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Entries tagged "Iraq"Page 1 • 2 Next
February 15, 2013 · By Phyllis Bennis
Ten years ago people around the world rose up. In almost 800 cities across the globe, protesters filled the streets of capital cities and tiny villages, following the sun from Australia and New Zealand and the small Pacific islands, through the snowy steppes of North Asia and down across the South Asian peninsula, across Europe and down to the southern edge of Africa, then jumping the pond first to Latin America and then finally, last of all, to the United States.
And across the globe, the call came in scores of languages, “the world says no to war!” The cry “Not in Our Name” echoed from millions of voices. The Guinness Book of World Records said between 12 and 14 million people came out that day, the largest protest in the history of the world. It was, as the great British labor and peace activist and former MP Tony Benn described it to the million Londoners in the streets that day, “the first global demonstration, and its first cause is to prevent a war against Iraq.” What a concept — a global protest against a war that had not yet begun — the goal, to try to stop it.
It was an amazing moment — powerful enough that governments around the world, including the soon-famous “Uncommitted Six” in the Security Council, did the unthinkable: they too resisted pressure from the United States and the United Kingdom and said no to endorsing Bush’s war. Under ordinary circumstances, alone, U.S.-dependent and relatively weak countries like Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Guinea, Mexico and Pakistan could never have stood up to Washington. But these were not ordinary circumstances. The combination of diplomatic support from “Old Europe,” Germany and France who for their own reasons opposed the war, and popular pressure from thousands, millions, filling the streets of their capitals, allowed the Six to stand firm. The pressure was fierce. Chile was threatened with a U.S. refusal to ratify a U.S. free trade agreement seven years in the making. (The trade agreement was quite terrible, but the Chilean government was committed to it.) Guinea and Cameroon were threatened with loss of U.S. aid granted under the African Growth & Opportunity Act. Mexico faced the potential end of negotiations over immigration and the border. And yet they stood firm.
The day before the protests, February 14, the Security Council was called into session once again, this time at the foreign minister level, to hear the ostensibly final reports of the two UN weapons inspectors for Iraq. Many had anticipated that their reports would somehow wiggle around the truth, that they would say something Bush and Blair would grab to try to legitimize their spurious claims of Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction, that they would at least appear ambivalent enough for the U.S. to use their reports to justify war. But they refused to bend the truth, stating unequivocally that no such weapons had been found.
Following their reports, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin responded with an extraordinary call, reminding the world that “the United Nations must remain an instrument of peace, and not a tool for war.” In that usually staid, formal, rule-bound chamber, his call was answered with a roaring ovation beginning with Council staff and quickly engulfing the diplomats and foreign ministers themselves.
Security Council rejection was strong enough — enough governments said no — that the United Nations was able to do what its Charter requires, but what political pressure too often makes impossible: to stand against the scourge of war. On the morning of February 15, just hours before the massive rally began at the foot of the United Nations, the great actor-activist Harry Belafonte and I accompanied South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu to meet with then-Secretary-General Kofi Annan on behalf of the protesters. We were met by a police escort to cross what the New York Police Department had designated its “frozen zone” — not in reference to the bitter 18 degrees or the biting wind whipping in from the East River, but the forcibly deserted streets directly in front of UN headquarters. In the secretary-general’s office on the 38th floor of the United Nations, Bishop Tutu opened the meeting, looking at Kofi across the table and said, “We are here today on behalf of those people marching in 665 cities all around the world. And we are here to tell you, that those people marching in all those cities around the world, we claim the United Nations as our own. We claim it in the name of our global mobilization for peace.”
It was an incredible moment. And while we weren't able to prevent that war, that global mobilization, that pulled governments and the United Nations into a trajectory of resistance shaped and led by global movements, created what the New York Times the next day called "the second super-power.”
Mid-way through the marathon New York rally, a brief Associated Press story came over the wires: “Rattled by an outpouring of international anti-war sentiment, the United States and Britain began reworking a draft resolution….Diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the final product may be a softer text that does not explicitly call for war.” Faced with a global challenge to their desperate struggle for UN and global legitimacy, Bush and Blair threw in the towel.
Our movement changed history. While we did not prevent the Iraq war, the protests proved its clear illegality, demonstrated the isolation of the Bush administration policies, helped prevent war in Iran, and inspired a generation of activists. February 15 set the terms for what “global mobilizations” could accomplish. Eight years later some of the Cairo activists, embarrassed at the relatively small size of their protest on February 15, 2003, would go on to help lead Egypt's Arab Spring. Occupy protesters would reference February 15 and its international context. Spain’s indignados and others protesting austerity and inequality could see February 15 as a model of moving from national to global protest.
In New York City on that singular afternoon, some of the speakers had particular resonance for those shivering in the monumental crowd. Harry Belafonte, veteran of so many of the progressive struggles of the last three-quarters of a century, called out to the rising U.S. movement against war and empire, reminding us that our movement could change the world, and that the world was counting on us to do so. “The world has sat with tremendous anxiety, in great fear that we did not exist,” he said. “But America is a vast and diverse country, and we are part of the greater truth that makes our nation. We stand for peace, for the truth of what is at the heart of the American people. We WILL make a difference – that is the message that we send out to the world today.”
Belafonte was followed by his close friend and fellow activist-actor Danny Glover, who spoke of earlier heroes, of Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman, and of the great Paul Robeson on whose shoulders we still stand. And then he shouted “We stand here today because our right to dissent, and our right to participate in a real democracy has been hijacked by those who call for war. We stand here at this threshold of history, and we say to the world, ‘Not in Our Name’! ‘Not in Our Name!’” The huge crowd, shivering in the icy wind, took up the cry, and “Not in our Name! Not in Our Name!” echoed through the New York streets.
Our obligation as the second super-power remains in place. Now what we need is a strategy to engage with power, to challenge once again the reconfigured but remaining first super-power. That commitment remains.
Phyllis Bennis’ book, Challenging Empire: How People, Governments and the UN Defy U.S. Power, with Foreword by Danny Glover, is on the legacy of the February 15 protests. She was on the steering committee of the United for Peace & Justice coalition helping to build February 15, 2003.
February 17, 2012 · By Adil E. Shamoo
Two recent reports appearing on the same day last week in The New York Times and The Washington Post illustrate U.S. intentions in Iraq. What they reveal is that despite the heralded "end" of U.S. participation in the war there, U.S. policy continues to depend on our security apparatus to influence Iraq, at the expense of Iraqis' sovereignty and dignity.
The Times report informed us that the U.S. State Department decided to cut the U.S. embassy staff by 50 percent from its current 16,000 personnel. This is a good decision; the U.S. embassy in Baghdad is the largest in the world. The reason given for the decision is primarily to reduce the American footprint in Iraq with the hope of reducing Iraqi hostility toward these evident remnants of occupation.
The second report, in the Post, informs us that the U.S. is significantly ramping up the number of CIA personnel and covert Special Operations forces in order to make up for reducing the American military and diplomatic footprint. These added covert personnel will be distributed in safe houses in urban centers all across the country. This represents a new way to exert U.S. power, but it is betting on the Iraqis not noticing the increased covert personnel. Really? This is a bad decision as it contradicts the reasons for the decision to reduce embassy staff.
The Iraqis have suffered for nine years as a result of the U.S. invasion and occupation. The economic, educational and political systems in Iraq have been destroyed. Sectarianism, contrary to the belief of many in the U.S., has become the order of the day since the invasion. A significant percentage of Iraqis do not like us and do not want us to stay in Iraq. No Iraqi politicians want to openly be identified as pro-American.
Animosity toward the U.S. is on the rise because of the heavy U.S. presence in Iraq. Our projects in Iraq function to serve our interests, such as building and training security forces to keep the Iraqis in check (building the infrastructure for the promotion of democracy has taken a back seat). We have made sure that Iraq, for the foreseeable future, will depend on us for security equipment and spare parts, heavy industrial machinery, and banking. We built Iraq's security forces but made sure it has no air force. And the half-hearted democracy we built is a shambles; graft and corruption are still rampant.
Iraqis can tell the difference between mutually beneficial programs and those that create the impression that the U.S. is powerful and can do what it wants in Iraq.
Four years ago, on this page, I speculated that the massive U.S. embassy being built in Baghdad would be pillaged by angry Iraqis blaming the U.S. for destroying their country. In a follow-up article, I suggested that as a goodwill gesture, the embassy be converted into a university staffed primarily by volunteers from the Iraqi expatriates community in the U.S. The conversion of the embassy into a university surely would not cost a large portion of the embassy's current $6 billion budget. Such an institution, filling much of the compound's soon-to-be-vacated space, would serve the U.S. interest much better than boots on the ground (or in safe houses) and turn a new page in our relationship with the Iraqi people.
U.S. policy in Iraq is in need of a wholesale change — not a ramping up of covert operations and certainly not in urban centers. All of the ingredients of Arab awakening are alive and well in Iraq. U.S. policy needs to realize this and build on it, not implement policies that denigrate Iraqi aspirations, hopes and autonomy.
Adil E. Shamoo, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, is an associate fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies. A native of Iraq, he is the author of the forthcoming book, "Equal Worth — When Humanity Will Have Peace." This piece originally appeared on The Baltimore Sun.
January 26, 2011 · By Emily Schwartz Greco
The good news for President Barack Obama is that his one joke in an otherwise dead-serious 2011 State of the Union address elicited a chuckle from the assembled lawmakers in the chamber and sent ripples of humorous asides through the blogosphere. In case you missed it, Obama made the case for a historic reorganization of government by highlighting the layers of bureaucracy regulating salmon.
"The Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they're in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them when they're in saltwater," he quipped. "And I hear it gets even more complicated once they're smoked."
This prompted Michael Moore to make an actually funny joke via Twitter, "Soon a fresh water salmon will sit next to a salt water salmon in the spirit of civility." It provided a welcome break from wondering why Vice President Joe Biden couldn't stop frowning and, as at least one tweeter surmised, whether House Speaker John Boehner’s seat behind the president had a built-in tanning device.
This may end up as Obama's "smoked salmon" speech, just as we remember President George W. Bush's 2006 State of the Union address as his switchgrass moment.
(In case you forgot, that was when he declared, "We will also fund additional research in cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol, not just from corn but from wood chips and stalks or switchgrass." Millions of Americans spontaneously shouted "switchgrass!?" at no one in particular, then laughed at Bush.)
To be sure, eloquent moments abounded in Obama's second SOTU address, such as this one:
"We are part of the American family. We believe that in a country where every race and faith and point of view can be found, we are still bound together as one people; that we share common hopes and a common creed; that the dreams of a little girl in Tucson are not so different than those of our own children, and that they all deserve the chance to be fulfilled."
Bad Policy Menu
But like serving smoked salmon on Wonder Bread, the president's State of the Union address sandwiched inspirational comments with crummy foreign, domestic, and energy policies. Here's a summary of what was on the menu, according to my Institute for Policy Studies colleagues.
Obama's remarks about the nation's entrenched wars were strikingly unrealistic. "This year, our civilians will forge a lasting partnership with the Iraqi people, while we finish the job of bringing our troops out of Iraq," he proclaimed. "America’s commitment has been kept; the Iraq War is coming to an end."
IPS fellow Phyllis Bennis countered in her real-time analysis for the PBS NewsHour's website that the Iraq War isn't wrapping up, the Afghanistan War is failing, and we can't afford either one. If we are ever going to find 15 million jobs, we need to end the wars and cut military spending.
Then there was the five-year freeze he proposed on the funding of discretionary domestic programs. It would choke off vital assistance to a shrinking middle class and growing numbers of poor and low-income families, IPS fellow Karen Dolan warned.
The sound of the president's silence on climate change and the BP oil disaster was deafening, as IPS fellow and Earthbeat Radio host Daphne Wysham explained. His call for boosting "clean energy" rang hollow because, as Wysham says, he was using the term as "code for 'clean coal' (an oxymoron if there ever was one), nuclear power, and natural gas."
Given the administration's overwhelmingly corporate-friendly tilt, she finds it impossible to get optimistic about Obama actually ending subsidies for oil companies."As long as the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling stands, allowing unlimited campaign contributions from corporations, including large oil companies, it's unlikely that Congress will embrace this proposal," she said.
Catering to Big Business
Obama's pledge to slash the corporate income tax was mistaken, argued Chuck Collins, director of the Institute's Program on Inequality and the Common Good. "It is true that statutorily, the U.S. has a high 35 percent corporate income tax rate. But the effective rate — the percentage of income actually paid in taxes — is considerably lower than in most industrial countries," he said.
Obama also missed an opportunity to get serious about the nation's chronic prison problem (too many Americans are in the slammer) and absurd drug laws. "The budgetary and political stars are finally aligned for serious criminal justice reform," wrote IPS fellow Sanho Tree. "Just yesterday, a group of former world leaders and other dignitaries came out against the drug war. With this much political cover, he would be practically impervious to jabs from the right."
Finally, as linguist George Lakoff predicted, Obama used "business language to indicate that he is pro-business" in this speech, emphasizing "the need for 'competitiveness' as if America were a corporation," and calling for "investments" in education, research, infrastructure, and "clean energy." As he has done for years, Lakoff sounded the alarm about this practice, which undermines even the better aspects of Obama's speeches.
"Economic success lies in human well-being, not in stock prices, or corporate and bank profits," he explains. "These are truths. We need to use language that expresses those truths." Read more about this on Common Dreams in Lakoff's commentary The 'New Centrism' and Its Discontents.
January 26, 2011 · By Phyllis Bennis
The following is a summary of the analysis IPS fellow Phyllis Bennis made of President Barack Obama's foreign policy comments during the State of the Union address. It's included in the interactive transcript on PBS NewsHour's website.
President Barack Obama
I am proposing that starting this year, we freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years. This would reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade, and will bring discretionary spending to the lowest share of our economy since Dwight Eisenhower was president.
Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, from President Obama’s own party, said just this morning that we have to “look at the war in Afghanistan” when he was asked where he would cut the budget. He’s right.
Rep. Barney Frank from Massachusetts has called for a very moderate 25 percent cut in the defense budget. If we’re serious about jobs for the 15 million unemployed and health care for still tens of millions without insurance, that 25 percent cut is going to have to be just the first step.
President Barack Obama
Look to Iraq, where nearly 100,000 of our brave men and women have left with their heads held high; where American combat patrols have ended; violence has come down; and a new government has been formed. This year, our civilians will forge a lasting partnership with the Iraqi people, while we finish the job of bringing our troops out of Iraq. America’s commitment has been kept; the Iraq War is coming to an end.
Of course, as we speak, al-Qaeda and their affiliates continue to plan attacks against us. Thanks to our intelligence and law enforcement professionals, we are disrupting plots and securing our cities and skies. And as extremists try to inspire acts of violence within our borders, we are responding with the strength of our communities, with respect for the rule of law, and with the conviction that American Muslims are a part of our American family.
But there are 50,000 U.S. troops still occupying Iraq. The "new government" has been formed, but it is widely discredited, riddled with corruption, and incompetent and unable to provide even the basics of electricity, security, jobs.
The war will not be over until all the U.S. troops come home, all the U.S.-paid contractors (those paid by the State Department as well as the Pentagon) are no longer on our payroll, and Iraq's people have a government they choose.
President Barack Obama
We have also taken the fight to al-Qaeda and their allies abroad. In Afghanistan, our troops have taken Taliban strongholds and trained Afghan Security Forces. Our purpose is clear – by preventing the Taliban from reestablishing a stranglehold over the Afghan people, we will deny al-Qaeda the safe-haven that served as a launching pad for 9/11.
Are we really hearing that the war in Afghanistan – where our own officials admit our top ally is corrupt; where more Afghan civilians and more U.S. troops died last year than ever before; where our other friendly neighbor, Pakistan, continues to shelter guerrilla forces attacking the U.S. across the border – is somehow going well? All our political and military leaders admit this war cannot be won militarily; why do we continue to fight a war as if it could be? We have more than 100,000 U.S. troops occupying Afghanistan, plus another 100,000 or so U.S.-paid mercenaries. They’re not winning. This is a war we cannot win and we cannot afford…
Is President Obama going to say anything about the latest failure in U.S.-brokered peace talks in the Middle East? Or is he just hoping we’re not paying attention, and that we’re fine with paying $30 billion over these ten years directly to the Israeli military, money that could be used for 600,000 new green jobs here at home?
President Barack Obama
We saw that same desire to be free in Tunisia, where the will of the people proved more powerful than the writ of a dictator. And tonight, let us be clear: the United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of all people.
It’s about time. The long-time dictator in Tunisia, just ousted by a popular revolt, was backed politically and militarily by the U.S. for more than two decades.
President Barack Obama
Tonight, let us speak with one voice in reaffirming that our nation is united in support of our troops and their families. Let us serve them as well as they have served us – by giving them the equipment they need; by providing them with the care and benefits they have earned; and by enlisting our veterans in the great task of building our own nation.
Our troops come from every corner of this country – they are black, white, Latino, Asian and Native American. They are Christian and Hindu, Jewish and Muslim. And, yes, we know that some of them are gay. Starting this year, no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love. And with that change, I call on all of our college campuses to open their doors to our military recruiters and the ROTC. It is time to leave behind the divisive battles of the past. It is time to move forward as one nation.
Let’s really support the troops – let’s end the terrible failing wars in which they are forced to serve, and bring them home. Let’s provide real health care when they return, and rebuild an economy that provides jobs for young people rather than have them drafted by poverty, lack of money for school, lack of jobs, lack of options.
December 22, 2010 · By Sanho Tree
From 1989-1995, I worked at IPS as a diplomatic and military historian assisting former IPS Fellow Gar Alperovitz with a research project that culminated in the book The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb and the Architecture of an American Myth (New York: Knopf, 1995). Recently, C-SPAN asked me to interview John Dower, MIT Professor Emeritus of History about his new book Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, 9-11, Iraq which was a finalist for the 2010 National Book Award for Nonfiction.
Not only does his book explore the parallels between the bombing of Hiroshima and the attacks of 9/11, but he also finds striking similarities between Japan's reckless decision to attack the United States and George W. Bush's disastrous decision to invade Iraq. Analyzing conflicts that claimed so many lives and caused such immense suffering, Dower finds similar mistakes and assumptions repeated just decades apart. His book distills those hard won lessons in the hope that they will not be repeated again. Cultures of War should be mandatory reading in our military academies and in government.
You can watch the C-SPAN interview here: http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/Dower