IPS Blog

The Lost Chapters of Malcolm X

Malcolm X. Credit: Wikimedia CommonsToday in honor of the 85th birthday of Malcolm X, I’m participating in an hour long discussion on the living legacy of Malcolm X and what Malcolm means in Obama’s America.

This discussion will occur on the Marc Steiner show 5pm to 6pm on 88.9FM for those in the Baltimore area. For those not in the Baltimore area, go to Marc Steiner’s website tomorrow and catch the podcast.

Also participating in the show will be:

  • Minister Akbar Muhammad, who was in the Nation of Islam under Malcolm X;
  • Omar Musa a Washington DC community activist, and
  • Lalit Clarkson from the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement.

In honor of this birthday the lost chapters of the Autobiography of Malcolm X are to be revealed in New York City. These chapters are said to highlight Malcolm’s view of the means to overcome the racial divide in the United States. During this time of America’s war against Islamic terrorism, I believe further discussion on one of the country’s most well known radical, anti-Western Muslims will be quite enlightening.

Hello, Has Anybody Seen Our Idea of Governance in Afghanistan?

Whew. I feel so much better now that POTUS has assured us the US has, “begun to reverse the momentum of the insurgency,” in Afghanistan.

Oh. Sorry. Just kidding.

What it really made me think is that Mr. Obama needs to find advisors who haven’t already drunk the Kool-Aid. And / or get his own meds checked.

Here’s why . . .

Afghanistan is not a failing state. It is a non-state — a network of tribes that alternately compete and collaborate. It is a landscape of “sink holes” into which our idea of governance has fallen.

The window to shift that reality (if it ever truly existed) certainly closed with the onset of the global economic implosion. The western commitment to Afghanistan would have died of ‘donor fatigue’ and overstretch sooner or later anyway, but the meltdowns and bailouts have pushed that moment up. It is better, therefore, to leave now.

What’s the downside of an immediate departure?

Loss of prestige? The US has none to lose with any of the groups they’re attempting to defeat.

Loss of deterrence? Misapplied force encourages rather than discourages resistance.

The Taliban take over? Let them. If they succeed in governing and create development and stability, the US wins. If they fail and destroy their popular support, the US wins. (Yes, it will be difficult for some of the Afghan people, but let’s tell truths — the US didn’t care about them before 9-11, and actions have pretty well demonstrated they haven’t really cared since. And, honestly, would you rather have to wear a beard / burqa, or get smoked in an air strike?)

That al Qaeda will flourish? It’s more an identity than an entity, and you can’t defeat ideas with firepower.

The instability in Afghanistan spills over into Pakistan? Too late. That outcome was pretty much assured when the US underwrote the original Muj back in the 80’s and then walked away after the Red Army bolted. (If not in 1947, when parts of Pakistan were incorporated by force, while others were excluded by whim, such as splitting the Pashtun nation.)

The Pakistan government falls and loses control over its nukes? We’re not sure to what extent such control exists today. Nor that US presence and assistance to that government are not more destabilizing.

That heroin will flood the world? Legalize drugs and kill a major funding source for criminals and insurgents. Then shift the DEA budget to recovery and development work.

That Afghanistan will become a training ground (again) for terrorists? As long as there is a sea of disaffected people in which to swim, terrorists will exist. The solution is development and equity — not combat.

Even if all the above were to occur, such outcomes are not necessarily more or less likely whether the US stays or goes.

Science tells us it that “complex adaptive systems” (which include all human organizations, whether your family, nation states, the Taliban or the LA Lakers) cannot be precisely predicted or controlled. The behaviors and outcomes manifested by the system emerge from the complex interactions among the ‘initial conditions’ (which continually “refresh”), the rules of the system, and the relationships among the ‘agents’, or members of the system.

So US prestige / deterrence may be damaged far more by overstretch than by withdrawal.

Al Qaeda may become irrelevant even if the US leaves, or may flourish because of events far from Afghanistan.

The Taliban may win simply by outlasting the invaders. (Remember, the US has to win. They only have to not lose.) Or it may lose because a US departure robs it of legitimacy, and what’s left is a bunch of ignorant thugs the tribes eradicate.

The Pakistani government may fall because of US support, or lack of it. Or simply implode from its internal inconsistencies.

The Pak nukes may be captured by the OG’s in such a collapse, or covertly handed over by the ISI in its ascendance. (Remember A Q Khan?) Or spirited away by a brilliant covert op.

None of these outcomes necessarily emerge because of US presence or absence. They are not really within US control. (Though American policymakers cling to that illusion.)

Most important, AfPak is nowhere near as great a strategic threat to the US as another $10 trillion of national debt. American military adventures in west and south Asia appear on course to add $3 trillion plus. A bloated ‘defense’ budget, corporate welfare and bailouts are on course to add the rest.

When American voters finally figure out how to crunch those numbers, it’s turn out the lights time, because the party’s over.

Better to bail now.

The above is an update of a response to David Kilcullen’s 2/09 piece in Small Wars Journal titled, Crunch Time in Afghanistan-Pakistan, in which he called a “Prevent, Protect, Build, Hand-Off” strategy the only viable option. I suggested “Option C” — bail immediately.

When Leaders Sleep Do They Dream of Peace?

So I’m walking to work today and I suddenly start thinking about Ariel Sharon, the former Israeli PM. Sharon went into a coma back on January 4, 2006. To my knowledge, the man is still alive. Correct?

What an interesting story here. What if Sharon came back to us and wanted to work on a Middle East solution?

Monsanto Seed Delivery Angers Haitian Activists

Small-scale Haitian farmers are furious about Monsanto’s efforts to “help” their country, Beverly Bell writes. The company is donating 475 tons of hybrid corn seeds and vegetable seeds, “some of them treated with highly toxic pesticides,” she says It’s prompting the Peasant Movement of Papay (MPP) to plan on burning Monsanto’s seeds. The group is also calling for a protest against Monsanto on June 4, for World Environment Day. As Bell explained in an OtherWords op-ed, Haiti has “a highly organized grassroots movement that has never given up the battle its ancestors began more than 200 years ago.”

Rescuing Haiti

Racial Wealth Divide now a Vast Gulf

The gap between the net worth of African American and white families has exploded in the past generation, according to new research released by scholars at Brandeis University. An initial wealth gap of $20,000 between black and white families expanded between 1984 and 2007 to $95,000 (excluding real estate holdings), researchers found. Why? Tax policies have helped the rich get richer, plus “evidence from multiple sources demonstrates the powerful role of persistent discrimination,” according to this report. “It’s time to finally make a unified thrust to bridge racial and economic inequality,” Dedrick Muhammad said in an OtherWords op-ed that called for a “rededication” to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision.

This is Your Brain on Pesticides

Researchers found links between organophosphate pesticides and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children in a study the medical journal Pediatrics published. The study identified correlation “at levels common among U.S. children,” possibly boosting the market for organic blueberries, strawberries, and celery. Kathleen Schuler’s February 22 OtherWords op-ed, Warning: Consumer Products May Be Harmful to Your Health, called for reforming “the outdated, ineffective Toxic Substances Control Act to protect the most vulnerable, especially children and pregnant women, phase out the worst chemicals, and require basic safety data for all chemicals before they are put into products.”

From the Frontlines: May 18th, 2010

The bill for Afghanistan could run into the trillions, as another suicide bomber hits another U.S. convoy. IPS fellow Miriam Pemberton, who studies the military budget, wrote that the era of Bush-style spending isn’t quite over.

Noam Chomsky has to settle for talking to Birzeit University by teleconference in Amman, after he’s denied entry into Israel.

The racial wealth gap has “more than quadrupled over the course of a generation,” according to a new study. Dedrick Muhammad has been studying this for awhile and has said that we need a huge shift in focus if we’re going to narrow this gap.

Undocumented students stage a sit-in at John McCain’s office, calling on him to support the DREAM Act so they can obtain scholarships and work their way through college while going through the process of legal residency.

The Dept. of the Interior, despite the BP oil mess, still continues to approve offshore drilling plans in the Gulf of Mexico without environmental review. The Center for Biological Diversity is suing Sec. Salazar to stop this.

CBPP says that the growing budget shouldn’t be an obstacle to passing the jobs bill: “Most of the provisions in this bill, which is now in the final stages of development, are strictly temporary measures that will stimulate additional demand for goods and services and create jobs while the recovery is still struggling to gain traction; they are not permanent measures that add to the long-term budget deficit.”

Trillion-Dollar War Tab

The National Priorities Project’s Cost of War counter, which measures the flow of money Congress appropriates for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, will reach the $1 trillion mark on May 30, the organization predicts. Meanwhile, Congress is on track to OK another estimated $37 billion for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. After that happens, NPP will update both its Cost of War amounts as well as the war-spending amounts found in its Trade Offs tool. If you haven’t seen this before, be sure to check it out. NPP makes it possible to know in an instant how much money a state or city has spent on military expenditures. For example, Des Moines taxpayers have paid $523.4 million for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars since 2001. That money, would have covered the cost of building 6,513 affordable housing units.

You can also read this OtherWords op-ed by NPP’s Chris Hellman about government spending.

Reader Challenge: Is the Middle-East Peace Process an Artifact of Another Age?

National Security Network’s Erica Mandell at Democracy Arsenal in Carpe Diem on Middle East Peace writes:

Dear Mr. President, it’s time for Middle East peace. To use your own words, you gotta “keep on at it.” Don’t let this be a case of simply going through the motions either, like your predecessor, who waited until his last year office to get serious . . . . To sit back and watch efforts fizzle would squander a unique opportunity to have a lasting impact on a global issue.

More:

As William Quandt, who was actively involved in the negotiations of the Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt, explains, the time has lapsed when we can stand back and hide behind the notion that “we can’t want it more than they do.” As it turns out, we can, especially when our own interests are at stake.

On the other hand, writes Aaron David Miller in a Foreign Policy article, The False Religion of Mideast Peace:

. . . since the October 1973 war gave birth to serious U.S. diplomacy and the phrase “peace process”. . . . the U.S. approach has come to rest [on] a sort of peace-process religion, a reverential logic chain that compelled most U.S. presidents to involve themselves seriously in the Arab-Israeli issue. Barack Obama is the latest convert, and by all accounts he too became a zealous believer, vowing within days of his inauguration “to actively and aggressively seek a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as Israel and its Arab neighbors.”

The “dogmatic creed, with immutable first principles” includes:

First, pursuit of a comprehensive peace was a core, if not the core, U.S. interest in the region, and achieving it offered the only sure way to protect U.S. interests; second, peace could be achieved, but only through a serious negotiating process based on trading land for peace; and third, only America could help the Arabs and Israelis bring that peace to fruition.

The peace-process creed has endured so long because to a large degree it has made sense and accorded with U.S. interests. The question is, does it still? . . . Is the Arab-Israeli conflict still the core issue?

Sadly, the answers to these questions seem to be all too obvious these days . . . The notion that . . . Arab-Israeli peace would, like some magic potion, bullet, or elixir, make it all better, is just flat wrong. In a broken, angry region with so many problems . . . it stretches the bounds of credulity to the breaking point to argue that settling the Arab-Israeli conflict is the most critical issue, or that its resolution would somehow guarantee Middle East stability.

Focal Points readers are urged to read the Miller article in full. Then let us know whether you think, like Ms. Mandell and the Obama administration, that we need to carpe diem the Middle-East peace process. Or, as Mr. Miller writes, is it over-rated, unobtainable, and no longer the key that unlocks the door to Middle-East stability?

Main Street Protests Wall Street and K Street

Protesters on K Street. Credit: IPSA steady rain fell on the large crowd of protesters who gathered at McPherson Square, on K Street. I juggled my umbrella, a camera, and a soggy sign that said “MAKE FINANCE PAY,” wishing another pair of arms would magically appear.

Despite the chilly, wet weather, thousands of people – representing groups like the AFL-CIO, SEIU, AFT (link to an article about their Pink Hearts, not Pink Slips campaign), Jobs with Justice, National People’s Action, the Other 98%, and many others I didn’t catch – chanted, banged drums, and held up banners protesting the K Street lobbyists who’ve hijacked our democracy.

AFL-CIO sign. Credit: IPS“K Street is Washington’s counterpart to Wall Street,” writes our director, John Cavanagh, “and powerful men on both streets have been working hard, in tandem, to preserve our casino economy, our plunder economy, and our military economy.”

We marched around a few blocks of K Street closed off for the protest. At the end of the closed-off area there was a giant evil-looking banker, holding a marionette of the Senate building. Boo hiss!

Wall St Banker. Credit: IPSAll in all, it was great to see so many people brave the weather to civilly demand their rights. Brian, our friendly neighborhood tech guy, filmed the protest and interviewed a few people about why they were here today. I saw a few news camera crews there too, so hopefully we’ll get some key footage up soon. You can see the rest of our photos on Flickr.

Were you at the protest? Tell us about it.

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