IPS Blog

Deregulation and Free Trade a Win-Win for Mexican Narcotraffickers

Part 1 of an interview with Drug War Mexico co-author Peter Watt.

DrugWarMexicoThe past decade has not been kind to Mexico. Since officially transitioning from one-party rule in 2000, the country has witnessed the perverse effects of neoliberal economic policies, the striking rise in power of locally based drug traffickers, state-sponsored violence that has left tens of thousands dead and countless others victimized by human rights abuses, and a political system riddled with corruption. For many observers unfamiliar with Mexico, especially those next door in the United States, these developments have come as something of a shock.

As Peter Watt and Roberto Zepeda argue in their excellent new book, Drug War Mexico, however, the recent security crisis in Mexico hardly emerged from nowhere. The authors convincingly demonstrate that the country’s current troubles result from the confluence of long-standing factors, not least the economic interventions of outside powers, which have been exacerbated and reinforced by the government’s heavily militarized fight against Mexican narcotraffickers. The consequence, according to the Watt and Zepeda, is a country characterized by violence and ever deepening inequality.

I recently spoke with one of the book’s authors, Peter Watt, Lecturer in Hispanic Studies at the University of Sheffield, about the origins and development of the Mexican drug trade, the intersections between neoliberal economic policies and the American-sponsored “war on drugs,” the prospects of continued democratization in Mexico, and what the new presidency of Enrique Pena Nieto might possibly hold for the country moving forward. This is the first in a two-part series.

One of the great features of the book is its insistence on shattering the “state vs. traffickers” dichotomy that characterizes a lot of writing on the Mexican drug wars. Instead, you argue that traffickers benefit from the state and that state actors benefit from the drug trade. Can you talk a little about what this looks like, how it has developed, and how it can be understood in the current context of Mexican politics?

The mutually beneficial relationship between smugglers of contraband and the political and economic elites goes right back to the beginning of the twentieth century. During the Mexican Revolution, central government was preoccupied that the internal turmoil and instability of the conflict would allow for an invasion by the United States. This they viewed as a real possibility given that Mexico had lost more than 40 percent of its land to the United States in the mid-nineteenth century. At the same time, the government was equally concerned about the growing insurrection in the northern states and the influence and popularity of anarchist figures like the brothers Ricardo and Enrique Flores-Magón. In this context, President Carranza granted quasi-autonomous powers to states like Baja California in order to offset the danger of rural insurrection. From the outset, then, a certain leniency was afforded to organised criminal activities, while dissent and activism were harshly punished. The northern states were still cut off from the metropole because of distance and because of the remote terrain and mountains, despite the fact that capitalist development in Mexico had invested heavily in building 10,000 miles of new railroad prior to the outbreak of the revolution.

The then governor of Baja California, Esteban Cantú, also a military general, takes advantage of the fact that central government is essentially leaving the north to get on with things, so long as they prioritise quelling rebellions and staving off incursions by the US army. Cantú forbids the use of Mexican currency, printing his own instead, and raises his own taxes. Using his power with near complete impunity, he makes a personal fortune from prostitution, extortion, gambling and smuggling contraband into the United States. Governors like Cantú actually favored the prohibition policies, not for the same reasons that Nancy Reagan preached “Just Say No,” but because prohibition virtually guaranteed that the price of opium and heroin would rise. For those in power who could abuse their positions with few or no legal consequences, it was a way to get rich quickly.

Both Mexico and the United States ban the sale of narcotics in the 1910s and 1920s, pushing what ultimately is an issue of public health into the black market and the informal economy. When alcohol sales are outlawed in the US between 1919 and 1933, Mexican smugglers step in to satisfy the appetite for illicit booze. And again, prohibition assures enviable profit margins for those involved in smuggling. The United States Border Patrol is created in 1924, but the border is so massive—some 2,000 miles in length—and most of the terrain remote, it’s impossible to police efficiently. Combined with impunity for official involvement, corruption within the political system and plenty of poor people as a labor force, these factors allow for the smuggling of contraband operate relatively unhindered.

But the systematic control of the drug trade by the political elites really takes shape during the rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), in power from 1929 to 2000 (and which returned to power in 2012). Between 1938 and 1939 the Mexican federal narcotics reserve, a branch of the department of health, proposes establishing a government monopoly on the drugs trade. The US government responded by instituting an embargo on medical drugs to Mexico and thus the plan was abandoned. Yet while the formal and legalised monopoly of the drugs trade proved impossible, informal and tacit arrangements took their place throughout the eight decades of PRI rule.

Following the war, in 1947, with encouragement and backing from the US government, Mexico creates its own secret police force, modelled on both the FBI and the CIA. The newly formed DFS is an organization charged with political spying, maintaining what the PRI refers to as political ‘stability’, and punishing and quelling oppositionary social movements. The PRI can’t stay in power for 71 years without monitoring and either co-opting or punishing dissenters, and the DFS is one of the best weapons in its armory. The DFS is allowed to operate with complete impunity and is lavished with enormous sums of money. A system develops in which the DFS spies on and takes out subversives, Marxists, Communists, student activists and guerrillas, but also acts as a go-between between organised crime and the political elite.

In order for traffickers to operate they end up needing the permission, aid and wherewithal of the DFS. Under the PRI, the system comes to be known as la plaza, or “town square” in English. Having permission to work a plaza means having privileges—granted by the police, military, mayors, state governors, the DFS—to smuggle drugs in a certain area without interference from the authorities. In fact, in order to guarantee immunity, a number of traffickers, like Pablo Acosta, were given DFS badges and guns in order to fend off unwanted attention from the law. In return for such freedoms, traffickers would make monthly payments to the authorities. When they failed to make payments they ended up arrested or assassinated in the latest sting against narcotraffickers, something which always made for good stories in the media.

Because these arrangements were mutually beneficial to trafficking organisations and the political system, the violence was less widespread than it is today and the Pax Mafiosa which characterised the PRI years was due in large part to the fact the many criminal organisations were essentially tacit employees of the political system. Everyone understood who was in charge and only the most foolhardy defied the DFS and the politicians. That’s not to say that it wasn’t violent—it was, but the levels of violent conflict we’re witnessing today are unprecedented.

There are a couple of causal factors and critical junctures the book focuses on which you suggest are central to understanding the evolution of Mexican drug trafficking. One is neoliberalism. Can you discuss the significance of neoliberal policies on the Mexican economy and the development of the drug trade?

There’s an argument that beginning in the 1980s, PRI hegemony begins to break down. The party experiences a crisis of legitimacy as the population begins to view the PRI dinosaur as an eternal, yet corrupt, political institution which now serves only its own interests. From the 1930s to 1982, Mexico had one of the most protectionist economies in the region and among the largest public spending programs. Insufficient as they were, there were at least some social safety nets afforded to society’s most vulnerable. And then there was the land reform which had to an extent democratised ownership in the wake of the revolution.

Beginning in 1982 the PRI abandons its national revolutionary project in for the neoliberal model of privatization which demands the retreat of the state from public responsibilities in favor of market forces. And the profile of those at the top of the political system changes significantly. Previously, the elite of the PRI comprised those who had served for years in the party machine and had experience of the political system. By the 1980s, however, it’s clear that this has changed—now the party is run by moneyed technocrats educated at Harvard, Princeton, and Oxford who have essentially bought themselves into political power. Some members of the old guard, like Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, the son of President Lázaro Cárdenas, one of the architects of the post-revolutionary state, are expelled for being too left-wing.

In addition, the Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) makes serious headway in the elections and holds governorships in a number of states, meaning that organised crime doesn’t just have to negotiate with the PRI anymore.

There are several other important factors too, all of which contribute to a perfect storm. One is that when Ronald Reagan launches a campaign against Colombian narcotraffickers smuggling narcotics through the Caribbean and into Miami, the Colombians move their business westward to Mexico. That way they avoid the heat of Reagan’s South Florida Task Force in the Caribbean with the added advantage that the Mexicans will perform the most dangerous stage of the operation: transporting drugs into the United States. And now it is the Mexicans, not the Colombians, who risk lengthy jail terms in the United States. At first the Colombians take the lion’s share of the profits, but increasingly, the Mexicans, who have their own distribution networks in the US, are able to manage things on their own terms. As a result, Mexican cartels become richer and more powerful.

A further contributory factor to the growth of cartels aided by the active complicity of the political system is Reagan’s other war, the one in Central America. In order to rid Central America of the “communist cancer” once and for all, the CIA used the Contras to attempt the overthrow of the Sandinista government of Nicaragua. As stories in the international press emerged that the Contras were committing systematic human rights abuses, terrorising the civilian population and purposefully destroying the country’s infrastructure, the US Congress reduced the funding available to train and arm the Contra army. For Colonel Oliver North and the CIA, however, that simply wasn’t good enough. So they sold arms to Iran in order to raise funds that would then be diverted to the Contras to overthrow the Sandinistas, who, as Reagan claimed, were intent on invading the United States. That a country of three million impoverished peasants with no naval fleet and a tiny military had neither the intention nor the capacity to invade the most powerful economic and military power in world history was lost on the US media.

Also lost on the American media was that in order to circumvent the lack of funds available to overthrow the democratically-elected Sandinistas, now the CIA was using the Guadalajara cartel and the DFS to ship money and arms to the Contras. In return, these traffickers, with DFS assistance, were essentially given free reign of cities in the US Southwest and California, having been granted a green light by the CIA. One also wonders to what extent this intensified the explosion of crack cocaine in US inner-cities in the 80s. Such a policy inevitably contributed to the growth of organised crime in Mexico. The one person in the US media who reported this, Gary Webb, was completely marginalised for doing so and the San José Mercury News, where he had published the investigation, eventually let him go after intense political pressure.

And then there’s NAFTA.

The neoliberal programme accelerated significantly when President Salinas signs the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993, coming into law in 1994. What did the planners of the neoliberal program expect to happen with a massive transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich? The Clinton government knew full well that an immediate effect of NAFTA in Mexico would be massive internal displacement and an increased migration to the United States. In the same year, the US government stepped up its militarisation of the border with its Operation Gatekeeper, something which pushed undocumented migrants to ever remoter and more dangerous areas, vulnerable to extreme climatic conditions, thirst, hunger and the activities of criminal gangs poised ready to profit on the latest expansion of human misery.

During the negotiations for NAFTA, members of the DEA and the US Customs Service raised concerns which should have been obvious to anyone who gave the potential repercussions of the treaty any thought. They were worried—correctly, it turns out—that deregulation and free trade would be a win-win situation for drug trafficking organizations. But both Presidents George HW Bush and Bill Clinton explicitly prohibited them from raising the subject publicly. I doubt they actively wanted drug cartels to flourish. It’s just that it was an external or secondary concern to pushing through free-market policies.

NAFTA exacerbated problems already existent in Mexico. What we do in the book is question the validity of the neoliberal project and discuss some of its most destructive attributes. You have to be a real ideologue to still believe that the free-market somehow equals democracy. But unfortunately the falsehood that the market takes care of all ills is still a widespread piety—which is one of the reasons we dedicated much of the book to taking it apart. And it’s not just in Mexico that this is happening—it’s all over the place.

Can you discuss some of those attributes?

One of the key components of NAFTA is an attack on Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution. Land reform had been very much the crowning achievement of the 1917 document, which was pretty radical for its time. Communal land rights, for the first time since the Revolution, come under attack with NAFTA in a move to sell off more of Mexico’s resources to foreign investors and private interests. That’s one of the reasons that the Zapatista insurrection becomes publicly visible on January 1, 1994. They see NAFTA—rightly in my view—as a selling off of public and natural resources to Mexican elites and multi-national corporations.

As part of the structural adjustment programmes accelerated by NAFTA, the government removes subsidies to small-time farmers and on foodstuffs for the poor. And at the same time, the prices of basic foodstuffs like milk and tortillas increase.

What are some of the results of these changes? Mexico, which in the 1960s had been largely food self-sufficient, by the NAFTA period is orienting its produce to the export market. At the same time, the market is flooded with cheap foreign products, like corn. As the stringent measures imposed on Mexican farmers have not been imposed on their US counterparts—for US agriculture continues to receive taxpayer subsidies while these are cut back in Mexico—the mountain of US corn finds a market in Mexico, effectively denying millions of agricultural producers a living. So in the first six years of NAFTA, two million farmers leave the land. And they migrate to the ever-expanding metropolises, the sweatshops, or maquiladoras, in the north or to the United States. Thus, in the late 1990s and the early 2000s the number of people illegally crossing into the United States reaches an unprecedented level, some 500,000 annually, becoming the largest migration of people across a border on the planet.

While neoliberalism rewards Mexico’s rich with ever greater entitlements as the number of billionaires increases dramatically, the gap between rich and poor reaches new levels as the few social safety nets available to society’s most vulnerable get cut back. So as well as migrating, as you might expect, growing numbers of people are obliged to seek work in the informal economy. By the mid-2000s, this could be as much as half of the economically active population.

Now, with the fluctuation of prices for basic foodstuffs destined for the export market, it should be no surprise that some producers turned to crops that always wielded a stable and more profitable return. Growing poppies and marijuana had the advantage of fetching a higher price than corn, vanilla and beans. Neoliberalism in Mexico had the effect of pushing people towards the informal sector; there are now probably more people working in the illicit drugs trade than in the petroleum industry. If policy makers are serious about reducing the traffic of drugs passing through or originating in Mexico, the first and most crucial step is to alleviate poverty and reduce the perverse distribution of wealth which sees Carlos Slim, the world’s richest man, acquire $27 million every day, while over half the population has to make do with $2 a day.

During his presidency, Carlos Salinas privatizes more public assets than any of his predecessors. Many of these companies are sold off to friends in the economic and political elite, moneyed supporters and contributors to the PRI, a fact that kind of undermines all that religious zeal about the free market and competition. Many of these people have interests in the narcotics trade for the simple reason that they’re out to make money, and there are few easier ways of making money fast than trafficking drugs. So they buy up public assets and end up using these companies as places to launder the illegal proceeds from narcotics. Another key component of all this is that Mexican banks—many of which had been nationalised in 1982 as a result of the economic crisis—are privatized again in the 1990s. Again, it’s not that they’re sold off to those individuals and sectors which are particularly good at banking—instead they go to millionaire friends and supporters of Salinas. Privatization thus becomes a way for the rich to become some of the wealthiest people in the world. Just look at Forbes magazine’s list of the richest people in the world. Many of them are Mexicans and one is Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, the leader of the Sinaloa cartel.

Anyway, the deregulated banking sector is virtually unaccountable and is now able to launder billions of dollars of hot money more easily on behalf of organized crime. Carrying a million dollars around in a briefcase is not like in the movies—it can’t be done. You can get about $250,000 in denominations of $50 dollar bills in one case. But the cartels are earning billions every year. Amado Carrillo Fuentes is by the mid-1990s bringing in plane loads of drugs from Colombia. They called him El señor de los cielos, or Lord of the Skies, because he had a fleet of Boeing 727s which he used to collect cocaine in Colombia, flying it up to Mexico every week, apparently without any of the authorities or politicians noticing. Well, what does one do with billions of dollars of illicit money? It’s risky to move it around in trucks. So you set up accounts at Bank of America or Citibank under aliases. Or, you do what Raúl Salinas, the brother of the president, was accused of by Swiss investigators and move it to offshore tax havens. All this helps make the cartels very powerful indeed—it’s difficult to see how they could have grown without somewhere to launder and keep all that cash. And it allows the banks in Mexico, the United States and the United Kingdom to have access to billions of dollars in liquid assets every week.

To be continued.

President Obama Might Be Time’s Person of the Year, But Not the Middle-East’s

Time Magazine’s selection of President Barack Obama as Person of the Year for 2012 should not come as a surprise, after all, Obama’s presidency is by all measures a historic one.
From an American perspective, Obama’s rise to power as a man of color and a minority represents deep social, cultural and demographic changes in American society without which Obama’s presidency would still be a dream.

As Time editors noted in their report, Mr. Obama garnered the majority of the minority vote which was the decisive factor that put him back in the White House for four more years. President Obama’s might deserve his new title for many reasons here at home, but from an Arab perspective, he does not deserve the title. For his perceived negative inaction exceeds his positive actions.

Until two years ago, change in the Arab World seemed almost impossible if it wasn’t for a street vendor in Tunisia named Mohammad Bouazizi who, by setting himself alight, ignited a revolution that swept several countries in the Arab world. It is true, moreover, that Bouazizi was the catalyst for the Arab Spring, but it was, much like Obama’s America, the deep social, economic changes that occurred in the Arab world that were its true causes. It was mainly economic deprivation, lack of freedom and hope that needed Bouazizi’s spark to set the Arab Spring in motion.

The election of president Obama in 2008 was perceived as a sign of relief and great hope in the Arab World. The idea, it was thought then, was that a man with Obama’s background might be able to right America’s historic tilt against the Arab causes as far as its support for Arab dictators and its bias toward Israel. This was especially true after eight long years of the President George W. Bush administration that embarked on a foolish mission of “nation-building” in the Middle East but ended up destroying one of its most ancient and its most modern nations, Iraq.

Obama’s record in the Arab world is mixed at best. This is despite that he started off his first presidency with high hopes that he would achieve a breakthrough in the Arab Israeli conflict. But his efforts in that direction did not pan out after he realized that, when it comes to pressuring Israel, even the president of the United States might find himself with very limited power.

But the biggest disappointment in Obama’s presidency, from an Arab perspective, was his lackluster support for the revolting Arab citizens particularly in Egypt and Syria. At the beginning of the Egyptian revolution, Obama’s administration seemed hesitant as to whether it should support the demonstrators or back America’s long-time ally and dictator Hosni Mubarak. Even though Obama eventually supported the Egyptian revolution, it was viewed then as a disingenuous move that was made only to support U.S. interests.

The same dynamics exist today as many Egyptians suspect that the Obama administration is backing the Muslim Brotherhood government of President Mohammad Mursi, who is the first ever democratically elected president of Egypt. Much like Obama’s first term, President Mursi is presiding over a divided country in transition, but without the benefits of the strengths and stability of the American political system. Ironically, President Mursi made Time’s short list of the person of the year, but his inability to steer Egypt to safety after his election and his perceived divisive decisions cost him the venerable title.

Moreover, the bloody conflict in Syria also did not win Obama any points in the Arab World. The raging conflict that cost tens of thousands of innocent Syrian lives did not compel the Obama administration to move beyond economic sanctions against the regime of Bashaar al Assad and encourage its Arab and European allies to support the opposition with some military assistance.

Despite misgivings about the United States Middle East foreign policy, especially its limitless backing of Israel at the expense of Palestinians and its Arab allies, Arabs still look at the United States for guidance, support and backing against their dictators.

But if it wasn’t for the wrong timing, had the Arab Spring started during the presidency of George Bush, it would have been the perfect opportunity for the Bush administration to get rid of the dictatorial Arab regimes and support Arab revolutions and would have avoided destroying America’s image in the Arab World.

As a result, President Obama came to power with a mission to change America and to undo Bush’s greatest mistakes in the Middle East, mainly the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Obama’s political philosophy, in addition, was to end America’s military interventions in the Middle East and dump the nation-building project as well as improve America’s image abroad while direct his energies to improve the devastated US economy.

Therefore, the Arab Spring did not find strong backing in Washington, not because Mr. Obama was not interested in supporting freedom and democracy in the Middle East — he does — but because the Middle East is no longer a priority in Washington.

Ali Younes is a writer and analyst based in Washington D.C. He can be reached at: aliyounes98@gmail.com and on Twitter at @clearali.

Pakistanis Pay Price for CIA Use of Doctor as Asset in bin Laden Raid

At the New York Times, Declan Walsh and Donald G. McNeil write about Islamist extremists targeting Pakistani women who work for the UN administering polio vaccines.

After militants stalked and killed eight of them over the course of a three-day, nationwide vaccination drive, the United Nations suspended its anti-polio work in Pakistan on Wednesday. … Militant commanders have been criticizing polio vaccination campaigns … since 2007 when Maulvi Fazlullah, a radical preacher on a white horse. … claimed that polio vaccines were part of a plot to sterilize Muslim children, but in recent years Taliban commanders in the militant hub of North Waziristan have come up with a more political complaint: they say that immunization can resume only when American drones stop killing their comrades.

Compounding matters

Suspicion of vaccination has also intensified since the C.I.A. used a Pakistani doctor, Shakil Afridi, to run a hepatitis B vaccination scheme in order to spy on Osama bin Laden’s house in Abbottabad in 2011.

In fact

Heidi Larson, an anthropologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who analyzes local support for vaccines in different countries, believes the C.I.A.’s use of Dr. Afridi has hurt the polio drive more than the Pakistan government or the eradication campaign itself will admit.

As with Malala Yousafzai, the 15-year-old education activist that members of the Taliban shot in the head and neck, they’re demonstrating that “they consider women to be legitimate targets.” On a side note, this amounts to a declaration that, in fact, the Taliban are less concerned with theological credibility — 50 Islamic clerics subsequently issued a fatwa against the attackers — than in enforcing their whims.

Another victim of Pakistans’ use of Dr. Afridi is the doctor himself. Matthieu Akins reports at GQ. Pakistan’s ISI, its main intelligence agency

… arrested him as he was driving home in Peshawar on May 23, and as they say in Pakistan, “he was disappeared.” Afridi was taken to a secret prison, leaving unanswered the question of what exactly happened that day in Abbottabad.

The $25,000,000 reward for bin Laden was left unclaimed.

Maybe David Brooks Could Teach Gen. Petraeus and the Kagans a Thing or Two About Humility

On Tuesday, December 18, at the Washington Post, Rajiv Chandrasekaran revealed that, while he was top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus relied on the advisory services of prominent conservative think-tankers and military historians Frederick and Kimberly Kagan. He seems to have allowed them near-total access.

Provided desks, e-mail accounts and top-level security clearances in Kabul, they pored through classified intelligence reports, participated in senior-level strategy sessions and probed the assessments of field officers in order to advise Petraeus about how to fight the war differently.

But

The Kagans’ proximity to Petraeus, the country’s most-famous living general, provided an incentive for defense contractors to contribute to Kim Kagan’s think tank.

The Kagans had hoped to head off appearances of conflict of interest by working for free.

“There are actual patriots in the world,” Fred Kagan said. “It was very important to me not to be seen to be profiting from the war.”

Ah, the humility. Wait — I’ve got an idea. It was just revealed that conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks is teaching a course during the spring semester at Yale titled “Humility.” Apparently, he’s spoken and written about the subject before.

Brooks told New York magazine via email: “The title of the Humility course is, obviously, intentionally designed to provoke smart ass jibes, but there’s actually a serious point behind it.” From the course description: “The premise that human beings are blessed with many talents but are also burdened by sinfulness, ignorance, and weakness.”

Then why not invite Fred Kagan to sit in and learn a thing or two about humility? Then, should Brooks choose to follow up his spring course with one on the fall titled “Hubris,” he could invite Gen. Petraeus himself as a guest lecturer.

Gun Ownership Is a Hobby, Not a Right

In the wake of every horrific school shooting comes the predictable call for gun control. Just as predictably comes the crazy counter-argument: If only the teachers had been armed, the shooting could have been prevented.

Welcome to gun-crazy America. Illustration by DonkeyHotey / Flickr.

Welcome to gun-crazy America. Illustration by DonkeyHotey / Flickr.

The simple fact is that guns are not compatible with 21st century civilized life. We should get rid of them. If we can’t get rid of them today, we should at least start the process of getting rid of them for the future. The world needs a future without guns.

No one should have guns. Not criminals, not responsible citizens, not the police. Guns should be safely locked away for use in a serious emergency and issued to police officers on a limited basis only when necessary. Even most police don’t need guns.

What about criminals? They have guns. Don’t we need guns to fight them with? Sure, maybe for a while. But after a hundred years with no guns, the supply will dry up even for criminals. We should be planning for the future, not arming for the present.

What about the Constitution? Gun rights are enshrined in the Second Amendment to the US Constitution. Well, I have news for Constitutional fundamentalists: The US Constitution has been changed 27 times. It can be changed again.

Read the rest of this article at TruthOut.

Disability Treaty Opponents Succumb to UN Black Helicopter Conspiracy Theories

Cross-posted from Other Words.

America is suffering from a failure to commit. Just ask Bob Dole.

While the former GOP presidential candidate and decorated veteran watched from his wheelchair on the Senate floor, all but eight of the Republicans in that chamber shamefully voted down the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

It’s hardly a radical pact. To date, 126 other countries have ratified this treaty. Dole, who served as Senate Majority and Minority Leader for more than a decade, had championed it. So did veterans groups, disability rights organizations, and even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The treaty simply took our own Americans with Disabilities Act, and “expanded that kind of rights to people all over the world who don’t have them today,” explained Senator John McCain of Arizona, another former Republican presidential nominee and veteran with a disability.

But it takes two-thirds of the Senate to ratify a treaty, and even with all 53 senators in the Democratic caucus supporting it, too few Republicans got on board for it to pass.

The treaty’s opponents seem stuck in a partisan twilight zone of UN black helicopters and conspiracy theories that undercuts U.S. influence in global affairs. They’ve perfected a method of defeating virtually every treaty that comes along. Since controversial treaties never pass in the Senate, opponents make any unobjectionable agreement divisive by inventing a big lie.

That global women’s rights treaty? Too pro-abortion. The International Criminal Court? A kangaroo court out to get American service members. The Convention on the Rights of the Child? Kids could sue their parents. The UN Law of the Sea? An excuse to slap unfair global tax on Americans. An arms trade treaty? A ploy to deprive Americans of their right to bear arms.

To sabotage the disabilities treaty, Senator Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, joined forces with former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. Together, they crafted a ludicrous excuse for Republicans to rally around. Lee falsely claimed that the treaty would allow “a foreign body based in Geneva, Switzerland” to decide “what is best for a child at home in Utah.” They used this big lie to mobilize vocal opposition from the home-school movement.

These ploys generate enough angry messages from constituents to block the requisite approval for the United States to become a party to the treaty. In fact, the Senate hasn’t approved any major multilateral treaties at all since it endorsed the Chemical Weapons convention in 1997 — a year after Dole retired from Congress.

The Senate’s habitual failure to commit threatens our nation. It erodes U.S. global leadership. It limits our ability to express our collective values and blocks the development of worldwide agreements to address very real challenges that can decimate our civilization, including climate change and nuclear proliferation.

Fortunately, there’s a simple way to defeat big lies. It’s called the truth.

Barack Obama, like all presidents who serve two terms, has a big incentive to leave a foreign-policy legacy. Here’s my suggestion: He should lead a national dialogue on global agreements, followed by a special Senate session devoted to clearing the backlog of multilateral agreements the United States has failed to approve.

A majority of U.S. voters support adopting each one of the above-mentioned treaties. Business, labor, civil society, and national security leaders are behind them too. The only thing missing is leadership and a serious discussion of the consequences of this national failure.

Ratifying these treaties would do little or nothing to ramp up U.S. spending but it would go a long way toward rebuilding the nation’s global credibility. We’d gain international respect and increase long term security by taking strides towards solving big global challenges like climate change and nuclear proliferation — problems that can’t be resolved by any one nation, no matter how powerful.

Americans understand that international cooperation is essential to build a more secure world. It’s high time that the Senate did something about it.

Don Kraus is the president and CEO of GlobalSolutions.org, a groundbreaking movement of Americans who support a cooperative and responsible U.S. role in the world.

This Week in OtherWords: Kaul Writes Again and Richardson Becomes Our Newest Weekly Columnist

He’s back. This week in OtherWords, columnist Donald Kaul makes a surprise return to weigh in on the chilling Newtown shootings. Since he’s still on the mend and says that life’s just so much better without deadlines, my best advice to his many devoted fans is to watch this space.

And we’ve got two other developments to report. First, we’ve revamped our website, making it more user-friendly and easier to access on mobile devices. Please take a moment to check it out and let me know if you have any concerns or other feedback.

Second, we’re launching a new weekly column by Jill Richardson. She’ll write about all aspects of the food system, from farm to fork. Today, she’s taking a good hard look at ham, which millions of Americans consider a holiday staple.

And since we’re in the middle of the holiday season, please do consider making a year-end tax-deductible contribution to OtherWords. Our service is free for newspapers, new media outlets, and engaged citizens. But professional editing, proofreading, and concerted efforts to get these bold opinions into news outlets require at least a modest budget. Any amount you can give will be used wisely and effectively to help us expand our nationwide reach. You can make a donation on our new and improved website or mail a check payable to OtherWords to this address: Institute for Policy Studies; 1112 16th Street, NW, Suite 600; Washington, DC 20036.

For contributions of $100 or more, we’ll send you or someone you designate a copy of columnist Sam Pizzigati‘s latest book: The Rich Don’t Always Win. For contributions of $150, we’ll also include our cartoonist Khalil Bendib‘s latest collection: Too Big to Fail. Both make great gifts.

Scroll down to see this week’s lineup and please subscribe to our weekly newsletter if you haven’t signed up yet.

  1. Our Great Fiscal Opportunity / John Cavanagh
    This is a chance for the American public to engage in a critical debate over national priorities
  2. Funding our Future / Sarah Browning
    Slashing federal arts spending would curb our collective imagination.
  3. Turning our Tears into Action / Marc Morial
    We can’t go back to business as usual with gun violence in America
  4. A Grim New Year for Women / Martha Burk
    Many of the choices that appear likely in the pending budget deal would throw women under the bus.
  5. The New Agenda on Guns We Need after Newtown / Donald Kaul
    This time, the debate has to be about more than not offending the NRA’s sensibilities.
  6. A More Humane Holiday Ham / Jill Richardson
    Some of the ingredients on your Christmas dinner table aren’t so sweet.
  7. The Emperor of Avarice / Sam Pizzigati
    Gambling magnate Sheldon Adelson more than held his own against the stiff competition to be crowned the greediest American of 2012.
  8. Michigan Bucks Democracy / Jim Hightower
    With no warning, no hearings, no public input, no floor debate, and no time for citizens even to know what was happening, Michigan’s Republicans rammed a union-busting bill into law.
  9. Nixing Nuclear Energy / William A. Collins
    Japan backtracked on an ambitious plan to shut all of its nuclear reactors but Germany is blasting forward with an effort to do just that by 2022.
  10. Good Company / Khalil Bendib cartoon
Good Company, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Good Company, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

An IPS-Style Holiday Carol

By the twelfth month of 2012,
The Institute’s brought to you:
Twelve months of justice,
Eleven revenue raisers
Ten great op-eds
Nine detailed studies,
Eight economic hardship investigations,
Seven street heat protests,
Six Africa actions,
Five Mideast primers,
Four Drug War critiques,
Three green jobs plans,
Two carbon taxes,
And a transition to a Main Street economy

Here is to many more years of progress. From all of us at IPS, thank you for your support!

Does Pakistan’s National Pride Hinge on India Considering It a Threat?

Michael Stimson, co-founder of the Stimson Center, has written a valuable paper Pakistan’s Nuclear Strategy and Deterrence Stability, in which he concludes:

Pakistan’s [nuclear-weapons] stockpile is likely to grow as long as key constituencies within the country view their nuclear programs as a success story, domestic critics can be easily dismissed, relations with India remain contentious, and the sense of Pakistan’s international isolation grows.

As for India …

The central purpose of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, as defined by those who set nuclear requirements, is to protect Pakistan from a predatory neighbor that seeks either its demise or its submissiveness. … This widely held view within military circles remains fixed, even as Pakistan has become increasingly peripheral to India’s national ambitions. To acknowledge that a “hegemonic” neighbor has more pressing interests than to punish Pakistan would only magnify a sense of Pakistan’s national decline.

Indeed …

Indian elites resent being compared to Pakistan because, by almost every indicator, Pakistan is receding in India’s rear-view mirror.

Let me get this straight. Pakistan maintains and expands its nuclear-weapons program out of a need to believe that it’s a priority of India to invade, or at least retaliate with harsh measures, for extremist attacks, such as Mumbai, that Pakistan has failed to prevent? In other words Pakistan has locked itself into enacting this charade that’s not only prohibitively expensive but threatens its own existence because the bottom might drop out of its national pride if it wasn’t foremost in the minds of India as a threat?

That’s a high price to pay for a case of low self-esteem.

Both the Muslim Brotherhood and Egyptian Opposition Act as If They’re Playing a Zero-Sum Game

When Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi announced his constitutional declaration last November granting himself unchecked powers, as well as announcing his intentions to go ahead with plans of enacting an Islamist-backed constitution, he was in effect undermining his own legitimacy in the eyes of those who oppose him. Meanwhile, the Egyptian opposition of secularists, nationalists, women groups, minority groups and those who just hate the Muslim Brotherhood went back to Tahrir Square demanding to have their way or no way. As a result both sides entrenched in their respective positions and engaged in a war of elimination, which led the economy to go from bad to worse and sharply polarizing and dividing the Egyptian society.

President Morsi was elected fair and square in the only democratic election Egyptians ever experienced in the modern era, and he deserves to have his chance at governing. That said, however, he should not treat this as a license to undermine the very democracy Egyptians, had sought for decades.

At the same time the Egyptian opposition groups are trying to wrest power from Morsi by forcing him to cancel his controversial decrees that pertain to the constitutional referendum scheduled to take place this coming Saturday. But the manner through which the opposition groups are fighting this battle especially by appealing to foreign powers to intervene on their side is troubling. This kind of divisive political warfare resulted in pushing president Morsi and with him the Muslim Brotherhood into a bunker mentality and equally ready for a drawn-out, yet unnecessary, fight.

The core problem in Egypt is that no one seems to be interested in giving democracy a chance or the time to work or even willing to accept the idea that in a democracy winners and losers can still work together. What’s happening in Egypt today is that every group, whether the governing Muslim Brotherhood party or the opposition of all colors and persuasions, are engaged in a zero-sum game or winner take all.

President Morsi is mainly accused of being more interested in consolidating his and the Muslim Brotherhood powers at the expense of others and acting as if he was elected for forty not four years and behaving as if his name is Mohamad Hosni not Mohamad Morsi.

Adding to the problem is that Arab political culture, Egypt included, is still authoritarian and dictatorial despite the trappings of democracy in the post Arab Spring era. This is because politics in the Arab World revolves around the “charismatic leader” who should save the nation even though he often times ends up destroying it. The Arab world needs good presidents, not Messiahs.

Ali Younes is a writer and analyst based in Washington D.C. He can be reached at: aliyounes98@gmail.com and on Twitter at @clearali.

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