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'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Thursday, December 28, 2006

In Memoriam: Gerald R. Ford 

From Democracy Now!:

AMY GOODMAN?: Brad, you recently got documents declassified about President Ford and his role in 1975, in meeting with the long reigning dictator of Indonesia, Suharto. Can you explain what you learned?

BRAD SIMPSON: Yes. Gerald Ford actually met twice with Suharto, first in July of 1975 when Suharto came to the United States. And later in December of 1975, of course, on the eve of his invasion of East Timor. And we now know that for more than a year Indonesia had been planning its armed takeover of East Timor, and the United States had of course been aware of Indonesian military plans. In July of 1975, the National Security Council first informed Henry Kissinger and Gerald Ford of Indonesia’s plans to take over East Timor by force. And Suharto of course raised this with Gerald Ford in July when he met with Gerald Ford at Camp David on a trip to the United States. And then in December of 1975 on a trip through Southeast Asia, Gerald Ford met again with Suharto on the eve of the invasion, more than two weeks after the National Security Council, CIA, other intelligence agencies had concluded that an Indonesian invasion was eminent. And that the only thing delaying the invasion was the fear that US disapproval might lead to a cut-off of weapons and military supplies to the regime.

AMY GOODMAN: How knowledgeable was President Ford at the time of the situation?

BRAD SIMPSON: Well, Ford was very much aware. He was receiving hourly briefings, as was Henry Kissinger, as his plane lifted off from Indonesia, as the invasion indeed commenced. And immediately afterwards Gerald Ford flew to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, or to Guam—excuse me, where he gave a speech saying that never again should the United States allow another nation to strike in the middle of the night, to attack another defenseless nation. This was on Pearl Harbor Day, of course. Realizing full well that another day of infamy was unfolding in Dili, East Timor. As thousands of Indonesian paratroopers, trained by the United States, using US supplied weapons, indeed jumping from United States supplied airplanes, were descending upon the capital city of Dili and massacring literally thousands of people in the hours and days after December 7, 1975.

Allen Nairn, a journalist with extensive experience with Indonesia and East Timor, elaborates further:

AMY GOODMAN: Now documents, Allan Nairn that you did get declassified were a memo that involved Henry Kissinger, again, it was Kissinger and Ford that gave the go ahead for the invasion when they visited Suharto, the long-reigning dictator. And that was information they were getting as they flew out of Indonesia through to Guam and Pearl Harbor, as Brad Simpson described. But what about those documents and Kissinger's reaction?

ALLAN NAIRN: Well, Kissinger, and Ford, they, one of the points they made to Suharto, was that you have to try to get this invasion over with quickly. And Kissinger when he-- they wanted them to go in intensively, presumably kill as many Timorese as they could quickly. So that it wouldn't get international attention, and also, apparently they were worried that it could get attention in Congress. Because Ford and Kissinger knew that by authorizing this invasion, they were technically violating US law. Because the US weapons laws at the time stated US weapons given to foreign clients could not be used for purposes of aggression. And this was in the judgment of the State Department's own legal analysts, this looked like it would be an act of aggression if Indonesia were to invade East Timor, and that could, technically, if Congress got wind of it and started to pay attention to it, be grounds for stopping, cutting off US weapons supply to Indonesia.

That would have been devastating for the invasion of Timor because about 90% of the Indonesian weapons were coming from the US and they needed spare parts, they needed ammunition, they needed a re-supply. And it also would have been dangerous for the regime of Suharto which was based on repression within Indonesia and needed those weapons to keep their own population down. So Kissinger, in his internal discussions within the state department, was pressing his people to make sure that all information about Timor be kept under wraps. They didn’t want the US Congress paying too much attention to it. As it turned out, I think Kissinger was giving Congress a little too much credit because there was not much evidence at the time that apart from a few members like then-Congressman Tom Harkin, that there was much interest in probing what the US was doing. But Kissinger knew this was an illegal operation so he was trying to keep it quiet.

The Ford family didn't release a cause of death. One suspects that he died quietly in his sleep, after a long, relaxed retirement replete with many rounds of golf. It seems that people like him always do, undisturbed by the consequences of their actions.

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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

We Are Reliving the Atrocity of the Iraqi Sanctions in Palestine 

From an article published by Johann Hari in the Independent:

In Salfit, on the other side of the West Bank, Jamilla Alahad Naim, 29, is waiting for the first medical check-up of her five-month pregnancy. "I am frightened all the time," she says. "I am frightened for my baby because I have had very little medical treatment and I cannot afford good food ... I know I will give birth at home with no help, like I did with Mohammed [her last child]. I am too frightened to go to hospital because there are two checkpoints between our home [and there] and I know if you are detained by the soldiers, the mother or the baby can die out there in the cold. But giving birth at home is very dangerous too."

Hindia Abu Nabah - a steely 31-year-old staff nurse at Al Zawya Clinic, in Salfit district - says it is "a nightmare" to be pregnant in the West Bank today. "Recently, two of our pregnant patients here were tear-gassed in their homes ... The women couldn't breathe and went into premature labour. By the time we got there, the babies had been delivered stillborn."

Many of the medical problems afflicting pregnant women here are more mundane than Jamilla's darkest fears: 30 per cent of pregnant Palestinians suffer from anaemia, a lack of red blood cells. The extreme poverty caused by the siege and now the international boycott seems to be a key factor. The doctors here warn grimly that as ordinary Palestinians' income evaporates, they eat more staples and fewer proteins - a recipe for anaemia. There is some evidence, they add, that women are giving the best food to their husbands and children, and subsisting on gristle and scraps. The anaemia leaves women at increased risk of bleeding heavily and contracting an infection during childbirth.

Earlier this year, conditions for pregnant women on the West Bank - already poor - fell off a cliff. Following the election of Hamas, the world choked off funding for the Palestinian Authority, which suddenly found itself unable to pay its doctors and nurses. After several months medical staff went on strike, refusing to take anything but emergency cases. For more than three months, the maternity wards of the West Bank were empty and echoing. Beds lay, perfectly made, waiting for patients who could not come.

In all this time, there were no vitamins handed out, no ultrasound scans, no detection of congenital abnormalities. Imagine that the NHS had simply packed up and stopped one day and did not reopen for 12 weeks, and you get a sense of the scale of the medical disaster.

Some women were wealthy enough to go to the few private hospitals scattered across the West Bank. Most were not. So because of the international boycott of the Palestinians, every hospital warns there has been an unseen, unreported increase in home births on the West Bank.

Hari observes that the Independent Christmas Appeal is contributing some of its funds for medical care in the West Bank. If you are inclined to contribute, go here. As I noted recently, you can also contribute to the medical assistance programs of the Middle East Children's Alliance in the West Bank, Gaza and Lebanon.

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Friday, December 22, 2006

Klan Kountry 

UPDATE: Residents of Haditha comment upon the indictments of Marines involved in the slaughter there:

Dr. Waleed Al-Obeidi, 41, the director-general of Haditha hospital

“If they plan to implement justice, then we welcome this step to refer the eight marines to the court, but we have our doubts in American justice. The verdict will be life sentences for four of them and the other four will be released, according to what we heard in the media. They blamed one soldier in the killing of a whole family, while it was carnage. The Iraqi government should have summoned those soldiers and executed them.”

Tahseen Al-Hadithi, 51, cleric and imam of the Haditha mosque

“I prefer they won’t be executed, and to be handed over to Haditha people to get the punishment they deserve.”

Mr. Hadithi said this was not the only crime committed by American forces in Haditha, and noted that charges had been brought in similar incidents elsewhere in the country:

“This is the culture of the occupying marines in our country. If we go back and remember the funeral, and if President Bush could see the family, the children and the women and how the soldiers were moving from one house to another, killing them, what would his comment be? Execution is insufficient punishment to them, and I think they won’t be executed.”

INITIAL POST: Wonder why it is so hard to get out of Iraq? Let's look at the perspective of Virginia congressperson Virgil H. Goode:

Rep. Virgil H. Goode Jr. (R-Va.) on Thursday stood by his demand for strict immigration controls that he said would prevent Muslims from being elected to Congress and using the Koran during swearing-in ceremonies.

Islamic groups in the United States called on Republicans to repudiate Goode's remarks, which he first made in a letter attacking the use of the holy book in a ceremonial oath-taking next month by the first Muslim elected to the House.

"I do not apologize, and I do not retract my letter," Goode said emphatically during a session Thursday with reporters in the southern Virginia town of Rocky Mount.

Questioned later on Fox News Channel's "Your World," he said, "I am for restricting immigration so that we don't have a majority of Muslims elected to the House of Representatives."

We should not make the mistake of believing that Goode expresses the opinion of a small, intolerant fringe. First of all, he was elected to the House of Representatives, and, second, public opinion is, shall we say, mixed when it comes to their acceptance of Arabs and Muslims:

In a study to determine how much the public fears terrorism, almost half of respondents polled nationally said they believe the U.S. government should -- in some way -- curtail civil liberties for Muslim Americans, according to a new survey released today (Dec. 17) by Cornell University.

About 27 percent of respondents said that all Muslim Americans should be required to register their location with the federal government, and 26 percent said they think that mosques should be closely monitored by U.S. law enforcement agencies. Twenty-nine percent agreed that undercover law enforcement agents should infiltrate Muslim civic and volunteer organizations, in order to keep tabs on their activities and fund raising. About 22 percent said the federal government should profile citizens as potential threats based on the fact that they are Muslim or have Middle Eastern heritage. In all, about 44 percent said they believe that some curtailment of civil liberties is necessary for Muslim Americans.

Conversely, 48 percent of respondents nationally said they do not believe that civil liberties for Muslim Americans should be restricted.

We need not look far to discover the consequences of such bigotry, indeed, we only have to turn the pages of today's newspaper to find it:

Four Marines were charged with murder Thursday in connection with the deaths of 24 men, women and children last year in the Iraqi town of Haditha, and four officers were charged with failing to make accurate reports and thoroughly investigate the deaths.

The Nov. 19, 2005, incident in the insurgent stronghold in the Euphrates River valley is one of several in which U.S. troops face criminal charges in the deaths of Iraqi civilians.

But the Haditha case is regarded as the most serious because of the number of victims and Marines involved, and because the Marine Corps initially said the slain civilians had been caught in the crossfire between insurgents and U.S. forces.

The most serious charges were leveled against a squad leader, Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, who is accused of killing 12 people and ordering Marines under his command to "shoot first and ask questions later" in a sweep of homes that resulted in six deaths.

The Marines are accused of going on a rampage after a roadside bomb exploded under a Humvee in their convoy, killing Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas and injuring two others.

The Marines initially reported that 15 civilians had died in an explosion and eight others had been killed in a gunfight.

Only after Time magazine published a story in March suggesting that the Marine account was false did the military start an investigation.

For the gruesome facts associated with the massacre in Haditha, go here and here. Curiously, according to the article: None of the Marines was ordered confined for the upcoming preliminary hearings. Predictably, they are contending that they were just following the rules of engagement:

Neal Puckett, Wuterich's lawyer, expressed confidence that his client would be cleared. Civilians died in Haditha, he said, but Wuterich acted in accordance with his training.

"Everything he did that day was in an effort to protect his fellow Marines after that [improvised explosive device] went off," Puckett said at a news conference after the charges were announced at Camp Pendleton.

Defense lawyers have said the Marines were following established rules of engagement by tossing fragmentation grenades into homes where insurgents were suspected of hiding, and then opening fire with their M-16s.

Wuterich and three other Marines face charges of unpremeditated murder, which brings a maximum penalty of life in prison.

Such a contention is not implausible when one considers the indiscriminate violence of a related aspect of the occupation, the the air war, as it is expressly conducted with an emphasis upon disregarding the risks of death or injuries to Iraqis to protect Americans against any perceived danger, whether reasonable or not.

While in Washington, the purpose of the war and occupation remains the perpetuation of US hegemony in the Middle East and Central Asia, it is something different for many in the US and on the ground in Iraq. It is about gratifying a desire to punish the Iraqis for the refusal of people throughout the Middle East to accept their subordination to the US.

For them, US dominance is based upon a belief, as expressed by Goode, that Americans are racially and culturally superior to Arabs and Muslims. Physically and emotionally abusive treatment of Iraqis in detention is apparently an especially delightful way for them to drive this point home.

The massacre in Haditha, and the the infamous rape and killing in the farmhouse, represent even more grotesque, sadomasochistic aspects of this phenomenon. Hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis to date aren't enough to satiate their appetite for vengence.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Sign the Petition: Immediate Withdrawal of US Troops From Iraq 

Why we stand for immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq

Ali Abunimah
ElectronicIraq.net

Gilbert Achcar
Author
Clash of Barbarisms

Michael Albert
ZNet

Tariq Ali
Author
Bush in Babylon

Anthony Arnove
Author
Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal

Noam Chomsky
Author
Hegemony or Survival

Kelly Dougherty
Executive Director
Iraq Veterans Against the War
[Identification Purposes Only]

Eve Ensler
Playwright
The Vagina Monologues

Eduardo Galeano
Author
The Open Veins of Latin America

Rashid Khalidi
Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies
Columbia University

Camilo Mejía
First Iraq War resister to refuse redeployment

Arundhati Roy
Author
God of Small Things

Howard Zinn
Author
A People's History of the United States

THE U.S. occupation of Iraq has not liberated the Iraqi people, but has made life worse for most Iraqis.

Tens of thousands of U.S. service people have been killed or maimed, and hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis have lost their lives as a result of the U.S. invasion in 2003, the ongoing occupation, and the violence unleashed by them.

Iraq's infrastructure has been destroyed, and U.S. plans for reconstruction abandoned. There is less electricity, less clean drinking water, and more unemployment today than before the U.S. invasion.

All of the justifications initially provided by the U.S. for waging war on Iraq have been exposed as lies; the real reasons for the invasion — to control Iraq's oil reserves and to increase U.S. strategic influence in the region — now stand revealed.

The Bush administration has insisted again and again that stability, democracy, and prosperity are around the next bend in the road. But with each day that the U.S. stays, the violence and lack of security facing Iraqis worsen. The U.S. says that it cannot withdraw its military because Iraq will collapse into civil war if it does. But the U.S. has deliberately stoked sectarian divisions in its ongoing attempt to install a U.S.-friendly regime, thus driving Iraq towards civil war.

The November elections in the United States sent a clear message that voters reject the Iraq war, and opinion polls show that seven in 10 Iraqis want the U.S. to leave sooner rather than later. Even most U.S. military and political leaders agree that staying the course in Iraq is a policy that is bound to fail.

Yet all the various alternative plans for Iraq now being discussed in Washington, including those proposed by House and Senate Democrats, aren't about withdrawing the U.S. military from Iraq. Rather, these strategies are about continuing the pursuit of U.S. goals in Iraq and the larger Middle East using different means.

Even the proposal to redeploy U.S. troops outside of Iraq, a plan favored by many Democratic Party leaders, envisions continued U.S. intervention inside Iraq.

With former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger insisting that a military victory in Iraq is no longer possible and (Ret.) Lt. Gen. William Odom calling for "complete withdrawal" of all U.S. troops, the antiwar movement should demand no less than the immediate withdrawal of the U.S. military — as well as reparations to the Iraqi people, so they can rebuild their own society and genuinely determine their own future.

We call on the U.S. to get out of Iraq — not in six months, not in a year, but now.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Holiday Charitable Contributions 

Charitable contributions are something that we should consider all year round, but the holidays motivate people to consider the question more seriously. For me, the question of personal and community empowerment has become increasingly primary in my thought, so here are some recommendations:

KDVS Community Alternative Radio

Now, I admit that I broadcast on KDVS, so my self-interest is rather obvious. But KDVS is a station that is cooperatively managed by students and community programmers, with very little oversight by the UC Davis administrators. Programmers are free to broadcast almost anything outside of the commercial constraints of the marketplace. If you live beyond the confines of Northern California, look for a station with similar values, and consider financially supporting them, and remember NPR stations don't qualify.

Common Ground Collective

Hurricane Katrina has exacted a terrible toll upon New Orleans, one that endures to this day. Both the federal government and institutions, such as the Red Cross, have failed to respond adequately, requiring local, grassroots organizations to step forward: Common Ground's mission is to provide short term relief for victims of hurricane disasters in the gulf coast region, and long term support in rebuilding the communities affected in the New Orleans area. Common Ground is a community-initiated volunteer organization offering assistance, mutual aid and support. The work gives hope to communities by working with them, providing for their immediate needs and emphasizes people working together to rebuild their lives in sustainable ways.

Middle East Children's Alliance

Living conditions for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are dire, with more than one in four Palestinians considered deeply impoverished, as are the prospects for the creation of a Palestinian state that would acknowledge their right to self-determination. Western governments have withdrawn funds because of the electoral success of Hamas, seeking to collectively punish them as a means of forcing them to elect a new government more agreeable to them. The Middle East Children's Alliance, or MECA, raises funds for food and medical supplies for them, as well as for the people of Lebanon.

Samidoun

Both Lebanon and Gaza were subjected to assaults by the Israeli military, using weapon systems supplied by the United States. In both instances, the US government has unequivocally supported these actions, despite the consequences for the civilian populace. Samidoun is an indigenous alternative to MECA if you want to contribute to an organization attempting to assist people in the aftermath of the IDF destruction of the infrastructure of Lebanon: SAMIDOUN is a grassroots coalition that aims to work in a democratic and participatory atmosphere. The coalition is multi-confessional and diverse in terms of nationality. The coalition is also diverse in its composition in terms of supporting organizations, from student groups, to the gay and lesbian center, to arts and film production collectives, to small political parties, to environmental groups. But the bulk of the work is through young volunteers from all over the country, some of whom are refugees themselves.

AK Press

As described by wikipedia, AK Press is a collectively owned and operated independent publisher and book distributor that specialises in radical and anarchist literature. It has published numerous books that describe social movements within the US and around the world that have been depreciated or otherwise deliberately erased from public memory by both the mainstream as well as the institutionalized left.

The reissuance of The Subversion of Politics, by Georgy Katsiaficas, is an excellent example, and, having read it myself, a real page turner, as the suppressed memories of the past are remembered:

Since the modern anti-globalization movement kicked off with the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle, a new generation has been engaging in anti-capitalist direct action. Its aims, politics, lifestyles, and tactics grow directly out of the autonomous social movements that emerged in Europe from the 1970s through the mid-1990s. In fact, today's infamous "Black Blocs" are the direct descendants of the European "Autonomen." But these important historical connections are rarely noted, and never understood.

The Subversion of Politics sets the record straight, filling in the gaps between the momentous events of 1968 and 1999. Katsiaficas presents the protagonists of social revolt—Italian feminists, squatters, disarmament and anti-nuclear activists, punk rockers, and anti-fascist street fighters—in a compelling and sympathetic light. At the same time, he offers a work of great critical depth, drawing from these political practices a new theory of freedom and autonomy that redefines the parameters of the political itself.

Consider becoming a Friend of AK Press to assist in the continued publication of books that challenge the mainstream view of history, social relations and the origins of political change.

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Monday, December 18, 2006

The Democrats Embrace the War, Again 

As anticipated here and elsewhere, the Democrats sell out on the war:

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said on Sunday he would support a short-term increase in U.S. troops in Iraq being weighed by President George W. Bush if it is part of a broader withdrawal plan.

Bush has been talking to experts about a new Iraq strategy and a short-term increase in U.S. troops to help make Baghdad more secure is one idea that has been presented to him.

"If it's for a surge, that is, for two or three months and it's part of a program to get us out of there as indicated by this time next year, then, sure, I'll go along with it," said Reid, who will become the majority leader when Democrats take control of the Senate next month from Bush's Republicans. He spoke on ABC's This Week program.

But, don't worry, it's just a temporary increase. Just like our overall troop presence of over 140,000 troops in Iraq since 2003 has been temporary.

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Allegorical Rehabilitation of Augusto Pinochet 

UPDATE: In regard to my belief that Pinochet is being rehabilitated as ideological preparation for the installation of an Iraqi autocrat to implement US policy (scroll down below), I am not a personal friend of Jonah Goldberg of the Los Angeles Times, all appearances to the contrary:

I think all intelligent, patriotic and informed people can agree: It would be great if the U.S. could find an Iraqi Augusto Pinochet. In fact, an Iraqi Pinochet would be even better than an Iraqi Castro.

Not surprisingly, my preference is for an Iraqi Chavez. For some strange reason, Goldberg didn't present that alternative, probably because it is a lot easier to demonize Castro than Chavez. But Goldberg's reliance on false binary oppositions shouldn't surprise us, after all, as his favorite political leader famously said, you are either with us or against us.

INITIAL POST: We all know that the former Chilean President, General Augusto Pinochet, died last weekend. I had not intended to comment about it, because, really, what could I say that has not been more passionately said by others? I was provoked to speak, however, after Eli Stephens, over at Left I on the News, described a particularly despiccable editorial published by Fred Hiatt, the editorial page editor of the Washington Post.

According to the Post, Salvador Allende was culpable in his own overthrow and murder by Pinochet in 1973, and Pinochet was responsible for leaving behind the most successful country in Latin America. Leaving aside the nettlesome question as to how one makes such a subjective determination, assuming that the attempt is anything other than puerile, it appears evident that there is an allegorical purpose to it, an urgency that wouldn't otherwise exist if not for the current political situation in South America.

Of course, as the Post perceives it, the unspoken problem, the peril that dare not speak its name, is the election of leftists and left-leaning politicians throughout much of the region: Chavez in Venezuela, Lula in Brazil, Morales in Bolivia, Correa in Ecuador, Kirchner in Argentina, and yes, even Bachelet in Chile. Chavez, naturally, is the primary target of Post columnists. Barely a month goes by without Jackson Diehl relying upon falsified or obsolete economic data, as well as opposition propaganda about a purported trend towards autocracy, to distort the achievements of the Chavez government. So, there is a need to find an alternative to the movement away from politicians that reflexively support the US and open their economies to US capital without concern for the domestic consequences.

But what is it? Argentina? No, as already noted, the voters there have elected a moderate, left-leaning President, and, even worse, the economy collapsed in late 2001 after a catastrophic currency devaluation, despite having followed US inspired neoliberal privatization schemes for over a decade. Colombia? Yes, it does have a popular right wing President, a rarity, but even Fred Hiatt is not so dimwitted as to believe that you can present a country as violent as Colombia as a success. Paraguay? Uruguay? Let's face it, most Americans couldn't find them on a map, and I acknowledge my own ignorance by admitting that I know nothing about their current political leadership.

Chile therefore wins the contest by default. Contrary to what the Post implies, Chile is anything but an economic success story, it experienced wide swings in the value of its currency during the Pinochet years, swings that impoverished workers and domestic producers to the advantage of foreign investors (well, I guess by Post standards that was a good thing), and has relied upon earnings from an export oriented economy dependent upon disempowered, low wage workers and a lack of environmental protection. As with most countries that have adopted neoliberal policies, job creation in the informal sector, the sector without benefits and job protections, is greater than job creation in the formal one.

Chile has, however, experienced periods of substantial economic growth as measured by GDP and income growth, even if income disparities, once among the most equitable in South American, have now become among the most extreme (again, by Post standards, this just probably presents the economic achievements of Chile in an even more positive light), so it can be superficially described as a success, even if the reality is more nuanced. And, according to the Post:

Like it or not, Mr. Pinochet had something to do with this success. To the dismay of every economic minister in Latin America, he introduced the free-market policies that produced the Chilean economic miracle -- and that not even Allende's socialist successors have dared reverse. He also accepted a transition to democracy, stepping down peacefully in 1990 after losing a referendum.

Where, where to begin? Pravda must have published something similar about Czechoslavakia in the late 1970s or early 1980s to rationalize the 1968 invasion. How does one unravel the neoliberal Brzhenevism shot through this seemingly simple paragraph?

Well, first of all, Pinochet didn't introduce free-market policies, he imposed them upon the country through military force and police power, legitimized, if that it the right word, by a political structure dictated by Pinochet himself. Unions were crushed, with many of their rights to organize workers and bargain on their behalf eliminated. Dissenters were imprisoned, tortured and, in some instances, killed. Second, it is arguable whether Pinochet's economic policies can even be accurately described as free-market ones, as they frequently involved preferences to foreign capital unavailable to domestic enterprises.

Third, Pinochet's socialist successors lacked the ability to reverse his policies because there was no transition to democracy as claimed. After he left office, the Chilean constitution permitted him to remain Commander in Chief until 1998, and enabled him to serve as a Senator for Life, while appointing 8 other Senators to supplement the 38 elected ones. Hence, he possessed the power to make it impossible for any subsequent government to change policy. It was only last year, 2005, when these provisions were finally removed. Perhaps, it is no coincidence that student unrest emerged in the spring of 2006 when the political parties could no longer refer to the residue of Pinochet's authority as a justification for perpetuating neoliberal policies in education and other social services. Lastly, Pinochet stepped down peacefully after losing a referendum in 1990 because it was obvious that many in the military and the right wing political parties would not permit him to do otherwise.

Bachelet, a woman who, in addition to being tortured herself (a fact conveniently obscured in Hiatt's Post editorial, which described her as having been persecuted), experienced the death of her father at the hands of the Pinochet regime, would no doubt find it shocking, if not offensive, to discover that she, and Chile, owe their good fortune to Pinochet's brutality and alleged pragmatism. Indeed, there is a disturbing sadomasochism interwoven throughout the editorial. The idealistic Allende created the conditions for his own fall from power and death. It is thus implied that Pinochet quite rightly administered a sadistic punishment. Chile could only experience an economic miracle after the killings and torture of many of its citizens. Such a concept transforms the notion of economic shock therapy into the perverse. Bachelet can only attain the presidency after being tortured and suffering the loss of her father.

Such is the Post perspective on the life of Pinochet and its importance for the people of Chile. There is, however, another allegorical aspect to the editorial, a more subterranean one. The US invaded and occupied Iraq to bring stability and democratize the country, or so we are periodically told. But, much more so than Chile in the early 1970s, Iraq is in chaos, with extreme, uncontrollaable violence, no reliable public utilities, such as water and electricity, and a dysfunctional health care system that has been completely overwhelmed.

It is, according to US politicians and the mainstream media, a democracy in crisis. In Chile, in 1973, after participating in the manufacture of an earlier crisis, we accepted a military coup, and then relied upon a dictatorship to impose an economic and social order acceptable to us. The results, the Post assures us, were, on balance, salutary. You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs. Could it be that the Post is, in its own way, telegraphing a change in administration policy designed to bring an Iraqi Pinochet to power? If so, the consequences are likely to be dire for all involved. Unlike in Chile in 1973, the populace has guns, and knows how to use them.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Why Does Silvestre Reyes Wants to Send 20,000 to 30,000 More Troops to Iraq? 

Last week, I described how the new Democratic majority in the House and Senate is rapidly repudiating any expectations that it will act to push the President to withdraw troops from Iraq. If anything, the momentum is towards sending more troops, 20,000 to 30,000 more, as most recently advocated by, and I am merely being descriptive here, the new chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Silvestre Reyes of Texas.

Why is Reyes advocating such a ridiculous notion in the face of contrary public sentiment, and regurgitating neoconservative talking points to defend it? The answer is quite simple: he's an idiot, as revealed by this Congressional Quarterly interview:

We warmed up with a long discussion about intelligence issues and Iraq. And then we veered into terrorism’s major players.

To me, it’s like asking about Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland: Who’s on what side?

The dialogue went like this:

Al Qaeda is what, I asked, Sunni or Shia?

Al Qaeda, they have both,” Reyes said. “You’re talking about predominately?”

“Sure,” I said, not knowing what else to say.

“Predominantly — probably Shiite,” he ventured.

He couldn’t have been more wrong.

Al Qaeda is profoundly Sunni. If a Shiite showed up at an al Qaeda club house, they’d slice off his head and use it for a soccer ball.

That’s because the extremist Sunnis who make up a l Qaeda consider all Shiites to be heretics.

Al Qaeda’s Sunni roots account for its very existence. Osama bin Laden and his followers believe the Saudi Royal family besmirched the true faith through their corruption and alliance with the United States, particularly allowing U.S. troops on Saudi soil.

Reyes didn't do much better when the subject turned to Hizbollah:

And Hezbollah? I asked him. What are they?

Hezbollah. Uh, Hezbollah...”

He laughed again, shifting in his seat.

“Why do you ask me these questions at five o’clock? Can I answer in Spanish? Do you speak Spanish?”

“Poquito,” I said—a little.

“Poquito?! “ He laughed again.

“Go ahead,” I said, talk to me about Sunnis and Shia in Spanish.

Reyes: “Well, I, uh....”

I apologized for putting him “on the spot a little.” But I reminded him that the people who have killed thousands of Americans on U.S. soil and in the Middle East have been front page news for a long time now.

It’s been 23 years since a Hezbollah suicide bomber killed over 200 U.S. military personnel in Beirut, mostly Marines.

Hezbollah, a creature of Iran, is close to taking over in Lebanon. Reports say they are helping train Iraqi Shiites to kill Sunnis in the spiralling civil war.

“Yeah,” Reyes said, rightly observing, “but . . . it’s not like the Hatfields and the McCoys. It’s a heck of a lot more complex.

“And I agree with you — we ought to expend some effort into understanding them. But speaking only for myself, it’s hard to keep things in perspective and in the categories.”

One is tempted to say that this is a classic example of the blind leading the blind, except that it would be an insult to blind people, as I am certain that there are plenty of blind people with a greater understanding of al-Qaeda and, especially Hizbollah, than expressed by both Reyes and the interviewer, Jeff Stein, who is, you guessed it, the National Security Editor for CQ. Hizbollah, a creature of Iran?

Apparently, Stein had other assignments after the 1983 bombing of the Marines, and never learned that Hizbollah is a mass movement that mobilized southern Lebanon so effectively that it ended the Israeli occupation after an 18 year struggle, and, most recently, defeated the IDF when it invaded the country again in July and August. Stein also conveniently neglects to mention that, prior to the killing of the Marines, the US had intervened militarily on the side of the Christian Maronites against Hizbollah.

No wonder we are on the verge of igniting sectarian violence in Lebanon to prevent it, and their Shia supporters, from obtaining their rightful share of power there, just as we abetted sectarian violence in Iraq to justify a perpetual occupation. Reyes knows nothing about them, which, in this instance, is actually superior to the neoconservative and Zionist stereotypes purveyed by Stein.

Unfortunately, it appears that Reyes' lack of knowledge also makes him gullible enough to accept what people like Stein tell him about Iraq and Lebanon, and goes a long way towards explaining why he, and other Democrats, aren't going to do anything to reduce the US military presence in Iraq, much less end the occupation.

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Monday, December 11, 2006

"There is No Longer a Place for America in Lebanon" 

UPDATE: This is the new strategy for the survival of the Siniora government:

The homes, offices and cars of several anti-government Sunni figures and clerics have been attacked, the leftist daily As Safir reported Monday.

The daily said among those harassed were Sidon's mayor Abdul Rahman Bizri, followers of former Premier Omar Karami in the north and ex-cabinet minister Abdul Rahim Mrad in the Bekaa in addition to a number of Sunni clergymen.

The paper said the latest attack targeted the house and the car of Sheikh Zuheir Jaeed in Iqlim el-Kharroub's town of Barja Sunday afternoon.

Former MP Zaher Khatib, who was attending a meeting at Jaeed's house the time of the assault, accused supporters of parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri's Mustaqbal movement of throwing stones at the sheikh's house and destroying his car.

Mrad's Ittihad party has also accused the Mustaqbal movement and some members of the pro-government March 14 Forces of harassing its supporters in several Bekaa towns.

After getting over the shock of discovering that there are Sunni supporters of Hizbollah, we can ask the pertinent questions. Is Lebanon on the verge of a conflation like Iraq? Are the neoconservatives about to strike the match?

INITIAL POST: As noted here during the course of the conflict, one of the peculiarities of the recent war between the US, Israel and Hizbollah, a war in which Israel, with US support and US arms, targeted civilians and infrastructure throughout Lebanon, was the enactment of a UN cease fire with terms based upon the fantastical notion that US and Israel prevailed. Another equally strange outcome was the survival of the Lebanese government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, a government that, in order to please its American and Israeli patrons, presented only token verbal opposition to the Israeli attacks for public relations purposes.

Meanwhile, this rather odd government, a government that represented its citizens by aligning itself with the two foreign powers raining down bombs upon them, is now creating a new security force that excludes a substantial part of the country's population, perhaps nearly half of it, the Shia, with weapons received from the United Arab Emirates with US approval. Not surprisingly, as reported by Anthony Shadid in the Washington Post, this hasn't gone down very well with the people that were on the receiving end of these attacks, and they have decided that they no longer want to be governed as a client state:

Hezbollah and its allies turned out the biggest crowds yet in downtown Beirut, sending hundreds of thousands of followers to the gates of the government headquarters Sunday in a feat of mobilization and discipline described by some leaders as the last mass protest before the 10-day campaign escalates.

Legions of flag-waving protesters danced, blew horns and beat drums in a demonstration that, as in past days, was festive, swathed in a cool breeze on a sunny day. But its leaders stipulated only a few days before more measures were taken to topple the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. By nightfall, the city, suffused with a military presence, was rife with rumors over the next step. Hezbollah refused to confirm or deny that it planned to cut roads in the capital in a mounting campaign of civil disobedience, and Michel Aoun, a Christian ally, suggested a more forceful march on the government itself.

"All these actions become legitimate when the rulers start committing crime after crime, and refuse to step down, and find refuge in illegitimate actions," he told the crowd. "Legitimate actions are for rulers who respect the legitimacy of its people."

According to Reuters:

There were no official estimates of the crowd size on Sunday but one security source said it was the largest such gathering ever seen in Lebanon. Opposition sources said the crowd was 2 million strong -- roughly half Lebanon's population.

Predictably, and quite properly, the tone of the protest was anti-American and anti-Israel, the two countries that dictate the policies of the Siniora government:

The pounding of martial music, the roaring din of the excited crowd floated up a nearby hill to pierce the thick walls of the stately government building, the Grand Serail, as Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, entered a ceremonial room for a news conference. “I don’t understand what is this great cause that is making them create this tense political mess and stage open ended demonstrations,” he said to a small group of reporters.

Over and over, the crowd, the speakers, the posters, offered clear explanations. They did not want a government controlled by the so-called March 14 coalition, an amalgam of Sunni, Christian and Druse parties. They did not want a government aligned with Washington. In short, a very large number of Lebanese citizens said they did not want the present leadership.

A banner that hung down the side of a building, showing a picture of the prime minister hugging Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. “Thanks Condy,” it said just beneath another image of dead children, referring to Lebanese civilian casualties during Israel’s war with the militant Shiite group Hezbollah during the summer.

“There is no longer a place for America in Lebanon,” Hezbollah’s deputy leader, Naim Qassem, said in remarks that boomed through loudspeakers.

“Do you not recall that the weapons fired on Lebanon are American weapons?” he added.

Prime Minister Siniora’s somewhat surprising expression of bewilderment seemed to capture the spirit dividing this country of just four million people. There are government supporters who appear afraid and threatened, and there are opponents of the government, particularly those who support Hezbollah, who seem empowered and confident that they stand at the threshold of victory.

Shadid, in another one of those well documented and focused stories of the kind that made him the source of neoconservative ire when he covered Iraq in 2003 and 2004, hits the nail on the head:

After Nasrallah accused the government of complicity in Israel's waging war this summer, protester after protester mentioned it in interviews Sunday. The government, many claimed, was at best under the sway of U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman, at worst staffed by traitors.

"In the trash can of history, the government of Feltman," one sign read.

"The government walks as the Americans tell it to walk. It does what Feltman asks it to do," said Hussein Awadeh, a 17-year-old from the largely Shiite southern suburbs of Beirut. "Is it possible we'd accept a government like that?"

Of course not. Lebanese apparently don't appreciate being governed by US clients anymore than the Iraqis do. Hizbollah may not be leftist, but it is anti-imperialist, and for that reason, in addition to the fact that its Shia supporters, along with Aoun's Christians and some dissident Sunnis, represent the majority perspective in Lebanon, we should hope that it brings down the Siniora government. lenin, over at Lenin's Tomb, makes the case quite well, even as he acknowledges Hizbollah's true fault in this political struggle, its unwillingness to acknowledge its complicity in the adoption of neoliberal policies implemented by the Siniora government.

As already mentioned, Shadid mentions a rumor that Hizbollah and its supporters are about to block the roads into Beirut. Perhaps, they might also consider engaging in civil disobedience by surrounding the US embassy. After all, the US military greenlighted the IDF attack upon Lebanon prior to the kidnapping of the two IDF soldiers by Hizbollah. Could anything more effectively reinforce the reality of US control over the Siniora government than the forcible removal of protesters from the approaches to the embassy by the Lebanese Army? The birth pangs of a new Middle East, indeed.

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Saturday, December 09, 2006

China: The Imperative of Radical Reform 

Over the last couple of months, I have posted several comments about how social unrest is forcing the Chinese Communist Party to consider, and tentatively begin to implement, reforms. For example, go here and here.

Now, according to the Times of London, the Party has acknowledged the extent of the peril in a recent partywide paper. Furthermore, according to the Times, Xinhua, the state run news service, has published a rare commentary on the sensitive topic:

. . . “The huge number and broad scope of mass incidents has become the most outstanding problem that seriously impacts social stability . . .

Resentment over the loss of farmland, corruption, worsening pollution in the vast countryside, arbitrary evictions by property developers and lay-offs by state enterprises in cities have galvanised the Chinese to take sometimes drastic action.

The commentary noted that some economic disputes had been politicised, while some had become increasingly violent and confrontational. Even a small mishandling of a protest could lead to bloodshed.

A major reason for the unrest was the progress of reform that has created a widening wealth gap between better-educated, entrepreneurial and white-collar urban residents, and farmers, migrant workers and the elderly, who find it increasingly difficult to cope with a swiftly changing society.

In an unusually direct warning of the consequences of failing to tackle the grievances of China’s have-nots, the commentary said: “Whether we can actively prevent and properly deal with mass incidents is a significant test of the party’s ability to govern. The Communist Party — particularly local officials — must do its utmost to help laid-off workers, landless farmers, displaced migrants, peasant workers and the poverty-stricken populations of towns and villages.”

Of course, the candor of the authors of both the paper and the commentary is the striking aspect of the story, as the factual circumstances have otherwise been publicized around the world with greater regularity in recent years. Such candor constitutes inferential support for the notion that President Hu Jintao, and many within the Party, recognize that neoliberalism as usual is no longer possible, indeed, that it is not even possible to pretend as if the social unrest is a localized phenomena that can be easily contained.

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Friday, December 08, 2006

A Synopsis of the Iraq Study Group Report 

On Wednesday morning, I awoke in a hotel room down valley from Sacramento. I was there on work-related business, and, unlike at home, I had the full array of cable channels. I have encounters with cable news programming infrequently, and I am invariably startled by what constitutes news, and how it is manipulated. As I surfed, the political theme of the day was consistent: the Iraq Study Group report.

The coverage was designed to obscure the obvious. The authors of the report don't say anything that we haven't already been told repeatedly, make absurd policy suggestions and delay the day of reckoning until the end of the Bush presidency. Typical of some government bureaucracies, especially when confronted with a difficult problem, they ineptly concealed the lack of substance by substituting volume, as if presenting 79 proposals provides a greater chance of success than 15.

One of my friends astutely observed that the grim facial appearances and body language of the panel members spoke more candidly than the content of the report, and they spoke with one voice. As many on the left recognized a long time ago, the war in Iraq is lost. While there is an unavoidable tastelessness in the comparison, I couldn't help thinking that this is what it would have been like if Hitler had commissioned an Eastern Front Study Group in the late summer of 1943. Lots of superficially plausible ideas to avoid telling the unpalatable truth.

We can even imagine similar proposals (there is a need for more people capable of speaking Slavic languages and civilian Reich employees should be ordered to Russia as required), with an equally contentious debate, centered around, in this instance, whether negotiations should be opened with the US and Britain to bring about pan-European solution. Hard liners, invoking Goebbels' "total war" speech at the Sportspalast, insist that victory must be achieved, without defining it as an attainable objective. A careful examination of the report reveals that there was not much of an effort to solicit the opinion of Russians.

But I have begun to digress. Not only is the war lost, but the solicitation and issuance of the report is indicative of a political system in paralysis. Neither political party can acknowledge the enormity of the defeat in Iraq, and the prospect of a military catastrophe looming over the horizon. So, Bush and his Republican supporters describe the occupation within the context of a global "war on terror", whereby each suicide bomber, each militia raid and each US airstrike reflects the overall success of the operation.

Conversely, Democrats embrace the ISG report because it is consistent with their tendency to transform the occupation into a matter of effective administration so as to avoid more and more insistent public demands for withdrawal of the troops. If we could just get the stakeholders together, reach consensus, and deliver more pens, writing pads, cell phones and Blackberries to the right people, then the Iraqis will forget their hatred of the occupation. And, of course, the parties should be hastened along towards reaching consensus by making the release of funds to the Iraqi government conditional upon the completion of "benchmarks".

Hence, the carrot and stick approach commonly associated with local government planning disputes has been embraced as a means of resolving one of the most violent, intractable conflicts of our lives. Given that many congressional representatives started their careers as mayors, council members and supervisors, we shouldn't be surprised that they are reflexively falling back upon this familiar method. If done effectively, it coerces consent, thus enabling politicians to avoid being associated too strongly with any advocate. Furthermore, the disappointments of 2005 and 2006 have made the punitive aspects of this dispute resolution technique popular, if only as a way of pandering to Americans displeased with the numerous dead and wounded soldiers sent stateside every month.

Accordingly, the ISG proposals are increasingly being embued with talismanic qualities. As with the 9/11 report (yes, a report that exposed the country's political dysfunctionality as it existed prior to the invasion of Iraq), it must be adopted in its entirety. Piecemeal adoption of ISG proposals will fail. Of course, this is very convenient, as there is no chance that all of the proposals will be adopted and implemented, so it permits congressional proponents, predominately Democrats, to exploit the report for political advantage, while continuing to support the occupation as a grim necessity.

The congressional elections and the ISG report therefore expose the bankruptcy of the liberal strategy that emphasizes the need to recover power within the government, to the exclusion of social alternatives, as a means of ending the occupation of Iraq. It is a game rigged against anyone who wants to radically change the imperialistic imperatives of US foreign policy. Credibility is measured by whether there are former generals, former State Department officials and so-called "terrorism experts" willing to intellectually buttress a less interventionist philosophy, and few are willing to do so. Indeed, there is a Catch-22 here, whereby any highly respected figure who publicly advocates for such a policy loses credibility as a consequence of a a coordinated governmental and media assault.

If public pressure builds, an entity like the ISG is created, consisting of an appointed group of Wise Men and Wise Women, people who understand that it is their responsibility to put their prestige at the service of preserving the existing order. They produce a report that presents the appearance of an alternative, an appearance of political disagreement, when, in fact, they have worked assidously to ensure that US troops will remain in Iraq indefinitely. The report, as already discussed, also enables politicians to appear to oppose the occupation, while the withdrawal of US troops remains subject to the attainment of impossible goals.

Meanwhile, the Iraqis continue to resist and struggle to create a strong coalition against the US presence. As the US political system has, yet again, shown itself incapable of ending this conflict, it is left to them to do so by driving US troops out of the country. It will happen, it is only a matter of time, and the only question is how quickly they will accomplish it. One suspects that the answer will render the conclusions of the ISG report, especially in regard to the withdrawal of US troops, an embarassment. But it won't matter. It will have already served its purpose.

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss 

The congressional elections seem like a distant memory. Was it really only about a month ago that the Democrats took control of the House and Senate, carried by a wave of popular sentiment that it is time to get out of Iraq?

Yes, it was, although we can certainly be forgiven for believing that much more time has passed. It just doesn't seem possible that the Democrats could so rapidly abandon a constituency that was so central to their victory.

Faced with the challenge of navigating between rock solid elite support for the war in Iraq as part of a broader based "war on terror", and an electorate that has grown weary of more and more dead soldiers, and more and more wounded ones returning home, many with permanent, debilitating injuries, the Democrats have taken the path of least resistance, cater to the elite. Barely a day passes without some new indication that the Democrats are merely going to craft an Iraqi policy that repackages the Bush Administration's one in shiny new paper.

Before the vote had been completely certified around the country, there was Joe Lieberman, the swing vote in the Senate that the Senate Democratic leadership wanted over Ned Lamont, the vote that keeps them in power, singing duet with John McCain about the need for more troops, not less, the weekend after the election. A week or so later, the House Democrats picked pro-war, pro-occupation member Steny Hoyer for Majority Leader, selecting him over John Murtha, a man who could credibly make the case for withdrawal based upon his credentials as a Marine.

For good measure, to make sure that new Speaker Nancy Pelosi got the message, the House Democrats also placed Illinois member Rahn Emanuel, known for blacklisting of antiwar candidates, in the position of Democratic Caucus Chair. Now, we discover that the newly appointed chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Silvestre Reyes of Texas, wants 30,000 more troops for Iraq, 10,000 more than sought by Lieberman and McCain.

Shockingly, Reyes regurgitates the same old tired rhetoric that we've heard since they pulled Saddam out of the rabbit hole:

“We’re not going to have stability in Iraq until we eliminate those militias, those private armies,” Reyes said. “We have to consider the need for additional troops to be in Iraq, to take out the militias and stabilize Iraq … We certainly can’t leave Iraq and run the risk that it becomes [like] Afghanistan” was before the 2001 invasion by the United States.

Reyes also stressed that there needed to be greater “political accountability” demanded of the Iraqi government. But on the core issue of the U.S. commitment, Reyes—a Vietnam War veteran who partially lost his hearing in that conflict—even compared his position to that of another Vietnam vet, Sen. John McCain, a staunch supporter of the Iraq war. Like Reyes, McCain also has called for an increase in U.S. troop strength. When asked how many additional troops he envisioned sending to Iraq, Reyes replied: “I would say 20,000 to 30,000—for the specific purpose of making sure those militias are dismantled, working in concert with the Iraqi military.”

When a reporter suggested that was not a position that was likely to be popular with many House Democrats, Reyes replied: “Well again, I differ in that I don’t want Iraq to become the next Afghanistan. We could not allow Iraq to become a safe haven for Al Qaeda, for Hamas, for Hizbullah, or anybody else. We cannot allow Iran or Syria to have a free hand in there to further destabilize the Middle East.”

Iraqis, naturally, have a different story to tell, namely that it has been the refusal of the US to end the occupation that has intensified conflict there. But Reyes, like most American politicians, could care less about them. He only refers to them, the indigenous populace, primarily in the context of being violent enemies. Perhaps, a Central Asian guest worker program might be a good solution, whereby Iraqis are encouraged to leave the shattered remains of their own society, to work elsewhere throughout the region, under close supervision, of course, while the US expands its network of military bases and imports more trustworthy people, say, from South Asia, to run the oil industry.

Unfortunately for us, such a crazy approach makes more sense than anything we hear from Congress, or will soon hear from the Iraq Study Group. Upon close reading, Reyes gives the game away: We cannot allow Iran or Syria to have a free hand in there to further destabilize the Middle East. In other words, Reyes, and the Democratic Party generally, are moving to the wrong side of the fault line in regard to the question as to whether we actually start to normalize relations with Iran and Syria as a means of reducing the violence in Iraq.

After all, Reyes said that he was very clear about his position when he spoke with Pelosi prior to being selected as chair of the intelligence committee. It looks like Pelosi may have passed over Jane Harman because she needed someone who was not so reflexively aligned with the pro-occupation position to advocate it effectively in the new Congress, and Reyes, as someone who voted against launching the war in 2003, fit the bill perfectly.

One can readily draw up the list of usual suspects as to who is prompting them to move in this direction, but that is a rather mundane exercise. Of more importance is the impression that the US feels increasingly threatened by the emergence of Shia power in the region, and, bereft of alternatives, is sliding inexorably towards more aggressive intervention in Lebanon, Iraq and Iran, leaving Hamas and Palestine to the Israelis. The situation is considered sufficiently grave that the Democrats are willing to risk being repudiated in 2008 by breaking one of their core commitments.

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Monday, December 04, 2006

Celebration in Caracas 

Sunday, December 03, 2006

6 More Years 

Good News From Canada 

From the Washington Post:

In a convention that underscored the rising political weight of climate change issues, Canada's Liberal Party on Saturday chose Stephane Dion, a former environment minister, to lead the party and try to wrest power from the ruling Conservatives in the next national election.

Dion, 51, was elected head of the party over seven other candidates, including Michael Ignatieff, a renowned Harvard professor who returned to Canada last year and had quickly become a front-runner in the race to head the opposition against Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Ignatieff's drive for the post stumbled in the fourth and last ballot over his opinions on Iraq, Afghanistan and Israel. The fragmented delegations at the convention turned to Dion, whose environmental credentials overcame his thickly accented English and lackluster convention speech.

In his acceptance speech, Dion repeatedly emphasized his main goal: dealing with what he called "the greatest challenge we have today, sustainable development."

He was elected, he said, because "Canadians have a deep concern about the main issue of our time -- building a sustainable environment for our children."

If there is anything thickly accented here, it is the prose of the writer of this article, Doug Struck. Precisely what are Ignatieff's opinions about Iraq, Afghanistan and Israel? Well, he has never repudiated his strong support for the war in Iraq, broke ranks with many in his party, and voted for a continued Canadian participation in the multilateral force in Afghanistan, and, rather strangely, condemned the IDF attack upon Qana during the recent Lebanese war.

Apparently, Struck and the Post wanted to soft peddle the fact that, if Ignatieff had prevailed, both major parties in Canada would have been lead by politicians that support the continued occupation of Iraq and the broader aims of the so-called war on terror, so Struck alluded to them rather elliptically. If Ignatieff had won, one suspects that the Post would have trumpeted his victory as a sign of international acceptance of US policy.

Conversely, Dion has publlcly stated that the Liberal government's decision in 2003 to decline to participate in the invasion of Iraq was correct. As for Afghanistan, after initial suport, he opposed the extension of the Afghan mission, albeit because of the preemptory nature of the vote, and the lack of sufficient study, More recently, he advocated a withdrawal of troops prior to the end of the authorization through 2009 because the mission had become ill-conceived and misguided.

Naturally, none of this background found its way into Struck's Post article, probably because it would have suggested that continued disapproval of US foreign policy was a major, if not decisive, factor in the outcome. Furthermore, it is worth noting that, in the weeks prior to the vote, the US media, as they have had a tendency to do in domestic elections, wrapped Ignatieff in the garb of purportedly inevitability.

Fortunately, it was a myth. The US and Britain may have political systems in which the voters have been deprived of any meaningful choice regarding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the imperial thrust of foreign policy generally, as both Labour and the Democrats have been captured by elements supportive of them, despite rank and file dissent, but Canada retains at least the semblence of debate. Ignatieff groomed himself to take over the Liberals in the mold of Tony Blair, but failed.

All in all, it looks like a weekend of major political importance, a sweep for the left. Ignatieff rejected by the Liberals in Canada today, and Chavez likely to win a resounding victory in Venezuela tomorrow. We should allow ourselves to enjoy our victories, both large (Chavez) and small (Dion).

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Saturday, December 02, 2006

Anticipating the Future 

An excerpt from a radio commentary by Rahul Majahan, posted on his blog, Empire Notes, on October 11, 2003:

Unfortunately, the United States, by its continuing presence and operations, is creating another force that offers an even more frightening prospect of civil war, with a clear religious basis. The model for potential civil war in Iraq is not, or at least not primarily, Lebanon; it is Algeria. Returned fighters from the Afghan jihad formed the GIA, which has fought the Algerian government in a war that is phenomenally brutal on both sides and that has killed 100,000 people since 1992. That was, for Americans, such a minor byblow of the CIA operation in Afghanistan that even after 9/11 no one talks about it.

The GIA was distinguished by the extremism of its ideology, even among Wahhabis; at one point, bin Laden dissociated himself from them because of their extremism.

In Iraq, that role is to be played by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s Tawhid wal Jihad (Monotheism and Holy War). By “monotheism,” they mean primarily anti-Shi’ism. They are not primarily an anti-occupation force; they target Shi’a directly, with American soldiers occasionally as collateral damage.

So virulent are their methods and ideology that they would have had no chance to grow in the absence of the occupation. Zarqawi emerged openly on the Iraqi scene with a missive in which he denounced the Shi’a for being inherently collaborators with the occupation. Then he had the Ashura bombings of early March carried out, with over 180 killed. At this point, nobody in Iraq supported him.

So, naturally, the US, and its allies in the media, like Newsweek, are trying to instigate public hostility towards one of the primary political figures trying to prevent the conflict from spiraling out of control. Mahajan's post should be read in its entirety, especially for its insight as to how the administrators of colonial occupation exploit ethnic, religious and social divisions to justify their perpetual presence.

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