IPS Blog

Way Worse Than a Dumb War: Iraq Ten Years Later

Full article available at The Nation.

Editor’s Note: This statement on the tenth anniversary of the launch of the Iraq War was signed by Phyllis Bennis, John Cavanagh and Steve Cobble (Institute for Policy Studies); Judith LeBlanc and Kevin Martin (Peace Action); Laura Flanders (GritTV); Bill Fletcher (The Black Commentator); Andy Shallal (Iraqis for Peace); Medea Benjamin (Code Pink); Michael T. McPhearson and Leslie Cagan (United for Peace and Justice); Michael Eisenscher (US Labor Against the War) and David Wildman. All organizations for identification only.

It didn’t take long for the world to recognize that the US invasion and occupation of Iraq constituted a dumb war, as then Senator Barack Obama put it. But “dumb” wasn’t the half of it.

This Thursday, March 14, 2013, photo shows a general view of the crossed swords monument at the site of an Associated Press photograph taken by Karim Kadim of US soldiers taken on November 16, 2008. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)The US war against Iraq was illegal and illegitimate. It violated the UN Charter, the Geneva Conventions and a whole host of international laws and treaties. It violated US laws and our Constitution with impunity. And it was all based on lies: about nonexistent links between Iraq and Al Qaeda, about never-were ties between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, about Iraq’s invisible weapons of mass destruction and about Baghdad’s supposed nuclear program, with derivative lies about uranium yellowcake from Niger and aluminum rods from China. There were lies about US troops being welcomed in the streets with sweets and flowers, and lies about thousands of jubilant Iraqis spontaneously tearing down the statue of a hated dictator.

And then there was the lie that the US could send hundreds of thousands of soldiers and billions of dollars worth of weapons across the world to wage war on the cheap. We didn’t have to raise taxes to pay the almost one trillion dollars the Iraq war has cost so far, we could go shopping instead.

But behind these myths the costs were huge—human, economic and more. More than a million US troops were deployed to Iraq; 4,483 were killed; 33,183 were wounded and more than 200,000 came home with PTSD. The number of Iraqi civilians killed is still unknown; at least 121,754 are known to have been killed directly during the US war, but hundreds of thousands more died from crippling sanctions, diseases caused by dirty water when the US destroyed the water treatment system and the inability to get medical help because of exploding violence.

And what are we leaving behind? After almost a decade the US finally pulled out most of its troops and Pentagon-paid contractors. About 16,000 State Department-paid contractors and civilian employees are still stationed at the giant US embassy compound and two huge consulates, along with unacknowledged CIA and FBI agents, Special Forces and a host of other undercover operatives. The US just sold the Iraqi government 140 M-l tanks, and American-made fighter jets are in the pipeline too. But there is little question that the all-encompassing US military occupation of Iraq is over. After more than eight years of war, the Iraqi government finally said no more. Their refusal to grant US troops immunity from prosecution for potential war crimes was the deal-breaker that forced President Obama’s hand and made him pull out the last 30,000 troops he and his generals were hoping to keep in Iraq.

But as we knew would be the case, the pull out by itself did not end the violence…

CLICK HERE to read the rest of the article in The Nation.

Pope Francis Has an Opportunity to Redeem Himself for His Sins of Omission During the Dirty War

Cross-posted from the Dissent Magazine blog Arguing the World.

Also see Mark’s previous post, Will the Next Pope Embrace Liberation Theology?

In November 2000, as Argentina’s economic crisis escalated, the country’s bishops, led by Buenos Aires Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio, emerged from a plenary conference with a statement that was hardly welcome news to proponents of economic neoliberalism. Arguing that the true debt of Argentina was not financial but “social,” it blasted the “growing gap between rich and poor,” the “negative aspects of globalization,” and “the tyranny of the markets.”

“We live in world in which the primacy of economics, without a base of reference in…the common good, impedes the resurgence of many nations,” the statement read. It further contended, “To accustom ourselves to living in a world of exclusion and inequality is a serious moral failure that erodes the dignity of mankind and compromises peace and social harmony.”

In a subsequent interview, Bergoglio charged “wildly economistic” ideas with manufacturing poverty.

Almost thirteen years later, Bergoglio has been selected as the new pontiff, Pope Francis I. Despite his statements about the global economy, Bergoglio is no radical. Indeed, figuring out what his selection represents for the Catholic Church, and what it portends for the future direction of the Vatican, involves reckoning with a number of contradictions.

Born in Buenos Aires, Bergoglio is the first pope in the modern era to come from a country in the global South, yet both his parents were immigrants born in Italy.

He is from a region (Latin America) where the Catholic Church was infused with a social justice ethos in the post–Vatican II period, yet he comes from a country within that region (Argentina) whose church remained among the most conservative.

He is from a religious order (the Jesuits) regarded as having progressive leanings, yet he has been a conservative force within that order.

He has made statements championing the interests of the poor against market fundamentalism, yet he has also been a strong opponent of the left-leaning administrations of Néstor and Cristina Kirchner.

Given all this, it is perhaps not surprising that the announcement of Pope Francis has elicited a divided reaction among two constituencies that normally overlap. Many progressive Catholics in the United States seem to be pleasantly surprised by the pick and happy with Bergoglio’s social justice overtures. Latin Americanists, on the other hand, have expressed horror at the role of the Argentine Church during the military junta’s rule and at Bergoglio’s place within that history.

Let’s begin with the first group. A pope that takes the name Francis is starting out on a good foot from a social justice perspective. At least that was reaction of many progressive Catholics. Jubilee USA executive director Eric LeCompte, for example, released a statement with the headline, “Pope Francis; Pope of Peace, Justice and the Poor.” LeCompte said:

Pope Francis will preach that we need to promote access to food, water, education, employment, and healthcare for every person, without discrimination….This Pope will stand up for the rights of poor people, migrants and, workers.

Sojourners CEO Jim Wallis (not a Catholic, but a prominent Christian progressive) was similarly hopeful, praising the cardinal’s warnings against “a self-referential church” and noting, “In Buenos Aires, the cardinal showed real compassion for HIV victims, and he sternly rebuked priests who refused to baptize children born out of wedlock.”

Those who share these sentiments also note Bergoglio’s personal humility. The cardinal lived in a modest apartment in Buenos Aires rather than the archbishop’s mansion; he took public transportation rather than using a church limousine; he cooked his own food. Yes, these are symbolic gestures. But symbolism matters.

A different strain of reaction has come from Latin Americans and solidarity activists disturbed by Bergoglio’s selection. They focus not on Pope Francis’s coming time in the Vatican, but rather on the Dirty War in the 1970s, when tens of thousands of leftists were killed or “disappeared” by the military. From this perspective, the symbolism of elevating an Argentine bishop is quite different.

In contrast to the Catholic Church in places like Chile and El Salvador, which played an important role in denouncing disappearances, death squads, and military abuses in the 1970s and ’80s, it is well known that the Argentine Church gave aid and comfort to the junta. Writing in 1987, scholar of liberation theology Phillip Berryman put it this way:

In Argentina…the bishops were notably silent even though at least one bishop and some ten priests were murdered. It was the [Madres de Plaza de Mayo], the mothers and family members of the disappeared, who challenged the military, while the bishops temporized and some even made pro-military statements.

My personal pick for the next pope, Brazilian Cardinal Cláudio Hummes, was also not a radical. (None were in the running.) But he distinguished himself by opposing the Brazilian dictatorship in the late 1970s and taking personal risks to support trade unionists and human rights activists.

Bergoglio earned no such distinction. What he did do is the subject of considerable controversy, accounts of which are now widely available in Spanish and in English. ForDissent, Flavia Dzodan has done a fine job of relating the charges against the cardinal. Most notably, critics claim that he failed to prevent (and tacitly green-lighted) the abduction and torture of two Jesuits identified with liberation theology. Not surprisingly, Bergoglio denies the charges; in recent years, he has claimed that he worked behind the scenes to free the two priests and to help other human rights defenders. His supporters characterize this approach as “pragmatic at a time when so many people were getting killed.”

Even if we take this defense at face value, it is a weak one. To the extent that such behavior was indeed pragmatic, it was the pragmatism of keeping quiet in the face of injustice for fear of being targeted yourself. And it was this type of behavior that allowed the military junta to benefit from the institutional acquiescence of the Catholic Church as it committed its crimes against humanity. There’s no heroism there.

That said, in the wake of Bergoglio’s selection as pope, Nobel Laureate Adolfo Pérez Esquivel has stated that, while some bishops were truly accomplices of the dictatorship, Bergoglio was not among them. If we accept his judgment, the cardinal’s Dirty War sins are ones of cowardice, not of commission.

There was a figure in the hierarchy of the Argentine Church who had a profile more like that of the courageous and revered Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero. Enrique Angelelli was known as a progressive voice in CELAM, the Latin American bishops’ council, which played a pivotal role in making liberation theology into a region-wide force. In 1976, shortly after the Dirty War began, Angelelli was returning from a mass held in honor of two murdered priests when the truck he was riding in was run off the road. His death was labeled a traffic accident by the Argentinean regime.

Thirty years later, presiding over an anniversary mass, Cardinal Bergoglio celebrated Angelelli and obliquely held him up as a martyr, but he neglected to charge the junta with the bishop’s murder.

In the end, what can we make of the divided reaction to Pope Francis I?

The Guardian jumped the gun when (in a since-corrected gaffe) it labeled Cardinal Bergoglio “a champion of liberation theology.” A liberationist he is not. And, given that he was made a cardinal by Pope John Paul II, it basically goes without saying that has been horrible on issues like gay rights and abortion.

Still, in a field of very conservative candidates, Bergoglio was a relative moderate. It may not be saying much, but it looks likely that his tenure at the Vatican will be an improvement over Benedict’s.

I recently argued that, while it is often reported that the Vatican officially rejected liberation theology under the watch of John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger, that’s not entirely true. Core tenets such as the “preferential option for the poor” have in fact been mainstreamed within the church. Liberation theology’s positions on poverty, inequality, and the tyranny of the market are often echoed in statements like that released by Bergoglio and the Argentine bishops in 2000.

Neither Pope John XXIII, who convened the Second Vatican Council, nor Archbishop Romero, who became a human rights icon, was brought into his position as a reformer. But each responded, in Catholic parlance, to “the signs of the times.” We can hope that, out of his many contradictions, Pope Francis will emerge with a ministry that emphasizes peace, social justice, and the rights of the poor, and that moves the church out of a state of reactionary self-isolation.

It’s a faint hope. But if you’re in the habit of looking to Rome for leadership, it’s probably the best you’ve got.

Mark Engler is a senior analyst with Foreign Policy In Focus and author of How to Rule the World: The Coming Battle Over the Global Economy (Nation Books, 2008). He can be reached via the website Democracy Uprising. You can follow Mark at his Facebook page.

Did the College of Cardinals Foresee the Dirty War Controversy?

In a New York Times piece titled Starting a Papacy, Amid Echoes of a ‘Dirty War’, William Romeiro and Simon Neumann write:

And last November, after the future pope’s tenure as head of the bishops’ conference had ended, the church issued another statement in response to the assertion by Jorge Videla, the former head of the military junta, that Argentine bishops had in effect collaborated with the dictatorship.

That sentence contains two disturbing details. The second first: to whatever extent he’s a “kettle,” Videla still manages to paint the “pot” of the Argentine church pretty black. Meanwhile, re “last November,” bear in mind that the Vatican knew since then that Jorge Mario Bergoglio was tarnished by the Dirty War and, by all rights, should have disqualified him as a candidate for pope. After all, as Romeiro and Neumann write:

Even as the head of the Argentine Conference of Bishops from 2005 to 2011, Francis resisted issuing a formal apology for the church’s actions during the Dirty War, disappointing human rights campaigners.

And it’s not as if he would have been breaking new ground.

This stance by Argentina’s church stands in contrast to the resistance against dictatorships by Catholic leaders elsewhere in Latin America at the time — notably in Chile and Brazil, two nations where far fewer people were killed.

One can only surmise that the College of Cardinals anticipated the Dirty War controversy and figured that Bergoglio would weather the storm. Was the empathy he shows the poor expected to simply outweigh and override the controversy? Whether or not that’s true, insulated and arrogant as ever, the Vatican continues to undermine the legitimacy — and relevancy — of the Papacy.

Emphasis Added: The Foreign Policy Week in Pieces (3/19)

U.S. Concerns About Security Only Makes Pakistan More Insecure

“When the U.S. says that they are worried about the security [of] Pakistan’s nuclear arms, it means it fears that these might fall in the hands of such elements as the extremist Taliban,” said a commentary published by Pakistan’s Frontier Post in late 2011. “However, when [former Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood] Qureshi says so, he means that these are in danger of being whisked away by the U.S. armed forces.”

Why Almost Nobody Likes News About Pakistani Nuclear Security, Elaine M. Grossman, National Journal

The Lone Gunman

The catalyst for changing course was the shattering defeat Pakistan suffered at the hands of the Indian army in the 1971 war, during which Pakistan lost half of its territory (when East Pakistan broke away to become Bangladesh). Khan argues that a sense of “never again” and a corresponding inability (or unwillingness) to rely upon allies have been powerful motivators for some countries to “go nuclear,” most notably China and Israel. The same held true for Pakistan.

Pakistan’s Nuclear Past as Prologue, Frank Klotz, The National Interest

Wasting Human Resources (Off-Topic From Foreign Policy)

There was a time when academia was society’s refuge for the eccentric, brilliant, and impractical. No longer. It is now the domain of professional self-marketers. As a result, in one of the most bizarre fits of social self-destructiveness in history, we seem to have decided we have no place for our eccentric, brilliant, and impractical citizens. Most languish in their mothers’ basements, at best making the occasional, acute intervention on the Internet.

Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit, David Graeber, The Baffler

Nuclear Whac-a-mole

The Air Force wants to upgrade its aging nuclear missiles and the hundreds of underground silos that hold them. One idea it’s exploring: the construction of a sprawling network of underground subway tunnels to shuttle the missiles around like a mobile doomsday train. … During an atomic holocaust, mobile missiles are harder for an adversary to target than a static silo. Missiles could be positioned at launch holes placed at “regular intervals” along the length of the tunnels.

That’s No Train! Air Force Eyes Subway for Nuclear Missiles, Robert Beckhusen, Wired Danger Room

Cost of One B-29: $605,360; Cost of One B-2 Stealth Bomber: $1.5 billion

… I just always was baffled by the debates over health care which always started with the premise that everything costs a zillion dollars and it’s super expensive. … If you slip and fall and you go to the emergency room, it’s $25,000. The debate was over who should pay for it instead of, “How come it’s $25,000?”

… In something like the giant Lockheed planes, the debate is should we spend, what is it, $400 billion? … Why does each of those planes cost that much money? … What percent of that is profit for Lockheed Martin? Who died and said they have to get a seven percent carry on all their hours, and all their parts, and all their labor? Why?

Podcast: Steve Brill on Healthcare and the Media in America, Mike Webb, Pro Publica

U.S. Policy in Afghanistan a Study in Avoiding the Obvious

Concretely and consistently confronting the Pakistani leadership on its use of extremist proxies, or President Karzai on the criminally extractive nature [aka, corruption -- RW] of his government — and not just in occasional spurts of public huffing and puffing — would have taken a significant investment of political courage and fortitude. And those are attributes that I did not see much in evidence among senior U.S. civilian officials.

What Vali Nasr Gets Wrong, Sarah Chayes, Foreign Policy

“The Gatekeepers”: “We Became Cruel”

Cross-posted from the Colorado Progressive Jewish News.

The GatekeepersA good place to start this review is at the end, the very end of The Gatekeepers, the Israeli documentary by Droh Moreh that was nominated for best documentary feature at the 85th Academy Awards.

Just before the film stops rolling, ‘they’ – the six interviewees – all come to the same conclusion: they’ve had it with the occupation, that further repression against the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories – that includes extensive torture to create an army of informers, targeted high tech assassination, daily harassment and humiliation of the Palestinian population simply won’t work. And ‘they’ should know, as they perpetrated much of it.

“We’ve become cruel,” one of them says, himself one of the cruelest Shin Bet chiefs of them all, as if the Occupation was ever ‘kind’ in its earlier days?

Despite all their efforts to crush Palestinian resistance and aspirations for an independent Palestinian state, all of them, these former directors of Israeli’s Shin Bet agree that continued repression is useless and that Israel should – like France with the Algerian rebels in the late 1950s, early 1960s – seriously negotiate with the Palestinians, cut some deal with them, and get out. They understand – these technicians of Occupation – that Israel’s future in the region, nothing short of that, depends on withdrawing the Israeli military and the settlers from the Occupied Territories as soon as possible.

Theirs is something of a cautionary message as they make their case at a time when Israeli society has moved dramatically to the right, and its willingness to even address the prospect of ending the Occupation and moving towards a two-state solution have all but evaporated.

The last sentence of the film really says it all, something along the lines of ‘winning the battles’ but ‘losing the war’. And Israel has lost the war – not the war on the battlefield or in the Shin Bet’s torture chamber, but the war to win the hearts and minds of the Palestinian people. It’s over. The military giant – that can assassinate Palestinians by exploding cell phones directed from satellites – comes to the realization that for all of its military and technical prowess, long ago, Israel lost the only war that counts – for political legitimacy. In fact, its public relations machine in the USA aside, it never had it.

I found the film mostly disturbing, but not without interest.

I kept waiting to hear Palestinian voices…but there were none. This is in keeping with a long held practice/tradition that the narrative of the Israeli/Palestinian relationship be told entirely by one side – those in power. What was presented is essentially an intra-Israeli view of the Occupation, albeit by former supporters of the Occupation now turned opponents, not for ethical reasons, something of which they are not capable, to be frank, but for ‘pragmatic’ reasons. It is not that the Occupation is oppressive, repressive, a fundamental denial of the human and national rights of one people by another; instead theirs is a functional argument: repression doesn’t work, so after decades of it, let’s try something else. Is this the best that Israel has to offer on the ethical plane?

The idea that six former Shin Bet heads all call for an end to the occupation can be interpreted optimistically: cool, after crushing two Intifadas, cracked so many heads and other body parts, they have finally gotten in touch with their inner selves, become animal rights advocates and now, in retirement, want to work for peace. Something akin to Al Capone deciding he wants to join the American Friends Service Committee?

Aren’t we all happy – cool, calculating killers have found the light and become pacifists? While not impossible, this is still hard to believe.

Sometimes it is easy to forget that those speaking so calmly orchestrated what are defined by much of the world and international law as war crimes. But if you like to hear the words of professional torturers and killers now morphed into ‘professional torturers and killers for peace’ it might be worth seeing the film. All six are frank about the importance of informers, overwhelmingly brought into the Israeli intelligence network through ‘enhanced interrogation’ – otherwise known as torture. Yet they spoke of what amounts to torture, assassination with not the slightest bit of remorse.

There is an inverse relationship between their refusal to use ‘the word’ torture and its extensive practical application by all of them. Indeed, this is a film about 45 years (it starts in 1967, avoids the earlier period) of the impact of Israeli torture to extract information, to neutralize Palestinian political activity, armed or peaceful. On the one hand it does work. Israeli intelligence is very well informed concerning Palestinian political activity, though far less so, as evidenced by the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzkak Rabin, where it concerns the activities, the racist hysteria of the Israeli religious right.

The film illustrates well how Israeli-targeted assassinations are among the precursors to the growing U.S. drone assassinations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and who knows where else. What the U.S. is now doing with unmanned drones, the Israelis did mostly with attack helicopters. Some of the most disturbing parts of the film show the targeting and killing of Palestinian militants with so-called precision bombs, many of which, of course, weren’t so precise.

I was struck about something else: that the Israeli policies of counter-insurgency, meant to paralyze the Palestinian national movement in its tracks are based largely on the same counter-insurgency strategies and tactics developed first in Vietnam and Algerian by a profoundly racist French military trying desperately to maintain its control over colonies.

Keep in mind that before the 1967 War, Israel’s maintained particularly close ties with France and that many of the veterans of torturing Algerians lent Israel a helping hand, to help train the Israeli security apparatus in its early days. It is also France that gave Israel’s nuclear weapons program a big boost through training Israeli atomic scientists and information sharing.

French torture methods, euphemistically called ‘counter-insurgency’ were then passed on to the U.S. in its losing effort in Vietnam in the 1960s, to the Argentine junta in its ‘dirty war’ of the 1970s against anything that moved and was slightly left of center. The Argentinean military was largely trained and influenced by former French officers who had tortured Algerians in The Battle of Algiers. They took ‘spiritual guidance’ from extreme right wing Catholic priests, also many of the French who blessed torture and encouraged the inhumane and bloody methods used.

At the same time Israel learned The Battle of Algiers methodology which it has used extensively since 1967 but then it passed it back to the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan, post-millennial. Kif-kif – the same stuff.

Of what did this shared counter-insurgency methodology consist? A number of key themes emerge:

• The criminalization of the military and the use thereof to fight ‘total war’ against civilian populations, on the grounds that it was impossible to tell the rebels from the broader population. In Argentina’s case, it was war against its own people, in Israel’s counter-insurgency targets the Palestinians.

• To establish a double standard legally – defining those who, because they are acting outside the law should not be granted legal rights – opening the way for torture, assassination and other forms of mistreatment. The rebels, labeled terrorists are no longer considered human with human rights. The only way to deal with them is to exterminate them! (or to permanently expel them).

• The extensive and unbridled use of ‘methods of coercion’, ‘innovative interrogation’, both otherwise known as torture to extract ‘intelligence’ from the population to locate rebel ‘cells’ or units. There is another important purpose of torture, not always emphasized: it is to create a network of informers. To place torture victims back into the general population to spy on their friends, neighbors and family. It was this particular aspect of the program at which the Shin Bet excelled.

The only things these strategies have produced is an unnecessary ocean of human suffering – of torture victims in West Bank prisons, of ‘disappeared ones’ in Argentina, of victims of the U.S. Phoenix program in Vietnam, of indignities and torture in the U.S. prisons at Abu Graib and Guantanemo.

May its French architects – Trinquier, Galula, Bernard Fall from France, its ‘implementers’ – Massu, Aussaresses from France, Videla from Argentina, the entire team of the Bush Administration that implemented torture in Iraq, Petraeus – be condemned for the fascists that they in fact were, and those still alive, including these six former Shin Bet heads be tried for war crimes.

From Hero to Villain: The Arab World’s Hugo Chavez Arc

When Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez passed away last week, the public in the Arab world felt as if they lost one of their own. Chavez who ruled Venezuela for 14 years did make a huge impact on the lives of ordinary Venezuelans and at the same time made very important gestures toward the Arab world and the Middle East. Ever since he assumed power, Chavez made it his life work to end poverty in his country and expand education and health care to millions of poor and underprivileged Venezuelans.

Although he supported and befriended the hated Arab dictators, he, however, was unlike them on several levels. Chavez for example was interested in reshaping the Venezuelans’ society and empowering the poor classes he was born into. Before Chavez came to power, Venezuelan society was divided along racial lines where the light-skinned or white Venezuelans, known as mestizos, sat at the top of the food chain and controlled much of its wealth and resources. Meanwhile, millions of black, Indian or mixed-race Venezuelans struggled in abject poverty at the bottom in one the richest countries on earth.

For those poor classes, Latin America analyst Oliver Barrett wrote on the Foreign Policy Blog that Chavez was their modern day “Robin Hood” and “Libertador.” Barrett added that Chavez used socialism as his vehicle to utilize the vast riches of the country to slash poverty levels by seventy percent, while cutting unemployment rate by half, and expanded health and education opportunities to millions of his beloved poor citizens. Chavez’s accomplishments in this regard were an impressive feat that no Arab leader, dictator or not, was able to accomplish.

In that respect, moreover, Chavez looked more like the late revolutionary Egyptian leader-dictator, Gamal Abdel Nasser, who also used socialism to reshape the Egyptian society and the Arab world but failed in both endeavors. Nasser, albeit operating in a different world system, nevertheless fell victim to his own rhetoric and failed to deliver many of his lofty Pan-Arab goals. In addition, he was directly responsible for the humiliating Arab defeat in the 1967 war with Israel. His life however was conspicuously cut short at the age of 52, Chavez at 58.

Both Nasser and Chavez dwelled on anti-Americanism, anti-imperialism rhetoric and opposing Israel where both saw the three with little delineation. This kind of rhetoric was the main engine for their popularity among the poor and disenfranchised in the Arab World. When Chavez severed the diplomatic relations with Israel in protest for its attack on Gaza in 2008, his popularity in the region skyrocketed.

Chavez’s anti-Israeli pronouncements enamored him to an Arab public hungry for a charismatic leader in the mold of Nasser amid increasing marginalization, oppression and fragmentation that became the order of the day in many Arab countries especially in the aftermath of the Arab Spring uprisings. Chavez therefore was that “distant” hero that reminded the Arab public of a bygone era when the Arab world led by Nasser was defiant and resisted the encroaching western influence.

But not many in the Arab World view Chavez as a hero, especially after he expressed his public support to Arab dictators Muammar Gaddafi and Bashar al-Assad. Chavez’s support for Arab dictators came across as a contradiction for the self-styled revolutionary who spoke against “American world domination” and “imperialism” yet supported brutal and bloody Arab dictators.

It was precisely this contradiction that propelled Shireen Mriash a Dubai-based pediatrician and a writer to write on her social network page accusing Chavez of dishonesty. For Mraish it was Chavez’s support for Gaddafi that made her change her perception of him: “If a man or a leader supports oppression and injustice against others, he himself, therefore, is unjust and an oppressor.”

Journalist Eman El-Shenawi, an editor at Al Arabiya news channel, voiced the same sentiments in an article she wrote last week. El-Shinawi cataloged Chavez’s cold and insensitive statements in support of Gaddafi and Assad which disillusioned his Arab admirers.

She explained further that while Chavez’s “vehement anti-Israel stance stood strong” it was “his support for the region’s dictators that millions had come out to oppose in mostly blood-soaked battles” that ended the Arab World infatuation with him.

Ali Younes is a writer and analyst based in Washington D.C. He can be reached at: [email protected] and on Twitter at @clearali.

Promoting Peace, But Fueling War in Syria

The international community largely supports the U.S. and Saudi Arabia on Syria: hope for peace, but failing that, throw more money at the conflict.

Secretary of State John Kerry and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal.

Secretary of State John Kerry and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal.

At a joint news conference last week in Riyadh, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal stressed the importance of a peaceful, democratic transition in Syria and renewed pressure on Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down, with both men declaring that the Syrian president has “lost his legitimacy” as a ruler of the Syrian people.

Teaming with Saudi Arabia to denounce Assad’s regime and promote democracy is a rather questionable choice, as John Glaser of Antiwar.com observes: “You really have to swim through a lot of cognitive dissonance to understand how the secretary of state of the world’s only empire and the foreign minister of the Middle East’s worst dictatorship can stand united on bringing democracy to Syria.” And truly, Faisal’s statement that Saudi Arabia cannot “bring [itself] to remain quiet in front of this carnage” and “morally” has “a duty to protect” these citizens seems overly saccharine for the world’s largest source of funds for Islamist militant groups.

Moreover, while both men stated the “urgent” need for a peaceful transition, neither seems to see a problem with simultaneously funding and arming the opposition in the meantime. Only a week before his conference in Riyadh, Kerry revealed that an additional $60 million of non-lethal aid, such as food and medical supplies, would be provided to the Syrian opposition. And Saudi Arabia (along with its nearby ally Qatar) has been not-so-discreetly funneling arms to the opposition for some six months at least.

In fact, the international community largely seems to support the stance presented by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia: hope for peace, but failing that, throw more money into fueling the conflict.

Britain has already petitioned the EU to lift its embargo on the arms trade to Syria, and recently announced it will be sending armored vehicles and other “non-lethal” equipment to the opposition in addition to providing training for rebel groups. Turkey has also supported this stance, joining Britain in petitioning to have the arms embargo lifted on Syria. Not to mention, it is through Turkey that the arms provided by Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been able to make it across the border.

Joining these countries, the Arab League—after its decision to reinstate Syria’s membership in the League with a representative from the Syrian National Coalition, the main umbrella organization for the opposition—called arming Syrian rebels “logical.” Whereas the Arab League previously advocated a political resolution to the conflict, it overturned this decision and now condones the arming of the Syrian opposition by its member states.

On the other side of the conflict, whereas both Iran and Russia support peaceful talks between the regime and opposition (without the precondition that Assad step down), both countries throughout the conflict have reportedly been supplying Assad with weapons shipments.

Countries such as Canada and Germany seem to be the only remaining voices of reason in the international funding mania. Canada, in response to Kerry’s announcement to pledge further aid to Syria, called such funding “too risky,” adding that “the answer to the crisis in Syria is not more violence.” Germany also chimed in, stating that support should be shown for the opposition in a “responsible” way and that the EU’s decision not to lift its embargo was “wise and right.”

Kerry, for his part, seems undisturbed by the risk arming the rebels presents. When Anne Gearan of The Washington Post asked Kerry whether the arms already being funneled into the country could fall into the wrong hands, Kerry replied that while “there is no guarantee that one weapon or another might not at some point in time fall into the wrong hands … there is a very clear ability now in the Syrian opposition to make certain that what goes to the moderate, legitimate opposition is, in fact, getting to them.”

Kerry’s rather long-winded answer simply confirms that the opposition has no ability to prevent arms from reaching extremists.

And this is no hypothetical. At least some of these arms have already fallen into the hands of hard-line Islamists, but in the midst of this international arming frenzy, few seem to be overly concerned by it—least of all those doing the arming.

Leslie Garvey is a contributor to Foreign Policy in Focus and Focal Points.

The Pedigree of the “Horsewich”

HorsewichConn Hallinan began a recent Focal Points post titled The Sunset of the “Celtic Tiger” Led to the Dawn of the “Horsewich”:

“As the Great Horsemeat Crisis continues to spread—“gallops” is the verb favored by the European press—across the continent, and countries pile on to blame Romania (France, Holland, Cyprus, etc.), what is becoming increasingly clear is that old-fashioned corporate greed, aided and abetted by politicians eager to gut “costly” regulations and industrial inspection regimes, is behind the scandal.”

Another excerpt:

“’It is a shame that testing by the FSA has been reduced,’ Dr. Chris Smart told the Guardian. ‘I am sure there will be other crises that come along in the next few years.’ And given that UK food prices have risen nearly 26 percent that will surely be the case. Inspectors have already uncovered adulterated olive oil and paprika made from roof tiles. … At the heart of this are the continent-wide austerity programs that have driven up the ranks of the poor, requiring low-income families to rely on cheap meat or go without.”

To illustrate the crisis — and Conn’s post — Foreign Policy in Focus and Focal Points contributor Leslie Garvey has created the accompanying infographic.

The Two Europes

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com. John is currently traveling in Eastern Europe and observing its transformations since 1989.

The subtitle of Benjamin Disraeli’s novel Sybil, about Britain of the mid-19th century, refers to the “two nations” of rich and the poor. The gap between these two halves of society was a central preoccupation of social reformers during the Industrial Revolution. Nor has this divide between rich and poor in Europe gone away, despite the efforts of the welfare state. Indeed, in recent years, the divide has only grown wider.

I recently traveled by train from London to Berlin and was struck by a different divide that has opened up in Europe. These “two nations” are the mobile and the stationary. And this divide, like the one that so engaged Disraeli, has had an equally profound impact on the politics of the moment.

Europe has fully entered the era of the mobile. You can commute by train from London to Brussels in two hours, faster than the trip by Amtrak from New York to Washington, DC. For all British Prime Minister David Cameron’s talk of the UK choosing the a la carte option for EU membership, his country is now tethered firmly by its Chunnel umbilicus. Once on the continent, the train system puts Amtrak to shame at every level: speed, reliability, comfort, food (well, the currywurst I ate on the train to Berlin was approximately equal to an Amtrak hotdog). For those in a greater hurry, cheap airline tickets bring people rapidly from Dublin to Athens and Lisbon to Gdansk.

The tribe of the mobile is not restricted to the leisure class. The opening of the borders within the European Union facilitated an extraordinary labor migration as Poles moved westward, the British moved south, Spaniards moved north, and the adventurous sought jobs eastward in Prague and Bucharest and Sofia. The definition of guest workers (gastarbeiter), as well as their overall numbers, has expanded enormously, and bureaucrats now prefer the term “mobile workers.” Nor is it just the young who are on the move. “Retirement migration” has created the European version of snowbirds. And, of course, there are the involuntary migrants, escaping the war in former Yugoslavia or trafficked against their will to brothels.

This mobility within Europe, on top of the waves of immigrants and asylum-seekers coming from outside the continent, has destroyed any vestige of the ethnically homogenous European state. The end of empire, and the flow of people from former colonies to the imperial metropoles, had already made England and the Netherlands and France into multiethnic environments. But now even Scandinavia and Ireland are being remade by the new otherlanders. Europe has now become not just a continent of regions but a continent of neighborhoods: the French quarter of South Kensington in London, the Turkish environment of Kreuzberg in Berlin, the Vietnamese community in Warsaw’s Praga section.

This is the Europe of shifting cosmopolitan identities: the Manhattanization of the continent. Philip Roth’s brilliant novel The Counterlife imagines a movement called Diasporism devoted to the return of Jews not to Israel but to the Europe of Polish shtetls and tony German neighborhoods. This obviously hasn’t happened. Instead, regardless of its religion, this half of Europe has embraced Diasporism, and the era of fixed national identities is over.

Or perhaps not. There is another Europe. After all, not everyone is on the move. The other half of Europe has stayed put. It has remained in the same place, the same village, even the same house for generations. It speaks of centuries of family involvement in municipal affairs or tending the same vineyards or defending the country against invaders. This part of Europe has no intention of pulling up roots and moving to some strange land. The younger generation might peel off and join mobile Europe. But still, someone continues to tend the family hearth.

According to a 2005 study, only 22 percent of Europeans moved outside their region or country – compared to 32 percent of Americans who moved outside the state where they were born. That’s a very big majority of people who stay close to home.

The great debates raging in Europe today are a function of this divide between the mobile and the stationary. Do you support a headscarf ban, an end to the new construction of minarets, stricter controls on immigration, and a go-slow approach to European expansion? Or do you celebrate multicultural education, Gay Pride festivals, more generous benefits for foreign workers, and the greater diversity of restaurants in your neighborhood?

You could simply attribute this divide to liberals versus conservatives. But what makes these debates so heated is not so much the ideological division but the deep cultural division. Half of Europe clings to what it believes are native traditions tied to land, language, and traditional lifestyle. The other half has embraced a completely different Europe that is not defined by national identity or, at least, one national identity. There is hybrid Europe, and then there is the Europe that imagines itself to be a collection of indivisible nation-state billiard balls that can kiss or collide but not merge.

Let me be clear. Some of the people who are in flux are as traditional and conservative as you can get. And some of the people who are staying in one place are paragons of tolerance and open-mindedness. But the members of the first group, however conservative their mores might be, are creating a fundamentally new European reality that transcends their own personal politics.

We might celebrate the Europe of terroir, of culture based in a specific locale. But, increasingly, the people who will be perpetuating this terroir will themselves come from different lands – like Korean-Americans who become involved in Civil War reenactments or Italian-Americans who run gumbo restaurants in New Orleans. This comparison is not chosen at random. Europe is becoming ever more American in its demography. Once the exporter of immigrants, Europe must now refashion itself as an immigrant society.

The European Community was an effort to erase the traumas of the first and second World Wars. The new Europe Union, if it is to survive its current economic challenges, will similarly attempt to erase the traumas of the Cold War and the conflicts that immediately sprang up in its wake. But the EU must also grapple with a more fundamental tension between a traditional past and a multicultural future.

This tension between the mobile and the stationary can be creative and not just contentious. The two Europes could, for instance, consummate an opposites-attract marriage. But before we send out that particular marriage announcement, we’ll have to see the political defeat of the Geert Wilders and Marie Le Pens and Victor Orbans of Europe and the victory of politicians and artists who are more sensitive to the paradoxes of modern European life.

Interview with Janet Redman, IPS, on the Green Climate Fund

Janet Redman, Green Climate Fund Civil Society Observer

A meeting is being held this week in Berlin, Germany, to discuss an important fund that could provide money to poor countries to help them adapt to a warmer world, build clean energy infrastructure, and avoid further climate crisis. Janet Redman, co-director of the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network at IPS, is a civil society observer at the meeting and an expert on the Green Climate Fund. Lacy MacAuley, IPS media manager, interviewed Redman before she departed for Berlin:

Institute for Policy Studies: Government finance, development and environment ministry officials from around the world will be meeting this week in Berlin to talk about the Green Climate Fund. What is the Green Climate Fund and why is it important?

Janet Redman: The Green Climate Fund is a new financing body that was created by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to be a key part of the global fight to stop climate disruption and deal with the unequal impacts of global warming. Right now there are no international institutions that specifically address climate change on the scale necessary to match the magnitude of the problem. Ultimately, we need to transform the global economy in order to solve the climate crisis. That’s what we’re hoping this fund will help do.

A big part of that transformation needs to be building resilience to climate change in the countries that are most impacted, but least financially able and institutionally prepared to cope with those impacts. These are the same countries that are the least responsible for causing the climate crisis. These are the countries of the global South.

The other part of the transformation is about shifting the way we think about ‘development’ so that we move away from a paradigm that says unlimited growth based on extracting and burning dirty fuels is the same as well being. Countries in the global South have the right to develop. We practiced that right in the North . We expect the lights to come on when we flip a switch. People living in poorer countries also deserve to have the lights come on when they flip a switch. But if those countries follow the same energy path that we used to get here – burning dirty coal and oil, razing forests – we’re not going to be able to keep greenhouse gas emissions at safe levels, levels that prevent catastrophic global warming.

IPS: So the Green Climate Fund will help poor countries adapt to climate change, and help them avoid dirty energy?

JR: That’s the idea. The Fund is so important because there’s a need for lots of money, lots of financing – we’re talking about estimates of up to $1.2 trillion per year for adaptation and greenhouse gas mitigation in developing countries – to actually implement the good ideas about new transportation systems, distributed energy, sustainable agriculture, and much, much more that people are drafting. Many developing countries have already articulated in their own plans and their own strategies to deal with climate. But a huge barrier is that there’s just not a lot of funding or institutional infrastructure to move these ideas into action right now.

Countries in the north need to commit to raising the money in innovative and fair ways like taxing financial transactions, taxing carbon, and taking handouts away from fossil fuel companies. Then the Green Climate Fund can do the job it was created for – channeling money from developed to developing nations to deal with the impacts of climate change, to move to low-carbon, sustainable development pathways, and to build climate resilience into the way that they are doing development.

IPS: What is on the agenda at this week’s meeting in Berlin?

JR: Civil society is pretty much in agreement that this fund needs to put the needs of climate impacted and vulnerable people at the core of it’s design, so we’re working to make sure that the Green Climate Fund is centered as much as possible on national level climate plans and that those plans are created in a way that’s truly participatory. A country’s climate plans and strategies should include the government and input from people who are often politically marginalized. Then we need to work out how civil society participates in all the different structures at the national level, and that there’s meaningful public participation at the Fund’s international decision-making board. That’s why more than 70 organizations sent a letter to the GCF’s board members urging them to keep the board meetings open, transparent, and accountable. The Green Climate Fund’s design needs to be an open process, and not a closed-door process.

One of the most important parts of this meeting is that board members will be talking about what they call the “business model” of the Green Climate Fund. We hope they’ll come to agreement about the explicit and specific goals of the Fund will be, and from there we expect them to dig into the controversial issue of whether the Fund will fundamentally be about moving public sector money or private sector money.

IPS: Why should we be watching whether the fund moves public/taxpayer money or private/corporate money?

JR: Focusing on leveraging private sector investment is not the best way to help countries avoid climate crisis. One of our major concern is that we’ve seen financial support from existing private sector institutions like the International Finance Corporation bypass least developed countries, the smallest economies, the poorest countries, or even poor and marginalized people within middle-income countries or larger economies. And adaptation isn’t likely to garner much private sector support because helping poor communities relocate, deal with the impacts of flooding, reduce risks from extreme weather-related disasters is not particularly profitable – nor should it be.

Of course the private sector has role to play in transforming the global economy, but the Green Climate Fund should support local private sector actors, local investors who are interested in developing a sustainable national economy, not attracting large pools of private money from overseas that needs to be repaid to foreign investors.

IPS: How is the so-called “business model” related to this private sector scheme?

JR: The language around developing a ‘business model’ for the fund has been part of the larger slippery slope that risks orienting the fund toward meeting the needs of private sector finance. As I said, the private sector should be one piece of the puzzle, not the go to funding solution. The Fund board needs to work with civil society to understand when it’s appropriate to engage the private sector, and when depending on private investment undermines democratic development and weakens public institutions that are needed to deal with climate change. If this fund is about mobilizing the greatest volume of private investment possible instead of meeting the adaptation and clean energy needs of people in developing countries, then we’re risking not actually addressing the climate crisis. What we’re doing then is making attractive rates of return for private financiers, but that’s not the point of the Green Climate Fund.

The opening paragraphs of the Green Climate Fund document lay out how the fund is supposed to be actively promoting a “paradigm shift.” We’re very concerned that the paradigm shift may be just building more global financial infrastructure, instead of a shift away from exploitation, extraction, and overconsumption. It’s about reducing greenhouse gas emissions globally, but we also need to understand that countries need to develop in ways that leave our planet safe for future generations.

IPS: It seems like the private sector, corporations, and financiers have a lot of voice in these meetings. How are civil society, advocates, and concerned citizens being heard?

JR: Civil society has been given very little space to participate in the development of ideas that are being discussed at this meeting. For example, all of global civil society is being represented by two people – one from the North and one from the South. This means that the specific perspectives of groups that are impacted by climate change and proposed solutions like Indigenous peoples, workers, youth, women won’t be heard. And the two representatives in the room in Berlin will have only limited interventions – three minutes on each agenda item, and then only at the behest of the board chairs.

Other observers will have to sit in an adjacent room watching the meeting over a feed, even though there are rooms in the building big enough to accommodate most observers. And to add insult to injury, the board has so far refused to webcast the meeting, even though it is livestreaming it into the observer holding room.

What that says to us is that the board has not interest in transparency. It seems they don’t want people looking at their process, they want to have a closed conversation. That’s unacceptable. This is a 21st century fund that’s moving backwards from existing standards even in the World Bank’s climate funds – and it’s a fund that we all have a stake in.

IPS: Is there any hope that the Green Climate Fund can be effective, given the challenges and frustrations that you’ve described?

JR: I still have some hope. I think there is a possibility that it could be an institution that could help support countries, empower communities and avoid climate change.

It’s exciting that there’s an institution focused on a “paradigm shift,” since a paradigm shift is really what we need. One thing is clear: This fund should not support fossil-fuel-based technologies or nuclear energy. This fund should not fund megaprojects that displace people and destroy the land. We need a fund that actually does good, not harm.

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