IPS Blog

G20’s Central Role? As a Lightning Rod

G8The G20 is going to be around for some time. But it will probably be as ineffective as the G8 in stabilizing global capitalism. Probably the main accomplishment of the G8 was to focus attention on itself as some sort of executive committee of global capitalism, the existence of which drew hundreds of thousands of protesters to Genoa in June 2001, an delegitimizing event from which the group never recovered.

The G20, a Clinton era initiative that was rescued from oblivion by Bush II at the beginning of the latest financial crisis and later promoted by Obama to coordinate global capitalism’s response to the crisis is classic cooptation: bring in the big boys from the South like China, India, and Brazil, along with a few others, to give them a strong stake in the current global system. But as they assemble in Toronto, the group is divided, over the extent of financial regulation and over whether or not to continue the stimulus programs that are pushing so many governments to register massive fiscal deficits. Endorsement of minimal financial regulation and an informal agreement to disagree over the stimulus question are likely to be the vapid results of this latest summit of the world’s so-called powerhouse economies. The structural fissures of global capital have become too great to be papered over by this presumptive executive committee.

But hey, the protesters have been given another opportunity to assemble against the ailing system of globalized capitalism, like we were by the London summit in 2008 and the Pittsburgh meeting in September 2009. Nothing beats the G20 meeting as a centralized focus of anti-capitalist protest.

Ironically, this has become the main function of the G8 and G20 meetings: to unite global opinion against an outmoded system of economic organization and advance the process of delegitimizing it. Let’s turn Toronto into another Genoa, but let’s hope this is not the last G20 Summit.

U.S. Men’s World Cup Team Rides a Wave of Jingoism

US fans

Everyone seems to be gushing about the U.S. Men’s World Cup soccer team. Fans are jumping and hugging in streets and bars across the country. Men are actually admitting to shedding tears. And commentators keep talking about what the last-gasp victory over Algeria says about the “national character.”

“These were Americans doing something recognizable,” wrote New York Times soccer columnist George Vecsey, linking the goalscorer, Landon Donovan, and his teammates with iconic athletes Michael Jordan and Derek Jeter, “something Americans have seen before.”

“American athletes would never give up,” was the lesson Vecsey drew from the match.

Vecsey and others have likewise read the victory, and the team, as symbols of an idyllic melting pot nation. One blogger, who calls himself the “renegade sportsman,” was particularly effusive:

Call it, perhaps, a protean, republican spirit of inclusion through merit. The pile-up on Donovan after his goal involved Hispanic dudes, white dudes, black dudes—even a Scottish dude. It was a fleshy amalgamation produced by a country that has always been polyglot and multihued.

And then there are the oft-quoted, hazily poetic words of U.S. midfielder DaMarcus Beasley (whom I happen to like and hope gets to play more), who is suddenly being compared to Whitman, Dickinson, and Louis Armstrong: “We bring something to the table, the American people as a whole.”

Understandable words from a member of a team that has rarely been taken seriously by the international soccer world. But as exegesis on a nation (that is so often, and so tellingly, mistaken for a hemisphere)? (Then again, I’m sure many Iraqis and Afghans would agree that U.S. Americans bring something to the table.)

The U.S. team is not an allegory for the nation. The team and its victory are not signs of some unique “American character” that we have and that no one else possesses. They are not symbols of an inclusive, meritocratic melting pot nation (which has somehow, magically erased its history of slavery, genocide, and imperial expansion, as well as its present day reality of ongoing racism, war, impoverishment, and inequality).

The team is just that. A team of 23 men and their coaches and trainers who have, despite some nervous moments, done rather well in the first round of the world’s largest sporting event-cum-platform for nationalist dreaming and global capitalism.

The rest is pure mythmaking and nationalist dribble (pardon the pun).

Indeed the World Cup, by its very modus operandi of pitting teams said to represent nations against one another, encourages such mythmaking and nationalist hyperbole. I get caught up in the emotion of the World Cup as much, if not more, than the average “American.” But when the crowd at the stadium, at the bar, in the streets starts chanting “USA! USA! USA!” maybe we should think twice about the seemingly instinctive, but very much conditioned, nationalist ritual we’re participating in.

Maybe at such a moment it might be worth thinking about those like the distraught Algerian goalie, Rais M’Bolhi, who conceded Donovan’s goal, after bravely turning aside everything that had come his way? Who couldn’t feel terrible for him? Was the goal some sign of the Algerian national character?

Before a difficult match against Ghana (and, if the U.S. team is lucky, other difficult match(es) ahead), perhaps it’s worth considering, in a game that inevitably entail wins and losses, why it is that we only see our victories—and never our defeats—as a sign of our national character?

Pavlovian Congress Jumps to Israel’s ‘Self-‘ Defense

Gaza FlotillaPosted as a complement to Stephen Zunes’s Foreign Policy in Focus piece Israel’s Dubious Investigation of Flotilla Attack.

In a letter to President Barack Obama date June 17, 329 out of 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives referred to Israel’s May 31 attack on a humanitarian aid flotilla in international waters, which resulted in the deaths of nine passengers and crew and injuries to scores of others, as an act of “self-defense” which they “strongly support.” Similarly, a June 21 Senate lettersigned by 87 out of 100 senators — went on record “fully” supporting what it called “Israel’s right to self-defense,” claiming that the widely supported effort to relieve critical shortages of food and medicine in the besieged Gaza Strip was simply part of a “clever tactical and diplomatic ploy” by “Israel’s opponents” to “challenge its international standing.”

The House letter urged President Obama “to remain steadfast in defense of Israel” in the face of the near-universal international condemnation of this blatant violation of international maritime law and other legal statutes, which the signatories referred to as “a rush to unfairly judge and defend Israel.” The Senate letter condemned the near-unanimous vote of the UN Human Rights Council for what it called “singling out” Israel, even though no other country in recent memory has attacked a humanitarian aid flotilla in international waters. Both letters called upon the United States to veto any resolution in the UN Security Council criticizing the Israeli attack.

What is perhaps most disturbing is that many of the key arguments in the letters were misleading and, in some cases, factually inaccurate.

The Israeli government had acknowledged prior to the writing of the letter that the extensive blockade of humanitarian goods was not necessary for their security, but as a means of pressuring the civilian population to end their support for Hamas, which won a majority of legislative seats in the most recent Palestinian election. In addition, the Israeli government announced a significant relaxation of the embargo two days after the letter was written. Despite this, the House letter claimed that the purpose of the blockade was “to stop terrorists from smuggling weapons to kill innocent civilians,” thereby placing this large bipartisan majority of the House even further to the right than Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s rightist coalition.

There was no mention in the letter than no such weapons were found on board any of the six ships hijacked by the Israelis nor on the previous eight ships the Free Gaza Campaign had sailed or attempted to sail to the Gaza Strip. In addition, even though the ships had been thoroughly inspected by customs officials prior to their disembarkation, the House letter claimed that had the Israelis not hijacked the ships, they would have “sailed unchecked into Gaza.”

Similarly, according to the Senate letter, Israel’s naval blockade was necessary “to keep dangerous goods from entering Gaza by sea” and falsely claimed that the intent of the Israeli blockade was “to protect Israel, while allowing humanitarian aid into Gaza.” Particularly striking is the fact that, despite that the International Committee on the Red Cross and a broad consensus of international legal experts recognize that the Israeli blockade of humanitarian goods is illegal, the Senate letter insisted that the blockade “is legal under international law.”

The House letter insisted, despite the fact that several of those killed on the Mavi Marmara were shot at point blank range in the back or the back of the head and a video showing a 19-year old U.S. citizen shot execution style on the ground, that “Israeli forces used necessary force as an act of self-defense and of last resort.” Similarly, the Senate letter refers to the murders of passengers and crew resisting the illegal boarding of their vessel in international waters as a situation where the Israeli raiders were “forced to respond to that attack” when they “arrived” on the ship.

The House letter also claimed that the other ships were “commandeered peacefully and without incident,” even though on the other ships, despite completely nonviolent resistance, passengers were tasered and brutally beaten and were attacked with tear gas and rubber bullets. Similarly, the Senate letter insisted that, in spite of these potentially fatal beatings and other assaults, “Israeli forces were able to safely divert five of the six ships challenging the blockade.”

Even though the Israeli government has never entered Gaza to disperse aid to the people of that territory since the start of the siege years earlier and reputable relief organizations have documented that the Israelis had routinely refused to allow humanitarian aid to enter the Gaza Strip, these House members claimed that Israel had offered to “disperse the aid . . . directly to the people of Gaza.” And, despite the fact that the five aid ships that Israel had allowed to dock in Gaza in previous months had distributed their humanitarian cargo directly to those in need, the senators claimed that it would have otherwise gone “into the hands of corrupt Gaza officials.”

Learning what actually transpired in the tragic incident was apparently of little interest to the 87 senators who signed the letter defending the attack. Despite the apparent whitewash forthcoming in the internal Israeli investigation, the senate letter supported Israel’s alleged intention to carry out “a thorough investigation of the incident,” insisting that Israel “has the right to determine how its investigation is conducted.” This comes in spite of a recent public opinion poll shows a clear majority of Americans — including 65 percent of Democrats — favor an international inquiry over allowing Israel alone to investigate the circumstances of the attack .

Ironically, a number of progressive organizations, web sites and list serves have called on the peace and human rights community to support the re- election of some of the very senators who signed this letter, including Barbara Boxer, Ron Wyden, and Russell Feingold. MoveOn, Council for a Livable World, and other progressive groups with PAC money have been are calling on their members, many of whom are peace and human rights activists, to donate their money to these right-wing Democrats who defend attacking peace and human rights activists and lie about the circumstances to justify it. They have no problems with supporting the re-election of those who lie and mislead their constituents in order to defend illegal actions by allied right-wing governments, even when they kill and injure participants in a humanitarian flotilla on the high seas.

There may be an underlying current of racism at work here. It is unlikely MoveOn, Council for a Livable World and other groups would defend such actions if, for example, if the activists were helping those under siege in Sarajevo in the 1990s or West Berlin in the 1940s, who happened to be white Europeans.

It is important to remember that the majority of Democrats joined in with Republicans in supporting the Salvadoran junta in the early 1980s and the Suharto regime in the 1990s until voters made clear they would withdraw their support from them if they did not change their policy. AIPAC and other right-wing “pro-Israel” groups are only as powerful as the absence of counter-pressure from the peace and human rights community. Letters like these will continue to be supported by most Democrats only as long they know they can get away with it.

U.S.-India Nuke Transactions Go From Bad to Worse

“The United States has made new concessions as part of its civilian nuclear agreement with India,” Nicholas Kravlev reported for the Washington Times back in April, “while New Delhi has yet to make it possible for U.S. companies to benefit from the unprecedented deal. … Washington agreed to Indian demands to increase the number of plants allowed to reprocess U.S.-supplied nuclear fuel from one to two [in order to] avoid long-distance transportation of dangerous materials. Arms control experts denounced the new deal saying it adds to the “damage” done by the original agreement.”

For those unfamiliar with how damaging that was, Kralev reminds us that “the Bush administration went against established norms and allowed a country that has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to use U.S.-supplied fuel to make plutonium, though for strictly civilian purposes.”

Nor is it just the arms control crowd for which the United States engaging in nuclear commerce with India presents a problem. As Colum Lynch reported in his UN blog “Turtle Bay” at Foreign Policy . . .

“There is mistrust,” said Egypt’s U.N. ambassador, Maged A. Abdelaziz [according to whom] the five major nuclear powers are [among other things] permitting a special group of nations — India, Israel, and Pakistan — a free pass to produce nuclear weapons, without having to abide by the obligations of signatories to the NPT. “States outside the treaty are reaping the benefits of the treaty,” he said.

As Andrew Lichterman and M.V. Ramana write in Beyond Arms Control (2010, Critical Will):

“Procedurally, if such a deal were to be agreed to at all, it should have been voted on by all states parties to the NPT rather than just by” those few states that compose the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). “By its very constitution, the NSG, consisting mostly of countries that engage in and profit from nuclear commerce, is a biased body, not suited to decide on the future of non-proliferation norms. … There is a sour irony in the NSG making such an exception for India, since the trade cartel was formed largely in response to India exploding a nuclear device in 1974. [Emphasis added.]

Meanwhile, what’s this about New Delhi yet to make it possible for U.S. companies to benefit from the original deal? Disarmament considerations aside, is America being played by India? More likely, the aftershocks from Bhopal have yet to cease reverberating. As Kralev wrote in his Washington Times piece, “India thus far has failed to pass legislation that would release U.S. companies from liability in case of accidents [in the] two reactors expected to be built” under the original agreement.

Presumably, though, U.S., as well as Indian, corporations expect to ultimately prevail. Lichterman and Ramana again: “. . . the nuclear deal is part of a broader set of [U.S.-Indian] agreements [which] US-based multinationals are. . . hoping to use. . . as a wedge to further open India to foreign investment and sales.” Of course . . .

In light of the spiraling collapse of the US financial sector, the notion that opening India to its particular brand of radically deregulated, short-term profit-driven “financial services” will promote “economic stability” is highly suspect. [Read: laughable. – RW] … The effect of the US-India deal. . . will be to bind India to a development path favourable to particular elements in the US political and economic elite and to their Indian counterparts. … nuclear power is most useful for serving. . . the consumption needs of the elites who profit from them. It has far less promise, however, for solving the energy needs of the vast majority of India’s population. … Nuclear power, as the most expensive form of centralized electricity generation, is an inefficient way to deliver energy to this population living in villages spread out over a vast country side.

Meanwhile, whither sustainable development in this equation? Lichterman and Ramana explain that “use of decentralized, renewable energy technologies in India [would be] economically efficient. . . self-reliant. . . and environmentally sound [and would promote] innovation and bring down prices.”

We’ll end with another irony to bookend the earlier instance cited by Lichterman and Ramana in which the Nuclear Suppliers Group made an exception for the state (India) in response to whose explosion of a nuclear device the NPG was, in large part, formed. “But even in terms of the urban rich,” they write, “the reality is that nuclear power in India has been mostly a failure. [It generates] less than one percent of its total energy needs. This is unlikely to grow significantly.”

Between India’s elites failing to see the return they expected, its masses denied both energy and sustainable development, and U.S. plans thwarted at the moment by the Indian legislature, it looks like the India-U.S. nuclear deal has thus far been a lose-lose-lose deal.

Right-wing Loonies Support Okinawa Base Relocation

OkinawaThe Washington Post recently featured a full-page ad supporting U.S. military presence in Japan and Okinawa. The ad, sponsored by the Association for the Protection of Okinawa’s Freedom and the Happiness Realization Party, made the following claims:

“There is a heated debate surrounding the relocation of the U.S. airbase in Okinawa. Some leftists are frantically attempting to expel the U.S. military from Japan. The Japanese media have been actively reporting on this campaign against the bases. This gives the impression that the majority of Japanese are opposed to these bases. This is not true.”

This was a curious string of half-truths and misrepresentations. Only the first sentence is correct. There is indeed a heated debate. But it’s not about expelling the U.S. military from Japan. It’s very specifically about the building of a new U.S. base in Okinawa to replace the Futenma facility. The campaign focused very narrowly on preventing this new base – not on closing other U.S. bases on Okinawa much less U.S. bases elsewhere in Japan. The Japanese media has actively reported on this narrow campaign, not on the imaginary campaign to expel the U.S. military from Japan.

And how do the Japanese feel about the relocation of Futenma? Actually, a majority of Japanese are opposed to the new base: 52 percent compared to only 41 percent who support it. If you go to Okinawa, the opposition to the new base grows precipitously to 90 percent. Nearly 100,000 Okinawans – almost 10 percent of the population – gathered to protest the base back in April.

What do the ad sponsors offer as counter-evidence? The Association for the Protection of Okinawa’s Freedom brought together 300 people in Nago in Okinawa to demonstrate support for the new base. Not exactly a groundswell of support compared to the nearly 100,000 who voiced opposition to the new base.

And what about the other ad co-sponsor? The Happiness Realization Party is the political wing of a religious cult whose leader believes he is the incarnation of the Buddha. And what a strange incarnation he is, for he believes that Japan must renounce its peace constitution and rearm to the teeth. The wife of this reincarnated Buddha ran for office last year on a platform of attacking North Korea and preparing for an inevitable Chinese invasion.

Right-wing militarists and religious fanatics are not exactly the alliance partners the United States should be seeking out. And if these are the only political forces in Japan that can be mustered to support the Okinawa base relocation plan, Washington is facing a long, long battle to get its way.

Getting Beyond the Usual Suspects on Foreign Policy

Late last week I was asked to write a short response to the question, “Is American foreign policy too ambitious?” In an opening line that was edited out of the final article, I wrote, “I’m not sure who else will answer this question, but I hope an Afghan and an Iraqi are among them.” I continued:

Given the tens of thousands dead, wounded, and displaced in Afghanistan and the millions dead, wounded, and displaced in Iraq since 2001, I wonder how an Iraqi or Afghan would answer this question. So too, I wonder how the family of a dead or maimed member of the U.S. military would respond?

The person organizing the online forum for Los Angeles’ Zócalo Public Square told me that she had tried unsuccessfully to get such a commentator. Despite her best efforts, the four writers, whose responses were linked to an event for Peter Beinart’s new book The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris, were exactly the people one would expect opining about U.S. foreign policy: They were, from all appearances, white, relatively elite men like me.

With few exceptions, these are the people who have long dominated foreign-policy debates as pundits, politicians, military brass, think tankers, and academics. While discussions of any kind about foreign policy have been rare of late (with General McChrystal’s public insubordination representing a recent opportunity), a longer-term question remains about how to expand the diversity of those deemed foreign policy “experts” beyond the usual suspects.

Of course there are aberrations from the white-male-elite norm, with important voices speaking out on foreign policy from, among others, Code Pink, Iraq Veterans against the War, and a recent letter asking President Obama to begin peace talks with the Taliban. The millions in the United States and globally who took to the streets to protest the invasion of Iraq likewise represent an unprecedented degree of public involvement in foreign policy.

The question remains how to further democratize debates and directions on war and foreign policy? Although I’ve never been there in person, Zócalo’s public square, like FPIF, seems to offer one small model for inspiring greater public involvement. Clearly nothing will take the place of masses of people getting into the streets. But part of the answer also lies in changing the faces of more of the experts, in disqualifying the expertise of some of those who have led us into two deadly and unnecessary wars, and in making the usual suspects on foreign policy more reflective of the nation’s diversity.

Split This Rock Poem of the Week: Tara Betts

A weekly featured poem of provocation and witness. You can find more poetry and arts news from Blog This Rock.

Understanding Tina Turner

Quiet girl found a voice mama could not quell
inside Nutbush City Limits. The baby
blasted beyond timid Annie Mae into Tina,
grind of muscle, hip, fierce calves
dominating heels into domesticity.

In the early music video era,
I soaked up her battered denim jacket,
leather mini-skirt, spiked wig and stilettos.
I’d throw my head back like her
rippling antennas of brown hair,
belting to no one in particular,
What’s Love Got to Do With It?

Twenty years later, people joke
about Ike’s fists granting Tina her name,
how she transitioned terror rooted
in spousal rhythm and blues to rock diva,
thunderdome warrior queen
with a mountain mansion overseas.

Hurts twang the womb
then escape into songs—like a man
who never holds you too close, too long,
trying to crush music within.

-Tara Betts

From Arc & Hue (Willow Books 2009). Used by permission.

Tara Betts is the author of Arc and Hue (Aquarius Press/Willow Books, 2009). She teaches at Rutgers University and leads community-based workshops. Her work has been published in Essence, Crab Orchard Review, Ninth Letter, Callaloo, Gathering Ground and many others. She is one of the poetry editors for The November 3rd Club, an online journal of political writing.

Betts appeared on the Willow Books Reading panel during Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness 2010.

G-20: Forum for International Non-Cooperation?

G20The G-20 has declared itself the “premier forum for international economic cooperation.” As President Barack Obama and his counterparts head into their summit in Toronto this weekend, however, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of cooperating going on.

In advance of the meeting, Obama sent a letter to other G20 leaders encouraging them to continue their stimulus programs until the recovery is stronger. That was a very sensible request. Slashing public spending now, when unemployment is still rising in the euro zone and remains at 10% in the United States, could plunge us into deeper crisis and make it even more difficult to pay back public debts over the long run.

Key European leaders immediately rejected Obama’s plea. New UK Prime Minister David Cameron unveiled an emergency budget plan that will slash government spending by 25 percent. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, hit hard by the Greek crisis, and European Commission President José Manuel Barroso also made it clear they have shifted their focus to budget cuts.

At a public event on the G-20 in Toronto yesterday, Damon Silvers, the AFL-CIO’s Public Policy Department Director, said the Europeans’ reaction is like a “fiscal Smoot-Hawley,” referring to the notorious 1930 U.S. law that jacked up tariffs on imports, triggering a trade war. Smoot-Hawley is widely blamed for exacerbating the Great Depression. Budget slashing in Europe could have a similarly devastating ripple effect, as consumers in that region have less money to spend on goods and services.

But European leaders shouldn’t take all the blame for the lack of cooperative spirit going into this G-20 summit. Obama’s lecturing on stimulus spending may have gone over better if his administration had shown more openness to some of the European leaders’ priority proposals. Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy have led a push for a G-20 agreement on financial speculation taxes (aka financial transactions taxes). They sent a letter of their own requesting that the matter be placed on the agenda in Toronto. Such a tax on trades of stock, derivatives, and other financial instrument could raise massive revenues for urgent needs.

So far, however, the Obama administration has opposed the idea, favoring a levy on top banks that would generate much less revenue and be aimed only at recouping bailout funds.

Obama may be the voice of reason on the immediate need for continued stimulus spending. But if we’re going to get back on a sustainable fiscal path in the medium term, we need to take seriously the need for major new revenue sources.

Petraeus Harbinger of Peace, Not Another Surge?

Firing Gen. McChrystal and replacing him with Gen. Petraeus raises many questions. For example, some say that when he accepted the post as top commander in Afghanistan, it was made clear to Gen. Petraeus that he’d come away with no great success like he supposedly had in Iraq with the Surge. On the other hand, did Petraeus take the position on the condition that the United States would send more troops to Iraq and switch back to a counterterrorism strategy from counterinsurgency?

But President Obama has stated that our Afghanistan strategy will remain the same. While that may be an attempt to appear strong and present a united front, will the administration, in fact, use this as an opportunity to begin the Great Drawdown? (After all, McChrystal is a ready-made fall guy for the failure of COIN.)

At IPS News Gareth Porter has an answer to those who fear that the error of COIN is about to be compounded with a new Surge (which always struck me as reinforcements rebranded):

Petraeus’s political skills and ability to sell a strategy involving a negotiated settlement offers Obama more flexibility than he has had with McChrystal in command.

Contrary to the generally accepted view that Petraeus mounted a successful counterinsurgency campaign in Iraq, his main accomplishment was to make the first formal accommodation with Sunni insurgents.

Petraeus demonstrated in his command in Iraq a willingness to adjust strategic objectives in light of realities he could not control. He had it made it clear to his staff at the outset that they would make one last effort to show progress, but that he would tell Congress that it was time to withdraw if he found that it was not working.

Do Focal Points readers think the appointment of General Petraeus might portend peace, or another surge?

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