IPS Blog

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.

Israeli Backlash to Palestinian Land Day Global March to Jerusalem

Global March to JerusalemIn commemoration of Palestinian Land Day, activists from all continents are gearing up for peaceful protests along the Israeli borders on March 30. These marches are being organized by the non-governmental organization Global March to Jerusalem whose intended aim is

“to mark it as an international event to demonstrate solidarity with Palestinians and to protect Jerusalem. This will be achieved by organizing a Global March to Jerusalem or to the nearest point to it. The march will demand freedom for Jerusalem and its people and to put an end to the Apartheid, ethnic cleansing and Judaisation policies affecting the people, land and sanctity of Jerusalem.”

Protests are set to take place along the Israeli borders and at various Israeli embassies in Europe. Although the protests are primarily comprised of Arab protesters, the movement has received endorsements from a number of high profile European and American NGOs and individuals such as U.S. based NGO Code Pink and public figures such as Cornel West, Tariq Ali, Judith Butler, and Noam Chomsky.

There is some uncertainty about the nature of the protests. New sources like Al-Arabiya and Haaretz, have reported disputes between the protests organizers who are calling for a peaceful end to Israeli occupation and outside participants who “might use the protest marches to seek confrontations on Israel’s borders, particularly the Lebanese and Syrian frontiers” (Al-Arabiya).

The Israeli government has responded to the anticipated protests by putting border police in Israel and the West Bank on alert, as well as sending additional forces to back up IDF soldiers at the northern borders.

Despite GMJ calls for “peaceful national movements,” the movement has received aggressive backlash from members of the Israeli media who have categorized it as violent anti-Israeli rioting. Responses are being put forth by op-ed pieces by people like Loay Abu Haykel in JPost that herald the March 30 Land Day protests as “potentially … the most violent-ever.” Others like Alex Joffe argue that the protests, due to the nature of the conflict will be inherently violent, writing,

For the Palestinians, nonviolence is merely another tool on a spectrum. Violence is almost never completely disavowed. Indeed, stone-throwing is not regarded as violence at all, just free speech; and the “absolute right of people under occupation to resist” is inevitably paired with the phrase “by whatever means necessary,” making protestations of nonviolence unpersuasive. In any case, the demand for a “right of return” carries the explicit threat of violence at all levels – personal, legal and cultural.

In contrast, the global March West Bank organizer Said Yakin has told Media Line News,

“We are against violence…We do not choose to clash with the Israeli soldiers and are calling on them to be careful because we are without weapons. We are under occupation and we look to live in peace without settlements and checkpoints, blood and discrimination.”

Despite countless reassurances from the organizers of the protest that the intent is to raise awareness about occupation and civil rights, the Israeli media continues to offer dire forecasts of violence.

Melissa Moskowitz is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.

Letter from Kenya: An On-the-Ground Take on Kony 2012

Editor’s note: David Zarembka is the coordinator of the African Great Lakes Initiative (AGLI) of the Friends Peace Teams in Lumakanda, Kenya. He wrote this letter to friends and family in mid-March, after becoming the 79,574,419th person in the world to download the viral Kony 2012 video. The issues addressed and distorted in that video may seem like old news in the United States, but they are going to be pressing and current for many years to come for Uganda and its neighbors.

A number of people have asked me about the new media sensation, Kony 2012 by the group, Invisible Children. I normally don’t try to download video because my system here in Kenya is still too slow. After one and one half hours, I had downloaded 4:44 minutes. When I tried to look at even this beginning part, it went away and said it was no longer available.

A Kony 2012 billboard is displayed above a Wells Fargo advertisement at the HBO headquarters. Photo by Avakian/Flickr.

A Kony 2012 billboard is displayed above a Wells Fargo advertisement at the HBO headquarters. Photo by Avakian/Flickr.

So I have not seen the video, but I have a lot of background on the issue and have read a good number of criticisms of the video including many written by Ugandans.

In 2003, my organization (the African Great Lakes Initiative, known as AGLI) sponsored three Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC) workshops in Soroti, Uganda, for “night commuters.” These were children and young adults between age 12 and 20 who each night walked to the town of Soroti to sleep in order to keep from being kidnapped by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and being turned into child soldiers for the boys and to sex slaves for the girls. They were sleeping all over the town, including in the churches and on the verandas of the stores — 20,000 of them just in this one town.

At the 2011 international HROC training in Burundi there were three people from a group called Empowering Hands, which was working with children who had been abducted by the LRA and had escaped and were trying to re-integrate into Ugandan society. One of these participants had been abducted when she was 12 years old and escaped when she was 18, with her baby. She admitted to killing people, for example attacking a bus that blew up as they robbed the passengers. If I understand correctly, one of the other three people at the HROC training from Northern Uganda was one of the robbed passengers on that bus.

Here are my comments about the video.

1. The video’s focus solely on Joseph Kony is troubling.
While Kony has been a “bandit” in northern Uganda, and then later in South Sudan, northeastern Congo, and the Central Africa Republic, he is only one of many such outlaws that attack, steal, rape, and destroy average people’s homes and towns in order to survive. Thousands of such men exist in this vast, heavily forested, thinly populated region. The LRA is reported to have only about 200 adult fighters plus 1,000 -2,000 child soldiers. It seems that LRA itself has actually split into a number of armed groups. So killing or capturing Kony will have little effect on the lives of people in this region since he is but one of many.

2. The response of Ugandans to this video indicates deep flaws.
A group from Northern Uganda showed the video to people in Lira, one of the towns greatly affected by the LRA. Included was a group called AYINET, African Youth Initiative Network which was started by the American Friends Service Committee in countries from East Africa to South Africa. I attended the initial organization meeting in Nairobi in 2003 as the representative of the AFSC because I then served on their Africa panel. They report, that the screening was attended by over 35,000 people from across northern Uganda; it was broadcast live on five local FM radio stations that reached approximately 2 million people in northern Uganda.

However, at the Lira screening, the film produced such outrage, anger and hurt that AYINET has decided that in order not to further harm victims or provoke violent response that it is better to halt any further screenings for now. If the subjects of the video have this extreme negative reaction to the video, then I would conclude that there is something seriously flawed with it.

3. Militarism won’t solve this problem.
The video concludes by recommending the violent solution; sending in the military to capture or kill Kony. There is little understanding of the implication of this recommendation. The military solution has been tried almost continually since 1986 when Kony began the LRA. It has not only failed time after time, since he still has not been captured or killed, but with the result of increased suffering among the ordinary people. Few people are actually killed in the fighting in this region, but the many — particularly children, the elderly, and the sick — die an unnoted death from exposure and disease when they flee from the fighting. Consequently, many more people die in these military offensives than would normally die from the LRA itself.

4. More U.S. intervention isn’t the answer.
At the end of 2011, the U.S. government posted 100 U.S. soldiers to Uganda to help with the hunt to capture or kill Kony. Since these soldiers are based hundreds of miles south of northern Uganda in the safe, cosmopolitan city of Kampala, and, since Kony was pushed out of Uganda five or six years ago, the rational for this U.S. deployment is suspect. Many Africans think that the real reason is to support the pro-American, but dictatorial regime of Yoweri Museveni that has ruled Uganda since 1986 and regularly manipulates and steals elections while his corrupt family and cronies salt away the proceeds of their corruption.

5. The Ugandan government is a bigger problem.
While the LRA is without doubt a terrorist group, the Ugandan government and army have committed atrocities that, since they are such a bigger and stronger group than Kony’s rag-tag army, exceed anything that the LRA itself has done. For example, the Ugandan army forced 1.8 million people in northern Uganda into internally displaced persons (IDP) camps where they had to live off the charity of foreign NGOs. Not only do many people die when they are uprooted from their homes, but IDP camps are never healthy places to live and particularly grow up. Moreover the Ugandan army has been accused of numerous human rights violations, so much so that when Kony was indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), the deputy prosecutor at the ICC resigned in protest when the Ugandan Army was not also indicted for their crimes against humanity.

6. And should be indicted by the International Criminal Court.
Speaking of the the ICC, it is the Uganda government itself that took the case to the ICC which led in 2004 to the first ICC indictments of four LRA leaders. In other words, it was part of the anti-LRA campaign. To go to the ICC, a country must be unable to try the suspect itself. Uganda’s government was admitting that they did not have a fair, valid judicial system. But the bigger issue was with the ICC who, according to my understanding, is supposed to try those are or are close to state actors who have committed human rights violations, and not just some two-bit bandits. Most of the leaders of the countries in this region, including Museveni, were once rebel outlaws and all of them committed human rights abuses in their seizure of power. Then, once in power, most of them committed further human rights abuses. These are the ones the ICC should be indicting.

7. And it has sabotaged peace agreements with the LRA.
A number of times Museveni’s regime has sabotaged peace agreements with the LRA which were usually initiated by the people of northern Uganda. In 1998, a peace/amnesty agreement was reached with the LRA, but Museveni refused to sign it. In 2009, another agreement was almost reached with Kony and his lieutenants. The only sticking point was the demand by Kony and the four other LRA commanders that the ICC indictments be withdrawn. It would be difficult for those five to sign a peace agreement when they would then go directly to trial by the ICC. This peace agreement, as with every other peace agreement, was strongly supported by the people of northern Uganda. Nonetheless the involvement of ICC, rather than bringing peace, in this case extended the fighting for years. Museveni did not want to end the conflict with the LRA as it justified his bloated military budget and army, allowed numerous avenues for additional corruption, and kept in chaos that part of Uganda most opposed to his rule.

8. Kony 2012 is a distraction from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
I am of that older generation and in my youth opposed the Vietnam War. This Kony 2012 campaign is geared for American youth, which is one reason it has spread so widely on YouTube. The message is that the United States needs to initiate another military action. Are the youth who should be out on the streets opposing the many current U.S. wars and military actions being diverted to a rather small group of 200 rebels so that they do not focus on the real war issues that are confronting the United States? In my book, A Peace of Africa (see davidzarembka.com), concerning the Save Darfur Coalition, I wrote, “My biggest skepticism is the fact that the Save Darfur movement mirrored the foreign policy objectives of the Bush administration and diverted the idealism, energy, and concern of the youth from the real American problems of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.” This is also the case with the Kony 2012 campaign.

9. Invisible Children’s slick marketing is suspect.
The organization, Invisible Children, also seems suspect. From 2003 to 2005 the Save Darfur Coalition did a similar, but much more thorough campaign about the situation in Darfur. They collected lots of money but all of it went back into promoting the campaign and none of it reached Darfur. Invisible Children has had allegations of improper use of the funds that they raised in the past. The AYINET report said, “It was hurtful for victims and their families to see posters, bracelets, and T-shirts, all looking like a slick marketing campaign, promoting the person most responsible for their shattered lives.” The proceeds will be going to the organizers of the NGO and there is no intention, yet, that any of the funds collected are to be used in northern Uganda. It seems that this is another incident where the suffering and problems of Africa are being used for the benefit of an American NGO and its leaders.

10. Meanwhile, there’s no money for our reconciliation program to operate in Uganda.
My organization, the African Great Lakes Initiative (AGLI) has been asked, and we would agree, to introduce our Healing and Reconciling Our Communities (HROC) program in northern Uganda but in these difficult times fundraising cannot generate the additional income needed to do this. Our program takes ten people from one side of the conflict with 10 people from the other side and has a three day workshop to restore normal relationships between the two sides. In Rwanda, this means Tutsi survivors of the genocide and the families of the Hutu perpetrators of the genocide. In Burundi, this also means 10 Tutsi and 10 Hutu in each workshop.

The African Great Lakes Initiative (AGLI) of the Friends Peace Teams strengthens, supports, and promotes peace activities at the grassroots level in the Great Lakes region of Africa (Burundi, Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda). To this end, AGLI responds to requests from local religious and non-governmental organizations that focus on conflict management, peace building, trauma healing, and reconciliation. AGLI sponsors Peace Teams composed of members from local partners and the international community. We are a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization.

Health Care Q & A

Not all the arguments about the Affordable Care Act take place in the Supreme Court. One major complaint from opponents is that they don’t want the government involved in their health care. I can imagine this conversation with a doctor:

Q: Doc, I’m worried about the new health care bill. You won’t let the government interfere in my care, will you?

A: Of course not, Mr. Smith. I should warn you, though, that the drug companies are tracking my prescriptions, and offering me rewards if I give you their pills.

Q: I’ll double-check with my pharmacist. But the government won’t step between us, will it?

A: No, the government won’t, but the hospital just bought a new MRI machine, so they’re pushing me to use that a lot. I get paid extra for the MRI’s, too.

Q: A couple of MRI’s more or less won’t hurt. But no government telling you what to do, right?

A: No, but I’ll tell you something that does frustrate me. There are certain treatments some insurance companies don’t allow. They call them “experimental,” and won’t pay for those treatments.

Q: I don’t want anything experimental. Anything else?

A: Well, your boss, your doctor, your hospital or your insurance company can block some treatments or prescriptions for religious reasons. I might think they are right for you, and you might want them, but they wouldn’t be covered.

Q: All those people can decide about my health care? Wow. But that’s mostly about women’s stuff, right? I mean, they can’t make decisions about guys like us, can they?

A: They might not cover vasectomies, and you know that end-of-life agreement you signed, where you told me you didn’t want them to keep you alive with tubes for breathing and feeding, if you didn’t have any chance of getting better? If they don’t agree with that, they’ll just ignore it. Remember Terri Schiavo?

Q: They can do that, Doc?

A: Some state governments are already passing laws to make that possible. We can hope the US government keeps that from happening by establishing a bottom line for what every policy has to cover.

Q. But what about my religious beliefs?

A. It seems our system works for the health care providers, not the patients.

Q: So the federal government is trying to protect my health care rights?

A: Not only that, they’re collecting information about what treatments work best. For example, doctors used to take out lots of tonsils, and now they aren’t doing it as much. There’s a debate about when to use by-pass surgery, stents or medication for heart problems. The government will collect all the data on the treatments to make recommendations. That would help doctors like me a lot. And with enough information, we might figure out how to hold costs down. The United States does about half a million knee replacements a year. Some places charge about $45,000, and others charge about $70,000. Let’s learn how to do them cheaper.

Q: Okay, but I still have another question. Maybe the government won’t force you to change your practice, but what about forcing people to get insurance?

A: You already have insurance, so that won’t change. And each year your family pays an extra $1,000 in your insurance to cover those people who can’t pay. The government already pays for about half the medical expenses in the country now – the military, old people, poor people, and so on. People who can pay should pay. It will save you and the government a lot.

Q: A thousand dollars extra? That’s not fair. At least I don’t have to pay it. My company pays most of my insurance.

A: Unfortunately, Mr. Smith, your company counts your health care in your wages. Most of your pay raises in the last decade have gone to health insurance. But the new health care law only allows insurance companies to take 15¢ of every dollar for their profits and expenses. They used to take about 20 percent, or $1 for every $5 spent on medical care.

Q: One last question, Doc. Can you give me anything for my headache?

Tim Butterworth, an Institute for Policy Studies associate fellow, is a former teacher, union negotiator and New Hampshire state representative. www.ips-dc.org

Contraception and the New Crusades

Of all the overlapping explanations proffered for the recent spate of legislation designed to limit access to contraception and abortion in the United States, few have any kind of international focus. This makes sense, as few of the proponents of such measures refer to global concerns. Yet it seems likely that deep-seated fears of demographic change are lurking somewhere behind such efforts, and, more importantly, help to make compromise so difficult.

The first thing to remember is that, besides the larger debate over abortion, concerns about contraception have been germinating in some quarters for several years. In 2003, on the 30th anniversary of Roe V. Wade, Cristina Page, of the National Abortion Rights Action League, and Amanda Peterman, from Right to Life Michigan, co-wrote an op-ed in The New York Times, titled “The Right to Agree.” In this op-ed, Page and Peterman wrote of finding common ground on such issues as support for single mothers, affordable child care, an end to violent rhetoric and actions, and supporting legislation that would require that health insurance plans cover contraceptives. While there was reportedly little strong response from pro-choice organizations, Peterman found herself ostracized from her fellow activists. Page has subsequently written about how this chain of events helped her to realize that much of the purported anti-abortion activity actually is not focused on abortion per se, but on larger anxieties about families and sexuality.

So what does this have to do with the world outside? Despite the very low rates of abortion (and sexually-transmitted diseases) in the Netherlands, that country’s policies of sex education, along with subsidizing and promoting contraception, do not endear themselves to American conservatives. The exact opposite is true. While the Times, in a 2006 article titled “Contra-Contraception” highlighted the ethical reasons for such seeming cognitive dissonance, it also seems likely that there is a subconscious (and sometimes very conscious!) strategic explanation. In other words, if the Netherlands, and many other countries in Europe and around the world, manage to prevent abortions by preventing pregnancy, that is not considered an acceptable strategy, partially because the resulting low fertility rates allegedly leave such countries open to conquest by Muslim immigrants.

This hypothesis, sometimes awkwardly referred to as “Eurabia” (most Muslim immigrants, like most Muslims in general, are not Arab), has become a staple of right-wing rhetoric in the past decade. Pat Buchanan has mentioned this trope repeatedly, beginning with his book Death of the West in 2001. Mark Steyn has largely built a career on this sort of thing; he made a considerable impact with America Alone in 2006, and was continually invoking concerns of low fertility, though without explicitly mentioning an Islamic takeover, in recent months. Numerous other authors have added their voices to this chorus of fear, and opponents of the idea also responded in kind. Indeed, such fears are not only misplaced, they are comprehensively wrong across the board. The numbers regarding fertility and immigration patterns, as well as the social and political beliefs of many Muslims in Europe, do not even remotely support the hypothesis of people like Steyn, and yet their ideas have stuck in the minds of many. Anders Behring Breivik and the English Defence League share these concerns. Perhaps more importantly, so does the American Christian Right, the most bellicose demographic in America, and the same one responsible for the wave of legislation targeting contraception and abortion.

Christopher Hitchens sometimes noted that conservative religious groups have been known to put aside their differences in opposition to secular modernity, but that is not currently on the agenda for American Evangelicals vis-à-vis Islam. The situation is somewhat different in Europe, where secular and/or leftist groups, feminists, gay-rights activists, and others have also sometimes endorsed restrictions on Islamic dress and mosque construction; though they also tend to fiercely oppose groups like the English Defense League. In any event, American conservatives seem to want “more babies” (in the memorable tirade of the National Abstinence Clearinghouse’s Leslee Unruh) more than they want fewer abortions, partially due to fear that the wrong people are reproducing too often. This is one reason, though not the largest, why Cristina Page and Amanda Peterman had such a brief opportunity to agree.

Scott Charney is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.

Sgt. Bales: Is Further Proof Needed That Multiple Tours Are a Recipe for Disaster?

On Friday March 23, 2012, Staff Sgt Robert Bales was charged with 17 counts of murder, six counts of attempted murder and six counts of assault. This is a result of what Fox News has called “the worst allegation of killing of civilians by an American in Afghanistan.” On March 11, Bales allegedly had been drinking prior to attacking two villages near his base in the Afghan villages of Balandi and Alkozai, where he murdered nine children and seven adults. He was moved first from Afghanistan to Kuwait and is currently waiting trial at the military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

The BBC says that Bales is seeking defense for “diminished capacity” because he doesn’t remember the crime, he had already completed three tours in Iraq, and had received brain and body injuries in previous tours. Prior to the rampage Bales had seen his friend’s leg blown off and was drinking. Other excuses cited by the Kansas City Star were that Bales had just been passed over for promotion, was experiencing stress with finances and in his marriage, and had been working at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord, known for being “the most troubled base in the military.” These rationalizations could have major implications for the military administration.

For example, Bales shouldn’t have been enlisted for a fourth tour if he was not physically and psychologically capable, which he is clearly arguing he was not. On top of that he had been drinking which could have increased Bales’ memory loss and is against U.S. military orders. However, if the rampage were a symptom of PTSD, then the United States is not doing enough to offer the psychological support the troops need. Providing that support is crucial to the success of overseas operations. The Huffington Post argues that the United States had no choice but to stretch what knowledgeable military it had thinly. This is understandable, but it hardly seems worth it when considering the ramifications.

This incident fuels the social upheaval that has resulted from NATO and U.S. Army personnel accidentally burning several Qurans. The Taliban says Bales won’t get a fair or speedy trial. In fact the trial could be drawn out for years. They say Bales was not the only one involved in the incident. The Taliban thinks that the murders were premeditated and carried out by a group of individuals. Therefore, in their eyes the justice process is already flawed. The results of the rampage and following process are undermining U.S.-Afghan relations, Taliban peace talks are off, and Karzai has yet another reason to demand early withdrawal.

Arguably, Bales is not the only one who should be on trial right now. Military protocol and the psychological health of personnel should also be called into question.

The Secret to Islam’s Rapid Expansion: Free Love (?)

First CrusadeAs previously noted, Armies of Heaven: The First Crusade and the Quest for Apocalypse (Basic Books, 2011), by American medieval historian Jay Rubenstein, is as readable as it seems credible. (See Sanctifying the Killing of Muslims).

At the turn of the first millennium, Rubenstein explains, Christians often referred to Muslims as Ishmaelites. When the biblical Abraham, childless, suggested that his wife Sarah allow her servant to impregnate her, Ishmael was the result. But when he finally produced an heir himself (Isaac), Abraham drove out Ishmael — called a “savage man” in Genesis — as well as Sarah.

Even before the dawn of Islam, this passage of the Bible was applied to nomads. As for the term Saracen, Rubenstein writes:

The Ishmaelites, Latin authors believed, desperately wished to conceal their base heritage. They wanted to pretend that they were not the illegitimate children of a slave. Hence, they called themselves the “Saracens,” the descendants of Sarah.

Christians stuck with that because

“Saracen” was simply too useful — by itself evidence of that faith’s base ancestry (Muslims were born of a slave), its illegitimacy (they were bastards), and its mendaciousness (they used their names to lie about it).

However, the “origins of the Saracen faith … were almost a complete mystery to Europeans.” How much of a mystery? Rubenstein explains.

The only reliable information about the faith’s origins could be found, perhaps predictably, not in history books or in theological treatises but in … a series of popular prophetic manuals. … Saracens, we learn from these books. … were nomadic warriors who moved like locusts, traveled nude, ate raw meat stored in skins and drank the blood of oxen mixed with milk, desolated cities, and spread their destructive influence all around the Mediterranean.

Surely, in creating them, there was method to God’s madness.

Their arrival would be for the whole world “a punishment without pity.” They would attain power not because God loved them, but because He wished to punish sinners. On account of sexual crimes committed by Christians, “God shall hand them over to the barbarians [Ishmaelites].”

Who would …

… stab pregnant women in their bellies. … murder priests in sanctuaries. … steal priestly vestments and use them to clothe their women and children. … And as the final insult, they would bring beasts of burden into the tombs of the saints and there shelter them as if in a stable.

In their ignorance, Christian writers called Mohammed “Mathomos,” who they found “by looking at Christ through a glass darkly,” as if he were a “negative image” of Christ. Writes Rubenstein:

The various biographies of Mathomos tell roughly the same story. They usually begin with a heretic: an embittered, failed Christian leader who … exiled to the land of the Agarenes. … takes on a pupil [Mathomos]. He trains the boys in the ways of his faith — essentially a complete surrender to libidinous pleasures. According to twelfth-century writers, that was indeed the secret to Islam’s rapid expansion and popularity: free love.

It’s almost needless to point out the irony in light of Islam’s family values today (as well as the puritanism of Muslim extremists). Rubenstein also writes:

As far as some crusaders could tell, there was no real difference among Saracen, Jew, and heretic. They were “equally detestable,” all “enemies of God.”

Never let it be said that Christians, who slaughtered Jews as a warm-up for killing Muslims on the way to Jerusalem, haven’t been equal-opportunity haters down through history.

Trust in Nuclear Weapons Replaces Trust in God

Cross-posted from Other Words.

Indonesia ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) late last year. As the most recent nation to pledge to halt nuclear weapons testing and agree to global monitoring to ensure compliance with that promise, it brought the total number of signatories to 157.

Almost all the world’s governments have agreed to take this first solid step towards eliminating the terrible threat of nuclear warfare. If you don’t test these weapons, they’re much more difficult to develop, build, and rely on.

As Washington threatens to go to war to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb, you’d think we’d be card-carrying members of the CTBT club, along with Israel. Not so.

Although the United Nations approved the treaty more than 15 years ago, our own government hasn’t signed on yet.

The United States is the godfather in a gang of eight nuclear bomb test ban holdouts. Together, they hold the rest of the world hostage to their desire to wield the ultimate destructive power. Who are the other atomic bomb-lovers? Israel, Iran, China, Egypt, Pakistan, India, and North Korea. These are strange bedfellows. All eight spoiler countries must ratify the treaty before it can be enforced.

Proponents of nuclear weapons argue that mutually assured destruction can act as a guarantor of peace. But in the end, relying on the power to destroy and threaten ensures that none of us on this planet can ever fully trust each other, nor re-invest in more creative ways to resolve conflicts. At the most fundamental level, trust in massively destructive weapons replaces trust in God.

The United States, as the world’s undisputed nuclear weapons superpower, has to lead by example on the path to faith and democracy. Saber rattling at the fledgling super-bomb efforts of Iran and North Korea while ignoring our own stockpiles won’t convince anyone.

Work and pray to end the nuclear weapons curse.

Michael McCarthy is a leader of Blue Water Pax Christi, a Catholic peace organization.

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