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‘Nobel Peace Prize-Winner Barack Obama Ups Spending on Nuclear Weapons to Even More Than George Bush’ January 30, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Nuclear weapons/power.
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(Roger’s note: George Orwell would be proud: bombs = security; war = peace)
Published on Saturday, January 30, 2010 by the Daily Telegraph/UKby Carol Driver

President Obama is planning to increase spending on America’s nuclear weapons stockpile just days after pledging to try to rid the world of them.

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In his budget to be announced on Monday, Mr Obama has allocated £4.3billion to maintain the U.S. arsenal – £370million more than George Bush spent on nuclear weapons in his final year. 

The Obama administration also plans to spend a further £3.1billion over the next five years on nuclear security.

The announcement comes despite the American President declaring nuclear weapons were the ‘greatest danger’ to U.S. people during in his State of the Union address on Wednesday.

And it flies in the face of Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize, awarded to him in October for ‘his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples’.

The Nobel committee was attacked at the time for bestowing the accolade on a new president whose initiatives are yet to bear fruit – which included reducing the world stock of nuclear arms.The budget is higher than that allocated by George Bush – who was seen by many as a warmongering president in the wake of the Iraq invasion in 2003 – during his premiership.

During his 70-minute State of the Union speech on Wednesday, which marked his first year in office, Obama said: ‘I have embraced the vision of John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan through a strategy that reverses the spread of these weapons, and seeks a world without them.’

However, Vice President Joe Biden today supported the increase on nuclear weapons maintenance, saying: ‘Even in a time of tough budget decisions, these are investments we must make for our security.

‘We are committed to working with Congress to ensure these budget increases are approved.’

Biden said the Obama administration had inherited a ‘steady decline’ in support for U.S. nuclear stockpiles and infrastructure.

‘For almost a decade, our laboratories and facilities have been underfunded and undervalued,’ he said.

‘The consequences of this neglect – like the growing shortage of skilled nuclear scientists and engineers and the ageing of critical facilities – have largely escaped public notice.

‘The budget we will submit to Congress on Monday both reverses this decline and enables us to implement the president’s nuclear-security agenda.’

He added: ‘This investment is long overdue. It will strengthen our ability to recruit, train and retain the skilled people we need to maintain our nuclear capabilities.

‘It will support the work of our nuclear labs, a national treasure that we must and will sustain.’

The Obama administration will publish its budget for fiscal year 2011 on Monday.

The proposal will include a budget increase for nuclear issues while paring back other areas in an effort to control record deficits.

Biden said those steps along with others to advance non-proliferation were essential to ‘holding nations like North Korea and Iran accountable when they break the rules, and deterring others from trying to do so’.

© 2010 Daily Telegraph/UK

The need of the most powerful to turn themselves into victims May 14, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Media, Political Commentary, Right Wing.
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(In this article Greenwald touches on a phenomenon that I have analyzed ever since I read about the Pinochet coup in Chile (on that other 9/11, 1973), where the U.S.-funded Chilean media generated a panic about the elected Allende government, alleging that it was about to establish a Communist dictatorship (echos of this ring today in Latin America where the same allegations are made about Chávez in Venezuela, Evo Morales in Bolivia and Rafael Correa in Ecuador).  Public opinion was thereby manipulated to garner support of Pinochet’s bloody coup and aftermath massacres in order to “save” Chile from becoming a “victim” of ruthless Communism.  We see this in so many points of history, where aggression needs to be justified as a poor “victim” defending itself (the sinking of the Main, the Bay of Tonkin, 9/11, etc.).  Massive media campaigns were launched to alter pulic opinion behind the U.S. agressions in the Spanish American War and its aftermath where the “victim” U.S. ended up with Cuba and the Philippines as client states; and the same occurred to manipulate public opinion to support U.S. intervention in World War I.  Post-World War II anti-Communist paranoia justified U.S. aggression and support of brutal dictatorships throughout Latin America (Cuba, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Panama, Haiti, Chile, Argentina, Venezuela, Nicaragua, etc.) and Vietnam.  The greatest “victim” of the 20th century, a poor soul who had no choice but do defend the fatherland against the Jewish conspiracy, was none other than Adolph Hitler.  Today the United States terrorizes millions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, tortures with abandon, and spies illegally on its own citizens in order to protect the country from Isalmic Jihadists.  Very important to add, of course, that real incidents — such as 9/11 — along with manufactured incidents are distorted to solidify the image of the United States, the most powerful nation in the history of the world with an atomic arsenal that could destroy the planet a thousand times over and military might greater that the rest of the world combined, as the poor “victim.”)

 Glenn Greenwald

www.salon.com, May 2, 2009

One of the most common, harmful and downright pitiful dynamics in our political culture is the bottomless need of those who wield the most power to constantly parade around as oppressed, persecuted victims:

Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic, yesterday, on the AIPAC prosecutions:

[S]uffice it to say that this day was long overdue. Rosen and Weissman did what a thousand reporters in Washington do everyday, hear about information that’s technically classified. The only difference is that these two worked for a demonized lobby.

Michael Crowley, The New Republic, today, on this week’s AIPAC conference:

AIPAC says 6500 people will attend the conference, including half the House and Senate plus such congressional leaders as Dick Durbin, Eric Cantor, Steny Hoyer and Jon Kyl. Israeli President Shimon Peres speaks Monday morning and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks that evening.

Biden speaks on Tuesday. As a candidate, Barack Obama addressed the AIPAC conference last spring, vowing to do “everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”

Just compare Goldberg’s claim with Crowley’s facts.  The idea that AIPAC is a “demonized lobby” that is treated unfairly in the United States generally — or by the Bush administration specifically, which commenced the prosecutions — has to be one of the biggest jokes ever to appear in anything having to do with The Atlantic.  What other lobbying organization can boast of summoning to its Conference half of the U.S. Congress — as bipartisan a cast as possible — along with the Vice President, following the visit last year by Obama, who read faithfully from the organization’s script?  With rare exception, Congressional action that AIPAC demands — even on as controversial matter as the Israeli attack on Gaza — not only passes the Congress, but often with virtual unanimity.  Is there anyone who disputes that AIPAC is one of the most influential and powerful lobbying groups in the U.S., if not the most influential and powerful?

Just ponder the depths of irrationality and pathological persecution complex — the desperate need to self-victimize — necessary to claim that AIPAC, of all entities, is “demonized” and treated unfairly by the U.S. Government.  AIPAC.  But that’s the self-pitying, self-absorbed syndrome that drives so much of our political discourse (an amazingly high percentage of right-wing political dialogue in particular adheres to this formula:  “I am X and X is treated so very unfairly” — where X is virtually always among the groups wielding the most power:  American, white, Christian, Republican, male, etc. etc.).  It’s the same mentality that leads people to insist that the true victim in the Middle East is the same country that, by far, possesses the greatest military might and uses it most often.  It’s a bizarre process of inversion where those who are most powerful insist on claiming that they are the weakest, most vulnerable and most oppressed.

Although it’s true — as I argued three years ago and again yesterday — that the prosecution of the two former AIPAC officials was wrong and abusive, that hardly means there was no wrongdoing here.  Indeed, as part of this case, a former DOD official and aide to Douglas Feith — Larry Franklin — was convicted and sentenced to 12 years in prison for passing classified military information to these two AIPAC officials and to an Israeli official.  The FBI agents assigned to this case continued through this week to insist that not only now-convicted Franklin, but also the two AIPAC officials, committed serious crimes and that there was ample evidence to prove their guilt. 

There are very compelling reasons why the mere receipt and transmission of classified information by non-government employees should not be criminalized, and there appeared to be specific reasons — including a desire to protect classified information — as to why the DOJ decided not to proceed with this particular prosecution.  But the mere failure by the state to obtain criminal convictions hardly precludes the view that the accused nonetheless engaged in wrongdoing — criminal, political, ethical or otherwise (ask those who deny that proposition what they think about O.J. Simpson, or Marc Rich, or the officers who beat Rodney King, or Bill Clinton, or George Bush).  “Presumption of innocence” means the government can’t treat someone like a criminal in the absence of a conviction after due process is accorded; it does not mean that citizens are barred from believing the person did something wrong.  There are many reasons aside from innocence why the state may decide not to prosecute someone.

Similarly, there are many possible motivations that drove the Bush DOJ to pursue these extremely unusual and deeply misguided prosecutions against these two AIPAC officials.  Whatever those motives might be, the idea that it was because the Bush administration harbored animus towards AIPAC or that AIPAC is a marginalized and oppressed group in the United States is so painfully ludicrous that it’s truly surprising that someone can express it with a straight face.  But self-pity and blinding self-absorption are potent afflictions, and it’s thus not only possible — but extremely common in our political discussions — to witness those who exert the most influence and power petulantly insist that everything is stacked against them and everything bad that happens to them is an unfair by-product of their weakness, persecution and oppression.

Venezuela, an imaginary threat February 19, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Latin America, Venezuela.
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guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 18 February 2009

Obama is maintaining a hostile policy towards Hugo Chávez – which will cost the US friendships elsewhere in Latin America

US-Latin American relations fell to record lows during the George Bush years, and there have been hopes – both north and south of the border – that President Barack Obama will bring a fresh approach. So far, however, most signals are pointing to continuity rather than change.

Obama started off with an unprovoked verbal assault on Venezuela. In an interview broadcast by the Spanish-language television station Univision on the Sunday before his inauguration, he accused Hugo Chávez of having “impeded progress in the region” and “exporting terrorist activities”.

These remarks were unusually hostile and threatening even by the previous administration’s standards. They are also untrue and diametrically opposed to the way the rest of the region sees Venezuela. The charge that Venezuela is “exporting terrorism” would not pass the laugh test among almost any government in Latin America.

José Miguel Insulza, the Chilean president of the Organisation of American States, was speaking for almost all the countries in the hemisphere when he told the US Congress last year that “there is no evidence” and that no member country, including the US, had offered “any such proof” that Venezuela supported terrorist groups.

Nor do the other Latin American democracies see Venezuela as an obstacle to progress in the region. On the contrary, President Lula da Silva of Brazil, along with several other presidents in South America, has repeatedly defended Chávez and his role in the region. Just a few days after Obama denounced Venezuela, Lula was in Venezuela’s southern state of Zulia, where he emphasised his strategic partnership with Chávez and their common efforts at regional economic integration.

Obama’s statement was no accident. Whoever fed him these lines very likely intended to send a message to the Venezuelan electorate before last Sunday’s referendum that Venezuela won’t have decent relations with the US so long as Chávez is their elected president. (Voters decided to remove term limits for elected officials, paving the way for Chávez to run again in 2013.)

There is definitely at least a faction of the Obama administration that wants to continue the Bush policies. James Steinberg, number two to Hillary Clinton in the state department, took a gratuitous swipe at Bolivia and Venezuela during his confirmation process, saying that the US should provide a “counterweight to governments like those currently in power in Venezuela and Bolivia which pursue policies which do not serve the interests of their people or the region.”

Another sign of continuity is that Obama has not yet replaced Bush’s top state department official for the western hemisphere, Thomas Shannon.

The US media plays the role of enabler in this situation. Thus the Associated Press ignores the attacks from Washington and portrays Chávez’s response as nothing more than an electoral ploy on his part. In fact, Chávez had been uncharacteristically restrained. He did not respond to attacks throughout the long US presidential campaign, even when Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden called him a “dictator” or Obama described him as “despotic” – labels that no serious political scientist anywhere would accept for a democratically elected president of a country where the opposition dominates the media. He wrote it off as the influence of South Florida on US presidential elections.

But there are few if any presidents in the world that would take repeated verbal abuse from another government without responding. Obama’s advisers know that no matter what this administration does to Venezuela, the press will portray Chávez as the aggressor. So it’s an easy, if cynical, political calculation for them to poison relations from the outset. What they have not yet realised is that by doing so they are alienating the majority of the region.

There is still hope for change in US foreign policy toward Latin America, which has become thoroughly discredited on everything from the war on drugs to the Cuba embargo to trade policy. But as during the Bush years, we will need relentless pressure from the south. Last September the Union of South American Nations strongly backed Bolivia’s government against opposition violence and destabilisation. This was very successful in countering Washington’s tacit support for the more extremist elements of Bolivia’s opposition. It showed the Bush administration that the region was not going to tolerate any attempts to legitimise an extra-legal opposition in Bolivia or to grant it special rights outside of the democratic political process.

Several presidents, including Lula, have called upon Obama to lift the embargo on Cuba, as they congratulated him on his victory. Lula also asked Obama to meet with Chávez. Hopefully these governments will continue to assert – repeatedly, publicly and with one voice – that Washington’s problems with Cuba, Bolivia and Venezuela are Washington’s problems, and not the result of anything that those governments have done. When the Obama team is convinced that a “divide and conquer” approach to the region will fail just as miserably for this administration as it did for the previous one, then we may see the beginnings of a new policy toward Latin America.

The 180-Degree Reversal of Obama’s State Secrets Position February 10, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice.
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by Glenn Greenwald

From the Obama/Biden campaign website, mybarackobama.com, here was what the Obama campaign was saying — back then — about the State Secrets privilege:

 

Apparently, the operative word in that highlighted paragraph — unbeknownst to most people at the time — was “the Bush administration,” since the Obama administration is now doing exactly that which, during the campaign, it defined as “The Problem,” the only difference being that it is now Obama, and not Bush, doing it.  For journalists who haven’t bothered to learn the first thing about this issue even as they hold themselves out as experts on it, and for Obama followers eager to find an excuse to justify what was done, a brief review of the State Secrets privilege controversy is in order. 

Nobody — not the ACLU or anyone else — argues that the State Secrets privilege is inherently invalid.  Nobody contests that there is such a thing as a legitimate state secret.  Nobody believes that Obama should declassify every last secret and never classify anything else ever again.  Nor does anyone even assert that this particular lawsuit clearly involves no specific documents or portions of documents that might be legitimately subject to the privilege.  Those are all transparent, moronic strawmen advanced by people who have no idea what they’re talking about.

What was abusive and dangerous about the Bush administration’s version of the States Secret privilege — just as the Obama/Biden campaign pointed out — was that it was used not (as originally intended) to argue that specific pieces of evidence or documents were secret and therefore shouldn’t be allowed in a court case, but instead, to compel dismissal of entire lawsuits in advance based on the claim that any judicial adjudication of even the most illegal secret government programs would harm national security.  That is the theory that caused the bulk of the controversy when used by the Bush DOJ — because it shields entire government programs from any judicial scrutiny — and it is that exact version of the privilege that the Obama DOJ yesterday expressly advocated (and, by implication, sought to preserve for all Presidents, including Obama).  

Go read any critic of Bush’s use of the State Secrets privilege and those are the objections you will find (.pdf).  Kevin Drum last night explained it quite clearly:

By itself, this [the quantitative increase in the post-9/11 use of the privilege] is bad enough. But it’s not the worst part of the Bush administration’s use of the privilege.

Before 2001, the state secrets privilege was mostly used to object to specific pieces of evidence being introduced in court, something that nearly everyone agrees is at least occasionally necessary. But the Bush administration changed all that. In their typical expansive way, they decided to apply the privilege not just to individual pieces of evidence, but to get entire cases thrown out of court. What’s more, they did this not merely when a state secret was incidental to some unrelated complaint, but when the government itself was the target of the suit.

Now Barack Obama is president, and unfortunately he’s decided to continue the Bush administration’s expansive reading of the privilege.

To underscore just what a complete reversal the Obama DOJ’s conduct is, consider what Seante Democrats were saying for the last several years.  In early 2008, Sens. Kennedy and Leahy, along with Sen. Arlen Specter, sponsored the State Secrets Protection Act.  It had numerous co-sponsors, including Joe Biden.  In April, 2008, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill, with all Committee Democrats voting for it, along with Specter.  The scheme restrictions imposed on the privilege by that bill was the consensus view of the pre-2009 Democratic Party.

The primary purpose of that bill is to bar the precise use of the State Secrets privilege which the Obama DOJ yesterday defended:   namely, as a tool to force courts to dismiss entire lawsuits from the start without any proceedings being held, rather than as a focused instrument for protecting specific pieces of classified information from disclosure. 

That bill explicitly provides that “the state secrets privilege shall not constitute grounds for dismissal of a case or claim” (Sec. 4053(b)).  Instead, the President could only “invoke the state secrets privilege as a ground for withholding information or evidence in discovery or for preventing the introduction of evidence at trial” (Sec. 4054(a)), and must submit each allegedly privileged piece of evidence to the court for the court to determine whether each item is legitimately subject to the privilege (Sec. 4054(d-e).  Where the court rules that a specific piece of evidence is privileged, it must attempt to find an evidentiary substitute (e.g., a summary of the evidence, a partially redacted copy, compelled admissions by the Government of certain allegations), and then — only after all the evidence is gathered in discovery — can the court dismiss the lawsuit only if it finds, in essence, that the plaintiffs cannot prove their case without reliance on the specific privileged information (Sec. 4055).

That has been the argument of Democrats for quite some time — as well as civil libertarians such as Russ Feingold and the ACLU, both of whom endorsed that bill:  that what was abusive and dangerous about Bush’s use of the State Secrets privilege was the preemptive, generalized use of this privilege to force dismissal of entire lawsuits in advance, even where the supposed secret to be concealed was the allegedly criminal activity itself.  And that is exactly the usage that the Obama administration is now defending. 

It doesn’t take much time or energy to understand why that instrument is so pernicious.  It enables a Government to break the law — repeatedly and deliberately — and then block courts from subjecting its behavior to any judicial accountability, and prevent the public from learning about the lawbreaking, by claiming that its conduct generally is too secret to allow any judicial review.  Put another way, it places Presidents and their aides beyond and above the rule of law, since it empowers them to break the law and then prevent their victims — or anyone else — from holding them accountable in a court of law.  As Russ Feingold put it:

When the executive branch invokes the state secrets privilege to shut down lawsuits, hides its programs behind secret OLC opinions, over-classifies information to avoid public disclosure, and interprets the Freedom of Information Act as an information withholding statute, it shuts down all of the means to detect and respond to its abuses of the rule of law – whether those abuses involve torture, domestic spying, or the firing of U.S. Attorneys for partisan gain.

In defending the Obama administration’s position (without beginning to understand it), The Atlantic‘s Marc Ambinder revealingly wrote — on behalf of civil libertarians who he fantasizes have anointed him their spokesman:

It wouldn’t be wise for a new administration to come in, take over a case from a prosecutor, and completely change a legal strategy in mid-course without a more thorough review of the national security implications. And, of course, the invocation itself isn’t necessarily an issue; civil libertarians and others who voted for Obama did so with the belief that his judgment and his attorney general would be better stewards of that privilege than President Bush and his attorney generals (and vice president.)

We don’t actually have a system of government (or at least we’re not supposed to) where we rely on the magnanimity and inherent Goodness of specific leaders to exercise secret powers wisely.  That, by definition, is how grateful subjects of benevolent tyrants think (“this power was bad in Bush’s hands because he’s bad, but it’s OK in Obama’s hands because he is good and kind”).  Countries that are nations of laws rather than of men don’t rely on blind faith in the good character of leaders to prevent abuse.  They rely on what we call “law” and “accountability” and “checks and balances” to provide those safeguards — exactly the type that Democrats, when it came to the States Secret privilege, long insisted upon before January 20, 2009.  

Democrats have large majorities in both houses of Congress; they ought to use it to legislatively bar the power that the Obama DOJ is now attempting to vest in the new President by enacting the legislation they spent all of last year insisting they favored.  Now that the Obama DOJ is seeking to acquire that power for its new President, the need for that law is more acute than ever.

Glenn Greenwald was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book “How Would a Patriot Act?,” a critique of the Bush administration’s use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, “A Tragic Legacy“, examines the Bush legacy.

President Obama Wants You to Join the Union February 8, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Economic Crisis, Labor.
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01 February 2009

by: Robert Kuttner, The Huffington Post

 I do not view the labor movement as part of the problem, to me it’s part of the solution.
– President Barack Obama, January 30, 2009

    The great union leader John L. Lewis, who headed the United Mine Workers from the ’30s through the ’50s and helped organize millions of workers into the CIO, used to declare in organizing drives: “President Roosevelt wants you to join the union.” Roosevelt never said that in so many words, but FDR did strongly back the Wagner Act, giving workers the clear right to organize.

    During World War II, Roosevelt’s War Labor Board made clear that corporations seeking war contracts needed to have good labor relations. In practice, that meant unions; and it meant “pattern bargaining” in which workers for different companies in the same industry got the same wages, so that companies could not play workers off against each other.

    Roosevelt’s wartime contracting policies, the Wagner Act, and the militancy of the labor movement laid the groundwork for the golden age of American unions during the postwar boom. Not coincidentally, this was also the one period in the past century when the economy became more equal, and more secure for working people.

    So, while Roosevelt’s words never quite urged workers to join unions, his deeds spoke volumes. John L. Lewis was well within the bounds of poetic license.

    On Friday, President Obama, a onetime organizer, had more words to say about unions, and they were the kind of explicit endorsement that we literally haven’t heard from a president since FDR’s day.

    

“We need to level the playing field for workers and the unions that represent their interests, because we know that you cannot have a strong middle class without a strong labor movement,” the President said. “When workers are prospering, they buy products that make businesses prosper. We can be competitive and lean and mean and still create a situation where workers are thriving in this country.”

 

    Wow!

    And Obama offered deeds to match. This stunning declaration of support came at the White House announcement of a Task Force on Middle Class Working Families headed by Vice President Biden, with Jared Bernstein as its executive director. The idea was proposed last summer by Change to Win unions, who endorsed candidate Obama early in the primary season. He embraced the concept, and it was a commitment he kept. His remarks and actions were a dazzling example of the transformative power of a president to shift public opinion and the political center of gravity.

    The task force, and the effusive and genuine embrace of the labor movement, came as a huge relief to union leaders, who have watched anxiously as nearly all the key economic posts went to centrist veterans of the Clinton administration, and the job of secretary of labor was not announced with the other senior economic officials. As it turned out, the appointment of Hilda Solis, a very pro-union member of Congress, was delayed because others had turned down the job first, but the delay sent an unfortunate signal.

    Labor activists have also been worried about whether Obama will keep his pledge not just to sign the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) guaranteeing the right to join a union, but to work hard on its behalf with legislators, especially in the Senate. Since the election, the US Chamber of Commerce and allied anti-union business organizations have mounted a furious publicity and lobbying offensive with one message: Mr. President, you don’t need this bruising fight right now.

    But the Chamber’s allies in the Republican House Caucus have beautifully undercut that logic. The Chamber’s premise was that EFCA would be highly divisive, at a time then the new president was seeking unity. With the wall-to-wall Republican stonewalling on the Obama recovery package, that premise is up in smoke. And the Chamber’s other allies, on Wall Street, have also done a service by inviting some salutary class warfare. Obama responded last week, calling Wall Street bonuses in the face of government bailouts “shameful,” and seems to genuinely view the growth of unions as a necessary counterweight.

    The task force itself will be a welcome counterweight to the outsized influence of Wall Street inside the Obama administration. Several weeks ago, Jared Bernstein, then a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, wrote a joint op-ed piece for the New York Timeswith Robert Rubin pointing out where they agreed. One issue where they pointedly disagreed was on the Employee Free Choice Act, which Rubin explicitly refused to endorse. The Biden operation now looks to be the go-to place for progressives seeing access to Obama’s priorities. The Task Force will serve as the White House center to review all proposals, legislative and administrative, for their impact on the effort to raise wages and rebuild a middle class.

    Without Obama’s strong personal engagement, EFCA will be anything but a legislative cakewalk. Democrats may have a working majority. But at least five business-oriented Democrats are not considered certain votes for EFCA, and Obama will need to let them know that the White House considers this bill a top priority.

    Our last two Democrats went out of their way not to get close to organized labor. Jimmy Carter did not lift a finger when the last big push to put some teeth back in the Wagner Act’s right to unionize went down to defeat by just two votes in the Senate in 1978.

    On Friday, announcing the Task Force, Obama signed three executive orders. One will prevent federal contractors from discouraging their employees to join unions. Another will assure that workers keep their jobs when a contract changes hands. Down the road is an executive order to promote project agreements on construction contracts.

    If Obama is serious, he can take a leaf from FDR’s book, and use government’s extensive contracting power to actively promote unions. Late in the Clinton administration, then Vice President Al Gore led an effort called the Responsible Contractor Initiative. The idea was to reward federal contractors who took the high road by providing good jobs and not standing in the way of unions.

    It remains to be seen just how much real power Obama will give Vice President Biden. But the task force is a superb beginning. If government can just use its influence to make sure employers stay neutral, it will be a new day for the labor movement – and for American progressivism.

    ———

    Robert Kuttner is co-editor of The American Prospect. His new book is “Obama’s Challenge: America’s Economic Crisis and the Power of a Transformative Presidency.”

»

Afghanistan’s critical moment February 7, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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A relentless Taliban insurgency, reluctant allies, political doubts, competing priorities – the pressure to change United States policy in a key region may prove irresistible.

 

The difficult global inheritance of the United States administration of Barack Obama is exemplified in the possible loss of the Manas air-base in Kyrgyzstan. This would be a painful event in any circumstance, not least as it may involve the Bishkek government making a deal with Russia that would further signal a changing geopolitical balance in the region. But the troubles the US and its allies are facing in Afghanistan means that this is a particularly bad time to be threatened with a loss of facilities and influence in another part of central Asia.

The latest developments in Afghanistan represent a decisive phase in the ongoing struggle since the Taliban regime was terminated at the end of 2001. The low-level but enduring insurgency in southeast Afghanistan that then ensued left much of the rest of the country relatively stable, until Taliban militia began to make a serious comeback in 2004-05. The response was a build-up of Nato troops in the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), and a separate expansion of United States combat-troops under direct US command.

In the 2005-07 period, a pattern emerged of a developing insurgency whose most intensive periods of violence were in the summer but which tended to be relatively quiet in the winter months. A certain increase of violence in the winter of 2007-08 was a departure from the established cycle, without itself being a definitive break. In the past few days, however, four indicators suggest a real winter escalation in Taliban activity.

The Taliban’s reminder

The first event is the killing of twenty-one police officers and the wounding of eight more in a suicide-attack on 2 February 2009 in Tirin Kot, the capital of Uruzgan province. This province has been less prone to violence than the neighbouring provinces of Kandahar and Helmand, but that relative calm is now ending.

The second indicator is the increased number of attacks on convoy-routes through Pakistan into Afghanistan, through which at least 75% of Nato supplies travel. Many of these have been directed at individual trucks, though some have targeted major supply-depots. An operation, also on 2 February, took a different form: it demolished a thirty-metre-span iron bridge, twenty-three kilometres west of the Pakistani city of Peshawar. This has severed the supply-lines along the most important route, which cannot be restored until the bridge can be prepared.

The third factor is mounting evidence that combat-trained paramilitaries who have previously been in Iraq are now seeing Afghanistan as the main focus in the war with the “far enemy” of the United States and are moving there in large numbers, possibly in the thousands (see Sayed Salahuddin, “Afghanistan says foreign fighters coming from Iraq“, International Herald Tribune, 4 February 2009)

The overall number of Taliban fighters active within Afghanistan is estimated at 15,000; this may be a misleading figure in that far larger numbers may by present or inactive, or else based in Pakistan. The significant point is that, according to Afghan defence minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, in some of the conflicts with groups of Taliban paramilitaries last year, as many as 60% of the fighters were foreign (see “Iraq militants ‘in Afghan switch’“, BBC News, 4 February 2009).

This growing internationalisation of the conflict has been underway for some time; it now appears to be accelerating. It is part of and in turn reinforces the view within the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban groups that they are engaged less in a nationalist endeavour to retake control of Afghanistan, but rather militants in a global campaign.

The fourth feature is that the United States army has taken the unusual step of deploying substantial numbers of additional combat-troops to Afghanistan in the middle of winter, rather than wait until a likely upsurge in conflict from May 2009 onwards. Almost 3,000 troops from the 10th Mountain Division have been deployed to Logar and Wardak provinces south of Kabul; they will be  followed by the much larger number – possibly as many as 30,000 – who are likely to be sent to Afghanistan during the rest of 2009 (see Fisnik Abrashi, “NATO: 3,000 US Troops Deploy Near To Afghan Capital“, Associated Press, 27 January 2009)

The investment of new forces is combined with a shift of thinking at senior levels in the Pentagon towards a greater focus on “counterinsurgency”. This is embodied in a new and still secret report from the US joint chiefs-of-staff to President Obama, which recommends “a shift in the military mission in Afghanistan to concentrate solely on combatting the Taliban and al-Qaida”.

An account of the background says:

“The Pentagon is prepared to announce the deployment of 17,000 additional soldiers and Marines to Afghanistan as early as this week even as President Barack Obama is searching for his own strategy for the war. According to military officials during last week’s meeting with Defense Secretary [Robert] Gates and the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Pentagon’s ‘tank’, the president specifically asked, ‘What is the end game?’ in the U.S. military’s strategy for Afghanistan. When asked what the answer was, one military official told NBC News, ‘Frankly, we don’t have one.’…” (see Jim Miklaszewski & Courtney Kube, “Secret report recommends military shift in Afghanistan“, NBC News, 4 February 2009).

The moving target

A key indicator of just how complex the conflict has become for the United States and its allies is the attacks on the coalition’s supply-lines. These have been largely secure throughout most years of the current Afghan war, even though much of the territory through which the trucks drove has been controlled by local tribal groups with connections to the Pakistani Taliban. The reason is that the contractors running the trucks have regularly paid “taxes” – in essence, protection-money – to these groups. Some of this money has been passed on to Taliban militia who used it to help finance the insurgency (see Tim Ripley, “Hanging by a thread”, Jane’s Intelligence Review, February 2009 [subscription only]).

This situation – a combination of tacit truce, strategic denial, and convenient subvention of the enemy – has effectively broken down. The contributory reasons include the wider escalation in the conflict over 2008, when much of western Pakistan became a safe haven for Taliban and other militia groups and the widespread use of armed drones to attack presumed Taliban and al-Qaida targets within Pakistan in response inflicted many civilian casualties and infuriated local people. The new vulnerability of supply-lines is a result.

But this is just one aspect of a general decline in security across most of southern and eastern Afghanistan, a matter of intense concern to the young Barack Obama administration. The commitment of the new team in Washington (albeit with some familiar faces still in charge) to a major “surge” in the number of US forces also builds on plans already made under George W Bush, but with a twist: for the purpose is less to seek outright military victory than to exert sufficient force to bring cooperative elements of a weakened Taliban into negotiations.

The argument is neat but flawed, for the addition of foreign troops may also – as a new report by the analyst Gilles Dorronsoro argues – itself provoke increased Afghan resistance (see Focus and Exit: An Alternative Strategy for the Afghan War, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, January 2009). This is a view shared by many British soldiers returning from recent deployments in Afghanistan.

The critical moment

It is not clear how Washington’s analysist will evolve in a fluid military and diplomatic situation, and in circumstances where the Afghan government of Hamid Karzai is coming under severe domestic pressure in an election year. Much much will depend on high-level deliberations around the time of Nato’s sixtieth anniversary summit (hosted jointly by France and Germany) on 3-4 April 2009. The annual Munich Conference on Security Policy, to be held on 6-8 February 2009, may be crucial in influencing its outcome; the seriousness of the US’s concerns at this stage is reflected in the presence of vice-president Joe Biden, national-security adviser General James Jones, the head of US Central Command, General David Petraeus, and the special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke (see Gerhard Spoerl, “Searching for a New World Order“, SpiegelOnline, 30 January 2009).

In both Munich and at the Strasbourg-Kehl summit, a key point of discussion is whether other Nato states will increase their involvement in Afghanistan.   Three Nato members are key to this – the Canadians, Dutch and British.  These are the only states other than the US that have deployed substantial numbers of troops for combat-roles in southern Afghanistan. The decision by these states over whether to increase their forces will be crucial to influencing other Nato member-states.

At present the signs are that they will not commit to large new deployments. There is little enthusiasm in the Netherlands; the mood in Canada favours progressive disengagement. The fact that Britain has more combat-troops in Afghanistan than any country apart from the United States makes its choice the most significant of the three; and the government of Gordon Brown (anxious, apart from other motives, to be seen to work closely with the Barack Obama administration), has sent a few hundred more soldiers to Afghanistan.

Inside the British army itself, however, there is widespread unease and disenchantment with the country’s role in Afghanistan (though this rarely enters the public domain). It will be very hard for the London government to persuading the military to agree to a serious upgrade of numbers and commitment.

The reluctance of allies, a relentless insurgency, doubts over the Afghan government, pressure from competing priorities – all this adds up to a difficult induction for Barack Obama’s Afghan policy. If it remains committed to an Iraq-style “surge” in Afghanistan, it may need to pursue this policy in the absence of the solid Nato support it needs. Yet this would conflict with the president’s determination to be much more multilateral than his predecessor.

The tensions are multiplying – perhaps enough to ensure a fundamental rethink of United States policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The period around Nato’s sixtieth anniversary may be even more worth watching.

Paul Rogers is professor of peace studies at Bradford University, northern England. He has been writing a weekly column on global security on openDemocracy since 26 September 2001here

In addition to his weekly openDemocracy column, Paul Rogers writes an international security monthly briefing for the Oxford Research Group; for details, click

Paul Rogers’s most recent book is Why We’re Losing the War on Terror (Polity, 2007) – an analysis of the strategic misjudgments of the post-9/11 era and why a new security paradigm is needed

Ethical Malpractice February 3, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Health.
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 Marie Cocco, www.truthdig.com, Feb. 2, 2009

    No need to fumble for words that sum up the stew of hypocrisy, arrogance and insiderism that is the unfolding saga of Tom Daschle. This is the audacity of audacity.

    Daschle, the former Senate Democratic leader turned multimillionaire power broker, is defending his nomination to become secretary of health and human services despite having failed to pay all his taxes, despite having failed to tell President Barack Obama’s transition team about his six-figure nonpayment before his appointment was announced, and despite having raked in about a quarter of a million dollars in fees for giving his insider insight to health insurers and others that the department he wishes to run happens to regulate.

    Rush Limbaugh now has the talking points of his most fevered right-wing dreams.

    Obama’s problems are bigger than Rush. With the Daschle nomination and the president’s inexplicable support of yet another Cabinet appointee who somehow didn’t notice his tax problems until he was nominated, Obama has undermined what was supposed to be a central tenet of his administration: that he would sweep away the rules under which Washington cossets itself in a surreal bubble where lobbyists, members of Congress, industry heavyweights, fat-cat donors and other insiders do their own bidding first and put the people’s interests last.

    Since his re-election defeat in 2004, Daschle has mastered the art of turning humiliating political loss into high-roller riches, much of it coming from his work for a well-connected law firm where he didn’t technically operate as a lobbyist but gave policy advice to companies with business before the government.

    But trading on his name, his political connections, his ability to tap into Democratic donors and becoming wealthy by virtue of his past public service isn’t what has Daschle in trouble. Failure to pay taxes is.

    The Obama administration now has distinguished itself for lowering the bar so that tax avoidance is no impediment to high public office. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner’s failure to pay Social Security and other taxes he owed while working for the International Monetary Fund slowed his confirmation, but didn’t derail it. Geithner explained the tax problems as the result of inadvertent oversight, even though Geithner’s employer gave explicit directions on what was owed and how to pay.

    Daschle shouldn’t be allowed such excuses. While serving in the Senate he was a member of the Finance Committee, the very panel that writes the tax laws and oversees their administration. The same committee is now deciding whether to clear his nomination for a full Senate vote.

    The rationale for confirming Geithner was that he is a financial wizard—one of a handful of people, it was argued, with the experience and intellect necessary to manage the worst banking crisis since the Great Depression. But surely there is more than one Democrat capable of managing the Department of Health and Human Services. And undoubtedly there is more than one—there are perhaps hundreds—as committed to the cause of revamping the health care system.

    Daschle isn’t indispensable. But he is indefensible.

    Not many Americans manage to underpay their taxes by the whopping sums Daschle overlooked. The $140,000 he paid in January to satisfy the taxes and interest is nearly triple the median household income. That is, the median income of $50,233 reported by the Census Bureau before the layoffs, pay cuts, reduced hours and other hardships of the current economic crisis burdened average families. The free use of a chauffeured limousine provided by a business associate who happens to be a big Democratic donor—the source of the unreported income at the root of Daschle’s tax troubles—is a joy ride to political hell. I hope Daschle enjoyed it.

    Some Democratic senators have rallied to defend their former leader. The demonstration merely reinforces the narrative that the rules can be bent by, and for, a member of their club.

    This is all uncomfortably reminiscent of the Bush administration’s abhorrent interpretation of what constitutes proper ethics. Perhaps no laws have been broken—but since when is that the standard for holding high public office?

    When Vice President Joe Biden said during the presidential campaign that it is a patriotic duty to pay taxes, I agreed. So did most of us who believe in the ability of government to better Americans’ lives. But we also believe this responsibility is to be borne by plumbers and power brokers alike.

    If Daschle and the Senate Democrats still believe this, they have their own duty: It is to end this sorry spectacle now. 
   
    Marie Cocco’s e-mail address is mariecocco(at)washpost.com.

© 2009, Washington Post Writers Group

Obama Gathering a Flock of Hawks to Oversee U.S. Foreign Policy January 31, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Iraq and Afghanistan, Peace, War.
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By Stephen Zunes, AlterNet. Posted January 30, 2009.

Most of Obama’s key foreign policy appointments seem more committed to military dominance than international law.

In disc golf, there’s a shot known as “an Obama” — it’s a drive that you expect to veer to the left but keeps hooking right.

In no other area has this metaphor been truer than Barack Obama’s foreign policy and national security appointments. For a man who was elected in part on the promise to not just end the war in Iraq but to “end the mindset that got us into war in the first place,” it’s profoundly disappointing that a majority of his key appointments — Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates, Dennis Blair, Janet Napolitano, Richard Holbrooke and Jim Jones, among others — have been among those who represent that very mindset.

As president, Obama is ultimately the one in charge, so judgment should not be based upon his appointments alone. Indeed, some of his early decisions regarding foreign policy and national security – such as ordering the closure of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, initiating the necessary steps for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, and ending the “global gag rule” on funding for international family-planning programs – have been quite positive.

But it’s still significant that the majority of people appointed to key foreign policy positions, like those in comparable positions in the Bush administration, appear to be more committed to U.S. hegemony than the right of self-determination, human rights and international law.

Supporters of Wars of Conquest

Though far from the only issue of concern, it is the fact that the majority of Obama’s appointees to these key positions were supporters of the invasion of Iraq that is perhaps the most alarming.

Obama’s defenders claim that what is most important in these appointments is not their positions on a particular issue, but their overall competence. Unfortunately, this argument ignores the reality that anybody who actually believed that invading Iraq was a good idea amply demonstrated that they’re unqualified to hold any post dealing with foreign and military policy.

It was not simply a matter of misjudgment. Those who supported the war demonstrated a dismissive attitude toward fundamental principles of international law, and disdain for the United Nations Charter and international treaties which prohibit aggressive war. They demonstrated a willingness to either fabricate a non-existent threat or naively believe transparently false and manipulated intelligence claiming such a threat existed, ignoring a plethora of evidence from weapons inspectors and independent arms control analysts who said that Iraq had already achieved at least qualitative disarmament. Perhaps worst of all, they demonstrated an incredible level of hubris and stupidity in imagining that the United States could get away with an indefinite occupation of a heavily populated Arab country with a strong history of nationalism and resistance to foreign domination.

Nor does it appear that they were simply fooled by the Bush administration’s manufactured claims of an Iraqi threat. For example, Napolitano, after acknowledging that there were not really WMDs in Iraq as she had claimed prior to the invasion, argued that “In my view, there were lots of reasons for taking out Saddam Hussein.” Similarly, Clinton insisted months after the Bush administration acknowledged the absence of WMDs that her vote in favor of the resolution authorizing the invasion “was the right vote” and was one that, she said, “I stand by.”

Clearly, then, despite their much-touted “experience,” these nominees have demonstrated, through their support for the Bush administration’s invasion and occupation of Iraq, a profound ignorance of the reality of the Middle East and an arrogant assumption that peace, stability and democratic governance can be created through the application of U.S. military force.

Given that the majority of Democrats in Congress, a larger majority of registered Democrats nationally, and an even larger percentage of those who voted for Obama opposed the decision to invade Iraq, it is particularly disappointing that Obama would choose his vice-president, chief of staff, secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, Secretary of Homeland Security and special envoy to Afghanistan and Iraq from the right-wing minority who supported the war.

But the Iraq War isn’t the only foreign policy issue where these Obama nominees have demonstrated hawkish proclivities. In previous articles, I have raised concerns regarding the positions of Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. Below is a list of some additional foreign policy appointees who are troubling …

A Friend of Death Squads Heading Intelligence

One of the most problematic Obama appointees is Admiral Dennis Blair as Director of National Intelligence. Blair served as the head of the U.S. Pacific Command from February 1999 to May 2002 as East Timor was finally freeing itself from a quarter century of brutal Indonesian occupation. As the highest ranking U.S. military official in the region, he worked to undermine the Clinton administration’s belated efforts to end the repression, promote human rights and support the territory’s right to self-determination. He also fought against Congressional efforts to condition support for the Indonesian military on improving their poor human rights record.

In April 1999, two days after a well-publicized massacre in which dozens of East Timorese civilians seeking refuge in a Catholic church in Liquica were hacked to death by Indonesian-backed death squads, Blair met in Jakarta with General Wiranto, the Indonesian Defense minister and military commander. Instead of pressuring Wiranto to end his support for the death squads, he pledged additional U.S. military assistance, which, according to The Nation magazine, the Indonesian military “took as a green light to proceed with the militia operation.” Two weeks later, and one day after another massacre, Blair phoned Wiranto and, rather than condemn the killings he “told the armed forces chief that he looks forward to the time when [the army will] resume its proper role as a leader in the region.”

Blair’s role in all this is well-known. The Washington Post, for example, reported several months later that “Blair and other U.S. military officials took a forgiving view of the violence surrounding the referendum in East Timor.” I was interviewed on NBC Nightly News at the time and spoke directly to Blair’s meetings earlier that year.

Combined with Obama’s selection of supporters of Morocco’s occupation and repression in Western Sahara and Israel’s occupation and repression in Palestine to other key foreign policy and national security posts, perhaps it is not surprising that he would pick someone who supported Indonesia’s occupation and repression in East Timor. That his pick for DNI would have acquiesced to massacres facilitated by U.S.-backed forces, however, is particularly disturbing.

A Super Hawk at the Pentagon

Obama’s decision to Bush appointee Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense was a shock and a betrayal to his supporters who believed that there would be a change in the Pentagon under an Obama administration.

Gates’ record of militarism and deceit includes his role in the Iran-Contra scandal, where he apparently took part in the cover-up of the Reagan administration’s crimes. Special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh expressed frustration that Gates – well-known for his “eidetic memory” – curiously could not recall information his subordinates, under oath, had sworn they had told him. The special prosecutor’s final report noted, “The statements of Gates often seemed scripted and less than candid.” Indeed, the best the final report could say was that “a jury could find the evidence left a reasonable doubt that Gates either obstructed official inquiries or that his two demonstrably incorrect statements were deliberate lies.”

In addition, Howard Teicher, who served on the National Security Council staff during the Reagan administration, submitted a sworn affidavit that Gates engaged in secret arms transfers to Saddam Hussein’s regime during the 1980s in violation of the Arms Export Control Act. During this same period, according to former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, who served as Gates’ branch chief, Gates was personally involved in the apparent manipulation of intelligence regarding Iran and the Soviet Union in order to back up questionable policies of the Reagan administration.

The quintessential hawk, Gates advocated a U.S. bombing campaign against Nicaragua in 1984, according to the Los Angeles Times, in order to “bring down” that country’s leftist government, arguing that “the only way that we can prevent disaster in Central America” is for the United States to “do everything in its power short of invasion to put that regime out.” Given there are today a number of Latin American countries under leftist governments more strategically significant than the tiny impoverished Nicaragua with which Gates was once so obsessed, one wonders how, as Obama’s Secretary of Defense, he will advise the new president to deal with these countries.

As he has for most of his career, Gates has been far to the right not only of the American public, but even that of the foreign policy establishment, most of which recognized that Nicaragua under the Sandinistas was of no threat to U.S. national security and that a bombing campaign would be a blatant violation of international law.

Unable to convince his superiors to bomb Nicaragua, Gates became a major supporter of the illegal supplying of arms to the Nicaraguan Contras, a notorious terrorist group responsible for the deaths of thousands of Nicaraguan civilians. In choosing Gates to head the Defense Department, Obama appears to be giving a signal that his opposition to international terrorism is limited to those who target Americans and their allies, not to terrorism overall.

Another Super-Hawk at NSC

Recently-retired Marine General Jim Jones -– who, like Gates, is a Republican and was a supporter of Senator John McCain in the November election –– has been named as Obama’s National Security Advisor. A pragmatic leader who reportedly opposed the decision to invade Iraq and has questioned the unconditional U.S. support for some of Israel’s more aggressive policies, Jones’ appointment is nonetheless troubling.

As NATO commander earlier this decade, Jones pushed for an expanded NATO role in Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. Perhaps not coincidentally, he joined the board of directors of Chevron soon after his retirement from the military as well becoming president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy, which has called on the U.S. government to engage NATO “on energy security challenges and encourage member countries to support the expansion of its mandate to address energy security.”

Jones opposed any deadline for a withdrawal of combat forces from Iraq, which sits on top of the second largest oil reserves in the world, declaring that “I think deadlines can work against us, And I think a deadline of this magnitude would be against our national interest.” A passionate supporter of the Vietnam War who apparently supported a U.S. invasion of Laos and Cambodia as well, Jones considered the war’s opponents to essentially be traitors. More recently, he has used rhetoric remarkably similar to that of defenders of that war to call for a dramatic escalation of the war in Afghanistan on the grounds that American “credibility” would be at stake if the United States withdrew.

The Nation’s contributing editor Robert Dreyfus, who refers to Jones as Obama’s “most hawkish advisor,” quotes a prominent Washington military analyst noting that “He’s not a strategic thinker,” but he will certainly join other Obama appointees in pushing the administration’s foreign policy to the right.

A Dangerous Pick for Special Envoy

Obama’s choice for special envoy to perhaps the most critical area of U.S. foreign policy – Afghanistan and Pakistan – has gone to a man with perhaps the most sordid history of any of the largely disappointing set of foreign policy and national security appointments.

Richard Holbrooke got his start in the Foreign Service during the 1960s in the notorious pacification programs in the Mekong Delta of South Vietnam. In the late 1970s, Holbrooke served as assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. In this position, he played a major role in formulating the Carter administration’s support for Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor and the bloody counter-insurgency campaign responsible for the deaths of up to a quarter million civilians. In a particularly notorious episode while heading the State Department’s East Asia division, Holbrooke convinced Carter to release South Korean troops under U.S. command in order to suppress a pro-democracy uprising in the city of Kwangju against the Chun dictatorship, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of civilians. He also convinced President Jimmy Carter to continue its military and economic support for the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines.

In the former Yugoslavia, he epitomized the failed U.S. policy toward autocratic rulers that swings between the extremes of appeasement and war. He brokered a peace agreement in Bosnia which allowed the Serbs to hold on to virtually all of the land they had seized and ethnically cleansed in the course of that bloody conflict and imposed a political system based upon sectarian divisions over secular national citizenship. During the 1996 pro-democracy uprising in Serbia, Holbrooke successfully argued that the Clinton administration should back the Milosevic regime in suppressing the movement so to not risk the instability that might result from a victory by Serb democrats. In response to increased Serbian oppression in Kosovo just a couple years later, however, Holbrooke became a vociferous advocate of the 1999 U.S.-led bombing campaign, creating a nationalist reaction that set back the reconstituted pro-democracy movement once again. The young leaders of the pro-democracy movement, which finally succeeded in the nonviolent overthrow of the regime, remain bitterly angry at Holbrooke to this day.

Scott Ritter, the former chief UNSCOM inspector who correctly predicted the absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and a disastrous outcome for the U.S. invasion, observes that “not only has he demonstrated a lack of comprehension when it comes to the complex reality of Afghanistan (not to mention Pakistan), Holbrooke has a history of choosing the military solution over the finesse of diplomacy.” Noting how the Dayton Accords were built on the assumption of a major and indefinite NATO military presence, which would obviously be far more problematic in Afghanistan and Pakistan than in Europe, Ritter adds, “This does not bode well for the Obama administration.”

The Mixed Record of Susan Rice

The post of U.S. representative to the United Nations, which is being treated as a cabinet-level post in the Obama administration, is now held by Susan Rice, a protégé of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Perhaps the most impressive intellectual on Obama’s foreign policy team, she was a Rhodes Scholar who studied under Oxford professors Adam Roberts and Benedict Kingsbury at Oxford, strong supporters of international law and the United Nations.

Serving under President Clinton in the National Security Council and later as assistant Secretary of State for Africa, she helped reverse the decades-old policy of support for Zairean dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, she received praise from civil society groups in Africa for her support for human rights but also criticism for her strident support for economic liberalization and free trade initiatives.

Though seen by many as one of the most moderate of Obama’s foreign policy team, she – like some of the more hawkish Obama appointees – is also handicapped by her tendency to allow her ideological preconceptions to interfere with her analysis.

Though, unlike most of Obama’s other top foreign policy appointees, she has serious reservations about invading Iraq, she naively bought into many of the myths used to justify it. For example, back in 2002 – years after Iraq had disarmed itself of its chemical and biological weapons and eliminated its nuclear program – she declared, “It’s clear that Iraq poses a major threat” and, despite the success of the UN’s disarmament program, she insisted “It’s clear that its weapons of mass destruction need to be dealt with forcefully, and that’s the path we’re on.”

In February 2003, Colin Powell testified before the United Nations that Iraq had somehow reconstituted its biological and chemical weapons arsenal and its nuclear weapons program and had somehow hidden all this from the hundreds of United Nations inspectors then in Iraq engaged in unfettered inspections. None of this was true and his transparently false claims were immediately challenged by UN officials, arms control specialists, and much of the press and political leadership in Europe and elsewhere. (See my article written in response to his testimony: Mr. Powell, You’re No Adlai Stevenson.)

Rice, however, insisted that Powell had “proved that Iraq has these weapons and is hiding them and I don’t think many informed people doubted that.” In light of such widespread and public skepticism from knowledgeable sources, Rice’s dismissal of all the well-founded criticism was positively Orwellian: those who blindly accepted Powell’s transparently false claims were “well-informed,” while the UN officials, arms control specialists, and others knowledgeable of the reality of the situation were presumably otherwise.

What this means is that Rice will have a serious credibility problem at the United Nations, whose remarkable success at disarming Iraq she summarily dismissed. When Rice speaks out in important debates about international peace and security in the UN Security Council, including possible genuine threats, there will inevitably be some questions as to whether she should be believed. This raises the questions as to why Obama would choose someone with a potentially serious credibility in such a sensitive position just as the United States is trying to restore its influence in the world body.

Some Bright Spots?

There have been some somewhat hopeful appointments as well. One is that of Leon Panetta, former Congressman and the first chief of staff under President Bill Clinton, to direct the CIA. He has been praised for his principled opposition to the abuse of detainees under the Bush administration and his forced resignation from the Nixon Justice Department for opposing the administration’s opposition to school desegregation.

The major concern is that Panetta – a former Republican known as a centrist who tends to seek compromise more than he is one to shake things up – will likely find himself as simply another part of the center-right national team Obama is putting together, especially since he will be serving under DNI director Blair. As The Nation‘s Dreyfus put it, “He’s no match for the hardheaded spooks who run the place, and he’s no match for the military brass who are elbowing their way to more and more control of intelligence spending and priorities.”

On the one hand, when the best that can be said of a nominee for an important national security position is that he opposes school segregation and believes that the U.S. government should not be engaging in torture, it is indicative of just how for down the bar has been lowered. At the same time, Panetta’s appointment is a clear signal that the Obama administration will not tolerate the kind of abuses that occurred under its predecessor.

Another potentially positive appointment is that of George Mitchell as special Middle East envoy. Though a hawkish supporter of right-wing Israeli governments during his days in the Senate, the report of his 2000-2001 commission on Israeli-Palestinian violence was surprisingly balanced and reasonable. Its failures rested in the limitations imposed upon it by the Clinton Administration and the failure of the Bush administration to follow through on its recommendations. The question now is whether Mitchell and President Obama will be willing to effectively challenge Israel’s refusal to withdraw the bulk of its illegal settlements from the occupied West Bank to make a viable Palestinian state possible. (See my article: Is Mitchell Up to the Task?)

Obama as Commander-in-Chief

Even though many of Obama’s key foreign policy appointments are not that different than previous administration, it is important to remember that Barack Obama will be a very different commander-in-chief than George W. Bush.

For one thing, unlike the outgoing president, Obama is non-ideological, very knowledgeable and highly-intelligent. He was quite prescient about the irrationality of invading Iraq, even speaking at an anti-war rally at a time when most Americans supported going to war and – prior to becoming a national figure – he espoused a number of progressive positions ranging on issues ranging from human rights to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In other words, even if Gates does call for bombing Venezuela, Obama is not going to do that. Even if Napolitano comes to him claiming that invading Iran is necessary to defend the homeland, Obama will recognize the folly of such a recommendation. Even if Clinton renews her attacks on the International Court of Justice or the International Criminal Court, Obama is unlikely to go along with them. Even if Jones argues for sending in the Marines to capture Saudi oil fields, Obama will not take such a recommendation seriously.

It is also quite possible that all this is a shrewd political move on Obama’s part of placing center-right appointees is visible positions to better enable him to pursue a more progressive foreign policy, not unlike Bush using the moderate Colin Powell to sell the Iraq war. Had George McGovern won the 1972 presidential election, he would have likely appointed a number of prominent figures from the hawkish Democratic foreign policy establishment to key positions to assuage skeptics as well, but that does not mean he would have abandoned the core principles which had been the basis of his campaign and his entire political career.

Another reason that an Obama administration will not likely be as far to the right as these appointments may imply is that his electoral base – energized by popular opposition to the Iraq War – is perhaps the most progressive in history when it comes to foreign policy. It is also the most engaged and organized base the party has ever seen. Once the relief of Bush’s departure and the glow of Obama’s inauguration has worn off, he will have to face the millions of people responsible for his election who will expect him to keep his word regarding “change you can believe in.”

Indeed, with a few conscientious exceptions, Democratic officials have rarely led in terms of a more progressive foreign policy. They have generally abandoned hawkish policies only after being forced to do so by popular mobilizations. From Vietnam to Central America to the nuclear arms race to South Africa to Iraq, Democratic leaders initially allied with the Republicans until they recognized their political futures were at stake unless they listened to the rank-and-file Democrats for whom they were dependent for their re-election. Then, and only then, were they willing to change course.

As a result, what may be most important will not be the people that Obama appoints, but the choices we give them.

 

Stephen Zunes is a professor of Politics and chair of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco and serves as a senior policy analyst for Foreign Policy in Focus.

Top 5 Myths About Closing Guantanamo January 28, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Iraq and Afghanistan, Torture.
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by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Ali Frick, and Ryan Powers

www.alternet.org, January 27, 2009 

On his second day in office, President Obama took a bold step away from the Bush administration and signed an executive order to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp within one year while suspending all military tribunals for six months. Obama said that the United States was sending the world a message that the “struggle against violence and terrorism” would be fought “in a manner that is consistent with our values and our ideals.” Each day that Guantanamo remains open is another day that U.S. troops are put in further unnecessary danger. One U.S. military officer wrote in the Washington Post that he “learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.” Obama has taken the first crucial step in shutting down this stain on America’s reputation. As the Center for American Progress has outlined, the next steps — including arranging for trials in federal or military courts, finding homes for detainees who can’t return to their native countries, transferring detainees who will stand trial into the United States, and establishing a lawful military detention regime for the small number of remaining detainees — won’t be easy, but they’re not impossible. Nevertheless, conservatives are coming up with a number of inaccurate — and often outright ludicrous — excuses for why Guantanamo needs to remain open. The Progress Report debunks some of the most ill-informed myths.

MYTH #1 — GUANTANAMO IS A GREAT PLACE TO BE: Conservatives often try to argue that life at Guantanamo is just fine. Reacting to Obama’s executive order, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) said that detainees there receive “more comforts than a lot of Americans get.” In December, Vice President Cheney argued that Guantanamo “has been very well run.” Neither of these claims are true. The Washington Post recently revealed that the top Bush administration official in charge of deciding whether to prosecute detainees concluded that Mohammed al-Qahtani was tortured by the U.S. military at Guantanamo. The detention center was so poorly run that Obama administration officials are now finding out that Bush officials never kept comprehensive case files on many detainees.

MYTH #2 — DETAINEES ARE TOO DANGEROUS TO BRING INTO THE UNITED STATES: This myth is the one that conservatives cite most often. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) has said that transferring Guantanamo detainees to U.S. soil “will endanger American lives.” Yesterday on NBC’s Meet the Press, Boehner said that it would be “irresponsible” to transfer these “terrorists who have attempted to kill Americans.” This morning, Fox and Friends took pictures of various terrorists and went around to Pennsylvania residents and asked them if they wanted these people living in their “backyards.” However, U.S. federal prisons are already home to dozens of the most dangerous terrorists the world has ever known. As Salon’s Glenn Greenwald has written, “Both before and after 9/11, the U.S. has repeatedly and successfully tried alleged high-level Al Qaeda operatives and other accused Islamic Terrorists in our normal federal courts — in fact, the record is far more successful than the series of debacles that has taken place in the military commissions system at Guantanamo.” In fact, there have been 145 terrorist convictions in federal courts since 9/11. Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter (D) has said that he wouldn’t necessarily oppose transferring detainees who are convicted terrorists headed to trial to the state’s “Supermax”, a role that the prison is already playing and that CAP recommended in its report. Rep. John Murtha (R-PA) has also expressed a willingness to bring some detainees into his district, stating, “I mean, they’re no more dangerous in a prison in my district than they are in Guantanamo.”

MYTH #3 — DETAINEES WILL RECEIVE ALL THE BENEFITS OF U.S. CITIZENS: One of the most absurd myths has come from Rep. Steve King (R-IA), who asked last week, “What happens then if another judge grants him asylum in the United States and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is on a path to citizenship?” King added that they could then “tap into welfare.” Yesterday on CBS’s Face the Nation, Vice President Biden addressed these ridiculous claims. “If they are not a U.S. citizen or if they are not here legally, then, even if they were released by a federal judge, they would not be able to stay here in the United States,” said Biden. “They would be sent back to their country of origin. They would not stay here.” CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen has also noted, “When terrorists have been tried in the United States, they go away forever. The embassy attackers in ’98 who blew up two American embassies, they are in prison for life without parole.”

MYTH #4 — 61 RELEASED DETAINEES HAVE RETURNED TO THE BATTLEFIELD: One conservative talking point that has been especially effective at making its way into traditional media reporting is that 61 “of the people that were incarcerated at Guantanamo and then released have returned to the battlefield, have engaged in further terrorist activities,” as CNN’s Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr said yesterday. The Associated Press has made a similar claim. But in fact, as Media Matters has reported, “according to the Pentagon, the 61-detainee figure includes 43 former prisoners who are suspected of, but have not been confirmed as, having ‘return[ed] to the fight.'” Bergen has also noted that “returning to the fight” could simply mean writing a negative op-ed. Mark Denbeaux, Director of the Seton Hall Law School Center for Policy and Research, has been tracking the Bush administration’s claims. He told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, “Their numbers have changed from 20 to 12 to seven to more than five to two to a couple to a few — 25, 29, 12 to 24. Every time, the number has been different. In fact, every time they give a number, they don’t identify a date, a place, a time, a name or an incident to support their claim.”

MYTH #5 — WE SHOULD JUST HOUSE THE DETAINEES AT ALCATRAZ: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has been a vocal supporter of closing down Guantanamo. Therefore, conservatives have retaliated by proposing that she take the detainees. “Let our good friends in San Francisco deal with these deadly combatants,” said Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO). Boehner and Rep. Bill Young (R-FL) have suggested Alcatraz prison, which sits in the middle of the San Francisco Bay. This proposal is a joke. Alcatraz shut down as a federal prison in 1963. It became a national historic landmark in 1986. Apparentlty, conservatives are unwilling to house detainees in maximum security federal prisons but are happy to put them up in a tourist attraction. As Pelosi said yesterday on ABC’s This Week, “Alcatraz is a tourist attraction. It’s a prison that is now sort of like a — it’s a national park.”

Obama the ‘Magic Negro’ January 6, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama.
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(Roger’s note: what follows is the article that appeared as an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times in 2007.  This article provided the basis for the notorious “Obama the Magic Negro” song written by conservative satirist Paul Shanklin that was part of a CD distributed to Republican Party officials by Republican National Committee chair candidate John “Chip” Saltsman and which was aired on Rush Limbaugh’s radio program.  Saltsman has been skewered by much of the media and some of his Republican colleagues, and rightfully so.  Nevertheless, the origianal article that spawned the racist parody was written as a serious opinion piece and contains some interesting analysis. If nothing else, his remark about “looking good in a bathing suit” turned out to be prescient.  For more on the controversy about this song you can go to an article in truthout.org by Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III, http://www.truthout.org/010609R.)
By David Ehrenstein, L.A.-based DAVID EHRENSTEIN writes about Hollywood and politics.
March 19, 2007
The Illinois senator lends himself to white America’s idealized, less-than-real black man.
AS EVERY CARBON-BASED life form on this planet surely knows, Barack Obama, the junior Democratic senator from Illinois, is running for president. Since making his announcement, there has been no end of commentary about him in all quarters — musing over his charisma and the prospect he offers of being the first African American to be elected to the White House.

But it’s clear that Obama also is running for an equally important unelected office, in the province of the popular imagination — the “Magic Negro.”

The Magic Negro is a figure of postmodern folk culture, coined by snarky 20th century sociologists, to explain a cultural figure who emerged in the wake of Brown vs. Board of Education. “He has no past, he simply appears one day to help the white protagonist,” reads the description on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magical_Negro .

He’s there to assuage white “guilt” (i.e., the minimal discomfort they feel) over the role of slavery and racial segregation in American history, while replacing stereotypes of a dangerous, highly sexualized black man with a benign figure for whom interracial sexual congress holds no interest.

As might be expected, this figure is chiefly cinematic — embodied by such noted performers as Sidney Poitier, Morgan Freeman, Scatman Crothers, Michael Clarke Duncan, Will Smith and, most recently, Don Cheadle. And that’s not to mention a certain basketball player whose very nickname is “Magic.”

Poitier really poured on the “magic” in “Lilies of the Field” (for which he won a best actor Oscar) and “To Sir, With Love” (which, along with “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” made him a No. 1 box-office attraction). In these films, Poitier triumphs through yeoman service to his white benefactors. “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” is particularly striking in this regard, as it posits miscegenation without evoking sex. (Talk about magic!)

The same can’t quite be said of Freeman in “Driving Miss Daisy,” “Seven” and the seemingly endless series of films in which he plays ersatz paterfamilias to a white woman bedeviled by a serial killer. But at least he survives, unlike Crothers in “The Shining,” in which psychic premonitions inspire him to rescue a white family he barely knows and get killed for his trouble. This heart-tug trope is parodied in Gus Van Sant’s “Elephant.” The film’s sole black student at a Columbine-like high school arrives in the midst of a slaughter, helps a girl escape and is immediately gunned down. See what helping the white man gets you?

And what does the white man get out of the bargain? That’s a question asked by John Guare in “Six Degrees of Separation,” his brilliant retelling of the true saga of David Hampton — a young, personable gay con man who in the 1980s passed himself off as the son of none other than the real Sidney Poitier. Though he started small, using the ruse to get into Studio 54, Hampton discovered that countless gullible, well-heeled New Yorkers, vulnerable to the Magic Negro myth, were only too eager to believe in his baroque fantasy. (One of the few who wasn’t fooled was Andy Warhol, who was astonished his underlings believed Hampton’s whoppers. Clearly Warhol had no need for the accouterment of interracial “goodwill.”)

But the same can’t be said of most white Americans, whose desire for a noble, healing Negro hasn’t faded. That’s where Obama comes in: as Poitier’s “real” fake son.

The senator’s famously stem-winding stump speeches have been drawing huge crowds to hear him talk of uniting rather than dividing. A praiseworthy goal. Consequently, even the mild criticisms thrown his way have been waved away, “magically.” He used to smoke, but now he doesn’t; he racked up a bunch of delinquent parking tickets, but he paid them all back with an apology. And hey, is looking good in a bathing suit a bad thing?

The only mud that momentarily stuck was criticism (white and black alike) concerning Obama’s alleged “inauthenticty,” as compared to such sterling examples of “genuine” blackness as Al Sharpton and Snoop Dogg. Speaking as an African American whose last name has led to his racial “credentials” being challenged — often several times a day — I know how pesky this sort of thing can be.

Obama’s fame right now has little to do with his political record or what he’s written in his two (count ‘em) books, or even what he’s actually said in those stem-winders. It’s the way he’s said it that counts the most. It’s his manner, which, as presidential hopeful Sen. Joe Biden ham-fistedly reminded us, is “articulate.” His tone is always genial, his voice warm and unthreatening, and he hasn’t called his opponents names (despite being baited by the media).

Like a comic-book superhero, Obama is there to help, out of the sheer goodness of a heart we need not know or understand. For as with all Magic Negroes, the less real he seems, the more desirable he becomes. If he were real, white America couldn’t project all its fantasies of curative black benevolence on him.

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