As I was reading through several news items last week on the Internet about the appalling situation in Gaza, I received an e-mail alert from my wife. It had been forwarded to her by a Parisian friend who is an expert in Orientalist art; she had received it from a well-known French television actress.
According to the alert, courses in England about the Shoah had just been withdrawn from British schools because they Ã¢â‚¬Å“shocked the Muslim population which denies the existence of the Holocaust.Ã¢â‚¬Â
The e-mail continued, Ã¢â‚¬Å“This is a frightening portent of the fear that is gripping the world and how easily each country is giving into it.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Now, more than ever, with Iran, among others, claiming the Holocaust to be Ã¢â‚¬Ëœa myth,Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ it is imperative to make sure the world never forgets. This e-mail is intended to reach 40 million people worldwide!
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Join us and be a link in the memorial chain and help us distribute it around the world.Ã¢â‚¬Â
My attention was now torn from the plight of the Palestinians in Gaza and shifted to the charge that British schools had just stopped teaching the Holocaust.
My curiosity piquedÃ¢â‚¬â€I hadnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t heard that news about BritainÃ¢â‚¬â€I went to Snopes.com, a Web site that examines such charges. The story, it turned out, first appeared in April 2007, not last week; according to the site, the report was also wildly inaccurate.
The truth was that Ã¢â‚¬Å“One history department in a northern UK city stopped teaching about the Holocaust because it wished to avoid confronting anti-Semitic sentiment and Holocaust denial among some Muslim pupils.Ã¢â‚¬Â
That fact was originally disseminated in a government-sponsored studyÃ¢â‚¬â€a study which was then grossly misreported by a British newspaper to indicate that, rather than in just one history department in the northern UK, Holocaust studies had been terminated across the country.
That error was further magnified by a British group which launched a worldwide alarm on the Internet with the headline: Ã¢â‚¬Å“Recently, this week, UK removed The Holocaust from its school curriculum. ...Ã¢â‚¬Â
Last Friday, President George Bush called for a $150 billion dollar stimulus package to Ã¢â‚¬Å“jump startÃ¢â‚¬Â AmericaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s flagging economy. The problem, he assured his viewers, was temporary.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I'm optimistic about our economic future,Ã¢â‚¬Â said the President, Ã¢â‚¬Å“because Americans have shown time and again that they are the most industrious, creative, and enterprising people in the world. That is what has made our economy strong. That is what will make it stronger in the challenging times ahead.Ã¢â‚¬Â
What was the reaction of the U.S. and the rest of the world to those rousing words from the head of the worldÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s most powerful nation?
Stock markets tanked across the globe. TuesdayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s historic rate cut by the Federal Reserve has temporarily staunched the bloodletting, but no one believes the crisis is over.
Right now, in Europe we are waiting to learn if markets will plunge even further.
This is not to pin the melt-down on Bush alone. (More on that later.) But the fact is that the prestige of an American President, his ability to reassure jittery investors around the worldÃ¢â‚¬â€never mind his own country--has never been lower.
From the start, BushÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s vacuous promises and pigheaded policiesÃ¢â‚¬â€at home and abroadÃ¢â‚¬â€have turned out to be miserable failures, bringing only disaster in their wake.
Why give any credence to this latest White House initiative?
In just about ever arena, from its attempts to sabotage the U.S. constitution, to intervene across the Middle East and Central Asia, the Bush administration has reached a dead end.
This morning brings the remarkable news that Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has gone to work as a part time consultant for the huge JP Morgan investment bank, at a salary estimated at a million dollars a year.
What I find remarkable is not so much the news as the apparent lack of reaction to it.
ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not just a question of a British leader leaving his nationÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s top office for employment in a sprawling company with worldwide interestsÃ¢â‚¬â€everyone does that these daysÃ¢â‚¬â€but the fact that Blair is doing itÃ¢â‚¬â€while at the same time continuing official duties in a very sensitive and financially key part of the world.
Blair is not being hired by Morgan for his economic skills, which were never impressive. As JP MorganÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s chief executive Jamie Dimon announced frankly, "There are only a handful of people in the world who have the knowledge and relationships that he has."
Such relationships are key to BlairÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s current official duties.
Thanks to pressure from his friend George Bush, Blair was handed a very sensitive assignment: Middle East envoy working on behalf of the US, Russia, the UN and the EU.
Though supposedly focused on Palestinian development, BlairÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s activities necessarily involve top level contacts with leaders throughout the world, particularly the leaders of the Middle East, leaders flush with trillions of dollars in assets, leaders making enormous deals and investments around the globe--the kind of deals that are MorganÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s bread and butter.
George W. Bush is now attempting to justify a long term American occupation of Iraq by citing non existent parallels between that country and South Korea. The two cases have nothing in common, as Juan Cole details. But BushÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s outrageous claim only serves to underline the incredibly wrong headed policies of the Bush administration.
If more is needed, check out the Op Ed page of the International Herald Tribune, a piece entitled Ã¢â‚¬Å“The Follies of BushÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Policy.Ã¢â‚¬Â The authors call for the Bush administration to immediately terminate the clandestine distribution of $75 million dollars to opponents of the Iranian government. The funds were requested by the Bush administration last year and authorized by the U.S. Congress to Ã¢â‚¬Å“bringÃ¢â‚¬Â democracy to Iran. Ironically, the attack on the administrationÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s policy is being made by two Iranians who oppose the Tehran regime. One of them is Shirin Ebadi, who was awarded the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize and is the lawyer for Haleh Esfandari, the Iranian-American scholar currently under arrest in Iran.
Some of the U.S. millions are funneled to Iranian exile groups, but not all. The entirely predictable results of that secret dole has been to tarnish all opposition groups including those in Iran, leaving them open to the charge that they are paid lackeys of America. In short, say the authors, the program has Ã¢â‚¬Å“backfiredÃ¢â‚¬Â One of its consequences, the recent detention of several Iranian-Americans in Iran such as Haleh Esfandari . Another: Ã¢â‚¬Å“It has made it more difficult for the more moderate factions within IranÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s power hierarchy to argue for an accommodation with the West.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Iranian reformists believe that democracy canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be imported, it must be indigenous. They believe that the best Washington can do for democracy in Iran is to leave them alone. The fact is, no truly nationalist and democratic group will accept such funds.Ã¢â‚¬Â
One of the more violent opposition groups that has been backed by the United States is known as Jundallah or Ã¢â‚¬Å“GodÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Brigade.Ã¢â‚¬Â According to ABC News, which cited unnamed US and Pakistani intelligence sources, most of GodÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Brigade are drawn from the predominately Sunni Muslim Baluchi tribe. Though the U.S. supposedly provides no direct funding to the group, it has been Ã¢â‚¬Å“secretly encouraged and advisedÃ¢â‚¬Â by the American government since 2005. Funding would require an official presidential Ã¢â‚¬Å“findingÃ¢â‚¬Â and congressional oversight. Instead, money has been provided by Iranian exiles who have connections with European and Gulf states.
If pushed to the wall, Dick Cheney or Bush might defend this action as a vital part of AmericaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s War Terror. But you want terror? Ã¢â‚¬Å“GodÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s BrigadeÃ¢â‚¬Â has claimed responsibility for bombings, kidnappings, and televised beheadings that have killed more than a dozen Iranian troops and officials.
Indeed, there is an appalling, underlying theme to the so-called Ã¢â‚¬Å“war against terrorÃ¢â‚¬Â from the Mediterranean Coast to Central Asia. Many of the forces arrayed against America and its ally, Israel, are movements that those two countries and their cronies themselves helped create.
We are witness to a spectacular surge of violence across the entire swathe of the Middle East and Central Asia. Some would take it as proof that the clash of civilizations is already upon us.
Marshalling the forces on one side of this conflict is the United States of George BushÃ¢â‚¬â€the greatest military power the planet has ever known. Indeed, if one were to measure the opponents by economic power and military strength, the victory of the U.S. and its minions would seem assured. It isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢tÃ¢â‚¬â€œas the current headlines make appallingly clear.
The United States seems to be waging not just a losing but an increasingly lonely struggleÃ¢â‚¬â€despite the mammoth amounts of money, men and resources they have poured into the region.
Afghanistan was the so-called front line in the war against terrorÃ¢â‚¬â€the first country to be invaded by a U.S-led coalition after 9/11. AmericaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s NATO allies signed on to help with the venture. But despite bold words of support, the NATO countries took more than four years to finally come up with the troops they had promised.
Even then there was a catch. The governments of 20 of those 26 countries placed caveats on how, where, and when those troops could be usedÃ¢â‚¬â€a total of more than a hundred different caveats in all. Ã¢â‚¬Å“You need a computer to figure out which countries troops you can send on which parts of which mission, said Teresita Schaffer, a former deputy assistant secretary of state for South Asia. The last thing most of the forces are permitted to do is actually undertake military missions to hunt down the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
The upshot is that the burden and casualties are being born by a handful of increasingly resentful nations, such as Canada. The situation may become only worse: the French and Dutch have indicated they may withdraw all their forces, while the Germans are Ã¢â‚¬Å“restudyingÃ¢â‚¬Â the situation.
What worries everyone is the recent dramatic resurgence of Taliban and Al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan, operating out of havens in neighboring Afghanistan. It was to interdict such havens that the U.S. has been paying the Pakistani government upwards of 1 billion dollars a year for the past five years to conduct counter terrorism operations along their Afghan border. The money was to cover the Pakistani militaryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s expenses for those patrols. That was the theory.
In fact, the U.S. is continuing those huge payments even though Pakistani President Pervez Musharaff announced eight months ago that he was drastically cutting back military operations in the very region where Al Qaeda and Taliban have been most active. There is also abundant evidence that Pakistani forces have turned their backsÃ¢â‚¬â€despite alerts from American forcesÃ¢â‚¬â€and allowed Taliban fighters to retreat across the border back into Pakistan. There is even a report that Pakistani forces fired in support of Taliban forces attacking Afghan outposts.
A new, very bleak report from Chatham House, the prestigious Royal Institute of International Affairs. Among its stark conclusions:
Continuing attempts to form a strong unified government in Baghdad are an exercise in futility. "Iraq" says the report "has fractured into regional power bases". Across "huge swathes of territory" decisions made by Iraqi leaders in the Green zone are largely irrelevant. The al-Maliki regime is merely one of several 'state-like actors' that now exist in Iraq." Key economic and security decisions are no longer made in Baghdad but by local sectarian, ethnic or tribal groups--whoever is currently on top in a particular city or district. Many of the major centers "have become lawless theaters of inter-and intra sectarian and inter-ethnic violent combat." "It can be argued that Iraq is on the verge of being a failed state which faces the district possibility of collapse and fragmentation."
The much vaunted surge has not reduced violence and deaths. If anything, the number of killings across the country has only increased. In fact, in some ways, the surge in Baghdad has made things worse: the withdrawal of large numbers of Moqtada al-Sadr's militia from Sadr City has allowed Sunni insurgents to increase their bloody attacks there. At the same time, insurgents are zeroing in on other more vulnerable parts of the country. There is not one civil war in Iraq but many; not one insurgency but many. Shiites are at war with Sunnis, at the same time as leaders of each sect battle ferociously for power and turf among themselves. Add to this a "rampant criminality across the country." Meanwhile, Al-Qaeda continues to expand its operations throughout the Centre and North. The thought that it could be defeated by tribal groups or other insurgents is a pipe dream. Return to any semblance of order will take many years--not months. Yet without U.S. Forces in the country, there is no way that Iraq's fledgling security services could cope with the current level of violence.
At the same time, because of a perfect storm of onrushing issues--such as possible American troop withdrawals and the battle over the petroleum law--2007 and 2008 promise to generate even more climactic bloodshed and violence. Though the Kurdish region has been relatively calm, the potential for sectarian strife is looming: Kurds and Arabs are heading for a showdown over control of the huge petroleum wealth around Kirkuk. - "The most capable foreign power in Iraq, in terms of influencing future events, is not the U.S. It is Iran."
What has to be done?
Crisis in the Gulf--Remember the Vincennes
This, of course, is not the first crisis involving a dispute over ships entering Iran's territorial waters.
On July 3, 1988 a U.S. Navy Cruiser Vincennes shot down an Iran Air Flight 655, a commercial airbus, killing all 290 passengers and crew.
The U.S. first claimed that the Vincennes was in international waters at the time and had fired in self-defense, fearing that the civilian jet was in fact an Iranian F-14 Tomcat fighter. Since Iranians had earlier attacked the U.S. ships in the area, the Vincennes was justified in its action.
The Iranians claimed that the Vincennes was in Iranian waters and that Flight 655 in fact just taken off, was heading away from the Vincennes, and represented no conceivable threat to the American ship.
In public and before Congressional investigators, U.S. officials from Ronald Reagan through George H.W. Bush to Admiral William Crowe swore by that official account. A host of other officers and reems of impressive documents were used to support that claim.
Eventually, the U.S. did pay compensation to Iran...but never formally apologized.
In fact, the Iranians were right. And the U.S. government had engaged in a massive coverup to prevent the truth being known. The reason? To conceal the fact that the United States had been endgaged in a clandestine war, allied with Iraq against Iran.
The full extent of that deception was revealed in an excellent investigative report by John Barry of Newsweek and ABC's Frontline in July 1992. It's worth your time to read it.
Former British Ambassador Craig Murray has suggested what would seem to be a sensible solution to the spiraling crisis in the Gulf: The Brits simply admit that the maritime boundaries are not at all clear in the Gulf; therefore both sides may have grounds for believing their positions are correct. Only problem is itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s hard to imagine Tony Blair being willing to take that route.
Here are some excerpts from Murray:
Ã¢â‚¬Å“There is no agreed maritime boundary between Iraq and Iran in the Persian Gulf. Until the current mad propaganda exercise of the last week, nobody would have found that in the least a controversial statement.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Let me quote, for example, from that well known far left source Stars and Stripes magazine, October 24 2006.
Ã¢â‚¬ËœBumping into the Iranians canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be helped in the northern Persian Gulf, where the lines between Iraqi and Iranian territorial water are blurred, officials said.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“No maritime border has been agreed upon by the two countries,Ã¢â‚¬Â Lockwood said.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢
Ã¢â‚¬Å“That is Royal Australian Navy Commodore Peter Lockwood. He is the Commander of the Combined Task Force in the Northern Persian Gulf.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I might even know something about it myself, having been Head of the Maritime Section of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office from 1989 to 1992, and having been personally responsible in the Embargo Surveillance Centre for getting individual real time clearance for the Royal Navy to board specific vessels in these waters.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“As I feared, Blair adopted the stupid and confrontational approach of publishing maps ignoring the boundary dispute, thus claiming a very blurred situation is crystal clear and the Iranians totally in the wrong. This has in turn notched the Iranians up another twist in their own spiral of intransigence and stupidity.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Both the British and the Iranian governments are milking this for maximum propaganda value and playing to their respective galleries. Neither has any real care at all for either the British captives or the thousands who could die in Iran and Basra if this gets out of hand. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦.
Former British Ambassador Craig Murray is now challenging the legitimacy of the map just published by the British government in the current dispute with Iran over those 15 captured British sailors and marines.
"Fake Maritime Boundaries
I have been unpopular before, but the level of threats since I started blogging on the captured marines has got a bit scary. It is therefore with some trepidation that I feel obliged to point this out.
"The British Government has published a map showing the coordinates of the incident, well within an Iran/Iraq maritime border. The mainstream media and even the blogosphere has bought this hook, line and sinker.
"But there are two colossal problems.
"A) The Iran/Iraq maritime boundary shown on the British government map does not exist. It has been drawn up by the British Government. Only Iraq and Iran can agree their bilateral boundary, and they never have done this in the Gulf, only inside the Shatt because there it is the land border too. This published boundary is a fake with no legal force.
"B) Accepting the British coordinates for the position of both HMS Cornwall and the incident, both were closer to Iranian land than Iraqi land. Go on, print out the map and measure it. Which underlines the point that the British produced border is not a reliable one.
"None of which changes the fact that the Iranians, having made their point, should have handed back the captives immediately. I pray they do so before this thing spirals out of control. But by producing a fake map of the Iran/Iraq boundary, notably unfavourable to Iran, we can only harden the Iranian position."
When I spoke with the former Ambassador he told me how dumbfounded he is by the way in which the mainstream media continues to treat this dispute.
The BBC for instance has already interviewed a supposed expert regarding the map, who vouched for its authenticity. But the point is, as Craig Murray, points out, how can such a map exist if the subject of boundaries has never been settled between Iraq and Iran? Turns out the expert had been referred to the BBC by the British Ministry of Defense--who also turned out the plan.
Sounds like the rerun of a bad movie we've already seen.
A very disturbing email from CBS's correspondent in Baghdad:
From: lara logan, cbs news baghdad
The story below only appeared on our CBS website and was not aired on CBS. It is a story that is largely being ignored, even though this is taking place every single day in central Baghdad, two blocks from where our office is located.
Our crew had to be pulled out because we got a call saying they were about to be killed, and on their way out, a civilian man was shot dead in front of them as they ran.
I would be very grateful if any of you have a chance to watch this story and pass the link on to as many people you know as possible. It should be seen. And people should know about this.
If anyone has time to send a comment to CBS Ã¢â‚¬â€œ about the story Ã¢â‚¬â€œ not about my request, then that would help highlight that people are interested and this is not too gruesome to air, but rather too important to ignore.
Many, many thanks. Lara.
Watch the video HERE.
I hadnt realised it when I made the initial post above, but an indepth look at the controversy surrounding Lara Logan's report has been done by Media Channels. I would urge readers to check out the following url: http://www.mediachannel.org/wordpress/2007/01/24/helping-lara-logan/
P.S. for those interested, i will be talking about my new book Ã¢â‚¬Å“Web of DeceitÃ¢â‚¬Â on the Colbert Report Monday January 29th. That same morning, I will be the guest of Amy Goodman on Democracy Now.