onsdag den 20. maj 2009

Kabul officials critical of US troop increase - 19 May 09

The Wall

Unexceptional Americans: Why We Can't See the Trees or the Forest

The Torture Memos and Historical Amnesia

By Noam Chomsky

Maay 19, 2009 "Tomdispatch" -- The torture memos released by the White House elicited shock, indignation, and surprise. The shock and indignation are understandable. The surprise, less so.

For one thing, even without inquiry, it was reasonable to suppose that Guantanamo was a torture chamber. Why else send prisoners where they would be beyond the reach of the law -- a place, incidentally, that Washington is using in violation of a treaty forced on Cuba at the point of a gun? Security reasons were, of course, alleged, but they remain hard to take seriously. The same expectations held for the Bush administration's "black sites," or secret prisons, and for extraordinary rendition, and they were fulfilled.

More importantly, torture has been routinely practiced from the early days of the conquest of the national territory, and continued to be used as the imperial ventures of the "infant empire" -- as George Washington called the new republic -- extended to the Philippines, Haiti, and elsewhere. Keep in mind as well that torture was the least of the many crimes of aggression, terror, subversion, and economic strangulation that have darkened U.S. history, much as in the case of other great powers.

Accordingly, what's surprising is to see the reactions to the release of those Justice Department memos, even by some of the most eloquent and forthright critics of Bush malfeasance: Paul Krugman, for example, writing that we used to be "a nation of moral ideals" and never before Bush "have our leaders so utterly betrayed everything our nation stands for." To say the least, that common view reflects a rather slanted version of American history.

Occasionally the conflict between "what we stand for" and "what we do" has been forthrightly addressed. One distinguished scholar who undertook the task at hand was Hans Morgenthau, a founder of realist international relations theory. In a classic study published in 1964 in the glow of Camelot, Morgenthau developed the standard view that the U.S. has a "transcendent purpose": establishing peace and freedom at home and indeed everywhere, since "the arena within which the United States must defend and promote its purpose has become world-wide." But as a scrupulous scholar, he also recognized that the historical record was radically inconsistent with that "transcendent purpose."

We should not be misled by that discrepancy, advised Morgenthau; we should not "confound the abuse of reality with reality itself." Reality is the unachieved "national purpose" revealed by "the evidence of history as our minds reflect it." What actually happened was merely the "abuse of reality."

The release of the torture memos led others to recognize the problem. In the New York Times, columnist Roger Cohen reviewed a new book, The Myth of American Exceptionalism, by British journalist Geoffrey Hodgson, who concludes that the U.S. is "just one great, but imperfect, country among others." Cohen agrees that the evidence supports Hodgson's judgment, but nonetheless regards as fundamentally mistaken Hodgson's failure to understand that "America was born as an idea, and so it has to carry that idea forward." The American idea is revealed in the country's birth as a "city on a hill," an "inspirational notion" that resides "deep in the American psyche," and by "the distinctive spirit of American individualism and enterprise" demonstrated in the Western expansion. Hodgson's error, it seems, is that he is keeping to "the distortions of the American idea," "the abuse of reality."

Let us then turn to "reality itself": the "idea" of America from its earliest days.

"Come Over and Help Us"

The inspirational phrase "city on a hill" was coined by John Winthrop in 1630, borrowing from the Gospels, and outlining the glorious future of a new nation "ordained by God." One year earlier his Massachusetts Bay Colony created its Great Seal. It depicted an Indian with a scroll coming out of his mouth. On that scroll are the words "Come over and help us." The British colonists were thus pictured as benevolent humanists, responding to the pleas of the miserable natives to be rescued from their bitter pagan fate.

The Great Seal is, in fact, a graphic representation of "the idea of America," from its birth. It should be exhumed from the depths of the psyche and displayed on the walls of every classroom. It should certainly appear in the background of all of the Kim Il-Sung-style worship of that savage murderer and torturer Ronald Reagan, who blissfully described himself as the leader of a "shining city on the hill," while orchestrating some of the more ghastly crimes of his years in office, notoriously in Central America but elsewhere as well.

The Great Seal was an early proclamation of "humanitarian intervention," to use the currently fashionable phrase. As has commonly been the case since, the "humanitarian intervention" led to a catastrophe for the alleged beneficiaries. The first Secretary of War, General Henry Knox, described "the utter extirpation of all the Indians in most populous parts of the Union" by means "more destructive to the Indian natives than the conduct of the conquerors of Mexico and Peru."

Long after his own significant contributions to the process were past, John Quincy Adams deplored the fate of "that hapless race of native Americans, which we are exterminating with such merciless and perfidious cruelty... among the heinous sins of this nation, for which I believe God will one day bring [it] to judgement." The "merciless and perfidious cruelty" continued until "the West was won." Instead of God's judgment, the heinous sins today bring only praise for the fulfillment of the American "idea."

The conquest and settling of the West indeed showed that "individualism and enterprise," so praised by Roger Cohen. Settler-colonialist enterprises, the cruelest form of imperialism, commonly do. The results were hailed by the respected and influential Senator Henry Cabot Lodge in 1898. Calling for intervention in Cuba, Lodge lauded our record "of conquest, colonization, and territorial expansion unequalled by any people in the 19th century," and urged that it is "not to be curbed now," as the Cubans too were pleading, in the Great Seal's words, "come over and help us."

Their plea was answered. The U.S. sent troops, thereby preventing Cuba's liberation from Spain and turning it into a virtual colony, as it remained until 1959.

The "American idea" was illustrated further by the remarkable campaign, initiated by the Eisenhower administration virtually at once to restore Cuba to its proper place, after Fidel Castro entered Havana in January 1959, finally liberating the island from foreign domination, with enormous popular support, as Washington ruefully conceded. What followed was economic warfare with the clearly articulated aim of punishing the Cuban population so that they would overthrow the disobedient Castro government, invasion, the dedication of the Kennedy brothers to bringing "the terrors of the earth" to Cuba (the phrase of historian Arthur Schlesinger in his biography of Robert Kennedy, who considered that task one of his highest priorities), and other crimes continuing to the present, in defiance of virtually unanimous world opinion.

American imperialism is often traced to the takeover of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Hawaii in 1898. But that is to succumb to what historian of imperialism Bernard Porter calls "the saltwater fallacy," the idea that conquest only becomes imperialism when it crosses saltwater. Thus, if the Mississippi had resembled the Irish Sea, Western expansion would have been imperialism. From George Washington to Henry Cabot Lodge, those engaged in the enterprise had a clearer grasp of just what they were doing.

After the success of humanitarian intervention in Cuba in 1898, the next step in the mission assigned by Providence was to confer "the blessings of liberty and civilization upon all the rescued peoples" of the Philippines (in the words of the platform of Lodge's Republican party) -- at least those who survived the murderous onslaught and widespread use of torture and other atrocities that accompanied it. These fortunate souls were left to the mercies of the U.S.-established Philippine constabulary within a newly devised model of colonial domination, relying on security forces trained and equipped for sophisticated modes of surveillance, intimidation, and violence. Similar models would be adopted in many other areas where the U.S. imposed brutal National Guards and other client forces.

The Torture Paradigm

Over the past 60 years, victims worldwide have endured the CIA's "torture paradigm," developed at a cost that reached $1 billion annually, according to historian Alfred McCoy in his book A Question of Torture. He shows how torture methods the CIA developed from the 1950s surfaced with little change in the infamous photos at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. There is no hyperbole in the title of Jennifer Harbury's penetrating study of the U.S. torture record: Truth, Torture, and the American Way. So it is highly misleading, to say the least, when investigators of the Bush gang's descent into the global sewers lament that "in waging the war against terrorism, America had lost its way."

None of this is to say that Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld et al. did not introduce important innovations. In ordinary American practice, torture was largely farmed out to subsidiaries, not carried out by Americans directly in their own government-established torture chambers. As Allan Nairn, who has carried out some of the most revealing and courageous investigations of torture, points out: "What the Obama [ban on torture] ostensibly knocks off is that small percentage of torture now done by Americans while retaining the overwhelming bulk of the system's torture, which is done by foreigners under U.S. patronage. Obama could stop backing foreign forces that torture, but he has chosen not to do so."

Obama did not shut down the practice of torture, Nairn observes, but "merely repositioned it," restoring it to the American norm, a matter of indifference to the victims. "[H]is is a return to the status quo ante," writes Nairn, "the torture regime of Ford through Clinton, which, year by year, often produced more U.S.-backed strapped-down agony than was produced during the Bush/Cheney years."

Sometimes the American engagement in torture was even more indirect. In a 1980 study, Latin Americanist Lars Schoultz found that U.S. 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." Broader studies by Edward Herman found the same correlation, and also suggested an explanation. Not surprisingly, U.S. aid tends to correlate with a favorable climate for business operations, commonly improved by the murder of labor and peasant organizers and human rights activists and other such actions, yielding a secondary correlation between aid and egregious violation of human rights.

These studies took place before the Reagan years, when the topic was not worth studying because the correlations were so clear.

Small wonder that President Obama advises us to look forward, not backward -- a convenient doctrine for those who hold the clubs. Those who are beaten by them tend to see the world differently, much to our annoyance.

Adopting Bush's Positions

An argument can be made that implementation of the CIA's "torture paradigm" never violated the 1984 Torture Convention, at least as Washington interpreted it. McCoy points out that the highly sophisticated CIA paradigm developed at enormous cost in the 1950s and 1960s, based on the "KGB's most devastating torture technique," kept primarily to mental torture, not crude physical torture, which was considered less effective in turning people into pliant vegetables.

McCoy writes that the Reagan administration then carefully revised the International Torture Convention "with four detailed diplomatic 'reservations' focused on just one word in the convention's 26-printed pages," the word "mental." He continues: "These intricately-constructed diplomatic reservations re-defined torture, as interpreted by the United States, to exclude sensory deprivation and self-inflicted pain -- the very techniques the CIA had refined at such great cost."

When Clinton sent the UN Convention to Congress for ratification in 1994, he included the Reagan reservations. The president and Congress therefore exempted the core of the CIA torture paradigm from the U.S. interpretation of the Torture Convention; and those reservations, McCoy observes, were "reproduced verbatim in domestic legislation enacted to give legal force to the UN Convention." That is the "political land mine" that "detonated with such phenomenal force" in the Abu Ghraib scandal and in the shameful Military Commissions Act that was passed with bipartisan support in 2006.

Bush, of course, went beyond his predecessors in authorizing prima facie violations of international law, and several of his extremist innovations were struck down by the Courts. While Obama, like Bush, eloquently affirms our unwavering commitment to international law, he seems intent on substantially reinstating the extremist Bush measures. In the important case of Boumediene v. Bush in June 2008, the Supreme Court rejected as unconstitutional the Bush administration claim that prisoners in Guantanamo are not entitled to the right of habeas corpus.

Salon.com columnist Glenn Greenwald reviews the aftermath. Seeking to "preserve the power to abduct people from around the world" and imprison them without due process, the Bush administration decided to ship them to the U.S. prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, treating "the Boumediene ruling, grounded in our most basic constitutional guarantees, as though it was some sort of a silly game -- fly your abducted prisoners to Guantanamo and they have constitutional rights, but fly them instead to Bagram and you can disappear them forever with no judicial process."

Obama adopted the Bush position, "filing a brief in federal court that, in two sentences, declared that it embraced the most extremist Bush theory on this issue," arguing that prisoners flown to Bagram from anywhere in the world (in the case in question, Yemenis and Tunisians captured in Thailand and the United Arab Emirates) "can be imprisoned indefinitely with no rights of any kind -- as long as they are kept in Bagram rather than Guantanamo."

In March, however, a Bush-appointed federal judge "rejected the Bush/Obama position and held that the rationale of Boumediene applies every bit as much to Bagram as it does to Guantanamo." The Obama administration announced that it would appeal the ruling, thus placing Obama's Department of Justice, Greenwald concludes, "squarely to the Right of an extremely conservative, pro-executive-power, Bush 43-appointed judge on issues of executive power and due-process-less detentions," in radical violation of Obama's campaign promises and earlier stands.

The case of Rasul v. Rumsfeld appears to be following a similar trajectory. The plaintiffs charged that Rumsfeld and other high officials were responsible for their torture in Guantanamo, where they were sent after being captured by Uzbeki warlord Rashid Dostum. The plaintiffs claimed that they had traveled to Afghanistan to offer humanitarian relief. Dostum, a notorious thug, was then a leader of the Northern Alliance, the Afghan faction supported by Russia, Iran, India, Turkey, and the Central Asian states, and the U.S. as it attacked Afghanistan in October 2001.

Dostum turned them over to U.S. custody, allegedly for bounty money. The Bush administration sought to have the case dismissed. Recently, Obama's Department of Justice filed a brief supporting the Bush position that government officials are not liable for torture and other violations of due process, on the grounds that the Courts had not yet clearly established the rights that prisoners enjoy.

It is also reported that the Obama administration intends to revive military commissions, one of the more severe violations of the rule of law during the Bush years. There is a reason, according to William Glaberson of the New York Times: "Officials who work on the Guantanamo issue say administration lawyers have become concerned that they would face significant obstacles to trying some terrorism suspects in federal courts. Judges might make it difficult to prosecute detainees who were subjected to brutal treatment or for prosecutors to use hearsay evidence gathered by intelligence agencies." A serious flaw in the criminal justice system, it appears.

Creating Terrorists

There is still much debate about whether torture has been effective in eliciting information -- the assumption being, apparently, that if it is effective, then it may be justified. By the same argument, when Nicaragua captured U.S. pilot Eugene Hasenfuss in 1986, after shooting down his plane delivering aid to U.S.-supported Contra forces, they should not have tried him, found him guilty, and then sent him back to the U.S., as they did. Instead, they should have applied the CIA torture paradigm to try to extract information about other terrorist atrocities being planned and implemented in Washington, no small matter for a tiny, impoverished country under terrorist attack by the global superpower.

By the same standards, if the Nicaraguans had been able to capture the chief terrorism coordinator, John Negroponte, then U.S. ambassador in Honduras (later appointed as the first Director of National Intelligence, essentially counterterrorism czar, without eliciting a murmur), they should have done the same. Cuba would have been justified in acting similarly, had the Castro government been able to lay hands on the Kennedy brothers. There is no need to bring up what their victims should have done to Henry Kissinger, Ronald Reagan, and other leading terrorist commanders, whose exploits leave al-Qaeda in the dust, and who doubtless had ample information that could have prevented further "ticking bomb" attacks.

Such considerations never seem to arise in public discussion.

There is, to be sure, a response: our terrorism, even if surely terrorism, is benign, deriving as it does from the city on the hill.

Perhaps culpability would be greater, by prevailing moral standards, if it were discovered that Bush administration torture had cost American lives. That is, in fact, the conclusion drawn by Major Matthew Alexander [a pseudonym], one of the most seasoned U.S. interrogators in Iraq, who elicited "the information that led to the US military being able to locate Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the head of al-Qa'ida in Iraq," correspondent Patrick Cockburn reports.

Alexander expresses only contempt for the Bush administration's harsh interrogation methods: "The use of torture by the U.S.," he believes, not only elicits no useful information but "has proved so counter-productive that it may have led to the death of as many U.S. soldiers as civilians killed in 9/11." From hundreds of interrogations, Alexander discovered that foreign fighters came to Iraq in reaction to the abuses at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, and that they and their domestic allies turned to suicide bombing and other terrorist acts for the same reasons.

There is also mounting evidence that the torture methods Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld encouraged created terrorists. One carefully studied case is that of Abdallah al-Ajmi, who was locked up in Guantanamo on the charge of "engaging in two or three fire fights with the Northern Alliance." He ended up in Afghanistan after having failed to reach Chechnya to fight against the Russians.

After four years of brutal treatment in Guantanamo, he was returned to Kuwait. He later found his way to Iraq and, in March 2008, drove a bomb-laden truck into an Iraqi military compound, killing himself and 13 soldiers -- "the single most heinous act of violence committed by a former Guantanamo detainee," according to the Washington Post, and according to his lawyer, the direct result of his abusive imprisonment.

All much as a reasonable person would expect.

Unexceptional Americans

Another standard pretext for torture is the context: the "war on terror" that Bush declared after 9/11. A crime that rendered traditional international law "quaint" and "obsolete" -- so George W. Bush was advised by his legal counsel Alberto Gonzales, later appointed Attorney General. The doctrine has been widely reiterated in one form or another in commentary and analysis.

The 9/11 attack was doubtless unique in many respects. One is where the guns were pointing: typically it is in the opposite direction. In fact, it was the first attack of any consequence on the national territory of the United States since the British burned down Washington in 1814.

Another unique feature was the scale of terror perpetrated by a non-state actor.

Horrifying as it was, however, it could have been worse. Suppose that the perpetrators had bombed the White House, killed the president, and established a vicious military dictatorship that killed 50,000 to 100,000 people and tortured 700,000, set up a huge international terror center that carried out assassinations and helped impose comparable military dictatorships elsewhere, and implemented economic doctrines that so radically dismantled the economy that the state had to virtually take it over a few years later.

That would indeed have been far worse than September 11, 2001. And it happened in Salvador Allende's Chile in what Latin Americans often call "the first 9/11" in 1973. (The numbers above were changed to per-capita U.S. equivalents, a realistic way of measuring crimes.) Responsibility for the military coup against Allende can be traced straight back to Washington. Accordingly, the otherwise quite appropriate analogy is out of consciousness here in the U.S., while the facts are consigned to the "abuse of reality" that the naïve call "history."

It should also be recalled that Bush did not declare the "war on terror," he re-declared it. Twenty years earlier, President Reagan's administration came into office declaring that a centerpiece of its foreign policy would be a war on terror, "the plague of the modern age" and "a return to barbarism in our time" -- to sample the fevered rhetoric of the day.

That first U.S. war on terror has also been deleted from historical consciousness, because the outcome cannot readily be incorporated into the canon: hundreds of thousands slaughtered in the ruined countries of Central America and many more elsewhere, among them an estimated 1.5 million dead in the terrorist wars sponsored in neighboring countries by Reagan's favored ally, apartheid South Africa, which had to defend itself from Nelson Mandela's African National Congress (ANC), one of the world's "more notorious terrorist groups," as Washington determined in 1988. In fairness, it should be added that, 20 years later, Congress voted to remove the ANC from the list of terrorist organizations, so that Mandela is now, at last, able to enter the U.S. without obtaining a waiver from the government.

The reigning doctrine of the country is sometimes called "American exceptionalism." It is nothing of the sort. It is probably close to a universal habit among imperial powers. France was hailing its "civilizing mission" in its colonies, while the French Minister of War called for "exterminating the indigenous population" of Algeria. Britain's nobility was a "novelty in the world," John Stuart Mill declared, while urging that this angelic power delay no longer in completing its liberation of India.

Similarly, there is no reason to doubt the sincerity of Japanese militarists in the 1930s, who were bringing an "earthly paradise" to China under benign Japanese tutelage, as they carried out the rape of Nanking and their "burn all, loot all, kill all" campaigns in rural North China. History is replete with similar glorious episodes.

As long as such "exceptionalist" theses remain firmly implanted, however, the occasional revelations of the "abuse of history" often backfire, serving only to efface terrible crimes. The My Lai massacre was a mere footnote to the vastly greater atrocities of the post-Tet pacification programs, ignored while indignation in this country was largely focused on this single crime.

Watergate was doubtless criminal, but the furor over it displaced incomparably worse crimes at home and abroad, including the FBI-organized assassination of black organizer Fred Hampton as part of the infamous COINTELPRO repression, or the bombing of Cambodia, to mention just two egregious examples. Torture is hideous enough; the invasion of Iraq was a far worse crime. Quite commonly, selective atrocities have this function.

Historical amnesia is a dangerous phenomenon, not only because it undermines moral and intellectual integrity, but also because it lays the groundwork for crimes that still lie ahead.

søndag den 17. maj 2009

Could Food Shortages Bring Down Civilization?

The biggest threat to global stability is the potential for food crises in poor countries to cause government collapse

By Lester R. Brown (Scientific American April 2009).

One of the toughest things for people to do is to anticipate sudden change. Typically we project the future by extrapolating from trends in the past. Much of the time this approach works well. But sometimes it fails spectacularly, and people are simply blindsided by events such as today’s economic crisis.

For most of us, the idea that civilization itself could disintegrate probably seems preposterous. Who would not find it hard to think seriously about such a complete departure from what we expect of ordinary life? What evidence could make us heed a warning so dire—and how would we go about responding to it? We are so inured to a long list of highly unlikely catastrophes that we are virtually programmed to dismiss them all with a wave of the hand: Sure, our civilization might devolve into chaos—and Earth might collide with an asteroid, too!

For many years I have studied global agricultural, population, environmental and economic trends and their interactions. The combined effects of those trends and the political tensions they generate point to the breakdown of governments and societies. Yet I, too, have resisted the idea that food shortages could bring down not only individual governments but also our global civilization.

I can no longer ignore that risk. Our continuing failure to deal with the environmental declines that are undermining the world food economy—most important, falling water tables, eroding soils and rising temperatures—forces me to conclude that such a collapse is possible.

The Problem of Failed States
Even a cursory look at the vital signs of our current world order lends unwelcome support to my conclusion. And those of us in the environmental field are well into our third de­­cade of charting trends of environmental decline without seeing any significant effort to reverse a single one.

In six of the past nine years world grain production has fallen short of consumption, forcing a steady drawdown in stocks. When the 2008 harvest began, world carryover stocks of grain (the amount in the bin when the new harvest begins) were at 62 days of consumption, a near record low. In response, world grain prices in the spring and summer of last year climbed to the highest level ever.

As demand for food rises faster than supplies are growing, the resulting food-price inflation puts severe stress on the governments of countries already teetering on the edge of chaos. Unable to buy grain or grow their own, hungry people take to the streets. Indeed, even before the steep climb in grain prices in 2008, the number of failing states was expanding [Purchase the digital edition to see related sidebar]. Many of their problems stem from a failure to slow the growth of their populations. But if the food situation continues to deteriorate, entire nations will break down at an ever increasing rate. We have entered a new era in geopolitics. In the 20th century the main threat to international security was superpower conflict; today it is failing states. It is not the concentration of power but its absence that puts us at risk.

States fail when national governments can no longer provide personal security, food security and basic social services such as education and health care. They often lose control of part or all of their territory. When governments lose their monopoly on power, law and order begin to disintegrate. After a point, countries can become so dangerous that food relief workers are no longer safe and their programs are halted; in Somalia and Afghanistan, deteriorating conditions have already put such programs in jeopardy.

Failing states are of international concern because they are a source of terrorists, drugs, weapons and refugees, threatening political stability everywhere. Somalia, number one on the 2008 list of failing states, has become a base for piracy. Iraq, number five, is a hotbed for terrorist training. Afghanistan, number seven, is the world’s leading supplier of heroin. Following the massive genocide of 1994 in Rwanda, refugees from that troubled state, thousands of armed soldiers among them, helped to destabilize neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo (number six).

Our global civilization depends on a functioning network of politically healthy nation-states to control the spread of infectious disease, to manage the international monetary system, to control international terrorism and to reach scores of other common goals. If the system for controlling infectious diseases—such as polio, SARS or avian flu—breaks down, humanity will be in trouble. Once states fail, no one assumes responsibility for their debt to outside lenders. If enough states disintegrate, their fall will threaten the stability of global civilization itself.

A New Kind of Food Shortage
The surge in world grain prices in 2007 and 2008—and the threat they pose to food security—has a different, more troubling quality than the increases of the past. During the second half of the 20th century, grain prices rose dramatically several times. In 1972, for instance, the Soviets, recognizing their poor harvest early, quietly cornered the world wheat market. As a result, wheat prices elsewhere more than doubled, pulling rice and corn prices up with them. But this and other price shocks were event-driven—drought in the Soviet Union, a monsoon failure in India, crop-shrinking heat in the U.S. Corn Belt. And the rises were short-lived: prices typically returned to normal with the next harvest.

In contrast, the recent surge in world grain prices is trend-driven, making it unlikely to reverse without a reversal in the trends themselves. On the demand side, those trends include the ongoing addition of more than 70 million people a year; a growing number of people wanting to move up the food chain to consume highly grain-intensive livestock products [see “The Greenhouse Hamburger,” by Nathan Fiala; Scientific American, February 2009]; and the massive diversion of U.S. grain to ethanol-fuel distilleries.

The extra demand for grain associated with rising affluence varies widely among countries. People in low-income countries where grain supplies 60 percent of calories, such as India, directly consume a bit more than a pound of grain a day. In affluent countries such as the U.S. and Canada, grain consumption per person is nearly four times that much, though perhaps 90 percent of it is consumed indirectly as meat, milk and eggs from grain-fed animals.

The potential for further grain consumption as incomes rise among low-income consumers is huge. But that potential pales beside the insatiable demand for crop-based automotive fuels. A fourth of this year’s U.S. grain harvest—enough to feed 125 million Americans or half a billion Indians at current consumption levels—will go to fuel cars. Yet even if the entire U.S. grain harvest were diverted into making ethanol, it would meet at most 18 percent of U.S. automotive fuel needs. The grain required to fill a 25-gallon SUV tank with ethanol could feed one person for a year.

The recent merging of the food and energy economies implies that if the food value of grain is less than its fuel value, the market will move the grain into the energy economy. That double demand is leading to an epic competition between cars and people for the grain supply and to a political and moral issue of unprecedented dimensions. The U.S., in a misguided effort to reduce its dependence on foreign oil by substituting grain-based fuels, is generating global food insecurity on a scale not seen before.

Water Shortages Mean Food Shortages
What about supply? The three environmental trends I mentioned earlier—the shortage of freshwater, the loss of topsoil and the rising temperatures (and other effects) of global warming—are making it increasingly hard to expand the world’s grain supply fast enough to keep up with demand. Of all those trends, however, the spread of water shortages poses the most immediate threat. The biggest challenge here is irrigation, which consumes 70 percent of the world’s freshwater. Millions of irrigation wells in many countries are now pumping water out of underground sources faster than rainfall can recharge them. The result is falling water tables in countries populated by half the world’s people, including the three big grain producers—China, India and the U.S.

Usually aquifers are replenishable, but some of the most important ones are not: the “fossil” aquifers, so called because they store ancient water and are not recharged by precipitation. For these—including the vast Ogallala Aquifer that underlies the U.S. Great Plains, the Saudi aquifer and the deep aquifer under the North China Plain—depletion would spell the end of pumping. In arid regions such a loss could also bring an end to agriculture altogether.

In China the water table under the North China Plain, an area that produces more than half of the country’s wheat and a third of its corn, is falling fast. Overpumping has used up most of the water in a shallow aquifer there, forcing well drillers to turn to the region’s deep aquifer, which is not replenishable. A report by the World Bank foresees “catastrophic consequences for future generations” unless water use and supply can quickly be brought back into balance.

As water tables have fallen and irrigation wells have gone dry, China’s wheat crop, the world’s largest, has declined by 8 percent since it peaked at 123 million tons in 1997. In that same period China’s rice production dropped 4 percent. The world’s most populous nation may soon be importing massive quantities of grain.

But water shortages are even more worrying in India. There the margin between food consumption and survival is more precarious. Millions of irrigation wells have dropped water tables in almost every state. As Fred Pearce reported in New Scientist:

Half of India’s traditional hand-dug wells and millions of shallower tube wells have already dried up, bringing a spate of suicides among those who rely on them. Electricity blackouts are reaching epidemic proportions in states where half of the electricity is used to pump water from depths of up to a kilometer [3,300 feet].

A World Bank study reports that 15 percent of India’s food supply is produced by mining groundwater. Stated otherwise, 175 million

Indians consume grain produced with water from irrigation wells that will soon be exhausted. The continued shrinking of water supplies could lead to unmanageable food shortages and social conflict.

Less Soil, More Hunger
The scope of the second worrisome trend—the loss of topsoil—is also startling. Topsoil is eroding faster than new soil forms on perhaps a third of the world’s cropland. This thin layer of essential plant nutrients, the very foundation of civilization, took long stretches of geologic time to build up, yet it is typically only about six inches deep. Its loss from wind and water erosion doomed earlier civilizations.

In 2002 a U.N. team assessed the food situation in Lesotho, the small, landlocked home of two million people embedded within South Africa. The team’s finding was straightforward: “Agriculture in Lesotho faces a catastrophic future; crop production is declining and could cease altogether over large tracts of the country if steps are not taken to reverse soil erosion, degradation and the decline in soil fertility.”

In the Western Hemisphere, Haiti—one of the first states to be recognized as failing—was largely self-sufficient in grain 40 years ago. In the years since, though, it has lost nearly all its forests and much of its topsoil, forcing the country to import more than half of its grain.

The third and perhaps most pervasive environmental threat to food security—rising surface temperature—can affect crop yields everywhere. In many countries crops are grown at or near their thermal optimum, so even a minor temperature rise during the growing season can shrink the harvest. A study published by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences has confirmed a rule of thumb among crop ecologists: for every rise of one degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) above the norm, wheat, rice and corn yields fall by 10 percent.

In the past, most famously when the innovations in the use of fertilizer, irrigation and high-yield varieties of wheat and rice created the “green revolution” of the 1960s and 1970s, the response to the growing demand for food was the successful application of scientific agriculture: the technological fix. This time, regrettably, many of the most productive advances in agricultural technology have already been put into practice, and so the long-term rise in land productivity is slowing down. Between 1950 and 1990 the world’s farmers increased the grain yield per acre by more than 2 percent a year, exceeding the growth of population. But since then, the annual growth in yield has slowed to slightly more than 1 percent. In some countries the yields appear to be near their practical limits, including rice yields in Japan and China.

Some commentators point to genetically modified crop strains as a way out of our predicament. Unfortunately, however, no genetically modified crops have led to dramatically higher yields, comparable to the doubling or tripling of wheat and rice yields that took place during the green revolution. Nor do they seem likely to do so, simply because conventional plant-breeding techniques have already tapped most of the potential for raising crop yields.

Jockeying for Food
As the world’s food security unravels, a dangerous politics of food scarcity is coming into play: individual countries acting in their narrowly defined self-interest are actually worsening the plight of the many. The trend began in 2007, when leading wheat-exporting countries such as Russia and Argentina limited or banned their exports, in hopes of increasing locally available food supplies and thereby bringing down food prices domestically. Vietnam, the world’s second-biggest rice exporter after Thailand, banned its exports for several months for the same reason. Such moves may reassure those living in the exporting countries, but they are creating panic in importing countries that must rely on what is then left of the world’s exportable grain.

In response to those restrictions, grain importers are trying to nail down long-term bilateral trade agreements that would lock up future grain supplies. The Philippines, no longer able to count on getting rice from the world market, recently negotiated a three-year deal with Vietnam for a guaranteed 1.5 million tons of rice each year. Food-import anxiety is even spawning entirely new efforts by food-importing countries to buy or lease farmland in other countries [Purchase the digital edition to see related sidebar].

In spite of such stopgap measures, soaring food prices and spreading hunger in many other countries are beginning to break down the social order. In several provinces of Thailand the predations of “rice rustlers” have forced villagers to guard their rice fields at night with loaded shotguns. In Pakistan an armed soldier escorts each grain truck. During the first half of 2008, 83 trucks carrying grain in Sudan were hijacked before reaching the Darfur relief camps.

No country is immune to the effects of tightening food supplies, not even the U.S., the world’s breadbasket. If China turns to the world market for massive quantities of grain, as it has recently done for soybeans, it will have to buy from the U.S. For U.S. consumers, that would mean competing for the U.S. grain harvest with 1.3 billion Chinese consumers with fast-rising incomes—a nightmare scenario. In such circumstances, it would be tempting for the U.S. to restrict exports, as it did, for instance, with grain and soybeans in the 1970s when domestic prices soared. But that is not an option with China. Chinese investors now hold well over a trillion U.S. dollars, and they have often been the leading international buyers of U.S. Treasury securities issued to finance the fiscal deficit. Like it or not, U.S. consumers will share their grain with Chinese consumers, no matter how high food prices rise.

Plan B: Our Only Option
Since the current world food shortage is trend-driven, the environmental trends that cause it must be reversed. To do so requires extraordinarily demanding measures, a monumental shift away from business as usual—what we at the Earth Policy Institute call Plan A—to a civilization-saving Plan B. [see "Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization," at www.earthpoli cy.org/Books/PB3/]

Similar in scale and urgency to the U.S. mobilization for World War II, Plan B has four components: a massive effort to cut carbon emissions by 80 percent from their 2006 levels by 2020; the stabilization of the world’s population at eight billion by 2040; the eradication of poverty; and the restoration of forests, soils and aquifers.

Net carbon dioxide emissions can be cut by systematically raising energy efficiency and investing massively in the development of renewable sources of energy. We must also ban deforestation worldwide, as several countries already have done, and plant billions of trees to sequester carbon. The transition from fossil fuels to renewable forms of energy can be driven by imposing a tax on carbon, while offsetting it with a reduction in income taxes.

Stabilizing population and eradicating poverty go hand in hand. In fact, the key to accelerating the shift to smaller families is eradicating poverty—and vice versa. One way is to ensure at least a primary school education for all children, girls as well as boys. Another is to provide rudimentary, village-level health care, so that people can be confident that their children will survive to adulthood. Women everywhere need access to reproductive health care and family-planning services.

The fourth component, restoring the earth’s natural systems and resources, incorporates a worldwide initiative to arrest the fall in water tables by raising water productivity: the useful activity that can be wrung from each drop. That implies shifting to more efficient irrigation systems and to more water-efficient crops. In some countries, it implies growing (and eating) more wheat and less rice, a water-intensive crop. And for industries and cities, it implies doing what some are doing already, namely, continuously recycling water.

At the same time, we must launch a worldwide effort to conserve soil, similar to the U.S. response to the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Terracing the ground, planting trees as shelterbelts against windblown soil erosion, and practicing minimum tillage—in which the soil is not plowed and crop residues are left on the field—are among the most important soil-conservation measures.

There is nothing new about our four interrelated objectives. They have been discussed individually for years. Indeed, we have created entire institutions intended to tackle some of them, such as the World Bank to alleviate poverty. And we have made substantial progress in some parts of the world on at least one of them—the distribution of family-planning services and the associated shift to smaller families that brings population stability.

For many in the development community, the four objectives of Plan B were seen as positive, promoting development as long as they did not cost too much. Others saw them as humanitarian goals—politically correct and morally appropriate. Now a third and far more momentous rationale presents itself: meeting these goals may be necessary to prevent the collapse of our civilization. Yet the cost we project for saving civilization would amount to less than $200 billion a year, a sixth of current global military spending. In effect, Plan B is the new security budget.

Time: Our Scarcest Resource
Our challenge is not only to implement Plan B but also to do it quickly. The world is in a race between political tipping points and natural ones. Can we close coal-fired power plants fast enough to prevent the Greenland ice sheet from slipping into the sea and inundating our coastlines? Can we cut carbon emissions fast enough to save the mountain glaciers of Asia? During the dry season their meltwaters sustain the major rivers of India and China—and by extension, hundreds of millions of people. Can we stabilize population before countries such as India, Pakistan and Yemen are overwhelmed by shortages of the water they need to irrigate their crops?

It is hard to overstate the urgency of our predicament. [For the most thorough and authoritative scientific assessment of global climate change, see "Climate Change 2007. Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change," available at www.ipcc.ch] Every day counts. Unfortunately, we do not know how long we can light our cities with coal, for instance, before Greenland’s ice sheet can no longer be saved. Nature sets the deadlines; nature is the timekeeper. But we human beings cannot see the clock.

We desperately need a new way of thinking, a new mind-set. The thinking that got us into this bind will not get us out. When Elizabeth Kolbert, a writer for the New Yorker, asked energy guru Amory Lovins about thinking outside the box, Lovins responded: “There is no box.”

There is no box. That is the mind-set we need if civilization is to survive.

A New Political Moment for Empire?

John Feffer of Foreign Policy In Focus interviews professor Stephen Zunes about the role of the U.S. in the world under the Obama administration. Will the U.S. empire roll back or continue on?

lørdag den 16. maj 2009

Artikler om det militærindustrielle kompleks.

Military Industrial Complex 2.0: Cubicle Mercenaries, Subcontracting Warriors, and Other Phenomena of a Privatizing Pentagon.

Is The USA Addicted To War?

Economic Death Spiral at the Pentagon.

Left and Right Against the Military Industrial Complex

Washington Post: The Military-Media Complex

Boston Globe 2008: Propaganda at home

Chalmers Johnson: The Military-Industrial Complex. It's Much Later Than You Think

Pentagon Pundits: Media Facilitate Iraq Propaganda Effort

Facebook-gruppe til gavn for irakerne i Vor Frue Kirke

"Vores" regerings og deres kumpaner i DFs flygtninge- og indvandrerpolitik har selvfølgelig været under al kritik. Jeg går ud fra at almindeligt tænkende og omsorgsfulde mennesker er fuldt ud klar over dette, så jeg har ikke tænkt mig at uddybe, men blot, at gøre opmærksom på Facebook-gruppen til støtte for de irakiske asylansøgere der pt. har gemt sig i Vor Frue Kirke. Dette er en mulighed for at gøre noget praktisk for at imødegå den repressive og intolerante flygtningepolitik.


Mere om drone-angrebene i Pakistan

60 drone hits kill 14 al-Qaeda men, 687 civilians

Friday, April 10, 2009

By Amir Mir

LAHORE: Of the 60 cross-border predator strikes carried out by the Afghanistan-based American drones in Pakistan between January 14, 2006 and April 8, 2009, only 10 were able to hit their actual targets, killing 14 wanted al-Qaeda leaders, besides perishing 687 innocent Pakistani civilians. The success percentage of the US predator strikes thus comes to not more than six per cent.

Figures compiled by the Pakistani authorities show that a total of 701 people, including 14 al-Qaeda leaders, have been killed since January 2006 in 60 American predator attacks targeting the tribal areas of Pakistan. Two strikes carried out in 2006 had killed 98 civilians while three attacks conducted in 2007 had slain 66 Pakistanis, yet none of the wanted al-Qaeda or Taliban leaders could be hit by the Americans right on target. However, of the 50 drone attacks carried out between January 29, 2008 and April 8, 2009, 10 hit their targets and killed 14 wanted al-Qaeda operatives. Most of these attacks were carried out on the basis of intelligence believed to have been provided by the Pakistani and Afghan tribesmen who had been spying for the US-led allied forces stationed in Afghanistan.


Bill Moyers Journal: Professor Juan Cole om Taleban?

BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the Journal.

President Obama was burned in effigy in Pakistan the other day. This photo from the Associated Press depicts a crowd of men with signs saying "Go America Go," meaning go home as an image of the President goes up in flames.

Writing in "The Wall Street Journal," columnist James Taranto said the burning symbolizes, to all Americans who may doubt it, that Obama is a war president.

For sure, Pakistan and Afghanistan are now both battlegrounds in the conflict formerly known as the global war on terror. So entwined are they that the Pentagon has conflated them into one big combat theater known in military speak as "Afpak."

But reducing this current fighting to military shorthand dehumanizes horrific realities on the ground, where innocent men, women and children are dying every day.

Our own children and grandchildren are already fighting there, and more are on the way. Look at this recent headline in London's "Sunday Times," relaying an American threat to the Pakistani government — "Stop the Taliban now, or we will."

Things have gotten worse in the past week. Hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled Pakistan's northwest region to escape fighting between the country's army and the Taliban.

The news is confusing, misleading, fragmented and sometimes, frightening, so we've asked two informed observers of that region, both of whom have lived in Pakistan to try to help us sort it out.

Juan Cole teaches history at the University of Michigan. His "Informed Comment" blog at juancole.com has become a go to destination for anyone interested in the politics of Islam. The author of several books, this is his latest, "Engaging the Muslim World."

Shahan Mufti recently returned from a six month tour covering Pakistan's ongoing political crisis. He reports for globalpost.com, the new international news website. A Pakistani American, Shahan also has written about Pakistan for "The Christian Science Monitor" and "The Boston Globe" as well as many other print and broadcast news outlets.

Welcome, both of you, to the Journal. JUAN COLE: Thank you.

SHAHAN MUFTI: Thank you.

BILL MOYERS: Shahan, what did you think about this photograph?

SHAHAN MUFTI: Well, it tells a story. But, as any photo, it doesn't tell the complete story. There are protests like this all over the country. There have been ever since the war in Afghanistan began and America started getting involved in the region. This is the story that we get through the mass media for the most part. But there are many other currents in the country that aren't being covered as well.

JUAN COLE: The Jamaat-e-Islami represents very few people. It's a cadre organization. It gets, typically, three percent when there's elections. So, yes, they mount these demonstrations. And you can see that's probably a very small one. And so to make so much of this little picture, it shows a lack of appreciation for proportionality for what really is important in the country.

BILL MOYERS: What is important right now? What's missing from the reporting and the analysis we're getting from Pakistan?

SHAHAN MUFTI: One thing that's missing, obviously, that's hard to get into reporting is context. But also hard information. Hard fact. So we're hearing about this military operation going on in the north of Pakistan right now. Yet there are no reporters, no reporters on the ground. They had-

BILL MOYERS: I have heard a couple from NPR. They seem to be right among the refugees who are fleeing there.

SHAHAN MUFTI: The refugees are outside of the war zone now. These are the people who have been internally displaced within the country. And they have been, actually, have been evacuated by the army. So before the army moved into these northern areas they disseminated information through radio, television, to tell the people to get out 'cause they were going to move in.

And we've heard of hundreds of thousands, maybe a million people, moving out of these areas. So, really, all the information that we are relaying as reporters, as the media, as information, really is coming from army press releases, for the most part.

There's very little room to independently confirm a lot of the information. Especially in this most recent offensive. That is a huge thing that, as that reporters in Pakistan I know are dealing with. They're referring to "alleged" military operations.

So they're in a position where they can't even independently confirm that an entire military operation took place. Let alone the figures of the Taliban militants dead, or how many civilian casualties there are, or how many armed forces-- people in the armed forces have died. So that is one thing that's very troubling, as a reporter.

BILL MOYERS: Who are the Taliban and what do they want? What are their goals?

JUAN COLE: What we're calling the Taliban, it's actually a misnomer. There are, like, five different groups that we're swooping up and calling the Taliban. The Taliban, properly speaking, are seminary students. They were those refugee boys, many of them orphans, who went through the seminaries or Madrassas in northern Pakistan back in the nineties. And then who emerged as a fighting force. Then you have the old war lords who had fought with the Soviet Union, and were allied with the United States. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Jalaluddin Haqqani, they have formed insurgent groups to fight the Americans now. Because they had fought the Soviet occupation, they now see an American occupation, so they've turned on the United States. They were former allies.

So we're calling them Taliban. And then you have a lot of probably disorganized villagers whose poppy crops, for instance, were burned. And they're angry. So they'll hit a NATO or American checkpoint. So we're scooping all of this up. And then the groups in northern Pakistan who are yet another group. And we're calling it all Taliban.

BILL MOYERS: How many of them?

JUAN COLE:Well, how many of them is impossible to know. But in Pakistan the estimates for fighters are small. 15 thousand. And the current military operation in the Swat Valley is pitting 15 thousand Pakistani troops against 4 thousand Taliban fighters.

That's what's being said. This is small. And the idea that these 4 thousand Taliban in Swat Valley, you know, can take over the capital of the country, or that they're going to spread into the other provinces, which are ethnic provinces, like the Punjab and Sindh, where they're very, very unpopular.

We have a Gallup Poll now, 60 percent of the Punjabis, who are the majority group in Pakistan, say that it's very negative that there should be Taliban operating in Pakistan. And only ten percent say that it's a positive. So in Pakistan, as a whole, this is a small group. It's not a mainstream, big, mass movement.

BILL MOYERS: But how do you explain this mass exodus of, as you say, maybe a million people on the move out of that northwest region where the fighting is going on?

SHAHAN MUFTI: Well, it's very clear that why that happened is because the Pakistan army asked, or wanted the people, the civilian population, to move out of there because it was- is being fought as a guerilla war. So the militants are embedding themselves into the civilian population, which is their strength.

And so this movement out of these northern regions, where the Taliban had control, is a tactical operation. And moving the people out of there, unfortunately, also, it seems, to be military tactic right now

JUAN COLE: The Pakistani military is a tank, you know, traditional, almost central European kind of military. It was formed to fight India and most of the tanks and the troops are down on the border between India and Pakistan. And they're not trained to do counterinsurgency or counterterrorism.

So their idea of putting down the Taliban is to invade the Swat Valley. And if you've got 15,000 troops with artillery, helicopter gunships, fighter jets, operating a military operation in a valley with a million people in it, is going to produce massive displacement.

They're not sending in SWAT teams against these 4 thousand fighters, which I think is what they should have been doing. So when the US caused this. They pressured Pakistan's army to launch a conventional military attack on this small group of guerillas. And is going to inconvenience, you know, probably half a million people in a very dire way. And is that really going to settle the Pashtuns down?

SHAHAN MUFTI: I would say the Pakistani army feels strong pressure to show that they are performing. So whether they're using — whether they're being heavy-handed, whether they're using a lot of fireworks, to prove a point to the United States. And the government, as well as the army, do feel — who are recipients of large American aid, and all, but also clients of the American military — they feel, they do feel, I think, an obligation to perform well, at least to put up a show that they are performing, and that they're performing well.

BILL MOYERS: Are you two saying that the Taliban are not as great a threat to Pakistan and the United States as the United States has been claiming?

JUAN COLE: Well I have to be careful here. Because, on the one hand, I don't want to be interpreted as saying this is not a problem. I mean, you've got several thousand militants operating in the North-West Frontier Province. This is a problem. And it wasn't like that, you know, even ten years ago.The idea of Pakistani Taliban is a new idea. The Taliban were always an Afghan phenomenon. So it is a problem. And it needs to be dealt with. But what I'm saying is that let's just have a sense of proportion here.

The North-West Frontier Province is 10 percent of the Pakistan population. That's where this stuff is happening. And most of it is actually happening not in the Province itself, but in the Federally Administrated Tribal Regions. Which are kind of like our Indian reservations. Only 3.5 million people live there. It's the size of, like, New Hampshire. Pakistan is a country as big as California, Oregon and Washington rolled up in one, with a population of 165 million. So to take this threat, which is a threat locally, to the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas, to parts of the North-West Frontier Province, and to magnify it and to say, "Whoa, the Pakistani government is six months from falling, the Taliban is going to get their hands on nuclear weapons." The kinds of things that are being said in Washington, are just fantastical and some kind of science fiction film. How would these guys, with the Kalashnikov machine guns, take over a country that has an army of 550 thousand? Which has tanks and artillery and fighter jets? How would they even know here the nuclear weapons are? In Pakistan, I just quoted you the Gallup Poll. People don't like Taliban, for the most part.

BILL MOYERS: Yeah, we just talked two days ago, to a Pakistan journalist in Lahore, who told us that public tolerance for the Taliban, as you have said, has diminished as the militants have broken their commitments, moved into other regions, and become ever more oppressive, looting and kidnapping. And they don't want them there. They don't want that, right?

SHAHAN MUFTI: And this is a trend. And especially in the last few months this has happened. As the Taliban, after there was the Shariah deal that we heard a lot about, that was the deal to implement Islamic law in some of the northern areas-

BILL MOYERS: This was a deal the government made with the Taliban up there to let them operate that region-

SHAHAN MUFTI: Their version of Islamic law in that region. Exactly. And people- there was hope, until that point at least, that this will somehow settle everything. This will quell, at least quell the violence for a little bit. That didn't happen. And the Taliban started bleeding into the other areas near to Islam. And then that's when we started hearing these alarming things about this Taliban being within-

BILL MOYERS: 90 miles or 60 miles of Islamabad.

SHAHAN MUFTI: Yeah. Islamabad. And at that point I think there was also another huge trend where we,actually, now we hear the Islamist political parties. We hear the nationalists. We hear all, again, all shades of political parties really speaking out against the Taliban.

JUAN COLE: And women. I mean, you should remember that Pakistan has a large middle class. And it's grown enormously in the last ten years. These are urban white-collar people, well educated, hooked in with international media, and half of them are women.

They're lawyers. They're in the judicial system. They're politicians. And they are very threatened by what they call the Talibanization. And they're coming out and speaking against it, and they are extremely influential. You should remember, Pakistan actually has had a woman prime minister. And that social class of middle class and upper class women are very powerful.

BILL MOYERS: Threatened by the Shariah law about the hard-line Islamic attitude toward women? Is that what you mean?

JUAN COLE: That's right. That's right. They don't like the Taliban repression of women at all.

BILL MOYERS: But, listening to you, I have to then wonder what… I mean, the message coming loud and clear, from both Obama in Washington, and Zardari in Pakistan, is that the Taliban are on the rise. And that they represent, as others have said, an existential threat to Pakistan. You're not denying that this is a problem. But you're not seeing it as this life-and-death matter for the state of Pakistan?

SHAHAN MUFTI: That feeling of doom really doesn't…you don't feel it on the ground there. Because, if you're in a city, like Lahore, or if you're in a city of like 16 million, like Karachi, or if you're in a city that looks like southern California, in Islamabad, even if you're in the tribal areas, or in Peshawar, a huge city of its own, which is right in the North-West Frontier, which is Pashtun there is not this sense that the Taliban are coming tomorrow morning, or next week, or the week after.

They are still, I think, Pakistanis, a lot of them, still see the Taliban as a fringe movement, which they are. The numbers say that. And a fringe movement with is able to wreak a lot of havoc. Especially through its suicide bombings. This tool of suicide bombings is very hard to control. And so people are obviously concerned with how their lives are changing. But this threat of the state falling, I think, nobody in that country takes that too seriously.

BILL MOYERS: In whose interest is it that we're getting the story from Washington and the Pakistani government that it's at the brink of chaos that is coming the Taliban are on the rise?

JUAN COLE: I think it's cynical. And I think that it's a way for Washington to put pressure on the Pakistani civilian and military elites to do what Washington wants them to do. And--

BILL MOYERS: Which is?

JUAN COLE: Well, they wanted this big military campaign against the Taliban in the Swat Valley. Washington is alarmed at the spread of the Taliban in the North-West Frontier Province because it has implications for the security of southern Afghanistan, and therefore for US troops and NATO troops in Afghanistan. And so, from their point of view, this is a big crisis.

They don't want more safe havens for the Taliban in Afghanistan who are killing US troops. And they were upset with the Pakistani elite for not taking this problem more seriously. And I think, sort of saying that Pakistan is unstable, or it's about to fall, or the nukes are in danger, all of this sort of thing, is a signal to Islamabad that you had better get serious about this, because it matters to us. So this is Washington strong-arming Pakistan.

SHAHAN MUFTI: I think you're right on. And I think it's problematic because this really harks back to the period right before the Iraq War, as well, where there was this hype that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

We were- we could have been convinced in a second that Iraq was about to use them. And it's unfortunate that the press did play its part in that problem. And the press is, once again I think, playing its unfortunate part where it is relaying all of these opinions that are coming from intelligence sources or whatever, and ruling this as information. And all of a sudden we're seeing the same sort of almost hysteria.

BILL MOYERS: Do you agree with Shahan, that you're seeing a repeat of the-

JUAN COLE: Yes. Yes.

BILL MOYERS: -official propaganda being disseminated as news?

JUAN COLE: Yes. I think that's exactly what's going on. I mean, especially with regard to the nuclear issue. There is no way on God's green earth that these scruffy tribal fundamentalists, in the North-West Frontier Province, are having anything to do with Pakistan's nuclear weapons. Which, by the way, are stored in secret places, and they're not assembled. And assembling them is a complicated process which requires various high-level military and civilian authorizations. And to put that nuclear issue front and forward is just a way of scaring the American public and putting pressure on Pakistan to do something they didn't want to do.

BILL MOYERS: Why isn't Pakistan doing more to control the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan and up in that northwest region? Why isn't it more effective?

JUAN COLE: You know, I get very nervous when I hear people talking about controlling that region. It's not controllable. And nobody has ever controlled it. Winston Churchill was down there when he was a young man trying to control it.

30 percent of these areas are considered administratively inaccessible by the Pakistani government. And they're the people who would know this area and say, "Well, what does it mean?" This is administratively inaccessible. It means no bureaucrat has been out there. So I don't- I don't think the you- I've also heard President Obama talking about, you know, Pakistan needs to control this area, and so forth. I don't think they understand the scale of what you're talking about here. This is just a very vast, rugged, arid region which--thinly populated. Local people know the ground much better. The best you can do is, I think, make deals with the tribal chieftains to calm things down.

SHAHAN MUFTI: This is real-estate, Afghanistan in this tribal area, this frontier region of Pakistan that nobody, from Alexander to the British, to the Russians, have- the Russians shared a border with this, and they couldn't keep their hands on it. It was a tinderbox. And now the United States is in there. We're in there. And we're having- we're learning, and it's difficult.

BILL MOYERS: Is our presence there giving the Taliban a unity they wouldn't have had without presence?

SHAHAN MUFTI: On the Pakistani side, for sure. I mean, that is their rallying call now. That as well as their religious call. But definitely American presence in the region is what is really giving them a rallying call among youth of the tribal areas who are caught in poverty and cycles of poverty. And it is their rallying call of the foreign invader.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future. That's the goal that must be achieved. That is a cause that could not be more just. And to the terrorists who oppose us, my message is the same: We will defeat you.

BILL MOYERS: Is that an achievable goal?

JUAN COLE: Oh, I think it's an achievable goal. But not this way. First of all, the Taliban are not the same as Al Qaeda, and not necessarily connected to them. They're a regional movement. They're about a local kind of religious nationalism. I think Al Qaeda, in the North-West Frontier Province, and in the tribal areas of Pakistan, is a problem. It's a policing problem

SHAHAN MUFTI: This is all about, I think you're right, this is all about the war in Afghanistan. It has to be. We do know that the Taliban in Pakistan grew out of the campaign in Afghanistan. They bled across the border and then they started carrying out their own personal campaign in Pakistan. What it seems like, what the trajectory has been, it seems like the more Pakistan is pushed to do that project, of eliminating the Taliban as a way of winning the war in Afghanistan, the Pakistani government, the state, is putting itself under all sorts of pressures. And when you have a country that is at the frontline of a glob- well, an American war right now — is under extreme pressures from many sides. It shares the border with China, India, Iran, Afghanistan, and then has a 700 mile Arabian Sea coastline.

That's quite a cast of characters to be caught in the middle of. So Pakistan is under extreme pressures to fit in that geographical location. For the Pakistani security establishment, and my conversation with a lot of people in this security establishment, the Taliban, and the situation in Afghanistan, is about India. They're one and the same conversation. Because influence in Afghanistan, ever since the American-- ever since President Karzai's government in Afghanistan, India has had a greater influence in Afghanistan, which it was missing during the Taliban.

BILL MOYERS: Karzai has made India his most important trading partner, right?

SHAHAN MUFTI: It is the most important trading partner. Is one of the—

BILL MOYERS: And this has to bother Pakistanis, right?

SHAHAN MUFTI: Immensely. It does bother the Pakistani security establishment. Especially because they view the region as a chess board. As most, as China and…

BILL MOYERS: That's an old story, right?

SHAHAN MUFTI: Yeah. So, for them, this is a huge loss. That Afghanistan, that for ten years was our little satellite state. That Paki-- that Afghanistan was under, for the first time, in Pakistan's history at least, Afghanistan, under the Taliban, was friendly towards Pakistan.

There had never been a government that was so friendly with Pakistan. And then, all of a sudden, one day, who moves in to help Afghanistan rebuild? It's India.

So what I'm talking about is that, to deal with the issue in Afghanistan, and President Obama was talking about this, in, as late as November last year, a few months before his inauguration, he had started talking about, I don't know if you recall, but I think it was an interview with "Time Magazine," in which he started talking about the Kashmir issue being the key to solving the war in Afghanistan. And that was a very interesting thought.

BILL MOYERS: The disputed land between India and Pakistan. Both of them are fighting over Kashmir.

SHAHAN MUFTI: Have been for 60 years. It's the main issue between India and Pakistan-

BILL MOYERS: You're saying that's the key to the Pakistani war? That--

SHAHAN MUFTI: I'm not saying that. President Obama said that, in November. And, for, all of a sudden, for the new President-Elect to come out and point out this piece of land between India and Pakistan as the key to solving the Afghanistan issue, was something that made one think about the issue. But whatever thought he had, which is a very interesting and complicated thought, there was some recognition in that period right before the inauguration, that this was somehow a regional issue. That Afghanistan is going to be solved eventually by bringing all the players involved in the region on the table.

BILL MOYERS: But India has told the United States that if Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who is the intermediary over there, dares to raise the issue of Kashmir, he will not be welcome in New Delhi.

SHAHAN MUFTI: Hard diplomacy. That, and this is not going to be easy. To bring Kashmir issue back onto the table. To bring China, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, in some grand diplomatic gesture, to try to solve this issue. This is not going to be easy. But it's the kind of diplomacy that America is capable of. And has been capable of in the past.

JUAN COLE: You look at the way that the Northern Ireland issue was ultimately resolved was, in some ways, it was a British government acknowledgment of an Irish interest in Northern Ireland. Well, if you could get an Indian government acknowledgement of a Pakistani interest in Kashmir, without that meaning that Kashmir is detached from India, just as Northern Ireland is still part of the UK-- it seems to me, actually, a fairly good model for resolving this.

BILL MOYERS: So what does the United States do?

JUAN COLE: Well, the important thing to underline is the Pakistani public doesn't like some US policies, like the war in Afghanistan. But opinion polling shows, and I quote this in my book, that they like the United States. And if you ask them, "Well, what would you, what would make better relations with the United States?" They say, "Well, give us civilian development aid. We don't need any more weapons from you." If we can do things for the Pakistan public that they need done for them, they say in opinion polls that that's going to really raise their view of the United States. And we've seen this happen elsewhere, in Indonesia and so forth. So that's got-- has to be an important part of it. I think the Obama administration is right about that.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I am calling upon Congress to pass a bipartisan bill that authorizes $1.5 billion in direct support to the Pakistani people every year over the next five years — resources that will build schools and roads and hospitals, and strengthen Pakistan's democracy.

BILL MOYERS: You have to ask the question, how does the money get to the people? Because we all know, everybody knows, how corrupt the Pakistani government is. The President, the present President, is known as Mr. Ten Percent. How does that--

JUAN COLE: It is an underestimate.

BILL MOYERS: It's a serious question though.

SHAHAN MUFTI: I think, Bill, that winning the hearts and minds part of the Pakistanis is not going to be a tough-- it's not a tough job at the end of the day. Like you were saying, a lot of these people, especially the urban population that we talked about, these large cities are already sold.

They will-- they wouldn't mind a few of the freedoms that are enjoyed here. And if, and especially if, development aid that's going in-- I think that is really not going to be that hard once the strategic planning, once the strategic planners in Pakistan have been convinced to really come on our side.

JUAN COLE: With regard to the civilian aid, you know, if USAID and the US government does its job, and has accountability, you know, because we don't just give the money to the Pakistan government and say, "Spend it." The problem in the last eight years was that we really just did hand the money over to the Pakistani military. The US government wasn't doing its job with regard to accountability.

BILL MOYERS: Both of you seem much more optimistic about Pakistan than I've heard many people talk about it in a long time.

JUAN COLE: That's because we lived there. It doesn't look like what it looks like on the outside. Americans think that Pakistanis are fundamentalists. And almost none of them are. You know, there are religious people, they're like Mexican Catholics. They go to shrines and pray for things. And the Taliban hate that. In fact, they attacked a shrine recently. And then there's this big urban middle class which is just growing like crazy. And they're all watching Indian movies, and dreaming about being in Bollywood. And so and then the economy has been doing good the last few years. You know, five, six, seven percent growth. I think it was the second largest growth in Asia. Of course, it's a low starting point. But I can't understand why there isn't more appreciation for the good news that's come out.

You know, in the past two years, the Pakistani public has demanded an end to a military dictatorship. On the grounds that it was violating the rule of law. They demanded free and fair parliamentary elections. They accomplished them. They voted the largest party they put in is the left of center or centrist secular party. They then went to the streets to demand the reinstatement of the secular civil Supreme Court. And you've had, really, hundreds of thousands of people involved in this movement for the restoration of democracy and the restoration of the rule of law. If this had happened any other place in the world, it would be reported in Washington as a good news story. Here, we've been told that it's a crisis. That it's a sign of instability and nuclear armed nation. I don't understand that.

SHAHAN MUFTI: That was one of the biggest moments in Pakistan in the last-- from my latest tour in the last six months. You were talking about the-- how anywhere else in the world this would have been celebrated. And, most definitely, this moment of the Chief Justice getting reinstated was the democratic moment for Pakistan, at least in the last 60 years, ever since its creation.

Because for the longest time, for decades the problem with Pakistan is that the army keeps disrupting the power balance and here the Pakistani people deliver a moment, the night that the Chief Justice got reinstated it was around 3:00 AM. And there were people gathered out, thousands of people gathered outside his house. And, in one corner, there were young students playing the guitar and singing nationalist songs.

And then the Islamists came with their flags and they were chanting, "Allah is great." And then the Justice Party people came and they were singing-- they were doing a cappella versions of nationalist songs.

And to see that all of these people had somehow come around, the absolutely secular to the very staunch Islamists, had come around this movement because they somehow, to them, it meant a step towards a stronger democracy. But only if, I think, that if the United States could find ways to engage that aspect of Pakistan.

BILL MOYERS: That aspect being the aspiration of the people?

JUAN COLE: Pakistani civil society and its aspirations, yes. And not just to dismiss them as fundamentalists, or to assume that you have to work the elites, which has been the way the US has typically done things.

BILL MOYERS: Juan Cole and Shahan Mufti, this has been an interesting discussion of a very complicated situation. And I appreciate your being here with me on the Journal.

SHAHAN MUFTI: Thank you.

JUAN COLE: Thank you.

kilde: http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/05152009/watch.html

søndag den 3. maj 2009

Right to the Very End in Iraq, Our Masters Denied Us the Truth

'We acknowledge," the letter says, "that violence has claimed the lives of many thousands of Iraqi civilians over the last five years, either through terrorism or sectarian violence. Any loss of innocent lives is tragic and the Government is committed to ensuring that civilian casualties are avoided. Insurgents and terrorists are not, I regret to say, so scrupulous."

This quotation comes from the Ministry of Defence's "Iraq Operations Team, Directorate of Operations" and is signed by someone whose initials may be "SM" or "SW" or even "SWe". Unusually (but understandably), it does not carry a typed version of the author's name. Its obvious anonymity – given the fact that not a single reference is made to the civilians slaughtered by the Anglo-American invasion and occupation of Iraq – is no surprise. I, too, would not want to be personally associated with such Blair-like mendacity. What is astonishing, however, is that this outrageous letter should have been written this year.

I should say at once that I owe this revelatory text (actually dated 20 January) to a very un-anonymous Independent reader, Tom Geddes, who thought I would find its "economy with the truth" interesting. I certainly do. We are now, are we not, supposed to be in the age of Brown-like truth, as we finally haul down the flag in Basra, of near-certainty of an official inquiry into the whole Iraq catastrophe, a time of reckoning for the men who sent us off to war under false pretences. I suspect that this – like the Obama pretensions to change – is a falsehood. Well, we shall see.

Mr Geddes, I hasten to add, is a retired librarian who worked for 21 years at the British Library as head of Germanic collections and is also a translator of Swedish – it turns out that we share the same love of the Finnish-Swedish poet Edith Sodergrund's work – and he wrote to the Ministry of Defence at the age of 64 because, like me (aged 62), he was struck that John Hutton, the Secretary of State for Defence, described those who jeered at British troops returning home as "cretins".

"Such jeering is clearly not meant to denigrate individual bravery and sacrifice," Geddes wrote to Hutton on 28 October – readers will notice it took the Ministry of Defence's "SM" (or "SW" or "SWe") three months to reply – "(but) is a political comment on the general dubious legality and morality of recent military actions."

I'm not so sure the jeering was that innocent, but Geddes's concluding remark – that "unless you or the Government can explain and justify Britain's war activities, you cannot expect to have the country on your side" – is unimpeachable.

Not so "SM's" reply. Here is another quotation from his execrable letter. "It is important to remember that our decision to take action (sic) in Iraq was driven by Saddam Hussein's refusal to co-operate with the UN-sponsored weapons inspections... The former Prime Minister has expressed his regret for any information, given in good faith, concerning weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which has subsequently proven to be incorrect."

I am left breathless by this lie. Saddam Hussein did not "refuse to co-operate" with the UN weapons inspectors. The whole problem was that – to the horror of Blair and Bush – the ghastly Saddam did co-operate with them, and the UN weapons team under Hans Blix was about to prove that these "weapons of mass destruction" were non-existent; hence the Americans forced Blix and his men and women to leave Iraq so that they and Blair could stage their illegal invasion. I saw Blix's aircraft still on the ground at Baghdad airport just two days before the attack. Note, too, the weasel words. Blair did not give his information "in good faith", as SM claims. He knew – and the Ministry of Defence knew (and I suppose SM knew) – they were untrue. Or "incorrect" as "SM" coyly writes.

Then again: "We can assure you that the Government would not have engaged in military action if it were not satisfied that such a decision was justified and lawful. The former Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, confirmed on 17 March 2003 that authority to use force against Iraq existed from the combined effect of UN Security Council Resolutions 678, 687 and 1441."

But as an outraged Tom Geddes points out in his reply to this remark, "You must be aware that the decision to wage war on Iraq was neither justified nor lawful. The Attorney General's advice has been widely described as 'flawed'. Given that his previous advice was that an attack would be unlawful, we all know what 'flawed' means. I suspect the MoD (Ministry of Defence) also knows." So do I.

I'm also sure that this is a standard "reply sheet", sent out to all dissenting English people. The sentence "millions of Iraqis now live free of Saddam's oppression and have control of their own destiny" is pure public relations – not least because it fails to mention that up to a million Iraqis have not been able to control their own destiny since 2003 because they happen to be dead as a result of our invasion.

There's a lovely bit at the end of "SM'S" 's letter where he (or I suppose it could be a she) says that "our brave servicemen and women ... are ... preparing Basra airport for transfer to Iraqi control..." Well of course they are, because – since their own retreat from Basra city -- Basra airport is the only square mile of Iraq in which the British are still in occupation.

The letter ends with "SM'S" 's surely sublime hope that this "letter goes some way to addressing your concerns" and I can only repeat Tom Geddes' reply: "I am grateful for the length of your response, but shocked by its contents." So am I. No doubt, when the Brown Government – or the Cameron government – holds its inquiry into this illegal war, "SM" will re-emerge as a witness or at least a spokesperson. By then, I suppose the "Iraqi Operations Team" will have been closed down – even, perhaps, by then transmogrified into the "Afghanistan Operations Team" with a parallel set of historical lies – but I trust there will be a retired librarian on hand to point this out.

Copyright 2009 Independent News and Media Limited

Robert Fisk is Middle East correspondent for The Independent newspaper. He is the author of many books on the region, including The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East.