Archive for August, 2009

The Afghanistan Gap: Press vs. Public

August 28, 2009
by Norman Solomon |, Aug 28, 2009

This month, a lot of media stories have compared President Johnson’s war in Vietnam and President Obama’s war in Afghanistan. The comparisons are often valid, but a key parallel rarely gets mentioned — the media’s insistent support for the war even after most of the public has turned against it.

This omission relies on the mythology that the U.S. news media functioned as tough critics of the Vietnam War in real time, a fairy tale so widespread that it routinely masquerades as truth. In fact, overall, the default position of the corporate media is to bond with war policymakers in Washington — insisting for the longest time that the war must go on.

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American public: We don’t want to rule the world

August 28, 2009

The US public largely opposes America’s foreign wars and economic meddling. They need a voice in US foreign policy

Mark Weisbrot | The Guradian/UK, Aug 27, 2009

Americans are famous for not paying much attention to the rest of the world, and it is often said that foreign wars are the way that we learn geography. But most often it is not the people who have little direct experience outside their own country that are the problem, but rather the experts.

The latest polling data is making this clear once again, as a majority of Americans now oppose the war in Afghanistan, but the Obama administration is escalating the war, and his military commanders may ask for even more troops than the increase to 68,000 that the adminstration is planning by the end of this year.

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Sri Lankan troops shot Tamil prisoners of war

August 28, 2009
Morning Star Online, Thursday 27 August 2009
by Paddy McGuffin

Graphic footage which appears to show Sri Lankan forces summarily executing Tamil prisoners during or after the recent bloody conflict has been handed to the British media.

The footage, captured on a mobile phone, was supplied to the media on Wednesday by Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka.

It shows uniformed troops dragging naked and bound prisoners into a clearing and shooting them in the back of the head.

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Netanyahu’s peace is a cynical evasion

August 28, 2009


Financial Times/UK, August 25, 2009

When Barack Obama told Israel that “part of being a good friend is being honest”, the country’s political elites got an inkling that decades of double-talk on the conflict with the Palestinians were over. In his June 4 speech at Cairo University he spelled it out: “Just as Israel’s right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine’s.”

The US president could have been addressing Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, who refuses to rein in colonisation of Palestinian land or push a two-state solution to the conflict. Yet, however much Mr Obama tries to change the conversation, in and on the Middle East, Mr Netanyahu keeps trying to change the subject.

Mr Obama has chosen as his battleground the Jewish settlements on occupied Arab land, all of them illegal under international law. “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements,” the president said. Washington has called for a total freeze, including on the so-called “natural growth” that has enabled the settlements to expand exponentially. Mr Netanyahu, in London and due to see George Mitchell, the president’s special representative, wants to talk economics. This is a cynical evasion.

It is important to remember that Mr Netanyahu has always argued that the Palestinians cannot expect a nation, only some sort of supra-municipal government. His utterance of the word “state” in the June 14 policy speech he made in reply to Mr Obama does not change this in any substantive way. Beyond the Jewish religious claim to the Israel of the Bible, Eretz Israel, Netanyahu believes Israeli security requires a buffer of occupied land – including most of the West Bank – to insulate it from its Arab neighbours. The whole Arab-Israeli equation is, for him, a zero sum game. That rules out land-for-peace: the United Nations Security Council-mandated approach ever since the 1967 Six Day War.

During his 1996-99 premiership, instead of land-for-peace he offered peace-for-peace; now he obfuscates about an “economic peace”.

Economics, and the prospect of a job, are of course, powerful agents of change. The remarkable success of Israel in nation-building and economic development rightly stands as a daily accusation against its Arab neighbours, weakened and stunted by introspective autocracies. Yet Mr Netanyahu’s pitch, that Israel can help the Arabs embrace globalisation and turn the region into one happy family, has a bit of recent history to explain.

While it is true that Arab leaders use the stalemate of “no war, no peace” to justify their monopolies on power and resources, it is also true they (and their citizens) feel swindled by the experience of Oslo.

In 1992-96, at the height of the peace process, Israel alone reaped a peace dividend, without having to conclude a peace. Diplomatic recognition of Israel doubled, from 85 to 161 countries, leading to doubled exports and a sixfold increase in foreign investment. During the same period, per capita income in the occupied territories fell by 37 per cent while the number of settlers increased by 50 per cent. Economic development deals in facts; Mr Netanyahu deals in cosmetics.

With an economic peace, he argues, barriers to growth would be removed and the Palestinian economy would be refloated. But Israel can and should remove most of those barriers anyway. According to the UN, last month there were 614 checkpoints inside the West Bank – an area the size of Lincolnshire or Delaware – compared with 613 in June. The recent removal of, say, the choke-points into Nablus, has led to a pick-up in business. But what this shows is how Israel’s carve-up of the West Bank is stifling all activity.

Mr Netanyahu’s emotive insistence on “natural” settlement growth is equally bogus. With vast subsidies, these colonies are growing at more than three times the rate of population in Israel proper. The municipal boundaries of the settlements extend far beyond the built-up areas. Combined with the security wall built on West Bank land, the settler-only roads and the military zones, the Palestinians are penned into shrinking and discontiguous Bantustans.

Any economy needs, among other things, territory and freedom of movement. The prostrate Palestinian economy is no different. Mr Netanyahu knows it, and the Obama administration has made clear to him it knows he knows it.

In his last administration, Mr Netanyahu turned the drive for peace into pure process: piling up unresolved disputes to be parked in “final status” negotiations he never intended to begin. Under US pressure he has changed tactics – but the aim is exactly the same.

Right-wing mad militarist and his mindless murdering drones

August 27, 2009
By Laura Flanders
Online Journal Guest Writer

Online Journal
, Aug 27, 2009,
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A US drone firing missiles into a village in northern Pakistan killed at least 19 people over the weekend. The targets were militants, said the US military. The victims included six dead children, said a local tribal elder.

“Suspected US Drone Kills Suspected Taliban Commander.” That’s becoming the stuff of very suspect news stories. The reporting is so weak there’s almost nothing confirmed except that the killer operator is far away in front of a computer screen.

Suspected killing of suspected people covered by unsuspicious media? It would be sci-fi if it weren’t so here-now, and it’s only going to get more so.

The Democratic administration just made a big deal of cutting the cumbersome F-22 fighter jet. “We don’t need it anymore,” said the president. What he didn’t say is that the defense department is seeking $3.5 billion for unmanned aerial vehicles, a.k.a., “drones.” Funding is expected to increase to $55 billion by 2020. The air force is currently training more drone operators than fighter and bomber pilots.

Drones have been around since the US-led NATO war on the former Yugoslavia. Since ’06, drones have launched hundred of missiles along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border killing as many as 700 civilians, according to Pakistani officials.

Forbes magazine’s “king of the armed drone makers” is a little known company called General Atomics, whose founder, James Neal Blue, came up with the drone as a way of defeating Soviet-backed Sandinistas by blowing up oil pipelines in Nicaragua. He’s a fervent anti-communist and quite possibly the next Erik Prince — only his mercenaries aren’t Blackwater’s flesh and blood killers, but conveniently bloodless machines.

General Atomics is small by defense industry standards, but it has a lot of friends in Washington. Between 2000 and 2005, GA was the top corporate sponsor of privately funded congressional travel. So perhaps it’s no surprise, there’s little resistance to more drones in the US arsenal.

Drones are not cheap — between $10 million and $12 million apiece per GA “Reaper.” Their success rate is widely disputed. They kill civilians and even General David Petraeus admits, they make people hate us. But cynical political calculus is on General Atomics’ side.

President Obama has a problem. Every American military commander wants more troops, but resistance among foot soldiers is growing and maybe, someday — someday — the president’s antiwar base will make itself heard.

How to heed the commanders and quiet the critics simultaneously? Welcome to the super drone bonanza. The pilotless drone is the military’s version of cash for very clunky policy.

The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders, the host of GRITtv which broadcasts weekdays on satellite TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415 Free Speech TV) on cable, and online at and Follow GRITtv or GritLaura on

Afghanistan’s election debacle

August 27, 2009

Lee Sustar reports on the fraud and violence that swept Afghanistan during the August 20 presidential elections.

Socialist Worker, August 26, 2009

NATO soldiers on the scene of a bomb attack before elections in Afghanistan (Shah Marai | AFP)NATO soldiers on the scene of a bomb attack before elections in Afghanistan (Shah Marai | AFP)

AN ELECTION intended to showcase Afghanistan’s “emerging democracy” has instead exposed astonishing corruption, fraud and violence on the part of the U.S.-backed government.

Incumbent President Hamid Karzai and challenger Abdullah Abdullah are each claming victory amid allegations of vote-rigging and fraud on both sides, with Abdullah’s supporters even hinting that his forces will take up arms if the election is stolen by Karzai.

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Cleric calls Iran leaders despotic

August 27, 2009
Al Jazeera, Aug 27, 2009

Montazeri has criticised the ruling system under Ayatollah Khamenei, pictured, as ‘despotic’ [AFP]

A senior Iranian religious cleric has sharply criticised the country’s supreme leader, saying the country is being ruled by a dictatorship following the disputed June presidential election.

Grand Ayatollah Hossein Montazeri said on Wednesday that the ruling system under Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has misused Islam in its crackdown against opposition supporters.

He said Iranian authorities also showed their true nature with the violent suppression of hundreds of thousands of demonstrators who filled the streets of the capital, Tehran, to protest against the results of the June 12 vote.

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Raina: The Democracy Flu

August 26, 2009

Breaches in the Bastions

By Badri Raina, ZNet, Aug 26, 2009

Badri Raina’s ZSpace Page

Things fall apart,
The centre cannot hold;

Delicious democracy is loosed upon India.

(With apologies to W.B. Yeats for the distorted third line.)


Ah, how often in human history have bastions of one kind or another sought to thwart the march of the rational, always without success.

And what more rational than democracy.

Recall that after the leveling tendencies of the Reform Bill of 1832, and the ominous mass assertions that accompanied that zeitgeist, some famous Oxford dons got together to demand that English Christianity return to its Roman roots.

Ostensibly directed against liberalizing movements in theology, Newmanism and Puseyism were at bottom terrified responses to those mass democratic assertions for full realizations of the principle of equality.

The mutely stated assumption was that the Protestant Reformation had broken the embankments of the infallibly centralized authority of the Pontiff, and thereby let loose the demons of anarchy. Thus their call (1833-1845) to reintroduce medieval liturgies into Church doctrine, and to return to Rome. Which Newman did in 1845.

History, nonetheless, carried on, consigning the Tractarians and their many Tracts to a residual past that could have no future.

Same with the Arnoldian prescription that only the classical “best” ( “Culture,” he called it) could salvage the depredations wrought by undeserving little men seeking parity with the elect. Thankfully, over the last century and a half, Culture has been inundated by cultures, and men and women everywhere in the world express themselves severally, freed from the diktats of self-appointed elites.

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Why Israel will thwart Obama on settlements

August 26, 2009

For the Jewish state, the settlements are eminently sensible and their growth is almost certain to continue, either openly or stealthily.

By Walter Rodgers | The Christian Science Monitor

from the August 25, 2009 edition

The idea that the Obama administration can advance the Middle East peace process by having Israel freeze its construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank stretches credulity.

Does any serious observer of the region believe that Israel’s appetite for land – owned and occupied for generations by Palestinians – is going to abate?

The Israeli land grab has continued for four decades, in defiance of international law and most US presidents. US Middle East envoy George Mitchell has been trying to secure a halt, but his efforts follow a well-worn path that typically ends in charade.

Just weeks ago, the Israeli government evicted two extended Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem, clearing the way for more houses for Jews in traditionally Palestinian neighborhoods.

Israeli settlements have become a kind of concrete kudzu to Palestinians. The Fatah party recently renewed its commitment to resisting them, holding that “the Palestinians have the right to resist the Israeli occupation by all possible means.”

But for the Jewish state, the settlements are eminently sensible and their growth is almost certain to continue, either openly or stealthily. As Interior Minister Eli Yishai put it Aug. 10, expanding settlements near Jerusalem is vital for “security, national interests, and is just and necessary.”

Every new Jewish apartment complex enlarges and deepens the Jewish footprint on occupied land. The California-style townhouses atop the hills of ancient Samaria and Judea are seen as security buffers for an Israeli island in a hostile Islamic sea. Israel’s feeling of vulnerability is intensified by the growing Arab population already within its borders.

The settlements have become affordable suburbs for Israelis otherwise priced out of the metropolitan markets. More than 300,000 Jewish settlers now call the West Bank home.

Further, religious and ultrareligious Jewish settlers insist they have divinely bestowed title to the land. Few passages in the Bible are more frightening to Arabs than Deuteronomy 11:24:

“Every place whereon the soles of your feet shall tread shall be yours: from the wilderness and Lebanon, from the river, the river Euphrates, even unto the uttermost sea shall your coast be.”

Palestinian Arabs are too weak to legally or militarily challenge the Jewish state’s internal expansion. An Israeli court recently ruled that Israel can now confiscate land belonging to Palestinians who once resided in an area but are now refugees pending final settlement.

Having lived in Jerusalem for five years during the salad days of the peace process in the 1990s, I watched settlement builders nibble away at what were once Palestinian homes, villages, and pastures.

From Jerusalem southward, the construction of the Har Homa settlement crabs outward to the doorsteps of Palestinian Bethlehem. From the air, these settlements appear a terrestrial octopus, extending out to ultimately link up with the more militant Jewish settlements farther south in Hebron, another city with a large Palestinian majority.

Settlement building resembles military flanking and encirclement maneuvers, isolating Palestinian population centers. In Jerusalem, there are at least half a dozen Arab neighborhoods, including the Mount of Olives, threatened by Israel’s voracious hunger for land. Quoted in the newspaper Haaretz, Sarah Kreimer of Ir Amim, a group specializing in Israeli-Palestinian relations, says, “In each of these places, plans are being advanced for construction whose ultimate purpose is to disconnect the Old City from Palestinian Jerusalem.”

Israelis have brilliantly created a sense of inevitability to all this. Yet, the moral difficulties of moving indigenous peoples off the land by subterfuge or force are obvious. When in the past I’ve raised the ethical implications of these land appropriations, Israelis have dismissed me, saying, “Hey, you Americans did it to the Indians.”

American presidents have often quietly nudged Israel to freeze the settlements, but their actual leverage has been minimal. Israelis have elected both doves and hawks as prime minister, but virtually all Israeli governments supported settlement expansion in varying degrees.

Jewish political clout in America ought not be underestimated. A former chairman of the American Israel Political Action Committee once boasted to me, “We got [Sen.] Chuck Percy [an Illinois Republican who was narrowly defeated in 1984] when he crossed us on the Palestinians.” President Obama will face a similar threat at election time if he defies Israel’s expansionist instincts.

US presidents have so frequently pledged unshakable support for Israel that it’s created the illusion that US and Israeli interests are identical. It might be useful for Mr. Obama and his Middle East team to publicly point to serious differences with Israel when they arise. If the US can have public disagreements with its allies, including Britain, why should Israel be exempted from what could be a healthy debate?

Jewish settlement construction may temporarily downshift into neutral. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton may hail “a building freeze.” But if the past is prologue, the first time Obama is distracted by another domestic or international crisis, and Washington isn’t looking, the Israeli bulldozers will be back at work.

Walter Rodgers served as the CNN bureau chief in Jerusalem for 5-1/2 years. He writes a biweekly column for the Monitor’s weekly edition.

Feingold to Obama: Announce Withdrawal Timetable from Afghanistan

August 26, 2009

ABC News, August 24, 2009

Chalian ABC News’ David Chalian Reports:

The Obama administration has been keenly aware of discontent among many in its liberal base with regard to its Afghanistan policy and an expected request for additional troops following General McChrystal’s upcoming assessment of the situation there.

That liberal base just got a high-profile voice to lead its charge.

Sen. Russ Feingold, D-WI, called on President Obama to announce a timetable for withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan.  “This is a strategy that is not likely to succeed,” Sen. Feingold said about the troop buildup in Afghanistan.

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