IPS Blog

To Know Your “Enemy,” Know Yourself: Towards a More Profound Objectivity

“Objectivity” in reporting and analysis has developed a bad rep in recent years. The mainstream media is often blamed, but they’ve long considered it their responsibility to pit the two prevailing positions against each other. You could say it’s not the media’s fault that said positions, far from conservative and liberal, are most often center right to extreme right. But in the perceived need for access to power, the media too often accepts how far right well-funded conservative groups have slid the Overton Window.

When the spotlight is trained on reporting and analysis on our perceived enemies, the issue of objectivity is more deeply illuminated. In the spring issue of the Journal of Psychohistory (print only), psychoanalyst and Journal of Psychohistory assistant editor David Lotto explains in an article titled “On the Pot Calling the Kettle Black: The Perils of Psychohistorical Partisanship.”

Much of what psychohistorians are interested in is to understand the why of the many violent and destructive events which have and continue to cause so much misery in our world.

Difficulties ensue because …

A psychohistorian, being a part of the human race, is most often a member of or identified with one or more groups: an ethnic group, a nationality, or religion or perhaps more than one of each. … When the subject of a psychohistorical inquiry is one of these groups that the investigating psychohistorian does not belong to or is not identified with, the possibility arises of a biased or partisan account being given.

Especially “where the other can be accurately described as your enemy.” What Lotto is referring to, in part, is the endless psychoanalyses of the “terrorist mind” undertaken by authors and institutions. In other words, much more effort is expended on figuring out what makes al Qaeda and suicide terrorists tick than on what motivates the war-making mentality — and will to dominate — of the United States. “So what can be done?” asks Lotto.

One solution would be that anyone who is an “interested party” should remain silent — as a lawyer or judge might recuse her or himself from a case in which there was some meaningful connection to one of the parties.

But …

As psychohistorians we also want to encourage and not discourage those who want to explore, analyze, and hypothesize about the psychological motives that drive the actions of large groups or nations. Writing and publishing about such matters should be welcomed, not censored.

Aside from owning up to one’s affiliations, Lotto suggests (emphasis added) …

… that when engaging in psychohistorical analysis it would be useful to examine the behavior and motives of one’s own group or groups with whom one identifies that are similar to those being examined with respect to the other before embarking on the psychohistorical analysis of one’s enemies.

Furthermore, Lotto writes, if one sees only “the faults and psychopathology of others while being blind to similar processes operating within oneself and one’s own group. … there is the suspicion that projective identification is occurring — that one’s nasty and unacceptable aspects are too readily seen as being present in the enemy while absent in one’s own group.” As well “it affects the credibility of the source.”

Whenever I see a negative or harsh analysis of an enemy group which ignores the similar sins and shortcomings of one’s own group, I am immediately skeptical, as anyone who takes psychoanalytic psychohistory seriously should be, of the arguments made and conclusions drawn.

To help us further understand how to approach a “traumatic historical event such as a war, genocide, massacre, or forced migration that involves victim and perpetrator groups [Lotto] would argue that it would be beneficial to discuss the trauma history of both groups.”

The purpose of this would be to attempt to avoid the demonization of the perpetrator group by understanding that the perpetrator group may be responding to some historical trauma of their own which is being enacted through the violence directed to the victim group.

Lotto concludes that …

… the two actions of applying one’s analysis of the enemy other to one’s own group and of attempting to be aware and open about one’s own identifications and personal motives for writing about the subject under consideration could lead to a lessening of the influence of unconscious and unacknowledged motives and feelings.

Islamic terrorists, he adds …

… have replaced the godless communists whom were the enemy that we obsessed over for almost 50 years. The hypocrisy, in which an analysis of the behavior and motives of our terrorist enemies that makes no effort to acknowledge behavior and motives that are identical or very similar to those for which the United States is responsible, can be seen as an expression of American exceptionalism.

Which is [insert drum roll introducing the money quote here] …

… basically a form of national narcissistic personality disorder.

The Lineup: Week of April 2-8, 2012

In this week’s OtherWords editorial package, Chuck Collins explains what’s behind the “99 percent spring” and Bill Wenzel discusses a proposal that would boost the farmers and ranchers who supply the local food system. Get all this and more in your inbox by subscribing to our weekly newsletter. If you haven’t signed up yet, please do.

  1. The 99 Percent Spring / Chuck Collins
    The people aren’t powerless in the face of extreme inequality.
  2. Our Failed Cuba Policy Fixation / Jess Hunter-Bowman
    In an election year, presidential candidates spend a great deal of time bowing before the altar of the creaky Cuban embargo.
  3. Catching up to the Local Food Revolution / Bill Wenzel
    Government policies and spending primarily support industrialized agriculture and the giant farms and corporations that profit from it.
  4. Congress: Listen to Lt. Col. Daniel Davis / Dana Liebelson
    The 17-year Army veteran risked his career by speaking out about the Afghanistan War.
  5. Riding on the Wrong Track / Donald Kaul
    Stop the world; I want to get off.
  6. Congress Opts to Keep Poisoning Children / Jim Hightower
    Lead poisoning is entirely preventable.
  7. Energy: Too Important to Leave to Corporations / William A. Collins
    In the United States, profits rule while the environment takes a back seat.
  8. Off Our Backs / Khalil Bendib
Off Our Backs, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Off Our Backs, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

If Health Care Reform Falls, Look in the Mirror

Supporters of Obama’s health care reform are “keeping a stiff upper lip” reports The Hill as reaction to three tough days of oral argument and questioning on aspects of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA).

 Supreme Court rules on ObamaCare. Illustration by DonkeyHotey.

Supreme Court rules on ObamaCare. Illustration by DonkeyHotey.

The entire health reform effort seems to hang in balance, dangerously. It looks like a very real possibility that Americans who do and will need health care, and who do or will have health conditions — i.e., pretty much everyone — will again be excluded from coverage for pre-existing conditions and others priced out of coverage at alarming rates if the unusually conservative and ideological Supreme Court backs the GOP.

It didn’t have to be this way. We had the power to make things different. In fact, we still have the power to make things different.

As poorly as the administration calculated, strategized, composed and communicated their reforms, they did what Administrations do. They brought industry to the table, they excluded single payer advocates, they vastly overestimated their ability to bring the other side on board, they vastly underestimated the extreme ideology that opposed reform and they botched the messaging of all of it.

Candidate Barack Obama campaigned on universal coverage. He told would-be supporters that, if he were “starting from scratch,” single-payer would be ideal. Indeed, he even understood that the only true reform, that would sufficiently control costs and actually achieve universal coverage, was a single payer, government-sponsored health care system. The evidence is overwhelming that only such a system can achieve those goals.

President Barack Obama however, not only quickly abandoned any thought of a fight for a true universal system, he set his left flank where he wanted to end up: the public option. In addition to current private plans, geographical regions would have another choice, a “public option” which would have the power of the federal government behind it to negotiate down premiums. Absent a single payer system, there could be some real cost savings this way and, some thought, an opening to a future single payer system. Though perhaps this weak option is all one could expect from a centrist administration, it was not what progressives and the Democratic base either really wanted nor should have fought for.

But progressives did fight for the public option. With some notable exceptions, almost exclusively. Instead of being the rallying grassroots campaign and reasonable solution desired by all progressives, universal, single-ayer health care became the pariah of the organized progressives, scoffed at and scorned as unachievable.

It should have come with no surprise that starting where you want to end in a negotiation is a sure way to not get what you want. Progressives could have not only kept their integrity, but they could have provided a left flank as a foil for the administration. Centrist Dems and less-extreme Repubs could have seen a public option as a place to go. The administration should have allowed it, encouraged it, engaged it, used it. Progressives should have fought like hell for it.

No one can say that the outcome then would have been the public option, or wouldn’t have. No one knows what the political climate could have been with a strong, organized fight from progressives for Medicare for all. But without a strategy that included such a fight, it could easily have been predicted that public option would not be the outcome.

If we had ended up with a single-payer system, then of course the “individual mandate problem” is non-existent. Even if we had ended up with a “public option,” we would not have had this the question before the Supreme Court this spring. Justice Kennedy himself suggested so in his comments that the Individual Mandate problem could be avoided by a tax funded single payer national health service.

So, while progressives, Democrats, Americans who want affordable health care for all of us go forward wringing our hands and “keeping a stiff upper lip,” blaming the misinformed conservative ideologues in Congress, in the Supreme Court, in Tea Party get-ups, perhaps we should take a long look in the mirror.

This is a fight for the most basic value a society can have. Will we care for our people or let them become sick, bankrupt, disabled and die unnecessarily because we failed to fight for an affordable quality health care system that covers everyone. Will we slash every other government program virtually out of existence to fund an ever-escalating for-profit insurance system? Isn’t it time to fight for Medicare for all?

Friends of Syria Meeting Today a Tipping Point?

Friends of SyriaCross-posted from the United to End Genocide blog.

There have been a lot of developments around Syria this week but ultimately landing the world in the same place.

Joint UN and Arab League Envoy Kofi Annan appealed to Russia and gained the explicit backing of the UN Security Council and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad accepted Annan’s plan, at least verbally. Yet the very next day there were widespread reports of military attacks on towns and villages by the Syrian army, adding to the more than 9,000 people killed so far, and UN human rights chief, Navi Pillay, said detained children are being tortured; hardly the ceasefire and military drawback stipulated in Annan’s peace plan.

Yet, the Friends of Syria meeting in Istanbul, Turkey on Sunday, April 1st, has the potential to change the stalemate. If Assad does not cease attacks against civilians by that time, there will be added motivation for the Friends of Syria group to view Annan’s gambit as a failed attempt for peace. Moving on could mean the announcement of new confidence in the unity of the Syrian opposition which has already met in Turkey this week, and greater pressure for outside actors to arm the opposition. The United States and United Kingdom announced again this week that they will be stepping up nonlethal aid to the opposition, but seems a long way from providing arms. Countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar may not be so patient.

On the other side, Assad may very well see this danger and seek to make symbolic withdrawals of his forces. Recent attacks may be just a final push to gain ground before a ceasefire locks in those gains. This could be a continuation of Assad’s strategy to buy time and stave off growing international condemnation. Whether a calculated short-term move against international pressure or the beginnings of a longer term self-interested rapprochement, it would have the advantage of stopping the killing at least for the immediate future and create space for diplomacy.

However, that also assumes opposition forces would be willing to accept the ceasefire. This is an unlikely scenario given the lack of unity, let alone clear command and control among the opposition, and even less likely if that opposition senses a willingness for other countries to provide it with arms.

What we are left with is a dangerous balancing act in which the international community is trying to entice Assad to move toward peaceful settlement, but wary of his intentions as it seeks to support an opposition that struggles to unify, without encouraging a protracted civil war. Key to this balance will be the stances of Syria’s key remaining allies, Russia and possibly Iran, both of whom have endorsed Annan’s peace plan. The visit of Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to Iran this week adds to the intrigue.

Will Russia and Iran (perhaps with self-serving incentives) be willing to increase pressure on Assad if he does not draw back, or is this stalling the very strategy they are suggesting he follow? On the other side, can the Friends of Syria help to unite the opposition and convince them to agree to a ceasefire or will they, by word or deed, encourage further fighting?

As we wait for these questions to be answered, and hope that this weekend’s Friends of Syria meeting adds some clarity, there are at least some things that can be controlled by the United States. Russia continues to provide weapons to the Syrian regime that are being used against civilians and the U.S. government continues to hold contracts with the very same Russian state-owned arms dealer that is providing those weapons. Two weeks after 17 Senators sent a letter asking for clarification from Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta on this issue, there are still no answers to why this is happening. Join your voice to those calls by clicking here.

Daniel P. Sullivan is the Director of Policy and Government Relations for United to End Genocide.

Romney’s Defense Plan Means Bad Business for America

Recently, President Obama unveiled a plan he claimed would cut U.S. military spending. However, several independent experts have come forward stating that the “cuts” are simply slowing future growth in military spending from previously projected figures, rather than actually cuts to the Defense budget.

In fact, Obama’s “cuts” are distributed over a period of ten years, over which time the next administration, whether under Obama or a Republican president, could make drastic changes to Obama’s non-binding plan. As the likelihood of his candidacy continues to near inevitability, Mitt Romney’s defense plan sheds light on the GOP’s likely strategy over the next several years.

Romney has been an outspoken critic of Obama’s plan to slow the growth in military spending, arguing instead that spending should be increased at an even greater pace than previously scheduled. According to a recent article in the Dayton Daily News Romney spokesperson Ryan Williams told the paper, “…[he] has set a baseline defense spending target equal to 4 percent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product,” Williams stated. The Dayton Daily News went on to note, “The nation recorded a $15.2 trillion Gross Domestic Product, the output of goods and services, in 2011.” That would put baseline spending alone, which excludes the war budget, the military programs of the CIA and State Department, and other military contingencies, at $608 billion. Obama has proposed a defense budget of $525 billion for FY 2011. Over the next ten years, Romney’s military spending plan—in comparison to Obama’s—would total at least 61% higher, according to research conducted by the Cato Institute.

And while Romney has advocated for decreasing the size of the Federal Budget, it he has not specified what sectors would be cut under his Administration, citing only that he would cut 20% of overall government spending. A 20% overall reduction amidst a substantial increase in military spending would certainly translate into massive cuts to social programs that Republicans in Congress have already targeted.

Stating an interest in increasing defense spending when America is winding down its involvement in two wars is irresponsible and unnecessary. Ultimately, Romney’s plan would increase defense spending 42% beyond Cold War levels, as Christopher Preble highlighted in his article “Recalculating Romney’s Four Percent Gimmick.” Coupled with the fact that this presidential hopeful has no specific plan where he will decrease spending to offset his plan to build up America’s military in peace-time makes Mr. Romney’s claims to decrease federal spending nothing but words. For Americans concerned with government spending, Mr. Romney’s plan to funnel additional billions of American tax-dollars into military spending increases debt and makes very little business sense.

In fact, one recently published research study by the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) found that, contrary to the popularly held belief of many right-wing politicians such as Mr. Romney, an increase in military spending would not produce nearly as many jobs nationwide as would the same amount of money invested in areas such as infrastructure, education, clean energy, or healthcare. In an interview with The Real News, Robert Pollin the Co-Director of PERI stated, “You will get more high-quality jobs spending on the green economy, infrastructure, or healthcare than you will spending on the military.” In one especially hard-hitting example, Pollin sited figures found by PERI, showing that if the government was to spend $1 billion towards job growth, 16,800 jobs would be created by investment in clean energy, compared to just 11,800 jobs through the military. These numbers underscore the particularly faulty logic in Mr. Romney’s belief that increasing the military’s budget at the expense of other sectors is a sound source of governmental funding. The reality is that Mr. Romney’s plan would simply prolong the military industrial complex, consequently continuing to cripple the country in a deeper mire of debt, unemployment, and unwise allocation of funds.

In response to the astronomical rate of American military spending, the Institute for Policy Studies and the International Peace Bureau launched a day for citizens around the world to speak out against their governments’ use of money to sustain the harmful Military Industrial Complex. The second annual Global Day of Action on Military Spending (GDAMS) will be held this year April 17th, which is also Tax Day this year in the U.S. The time has come for people to stand together in solidarity and hold their governments accountable for their actions in collaborating with the Military Industrial Complex. In 2011, GDAMS consisted in over 100 actions in more than 30 countries worldwide. This year, groups in over 35 countries have pledged to take part in what will surely be a loud cry to “Move our money” and fund human needs rather than war-profiteering corporate greed.

Anya Barry is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.

Criminal Moms

This past September, I was honored to be part of a delegation of powerful women leaders from across the country who came to Atlanta to bear witness to the testimony of immigrant women, children, and service providers who are struggling because of anti-immigrant policies in Georgia. This was the second delegation organized by a coalition of organizations called We Belong Together, that is trying to draw attention to the destructive effects of immigration enforcement on families.

Even as a social worker focused on the intersection of violence, ethnicity, immigration status, and the workplace for most of my career, the stories I heard on this trip overwhelmed me. Despite the hatred I have observed in the media and even in my hometown in the Florida panhandle, I still find it hard to believe that mothers struggling to care for their families could be demonized so viciously.

Beyond immigration status, we have seen stories from a class lens too. Two stories on the popular site Feministing, reported about mothers who were severely punished, simply for trying to access educations for their children.

Tanya McDowell was living as a homeless woman when she was arrested for sending her five-year-old son to a school district where she — surprise! — didn’t have a permanent residence. Ms. McDowell has said that she only wanted a better education for her child….She was just sentenced to 5 years in prison after pleading guilty in the case.

One year earlier Ohio mother Kelley Williams-Bolar was convicted of lying about where she lived in order to get her daughters into a better school district. Her sentence? 10 days in county jail, three years of probation, community service, and payment of up to $30,000 in back tuition she could be required to pay the school.

My own mom, Lisa, found a (still very humble) apartment above her means as a secretary, just on the border of the school district that would give me a quality education. She opted to sleep on the couch for most of my teenage years so that my brother and I could have beds. She wore the same clothes to work every week, and never, ever bought anything for herself. We ate generic cereal, we dressed in generic brands, and we had our share of money scares but I cannot recall one time that she let me feel that fear. I am sure she would tell you that she is no hero, and no martyr, it’s just that a mother does what she needs to do to ensure her children have a better life.

The struggle facing undocumented immigrant mothers in the U.S. is magnified by a culture of xenophobia and hate, and it makes their sacrifices even more profound. My mom didn’t have to leave her family, friends, hometown or home country because economic and ecological crises had swallowed any opportunities for decent work. She didn’t have to cross a border in the middle of the night risking death, rape, robbery. She didn’t have to live in constant fear of being pulled over for a traffic ticket and having her children ripped from her arms and put in the social service system while she languished in a detention center.

To my sister delegates on this upcoming WBT delegation to Alabama, I look forward to your return reports. When we can uplift the humanity of all people regardless of immigration status, when folks can relate those harrowing stories and lives to their own struggles, when we all agree that families should be together, and all mothers should have the opportunity to provide food and shelter for their children without being arrested, then we will be witnessing progress.

A World Bank President Who’s Not a Crony or a War Criminal?

On Friday, President Obama announced that he is nominating physician and Dartmouth College President Jim Yong Kim to lead the World Bank. This likely appointment was greeted with approval by many long-time critics of corporate globalization. And it came after an unprecedented level of debate about who should be the institution’s next president.

By tradition, the World Bank president has been a political appointee named by the White House. Europe has agreed to go along with this arrangement, with the tacit agreement that a European, in turn, would be named as director of the International Monetary Fund. As for the rest of the world…well, the IMF and World Bank haven’t traditionally put too much weight on what the global South thinks.

This year things have been a bit different. For the first time, there’s been a concerted—and effective—effort to intervene in the nominating process and prevent a crony coronation. To this end, a variety of developing countries and progressive leaders got behind the candidacy of economist Jeffrey Sachs, who in recent years has refashioned himself as an anti-poverty crusader.

But other critics of the status quo were skeptical of this pick. Although Sachs now tries to highlight his anti-poverty credentials, he was previously known as a neoliberal “doctor shock,” advising on “stabilization” programs in countries such as Bolivia, Poland, and Russia in the 1980s and 90s. This history earned him a place as a leading villain in Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine.

Sachs has never been big on apologizing. And many followers of Latin American politics, including me, find his lack of remorse for his role in Bolivia to be a big problem. But, in a debate hosted at the Nation (in which John Cavanagh and Robin Broad made the case against Sachs), progressive economist Mark Weisbrot—an outspoken defender of Latin America’s “New Left”—wrote in the nominee’s defense. Weisbrot contended:

“Sachs has a reform agenda for the Bank, including having the Bank focus more on treatment and prevention of infectious diseases, support for small farmers, education and primary health care, and renewable energy (as opposed to fossil fuels). He also has a track record of having fought for debt cancellation, an end to the World Bank’s policies of imposing user fees for primary health care and education, for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (which has saved millions of lives), increased access to essential medicines, and having been outspoken against war and other abuses by the US government.”

Weisbrot and others also made a few arguments on the strategic level. First, they contended that Sachs was far preferable to Larry Summers, who was seen prior to the Kim announcement as Obama’s likely pick. (I can hardly argue with them on that point.)

Second, they emphasized that putting forth a credible opposition candidate would throw open what is usually a closed process and pave the way for more progressive candidates in the future. Indeed, as the Sachs nomination gained steam, two candidates from the global South also entered the fray: Colombian José Antonio Ocampo, a former finance minister and UN official, and Nigerian Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, also a finance minister of his country and a former managing director at the World Bank.

In the end, Obama did not nominate Summers. And, ultimately, Jim Yong Kim might be a better pick than anyone for whom critics of the World Bank could have realistically hoped. Kim’s main progressive credential—and it’s a compelling one—is having served as executive director of Partners in Health (PIH), co-founded by Paul Farmer. If you haven’t picked up Tracy Kidder’s excellent book about Farmer, Mountains Beyond Mountains, there’s no point in delaying any longer. Farmer’s work is remarkable by all accounts and, grounded in liberation theology, it shows a deep preference for the world’s poor against the Washington Consensus.

Kim has been lower-profile than Farmer. But there are some good signs that he will bring a very different perspective to the job of World Bank president than his predecessors. One is the fact that Kim is now drawing heat from the right for writing in a 2000 book, Dying for Growth, that “the quest for growth in GDP and corporate profits has in fact worsened the lives of millions of women and men.”

Then again, the Wall Street Journal writes, “Over Dr. Kim’s three years at Dartmouth he has proved to be higher education’s Paul Ryan. He decisively resolved the school’s financial problems that he inherited on taking office—with real budget cuts, over the objections of the faculty.”

I called up Mark Weisbrot to talk more about the Kim nomination, about the debate around Sachs, and about what difference having a new World Bank president might make. Some edited excerpts from our conversation follow:

Engler: Are you happy with the nomination of Jim Yung Kim?

Weisbrot: Yes, I think it’s great. To have somebody who cares about health issues is completely different. Look at the past eleven presidents. They’re all bankers, war criminals—not the kind of people I’d want to run my restaurant.

Engler: By “war criminals,” you’re referring to…

Weisbrot: McNamara and Wolfowitz. I don’t know if Wolfowitz is technically a war criminal, but he was one of the architects of the Iraq War. Can you imagine? This is what annoys me when leftists complain about Sachs.

Engler: I’m one of those people who complains about Sachs. True, he’s not as bad as Larry Summers. But I was surprised to see you get behind him.

Weisbrot: Well, do you ever vote in elections?

Engler: Sure…

Weisbrot: I respect the position that the World Bank should just be abolished. I think that’s an argument that people can make. But if you’re going to have a World Bank, there’s more of a difference between Sachs and anybody that Obama was going to appoint than there is between, I don’t know, [former Brazilian President] Lula [da Silva] and his predecessor. There’s a huge difference between Sachs and Summers. That’s what I go by.

Engler: Especially as someone who watches Latin America, as you do as well, I’ve felt that Sachs is inadequately repentant for his past.

Weisbrot: I really don’t care about his immortal soul. That’s for the Pope to judge or whoever else wants to judge that. That’s not my job.

Engler: How much of a difference do you think the World Bank president makes?

Weisbrot: That’s an interesting question. We don’t know because we’ve never had a president there who was anything but a crony. We’ll see what he can change. He has a bully pulpit too if that’s something he wants to use. That’s something I think Sachs would have used a lot, and it would have been hard to fire him. I don’t know if Kim is going to do it.

Engler: What are some of the things that you see a more independent World Bank president promoting, using this bully pulpit?

Weisbrot: The Bank publishes Global Economic Prospects, and they comment on the world economy. So the World Bank president could speak out on the big economic questions that the G20 is dealing with: how to handle the next global economic crisis; how to handle the European crisis, because it affects the developing world. They could speak out on spending priorities for the Bank itself.

But if Kim wants to change anything, he’s going to have to fight. He’s still going to have the Bank’s board [of directors] to deal with. And that board is dominated by the United States and its allies.

It’s not just a question of votes. It’s the fact that developing countries don’t fight. They just don’t fight within the IMF and World Bank the way they do within the World Trade Organization (WTO). In the WTO they form blocks, they fight, and they win. And they’re going to have to get used to doing the same thing in these two institutions.

I think that was a positive part of developing countries supporting Sachs. There were about a dozen of them by the end. That made a difference. I’m not sure the other nominations would have happened if Sachs hadn’t gone in there first. He was the one who busted up the normal process.

Engler: In your mind, what would be a desirable set of spending priorities for the Bank?

Weisbrot: I want them to do more about the things that they can do, like disease prevention and treatment. Kim will do that. And if he does nothing else, that’s still a huge improvement. I think [people at the Bank] can do more in education. They can do more to support small-scale agriculture.

But once you get into their economics, their economics are usually bad. One of the Financial Times reporters today asked me, “What if Kim doesn’t know that much about development economics?”

I said, “I don’t think that’s a handicap. I don’t think the Bank should be involved in that anyways. Let them do what they can do, because they usually get the economics wrong.”

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.

Lies, Damn Lies, and Sanctions

After months of conflating punitive sanctions with diplomatic engagement, President Barack Obama apparently believes he has nearly exhausted his diplomatic options for dealing with Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program.

“I believe there is a window of time to solve this diplomatically, but that window is closing,” he told reporters in Seoul on the eve of a nuclear summit. And given Washington’s apparent distaste for letting any problem in the world go “unsolved,” the president’s words should be read as yet another military threat against the Iranian homeland.

Of course, exactly what problem remains to be “solved” is a little less clear on further examination.

In a lengthy interview with the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, a sometimes-hawkish journalist with close ties to both the Obama administration and the Israeli defense establishment, Obama emphasized that preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon “is profoundly in the security interests of the United States, and that when I say we’re not taking any option off the table, we mean it. We are going to continue to apply pressure until Iran takes a different course.”

One might get the impression that Obama is accusing Iran of building a nuclear weapon—and that the goal of sanctions, therefore, is to persuade the Iranian regime to stop. However, the president also conceded to Goldberg that “our assessment, which is shared by the Israelis, is that Iran does not yet have a nuclear weapon and is not yet in a position to obtain a nuclear weapon without us having a pretty long lead time in which we will know that they are making that attempt.”

By its own assessment, then, the United States is sanctioning Iran over a nuclear weapons program that neither the Mossad nor the CIA nor the president of the United States himself believes to exist. And they’ve repeatedly promised military action if the sanctions “fail” to make Iran give up a program that no one believes it has in the first place! In his 45-minute interview with the president, Goldberg never once seemed to catch onto this.

Nor is it an issue of inspections. Iran has already admitted inspectors into some of its more sensitive nuclear installations, and yet the U.S. Congress is still trying to push through ever newer rounds of sanctions against the regime.

Iran’s Supreme Leader even called possession of nuclear weapons “a sin” and “against Islamic rules.” The Supreme Leader may not be the most credible source on the matter, but that’s about as close to a Rushdie-style fatwa against nukes as one is likely to hear.

So why the sanctions?

The most sinister explanation is that the sanctions are little more than a prelude to regime change. If sanctions “fail” – and they can’t really succeed, since the problem they purport to address is a fantasy – then America’s Iran hawks will have checked off yet another box on the road to war.

But although Obama’s posturing toward Iran has been on balance quite hawkish, the president himself seems keen to avoid an overt military confrontation with the Islamic Republic—at least in an election year.

Maybe there’s another reason. Obama hinted as much when he told Goldberg that “as Israel’s closest friend and ally,” it is incumbent on the United States to “point out to them that we have a sanctions architecture that is far more effective than anybody anticipated; that we have a world that is about as united as you get behind the sanctions.” According to the president, then, the primary purpose of U.S. sanctions on Iran is to persuade Israel that both the United States and the international community are committed to Israel’s security—and, therefore, that there’s no need for Israel to do something rash like unilaterally attacking Iran.

Put another way, Obama is sanctioning Iran to influence Israel’s behavior. One could almost forgive Iran for feeling a little burned up about it.

Of course, once upon a time, a nuclear-armed country making open threats to attack a regional rival—particularly one that has never admitted IAEA inspectors and has chalked up a recent history of invading neighbors, bombing civilian population centers, and working with a terrorist organization to assassinate civilian nuclear scientists—would have found itself a prime target of international sanctions.

Apparently these are not ordinary times. But if Obama is concerned that his efforts at “diplomacy” are going nowhere, maybe it’s because he’s sanctioning the wrong country.

Peter Certo is an editorial assistant at the Institute of Policy Studies as well as IPS Special Project Right Web.

Two Years After IPS Study, Department of Energy Moves to Dispose Plutonium

In July 2010 IPS released a study indicating that 12.7 metric tons of plutonium was discarded as waste by the U.S. nuclear weapons program. The study was featured in the New York Times a few days later. The amount discarded is more than three times that officially declared by the U.S. government. It was subsequently published in Science and Global Security, a peer review publication at Princeton University. After giving several briefings to federal officials, our study compelled the U.S. government to revisit how it is accounting for this material.

An unused plutonium reactor in Washington State. Photo by Stuart Isett (NY Times)

An unused plutonium reactor in Washington State. Photo by Stuart Isett (NY Times)

In addition to raising serious questions about the ability of the U.S. government to keep track of this nuclear explosive, the IPS report pointed out that plutonium was a potent carcinogen that would remain a danger to humans for 240,000 years. We showed that several tons were dumped into the environment and threatened major water supplies. For instance, nearly a ton of plutonium dumped into the ground at the Hanford site in eastern Washington was rapidly creeping toward the Columbia River – the major fresh water artery of the Pacific Northwest. In less than 1,000 years it would render near shore of the river running through the site uninhabitable. We demanded that this large amount of plutonium be removed for deep geological disposal.

In response to our study, the Department of Energy announced that it would dig up buried plutonium at the Hanford that had been officially declared “already disposed” some 40 years ago, and dispose of it in the Waste Isolation Pilot Project — a geologic disposal site for these wastes.

Republicans Never Let a Chance to Call Obama an Appeaser Pass Them By

At the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit on Monday (March 26), the Washington Post reported that camera crews caught President Obama and outgoing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, apparently unaware of the presence of the all-seeing media eye, speaking with each other.

“On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved, but it’s important for him to give me space,” Obama can be heard telling Medvedev, apparently referring to incoming Russian president — and outgoing prime minister — Vladi­mir Putin.

First impression: That was the only chance they had to meet one on one at the summit? Whatever the case, conservative Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post said:

This is a stunning gift to Romney from the Obama camp. The legitimate concern that Obama will take his re-election as a mandate to head left is likely to become an all-purpose weapon.

Mitt Romney’s foreign-policy advisors expressed their appreciation by writing an open letter to President Obama for the National Review. In part, it reads:

Too often, the United States under your leadership has been neither strong nor constant. Your inadvertently recorded remarks to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in South Korea raise questions about whether a new period of even greater weakness and inconstancy would lie ahead if you are reelected.

Then the advisors raised the “p” word (emphasis added).

Should the American people expect more efforts to placate Russia by weakening the missile defense systems that protect us and our allies?

But at least they didn’t hurl conservatives favorite foreign-policy epithet at the president — the “a” word. Ms. Rubin, however, had no such constraints (again, emphasis added).

It’s remarkable, actually, that Obama could be any more flexible with Russia than he’s already been under his “reset” — which is indistinguishable from appeasement. His administration praised rigged Russian elections, helped get Russia into the World Trade Organization, has tried to slow down human rights legislation aimed at Russian perpetrators, and yanked missile defense sites out of Eastern Europe.

Though some think Neville Chamberlain was correct to sign the Munich Agreement in 1938, which ceded the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia to Germany, he’ll never be allowed to rest in peace. In fact, many progressives agree that President Obama placates and appeases — conservatives, of course.

The latest development, reports Elaine Grossman at Global Security Newswire:

All but four of the U.S. Senate’s 47 Republicans have called on President Obama to explain remarks on missile defense made on Monday in an informal discussion with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

They were led, of course, by Senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), chair of the Senate Contrariness Committee.

Meanwhile, at Democracy Arsenal, Heather Hurlburt wrote about the letter.

I was mesmerized thinking about the idea that two-thirds of the signatories served in the second-term Reagan, Clinton and Bush Administrations — administrations that saw major positive steps in arms control, relations with enemies, and attempts to broker ends to decades-long wars (and that’s just Reagan and Bush) — would sign such a letter.

But she also seems to view the letter as a message to Romney from his own advisors.

Clearly, Romney’s team is right to worry that a President Romney might follow the lead of their former bosses, not to mention Presidents Clinton, Nixon and Eisenhower, and grow more confident and more concerned with pragmatic solutions to the world’s most pressing national security problems in a second term.

Romney himself also responded to the open-mic moment and then President Medvedev, in turn

… rebuked US presidential hopeful Mitt Romney for saying Russia is the “number one geopolitical foe” of the US. … Mr Medvedev said Mr Romney’s comments “smelled of Hollywood” and advised him to “use his head”.

Whatever President Obama’s faults, one can’t imagine Medvedev or Putin saying that about him.

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