IPS Blog

“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.

With Bus Segregation Israeli Apartheid Becomes More Blatant

Israel’s continued disregard for Palestinians is yet again highlighted in its latest segregation of the region’s bus system—modern day apartheid at its finest. Especially problematic is the fact that the bus system is a public service and under law should employ nondiscriminatory practices. The Palestinian Deputy Labor Minister and the Workers’ Union have denounced the “racist measures.”

The Israeli transportation authorities have said that segregation of the bus lines was put into effect to improve overall service for Palestinians by making the transport more effective. They also claim costs will fall—Palestinians will no longer be required to pay high prices for private, unregulated taxis to bring them to and from checkpoints.

Media reports indicate, however, that Jewish settlers lodged complaints with the government concerning safety on the buses with Palestinians aboard. Settlers also claimed buses were crowded and that high tensions between Palestinians and settlers pose security risks. This reasoning is likely the real reasoning for this troublesome policy.

The plan has drawn the opposition of the Israeli Knesset’s more progressive members. Zahava Gal-On, leader of the leftist Meretz leftist political party, called for the immediate cancellation of the segregated bus lines. “Separate bus lines for Palestinians prove that occupation and democracy cannot coexist,” he said. The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem also condemned the move, calling it “revolting.”

A few citizens took drastic measures to protest the segregation policy by setting aflame two of the buses just one day after its implementation. Discontent amongst Palestinians is apparent—how much further will Israel go to isolate this continually marginalized population?

The monetary savings of having segregated bus lines may be helpful to Palestinians but overall this policy does nothing to improve or even sustain the delicate political balance between these two populations. Israel continues to implement segregationist policies, pushing political boundaries to the breaking point while at the same time having no regard for the resulting repercussions.

Renee Lott is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.

Emphasis Added: The Foreign Policy Week in Pieces (3/8/13)

Emphasis, as always, added.

The UN Temperance League

“We make the modest proposal that the negotiating rooms should in future be an inebriation-free zone,” Joseph Torsella, deputy U.S. ambassador to the United Nations for management and reform, told the General Assembly’s budget committee.

“While my government is truly grateful for the strategic opportunities presented by some recent past practices, let’s save the champagne for toasting the successful end of the session, and do some credit to the Fifth Committee’s reputation in the process,” he said.

An annual vote of the budget committee … tends to come at Christmas time in late December. The debates often become heated marathon sessions that run into the early hours of the morning.

Diplomats who participate [in] sessions have told Reuters that it is not unusual to see delegates showing visible signs of having imbibed heavily.

U.S. urges ban on drunk diplomats at UN budget debates, Reuters

Reserve First Use of Nukes for Hackers Along With Nuclear and Biochemical Weapon Attacks!

The United States should be prepared to use every military option, including nuclear retaliation, in response to a huge computer attack, an independent Department of Defense task force said.

… “It would have to be extreme,” Paul Kaminski, chair of the Science Board and a member of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, said about the kind of attack that might trigger a nuclear response. “It would have to be the kind of attack that we would judge would be threatening our survival.”

Well, as long as it’s extreme.

Report: US Should Keep Nuke Option for Cyberattack, Andrew Conte, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Would Sanctions Drive Iran from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty?

Enmity with Iran is deeply institutionalized in the US political system. This explains many lost opportunities to improve relations, as well as the swiftness with which Obama’s initial diplomatic failure was translated into a determination to sanction the Iranian economy into ruins. Given Obama’s unprecedented success on the sanctions front, it might just be too tempting to keep Iran on its knees until it capitulates or its regime changes. [But] Absent a way out of the current predicament, Iran has little to lose in withdrawing from the Treaty of Nuclear Non-Proliferation.

With Iran posed to be a regional player, US should find ways to repair relations, Tytti Erästö, Global Post

Be There or Be Square: the Annual Nuclear Deterrence Summit

At this conference, like the previous ones, the most tedious aspect is the fundamentalist flavor of much of the discourse – the intense intellectual and psychological attachment and rehearsal of a nebulous and highly abstract construct. … Nuclear Deterrence. … It reminded me of Santa Claus, or the Tooth Fairy, or their evil twins. … The nuclear tooth fairy leaves billions of dollars under the pillow each and every year.

… This year, like other years, aging cold warriors are brought forth to lead the hosannas, renew the faith, recall the glory days when the enterprise was running on all eight cylinders (when it was as large and “important” as the U.S. automobile industry itself) and contribute their ideas as to how to keep faith alive in an age of doubt.

Reflections on the Deterrence Summit, Greg Mello, the Los Alamos Study Group

Ability of Nuclear Deterrence to Defuse Crises Exaggerated

Nuclear StatecraftWe may owe thanks for the absence of war (other than proxy) during the Long Peace — aka the Cold War — between the United States and the Soviet Union less to nuclear deterrence, as is commonly assumed, than to the “underlying politics.” That’s a thesis beginning to gain credibility which Francis J. Gavin presents as well as anyone (though I’ve just begun the book) in Nuclear Statecraft: History and Strategy in America’s Atomic Age (Cornell University Press, 2012).

Theories about nuclear weapons, he writes (my additions bracketed):

… were based on a certain view of the world: that the international system was no longer solely driven by geopolitical competition between the great states. While these drives still mattered, international relations were now shaped by the existence of and interaction between rival nuclear forces. The weapons themselves — their lethality, their numbers, their deployments — drove the politics, not the other way around. The interaction could produce outcomes — arms races, dangerous crises, and even inadvertent war — separate from the political sources of the rivalry. These theories implied that the most effective policy might not be focusing on the underlying political dispute between rivals but to control their [nuclear] weapons and their interactions. [In part, it] meant that mutual efforts had to be made to limit dangers and to negotiate, not about the core geopolitical issues driving the dispute, but control of the weapons themselves.

“This is an extraordinary way of viewing international relations,” Gavin continues. But, he asks, “does it accurately reflect the way the world works?” He then attempts to answer his own question. (Emphasis added.)

It is interesting to reflect on how rarely the ups and downs of the superpower geopolitical competition mirrored the movements of the arms race. The Soviets pushed the United States aggressively on the issue of West Germany’s military status by threatening West Berlin’s viability at a time when the USSR was not only weak but potentially open to a US first strike in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The Soviets left West Berlin alone after 1962, even as the US nuclear superiority that arguably helped protect the city disappeared. Why? Because the core geopolitical questions surrounding West Germany’s military and political status were resolved, largely to the Soviet Union’s satisfaction. In fact, it is very hard to find any evidence that … the Soviets ever considered launching a “bolt from the blue” against the United States.

Ward Wilson also approached the failure of deterrence in the Berlin crisis of 1948. In his book, Five Myths About Nuclear Weapons (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013), about which we recently posted, he writes:

Historians debate whether the redeployment of [nuclear weapons-capable] B-29s to England successfully deterred the Soviets. But few ask how Stalin could have initiated the crisis in the first place. When he ordered access to Berlin cut off, the United States had a monopoly on nuclear weapons. (the Soviet Union would not explode its first nuclear weapons for another year). Cutting off access to Berlin carried with it a significant risk of war. Where two large armed groups confront each other in a narrow space, there is always the possibility of accidental escalation. Or escalation could have been intentional. One of the options considered by Washington during the crisis was sending an armored column to force its way up the autobahn to Berlin. Given the risk of provoking a nuclear war and the U.S. nuclear monopoly, why wasn’t Stalin deterred from initiating the blockade? If the risk of nuclear war deters, why did Stalin start a crisis that could have led to the use of nuclear weapons against his country?

In other words, politics often proceed independently of considerations of the threat of a nuclear attacks. Meanwhile, far from lending clarity to international relations, nuclear deterrence just creates another obstacle and adds another layer of complexity to world peace.

Will the Next Pope Embrace Liberation Theology?

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

Will the next pope embrace liberation theology? The conventional answer would be: fat chance. However, without going too far out on a limb, one could also answer in the affirmative. In their own ways, both responses will likely be correct.

The chances that a true radical will be selected as Pope are next to nil. That’s because none are in the running. Technically, any baptized male Catholic can be elected to the post. But, in practice, the pope is selected from the church’s cardinals under the age of eighty. At this point, all the eligible cardinals were appointed to their positions either by Pope Benedict XVI or by Pope John Paul II. Both men vigilantly stacked the deck with cardinals whose views range, in the words of one religion professor, from conservative to ultraconservative.

Liberal theologian Hans Küng gives a harsh assessment of Benedict’s selection of Vatican personnel. “Under the German pope, a small, primarily Italian clique of yes-men, people with no sympathy for the calls to reform, were allowed to come into power,” Küng stated. “They are partly responsible for the stagnation that stifles every attempt at modernization of the church system.”

The most brilliant suggestion I’ve seen for a candidate who would decisively break with established traditions (and who would need to come from outside the current pool of cardinals) was penned by E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post. In a recent column entitled, “The best choice for pope? A nun,” Dionne argued that “An all-male hierarchy adopted policies to cover up the [sex abuse scandal plaguing the church] and seemed far too inclined to put protecting the church’s image ahead of protecting children.” He added, “Throughout history, it’s not uncommon for women to be brought in to put right what men have put wrong.”

Since that’s not going to happen, we can at least hope for a church leader who recognizes and validates the critical social justice work carried out largely by nuns, rather than spending his time reprimanding women religious.

One of the candidates considered to be among the frontrunners in the papal conclave would appear, at first look, to fit that bill: Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana. Not only would Turkson, as an African, break the European stranglehold on the papacy, he would come to the office straight from serving as president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. In this capacity, Turkson oversaw the release of a 2011 document that gave a fairly stinging critique of the international financial system. It blasted speculative trading, reiterated previous church warnings against “idolatry of the market,” and argued, “No one can in conscience accept the development of some countries to the detriment of others.” This is what has led some commentators to suggest that liberation theology may make a comeback if Turkson becomes pope.

But as Naunihal Singh explains at the New Yorker, Turkson has a strong conservative side. He is notably homophobic, even by church standards, having defended anti-gay legislation in Africa and having linked the Catholic Church’s pedophilia scandals to cultures that are permissive of homosexuality (rather than to an internal institutional culture that prizes secrecy, hierarchy, and obedience). Turkson also caused a scandal last year by showing a fear-mongering and discredited anti-Muslim video to a meeting of church officials. The British Independent has dubbed the cardinal “Conservatism’s Cape crusader.”

While they may seem incongruous, Turkson’s seeming contradictions speak to a wider point: in order to understand the Vatican’s response to liberation theology, one must appreciate how individuals such as Turkson can be considered conservatives within the church and nevertheless produce statements strongly critical of neoliberal capitalism.

It is widely noted that, before he became Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger headed the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, formerly known as the office of the Inquisition. There he earned the nickname “God’s Rottweiler,” leading the effort to silence creative and non-conformist voices within Catholicism. During Ratzinger’s tenure as doctrinal enforcer, the church is said to have officially rejected liberation theology.

But this is only true in part. The Vatican did object to liberation theologians’ use of Marxist sociological analysis, and it rejected their challenges to the centralized authority of Rome. Yet, at the same time, it affirmed many of the central doctrines of liberation theology, especially those relating to poverty, inequality, and economic justice. Most notably, the “preferential option for the poor,” the once-radical idea that God takes sides and identifies with the oppressed and impoverished, has been mainstreamed as Catholic theological doctrine.

To this extent, if not necessarily in the overall orientation of his ministry, the next pope is almost certain to carry forward the liberationist tradition.

Under each of the last two popes, the church has released statements about the global economy that take cues from liberation theology’s teachings. John Paul II condemned “the resurgence of a certain capitalist neoliberalism which subordinates the human person to blind market forces.” And it is worth remembering that Pope Benedict gave Gustavo Gutiérrez, one of the founders and leading lights of liberation theology, a place of honor at anAsh Wednesday mass in 2007. Religion & Politics editor Tiffany Stanley notes that Ratzinger’s current replacement as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, German Archbishop Gerhard Müller, “is said to be sympathetic to liberation theology and even co-authored a book with Gutiérrez.”

Likewise, it’s fascinating to read the reflections of prominent Brazilian liberationist Leonardo Boff, who was famously silenced for a year in 1985 and who ultimately left the priesthood in 1992. Boff is critical of Benedict. But he was also on friendly terms with Ratzinger, and he cites occasions upon which the former cardinal referred favorably to his books.

As for the upcoming conclave, probably the best candidate one can hope for from the perspective of liberation theology is another Brazilian, Cardinal Cláudio Hummes, the former archbishop of São Paulo. Hummes has shifted towards the center in recent decades and, like Turkson, has taken some controversial and reactionary stances (in his case, opposing the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS in Brazil). That said, he has significant progressive bona fides.

Preaching in working-class areas in and around São Paulo in the 1970s, Hummes supported Worker’s Party dissidents organizing against the country’s military junta. As Anna Flora Anderson of the Dominican School of Theology in São Paulo explained to the BBC in 2005: “The military would quickly shut down any union meeting. So one of the great things Claudio did was to open up the smaller churches [to activists]—so the unions could meet without interference.”

Hummes is a personal friend of former Brazilian president and Worker’s Party leader Lula da Silva. He has defended the land occupations of the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra. And he has long been regarded as an ally of the grassroots “base communities” that put liberation theology into practice throughout Brazil. As the Washington Post reports, on his first day on the job as archbishop of São Paulo, in 1998, Hummes “attacked the spread of global capitalism, saying the privatization of state companies and the lowering of tariffs had contributed to the ‘misery and poverty affecting millions around the world.’”

Much more than the many yes-men in the conclave, Hummes would open the door for the revival of social justice ministry in the Catholic Church. Unfortunately, you should only put your money on the Brazilian to become the next pope if you like betting on long shots. As of this writing, the odd-makers have him at 50-1.

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.

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