The US and the world: the Bush-Bolton version

Well, regarding my idea that a US reconsideration of the Iraq war venture should spur our citizenry to a much deeper reconsideration of the whole relationship we seek to have with the rest of the world… Here, friends, from the WaPo’s Colum Lynch is the view of this relationship now being aggressively pushed for by Our Dear Leaders:

    Less than a month before world leaders arrive in New York for a world summit on poverty and U.N. reform, the Bush administration has thrown the proceedings in turmoil with a call for drastic renegotiation of a draft agreement to be signed by presidents and prime ministers attending the event.
    The United States has only recently introduced more than 750 amendments that would eliminate new pledges of foreign aid to impoverished nations, scrap provisions that call for action to halt climate change and urge nuclear powers to make greater progress in dismantling their nuclear arms. At the same time, the administration is urging members of the United Nations to strengthen language in the 29-page document that would underscore the importance of taking tougher action against terrorism, promoting human rights and democracy, and halting the spread of the world’s deadliest weapons.
    Next month’s summit, an unusual meeting at the United Nations of heads of state, was called by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to reinvigorate efforts to fight poverty and to take stronger steps in the battles against terrorism and genocide. The leaders of 175 nations are expected to attend and sign the agreement, which has been under negotiation for six months.

    The United Nations originally scheduled the Sept. 14 summit as a follow-up to the 2000 Millennium Summit, which produced commitments by U.N. members to meet deadlines over the next 15 years aimed at reducing poverty, preventable diseases and other scourges of the world’s poor. ..
    The U.S. amendments call for striking any mention of the Millennium Development Goals, and the administration has publicly complained that the document’s section on poverty is too long. Instead, the United States has sought to underscore the importance of the Monterrey Consensus, a 2002 summit in Mexico that focused on free-market reforms [!], and required governments to improve accountability in exchange for aid and debt relief.
    The proposed U.S. amendments, contained in a confidential 36-page document obtained by The Washington Post, have been presented this week to select envoys. The U.N. General Assembly’s president, Jean Ping of Gambia, is organizing a core group of 20 to 30 countries, including the United States and other major powers, to engage in an intensive final round of negotiations in an attempt to strike a deal…

Readers may want to read Lynch’s report there alongside the argument I was making here, a little while ago.


A good piece about Sen. Russ Feingold and his courageous and clear stand on withdrawal from Iraq. (Hat-tip to Matt at Today in Iraq.)
The piece is all worth reading. especially this:

    SENATOR RUSS Feingold has shattered a taboo as far as the war in Iraq is concerned. That taboo involves talk about ”completing the mission.”
    No more. Says Feingold, ”It’s time for senators and members of Congress, especially those from my party, to be less timid while this administration neglects urgent national security priorities in favor of staying a flawed policy course in Iraq.
    ”We need to refocus on fighting and defeating the terrorist network that attacked this country on Sept. 11, 2001, and that means placing our Iraq policy in the context of a global effort rather than letting it dominate our security strategy and drain vital security resources for an unlimited amount of time.”

    Feingold has become the first senator to put a specific date next to his call for a road map designed to complete the undefined US mission in Iraq. That is an oversimplification. Feingold is a notoriously precise speaker, and it’s worth letting him make his own case.
    A great many conflicting signals have been coming out of the military and the Bush administration about the war in recent weeks — specifically the duration of our involvement and the size of our deployment over time.
    In what he acknowledged was an effort to ”jump start” a national discussion, Feingold proposed setting a specific goal for bringing US forces home. His suggested date: the end of next year.

JWN readers will recall that i criticised that deadline here as “too late.” But still, I recognize the great contribution Feingold has been making by cutting directly trhu so much of the b.s. about “staying the course” with which the Bushies have so far succeeded in dominating the national discourse. (And actually, Feingold goes on to say that the deadline ‘ he calls for could be brought forward, or back.)
One of the other strong things about Feingold’s proposal is that he notably does not talk, as far as I can see, about any need for a “continuing force” in Iraq. In other words, the exit he seeks is total as well relatively speedy. Excellent.

‘America’s Purpose’ and the G-SAVE

    I am part of a group of people discussing a background paper for a big-looking conference in DC on “Terrorism, security, and America’s Purpose”, upcoming Sept 6-7.
    I guess the organizers got caught by surprise when the Bushies changed the name of the US’s current global “challenge” from the GWOT to the G-SAVE (global struggle against violent extremism.) So that’s why we still have the outdated T-word there prominently in the conference title.
    Anyway, my working group is looking at the “Underlying causes” of terrorism (or violent extremism, whatever.) As for the nature of the discussion we’re having, of course my lips are appropriately sealed. But one of the things I contributed there I thought was actually worth sharing with y’all, the faithful readers of JWN. So here it is.

One of the main things that has intrigued me about the present project is that

Bushies lose influence at home & abroad

Yesterday I wrote a column for Al-Hayat about how the Bush administration has been losing political influence at home, and the probable effects of this for Middle East diplomacy. (Short version: for Iraqi nationalists– good; for Palestinian-Israeli peace hopes– bad.)
Of course, the Bushies are also significantly losing influence overseas, as well as domestically. When their almost-puppet government in Baghdad ends up being all lovey-dovey with Teheran and cutting some really interesting deals there… when the Uzbeks etc start talking about cutting back US basing rights… when Bush feels obliged to say something about how human actions have contributed to global warming…. Well, when all these things happen you have to see that Washington’s global influence and ability to maintain the conceited illusion that it is “the indispensable nation” is starting to erode.
Of course this is not going to be a rapid or problem-free process. Nonethless, I think the time really is coming when people who are peace activists and US citizens can take the conversation with our compatriots about the kind of relationship that our country ought to have with the rest of the world to a whole new, much more constructive level.
I plan to write a bunch more about about this over the days and weeks ahead. But I can’t now. I have to drive off to Blacksburg, Virginia, to get to the tail-end of a big Quaker meeting that’s taking place there and catch up with some old f/Friends. Back home tomorrow.

Bush’s Palestinian policy

I’m in New Zealand. More on that later. But meanwhile I just wanted to make note of this very sensible op-ed by Zbigniew Brzezinski and William B. Quandt in Friday’s WaPo.
They note this:

    The statement President Bush delivered at the conclusion of his recent meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas deserves serious attention. It has been much discussed by the Israeli press but drew scant commentary in the U.S. media. The president, in his formal presentation, declared that any final-status agreement between Palestinians and Israelis “must be reached between the two parties, and changes to the 1949 armistice lines must be mutually agreed to.”
    Lest there be any misunderstanding, the president said that “Israel should not undertake any activity that contravenes road map obligations or prejudices final-status negotiations with regard to Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem. . . . A viable two-state solution must ensure contiguity of the West Bank. And a state of scattered territories will not work. There must also be meaningful linkages between the West Bank and Gaza. This is the position of the United States today. It will be the position of the United States at the time of final-status negotiations.”
    Bush’s declaration was a significant and helpful restatement of some long-held American positions. If these principles are actively embedded in Washington’s policies over the months ahead, they could help further the president’s stated goals of resolving the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict, promoting democracy in the Middle East and undercutting support for Islamist terrorism…

Quite true. But the fact that Bush’s statement to Abu Mazen has received so little notice in the US press, and no real follow-up in the conduct of US diplomacy, leaves me thinking that maybe the statement was just a diplomatic flash-in-the-pan, designed to appease Abu Mazen very briefly but not really to steer US policy in any tangible way at all.
Of course, I’d love to be proved wrong…

The US-apartheid analogy, contd.

Commenters on this recent post have asked me to spell out more about my reasons for drawing this analogy.
At the top of that post, I identified four different strands of similarity that, imho, support this analogy.
At one level, perhaps it’s true that both kinds of policies, SA apartheid and US foreign policy since 9/11, fall into the broader category of being some form of “colonial” policies.
However, here are a few reasons why I think that it may well be more instructive to hold up to Americans the mirror of the fact that that their (our) country’s current foreign policy is “apartheid-like”, rather than that it is “colonial”.
Firstly, at the broad level of public rhetoric, the discourse of “colonialism” is not understood in anything like the same way in the US that it is in the rest of the world. “Colonial” is not, in fact, generally considered to be a bad attribute of anything, for most US citizens– Native Americans excepted. The US has never gone through the same process of “decolonization” that marked European society in the middle years of the 20th century. In this country, indeed, “colonial” is an admired architectural style, and a reference to a period of the country’s history that is overwhelmingly seen (except by Native Americans and African-Americans) as a sort of foundational golden age. I kid you not.
For example, the major newspapers of the Mid-Atlantic region where I live have all, these past few weeks, been running ads under the large title “The Colonial me… “ These ads are inviting people– even, and this strikes me as the height of chutzpah, some of them explicitly inviting African-American people– to “reconnect” with the values of hard work, pioneering, close community, etc that marked the “colonial era”… Namely, by visiting a tourist destination over in the east of Virginia that goes by the formal name of (I kid you not!) “Colonial Williamsburg”.
Now, I grew up in an England, in the 1950s and 1960s where just about every week or so it seemed, some grateful “new” African or Asian nation would be “given” its independence through the generous and foresighted policies of Her Majesty’s Government. There’d be the grainy images on the old Pathe newsreels of colonial governor X hauling down the Union Jack and new “President” Y– who sometimes would have been pulled only the previous week out of the jail he’d been sent to previously as a “terrorist” or “insurgent” leader– would solemnly haul up the flag of the new independent country.
As kids, we somehow knew that that was the right thing to do. (Even if I did sometimes hear my father asking quietly and subversively if “self” government was necessarily always so much better than “good” government… With the twin assumptions buried there that “of course”, British colonial government had always been good, and “of course” it would be very hard to imagine the “natives” being able to practise anything approaching good government… Oh well, RIP my dear late father, eh?)
But here in the US, as I’ve remarked on JWN a number of times before, the term “colonial” is understood in a completely different way than it is understood just about anywhere else in the rest of the world.
That is my first reason for saying that holding up a mirror of “colonialism” to US citizens reagrding their (our) government’s policies around the world may not be particularly helpful.
Holding up a mirror of “apartheid” may not be accurate in some respects, I grant you. The US does not have an institutionalized policy of discriminating against people on the grounds of skin color.
On the other hand, there are enough ways in which the US relationship with the rest of the world under Bush is the same or very similar to the White South Africans’ relationship with the rest of their non-White compatriots under apartheid that I believe the “apartheid” mirror can indeed be useful and instructive.
In one way, it all comes down to the kind of blind, solipsistic arrogance that (as some of the commenters on that earlier post noted) underlies both worldviews. “Arrogance” in that under George W. Bush the US has indeed arrogated to itself the right to make all the major decisions regarding war and peace in the world, even in defiance of the views of the rest of the world, as well as the right to try to dictate the forms of government that non-US citizens should practise.
Is there any better word for such acts of arrogation than “arrogance”?
This, despite the fact that the US citizenry (which GWB claims to represent– though thank God that claim is wearing thinner by the day right now) constitutes only 4% of the population of the world… At least, in South Africa, the “Whites” made up somewhere just over 10% of the national population. So their claims to be able to “speak for”, and indeed “decide on behalf of” all South Africans were that much stronger than the claims of the Bush administration to be able to speak for, or decide on behalf of, all of humanity.
Secondly, therefore, I would argue that even if US policy towards the rest of the world is not, as apartheid was, based on discrimination on the basis of skin color, still, it is based on discrimination based on citizenship (“We’re the US– we know best!”); and underlying both forms of discrimination is an incredibly strong sense of both arrogance and entitlement.
Holding up the mirror of our nation pursuing “apartheid-like” policies toward the rest of the world is useful, politically, in a number of ways, I think…

Continue reading “The US-apartheid analogy, contd.”

The US-apartheid analogy

Today I’m going to write a column for Al-Hayat about how the Bush administration’s “campaign” for global democratization, and its claim to speak in the name of democracy worldwide, puts it in roughly the same position vis-a-vis the rest of the world that South Africa’s apartheid regime was vis-a-vis SA’s unfranchised non-White majority population.
This is another thread of the broad US-apartheid analogy that I’ve been thinking through over the past few months.
The GWOT/National Security Strategy similarity is another thread of it.
In both cases, too, we have the same phenomena of outright resource greed and a Biblically “justified” sense of entitlement…
Talking of the “democratization” campaign, I found a great quote in this column by the well-connected WaPo columnist David Ignatius today.
David was writing about some attempts at political “reform” being planned by Jordan’s decidedly non-constitutional but strongly US-backed monarch, King Abdullah II, these days.
He wrote:

    Abdullah has taken other steps to shake up Jordan over the past two months, including forming a new government in April in which reformists are more prominent, installing a new chief of the royal palace and replacing the director of public security. Because these moves followed a trip to Washington by the king in late March, the chattering classes in Amman have speculated that they resulted from U.S. pressure. But there’s little evidence of that. Indeed, when Abdullah explained his reform plans in a White House meeting in March, President Bush is said to have approved, but cautioned, “Take it easy.”

Oh, don’t you love that use of a passive verb: Bush “is said to have… cautioned”.
“Is said” by whom, David?
I’m assuming, either the “chattering classes” in Amman, or perhaps even the King himself.
But there, in a nutshell, is a good window into what is most likely really going on… Despite all the great rhetoric about supporting democratization worldwide, Prez Bush and his advisors possibly don’t really want to push it to the point that in Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia etc it might bring into power regimes that, for example, did not do abusive interrogations of individuals “rendered” to them by the US authorities, etc., etc…
And then, there’s Uzbekistan…

Rumsfeld’s “brave new world”

Time was, the leaders of the USA believed in a version of the “rule of law” at the international level– that is, that every state should have equal rights and privileges; that no one state should be egregiously more “equal” than others; and that one set of mutually agreed regulations governed them all.
Time was, the most powerful members of the US political elite believed deeply in a set of “checks and balances” at the domestic level that would prevent any one branch of government from growing too strong.
Yes, those were the days.
… And now, welcome to the “brave new world” of Donald Rumsfeld, where the Pentagon feels free to send “special operations teams” with their own “interrogators” and “intelligence analysts” roaming freely throughout the world, constrained neither by any respect for international law nor by the scrutiny and oversight of any other portion of the US government.
It was a scary enough picture when Sy Hersh started sketching it out for us in his articles over the past couple of years in The New Yorker. It suddenly seemed even more scary than ever to me this morning, when I read this article by Bart Gellman, in today’s WaPo
The piece is titled Secret unit expands Rumsfeld’s Domain. It starts like this:

    The Pentagon, expanding into the CIA’s historic bailiwick, has created a new espionage arm and is reinterpreting U.S. law to give Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld broad authority over clandestine operations abroad, according to interviews with participants and documents obtained by The Washington Post.
    The previously undisclosed organization, called the Strategic Support Branch, arose from Rumsfeld’s written order to end his “near total dependence on CIA” for what is known as human intelligence. Designed to operate without detection and under the defense secretary’s direct control, the Strategic Support Branch deploys small teams of case officers, linguists, interrogators and technical specialists alongside newly empowered special operations forces.
    Military and civilian participants said in interviews that the new unit has been operating in secret for two years — in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places they declined to name. According to an early planning memorandum to Rumsfeld from Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the focus of the intelligence initiative is on “emerging target countries such as Somalia, Yemen, Indonesia, Philippines and Georgia.” Myers and his staff declined to be interviewed.
    The Strategic Support Branch was created to provide Rumsfeld with independent tools for the “full spectrum of humint operations,” according to an internal account of its origin and mission. Human intelligence operations, a term used in counterpoint to technical means such as satellite photography, range from interrogation of prisoners and scouting of targets in wartime to the peacetime recruitment of foreign spies. A recent Pentagon memo states that recruited agents may include “notorious figures” whose links to the U.S. government would be embarrassing if disclosed.

“Emerging target countries.” Now, there’s a scary concept…
Gellman makes quite clear that the new “humint” branch was set up to do jobs previously done only by the CIA. It will work alongside the various military “special operations forces” over which Rumsfeld’s Pentagon now has control, having wrestled them away from control by the CIA. In both these areas, this means that the kinds of oversight that Congress won over the CIA back in the 1970s– in response to disclosures of various CIA dirty tricks around the world– will not be a[pplied to the Pentagon-controlled forces.

Continue reading “Rumsfeld’s “brave new world””

Warning: U.S.-sponsored regime change can leaving you drowning in [excrement]

There are so many ways that war and political conflict kills people. Getting blasted to death by high-power munitions, regular guns, or car-bombs is one way; and people who’re killed in those ways are relatively easy to count.
In many conflicts, though, deaths caused by serious infrastructure degradation are more numerous. They’re also much harder to count. How can you count all the babies or vulnerable older people who succumb to water-borne diseases spread by the conflict-induced degradation of sewage systems??
Which brings us to two places where the Bush administration has effected its own form of force-backed “regime change” over the past 18 months: Iraq and Haiti. (I’m not even going to start analyzing Afghanistan here.)
So now, according to the many reports coming out of Iraq recently, large portions of Baghdad and other Iraqi cities are almost literally swimming in human waste. This is 18 months into the US occupation of the country. As occupying power, the US is responsible under international law for the repair and maintenance of items of major infrastructure–particularly those so central to the public health of the Iraqis.
But because of the ideological, anti-‘government’ biases of the Bremer ‘plan’ for Iraq, major infrastructure repair contracts were all doled out to foreign contractors, most of whom didn’t know beans about Iraq and cared less. (And now, even some of the money set aside for those projects has been diverted into “security”.)
So now, Iraq is seeing the emergence of something called Hepatatis E, which is particularly dangerous for pregnant women.
This article, from the UN’s news agency IRIN, tells us that a study by UNICEF had found that acute malnutrition among children had almost doubled since the war in March 2003, moving from 4 per cent to 7.7 percent. “Children who are acutely malnourished are literally wasting away and for severe cases their condition can be fatal,” the agency warned.
And the cause of those cases of malnutrition? Before the war, they were more or less straighforward cases of not having enough to eat, linked to the sanctions regime imposed on the country. Now, however, IRIN tells us that,

    80 percent of current [malnutrition] cases are due to infections caused by dirty water resulting in diseases such as cholera.

In other words, because vulnerable people get cholera or other water-borne diseases they basically excrete out too many micronutrients and die of malnutrition that way, instead.
And then, there’s Haiti

Continue reading “Warning: U.S.-sponsored regime change can leaving you drowning in [excrement]”

Iraq Democrats Disappointed

Back last summer, I got into a heartfelt exchange with a friend of mine who’s an Iraqi democrat. His name is Siyamend Othman. He’s a wise and good person, an Iraqi Kurd who’s lived in exile for many, many years, and who worked for a bunch of them as a researcher for Amnesty International in London.
Understandably, he loathes Saddam Hussein. In our exchange last August or so, I was commenting critically on articles he was writing about how an American military victory over Saddam could usher in an era of democratization in Iraq.
I wrote to him, based on my experience of having lived in a war-zone–in Lebanon–for six years back in the 1970s: “I have never believed that democracy can be brought to any country on the tips of bayonets (or the nose-cones of cruise missiles, come to that). I guess for me it is also, to a major degree a human-rights question, since I consider that war itself constitutes a massive assault on people’s rights, and always, always, brings in its train conditions that constitute a continuing assault on human rights for a very, very long time after…”
He wrote back, “I understand where you are coming from and respect the proposition that ‘war (I presume you mean any war) itself constitutes a massive assault on people’s rights’. However, would you hold the same position regarding World War II – the bloodiest confrontation in the history of Mankind? But that was different, I am repeatedly told. Hitler was a menace to humanity; Saddam is a small-time Third World tyrant who has been effectively ‘contained’… Needless to say that establishing the foundations of democracy in post-Saddam Iraq is by no means a foregone conclusion. In all likelihood, it would be a long and painful process with no guaranteed outcome. In my opinion, much will depend on American attitudes. That is why I keep repeating that winning the ‘Battle of Washington’ is as important as winning that of Baghdad. In this endeavour, Iraqi democrats are in dire need of all the help they can get from their Western counterparts, yourself included.”
As I said, Siyamend is a wise and good person. We agreed to disagree– but not before I warned him that putting any faith in the idea that this U.S. administration might have any commitment to democratization or democrats seemed an improbably long bet.
The most recent message I got from Siyamend indicated that he and his Iraqi-democratic friends feel they may now have lost the ‘Battle of Washington’. It included an article his friend Kanan Makiya wrote in the London Observer on Sunday, as well as an Observer article about the growing disillusionment of Kanan and Iraqi opposition boss Ahmed Chalabi over Washington’s recent pronouncements for their plans for a post-Saddam Iraq.
“The United States,” Kanan wrote, “is on the verge of committing itself to a post-Saddam plan for a military government in Baghdad with Americans appointed to head Iraqi ministries, and American soldiers to patrol the streets of Iraqi cities. The plan, as dictated to the Iraqi opposition in Ankara last week by a United States-led delegation, further envisages the appointment by the US of an unknown number of Iraqi quislings palatable to the Arab countries of the Gulf and Saudi Arabia as a council of advisers to this military government. The plan reverses a decade-long moral and financial commitment by the US to the Iraqi opposition… ”
This whole business is truly tragic. It is true that the “Iraqi opposition” is a diverse conglomeration of people. Ahmed Chalabi has been on the lam from Jordan for years for bankrupting thousands of Jordanians through the collapse of his Petra Bank more than 15 years ago. Kanan Makiya got catapulted to fame and fortune in August-September 1990 after he published–under the pseudonym Samir Khalil–a lengthy indictment of Saddam’s misrule that was a tad short on documentation if very long on emotion. In addition, there are ayatollahs-in-waiting massed in their hundreds in exile in Iran. There are Kurdish tribal leaders who wouldn’t even speak to each other for most of the past decade… And then, there are also among the opposition many serious people who are sincerely committed to building a real democracy in their country.
Why on earth did the Iraqi democrats ever put any faith in George Bush?
Makiya, for his part, may well have grown to love the attention he got from being lionized by some segments of the administration. In his Observer piece, he asks coyly, “Is the President who so graciously invited me to his Oval Office only a few weeks ago to discuss democracy, about to have his wishes subverted by advisers… ?”
Well yes, Kanan, maybe the Prez had any “wishes” he ever had for “democracy” subverted a long time ago.
But seriously: discussing democracy— with George W. Bush??