IPS Blog

Why Did Russian Officials Withhold News of Flooding From Krymsk?

Yesterday, the New York Times published another one of those stories that raises a huge question, which it then fails to address. Most of the 170 deaths by flooding in the Black Sea coastal area occurred in the town of Krymsk when water ran down hills and into town in torrents. Ellen Barry reports (sort of) that:

… it came as a shock, and then as the focus of anger, when officials acknowledged that they had been aware of a threat to Krymsk at 10 the previous night, but had not taken measures to rouse its sleeping residents.

A resident asked:

“If they knew at 11, why didn’t they warn us? What are we, hunks of meat? Are we not people?”

Was it the usual — fear of starting a panic, being held responsible for incurring the expense of an evacuation when it might turn out one wasn’t needed? One explanation:

The Emergencies Ministry said it sent warnings out by text message, but some local residents said they never received the alerts. Ministry head Vladimir Puchkov [said] “A system to warn the residents was set up. … But, unfortunately, not everyone was warned early enough.”

What makes the New York Times story even more lacking was that two days earlier, July 9, Masha Gessen reported in a blog post in the Times itself (don’t you people talk to each other?) that:

… a young woman named Yulia Andropova on her page on vkontakte.ru, a Russian social network [apparently] writing from Krymsk … described how the town may have been deliberately flooded to spare the bigger city of Novorossiysk.

“Everyone is keeping quiet about this now, but last night my father was working and he says that they called an emergency meeting in the middle of the night to decide whether to open the floodgates of the Neberdzhaevskoye Reservoir,” Andropova wrote .…“And what do you think? Of course they decided to open the floodgates! They sacrificed Krymsk and still didn’t manage to prevent the flooding of Novorossiysk. Good job. But at least they should have warned people the water was coming!

Gessen added that:

But late Saturday night, two expert bloggers posted detailed analyses of the region’s topography, both concluding that Krymsk was probably flooded after heavy rain over nearby mountains turned normally tame rivers into monstrous roaring streams.

One blogger, by the name of Eugeny Shultz, concluded that the reservoir had probably overflowed on its own. No one had opened any floodgates; in fact, there are no floodgates at this particular reservoir.

In any event, returning to Barry’s story:

The flood in this city of 57,000 in southern Russia is the first disaster to hit the country since Vladimir V. Putin returned to the presidency, amid uncertain public support for his government. Its aftermath has riveted national attention as a measure of the state’s effectiveness, including visits from celebrities and volunteer efforts backed by pro-government and opposition political parties.

Mr. Putin has been damaged in the past by appearing indifferent to disasters — most acutely in 2000, when he failed to immediately return from a vacation to handle the sinking of a nuclear-powered submarine, the Kursk. Russia declined initial rescue offers from other countries, and all 118 sailors trapped onboard died.

Gesen again:

The post was reposted hundreds, possibly thousands of times on different social networks. Prominent bloggers and journalists quoted it to show the Putin regime’s utter disregard for human life — as if further proof were needed.

The question begs to be asked: will this be Vladimir Putin’s Katrina?

Palestinian Demonstrators Underscore the Palestinian Authority’s Legitimacy Problem

Cross-posted from Mondoweiss.

A protest against police brutality in Ramallah at the start of this month was met with truncheons by the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) security forces. Unsurprisingly, there was an Israeli precipitant to this reaction: the Washington Post’s Benjamin Gottlieb explained that this was actually the second confrontation between demonstrators and police in Ramallah that weekend. The first clash occurred when the PA invited Israeli VP Shaul Mofaz to come to Ramallah, the PA’s capital in the West Bank, to meet with President Mahmoud Abbas.

Because of the protests, the visit was put off as the police moved in to contain the demonstrators. The now-postponed visit, and the reactions to it by Palestinian activists, stand as apt reminders of the tension inherent in the Palestinian Authority’s very existence.

The Israeli veep was invited by the PA because after joining his political party, Kadima, with Netanyahu’s governing coalition to form a unity government, he was appointed to serve as “minister without portfolio” on the stalled peace process. Huwaida Arraf, one of the founders of the International Solidarity Movement, was one of those who criticized the PA for even inviting Mofaz in the first place because he served as IDF Chief of Staff, and then Defense Minister, at the onset of the Second Intifada.

Gazan blogger Mohammed Suliman summed up the unequal relationship between Ramallah and Jersualem in his coverage of the protests: “An intricately designed hierarchy where Abbas’s [sic] placed underneath Israel yet extends his hand upwards to them forming the PA-Israel alliance.” Indeed, despite its close cooperation with the IDF since 1994 in arresting suspected militants, the PA does not even have total control of its own funds or its security forces, whose training and equipping have for the past eighteen years been finalized by the American, Israeli, Jordanian and Egyptian governments. The training and arming of these security forces, who have been accused of torturing detainees and vigilantism, has been asore point for years among Palestinians.

Several demonstrators and reporters were injured during the weekend protests, and critics charged the PA with trying to impose a media blackout on the day’s events. The PA is often suspect of members of the press, even those at state outlets, and this past year — after failing to secure settlement building freezes, difficulties in making progress in much-trumpeted unity talks with Hamas, or win international recognition as a state through the UN — has apparently stepped up its efforts to censor the press. Concerns have been growing over the years that the PA is using charges of incitement or collaboration with Hamas to quash criticism of its actions (Hamas, for its part, will also harass critical individuals and outlets on spurious charges of collaboration or undermining their authority).

One of the most notorious cases this year has been that of Yousef Shayeb, a reporter working for the Jordanian daily Al-Ghab. He had reported early this year that officials at the General Delegation of Palestine in France were engaged in corrupt financial practices, nepotism and were passing information about Muslim organizations in France on to Mossad. He named several high-ranking members of the PA/PLO serving in the EU in this report, which prompted Ramallah and several of those named in it to charge Shayeb with libel. As the authorities in Ramallah detained Shayeb and built their case up against him, all the while pressing him to reveal his anonymous sources, Al-Ghab disavowed itself of Shayeb’s reporting and fired Shayed, saying he had improperly vetted his sources. Shayeb has not yet been tried for libel, but may face further jail time and a significant fine if convicted by a Palestinian court.

Reports on other actions against reporters suggest that Shayeb’s detention and interrogation came at a time this past spring when the PA was increasingly cracking down on online criticism of Abbas. West Bank journalist Tariq Khamis told Electronic Intifada that when he was brought in for his alleged ties to a man who had called for Abbas’s overthrow, the Palestinian police interrogated him about a story he’d written a West Bank paper about Palestinian youth groups critical of Ramallah’s negotiating track with the Israelis. George Hale has reported that Palestinian ISPs have been ordered to block websites critical of Abbas, even though Palestinian media officials have said there is no law authorizing Ramallah to make these move, and at least one top media official subsequently resigned in protest.

Israel continues to exert even greater pressure on Palestinian and international journalists in the West Bank, but sometimes, these Israelis actions actually benefit the PA too, since as the Committee to Protect Journalists has noted, West Bank media outlets like Wattan TV targeted by the IDF have also “been a thorn in the flesh of the PA for most of its existence”. In fact, this marks the sixth time Wattan TV has been shut down — the first five times it was forced to suspend its broadcasts, it was due to the Palestinian Authority’s actions.

Social media is helping Palestinian activists dissatisfied with both the Fatah and Hamas’s governance reach wider audiences. So in Ramallah, there can be few Palestinian protest chants more unnerving these days than those that end with SCAF comparisons.

No Wonder So Many Drone Strikes Gang Aft Aglay

In a July 6 piece for the New York Times on the training of drone operators titled The Drone Zone, Mark Mazzetti wrote:

The increased use of drones in warfare has led the Air Force to re-engineer its training program for drone pilots.

Aside from the inevitable landing accents that result when you rush a pilot — virtual or not — into action, other problems have arisen.

Then there is the fact that the movement shown on a drone pilot’s video screen has over the years been seconds behind what the drone sees — a delay caused by the time it takes to bounce a signal off a satellite in space. This problem, called “latency,” has long bedeviled drone pilots, making it difficult to hit a moving target. Last year senior operatives with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula told a Yemeni reporter that if they hear an American drone overhead, they move around as much as possible. (Military officials said that they have made progress in recent years in addressing the latency problem but declined to provide details.)

Jeez, as if drone strikes weren’t already enough of a guessing game what with signature strikes* and all.

*”Signature strikes target groups of men believed to be militants associated with terrorist groups, but whose identities aren’t always known. The bulk of CIA’s drone strikes are signature strikes.” http://tinyurl.com/8a78vdp

Islamist Militias More Popular — or Less Unpopular — in Mali Than Native Tuaregs

Cross-posted from the Arabist.

Le Monde estimates that over 200,000 Malians have fled to neighboring countries in the wake of the ongoing “Tuareg rebellion,” while at least 150,000 more have become international displaced persons. It is by now, though, a misnomer to call this conflict a “Tuareg rebellion,” as the MNLA, the Tuareg organization originally fighting to establish an autonomous homeland in northern Mali, has been driven from the cities it captured from the government. The government was driven from the north months before, and so the initiative is now in hands of the militias proclaiming Islamist goals.

Despite their superior armaments, MNLA fighters have now been driven from Gao which they had declared to be the capital of their autonomous state of “Azawad.” Reporter Peter Tinti interviewed residents of Gao following the MNLA’s departure from the city, offering insight into the Islamists’ success. Visit the Arabist to view his tweets from Gao.

The Islamists’ “acceptance” seems to be less a matter of sincerity on the part of the “liberated” residents of Gao for “Les Mujadadin” than it is a hope that the past weeks of looting and arbitrary violence against civilians will subside. Neither the MNLA nor the Malian Army found themselves to be very popular as occupiers in the past few months because of their actions.

Indeed, success in Gao for the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) — an organization involved in bombings, smuggling and kidnappings in Algeria — and Ansar al-Dine, founded by the Tuareg Islamist and former MNLA commander Iyad Ag Ghali, did not just come militarily. It also came through through the fact that the Islamists accurately read street protests over the murder of a local official and their escalation against the MNLA occupation and Tuareg separatism in general. France24 reports that MUJWA and Ansar al-Dine quickly took up places alongside the demonstrators. A spokesman for Ansar al-Dine claims that the Islamists, who do count Tuaregs among their numbers, “only” moved against the MNLA in order to prevent them from further brutalizing the city’s residents.

Tuaregs are now reportedly vacating northern Mali in fear of further reprisals from all parties, while MUJWA is apparently trying to win over Mali’s Songhai minority. At the same, all of the Islamist militias have reportedly begun imposing their versions of Sharia law in the towns they hold: a family interviewed by Phil Paoletta reports public floggings and other harsh measures have been instituted in Timbuktu, while throughout the north, armed gangs are descending upon Sufi shrines to tear them down.

Unpopular as these actions are proving to be, an even greater dearth of popular support bedeviled the MNLA since the onset of the fighting that saw Mali’s US-trained armed forces retreating before separatist Tuaregs kitted out with stolen Libyan weaponry. It was no coincidence that these columns bore the arms of the Jamahiriya — the late Colonel was a patron of Tuareg separatism in Mali in the 1980s and 1990s, when severe droughts and resentment towards Bamako’s policies sparked revolts. Representatives of Tuareg tribes eventually reached a ceasefire with the government in 1998, though clashes continued to occur on and off since then and disappointment with the central government — in both the north and among the military — has festered through that time. The returning mercenaries from Libya provided the means for the conflict to be reignited.

But as the shock of its assault wore out over Mali’s geographic space and ethnic divisions, the Tuaregs’ position deteriorated (they account for no more than a fifth of Mali’s total population, and many have since moved to the cities). The MNLA has been hurting for manpower and finances. Additionally, the several-thousand strong MNLA did not represent all Tuaregs. Splits within the movement among participating Tuareg tribes, such as the Kel Adagh, had weakened the separatists before the falling out with Ansar al-Dine occurred in Timbuktu.

The conflict’s regional implications are still being calculated. Mauritania and Algeria are deploying more border units, and Mali’s West African neighbors have proposed direct military intervention. Parliamentarians and protestors in Bamako are demanding that the army — still chastened from its losses and self-defeating coup against President Touré in the spring — take more proactive measures to regain government control over the north.

Finally, there is the matter of assessing how possible next steps in this conflict — further Islamist offensives, outside military intervention from ECOWAS, refugee movements, a government offensive – might affect a Sahelian food insecurity crisis warned of by aid organizations for this year. Oxfam warned in June that “[l]ow rainfall and water levels, poor harvests and lack of pasture, high food prices and a drop in remittances from migrants are all causing serious problems …. National food reserves are dangerously low, while prices of some key cereals have dramatically increased: prices of corn in the Sahel are 60-85% higher than last five year average prices.” Water access issues in the north are being exacerbated by conflict-related disruptions.

And between 70,000 and 100,000 refugees have gone to [Mauritania], where “700,000 people (over one-quarter of the population) in Mauritania are [already] estimated to be vulnerable to food insecurity.” The World Food Program and other NGOs remain optimistic that international donors and the region’s governments can remediate most of these problems, including in Mali, where Oxfam plans to provide food aid to around 350,000 people.

Update: For more information on Ansar al-Dine’s Iyag Ag Ghaly, AFP’s Serge Daniel has a profile of the Tuareg Islamist leader up at Slateafrique.com.

What Vets Are Not Talking About When They’re Not Talking About Their War Experiences

In her June 28 piece Mad, Bad, Sad: What’s Really Happened to America’s Soldiers at Tom Dispatch, Nan Levinson writes about “moral injury.”

It’s a concept in progress, defined as the result of taking part in or witnessing something of consequence that you find wrong, something which violates your deeply held beliefs about yourself and your role in the world. For a moment, at least, you become what you never wanted to be. While the symptoms and causes may overlap with PTSD, moral injury arises from what you did or failed to do, rather than from what was done to you.

Agreed: I’ve long thought that when veterans of World War II and subsequent wars that the United States has prosecuted or participated in refrain from speaking about their experiences, it’s not because of what was inflicted on them. It’s because of what they they did and wished they didn’t, or didn’t and wish they did. The second category covers everything from acts of physical cowardice to failure to object to or report atrocities committed by their fellow soldiers.

In fact, as Levinson so astutely writes:

In trying to heal from a moral injury, people struggle to restore a sense of themselves as decent human beings, but the stumbling block for many veterans of recent US wars is that their judgment about the immorality of their actions may well be correct.

Photo Slideshow: An Act of Art

On July 7 in London I had the honor of joining artist activists from LiberateTate in a guerilla installation and performance piece at the Tate Modern Museum.

Photo 1: The piece, entitled “The Gift,” is just the latest in a series of artistic direct actions to denounce BP’s financial support of the museum and other iconic cultural institutions and events (BP’s also a sponsor of the 2012 Olympics taking place this month in London).

Previous actions – both beautiful and profound – include Human Cost, Toni and Bobbi and my favorite – Dead in the Water. It involved a batch of very ripe fish tied to helium balloons released to the ceiling of the main exhibition hall to commemorate the BP disaster that spewed 5,000 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, decimating sea life.

Photo 2: By the time I arrived – late – crews had already carried pieces of The Gift from three different parts of the city to the Tate and forced their way into the loading doors at the top of the (aptly named) Turbine Hall. This was no small feat – one security guard actually laid down in front of the dories carrying the one and a half tons of steel, wood, and fiberglass in this must see video. Having direct action tactics used against you while doing a direct action is a little disorienting. I hope someone got his number to recruit him for the next action.

Photo 3: As museum-goers watched curiously I forced my way past a very polite security guard and jumped in the 100-strong human chain encircling the blade and the assembly team.

Photo 4: I even got a chance to be part of the hands-on crew that lowered the turbine blade to rest on the museum floor.

Photo 5: It caused a bit of a ruckus, and showed up on BBC Radio 4 and the Guardian.

Photo 6: Apparently in the UK no gallery can refuse a gift of art, and so once The Gift was officially presented to the museum staff – along with documentation of the preceding performances – the Tate Modern became the proud owner of its own wind turbine blade. And technically, nothing about the action was ‘illegal.’

Photo 7: Still, the police weren’t particularly happy we were leaving behind a giant symbol of what the British government should be (but isn’t) supporting – i.e. clean renewable energy – in the middle of one their most popular public spaces.

Photo 8: And they almost didn’t let us leave the museum without it.

Photo 9: But it was too late. As soon as we set the blade on the floor and we walked away eager visitors wanted to know what it was all about. The message was already out.

Photo 10: Not surprisingly, it didn’t take long for museum staff to disassemble The Gift.

Photo 11: But by then we were off to celebrate a day’s work well done with a pint of London’s finest by the River Thames!

Syria, the United States, and the El Salvador Option (Part Two)

Recalled U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert S. Ford.

Recalled U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert S. Ford.

Cross-posted from the Colorado Progressive Jewish News.

(Read part one.)

So what is the Salvador option?

“The Salvador Option” is a “terrorist mode” of mass killings that was perfected by the US to destabilize regimes that the US saw as threats to its interests. Taught at places like the School of the Americas, it is employed when other forms of political manipulation fail to produce the desired results. The option works through created and sponsored death squads, with the primary goal of committing slaughter of innocent lives. This triggers world outrage, necessitating intervention by the US under the humanitarian intervention framework. As we state in Part One, this was first applied in El Salvador, in the heyday of resistance against the military dictatorship, resulting in an estimated 75,000 deaths.

A. To see how it works, we would like to borrow an analogy from cooking. What are the needed ingredients for this process?

I. Identify a progressive regime that resists US imperialism and hegemony and declare it ‘rogue state’ or ‘access of evil’ etc. Use any expression with a catchy title to engineer the consent of the unsuspected people; it helps if this regime is somewhat authoritarian.

II. Develop a plan and begin the preparations, putting a destabilization expert in charge, normally as ambassador or someone with diplomatic immunity.

1. This person usually begins by contacting the army searching for elements that are prepared to sell their soul and their country for few pieces of silver.

2. If such elements cannot be found from within the ranks of the U.S. diplomatic corps, create such an entity; call it a ‘resistance’ or ‘liberation movement’ made up of preferably those trained at a U.S. army base or training camp somewhere in the world. If that is not possible, the U.S. can usually depend upon a ready-made supply of Salafist and Wahhabi ‘freedom fighters’ willingly provided by allies in Saudi Arabia and Qatar; or better yet, use the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (MEK) terrorist organization that Washington and Tel Aviv have been long training.

3. Once the appropriate arrangement is agreed upon, the process of supplying the freedom fighters with weapons, financial support, technical advisers, and clandestine operators begins. …You know what we mean.

4. To make it easier for this fabricated liberation movement to gain legitimacy, implement a tried and tested program that generates international revolution: the more abominable the crimes committed, the more likely the call to humanitarian intervention will arise.

5. To feign compassion (to make the whole thing kosher), it helps to go to that circus known as the UN to organize a Security Council resolution. Once the appropriate U.N. vote is favorably extracted, bought through either bribery, threats or some combination thereof, it is possible to reap the harvest of all this intrigue and subterfuge by dividing the country or putting a puppet in charge; the sky is the limit! The ultimate goal – a la Libya – is to produce weak or fractured states, the smaller the better – and the easier to manipulate their weak and easily corruptible governments to accept radical global corporate intervention on easy terms. Are you following the point, catching the drift?

B. Now let us see how this hypothesis works in the case of Syria.

In Part One, we stated that the destabilization and regime change in Syria has been part of US plan for the past ten years. Taking advantage of the authoritarian nature of the Assad regime, and emboldened by its ability to overthrow Khadafy in Libya, the Obama Administration turned its attention to Syria. Bringing down – or seriously weakening – Assad weakens Iran’s position in the region, undermines Hezbollah in Lebanon, puts a smile on Binjamin Netanyahu’s face and places Russia and China in a more difficult strategic position.

In Syria’s case, the only missing ingredient was an opportunity to implement the plan. The eruption of the Arab Spring and the eruption of the ensuing social crisis in Syria provided Washington with the opportunity to turn the regional democratic upsurge to its advantage.

There are many indications that the “Free Syrian Army,” currently engaged in armed struggle against the Assad government, is led not by Syrians, but by NATO-backed Libyan militants from the US State Department-listed terrorist organization, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. Recently, revelations that Syrian militants are in fact being armed, trained, funded, and joined on the battlefield by Libya’s Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), a US State Department-listed foreign terrorist organization (listed as #27) . The Telegraph would report in November 2011 that LIFG leader Abdul Belhaj met with senior leaders of the “Free Syrian Army” on the Turkish-Syrian border. ) Belhaj and his LIFG’s role is not just assisting Syrian militants but in fact leading them in NATO’s armed destabilization of Syria. Belhaj pledged weapons and money (both of which he receives from NATO) as well as sending LIFG fighters to train and fight alongside Syrian militants. VoltaireNet.org would confirm.

Saudi Arabia, which has closely coordinated with U.S. Middle East policy aims for decades, is also very much involved. It has also been confirmed that Saudi Arabia is shipping arms to foreign fighters and Syrian rebels operating out of Jordan. The Australian reports, quoting an Arab diplomat, that “Saudi military equipment is on its way to Jordan to arm the Free Syrian Army.” It must be noted that Saudi Arabia in turn, receives its weapons and a significant amount of military funding from the United States.

C. The Role of U.S. Ambassador Robert S. Ford

In January, 2011, just as the Arab Spring was expanding region-wide from its Tunisian birthplace, one Robert Stephen Ford was appointed the new US Ambassador to Syria. Ford is no ordinary diplomat. He was U.S. representative in January 2004 to the Shiite city of Najaf in Iraq. Najaf was the stronghold of the Mahdi army. A few months later he was appointed “Number Two Man” (Minister Counsellor for Political Affairs), at the US embassy in Baghdad at the outset of John Negroponte’s tenure as US Ambassador to Iraq (June 2004- April 2005). Ford subsequently served under Negroponte’s successor Zalmay Khalilzad prior to his appointment as Ambassador to Algeria in 2006, another highly sensitive political appointment.

Ambassador Robert S. Ford’s activities in Iraq laid the groundwork for the launching of the insurgency in Syria in March 2011, which commenced in the Southern border city of Daraa. Much of what we know about Ford’s activities has been well documented by the Canadian research center, Global Research, Ca.

Ford arrived in Damascus at the height of the protest movement in Egypt. He was no stranger to some of the more covert and nefarious aspects of U.S. foreign policy. Ford had been part of John Negroponte’s team at the US Embassy in Baghdad (2004-2005) where he helped engineer “the Salvador Option” for Iraq. The latter consisted in supporting Iraqi death squads and paramilitary forces modeled on the experience of Central America.

Robert S. Ford’s mandate as “Number Two” (Minister Counsellor for Political Affairs) under the helm of Ambassador John Negroponte was to coordinate out of the US embassy, the covert support to death squads and paramilitary groups in Iraq with a view to fomenting sectarian violence and weakening the resistance movement.

Ford gave a touching statement of his goals in Syria in a communique from the U.S. embassy there:

As the United States’ Ambassador to Syria—a position that the Secretary of State and President are keeping me in —I will work with colleagues in Washington to support a peaceful transition for the Syrian people. We and our international partners hope to see a transition that reaches out and includes all of Syria’s communities and that gives all Syrians hope for a better future. My year in Syria tells me such a transition is possible, but not when one side constantly initiates attacks against people taking shelter in their homes.

“Peaceful transition for the Syrian people”? He was pursuing a much darker agenda.

Prof. Michel Chossudovsky of Global Research describes Ford’s role more honestly:

“Since his arrival in Damascus in late January 2011 until he was recalled by Washington in October 2011, Ambassador Robert S. Ford played a central role in laying the groundwork within Syria as well as establishing contacts with opposition groups. The US embassy was subsequently closed down in February. Ford also played a role in the recruitment of Mujahideen mercenaries from neighboring Arab countries and their integration into Syrian “opposition forces”. Since his departure from Damascus, Ford continues to oversee the Syria project out of the US State Department.

All indications are that Ford engaged in more cynical activities than just muted congenial diplomatic relations. In Syria he was a key player, implementing two major building blocks of the Salvador option needed for the destabilization of Syria, as he did in Iraq:

1. He used the cover of the diplomatic immunity to travel around Syria in order to connect together the groups trained by the US intelligence community. He has been pictured with US military advisers visiting hotspot sites all over Syria.

2. On a more sinister level, as in Iraq, he used his diplomatic status in Syria to distribute sophisticated communication equipment, equipment whose communications could not be decoded by the Syrian authorities (or those in other countries where the system was used). The US embassy in Damascus was the system’s communication system.

Using this new secretly coded technology, he began to openly incite the Syrian elements sympathetic to the US interest to topple the régime. Imagine what would have happened to the Syrian ambassador in Washington, had he engaged in similar activities with the Occupy movements here.

Another key figure in Syria’s ‘Salvador Option’ is David Petraeus. We’ll deal with his role in Part Three of this series.

Ibrahim Kazerooni is finishing a joint Ph.D. program at the Iliff School of Theology and the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies in Denver. More of his work can be found at the Imam Ibrahim Kazerooni Blog. Rob Prince is a Lecturer of International Studies at the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies and publisher of the Colorado Progressive Jewish News.

Iran’s Parchin Clean-up a “Tease”

On July 2 at Truthout, Gareth Porter wrote:

For many months, the most dramatic media storyline on Iran’s nuclear program has been an explosives containment cylinder that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says was installed at Iran’s Parchin military base a decade ago to test nuclear weapons. The coverage of the initial IAEA account of the cylinder in its report last November has been followed by a steady drip of reports about Iran refusing to allow the agency’s inspectors to visit the site at Parchin and satellite photos showing what are said to be Iranian efforts to “sanitize” the site.

But

… the images in question suggest something quite different from the “clean up” of the site reported in global news media.

As opposed to a sanitization or clean-up, the activities, Porter writes, may constitute a lure to induce the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to visit the site. Tehran may be thinking that

… the agency would be more open to compromise on its demand to … to continue investigating allegations of Iranian covert nuclear weapons work indefinitely, regardless of the information provided by Iran in response to its questions.

Former IAEA inspector Robert Kelley explained

… why that makes no sense. “The Uranium signatures are very persistent in the environment,” he wrote in an article for the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in May. “If Iran is using hoses to wash contamination across a parking lot into a ditch, there will be enhanced [not fewer, as one would think if Tehran was hiding activities -- RW] opportunities for uranium collection if teams are allowed access.”

Meanwhile, David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security

… was back again in June with a new satellite image taken May 25 showing that soil had been moved from two areas north and south of the building said to have held the explosive chamber. … But it also showed that the same soil was dumped only a few hundred feet farther north of the building, making environmental sampling quite simple.

Assuming that Tehran doesn’t know that leaving the soil beside the building or that, by washing “contamination across a parking lot into a ditch, there will be enhanced opportunities for uranium collection if teams are allowed access” strikes this observer as part of a pattern of underestimating the intelligence of Tehran. As Kelley wrote in a comment at Arms Control Wonk on June 19, “I think [Iran is] teasing the international community with these activities.” (In the same comment thread, Albright defends his findings.)

The pattern on the part of the United States of underestimating and condescending towards Tehran — and other states that aspire to develop nuclear-weapons programs — can best be observed in two examples. The first is the New START treaty, which is long on confidence building but short on weapons reduction. The second is the $700 billion the United States expects to spend on nuclear weapons over the next ten years. While those realities may not drive it to develop nuclear weapons, they’re not exactly lost on Tehran.

The Lineup: Week of July 9-15, 2012

In this week’s OtherWords editorial package, Daphne Wysham says that Washington’s recent storm and heat wave underscored the need for wiser energy choices, and Martha Burk weighs in on what the Supreme Court’s health care ruling means for women. On our blog, Tom Israel offers a creative quiz for Obamacare foes. Get all this and more in your inbox by subscribing to our weekly newsletter. If you haven’t signed up yet, please do.

  1. A Perfect and Hot Storm / Daphne Wysham
    It’s time to save ourselves from a climate nightmare of our own making.
  2. Year of the Gaffe / Peter Hart
    We’ve got four more months of this to come.
  3. Drinking MOX-Laced Lemonade / Ryan Alexander
    The government is spending $15 billion to create a nuclear fuel derived from plutonium that we have to bribe companies to take.
  4. Why Women Love John Roberts / Martha Burk
    The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the health care mandate may not stop the war on women, but it surely feels good to win such a decisive battle.
  5. Pennsylvania’s High-Profile Pedophile Scandals / Donald Kaul
    The Penn State and Philadelphia archdiocese cases are parallel examples of two grand, exalted institutions fleeing their moral responsibilities.
  6. Sabotaging Montana’s Campaign Finance Legacy / Jim Hightower
    The Supreme Court has trumped a century-old state law that made the state a model for campaign finance in America.
  7. Our Troops as Cannon Fodder / William A. Collins
    Wars of conquest are most popular if they can be made to appear tidy, safe, just, and relatively cost-free.
  8. Mitt’s Gift of Gaffe / Khalil Bendib
Mitt Romney's Gift of Gaffe, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Mitt Romney’s Gift of Gaffe, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Why Couldn’t the Left Prevail in Mexico?

Enrique Pena Nieto, winner of the recent Mexican presidential election.

Enrique Pena Nieto, winner of the recent Mexican presidential election.

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

In the past dozen years, left parties in a whole lot of Latin America countries—from Argentina to El Salvador—have won elections and taken power. But, so far, Mexico has not joined the list. The country’s most recent presidential elections, held last Sunday, did not change that.

Initial election results show Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) prevailing with approximately 38 percent of the vote. (For non-Mexico watchers: the PRI was the party that governed Mexico for some seven decades before one-party rule was shattered in 2000, and it was subsequently thought to be headed for the trash heap of history.)

Progressive Andrés Manuel López Obrador, known as AMLO, of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) trailed behind Peña Nieto with around 32 percent. Right-wing Josefina Vázquez Mota of the incumbent National Action Party (PAN) garnered only around 29 percent of the vote.

Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research had a nice op-ed in the New York Times arguing that the results reflected nearly a dozen failed years of neoliberal economic policies, enacted by two PAN presidents. Weisbrot wrote:

If ever there were an election preordained as a result of economic performance, it would be Mexico’s election on Sunday.

…Commentators, focused on the six-year-old drug war, have largely neglected to note the depth of Mexico’s economic problems. Let’s start with the basics: Since 2000, when the PAN was first elected, income per person in Mexico has grown by just 0.9 percent annually. This is terrible for a developing country, and less than half the rate of growth of the Latin American region during this period—which was itself not stellar. If we just look at per capita growth since the last election, in 2006, Mexico finishes dead last of all the countries in Latin America.

Between 1980 and 2000, when the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, lost control of Mexico for the first time in more than 70 years, the country saw a precipitous drop in economic growth. Before the 1980s, Mexico was growing at a rate that would have lifted the country to European living standards, had it continued.

It is not fashionable among observers, in the United States or Mexico, to mention that Mexico’s economy has performed abysmally for more than 30 years. Starting with the recession and Latin American debt crisis in the early 1980s, the PRI shifted toward what economists call “neoliberalism”: abandoning state-led industrial and development policies, tightening monetary and fiscal policies and liberalizing foreign investment and trade. The North American Free Trade Agreement, which took effect in 1994, was only the most visible example of this transformation.

Of course, not all of these policies were mistaken, but the overall result was an unqualified failure. The same thing happened across Latin America from 1980 to 2000, where gross domestic product, per capita, grew by 6 percent, as compared with 92 percent over the prior two decades.

The failure of neoliberalism provides a compelling reason for why the PAN lost big. But it doesn’t account for why the Left was unable to capitalize on the situation, trailing instead behind the PRI.

There are a few things that can be said about this. First, the PRI was never as dead as some imagined. While many voters and officials fled the party after its hold on presidential power was cracked in 2000, the party was still strong in many Mexican states and remained a major presence in the country’s legislature.

As for AMLO’s failure, Weisbrot points to two factors weighing against left candidates:

Part of the answer may be found in Mexico’s electoral institutions, and especially the ownership of the news media. In 1988, the PRI candidate, Carlos Salinas, was declared the winner over a leftist candidate, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, only because of widespread electoral fraud. The 2006 election was too close to call: the PAN candidate, Felipe Calderón, who is now finishing his six-year term as president, was declared the winner by a razor-thin margin, and only after a partial recount, the results of which were never released to the public.

More important, the media, which are essentially owned by a monopoly, were found to have played a significant role in the 2006 elections, more than enough to prevent the most left-wing candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who ran again this year, from winning. With 95 percent of TV broadcasts controlled by just two media outlets with a strong and documented bias against Mr. Obrador’s party, the Party of the Democratic Revolution, a true left-of-center candidate has little chance.

The first point, fraud, is one that AMLO [López Obrador] himself has emphasized—steadfastly maintaining that the 2006 election was stolen from him. Now, there’s no question that Cárdenas was robbed in 1988. (He was leading in the count until a notorious power outage occurred. When the computers came back up, Cárdenas was suddenly behind, never to recover.) However, I covered the 2006 elections from Mexico City, and, while generally sympathetic to the PRD, I never found López Obrador’s charges of fraud to be credible. There was nothing like a repeat of the blatant chicanery of 1988. AMLO’s official complaint was an everything-but-the-kitchen sink attempt to show voting irregularities, yet its charges were still not enough to convincingly demonstrate ballot stealing or other such improprieties on a scale that would have swung the election.

In this case of the current elections, AMLO trails Peña Nieto by a much wider margin than in 2006. So, while the PRI is still perfectly capable of using dirty tricks, it is very unlikely that fraud would account for a large portion of the three-million-vote difference.

The charge of media bias against the left is more compelling. Indeed, this issue sparked the mass student movement (the #YoSoy132 movement) that galvanized Mexican politics in the last months of the election. The movement emerged on May 11, when student protesters rattled the PRI’s Peña Nieto—then the dominant frontrunner—at what was supposed to be a friendly and carefully staged event at a private university called Iberoamericana.

#YoSoy132 organizer Valeria Hamel explains:

Thousands of students protested against him and then uploaded their videos on YouTube. Meanwhile, the media said that the people involved in the protest were “acarreados y porros” (recruited and paid participants to protest) and that his visit had actually been a success. In response, the students involved made a video in which 131 students showed their university credential identifying themselves as protestors and denied what the media claimed….After this, we [students at other universities] knew that we couldn’t stay silent and allow Mexico to continue through the road of destruction. We had to organize ourselves and unite with other students in order to fight towards democratizing the media and fighting its dual monopoly.

The movement went viral, throughout May and June it helped chip away at Peña Nieto’s double-digit lead in the polls, and it contributed to a late surge by AMLO. Had the PRI candidate gone down in a last-minute upset, #YoSoy132 would have been a huge international story, drawing a raft of comparisons to the most successful of the Arab Spring revolutions. Alas, the Mexico City–based insurgency was not enough.

While bias on the part of the country’s two media giants can serve as one explanation for the Mexican Left’s defeat, it can also become an excuse. Certainly, negative reception of progressives in dominant corporate media outlets is not a condition unique to Mexico, and yet left-of-center parties in many other parts of the Americas have overcome this disadvantage. Other factors weighed against the PRD: since the 2006 elections, AMLO—forever insisting that fraud had deprived him of his rightful presidency—had become a more and more polarizing figure. The party itself was divided, and this bade ill for its general election prospects. To use an analogy from U.S. politics: yes, John Kerry was swift-boated, but that does not account for all of his weaknesses as a candidate.

Despite disappointment at the top of the ticket, all was not lost. Over at NACLA, Fred Rosen notes:

Despite AMLO’s (apparent) loss, the election left the PRD with several things to celebrate. The party won a resounding victory in the race for governor of Mexico City (PRD candidate Miguel Angel Mancera received some 63% of the vote); it won governorships in the states of Morelos and Tabasco; and it made significant gains in the congressional races, keeping the PRI from winning an absolute majority in either the Senate or the Chamber of Deputies, and positioning itself to become the country’s principal opposition party.

Being in the opposition, of course, is a familiar position for left parties. But it’s helpful to remember that Mexico is a rare case in Latin America right now, and that progressives in far more foreboding circumstances have experienced reversals of fortune in the course of a single presidential term. The hope that this could happen for the United States’s southern neighbors is not entirely fanciful. Here’s looking to 2018.

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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