there had never been a suicide bombing in Iraq. There was no al-Qaeda in Baath-ruled Iraq. <a href="">When Baath intelligence heard that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi might have entered Iraq, they grew alarmed at such an "al-Qaeda" presence and put out an APB on him!</a> Zarqawi's so-called "al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia" was never "central" in Iraq and was never responsible for more than a fraction of the violent attacks. This assertion is supported by the outcome of a US-Jordanian operation that killed Zarqawi this year. His death had no impact whatsoever on the level of violence. There are probably only about 1,000 foreign fighters even in Iraq, and most of them are first-time volunteers, not old-time terrorists. The 50 major guerrilla cells in Sunni Arab Iraq are mostly made up of Iraqis, and are mainly: 1) Baathist or neo-Baathist, 2) Sunni revivalist or Salafi, 3) tribally-based, or 4) based in city quarters. Al-Qaeda is mainly a boogey man, invoked in Iraq on all sides, but possessing little real power or presence there. This is not to deny that radical Sunni Arab volunteers come to Iraq to blow things (and often themselves) up. They just are not more than an auxiliary to the big movements, which are Iraqi.<br /><br />9. "The Sunni Arab guerrillas in places like Ramadi will follow the US home to the American mainland and commit terrorism if we leave Iraq." This assertion is just a variation on the invalid domino theory. People in Ramadi only have one beef with the United States. Its troops are going through their wives' underwear in the course of house searches every day. They don't want the US troops in their town or their homes, dictating to them that they must live under a government of Shiite clerics and Kurdish warlords (as they think of them). If the US withdrew and let the Iraqis work out a way to live with one another, people in Ramadi will be happy. They are not going to start taking flight lessons and trying to get visas to the US. This argument about following us, if it were true, would have prevented us from ever withdrawing from anyplace once we entered a war there. We'd be forever stuck in the Philippines for fear that Filipino terrorists would follow us back home. Or Korea (we moved 15,000 US troops out of South Korea not so long ago. Was that unwise? Are the thereby liberated Koreans now gunning for us?) Or how about the Dominican Republic? Haiti? Grenada? France? The argument is a crock.<br /><br />10. "Setting a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq is a bad idea." Bush and others in his administration have argued that setting such a timetable would give a significant military advantage to the guerrillas fighting US forces and opposed to the new government. That assertion makes sense only if there were a prospect that the US could militarily crush the Sunni Arabs. There is no such prospect. The guerrilla war is hotter now than at any time since the US invasion. It is more widely supported by more Sunni Arabs than ever before. It is producing more violent attacks than ever before. Since we cannot defeat them short of genocide, we have to negotiate with them. And their first and most urgent demand is that the US set a timetable for withdrawal before they will consider coming into the new political system. That is, we should set a timetable in order to turn the Sunni guerrillas from combatants to a political negotiating partner. Even Sunni politicians cooperating with the US <a href="">make this demand</a>. They are disappointed with the lack of movement on the issue. How long do they remain willing to cooperate? In addition, <a href="">131 Iraqi members of parliament</a> signed a demand that the US set a timetable for withdrawal. (138 would be a simple majority.) It is a a major demand of the Sadr Movement. In fact, the 32 Sadrist MPs withdrew from the ruling United Iraqi Alliance coalition temporarily over this issue.<br /><br />In my view, Shiite leaders such as Abdul Aziz al-Hakim are repeatedly declining to negotiate in good faith with the Sunni Arabs or to take their views seriously. Al-Hakim knows that if the Sunnis give him any trouble, he can sic the Marines on them. The US presence is making it harder for Iraqi to compromise with Iraqi, which is counterproductive.<br /><br /><a href="">Think Progress points out</a> that in 1999, Governor George W. Bush criticized then President Clinton for declining to set a withdrawal timetable for Kosovo, saying "Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the president to explain to us what the exit strategy is." <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Juan Cole is a professor of history at the University of Michigan and maintains the popular blog <a href="">Informed Comment</a>. </div></div></div> Thu, 28 Dec 2006 21:00:01 -0800 Juan Cole, Informed Comment 637587 at Media World Media iraq top 10 A Ceasefire Call in Lebanon Bush Can't Ignore <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Shiite leader Ayatollah Sistani&#039;s call for a ceasefire should be heeded, or else the U.S. military mission in Iraq could quickly become untenable.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->The U.S. punditocracy and ruling elite is fixated on Hizbullah as a "terrorist group" even though the organization hasn't engaged in international terror against American civilians in many years. What they forget about Hizbullah is that it is also a Shiite religious party, and that that is how it is perceived for the most part by Iraqi Shiites. Some 45 percent of Lebanese are probably Shiites.<br /><br />The other thing to remember is that the United States is now a Shiite Power in part, insofar as it semi-rules a Shiite-majority country, Iraq.<br /><br /><a href=",,-5983528,00.html">The Associated Press</a> is carrying the story that Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has demanded an immediate ceasefire in Israel's war on Lebanon, in the wake of the Qana massacre:<br /><blockquote><br />"Islamic nations will not forgive the entities that hinder a cease-fire," al-Sistani said in a clear reference to the United States.<br /><br />"It is not possible to stand helpless in front of this Israeli aggression on Lebanon,'' he added. "If an immediate cease-fire in this Israeli aggression is not imposed, dire consequences will befall the region.''</blockquote><a href="">Sistani had earlier condemned Israeli air raids on Lebanon</a> but had confined himself to ordering the Iraqi Shiite religious establishment to provide aid to victims of the war in Lebanon.<br /><br />Sistani's statements of early Monday morning (which are not yet reflected at his website in Arabic) go substantially beyond his earlier statement.<br /><br />Several questions arise: 1) Why is Sistani speaking like this? 2) What can he do about it all? and 3) What are the possible consequences if he turns anti-American in practice, not just in rhetoric, as in the past?<br /><br /><img src="" /><br /><br />Sistani is taking such a hard line on this issue not only because he feels strongly about it (his fatwa against the Jenin operation of 2002 was vehement) but also because he is in danger of being outflanked by Muqtada al-Sadr. Sadr's Mahdi Army is said to be "boiling" over the Israeli war on Hizbullah, since after all the Sadrists are also fundamentalist Shiites and they identify with the Lebanese Hizbullah. There have already been big demonstrations in Baghdad against the Israeli attacks, to which Sadrists flocked but probably also other Shiites.<br /><br />Sistani cannot allow Muqtada to monopolize this issue, or the young cleric's legitimacy will grow among the angry Shiite masses at the expense of Sistani's.<br /><br />Sistani is not linked to Hizbullah, which is strongly Khomeinist in orientation. Sistani largely rejects Khomeinism. He told an Iraqi acquaintance of mine, "Even if I must be wiped out, I will not allow Iraq to repeat the Iranian experience." When Sistani had his heart problems in summer, 2004, he flew to London via Beirut. He stopped in Beirut several hours, and Nabih Berri came out to the airport to consult with him. Berri is the speaker of the Lebanese parliament and the leader of the Amal Party. Amal is the party of the secularizing, moderate Lebanese Shiites. It was more militant in the 1980s but it mellowed.<br /><br />So Sistani's political ties in Lebanon go to Amal much more than to Hizbullah. Sistani has many followers or "emulators" (muqallidun) among the Lebanese Shiites, though the hard core Hizbullahis tend to follow Supreme Jurisprudent Ali Khamenei of Iran instead. Some Lebanese Shiites follow the Lebanese grand ayatollah, Husain Fadlullah.<br /><br />Note that Amal is allied with Hizbullah in parliament, and some Amal fighters have been killed in clashes with Israelis in the deep south. Amal abandoned its paramilitary during the 1990s, but seems to have kept some units active down near the Israeli border.<br /><br />So Berri would have been in a position to implore Sistani to intervene. Sistani is hoping for something like a moderate Amal party to coalesce in Iraq and would want to help Berri any way he could.<br /><br />Sistani has issued a warning to the United States. He wants Bush to intervene to arrange a ceasefire, i.e. the cessation of israeli air raids on Lebanon in general.<br /><br />What could he do if he were ignored? Sistani could call massive anti-US and anti-Israel demonstrations. Given Iraq's profound political instability, this development could be extremely dangerous. U.S. troops in Baghdad and elsewhere are planning offensives against Shiite paramilitary groups, so tensions are likely to rise in the Shiite areas anyway. But big demonstrations could easily boil over into actual attacks on U.S. and British troops. Both depend heavily on fuel that is transported through the Shiite south. Were the Shiites actively to turn on the U.S. for its wholehearted support of continued Israeli air raids, the U.S. military could be cut off from fuel and supplies. The British only have around 8,000 troops in Iraq, and they would be in profound danger if Iraq's Shiites became militantly anti-occupation.<br /><br />Since the Israeli treatment of Arabs is an issue on which Sunnis and Shiites agree, there is also a possibility that Sistani could finally get some respect from the Sunni community if he led such a compaign. That development would be more dangerous to the continued U.S. military presence in Iraq than any other I can think of.<br /><br />The U.S. is already not winning against a Sunni Arab insurgency, backed by around 5 million Iraqis. If 16 million Shiites turned on the U.S. because of its wholehearted support for Israel's actions in Lebanon, the U.S. military mission in Iraq could quickly become completely and urgently untenable. In this case, the British troops in particular would be lucky to escape the country with their lives.<br /><br />Sistani does not issue threats lightly, and he has repeatedly shown a willingness to back them up with action. Bush and U.S. ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad will ignore him to their peril. <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Juan Cole is a professor of history at the University of Michigan and maintains the popular blog <a href="">Informed Comment</a>. </div></div></div> Wed, 02 Aug 2006 21:00:01 -0700 Juan Cole, Informed Comment 635733 at War on Iraq World