Archive for January, 2009

Widespread anger in Egypt at Mubarak regime

January 25, 2009
Johannes Stern reports from Cairo | WSWS, 24 January 2009

Muhammad lights up a cigarette and quietly utters an oath directed at Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. The 25-year-old expresses what many Egyptians think at present: “Mubarak is a swine who has worked together with Israel to turn Gaza into a prison and is responsible for the suffering of the Palestinians.”

The student from downtown Cairo continues to speak harshly about the government. Today, three days after Israeli troops began to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, he remains angry and criticizes the role played by Egypt in the Gaza conflict. “Probably Mubarak gave [Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi] Livni permission to attack Hamas, which he regards as a thorn in his side.”

In fact, Livni met Mubarak two days prior to the Israeli attack and, according to a report in the Israeli daily Haa’retz, Egyptian government officials were informed in advance of the planned offensive.

Many other Cairo residents share Muhammad’s anger and revulsion. They are shocked by the crimes committed by Israel during its three-week offensive in the Gaza Strip and furious with the Egyptian government, which—in the midst of the Hamas-Fatah fighting in June 2007—blocked its own border with the enclave and effectively turned the densely-populated region into a prison camp.

The fact that Mubarak refused to open the Rafah border crossing during the latest continuous bombardment by Israel, thereby leaving Palestinians to their fate, has left many Egyptians feeling just as much hatred for their own government as for American and Israeli militarism.

When asked about the role of other Arab governments, Muhammad declares: “The most treacherous, of course, are the regimes that cooperate more or less openly with the US, i.e., Jordan and Saudi Arabia, alongside Egypt. The fact that Venezuela expelled the Israeli ambassador in protest, but not Egypt, is a disgrace.”

The largest demonstration in Egypt took place on 9 January in Alexandria, with over 50,000 protestors taking part. Police anti-riot units, who originally intended to suppress and disperse the demonstration, were forced by the sheer number of those participating to withdraw and allow the rally to proceed.

Women protesting with Palestinian flags in front of the Israeli embassy in CairoWomen protesting with Palestinian flags in front of the Israeli embassy in Cairo

Another large demonstration, with more than 15,000 participants, occurred one week later in Mahalla Al-Kubra. Last April that city experienced some of the most extensive riots in Egypt in 30 years against rising food prices and declining wages. This time demonstrators protested the war crimes in the Gaza Strip, but they also directed slogans against the complicity of Arab governments and particularly the Egyptian regime.

Since the start of the Israeli withdrawal the streets of Cairo have been dominated by large numbers of police and units of heavily armed anti-riot squad units, ready to suppress violently any form of spontaneous protest.

Last Saturday thousands of demonstrators responded to an appeal by the country’s largest, but officially banned opposition party, the Muslim Brotherhood, to participate in an anti-war demonstration in the city’s Ramses Square.

Anti-riot policeman in CairoAnti-riot policeman in Cairo

In the event, the demonstration was blocked by a large force of police. In order to prevent the demonstration the police and city administration went so far as to close down the nearest subway station to Ramses Square (ironically, the station is named after Mubarak) and subway trains bypassed it. Following clashes with demonstrators, the police made many arrests, including a journalist from the independent daily paper, al-Masry al-Youm.

The protests against the war in Gaza revealed the huge gulf between the Arab masses and the despotic and corrupt governments in the region. In Egypt these tensions are so pronounced that every major protest causes the Mubarak regime to fear for its existence. It responds in turn with ever increasing brutality to suppress popular opposition.

Resistance is growing particularly among workers and students, who have organized a series of protest actions beyond the control of the established parties or trade unions.

On 10 January the Egyptian Popular Committee for Solidarity with the Palestinian People organized a solidarity convoy involving hundreds of activists, which headed towards Gaza and demanded the opening of the Rafah border crossing. After passing three checkpoints the convoy was stopped shortly before el-Arish, in the middle of the desert, by heavily armed security forces and forced to turn around.

Another aid convoy was organized by strike leaders in Mahalla Al-Kubra. On 11 January approximately 1,000 textile workers employed at Masr Spinning and Weaving organized a sit-in-strike in front of the local office of the state-run trade union. The workers protested against the arbitrary punishment of co-workers who had taken part in a protest against the privatization of the factory on 30 October last year. The sit-in continues and is directed primarily against the union, which the workers accuse of cooperating with management.

Despite the radicalization of workers and students during the weeks of protests, it is clear that most large demonstrations were organized and dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood. The Islamic fundamentalists are only able to retain the leadership of such protests in a period of rapidly growing poverty because of the absence of a progressive political alternative. The Brotherhood, a bourgeois party with backing from some wealthy businessmen, offers no solution to the unbearable economic conditions in Egypt or to the suppression of the Palestinians.

For its part, the “left” Tagammu—a party consisting of diverse Nasserists, Stalinists and self-proclaimed “progressive” nationalists, founded by Anwar Sadat in 1976 as a union of leftist currents in the old Nasserist Unity Party ASU (Arab Socialist Union)—has shifted far to the right and is unable to offer any sort of alternative to the Muslim Brotherhood and provide the protests with a progressive perspective.

Such a perspective is necessary, however, to resolve the suffering of the Palestinians and the suppression of the Arab masses. The aim must be the building of a political movement that consciously seeks to unite the Palestinian, Jewish and Arab working class in the fight for a socialist federation in the Middle East. This would eliminate the artificial borders with which the imperialist powers divide and control the region. This is the only way to halt the Israeli war machine and provide a lasting solution for the social, economic and political needs of all those in the region.


International Law and Israel’s War on Gaza

January 25, 2009

by Francis A. Boyle

Global Research, January 24, 2009

When the Oslo Document was originally presented by the Israeli government to the Palestinian Delegation to the Middle East Peace Negotiations in the Fall of 1992, it was rejected by the Delegation because it obviously constituted a bantustan. This document carried out Menachem Begin’s disingenuous misinterpretation of the Camp David Accords–expressly rejected by U.S. President Jimmy Carter–that all they called for was autonomy for the people and not for the land too.

Soon thereafter, unbeknownst to the Delegation and to almost everyone else, the Israeli government opened up a secret channel of negotiations in Norway. There the Israeli government re-presented the document that had already been rejected by the Palestinian Delegation in Washington, D.C. It was this document, with very minor modifications, that was later signed at the White House on 13 September 1993.

Before the signing ceremony, I commented to a high-level official of the Palestine Liberation Organization: “This document is like a straight-jacket. It will be very difficult to negotiate your way out of it.” This PLO official agreed with my assessment and responded: “Yes, you are right. It will depend upon our negotiating skill.”

Of course I have great respect for Palestinian negotiators. They have done the best they can negotiating in good faith with the Israeli government that has been invariably backed up by the United States. But there has never been any good faith on the part of the Israeli government either before, during or after Oslo. Ditto for the United States.

Even if Oslo had succeeded, it would have resulted in the imposition of a bantustan upon the Palestinian People. But Oslo has run its course! Therefore, it is my purpose here today to chart a NEW DIRECTION for the Palestinian People to consider.

An agenda for an international legal response:

First, we must immediately move for the de facto suspension of Israel throughout the entirety of the United Nations System, including the General Assembly and all U.N. subsidiary organs and bodies. We must do to Israel what the U.N. General Assembly has done to the genocidal rump Yugoslavia and to the criminal apartheid regime in South Africa! Here the legal basis for the de facto suspension of Israel at the U.N. is quite simple:

As a condition for its admission to the United Nations Organization, Israel formally agreed to accept General Assembly Resolution 181 (II) (1947) (partition/Jerusalem trusteeship) and General Assembly Resolution 194 (III) (1948) (Palestinian right of return), inter alia. Nevertheless, the government of Israel has expressly repudiated both Resolution 181 (II) and Resolution 194 (III). Therefore, Israel has violated its conditions for admission to U.N. membership and thus must be suspended on a de facto basis from any participation throughout the entire United Nations System.

Second, any further negotiations with Israel must be conducted on the basis of Resolution 181 (II) and its borders; Resolution 194 (III); subsequent General Assembly resolutions and Security Council resolutions; the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions of 1949; the 1907 Hague Regulations; and other relevant principles of public international law.

Third, we must abandon the fiction and the fraud that the United States government is an “honest broker.” The United States government has never been an honest broker from well before the very outset of these negotiations in 1991. Rather, the United States has invariably sided with Israel against the Palestinians. We need to establish some type of international framework to sponsor these negotiations where the Palestinian negotiators will not be subjected to the continual bullying, threats, harassment, intimidation and outright lies perpetrated by the United States government.

Fourth, we must move to have the U.N. General Assembly impose economic, diplomatic, and travel sanctions upon Israel pursuant to the terms of the Uniting for Peace Resolution (1950), whose Emergency Special Session on Palestine is now in recess.

Fifth, the Provisional Government of the State of Palestine must sue Israel before the International Court of Justice in The Hague for inflicting acts of genocide against the Palestinian People in violation of the 1948 Genocide Convention!

Sixth, An International Criminal Tribunal for Israel (ICTI) can be established by the UN General Assembly as a “subsidiary organ” under article 22 of the UN Charter. Article 22 of the UN Charter states the UN General Assembly may establish such subsidiary organs as it deems necessary for the performance of its functions. The purpose of the ICTI would be to investigate and Prosecute suspected Israeli war criminals for offences against the Palestinian people.

On January 4, 2009, Nobel Peace Laureate, Mairead Maguire wrote to the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon and Father Miguel D’Escoto President of United Nations General assembly adding her voice to the many calls from International Jurists, Human rights Organizations, and individuals, for the UN General Assembly to seriously consider establishing an International Criminal Tribunal for Israel in view of the ongoing Israeli atrocities against the people of Gaza and Palestine.

Francis A. Boyle is Professor of International Law at the University of Illinois. He was Legal Advisor to the Palestinian Delegation to the Middle East Peace Negotiations (1991-93)

Reasons for War?

January 25, 2009

Livni’s Bombs

By Saul Landau | Counterpunch, January 23 / 25, 2009

On January 18, Israel and Hamas agreed to a weeklong cease-fire. Prime Minister Olmert declared Israel had achieved its objectives. “Hamas was hit hard, in its military arms and in its government institutions. Its leaders are in hiding and many of its men have been killed,” said Olmert.

More than 1,100 [1,300] Palestinians lay dead, more than a third women and children, countless more wounded and Gaza’s physical infrastructure destroyed or badly damaged. 13 Israelis died. Hamas still rules Gaza – from within, but has no control of its borders – and presumably can still smuggle weapons in from Egypt.

The truce is beyond shaky as President Obama takes office with an unqualified “I support Israel” policy and a core of Israeli kiss asses for advisers (Dennis Ross and Martin Indyk as examples).

The world witnessed another stupid and lopsided war in which Israel delivered deadly round of rockets and bombs into civilian neighborhoods in Gaza. As people shook their heads in disgust and bewilderment, NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman explained the two possibilities: “If Israel is trying to eradicate Hamas or trying to educate Hamas, by inflicting a heavy death toll on Hamas militants and heavy pain on the Gaza population. If it is out to destroy Hamas, casualties will be horrific and the aftermath could be Somalia-like chaos. If it is out to educate Hamas, Israel may have achieved its aims.”

A small price to pay — 1,400 dead – to learn an important lesson! Obviously the newly educated but now less numerous Palestinians will shout “Never again” as their slogan opposing Hamas in the next elections in Gaza thus showing that they “understand the consequences of previously voting for Hamas.” (Jan. 14)

Friedman also labeled Bush’s invasion of Iraq “the most noble act of US foreign policy since the Marshall Plan.” (NY Times, Nov. 30, 2003)

In 2006, Friedman praised Israel for successfully teaching a lesson by bombing and killing 1,000 plus Lebanese. “Israel’s counterstrategy was to use its Air Force to pummel Hezbollah and, while not directly targeting the Lebanese civilians with whom Hezbollah was intertwined, to inflict substantial property damage and collateral casualties on Lebanon at large. It was not pretty, but it was logical. Israel basically said that when dealing with a nonstate actor, Hezbollah, nested among civilians, the only long-term source of deterrence was to exact enough pain on the civilians — the families and employers of the militants — to restrain Hezbollah in the future.”

One problem emerged with Friedman’s logic: Hezbollah emerged far stronger from the 2006 Israeli invasion; Israel much weaker.

Luckily, fanatic Arab militants seem to reject Friedman’s pedagogical method. Imagine, if they began to teach Jews around the world a similar lesson about the violent consequences that would result from supporting Israel! Imagine Friedman’s equivalent writing for the Nazi propaganda machine explaining how killing civilians in London, Leningrad or Warsaw would educate those supporting resistance to the folly of their loyalties!

The Friedman clones on op-ed pages and print and TV newsrooms throughout the West allows Israeli propaganda to prevail. But not as much as previously!

In a McClatchy/Ipsos poll of 1000 Americans adults, 44% supported Israel’s use of force, and 44% blamed Hamas for the Israeli invasion. Only 14% thought Israel had started the conflict. 57% thought Hamas was using excessive force, while only 36%, Israel. (LA Daily News, 1/14/09)

The media mostly omitted coherent history of Israel occupying Gaza after the 1967 Six-Day War and its subsequent illegal occupation of the territory; or that the UN has repeatedly demanded in resolutions that Israel withdraw. After Hamas won the 2006 Gaza elections, Israeli authorities stopped delivering tax revenues on imports that the Gaza government needed to pay bills and police.

Israeli blockaded the Gaza border – an act of war under international law. This provoked the rocket firings into Israel, most of them missing human targets. Simultaneously, Israelis fired missiles into Gaza killing and wounding far more people than the inaccurate Palestinian missiles. The Israeli blockade stopped medical supplies as well, leading to more death and disaster.

The US press didn’t print the most outrageous pro Israel statements.

At a rally in New York, reported Max Blumenthal, “a man held a banner reading, ‘Islam Is A Death Cult.’” Some rally-goers “called for Israel to “wipe them [people of Gaza] all out.” (Alternet, Jan 13)

Avigdor Lieberman, leader of Israel Beiteinu, which polls say will soon be Israel’s fourth largest party, demanded in a university speech in Israel that bombing in Gaza continue until Hamas “loses the will to fight.” Lieberman continued: “We must continue to fight Hamas just like the United States did with the Japanese in World War II.” (Jerusalem Post,January 13, 2009)

Instead of reading such statements, the US public got regurgitated reports about Israeli leaders courageously removing troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005. Surprise! On New Year’s Eve CNN asked: who broke the June 2008 ceasefire that led to Israel’s bombardment of Gaza? Mustafa Barghouti got air time. In 2005, this Palestinian physician got almost 20% of the vote for President of the Palestinian National Authority against Mahmoud Abbas. “The world press,” he declared, “is overwhelmed with the Israeli narrative, which is incorrect. The Israeli spokespersons have been spreading lies.”

Barghouti charged that “Israel started attacking Hamas, and never lifted the blockade on Gaza.” CNN’s Rick Sanchez then said he had confirmed Barghouti’s version of the facts. Israel, not Hamas had started the war.

A NY Times columnist (Nicholas Kristoff, January 8), a Wall St. Journal writer (George Bisharat, January 10) and Time (January 8) also questioned Israel’s behavior. (“Why Israel can’t win”)

Until Israel began its Gaza massacre, US and mainstream Israeli media have accepted as axiomatic that Hamas means “terrorists.” Reporters have repeated the line about Hamas using Gaza residents as “human shields” after launching missiles targeting innocent Israelis. Humane and very patient Israel had no choice but to bomb the bejeezus (or the bemohammed) out of the “military installations” — homes, clinics, refugee camps and schools as examples. Israelis naturally feel terrible about the thousands of dead and wounded women and children.

Rashid Khalidi pointed out “as an occupying power, Israel has the responsibility under the Fourth Geneva Convention to see to the welfare of the civilian population of the Gaza Strip.” It has failed miserably to meet this responsibility. (NY Times, January 8)

Pro-Israeli media denigrates cowardly Hamas for seeking shelter among civilians. Imagine, as Uri Avnery suggested, German propaganda during World War II. “The Churchill gang hid among the population of London, misusing the millions of citizens as a human shield. The Germans were compelled to send their Luftwaffe and reluctantly reduce the city to ruins.” Hamas, Uri Avnery wrote, do not “hide behind the population.” Rather, the population views them as their only defenders. (The Progressive, Jan. 11)

In 2006, George Bush pushed free and fair elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council. Hamas won. The residents had become fed up with corrupt and insensitive Fatah, the US backed party of the Palestinian National Authority under President Mahmoud Abbas.

Because Palestinians made “the wrong choice,” Israel shut off fuel and electricity and restricted needed imports and peoples’ movements. The result: high unemployment, extreme poverty and hunger. Israel had used economic means to punish Gaza’s population for its electoral choice. Then, it subjected them to collective military punishment. Israel’s kill and destroy method seems unlikely, however, to convince Palestinians to reject Hamas, just as other people suffering punishment from oppressive military goliaths did not yield to brute force – even those who read Thomas Friedman on pedagogy.

Israel presented its bombing as deterrence, teaching a lesson by killing. Much of the world saw the response as disproportionate and downright barbaric. The US equivalent of suffering in Gaza as of January 16 would have meant 226,000 dead Americans, one third women and children and 1 million plus wounded, a third of them women and children.

Israeli apologists refer to bombing the UN Fakhura school and the Jabaliya refugee camp as inevitable mistakes of a necessary war. Israel must defend its citizens against the Qassam rockets and Hamas fighters had fired mortars from or near the school. Later, Israel showed an aerial photo portraying the school and mortar, but subsequently admitted the photo was a year old.

Although the US public tended to believe Israel’s version, not the retraction, the war has caused confusion. What was this war about? Could it be as banal as gaining seats in the coming elections? That Israeli Defense and Foreign Ministers Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni have shown their voting publics – elections next month – they have bigger cojones than the hawkish Bibi Netanyahu?

Saul Landau received the Bernardo O’Higgins award from the Republic of Chile for his work on human rights. His latest book is A Bush and Botox World (AK/CounterPunch Press).

Jewish Voices of Dissent on Gaza

January 25, 2009

by César Chelala | Middle East Time, January 25, 2009

As the dust is settling on the barren Gazan landscape, it is appropriate to listen to the voices of Jewish intellectuals who have forcefully spoken against the Israeli government actions in Gaza. Their opinion helps bring a much needed perspective on the situation.

Uri Avnery, one of the most outspoken leaders in the Israeli human rights community, a former Israeli soldier and member of the Knesset writes, “In this war, as in any modern war, propaganda plays a major role. The disparity between the forces, between the Israeli army – with its airplanes, gunships, drones, warships, artillery and tanks – and the few thousand lightly-armed Hamas fighters, is one to a thousand, perhaps one to a million. In the political arena the gap between them is even wider. But in the propaganda war, the gap is almost infinite.”

“Almost all the Western media initially repeated the official Israeli propaganda line. They almost entirely ignored the Palestinian side of the story, not to mention the daily demonstrations of the Israeli peace camp. The rationale of the Israeli government (“The state must defend its citizens against the Qassam rockets”) has been accepted as the whole truth. The view from the other side, that the Qassams are retaliation for the siege that starves the 1.5 million inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, was not mentioned at all.”

The Qassam rockets fired at Israeli towns were the excuse for the more than 1,400 people, many of them civilians, killed by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), and for the thousands of maimed.

In a speech in the House of Commons on Jan. 15 MP Gerald Kaufman said, “My parents came to Britain as refugees from Poland. Most of their families were subsequently murdered by the Nazis in the Holocaust. My grandmother was ill in bed when the Nazis came to her home in Staszow. A German soldier shot her dead in her bed.”

“My grandmother did not die to provide cover for Israeli soldiers murdering Palestinian grandmothers in Gaza. The current Israeli government ruthlessly and cynically exploits the continuing guilt among gentiles over the slaughter of Jews in the Holocaust as justification for the murder of Palestinians. The implication is that Jewish lives are precious, but the lives of Palestinians don’t count.”

The IDF claim that maximum care had been taken to minimize civilians lost of lives. Sara Roy, a senior research scholar at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University, wrote recently in the Christian Science Monitor, “One Palestinian friend asked me, ‘Why did Israel attack when the children were leaving school and the women were in the markets’?”

“And what will happen to Jews as a people whether we live in Israel or not? Why have we been unable to accept the fundamental humanity of Palestinians and include them within our moral boundaries? Rather, we reject any human connection with the people we are oppressing. Ultimately, our goal is to tribalize pain, narrowing the scope of human suffering to ourselves alone.”

With the cease-fire now in effect, it is fair to ask what has been the result of this tragic war. Has it made Israel safer, has it destroyed Hamas, has it eliminated the threat of Hamas firing Qassam rockets into Israeli towns and cities? Has it made the population of Gaza more moderate? Let’s listen to Gideon Levy.

Writing in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz Levy states: “On the morrow of the return of the last Israeli soldier from Gaza, we can determine with certainty that they had all gone out there in vain. This war has ended in utter failure for Israel…. We have gained nothing in this war save hundreds of graves, some of them very small, thousands of maimed people, much destruction and the besmirching of Israel’s image…. The conclusion is that Israel is a violent and dangerous country, devoid of all restraints and blatantly ignoring the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, while not giving a hoot to international law.”

Or, as Sara Roy also states, “Israel’s victories are pyrrhic and reveal the limits of Israeli power and our own limitations as a people: our inability to live a life without barriers. Are these the boundaries of our rebirth after the Holocaust? As Jews in a post-Holocaust world empowered by a Jewish state, how do we as people emerge from atrocity and abjection, empowered but also humane? How do we move beyond fear to envision something different, even if uncertain? The answers will determine who we are and what, in the end, we become.”

César Chelala, MD, PhD, is a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award. He is also the foreign correspondent for Middle East Times International (Australia).

Obama airstrikes kill 22 in Pakistan

January 25, 2009

January 25, 2009

Islamabad is the first to get a taste of the president’s ‘tough love’ policy

PAKISTAN received an early warning of what the era of “smart power” under President Barack Obama will look like after two remote-controlled US airstrikes killed 22 people at suspected terrorist hideouts in the border area of Waziristan.

There will be no let-up in the military pressure on terrorist groups, US officials warned, as Obama prepares to launch a surge of 30,000 troops in neighbouring Afghanistan. It is part of a “tough love” policy combining a military crack-down with diplomatic initiatives.

The Pakistani government, which received a visit from General David Petraeus, the chief of US Central Command, on the day of Obama’s inauguration, has been warned that it must step up its efforts against militants if it is to continue to receive substantial military aid from America.

The airstrikes were authorised under a covert programme approved by Obama, according to a senior US official. It was a dramatic signal in the president’s first week of office that there will be no respite in the hunt for Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders.

However, Obama aims to win hearts and minds in the region by tripling the nonmilitary aid budget to Pakistan and encouraging reconciliation and reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan as a component of the surge.

Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state, said during her Senate confirmation hearing: “We will use all the elements in our power – diplomacy, development and defence – to work with those . . . who want to root out Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and other violent extremists.”

Clinton pledged that a mix of active diplomacy and strong defence, which she described as “smart power”, would help to restore US leadership in foreign policy.

The airstrikes are deeply resented in Pakistan, where enthusiasm for Obama is said to be lower than in any other Muslim country.

Shuja Nawaz, a Pakistani who runs the South Asia centre of the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank, said Obama had to do more than lob missiles at Pakistan.

“He can’t just focus on military achievements; he has to win over the people.” Nawaz added that it was important to set conditions in return for aid because “people are more cognisant of the need for accountability – for ‘tough love’ ”.

Increased military cooperation from Pakistan is a vital part of the surge, according to diplomatic sources who fear the efforts in Afghanistan will be wasted if terrorists can operate with relative ease from bases across the border.

Obama is also ramping up the pressure on Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, who is increasingly viewed as an obstacle to progress and faces reelection this year.

“We’re going to need more effective government and a more effective drive against corruption coming from the leadership in Kabul if the Nato effort is to be sustainable,” said a senior British official.

Richard Holbrooke, 67, a veteran diplomat known as “the bulldozer”, was appointed as a special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan last week.

“Nobody can say the war in Afghanistan has gone well,” Holbrooke said when his appointment was announced.

Obama last week delivered the warning that Afghanistan and Pakistan were the “central front” in the war on terror.

“There is no answer in Afghanistan that does not confront the Al-Qaeda and Taliban bases along the border,” he said, “and there will be no lasting peace unless we expand spheres of opportunity for the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

The Pentagon has acknowledged that it needs to define its strategy in the region.

Robert Gates, who has retained his job as defence secretary, said last week: “One of the points where I suspect both administrations come to the same conclusion is that the goals we did have for Afghanistan are too broad and too far into the future.”

Gates said America needed to set more “concrete goals” for Afghanistan that could “be achieved realistically within three to five years”.

He described these goals as reestablishing Afghan government control in the south and east of the country, and delivering better services to its people.

In a sign that there may be turf wars to come between the State Department and the Pentagon, Clinton said she wanted diplomats rather than military officers to hand out aid, set up schools and encourage political reconciliation – a break from the counter-insurgency strategy pursued in Iraq under Petraeus.

Galloway: From London to Gaza

January 25, 2009

Despite official apathy to the suffering in Gaza, Londoners are gathering for a solidarity convoy to deliver aid to Palestine

The government is always looking for some Islamic organisation to proscribe or some Muslim cleric – preferably with a steel claw – to ban. All in the name of community cohesion and preventing violent extremism. But how many Muslims does the government think have been radicalised by the horrific scenes coming out of Gaza and the complacent hypocrisy of the British foreign office?

The appeal for a policy that breaks with slavish support for Israel’s actions operates on a number of different levels. I’ve long since stopped addressing the great lacuna which passes for an ethical sense at King Charles Street. An argument based on naked self-interest stands a better chance. And from that point of view the efforts by various branches of government not only to justify the unjustifiable in Palestine, but to delegitimise protests over it are extremely difficult to fathom.

Take the official policy of systematically undercounting the number of people who take part in protests. Among other things, that tells those who take part in the hope of making a difference that peaceful, democratic protest will not even be registered properly, let alone make a difference to political outcomes. Then there are the extraordinary attempts to clamp down on protest. In Birmingham, for example, the council, the largest local authority in Europe, withdrew permission for a demonstration over Gaza just days before it was due to take place. It went ahead, without incident, thanks to the leadership of my friend Councillor Salma Yaqoob, who marshalled a cross-section of politicians behind it.

In Tower Hamlets young people organised a 100-strong car cavalcade in protest at the massacres in Gaza and advertising a national demonstration in central London. The following day the police were handing out fliers at Brick Lane mosque telling people that such activities were illegal. Of all the problems we face in Tower Hamlets – including illegal activities – not one of them is young men cooperating with one another and using their cars to form peaceful convoys with a socially engaged message. I’m sure the same is true elsewhere in the capital.

If the authorities in London and across Britain thought this through they would welcome this efflorescence of political protests over Gaza. How better to marginalise the violent extremists than by creating the space for radical but democratic political engagement?

And that space is burgeoning, whether the government likes it or not. The upsurge in solidarity and political engagement over Palestine is astonishing – and almost wholly outwith the political mainstream. The kinds of meetings I and others in the anti-war movement have been addressing across Britain are reminiscent of 2002 and the build-up to the Iraq war. This time, however, people want to do much more than march and rally. There is a groundswell of solidarity.

That’s why I’ve taken the initiative to launch a solidarity convoy from Britain to Gaza, through north Africa, headed by firefighting equipment donated by the Fire Brigades Union. The convoy will contain trucks and vans from towns and cities across the country containing medicines and other necessities the Palestinians of Gaza desperately need.

This is not an alternative, of course, to the vast amounts of aid that ought to be airlifted now to Gaza. The purpose of the convoy, however, is not simply to bring aid. It is to provide a focus for solidarity and actions such as those in Birmingham city council, which has taken a big step towards boycotting Israel. I think the time is ripe to push these issues into London councils and the London Assembly. The mayor of London’s silence over Gaza is out of step with the feeling of most Londoners. That gap is going to be keenly felt in the coming months.

The convoy’s route through north Africa is deliberately chosen. It will take it through big Arab centres and into Egypt, which holds the key to the liberation of Gaza and Palestine. The response to the call for the convoy has been overwhelming. Mosques, community groups, trade unions and other organisations are busy organising to get a truck on the road and to fill it with useful things.

In my experience it is tapping something wider than a basic humanitarian response to the suffering in Gaza. I cannot think of anything better to forge the bonds of social solidarity the government says it wants to see. In the 1930s ordinary people across Europe rallied to aid the people of Republican Spain, who faced the bombing of towns and the massacres of civilians by the jackbooted General Franco. The cry was “Aidez L’Espagne!” – today the call should be “Viva Palestina!”

John Hobson: Imperialism (1902)

January 24, 2009

John A. Hobson (1858 ­- 1940), an English economist, wrote one the most famous critiques of the economic bases of imperialism in 1902.

Source: Modern History Sourcebook

Amid the welter of vague political abstractions to lay one’s finger accurately upon any “ism” so as to pin it down and mark it out by definition seems impossible. Where meanings shift so quickly and so subtly, not only following changes of thought, but often manipulated artificially by political practitioners so as to obscure, expand, or distort, it is idle to demand the same rigour as is expected in the exact sciences. A certain broad consistency in its relations to other kindred terms is the nearest approach to definition which such a term as Imperialism admits. Nationalism, internationalism, colonialism, its three closest congeners, are equally elusive, equally shifty, and the changeful overlapping of all four demands the closest vigilance of students of modern politics.

During the nineteenth century the struggle towards nationalism, or establishment of political union on a basis of nationality, was a dominant factor alike in dynastic movements and as an inner motive in the life of masses of population. That struggle, in external politics, sometimes took a disruptive form, as in the case of Greece, Servia, Roumania, and Bulgaria breaking from Ottoman rule, and the detachment of North Italy from her unnatural alliance with the Austrian Empire. In other cases it was a unifying or a centralising force, enlarging the area of nationality, as in the case of Italy and the Pan­Slavist movement in Russia. Sometimes nationality was taken as a basis of federation of States, as in United Germany and in North America.

It is true that the forces making for political union sometimes went further, making for federal union of diverse nationalities, as in the cases of Austria­Hungary, Norway and Sweden, and the Swiss Federation. But the general tendency was towards welding into large strong national unities the loosely related States and provinces with shifting attachments and alliances which covered large areas of Europe since the break­up of the Empire. This was the most definite achievement of the nineteenth century. The force of nationality, operating in this work, is quite as visible in the failures to achieve political freedom as in the successes; and the struggles of Irish, Poles, Finns, Hungarians, and Czechs to resist the forcible subjection to or alliance with stronger neighbours brought out in its full vigour the powerful sentiment of nationality.

The middle of the century was especially distinguished by a series of definitely “nationalist” revivals, some of which found important interpretation in dynastic changes, while others were crushed or collapsed. Holland, Poland, Belgium, Norway, the Balkans, formed a vast arena for these struggles of national forces.

The close of the third quarter of the century saw Europe fairly settled into large national States or federations of States, though in the nature of the case there can be no finality, and Italy continued to look to Trieste, as Germany still looks to Austria, for the fulfilment of her manifest destiny.

This passion and the dynastic forms it helped to mould and animate are largely attributable to the fierce prolonged resistance which peoples, both great and small, were called on to maintain against the imperial designs of Napoleon. The national spirit of England was roused by the tenseness of the struggle to a self­consciousness it had never experienced since “the spacious days of great Elizabeth.” Jena made Prussia into a great nation; the Moscow campaign brought Russia into the field of European nationalities as a factor in politics, opening her for the first time to the full tide of Western ideas and influences.

Turning from this territorial and dynastic nationalism to the spirit of racial, linguistic, and economic solidarity which has been the underlying motive, we find a still more remarkable movement. Local particularism on the one hand, vague cosmopolitanism upon the other, yielded to a ferment of nationalist sentiment, manifesting itself among the weaker peoples not merely in a sturdy and heroic resistance against political absorption or territorial nationalism, but in a passionate revival of decaying customs, language, literature and art; while it bred in more dominant peoples strange ambitions of national “destiny” and an attendant spirit of Chauvinism. . .

No mere array of facts and figures adduced to illustrate the economic nature of the new Imperialism will suffice to dispel the popular delusion that the use of national force to secure new markets by annexing fresh tracts of territory is a sound and a necessary policy for an advanced industrial country like Great Britain….

­ But these arguments are not conclusive. It is open to Imperialists to argue thus: “We must have markets for our growing manufactures, we must have new outlets for the investment of our surplus capital and for the energies of the adventurous surplus of our population: such expansion is a necessity of life to a nation with our great and growing powers of production. An ever larger share of our population is devoted to the manufactures and commerce of towns, and is thus dependent for life and work upon food and raw materials from foreign lands. In order to buy and pay for these things we must sell our goods abroad. During the first three­quarters of the nineteenth century we could do so without difficulty by a natural expansion of commerce with continental nations and our colonies, all of which were far behind us in the main arts of manufacture and the carrying trades. So long as England held a virtual monopoly of the world markets for certain important classes of manufactured goods, Imperialism was unnecessary.

After 1870 this manufacturing and trading supremacy was greatly impaired: other nations, especially Germany, the United States, and Belgium, advanced with great rapidity, and while they have not crushed or even stayed the increase of our external trade, their competition made it more and more difficult to dispose of the full surplus of our manufactures at a profit. The encroachments made by these nations upon our old markets, even in our own possessions, made it most urgent that we should take energetic means to secure new markets. These new markets had to lie in hitherto undeveloped countries, chiefly in the tropics, where vast populations lived capable of growing economic needs which our manufacturers and merchants could supply. Our rivals were seizing and annexing territories for similar purposes, and when they had annexed them closed them to our trade The diplomacy and the arms of Great Britain had to be used in order to compel the owners of the new markets to deal with us: and experience showed that the safest means of securing and developing such markets is by establishing ‘protectorates’ or by annexation….

It was this sudden demand for foreign markets for manufactures and for investments which was avowedly responsible for the adoption of Imperialism as a political policy….They needed Imperialism because they desired to use the public resources of their country to find profitable employment for their capital which otherwise would be superfluous….

Every improvement of methods of production, every concentration of ownership and control, seems to accentuate the tendency. As one nation after another enters the machine economy and adopts advanced industrial methods, it becomes more difficult for its manufacturers, merchants, and financiers to dispose profitably of their economic resources, and they are tempted more and more to use their Governments in order to secure for their particular use some distant undeveloped country by annexation and protection.

The process, we may be told, is inevitable, and so it seems upon a superficial inspection. Everywhere appear excessive powers of production, excessive capital in search of investment. It is admitted by all business men that the growth of the powers of production in their country exceeds the growth in consumption, that more goods can be produced than can be sold at a profit, and that more capital exists than can find remunerative investment.

It is this economic condition of affairs that forms the taproot of Imperialism. If the consuming public in this country raised its standard of consumption to keep pace with every rise of productive powers, there could be no excess of goods or capital clamorous to use Imperialism in order to find markets: foreign trade would indeed exist….

Everywhere the issue of quantitative versus qualitative growth comes up. This is the entire issue of empire. A people limited in number and energy and in the land they occupy have the choice of improving to the utmost the political and economic management of their own land, confining themselves to such accessions of territory as are justified by the most economical disposition of a growing population; or they may proceed, like the slovenly farmer, to spread their power and energy over the whole earth, tempted by the speculative value or the quick profits of some new market, or else by mere greed of territorial acquisition, and ignoring the political and economic wastes and risks involved by this imperial career. It must be clearly understood that this is essentially a choice of alternatives; a full simultaneous application of intensive and extensive cultivation is impossible. A nation may either, following the example of Denmark or Switzerland, put brains into agriculture, develop a finely varied system of public education, general and technical, apply the ripest science to its special manufacturing industries, and so support in progressive comfort and character a considerable population upon a strictly limited area; or it may, like Great r Britain, neglect its agriculture, allowing its lands to go out of cultivation and its population to grow up in towns, fall behind other nations in its methods of education and in the capacity of adapting to its uses the latest scientific knowledge, in order that it may squander its pecuniary and military resources in forcing bad markets and finding speculative fields of investment in distant corners of the earth, adding millions of square miles and of unassimilable population to the area of the Empire.

The driving forces of class interest which stimulate and support this false economy we have explained. No remedy will serve which permits the future operation of these forces. It is idle to attack Imperialism or Militarism as political expedients or policies unless the axe is laid at the economic root of the tree, and the classes for whose interest Imperialism works are shorn of the surplus revenues which seek this outlet.

From John A. Hobson, Imperialism (London: Allen and Unwin, 1948), pp.3­5, 71, ­72, 77, ­78, 80,  ­81, 92,­ 93.

President Obama ‘orders Pakistan drone attacks’

January 24, 2009
January 23, 2009

US Air Force unmanned predator aerial vehicle with a hellfire missile attached

(US Air Force/EPA)

A Predator drone

Missiles fired from suspected US drones killed at least 15 people inside Pakistan today, the first such strikes since Barack Obama became president and a clear sign that the controversial military policy begun by George W Bush has not changed.

Security officials said the strikes, which saw up to five missiles slam into houses in separate villages, killed seven “foreigners” – a term that usually means al-Qaeda – but locals also said that three children lost their lives.

Dozens of similar strikes since August on northwest Pakistan, a hotbed of Taleban and al-Qaeda militancy, have sparked angry government criticism of the US, which is targeting the area with missiles launched from unmanned CIA aircraft controlled from operation rooms inside the US.

The operations were stepped up last year after frustration inside the Bush administration over a perceived failure by Islamabad to stem the flow of Taleban and al-Qaeda fighters from the tribal regions into Afghanistan. Mr Obama has made Afghanistan his top foreign policy priority and said during his presidential campaign that he would consider military action inside Pakistan if the government there was unable or unwilling to take on the militants.

The strikes come just a day after Mr Obama appointed Richard Holbrooke, a former UN ambassador, as a special envoy for the region.

Eight people died when missiles hit a compound near Mir Ali, an al-Qaeda hub in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region. Seven more died when hours later two missiles hit a house in Wana, in South Waziristan. Local officials said the target in Wana was a guest house owned by a pro-Taleban tribesman. One said that as well as three children, the tribesman’s relatives were killed in the blast.

Pakistan has objected to such attacks, saying they are a violation of its territory that undermines its efforts to tackle militants. Since September, the US is estimated to have carried out about 30 such attacks, killing more than 220 people.

Calling a Time Out

January 24, 2009

As you settle into the Oval Office, Mr. President, may I offer a suggestion? Please do not try to put Afghanistan aright with the U.S. military. To send our troops out of Iraq and into Afghanistan would be a near-perfect example of going from the frying pan into the fire. There is reason to believe some of our top military commanders privately share this view. And so does a broad and growing swath of your party and your supporters.

True, the United States is the world’s greatest power — but so was the British Empire a century ago when it tried to pacify the warlords and tribes of Afghanistan, only to be forced out after excruciating losses. For that matter, the Soviet Union was also a superpower when it poured some 100,000 troops into Afghanistan in 1979. They limped home, broken and defeated, a decade later, having helped pave the way for the collapse of the Soviet Union.

It is logical to conclude that our massive military dominance and supposedly good motives should let us work our will in Afghanistan. But logic does not always prevail in South Asia. With belligerent Afghan warlords sitting atop each mountain glowering at one another, the one factor that could unite them is the invasion of their country by a foreign power, whether British, Russian or American.

I have believed for some time that military power is no solution to terrorism. The hatred of U.S. policies in the Middle East — our occupation of Iraq, our backing for repressive regimes such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, our support of Israel — that drives the terrorist impulse against us would better be resolved by ending our military presence throughout the arc of conflict. This means a prudent, carefully directed withdrawal of our troops from Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and elsewhere. We also need to close down the imposing U.S. military bases in this section of the globe, which do so little to expand our security and so much to stoke local resentment.

We cannot evade this reckoning. The British thought they could extend their control over Iraq even while pulling out their ground forces by creating a string of bases in remote parts of the country, away from the observation of most Iraqis. It didn’t work. No people that desires independence and self-determination wishes to have another nation’s military bases in its country. In 1776, remember, 13 little colonies drove the mighty British Empire from American soil.

In 2003, the Bush administration ordered an invasion of Iraq, supposedly to reduce terrorism. But six years later, there is more terrorism and civil strife in Iraq, not less. The same outcome may occur in Afghanistan if we make it the next American military conflict.

Mr. President, the bright promise of your brilliant campaign for the White House and the high hopes of the millions who thronged the Mall on Tuesday to watch you be sworn in could easily be lost in the mountains and wastelands of Afghanistan.

The Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz has estimated that the war in Iraq will have a total cost of more than $3 trillion. That war has clearly weakened our economy and our armed forces even as it has made the national debt soar. The Bush administration committed itself to Iraq before the recession. Today, with our economy teetering, does the Obama administration believe that it is time for yet another costly war in yet another Muslim country?

I’m aware that some of my fellow Americans regard me as too idealistic. But sometimes idealism is the best realism. And at a minimum, realism and idealism need not be contradictory. The invasion and occupation of Iraq has not only angered Iraqis who have lost family members, neighbors or homes; it has also increased the level of anger throughout the Muslim world and thrown up obstacles to our political leadership in that deeply important part of the planet.

Like you, Mr. President, I don’t oppose all wars. I risked my life in World War II to protect our country against genuine danger. But it is the vivid memory of my fellow airmen being shot out of the sky on all sides of me in a war that I believe we had to fight that makes me cautious about sending our youth into needless conflicts that weaken us at home and abroad, and may even weaken us in the eyes of God.

As you have noted, Mr. President, we take pride in our soldiers who conduct themselves bravely. But as you have also said, some of these soldiers have served two, three and even four tours in dangerous combat. Many of them have come home with enduring brain and nerve damage and without arms and legs. These troops need rest, rehabilitation and reunions with their families.

So let me suggest a truly audacious hope for your administration: How about a five-year time-out on war — unless, of course, there is a genuine threat to the nation?

During that interval, we could work with the U.N. World Food Program, plus the overseas arms of the churches, synagogues, mosques and other volunteer agencies to provide a nutritious lunch every day for every school-age child in Afghanistan and other poor countries. Such a program is now underway in several countries approved by Congress and the United Nations, under the auspices of the George McGovern-Robert Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Act. (Forgive the self-serving title.) Although the measure remains painfully underfunded, with the help of other countries, we are reaching millions of children. We could supplement these efforts with nutritional packages for low-income pregnant and nursing mothers and their infants from birth through the age of 5, as is done here at home by WIC, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.

Is this proposal pie-in-the-sky? I don’t think so. It’s food in the stomachs of hungry kids. It would draw them to school and enable them to learn and grow into better citizens. It would cost a small fraction of warfare’s cost, but it might well be a stronger antidote to terrorism. There will always be time for another war. But hunger can’t wait.

George McGovern, a former senator from South Dakota, was the Democratic nominee for president in 1972.

End the occupation of Iraq

January 24, 2009

By Medea Benjamin | USA Today, Jan 23, 2009

Under the disastrous Bush years, the U.S. military invaded a country that posed no threat to the United States, destroyed its infrastructure and plunged it into chaos. This led to the death and displacement of millions of Iraqis, squandered the lives of more than 4,000 U.S. troops and robbed our Treasury of billions of much-needed dollars.

Now that President Obama inherits George W. Bush’s legacy, he must make it perfectly clear to the Iraqis, the Americans and the world that he intends to keep his campaign promise to oversee a complete, orderly withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq no later than May 2010. Why?

The Iraqis want us out, as evidenced by poll after poll and the recent debate in the Iraqi parliament over the Status of Forces Agreement. The Iraqi people will vote on this agreement in July and will only pass it if the Iraqis are convinced that U.S. troops will soon be gone.

The American people want our troops out. The best reflection of this is that they elected Barack Obama to lead us out of Iraq. Obama needs to find solutions to the meltdown of the U.S. economy, not continue to waste billions of tax dollars occupying Iraq.

The presence of U.S. troops ensures ongoing violence by attracting armed opposition and postpones the day of reckoning among Iraqi factions. Sticking to a timeline will force the Iraqi government and the different ethnic and religious groups to negotiate power-sharing agreements.

Iraqi neighbors and the international community will feel obligated to engage in diplomatic and reconstruction efforts only if they understand the U.S. is serious about leaving. Chaos in Iraq is not in the interest of any nation, especially Iraq’s neighbors. Obama must immediately bring them into the transition process.

Obama’s administration needs to dramatically shift the image of the United States in the Muslim world. The unjustified U.S. invasion of an Arab nation has been a powerful tool in the recruitment of violent anti-American groups. This can and must be turned around, and leaving Iraq will help.

Obama must quickly show a radical change in policy by ending the U.S. occupation of Iraq (including military contractors), resettling the enormous refugee population it helped create, committing to diplomacy and rebuilding this war-torn nation.

Medea Benjamin is co-founder of CODEPINK: Women for Peace and Global Exchange.

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