Archive for November, 2006

I strongly suspect that the media’s new-found debate about withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq and this administration’s flirtation with a change in policy is the result of (1) the Democratic victories in the midterms (2) a realization that the present policy is undermining foreign investment opportunities and polluting an otherwise ideal business environment.

Iraq is a test case for economic liberalization. The Occupational Provisional Authority, headed by Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, liberalized Iraq’s economy, abandoned protective tariffs, and allowed for wide-scale foreign investment and privatization of industry. American businesses are eager to make use of the deregulated business environment, but the recent surge in violence may be diminishing investment opportunity. As of November 2006, “violence in Iraq has surged to its worst level since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. It’s been especially fierce in the capital since bombings last Thursday killed more than 200 people in Sadr City, a Shiite slum in Baghdad that the Mahdi Army controls.”

While the Democratic victory may have spearheaded greater discussion of policy modification, if not full withdrawl, the media’s historical blackout of dissent in the lead up to the invasion, their refusal to feature anti-war or Iraqi voices in Iraqi coverage, elite bias and corporate for-profit structure lead me to suspect that their sudden embrace of terms like “civil war” are a reflection of uncertainty within the business elite community. Once able to profit from the war with little oversight, the business community is now seeking greater stability and less violence. If more resources are diverted towards security, less are available for reconstruction.

Yet this administration’s reliance on the Baker-Hamilton Commission, a group of elite policy makers with no experience in the Middle East is dubious. According to the Washington Post:

The group consists of five Democrats — Hamilton, former Virginia governor and senator Charles S. Robb, former defense secretary William J. Perry, Clinton confidant Vernon Jordan, and former Clinton chief of staff Leon E. Panetta — along with five Republicans: Baker, former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Reagan administration attorney general Edwin Meese III, former senator Alan K. Simpson (Wyo.), and former secretary of state Lawrence S. Eagleburger, who was a late replacement for Gates.

Forty experts from fields such as warfare, the Middle East, reconstruction and Islamic militancy were asked to put together options for the group but did not take part in the policy debates.

Why this administration and media would place the entire future of our policy in Iraq in the hands of political partisans with no experience in the policies of the Middle East is difficult to comprehend. Already, critics have charged that Bush administration policy suffers from misunderstanding the region.

It would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to implement most of the key ideas for quelling the Iraqi civil war that are outlined in a classified Nov. 8 memo to President Bush from National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, experts said Wednesday.

Trying to push anti-U.S. Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr out of the ruling coalition led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, as the memo suggests, would be throwing gasoline on a fire, they said.

Sadr’s party is the largest in parliament, with 32 seats, and Maliki became prime minister only with his support. Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia controls large parts of Baghdad and southern Iraq, and many Iraqi Shiites hail him as their only protection from attacks by rival Sunni Muslims, which American and Iraqi forces have failed to stop.

“Sadr is aware of the considerable extent to which his forces … constitute a significant part of the power in the streets, and there is no reason why he would simply want to surrender that leverage,” said Paul Pillar, the former top U.S. intelligence analyst on the Middle East.

Perhaps the only rationale for trusting politicians to formulate Iraqi policy is the expectation that Westernized solutions (read: securing stability for economic investment) would guarantee American influence over the region.

If the original justification for war was rooted in the goal of withdrawing Iraq from OPEC, flooding the market with cheap Iraqi oil and disrupting the OPEC monopoly, then the current level of violence has derailed this possibility. Instead, regional violence and instability have increased oil prices and secured the fortunes of American oil companies and oil exporters like Saudi Arabia and Iran. “According to the US Department of Energy, Saudi Arabia will rake in $163 billion in oil revenue this year compared with $85 billion in 2003, while Iran will reap $50 billion in 2006 compared with $24 billion three years ago.”

The Bush administration has botched the Iraq operation. Their only hope is to stabilize the region to ensure American access to Iraqi markets and resources and maintain U.S. influence. The Baker-Hamilton Commission will provide them with this opportunity.

— Igor Volsky

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The Australian Associated Press is reporting that on February 27, 2002, five months before the infamous Downing Street Memo minutes and a full year before the war in Iraq, “Trevor Flugge, who was then chairman of AWB, the Australian Wheat Board, a private corporation, told AWB’s board that John Dauth, who was then Australia’s ambassador to the United Nations, had revealed to Flugge the plans of the U.S. and Australian governments for war on Iraq.”

“The ambassador stated that he believed that US military action to depose Saddam Hussein was inevitable and that at this time the Australian government would support and participate in such action,’ the minutes say.”

These latest documents, like their British predecessors, further undermine the Bush administration’s war timeline. On October 1, 2002, President Bush said, “Of course, I haven’t made up my mind we’re going to war with Iraq.” On January 2, 2003, he said, “I’m hopeful we won’t have to go to war, and let’s leave it at that.” On March 6, 2003, just two weeks before the invasion began, he said, “I’ve not made up our mind about military action. Hopefully, this can be done peacefully.” After the Downing Street documents became public, President Bush responded on June 8, 2005, “somebody said, well, you know, we had made up our mind to use military force to deal with Saddam. There’s nothing farther from the truth.”

The above reveals the following about our President, his policies and our political climate (1) the President will lie when it is convinient (2) he believes that international law and international bodies should be manipulated to create the illusion of American compliance with international principles (3) America is prepared to act unilaterally in order to meet American foreign policy objectives (access to natural resources & foreign markets) (4) the press, given their limited coverage of the Downing Street Memos has accepted the first two principles and considers America’s hypocritical approach to foreign relations (condoning violence when it is perpetuated by American allies while condemning crimes committed by American adversaries) no longer news worthy and disruptive to the myth of American foreign benevolence.

— Igor Volsky

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The UN Human Rights Council “voted 32-1 with 14 abstentions to declare illegal Israel’s 1981 annexation of the Golan Heights and demand that Israel rescind its decision to impose its laws and jurisdiction on the area, which it captured in the 1967 Middle East war.” In reporting on this story the Associated Press, like the Washington Post, couldn’t help but echo the official Washington line.

The AP made no mention of Israel’s egregious human rights record and instead attempted to suggest, twice in its article, that the council unfairly focused on Israel and not on traditional American enemies, whose records are ripe for review. Again, the outrage, as it was expressed by the AP, reflects the belief that US allies are beyond the reach of law, no matter their actual violations, while US adversaries are fair game. Thus the quality of one’s human rights record is determined by one’s proximity to the global super power. The AP dismissed the resolution as preposterous, without even pretending to review the record, (unnecessary given the operating doctrine stated above) and suggested that at least in the Golan Heights, Syrians are enjoying a booming economy.

According to the Israeli Ambassador to international offices in Geneva, Itzhak Levanon “Under Syrian possession, the Golan Heights were used to launch constant attacks against Israeli civilians,” Levanon said. “Today, the Golan Heights is more peaceful than ever, stable and thriving. The economy is booming, fields are blossoming, and everyone is enjoying the benefits of democracy.” The AP digests these comments at face value, without quoting a single Palestinian source.

Again, the conventional wisdom states that Israel is targeted not because of its record, which does not even merit review, but because of its status as a Jewish state. Here again, we are eager to exploit and manipulate the history of anti-Semitism in order to silence international criticism of state action.

These are the kinds of stories which pass for ‘reporting.’ The media, Washington, Israeli PR firms establish a framework which negates any need for intellectual thought, investigation or critical analysis. So when it comes to Israel, power speaks; our media reports.

— Igor Volsky

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Anyone who proudly brandishes a “Support Our Troops” ribbon on the back-end of their vehicle will be alarmed by the following news I have to report. One Iraqi War veteran -whom I shall not name for I lack the permission to rightfully do so- has been forced to step down from his position in the peace movement because of insurmountable obstacles. One of the “Troops” we claim to “Support” has succumbed to, after two years of hard work, acute inability to effectively appeal to public conscience on behalf of veterans who continue to die senselessly on foreign soil. This peace activist has encountered, within other peace-seeking veterans (“Troops”, that is), widespread resistance to act. These “Troops” are reluctant to act because they feel uncomfortable publicly voicing themselves on how they feel about a war that they, personally, fought. He points to the ‘pedestal’ on which the American Troops (whom we “support”) are placed and how that placement leads to ‘public dismissal’ of the message these veterans have to share about the war and its merits. This remarkable citizen, a veteran of the War in Iraq, a “Troop” that thousands of magnetic bumper stickers have informed me I ought to support, appears to have been marginalized, exhausted, and silenced by cold indifference under the cover of pop-culture patriotism.

As a veteran of the Iraqi War and peace-seeker myself, I wish I could say that this individual’s frustration is uncharacteristic of the public’s “Support”, but after enduing the same frustration myself, that public leaves me little reason to assert otherwise.

If indeed we “Support Our Troops”, let us grant them the greatest “Support” possible by listening to the unique insight and perspective they have to offer us about the War on Terror. We surely will not get a clear, unbiased message from the politicians who have invested so much in this seemingly endless campaign, nor can we hope to discern truth from the media mouthpieces those politicians embed within deployed military units. These ‘reporters’ are so intensively manipulated and censored, their stories filtered and distorted to such a great extent, that the ‘news’ we receive from the front lines cannot be appreciated for much more than propaganda -“cheerleading” as Amy Goodman would put it. We have an opportunity to gain an understanding -whose clarity is truly unmatched- of this war if only we will, in the absolute sense, “Support Our Troops”. If we deny them this, then who do we actually support? The men and women who bravely risk their lives, I sincerely hope, are the “Troops” to whom these stickers refer; if not, I fear greatly that the word “Troops” functions shamelessly as a euphemism for our societal self-worship.

–Dan Black

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Democracy Now is reporting that “a new poll from WorldOpinion.org has found seven out of ten Iraqis want a US withdrawal within one year. Just ten percent favor the Bush administration’s stated policy to withdraw troops only as the security situation improves.” Thus, if we are to respect Iraqi democracy and national sovereignty we have no choice but to yield to the Iraqi opinion. True democracy transcends purple fingers; elections are a part, but not the whole of democracy. And so long as America disregards Iraqi opinion, (and the demands of Iraqi politicians) national elections will continue to serve as a venire for American power.

Our media rarely includes Iraqi voices in debates about withdrawal from Iraq; our esteemed politicians craft their Iraqi policy with little consideration for Iraqi opinion. According to FAIR’s study of The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, “at a time when a large proportion of the U.S. public already favored withdrawal from Iraq, “stay the course” sources outnumbered pro-withdrawal sources more than 5-to-1. In the entire six months studied, not a single peace activist was heard on the NewsHour on the subject of Iraq,” and only one Iraqi source, Ahmed Chalabi, discussed American withdrawal.

If we invaded Iraq to spread democracy, as proponents of the war suggest, then our refusal to yield to Iraqi opinion and withdraw sabotages our objective. And at a time when a majority of Americans and Iraqis favor American disengagement, the media continues to echo Bush doctrine. To hear from the occupied is to learn of the consequences of American foreign policy. To listen to the Iraqi perspective is to disrupt American ambition in the region. Our media demonstrates remarkable contempt for democracy, self determination and freedom; in this, they reflect the administration.

— Igor Volsky

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“A new study conducted by left-wing group Peace Now has found that approximately 40 percent of settlements, including long-standing communities, are built on private Palestinian land and not on state-owned land.” UN Security Council Resolution 242 requires Israel withdraw to her pre-1967 borders; Israel has refused to do so, in blatant violation of international law.

In its report on the study, the New York Times notes that “much of the world also considers Israeli settlements on occupied land to be illegal under international law.” The exception is the United States, which has been on the outside of world opinion since 1972. By inserting uncertainty, ambiguity, disagreement into a legal and international certainty, the paper rationalizes and legitimizes Israeli defiance and non compliance, all the while betraying a strong elite American bias.

Such deference is rarely extended to America’s enemies. In the lead up to the war with Iraq, conservative ideologues, talk radio screamers, American newspapers and this administration accosted Saddam Hussein for violating 19 UN Security Council Resolutions. Note this hypocrisy—violations are only significant if committed by America’s enemies. Where Israel is concerned, international law stands irrelevant.

— Igor Volsky

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“War, instability, and high oil prices have created a perfect storm of profit for the world’s weapons manufacturers. This year, military analysts predict the biggest arms bonanza since 1993 … which is saying something because in the aftermath of the first Gulf War the global industry reaped the benefits of a $42 billion arms race.” Some years ago Edward Herman found a positive correlation between U.S. aid and human rights abuses. According to Noam Chomsky,

There is nothing particularly novel about the relation between atrocious human rights violations and US aid.  On the contrary, it is a rather consistent correlation.  The leading US academic specialist on human rights in Latin America, Lars Schoultz, found in a 1981 study that US aid “has tended to flow disproportionately to Latin American governments which torture their citizens,… to the hemisphere’s relatively egregious violators of fundamental human rights.” That includes military aid, is independent of need, and runs through the Carter period.

In another academic study, Latin Americanist Martha Huggins reviewed data for Latin America suggesting that “the more foreign police aid given [by the US], the more brutal and less democratic the police institutions and their governments become.”

Another study, which found that found that, “when the United States spends money to promote democracy in foreign countries, it works” also concluded that “the only negative impact the study found for U.S. assistance for democracy building was in the area of human rights. [Professor Mitchell] Seligson said there are probable explanations for the correlation between U.S. foreign aid for human rights and reports of increased human rights violations.”

If the United States seeks to maintain its access to natural resources and business markets, then the “probable explanation” rests in the need to arm friendly foreign governments interested in the money of the U.S. business community, maintaining their power and pacifying the local population. Back to Chomsky:

Economist Edward Herman found the same correlation between US military aid and state terror worldwide, but also carried out another study that gave a plausible explanation. US aid, he found, correlated closely with improvement in the climate for business operations, as one would expect.  And in US dependencies it turns out with fair regularity, and for understandable reasons, that the climate for profitable investment and other business operations is improved by killing union activists, torture and murder of peasants, assassination of priests and human rights activists, and so on.  There is, then, a secondary correlation betweenUS aid and egregious human rights violations.

The Iraq war is no different. According to Antonia Juhasz, author of “The Bush Agenda: Invading the World, One Economy at a Time,” in 2004 “orders were put in place by L. Paul Bremer III, then the U.S. administrator of Iraq, that were designed to ‘transition [Iraq] from a … centrally planned economy to a market economy’ virtually overnight and by U.S. fiat.” These laws forced Iraq to abandon its protective import tariffs, opening its markets to cheap foreign goods and paralyzing domestic industries (which cannot, in the midst of a Civil War, compete with cheap foreign imports).

Juhasz writes that “laws governing banking, investment, patents, copyrights, business ownership, taxes, the media and trade have all been changed according to U.S. goals, with little real participation from the Iraqi people…In 2004, U.S.-appointed interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi submitted guidelines to Iraq’s Supreme Council for Oil Policy suggesting that the ‘Iraqi government disengage from running the oil sector … and that the [Iraq National Oil Company] be partly privatized in the future’ and opened to international foreign investment…The U.S.-appointed interim Finance Minister…explained that the new law would be ‘very promising to the American investors and to American enterprise, certainly to oil companies.”

‘The War on Terror’ doesn’t just reap profits for American businesses; the conflict also acted as a testing ground for American products. The “war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and in corners of the globe where the war on terrorism is being waged more quietly, allows foreign militaries to see some of the most advanced weapons systems in action. As one U.S. government source told The Times of London in August: “Conflicts act like a customer demonstration show and we tend to see an upsurge in sales because other countries [are] … impressed by what is available.”

“Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest weapons manufacturer, stands to reap more than $11 billion in possible new offers. U.S. weapons companies may have patriotic slogans (Lockheed Martin’s is “We Never Forget Who We’re Working For”), but foreign sales mean the biggest bucks because they involve systems where research and development costs were covered by the Pentagon. Also, they are often accompanied by lucrative deals for accessories, spare parts, and eventual upgrades.”

“For fiscal year 2006, which ended on September 31, the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency churned out notices for $21 billion in arms sales offers.” Their profit is protected by the government. “In late October, the United Nations began work on the Arms Trade Treaty, which is aimed at curbing arms transfers to major human rights abusers and areas of conflict. The treaty would also urge weapons suppliers to limit weapons sales likely to undermine development in poor nations. The United States was the only country to vote against the resolution, while 24 (including many other major weapons suppliers) abstained.”

The global war on terror provides profit opportunities for this country’s wealthiest Americans. While their weapons and business investments enrich a tiny minority, their policies (economic liberalization for Iraq or the arming Pakistan and Saudi Arabia) destroy local economies and livelihoods. By siding with the oppressor we radicalize the oppressed.

— Igor Volsky

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This Washington Post piece reads like an AIPAC press release. Colum Lynch reports that “the U.N. General Assembly voted 156 to 7 on Friday to condemn Israel for “indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force” in its military offensive in Gaza…with a familiar platform to excoriate the Jewish state’s policies in the region.”

But this platform is “familiar” not because the UN has “unfairly singled out ” Israel, as this article suggests; its familiarity is a result of Israel’s egregious record of violence and gross misconduct. According to the human rights group B’Tselem:

In the past four months, the Israeli military has killed over 300 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Over half of those killed were unarmed civilians who did not participate in the fighting. Among the dead, 61 were children.

On 28 June, Israel bombed Gaza ‘ s only independent power station, which produced 43% of the electricity needed by the residents in Gaza . Since then, most of the population has electricity between 6 and 8 hours each day, with disastrous consequences on water supply, sewage treatment, food storage, hospital functioning and public health.

The Gaza Strip is almost entirely sealed off from the outside world, with virtually no way for Palestinians to get in or out. Exports have been reduced to a trickle; imports are limited to essential humanitarian supplies. Israel continues to maintain complete control over the air space and territorial waters.

Israel controls all movement in and out of Gaza , with exclusive control over all crossing points between Gaza and Israel , and the ability to shut down the Rafah crossing to Egypt. Israel continues to exercise almost complete control over imports and exports from the Gaza Strip. Israel controls most elements of the taxation system of the Gaza Strip, and since February has withheld tax monies legally owed to the PA, and amounting to half of the to tal PA budget.

Nine human rights groups have issued statements condemning the conditions in Gaza, but The Post only found enough space to quote one. Amid accusations of favoritism, (the Human Rights Council “has not passed a single resolution condemning any other country, shielding some of the world’ most oppressive regimes from international censure”) Lynch quotes Peggy Hicks of Human Rights Watch who helpfully explains that the Islamic states have targeted Israel by “convening…special sessions to address specific country’s abuses.

By not examining Israel’s human rights record, the Post extends impunity to America’s subsidiary, misinforms its readership and perpetuates the notion that Israel is the victim of anti-Israeli (or anti-Semitic) sentiment at the U.N. The reverse is true, of course. Israel has been coddled and funded by the most powerful nation in the world. The United States has unilaterally vetoed an innumerable number of UN Security Council Resolutions condemning Israel’s aggression (the United States supports it) and has allowed Israel to continue her illegal occupation of the Gaza strip (from where it has technically ‘disengaged’) and the West Bank.

An honest examination of Israel’s record would yield problematic results, of course. Americans would start to question Washington’s unconditional support of Israeli aggression. The Washington Post would run the risk of informing its readers of the policies of their leaders and facilitating an honest debate and discussion about America’s entanglement in the Middle East. Honest reporting would estrange elite sensibilities and sources. Washington has sold his Middle East Policy to the Israeli lobby; the Washington Post is determined to keep it that way.

— Igor Volsky

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The enemies against whom we fight -this nation- are becoming more and more difficult to identify and engage. Iraq continues, into its forty-fifth month, against the will of this country’s majority, and soldiers/Iraqis continue to die. Recent shifts in the Legislative branch of our government may lead you to believe that things might change; indeed they may. But amid these recent congressional modifications, the American public still awaits justification from its leaders for why so many people continue to die. The public has a right to this justification, they have asked for it, time passes and their requests have been continually denied.

This upcoming Tuesday offers an unprecedented opportunity for a refreshing change of pace. When the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia reviews Agustin Aguayo‘s appeal against the Secretary of the Army for failing to recognize his status as a Conscientious Objector, the American Public will see clearly, perhaps for the first time, who is under this government’s attack. Agustin Aguayo, a Mexican-born naturalized U.S. Citizen, a soldier in the U.S. Army, and a decorated veteran of the Iraq war, is essentially a lens through which we may view things we could never before see. Will this country imprison a man for exercising his constitutional right to believe as he chooses and peacefully act upon those beliefs? We shall soon see. Bringing trial against a patriotic citizen for practicing American Democracy in the absolute sense, to me, speaks volumes about whom this war is directed against. If his appeal is denied, I think maintaining faith in this government as representative of its people will become exponentially more difficult.

Until that time, I think it is interesting that Agustin must raise funds to appeal his case. His inability to stand in the presence of his own country’s court -a country he has bravely fought for in the past but no longer can because of constraints of conscience- simply because of fiscal limitations tells us much about the priorities of this government. The intervention, or lack thereof, of the American people on Agustin’s behalf will likewise tell us much about the priorities of this nation’s own people. Come Tuesday, we will see with a clarity unknown in past days.

–Dan Black

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The media loves a dogfight. In a story headlined “Hoyer Beats Pelosi’s Pick In Race for No. 2 House Post,” the New York Times concludes that:

The election of Mr. Hoyer over Representative John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania, by a vote of 149 to 86, was an embarrassing setback for Representative Nancy J. Pelosi of California, who will be Speaker of the House in the new Congress and who had backed Mr. Murtha. [my emphasis]

In the wake of the election, voters should expect Nancy Pelosi to support a strong anti-war voice. If Pelosi agreed with Murtha’s Iraq withdrawal proposal, her endorsement bolstered his candidacy and his cause. Pelosi should not sacrifice principal to achieve unity, as some in the media expect.

Sixty-three percent of Americans believe the United States is loosing ground in Iraq; 61% want a timetable for the withdrawal of forces. The Democratic Party has yet to unite around a single policy, but this tension challenges both sides to modify and improve the eventual strategy. Despite the conventional wisdom, a synthesis of immediate withdrawal and a more moderate redeployment policy may come closest to meeting the concerns of American voters, achieving stability in the region and establishing Iraqi self governance.

— Igor Volsky

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