IPS Blog

Our Iran Policy on the Couch

While war may seem like an instrument of foreign policy to the world of international relations, to many of us, except when our soil is threatened, it’s simply evidence of deep-seated pathology.

Any international affairs authority who acknowledges that would likely be to the left of center. Michael Brenner, Professor of International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh, fits that bill. The National Journal National Security Experts Blog often poses questions to its panel, to which Brenner belongs. On April 9, Sara Sorcher asked What Do You Expect from Negotiations With Iran? Titling his response Immaturity, Brenner wrote that it:

… expresses itself in various psychological strategies to cope with a reality that challenges self-image – e.g. a recalcitrant Islamic Republic of Iran that threatens the ingrained belief of American leaders that they can coerce weaker states to bend to their will and thereby fulfill the United States’ self-defined needs. Such an ego defense mechanism becomes pathological when [it tries to] construct a refuge for a threatened ego.

What strategies, he asks, does it employ?

Denial that anything fundamental has changed – in oneself and out there. Denial entails unconscious attempts to find resolution of emotional conflict and reduction of anxiety by refusing to perceive or consciously acknowledge the more unpleasant aspects of external reality. So, excuses and rationalizations are avidly seized upon to explain failure to achieve objectives. Reiteration of established behavior such [as] intimidation, coercion, bluster – e.g. repeated futile efforts at “nation-building” in uncongenial settings. Parsimonious changes at the pragmatic margins of one’s outlook and worldview – changing the packaging but not the content of terms for unconditional surrender that we extend to Iran. Cultivated ignorance – taking liberties to pronounce on matters of which one knows next to nothing [which] creates space for dogma. When these mechanisms fail, there arises the danger of delusional projection, i.e. grossly frank delusions about external reality. Eventually, there is the even greater risk of regression, i.e. reversion of the ego to an earlier stage of development.

Brenner concludes:

If the United States is not ready for all-out war and its aftermath, then it should make the necessary intellectual, emotional, political and diplomatic adjustments.

Whenever subconscious motives breach the perimeter of international relations, it’s cause for celebration.

The Right’s Curious Nostalgia for Military Rule

Cross-posted from Foreign Policy Special Project Right Web’s Militarist Monitor.

Egypt’s path toward democracy has been neither steady nor assured since its uprising last year. However, as the country prepares for a presidential election campaign—which follows on the heels of its Islamist-dominated parliamentary elections several months ago—it finally appears set to install its first-ever fully democratically elected government.

But the neoconservatives, purportedly champions of democracy and human rights, are finding this turn of events hard to swallow. For example, Jonathan Tobin, editor of the “Contentions” blog at Commentary magazine, is incensed about the Muslim Brotherhood’s decision to nominate a candidate despite its earlier pledge abstain from the race—and he finds the Obama administration somehow at fault. Noting that the administration has quietly backed the Brotherhood’s candidate over a more extreme Salafist nominee (who now appears to have eligibility issues), Tobin writes that “this U.S. tilt toward the Brotherhood is just the latest of a series of inept moves that has destroyed American influence in Egypt.”

He adds, “Should the Brotherhood candidate for president succeed, it would create a dangerous situation in which this Islamist party would control both the executive and the parliament. This would place intolerable pressure on the army—which remains the sole force in the country that could act as a check on the Islamists—to back down and allow the Brotherhood untrammeled power.”

Echoing the charges of former GOP candidate Michele Bachmann and the previously marginal Rick Santorum, Tobin flatly declares, “Obama abandoned Hosni Mubarak last year. With our embassy now backing the Brotherhood, secularists and the army must assume the president means to ditch them, too.”

In a subsequent post, Tobin sums up his critiques of the Obama administration’s Egypt policy in a rambling series of accusations: “It refused to promote democracy or human rights while Hosni Mubarak still ruled,” he writes, “but then compounded that error by quickly dumping Mubarak. It repeated that pattern by seeking to attack the military government that succeeded Mubarak and then appeased them by continuing the aid in the face of provocations. Now, it has put its chips on the Brotherhood even though there is still a chance it can be stopped.”

Tobin doesn’t explain how a more U.S.-friendly democracy would have emerged under the aegis of a U.S.-backed dictatorship, nor does he see the apparent contradiction in knocking the Obama administration for “dumping” Mubarak even as his own publication frequently complains about Russia’s continued support for the autocratic Bashar al-Assad in Syria. One could be forgiven, moreover, for suspecting that Tobin is advocating the subjugation of a nation of 80 million people for the sake of Israel’s subjective sense of security.

The substance of Tobin’s critique ultimately has less to do with the Obama administration’s choice of candidate, which is clearly a bid for what must seem to Washington as the safest bet, but rather with the administration’s apparent acquiescence to the likely choice of Egyptian voters. What Tobin calls the Brotherhood’s bid for “untrammeled power” is really just its decision to field a candidate for a democratic election—something that less interventionist commentators would concede is any party’s right in an emerging democracy—and he laments that the country’s unelected military leaders should be constrained to share power with an elected civilian faction he finds distasteful.

Tobin’s dirge for military rule illuminates the ongoing confusion on the neoconservative right about how best to respond to democratic uprisings in a region governed for decades by U.S.-backed autocrats—a divide that dates back to Jeanne Kirkpatrick’s 1970s-era thesis that right-wing “authoritarian” governments are more amenable to democratic reform than left-wing “totalitarian” states. While the likes of Tobin, Frank Gaffney, and Caroline Glick have made pleas for the region’s anciens regimes (and while FDD‘s Andrew McCarthy has accused the Obama administration of “rain[ing] down a billion-and-a-half more American taxpayer dollars” on the Brotherhood in the form of aid to Egypt) , former Bush administration neocons like Elliott Abrams and Zalmay Khalilzad have imprudently suggested that the uprisings somehow vindicate the Bush administration’s “freedom agenda” of democratization by force.

If Tobin is so concerned about U.S. “influence” in Egypt, he might do well to reconsider whether turning its back on Egypt’s broadly backed political forces and advocating a return to a loathed military dictatorship is the best way forward.

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

Dam and Ethnic Disputes Threaten to Undermine Credibility of Burma’s President

Representatives of Burma's government and the KNU meet.

Representatives of Burma’s government and the KNU meet.

In order to open up trade with Burma, the West would love to think that the reforms of Burma’s President Thein Sein are for real and won’t be rolled back. As do, of course, the citizens of his own country. After all, as recently as 2011, Burma scored 1.5 out of 10 in the Corruption Perceptions Index run by Transparency International (10 is cleanest). The State Peace and Development Council — the ruling junta — was only dissolved in 2011 to provide it with a democratic (or less tyrannical) front, the Union Solidarity and Development Party. Nevertheless, they took a hit in the recent elections, which were comparably honest, in itself an achievement for Burma.

At Asia Times Online, Brian McCartan reports that on April 3 Aung San Suu Kyi’s

… National League for Democracy (NLD) had won 43 of the 44 seats it contested, including [Suu Kyi’s] constituency. … The result was a clear defeat for the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), and. … sent the signal that the NLD will be a force to reckon with in the 2015 general elections.

However “Thein Sein and his reform-minded allies can afford to allow Suu Kyi and the NLD the victory. The 43 seats won by the NLD amount to less than 7% of the 644 seats in parliament.” His “reformist credentials have been further burnished through the legitimization provided by Suu Kyi and the NLD’s participation in the polls. The real prize is the elections due in 2015, when the NLD will be able to challenge the USDP for control of parliament. … The military and the government are surely aware of their own unpopularity. They know that to win the 2015 elections they will either have to resort to vote-rigging and intimidation, which would draw the ire of the international community, or find a way to undermine support for the NLD. The alternative is to resort to military power, through a coup or other intervention in the name of national security, to secure their hold on executive and legislative power.

Or Thein Sein could take a kinder, gentler (or less ruthless) approach:

… co-opt Suu Kyi and the NLD without giving them significant powers. There has been speculation that Suu Kyi may be offered a cabinet position, though she has said that she will decline any such offer. Even if rejected, the offer will still make the former generals appear reformist.

As for another sticking point for the Thein Sein government, McCartan writes:

Successful peace deals with ethnic insurgents negotiated with government representatives would also go some way to gaining the support of ethnic minority voters in 2015. At the least, the deals would see former insurgent groups transform into mainstream ethnic-based political parties, which could dilute the vote for the NLD in ethnic areas.

Still, of course …

… Suu Kyi said that her party’s priorities after the election would be to push for peace in ethnic minority areas. … poverty alleviation through job creation and improving education and public health services.

In fact …

Thein Sein’s government has already gone some way on the first point by starting a peace process with most of the armed ethnic movements.

David Tharckabaw, vice president of the Karen National Union (KNUS), reports on the government’s groundbreaking meeting with the KNU as representatives of the long-oppressed and brutal Karen ethnic group by the Thai border, who have been engaged in the world’s longest-running insurgency since 1998. From his April 7 press release:

…7 members of the KNU Delegation, led by … General Secretary Naw Zipporah Sein, left for [Burma’s capital cigty] Naypyidaw … on April 7, to meet with President U Thein Sein.

…The following 6 points were focused on in discussions at the meeting.

1. To establish … ceasefire especially in the ethnic nationality regions.

2. To guarantee life security and freedom from fear of the people.

3. To establish a state among the people to acquire confidence.

4. To stop the practice of forced labor and cash collection by various means, including demand of cash as donation and by other means.

5. To release political prisoners and resolve rehabilitation and land problems of the people.

6. To start arrangement for monitoring, analyzing and rectifying the peace process.

Agreement was reached at the meeting regarding the code of conduct for ceasefire [with] a monitoring team

Still, Tharckabaw is understandably suspicious.

The KNU delegation was taken to Nay Pyi Daw to meet with U Thein Sein. Going there was not on the agenda. The regime is openly and cunningly using the delegation for its own benefit.

Why the objection to meeting in the capital? It’s Thein Sein’s turf. Tharckabaw:

All the talks should have been in neutral venue up to the stage of achieving a durable ceasefire. Some defeatists and self-seeking opportunists among us are manipulating the agenda with the help of Egress [a Burmese civil society group], the peace brokers for business, to please their German masters.

As should be apparent from point number one, Tharckabaw and the KNU are also concerned with their brethren, the other ethnic minorities. He writes:

The next development should be ceasefire in Kachin State. Without ceasefire in Kachin State, it would be difficult for us to continue building trust with the regime.

At ATimes, McCartan points out further cause for suspicion.

… already questions are being raised about the government’s most visible reformist move, the suspension of work on the Myitsone dam in Kachin State. There are growing indications that the Chinese company responsible for constructing the dam, China Power International, has quietly resumed work on the project following talks between the Myanmar and Chinese governments in early March.

The dam is controversial because of its environmental impact. Not to mention that the power is flowing from congenitally power-starved Burma to china. As if that would slip under the radar of the minorities and Suu Kyi, as well as the rest of Burma.

A Bromance Made in Hell: When Mitt Met Bibi

“We can almost speak in shorthand. … We share common experiences and have a perspective and underpinning which is similar.”

Thus does Michael Barbaro quote Mitt Romney in a New York Times article titled A Friendship Dating to 1976 Resonates in 2012. Of whom does Romney speak? Another Mormon deacon? Bain & Company founder Bill Bain? Barbaro explains.

… in 1976, the lives of Mitt Romney and Benjamin Netanyahu intersected, briefly but indelibly, in the 16th-floor offices of the Boston Consulting Group [headed by Bill Bain before he founded Bain & Company], where both had been recruited as corporate advisers. … That shared experience decades ago led to a warm friendship, little known to outsiders, that is now rich with political intrigue.

Not to mention controversy (emphasis added).

Mr. Romney has suggested that he would not make any significant policy decisions about Israel without consulting Mr. Netanyahu. … In a telling exchange during a debate in December, Mr. Romney criticized Mr. Gingrich for making a disparaging remark about Palestinians, declaring: “Before I made a statement of that nature, I’d get on the phone to my friend Bibi Netanyahu and say: ‘Would it help if I say this? What would you like me to do?'”

That even gives pause to Martin Indyk (one-time U.S. ambassador to Israel), no shrinking violet on Israel, who said “Mr. Romney’s statement implied that he would ‘subcontract Middle East policy to Israel.'”

Barbaro on the bromance’s blossoming:

Mr. Romney, never known for his lack of self-confidence, still recalls the sense of envy he felt watching Mr. Netanyahu effortlessly hold court during the firm’s Monday morning meetings, when consultants presented their work and fielded questions from their colleagues. The sessions were renowned for their sometimes grueling interrogations.

“He was a strong personality with a distinct point of view,” Mr. Romney said. “I aspired to the same kind of perspective.”

Once they both switched to politics:

The men reconnected shortly after 2003 when Mr. Romney became the governor of Massachusetts. Mr. Netanyahu paid him a visit, eager to swap tales of government life [and] regaled Mr. Romney with stories of how, in the tradition of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, he had challenged unionized workers over control of their pensions, reduced taxes and privatized formerly government-run industries, reducing the role of government in private enterprise.

That both men are products of the same rapacious business environment is telling. On the other hand, that two such odd ducks — Romney wrapped as tight as a drum; Netanyahu in the grips of his obsession with attacking Iran — were able to find each other and become fast friends would be called heartwarming were the source of the heat anywhere but hell.

The Lineup: Week of April 9-15, 2012

In this week’s OtherWords editorial package, Donald Kaul’s column and four op-eds — including one by Matias Ramos regarding the taxation of immigrants without representation — focus on Tax Day. There’s also a related cartoon by Khalil Bendib debunking the “job creator” label on the richest Americans. Get all this and more in your inbox by subscribing to our weekly newsletter. If you haven’t signed up yet, please do.

  1. Taxation without Representation / Matias Ramos
    Undocumented immigrants consistently contribute to the government’s coffers through payroll, sales, property, and income taxes.
  2. Rich Freeloaders / Betsy Malcolm
    It’s time for wealthy people like me to become more responsible and pay our fair share of taxes.
  3. Invoking Fake Job Creators to Cut Taxes on the Rich / Robert L. Borosage
    We’re squandering an extraordinary opportunity to rebuild America.
  4. How the Rich Welsh on Retirement Taxes / Gerald Scorse
    Withdrawal rules provide big tax breaks to the retirees who need them the least.
  5. Chairman of the Con Man Committee / Donald Kaul
    It’s hard to take Rep. Paul Ryan’s proposal seriously.
  6. Keystone XL’s Dirty Little Secret / Jim Hightower
    The people and companies pushing the tar-sands pipeline don’t want you to know that most of this oil won’t be made into gasoline for our vehicles.
  7. Where We Dwell Is Changing Fast / William A. Collins
    The American homeownership rate has declined.
  8. Taxing Job Creators / Khalil Bendib
Taxing Job Creators, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib.

Taxing Job Creators, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib.

Salafists Could Roll Arab Spring Back to Arab Winter

Salafist bookshop in Tunis.

Salafist bookshop in Tunis.

In March 2004 , one of us submitted an op-ed to the Denver Post titled “Wahhabism is a threat to World Peace.” The article posited that it was of no wonder that Wahhabism, the official religion of Saudi Arabia, has become the philosophical guide for terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda and Taliban. It fits the terrorist mentality well. Its pseudo-philosophy dictates dogmatic, outward acts of worship and rigid intolerance to others; its opposition to any refinement of Islamic culture, philosophy, theology, and the arts freezes cultural innovation. Its austere and regressive world view, with its inflexible doctrine, sows intolerance, discord, sedition, violence and hatred in the Muslim world and elsewhere.

Still, we are not surprised that a piece like this never saw the light of day in the American mainstream media. It might be difficult to openly criticize Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians; it is even more difficult to challenge the Saudi regime. The critical question that bewilders everyone is the total support of the successive US administrations provide to Wahhabism and its enigmatic and more palatable sister Salafism. Salafism is the older literal interpretation of Islam out of which Wahhabism emerged in the 18th century. Wahhabism is the official religion of Saudi Arabia. Wahhabism and Salafism, while slightly different, remain closely related. The Saudis and the Gulf States support Salafism, seeing it as a step towards creating a Wahhabist-dominated Middle East.

Wahhabism: anathema to U.S. policy … or strategic ally?

On the surface it would appear that Wahhabism – a form of extremely radical Islamic “fundamentalism” – would be an anathema to U.S. and European ‘values’ and in fact, it is against precisely this form of Islam that the war on terrorism is being fought. History tells another story. Closer, more careful analysis of U.S. (and earlier British) Middle-East policy suggests quite a different picture: that for nearly a century both American and British policy makers not only made their peace with Wahhabism (and Salafism) but have been in close cooperation with these movements throughout, and even more so today.

Granted that some of the U.S. support for Wahhabism is linked to oil politics and arrangements arrived at as early as the 1940s when President Roosevelt met with Saud bin ‘Abdol-‘Aziz on the former’s visit to Egypt on his way home from the Teheran Conference. The deal struck between the two was simple and enduring: in exchange for Saudi Arabia providing a steady flow of oil to the U.S. dominated world economy (at that time), the United States would not interfere with Saudi internal politics.

Nearly seventy years on, both sides have maintained this arrangement. While the pundits are content to attribute this support for oil and the role it plays in the US regional and global strategy, it appears that there are more sinister reasons behind this convenient relationship. It is part of the divide and rule strategy designed to divide and control; the Middle East.

Over one year after the Arab Awakening, better known in the vernacular as Arab Spring, and as we observe political developments in both West and North Africa as well as in the Middle East, it has become clear that Wahhabi and Salafist organizations and political parties are playing an increasingly active and menacing role throughout not only the MENA region but globally.

The Saudi and Qatari Wahhabi/Salafist organizations are very active domestically and internationally. They support other Wahhabi/Salafist groups around the world, in West and North Africa as well as across the Middle East (particularly Egypt, Tunisia, Libya) and Asia, as well as European and American countries. The dogmatic Wahhabi/Salafist approach is gaining ground in these countries particularly among the young Sunni Muslims as it promotes a simple black-and-white licit/illicit, understanding of Islam.

Wahhabism’s binary vision

This binary vision of the world (Muslims versus Kafirs, the good versus the bad, protected religious purity versus corrupting political involvement) has over the years shaped a religious mindset that has led to isolation and a doctrine that sows intolerance, discord, sedition, violence and hatred locally. Muslims, they argued, must isolate themselves from the corrupt surrounding societies, and avoid involvement in politics.

But in recent years and months we have seen a change in Wahhabi/Salafist political involvement. Having for decades refused political participation — equating democracy with kufr (rejection of Islam) and opting for seclusion — they are now slowly emerging out of the woodwork and engaging in politics, financed with Saudi petrodollars. Now we see, especially in Egypt and Tunisia, the rise of active and quite efficient Wahhabi/Salafist organizations and political parties which are playing a substantial role in structuring debates and reshaping the political balance within the respective countries.

The US administration and other European countries are fully aware that Wahhabi/Salafist organizations, based in Saudi Arabia, in Qatar and elsewhere in the Middle East, are pouring millions into countries that have witnessed the uprising, especially recently in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. Why, one wonders, do the western countries, especially the US, lend support to this most austere ideology that is so obviously at odds with their own? Well, it is much more sinister than oil.

Basis of the “marriage of convenience”

Here is our take: This marriage of convenience has a number of benefits for the West:

1. Economic gain

The Wahhabi/Salafist ideology may be concerned with political and religious legitimacy, and may be pushing for a rigid and literal interpretation of Islamic Law, but economically they are in collusion with the WB and IMF and their neo-liberal capitalist policies, and as such, care less about Islamic ethics. A cursory look at the extravagant wealth and lavish life style of Wahhabi leaders in Saudi Arabia and the Salafis elsewhere is enough to clarify this point.

2. Divide and conquer

The promotion of the Wahhabi/Salafist ideology within Muslim majority societies helps both to create divisions from within these societies and to prevent the reformist trends and movements, critical of western policies, from gaining ground as well as religious credibility. The West is following an old colonial strategy in using the Wahhabi/Salafists to divide the Muslims on religious grounds: in other words Wahhabi/Salafists become the agents of transforming what is natural diversity among Muslims into an effective and useful tool for division and colonial control. Nowhere is this more visible than when played by the Saudi Wahhabi leaders in inciting sectarian division in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and lately in diverting the Arab spring from attaining its goals.

3. Wahhabi/Salafis and the Palestinian issue

The Salafist resurgence is creating trouble and tension not only between Sunni and Shiite Muslims but within the Sunni communities as well. The Sunni-Shiite fracture in the Middle East is a critical factor in the region especially in light of western and Israeli threats against Iran and the ongoing repression in Bahrain, Yemen and Syria. The divide is deep even with regard to the Palestinian resistance, which for years had been a unifying legitimate struggle among Muslims. Now division is the rule, within and without, as Wahhabist/Salafist activism (which cares less about the Palestinian cause) deepens among the Sunnis as well as between Sunnis and the Shiites.

This strategic alliance with the Salafist, on both religious and political grounds, is critical for the West as it is the most efficient way to keep the Middle East under control. Protecting some oil-rich states, as well as their religious ideology while dividing any potential unifying political forces (such as alliances between secular and reformist Islamists or a popular front against Israeli policy), necessitates undermining the Muslim majority countries from within.

The Middle East, as well as North and West Africa countries, are facing serious dangers. The religious factor is becoming a critical one and if the Muslims, the scholars, the religious and political leaders do not work for more mutual respect, unity and accepted diversity, and if this unholy alliance of Wahhabist/Salafist ideological onslaught is not stopped soon, we will have Arab Winter and no Arab Spring.

The US and the Europeans are intent on exploiting disunity in the Arab world to protect Israel, to use the Salafists as a pawn in the global chess game between the West, China and India. If Muslims desire to reject their servitude and to free themselves from the shackle of western colonialism, Wahhabi/Salafist must be stopped from gaining footholds anywhere and everywhere.

Heading towards regional civil war?

Unfortunately, this U.S. policy of supporting a Salafist Middle East revival takes on a more ominous hue. It is likely a key element of a more broad based regional strategy being put in motion for a coming conflict pitting the Moslem countries of the Middle East against each other along religious (Sunni-Sh’ite) lines. If this is the case – and we believe it is shaping up in this direction – it helps to explain why, in part, the US probably does not want Israel to do anything that might spoil the planning by unilaterally attacking Iran. An Islamic civil war could result if the Wahhabi/Salafists are permitted to take control in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere with the US ‘managing’ the conflict and the Wahhabi/Salafists doing the dirty work, like it did by encouraging Iraq to attack Iran in the 1980.

In Part Two, we will look at the roles of the Wahhabi/Salafist movement in Egypt and Tunisia.

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.

Mountains Made of Muslims

Few in the West are aware of the extent of the savagery that Christians rained down on Muslims during the crusades. This is my fourth post on Armies of Heaven: The First Crusade and the Quest for Apocalypse (Basic Books, 2011) by Jay Rubenstein — a crusades history for dummies and historians both. My previous posts: Sanctifying the Killing of Muslims, The Secret to Islam’s Rapid Expansion: Free Love (?), and Justifications for Slaughtering Muslims Were in Ample Supply for Crusaders. Now, more fuel for the jihad fire.

And on the third day of the conquest, the final stage of the Jerusalem massacre began. Albert of Aachen was the only writer to describe it. As with his account of the pogroms along the Rhine, he showed a startling degree of empathy for the victims: The Franks “were beheading or striking down with stones girls, women, noble ladies, even pregnant women, and very young children, paying attention to on one’s age. By contrast, girls, women, ladies, tormented by fear of imminent death. … were wound about the Christians’ feet, begging them with piteous weeping and wailing for their lives and safety. … [But the] Christians gave over their whole hearts to the slaughter, so not a suckling little male child or female, not even an infant of one years would escape alive the hand of the murderers. The streets of the whole city of Jerusalem are reported to have been so strewn and covered with the dead bodies of men and women and the mangled limbs of infants, not only in the streets, houses, and places, but even in places of desert solitude numbers of slain were to be found.”

Here’s a nice touch that foreshadows the Nazis.

Just enough Saracens were spared so that the Franks might have slaves charged with removing their bodies. Rather than giving a formal burial, these few survivors piled their friends and family in heaps outside the gates. “They made mountains from the bodies. There were as big as houses.” Six months later at Christmas, the bodies were still there.

Also, after the Franks (Christians) had conquered Jerusalem, they preempted an attack by a massive Egyptian army at Ascalon.

The defeat for the Egyptians was total. In one writer’s words, “The fields were bedewed — nay, flooded — with blood, and gradually covered in gentle carrion.” Another chronicler mixed the language of history with that of the Apocalypse, saying, “And in a moment the field was covered with prone bodies, and none of ours could step anywhere except on a corpse. The land everywhere was wet with blood, as if a bloody rain had fallen from the clouds.”

The wonder isn’t so much that Muslim extremists attack us but that mainstream Muslims have been able to forgive the West for their past transgressions.

Jamming the NSA

جهـاد or الـجهـاد (jihad)

James Bamford, author of The Shadow Factory: the Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America (Doubleday, 2008), is the foremost chronicler of illegal surveillance in the United States. His latest post at Wired’s Threat Level is Shady Companies With Ties to Israel Wiretap the U.S. for the NSA. In his previous lengthy and widely read post, The NSA Is Building the Country’s Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say), he wrote:

Under construction by contractors with top-secret clearances, the blandly named Utah Data Center is being built for the National Security Agency. A project of immense secrecy, it is the final piece in a complex puzzle assembled over the past decade. Its purpose: to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks. The heavily fortified $2 billion center should be up and running in September 2013.

Since illegal surveillance has become one of America’s greatest growth industries, one is almost reluctant to rain on the NSA’s “job-creating” parade. There’s a sense of impending inevitability to it as with globalization a decade ago.

Some console themselves with the knowledge that not only does surveillance illegal and legal, including CCTV cameras, protect us, but why worry if you’re not breaking laws? Others feel that the NSA trawls the sea of data with such indiscriminateness that it’s in danger of swamping itself with the length and breadth of its catch. Apparently, though, increasingly sophisticated software keeps up with the torrential flow and pans it for apparent nuggets. In fact, for those of appalled by the ascendance of the national security state, that might be its Achilles heel.

I’m sure I’m not the first to suggest this, but what if all those opposed to the continued expansion of the NSA’s illegal surveillance were to seed emails and phone calls with likely triggers for NSA software? “Jihad” might be an effective key word with which to begin. We could also click on an agreed-upon list of jihad web sites. Perhaps such measures would confound the existing software. Or lead to our wholesale detention.

April 17: Global Day of Reckoning

Cross-posted from OpEdNews.

On Tuesday, April 17, the International Peace Bureau and the Institute for Policy Studies will kick off its second annual “Global Day of Action on Military Spending.” The event seeks to bring public, political, and media attention to the rising costs of military spending and the folly of war. It also aims to stress the dire need to realign our priorities to address the crises impacting our troubled world.

The annual occasion coincides with the release of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s (SIPRI) new annual figures on military expenditures. In 2010 alone, global military spending rose to an all-time high of $1.63 trillion. Organizers of the event are calling for a united focus on “human lives and needs” and new direction in tackling the scourges of poverty, hunger, lack of education, poor health care and environmental issues that threaten the planet.

In America, the Global Day of Action should also be a day when politicians are forced to obey the will of the people. On that day vast constituencies of conscientious Americans ought to send a message to war hungry political candidates and a Congress stubbornly intent on slashing America’s safety nets for the poor and disadvantaged while refusing to trim a military budget gone drastically awry.

According to researchers at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will eventually cost Americans between $3.2 and $4 trillion. That amount — according to several anti-war organizations — is more than enough to create hundreds of thousands of new jobs, fully fund a national health care plan, provide free college education to all high school graduates and completely fund a nationwide renewable energy program.

Even though the primary factor that led to the nation’s current deficit dilemma was war spending, bull-headed politicians astonishingly declare they will initiate yet another deadly military adventure in Iran if necessary.

If all other strategies fail, GOP presidential nominee hopefuls Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich said they’d be willing to go to war to keep Iran from attaining nuclear weapons. Ron Paul, who definitely won’t be the GOP nominee, was the only candidate who voiced a common sense retort to war rhetoric: “I’m afraid what’s going on right now is similar to the war propaganda that went on against Iraq,” Paul said.

President Barack Obama also challenged candidates who expressed a need for the U.S. to harden its position against Iran: “When I see the casualness with which those folks talk about war, I am reminded of the costs involved in war,” Obama said. It’s not the candidates “popping off” about war who will make sacrifices, Obama added, “it’s these incredible men and women in uniform and their families who pay the price.”

Not only are political candidates and mostly right-leaning legislators ignoring Paul and Obama, they continue to disregard the wishes of the American people. According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released in March, the majority of Americans prefer cutting defense spending to reduce the federal deficit rather than taking money from public retirement and health programs. The polling data indicates that 51 percent of Americans support reducing defense spending and only 28 percent want to cut entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid for the elderly and poor.

Romney, the candidate most likely to challenge Obama in the 2012 elections, has introduced a plan that’s 60 percent higher than the $525 billion Obama proposed in his FY 2011 defense budget, according to the Cato Institute .

Since the so-called “Super Committee” failed to produce a debt reduction plan, $1.2 trillion in across-the-board defense and non-defense cuts are supposed to kick in automatically. Some Republican lawmakers, like Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), who sat on the super committee, vow to fight military spending cuts. The “off limits” approach is unacceptable, said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who insists deficit-reduction efforts include more military cuts: “Under an all-of-the-above approach, the Pentagon should not be treated as off limits,” Schumer said. “There is waste in defense just like there is waste in the rest of the discretionary budget.”

The military industrial complex is a powerful force supported by war barons and private-sector monopolies dependent on the production of weaponry and exorbitantly-paid privatized security forces to maintain the messes they create. Politicians have turned a deaf ear to the will of the people and are perfectly content with bartering new jobs and the safety of elderly and impoverished Americans in order to protect and increase an already out-of-control military spending budget.

The Global Day of Action on Military Spending is the appropriate time to refute the “propaganda” Paul mentioned and beat back the callous drumbeat of war and more wars. April 17 should be the day we collectively stir the nation’s consciousness and direct its attention to issues that really matter. It should be a time of reckoning for morally reckless politicians-a rallying cry for massive reaction. The global day of action is the perfect time to bring international attention to the real costs of war and the desperate need to protect our planet and defend humanity.

Sylvester Brown, Jr. is an award-winning journalist, former publisher of Take Five Magazine and metro columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Conservative Candidate Supports Wall Street Speculation Tax

The conservative presidential candidate has decided he can’t win unless he raises taxes on the financial sector. No, I’m not talking about Mitt Romney, but this isn’t a belated April fool’s joke either.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Credit: UMP photos.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Credit: UMP photos.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has rushed through Parliament a new tax on securities trades, hoping it will give him a boost in what is expected to be a close election against Socialist Party candidate François Hollande on April 22. The French government will start collecting revenue from the 0.1 percent tax on stock trades in August.

This is the first clear win in a two-year campaign by labor unions, environmentalists, global health and other groups for taxes on financial speculation. The ultimate goal is to have broad-based taxes on trades of all financial instruments, including stocks, derivatives, and currency, in all of the world’s major financial markets. Sarkozy described his new French tax, which applies only to stock trades, as a first step towards a more comprehensive levy at the European level.

Such taxes have garnered widespread popular support because they could generate massive revenue while discouraging short-term speculation that has no real social value and can undermine market stability. Hardest hit would be the computer-driven high frequency trading that makes up about 55 percent of all trading on U.S. stock markets. Such warp speed robot trading played a role in the May 2010 “flash crash” and there are growing concerns that it could cause the next “Big One.” Since these guys make money through razor-thin profit margins on zillions of trades, a transaction tax of even a small fraction of a percent could throw a major wrench in their business model. For ordinary investors, the costs would be negligible.

European State of Play

Beyond France, the European debate on financial transactions taxes has moved forward in fits and starts. In a major reversal of their earlier opposition, the European Commission introduced draft legislation last fall for a tax of 0.1 percent on shares and 0.01 percent on derivatives. But momentum behind the proposal has slowed as Germany, a key supporter, has had its hands full with another not so small matter — the euro debt crisis. As it has sought to win over other key economies to its position on that front, Germany has tried to lower the tension level with opponents of the transaction tax by floating various compromise ideas. But the most vocal opponent, Prime Minister David Cameron, whose party receives more than half of its donations from the financial sector, has shot them all down. John Major, a previous prime minister from Cameron’s party, went so far as to conjure up painful World War II memories by comparing the proposed tax to a “heat-seeking missile” aimed at the City of London (the UK’s Wall Street).

Nevertheless, Max Lawson of Oxfam GB says that “despite fierce opposition and lobbying by the financial sector, there is a good chance that a coalition of European countries could push ahead and implement a financial transaction tax in 2012.” He points out that nine countries representing 90 percent of Eurozone GDP recently wrote to the Danish EU Presidency to ask them to fast-track the debate on the European Commission draft legislation. A minimum of nine countries is needed for an “enhanced cooperation” agreement — EU-speak for a pact that involves less than the full 27 member countries.

This week Germany’s main opposition party, the Social Democrats, increased the odds of a breakthrough by announcing they would block a new EU “fiscal pact” to contain the debt crisis unless the ruling party moved forward on a coordinated European financial transactions tax. They have the votes to back up the threat.

U.S. State of Play

The Obama administration shifted to a neutral stance on the European proposal last fall but they have not yet expressed support for taxing speculation here in the land of Wall Street. There is, however, growing support for the general concept in the halls of Congress, thanks in part to a big educational push coordinated by Americans for Financial Reform. Last week, the 76-member Congressional Progressive Caucus released a budget proposal that includes a tax on trades of stocks, derivatives, credit default swaps, foreign exchange, and other exotic financial products that could generate an estimated $378 billion over the period 2013-2017. A summary of the bill explains that “this is a tax levied directly against the types of opaque, complex trades that Wall Street manipulators used to inflate their profits and were a direct cause of the financial crisis.”

On May 18, National Nurses United will spearhead a major demonstration in Chicago to call on President Obama to tax Wall Street. Scheduled to coincide with a G8 summit hosted by Obama, the event will kick off campaigning events and activity around the world as part of a global week of action for financial transactions taxes. The AFL-CIO and other labor, environmental, and health groups have endorsed the Chicago rally.

The G8 summit offers an opportunity to shine a global spotlight on President Obama during a key moment of the election campaign. Perhaps he will be inspired by the conservative European leaders who have shown more nerve in taking on the mighty financial sector.

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