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What Neocons Want from Ukraine Crisis March 3, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Russia, Ukraine.
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Roger’s note: This article lays out in detail the overall geopolitical strategy of the most reactionary hawkish elements within the Obama government, including Hillary Clinton; and puts the Ukraine crisis in a broader perspective.  This situation is complex and has historical roots that get ignored in the main stream media which, for analysis, substitutes cheer leading  for U.S. interests, which have absolutely nothing to do with democracy, not to mention the best interests of the Ukrainian, Russian or American people.

 

 

President Barack Obama has been trying, mostly in secret, to craft a new foreign policy that relies heavily on cooperation with Russian President Vladimir Putin to tamp down confrontations in hotspots such as Iran and Syria. But Obama’s timidity about publicly explaining this strategy has left it open to attack from powerful elements of Official Washington, including well-placed neocons and people in his own administration.

The gravest threat to this Obama-Putin collaboration has now emerged in Ukraine, where a coalition of U.S. neocon operatives and neocon holdovers within the State Department fanned the flames of unrest in Ukraine, contributing to the violent overthrow of democratically elected President Viktor Yanukovych and now to a military intervention by Russian troops in the Crimea, a regionin southern Ukraine that historically was part of Russia.

 

President Barack Obama discusses the crisis in Ukraine for 90 minutes on March 1, 2014, with Russian President Vladimir Putin. (White House photo/Pete Souza)

Though I’m told the Ukraine crisis caught Obama and Putin by surprise, the neocon determination to drive a wedge between the two leaders has been apparent for months, especially after Putin brokered a deal to head off U.S. military strikes against Syria last summer and helped get Iran to negotiate concessions on its nuclear program, both moves upsetting the neocons who had favored heightened confrontations.

Putin also is reported to have verbally dressed down Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan over what Putin considered their provocative actions regarding the Syrian civil war. So, by disrupting neocon plans and offending Netanyahu and Bandar, the Russian president found himself squarely in the crosshairs of some very powerful people.

If not for Putin, the neocons – along with Israel and Saudi Arabia – had hoped that Obama would launch military strikes on Syria and Iran that could open the door to more “regime change” across the Middle East, a dream at the center of neocon geopolitical strategy since the 1990s. This neocon strategy took shape after the display of U.S. high-tech warfare against Iraq in 1991 and the collapse of the Soviet Union later that year. U.S. neocons began believing in a new paradigm of a uni-polar world where U.S. edicts were law.

The neocons felt this paradigm shift also meant that Israel would no longer need to put up with frustrating negotiations with the Palestinians. Rather than haggling over a two-state solution, U.S. neocons simply pressed for “regime change” in hostile Muslim countries that were assisting the Palestinians or Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

Iraq was first on the neocon hit list, but next came Syria and Iran. The overriding idea was that once the regimes assisting the Palestinians and Hezbollah were removed or neutralized, then Israel could dictate peace terms to the Palestinians who would have no choice but to accept what was on the table.

U.S. neocons working on Netanyahu’s campaign team in 1996, including Richard Perle and Douglas Feith, even formalized their bold new plan, which they outlined in a strategy paper, called “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm.” The paper argued that only “regime change” in hostile Muslim countries could achieve the necessary “clean break” from the diplomatic standoffs that had followed inconclusive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

In 1998, the neocon Project for the New American Century called for a U.S. invasion of Iraq, but President Bill Clinton refused to go along. The situation changed, however, when President George W. Bush took office and after the 9/11 attacks. Suddenly, the neocons had a Commander in Chief who agreed with the need to eliminate Iraq’s Saddam Hussein — and a stunned and angry U.S. public could be easily persuaded. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Mysterious Why of the Iraq War.”]

So, Bush invaded Iraq, ousting Hussein but failing to subdue the country. The U.S. death toll of nearly 4,500 soldiers and the staggering costs, estimated to exceed $1 trillion, made the American people and even Bush unwilling to fulfill the full-scale neocon vision, which was expressed in one of their favorite jokes of 2003 about where to attack next, Iran or Syria, with the punch line: “Real men go to Tehran!”

Though hawks like Vice President Dick Cheney pushed the neocon/Israeli case for having the U.S. military bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities – with the hope that the attacks also might spark a “regime change” in Tehran – Bush decided that he couldn’t risk the move, especially after the U.S. intelligence community assessed in 2007 that Iran had stopped work on a bomb four years earlier.

The Rise of Obama

The neocons were dealt another setback in 2008 when Barack Obama defeated a neocon favorite, Sen. John McCain. But Obama then made one of the fateful decisions of his presidency, deciding to staff key foreign-policy positions with “a team of rivals,” i.e. keeping Republican operative Robert Gates at the Defense Department and recruiting Hillary Clinton, a neocon-lite, to head the State Department.

Obama also retained Bush’s high command, most significantly the media-darling Gen. David Petraeus. That meant that Obama didn’t take control over his own foreign policy.

Gates and Petraeus were themselves deeply influenced by the neocons, particularly Frederick Kagan, who had been a major advocate for the 2007 “surge” escalation in Iraq, which was hailed by the U.S. mainstream media as a great “success” but never achieved its principal goal of a unified Iraq. At the cost of nearly 1,000 U.S. dead, it only bought time for an orderly withdrawal that spared Bush and the neocons the embarrassment of an obvious defeat.

So, instead of a major personnel shakeup in the wake of the catastrophic Iraq War, Obama presided over what looked more like continuity with the Bush war policies, albeit with a firmer commitment to draw down troops in Iraq and eventually in Afghanistan.

From the start, however, Obama was opposed by key elements of his own administration, especially at State and Defense, and by the still-influential neocons of Official Washington. According to various accounts, including Gates’s new memoir Duty, Obama was maneuvered into supporting a troop “surge” in Afghanistan, as advocated by neocon Frederick Kagan and pushed by Gates, Petraeus and Clinton.

Gates wrote that Kagan persuaded him to recommend the Afghan “surge” and that Obama grudgingly went along although Gates concluded that Obama didn’t believe in the “mission” and wanted to reverse course more quickly than Gates, Petraeus and their side wanted.

Faced with this resistance from his own bureaucracy, Obama began to rely on a small inner circle built around Vice President Joe Biden and a few White House advisers with the analytical support of some CIA officials, including CIA Director Leon Panetta.

Obama also found a surprising ally in Putin after he regained the Russian presidency in 2012. A Putin adviser told me that the Russian president personally liked Obama and genuinely wanted to help him resolve dangerous disputes, especially crises with Iran and Syria.

In other words, what evolved out of Obama’s early “team of rivals” misjudgment was an extraordinary presidential foreign policy style, in which Obama developed and implemented much of his approach to the world outside the view of his secretaries of State and Defense (except when Panetta moved briefly to the Pentagon).

Even after the eventual departures of Gates in 2011, Petraeus as CIA director after a sex scandal in late 2012, and Clinton in early 2013, Obama’s peculiar approach didn’t particularly change. I’m told that he has a distant relationship with Secretary of State John Kerry, who never joined Obama’s inner foreign policy circle.

Though Obama’s taciturn protectiveness of his “real” foreign policy may be understandable given the continued neocon “tough-guy-ism” that dominates Official Washington, Obama’s freelancing approach gave space to hawkish elements of his own administration.

For instance, Secretary of State Kerry came close to announcing a U.S. war against Syria in a bellicose speech on Aug. 30, 2013, only to see Obama pull the rug out from under him as the President worked with Putin to defuse the crisis sparked by a disputed chemical weapons attack outside Damascus. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “How War on Syria Lost Its Way.”]

Similarly, Obama and Putin hammered out the structure for an interim deal with Iran on how to constrain its nuclear program. But when Kerry was sent to seal that agreement in Geneva, he instead inserted new demands from the French (who were carrying water for the Saudis) and nearly screwed it all up. After getting called on the carpet by the White House, Kerry returned to Geneva and finalized the arrangements.[See Consortiumnews.com’s “A Saudi-Israel Defeat on Iran Deal.”]

Unorthodox Foreign Policy

Obama’s unorthodox foreign policy – essentially working in tandem with the Russian president and sometimes at odds with his own foreign policy bureaucracy – has forced Obama into faux outrage when he’s faced with some perceived affront from Russia, such as its agreement to give temporary asylum to National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.

For the record, Obama had to express strong disapproval of Snowden’s asylum, though in many ways Putin was doing Obama a favor by sparing Obama from having to prosecute Snowden with the attendant complications for U.S. national security and the damaging political repercussions from Obama’s liberal base.

Putin’s unforced errors also complicated the relationship, such as when he defended Russian hostility toward gays and cracked down on dissent before the Sochi Olympics. Putin became an easy target for U.S. commentators and comedians.

But Obama’s hesitancy to explain the degree of his strategic cooperation with Putin has enabled Official Washington’s still influential neocons, including holdovers within the State Department bureaucracy, to drive more substantive wedges between Obama and Putin. The neocons came to recognize that the Obama-Putin tandem had become a major impediment to their strategic vision.

Without doubt, the neocons’ most dramatic – and potentially most dangerous – counter-move has been Ukraine, where they have lent their political and financial support to opposition forces who sought to break Ukraine away from its Russian neighbor.

Though this crisis also stems from the historical division of Ukraine – between its more European-oriented west and the Russian-ethnic east and south – neocon operatives, with financing from the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy and other U.S. sources, played key roles in destabilizing and overthrowing the democratically elected president.

NED, a $100 million-a-year agency created by the Reagan administration in 1983 to promote political action and psychological warfare against targeted states, lists 65 projects that it supports financially inside Ukraine, including training activists, supporting “journalists” and promoting business groups, effectively creating a full-service structure primed and ready to destabilize a government in the name of promoting “democracy.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “A Shadow US Foreign Policy.”]

State Department neocons also put their shoulders into shoving Ukraine away from Russia. Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, the wife of prominent neocon Robert Kagan and the sister-in-law of the Gates-Petraeus adviser Frederick Kagan, advocated strenuously for Ukraine’s reorientation toward Europe.

Last December, Nuland reminded Ukrainian business leaders that, to help Ukraine achieve “its European aspirations, we have invested more than $5 billion.” She said the U.S. goal was to take “Ukraine into the future that it deserves,” by which she meant into the West’s orbit and away from Russia’s.

But President Yanukovych rejected a European Union plan that would have imposed harsh austerity on the already impoverished Ukraine. He accepted a more generous $15 billion loan from Russia, which also has propped up Ukraine’s economy with discounted natural gas. Yanukovych’s decision sparked anti-Russian street protests in Kiev, located in the country’s western and more pro-European region.

Nuland was soon at work planning for “regime change,” encouraging disruptive street protests by personally passing out cookies to the anti-government demonstrators. She didn’t seem to notice or mind that the protesters in Kiev’s Maidan square had hoisted a large banner honoring Stepan Bandera, a Ukrainian nationalist who collaborated with the German Nazis during World War II and whose militias participated in atrocities against Jews and Poles.

By late January, Nuland was discussing with U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt who should be allowed in the new government.

“Yats is the guy,” Nuland said in a phone call to Pyatt that was intercepted and posted online. “He’s got the economic experience, the governing experience. He’s the guy you know.” By “Yats,” Nuland was referring to Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who had served as head of the central bank, foreign minister and economic minister — and who was committed to harsh austerity.

As Assistant Secretary Nuland and Sen. McCain cheered the demonstrators on, the street protests turned violent. Police clashed with neo-Nazi bands, the ideological descendants of Bandera’s anti-Russian Ukrainians who collaborated with the Nazi SS during World War II.

With the crisis escalating and scores of people killed in the street fighting, Yanukovych agreed to a E.U.-brokered deal that called for moving up scheduled elections and having the police stand down. The neo-Nazi storm troopers then seized the opening to occupy government buildings and force Yanukovych and many of his aides to flee for their lives.

With these neo-Nazis providing “security,” the remaining parliamentarians agreed in a series of unanimous or near unanimous votes to establish a new government and seek Yanukovych’s arrest for mass murder. Nuland’s choice, Yatsenyuk, emerged as interim prime minister.

Yet, the violent ouster of Yanukovych provoked popular resistance to the coup from the Russian-ethnic south and east. After seeking refuge in Russia, Yanukovych appealed to Putin for help. Putin then dispatched Russian troops to secure control of the Crimea. [For more on this history, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Cheering a ‘Democratic’ Coup in Ukraine.”]

Separating Obama from Putin

The Ukraine crisis has given Official Washington’s neocons another wedge to drive between Obama and Putin. For instance, the neocon flagship Washington Post editorialized on Saturday that Obama was responding “with phone calls” when something much more threatening than “condemnation” was needed.

It’s always stunning when the Post, which so energetically lobbied for the U.S. invasion of Iraq under the false pretense of eliminating its (non-existent) weapons of mass destruction, gets its ire up about another country acting in response to a genuine security threat on its own borders, not half a world away.

But the Post’s editors have never been deterred by their own hypocrisy. They wrote, “Mr. Putin’s likely objective was not difficult to figure. He appears to be responding to Ukraine’s overthrow of a pro-Kremlin government last week with an old and ugly Russian tactic: provoking a separatist rebellion in a neighboring state, using its own troops when necessary.”

The reality, however, appears to have been that neocon elements from within the U.S. government encouraged the overthrow of the elected president of Ukraine via a coup spearheaded by neo-Nazi storm troopers who then terrorized lawmakers as the parliament passed draconian laws, including some intended to punish the Russian-oriented regions which favor Yanukovych.

Yet, besides baiting Obama over his tempered words about the crisis, the Post declared that “Mr. Obama and European leaders must act quickly to prevent Ukraine’s dismemberment. Missing from the president’s statement was a necessary first step: a demand that all Russian forces – regular and irregular – be withdrawn … and that Moscow recognize the authority of the new Kiev government. … If Mr. Putin does not comply, Western leaders should make clear that Russia will pay a heavy price.”

The Post editors are fond of calling for ultimatums against various countries, especially Syria and Iran, with the implication that if they don’t comply with some U.S. demand that harsh actions, including military reprisals, will follow.

But now the neocons, in their single-minded pursuit of endless “regime change” in countries that get in their way, have taken their ambitions to a dangerous new level, confronting nuclear-armed Russia with ultimatums.

By Sunday, the Post’s neocon editors were “spelling out the consequences” for Putin and Russia, essentially proposing a new Cold War. The Post mocked Obama for alleged softness toward Russia and suggested that the next “regime change” must come in Moscow.

“Many in the West did not believe Mr. Putin would dare attempt a military intervention in Ukraine because of the steep potential consequences,” the Post wrote. “That the Russian ruler plunged ahead shows that he doubts Western leaders will respond forcefully. If he does not quickly retreat, the United States must prove him wrong.”

The madness of the neocons has long been indicated by their extraordinary arrogance and their contempt for other nations’ interests. They assume that U.S. military might and other coercive means must be brought to bear on any nation that doesn’t bow before U.S. ultimatums or that resists U.S.-orchestrated coups.

Whenever the neocons meet resistance, they don’t rethink their strategy; they simply take it to the next level. Angered by Russia’s role in heading off U.S. military attacks against Syria and Iran, the neocons escalated their geopolitical conflict by taking it to Russia’s own border, by egging on the violent ouster of Ukraine’s elected president.

The idea was to give Putin an embarrassing black eye as punishment for his interference in the neocons’ dream of “regime change” across the Middle East. Now, with Putin’s countermove, his dispatch of Russian troops to secure control of the Crimea, the neocons want Obama to further escalate the crisis by going after Putin.

Some leading neocons even see ousting Putin as a crucial step toward reestablishing the preeminence of their agenda. NED president Carl Gershman wrote in the Washington Post, “Ukraine’s choice to join Europe will accelerate the demise of the ideology of Russian imperialism that Putin represents.  … Russians, too, face a choice, and Putin may find himself on the losing end not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself.”

At minimum, the neocons hope that they can neutralize Putin as Obama’s ally in trying to tamp down tensions with Syria and Iran – and thus put American military strikes against those two countries back under active consideration.

As events spin out of control, it appears way past time for President Obama to explain to the American people why he has collaborated with President Putin in trying to resolve some of the world’s thorniest problems.

That, however, would require him to belatedly take control of his own administration, to purge the neocon holdovers who have worked to sabotage his actual foreign policy, and to put an end to neocon-controlled organizations, like the National Endowment for Democracy, that use U.S. taxpayers’ money to stir up trouble abroad. That would require real political courage.

Robert Parry

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat. His two previous books are Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’.

Towards another coup in Venezuela? February 19, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Imperialism, Latin America, Venezuela.
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Roger’s note: here is more on the volatile situation in Venezuela that you are not likely to find in the mainstream media.  If you have the time to invest in reading an excellent analysis of recent pre and post Chavez Venezuela, go to the link for this article, which I am not posting here due to its length: http://upsidedownworld.org/main/venezuela-archives-35/4694-sabaneta-to-miraflores-afterlives-of-hugo-chavez-in-venezuela.

 

Protests are initiated by ultra-right factions of the opposition in the hope of an eventual systemic overhaul.

Last updated: 19 Feb 2014 08:50
Belen Fernandez
Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, published by Verso. She is a contributing editor at Jacobin Magazine.

Five days after violent anti-government incitement in Venezuela led to the deaths of three people, the US State Department issued a press statement declaring: “The allegations [by President Nicolas Maduro] that the United States is helping to organise protestors… is baseless and false. We support human rights and fundamental freedoms – including freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly – in Venezuela as we do in countries around the world.”

Of course, US commitment to such freedoms is called into question by its own operating procedures, which have included police beatings of peaceful protesters and the incarceration and torture of whistleblower Chelsea Manning.

Inside Story – Making choices after Chavez

Maduro might  – meanwhile –  be forgiven for associating the US with efforts to overthrow the Venezuelan government given said country’s intimate involvement in the 2002 coup d’etat against Maduro’s predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez – not to mention its general history of fomenting opposition to less-than-obsequious Latin American regimes.

George Ciccariello-Maher, a professor at Drexel University and the author of “We Created Chavez: A People’s History of the Venezuelan Revolution”, remarked to me yesterday that, although “there’s no reason to think that the US is directly involved in organising or calling these protests… we need to bear in mind that [it] continues to fund the very same opposition groups that have participated in violent, anti-democratic actions before and that continue to do so”.

The great cake famine

The opposition cites insecurity, food shortages, and inflation as factors driving the protests.

However, pinning the blame for all of Venezuela’s ills on chavismo – the left-wing political ideology developed by Chavez and continued by Maduro – is transparently disingenuous. Or rather, it would be transparently disingenuous if the dominant international media were not intent on parroting opposition propaganda.

In 2010, for example, the New York Times horrified the world with the news that Venezuela under Chavez was deadlier than Iraq. As noted in Richard Gott’s Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution, “much of the violence stemmed from the police itself (the highest crime rates were registered in the states of Miranda, Tachira and Zulia, where opposition governors ruled and controlled the local police forces)”.

Since such details complicate the vilification of Chavez and company, they’re often deemed unworthy of reporting. So is the fact that Honduras – neoliberal lap dog of the US – happens to be far deadlier than Venezuela, Iraq, and every other nation on earth.

As for the issue of food shortages, it’s instructive to take a look at a recent episode of Al Jazeera’s The Stream featuring an appearance by elite right-wing Caracas blogger Emiliana Duarte. Asked to elaborate on the circumstances of daily existence in Venezuela, Duarte launches into a sob story about having to visit 10 different supermarkets the previous year during a quest to bake a cake.

In addition to highlighting the sort of absurd hysterics that typify the Venezuelan opposition, the cake-baking anecdote constitutes less than persuasive evidence of the supposedly brutal tyranny under which Duarte and her socioeconomic cohorts are forced to reside.

Perpetual opposition ruckus about the government’s alleged control of the media – which is said to be thwarting proper transmission of the protests  – meanwhile – fails to account for the fact that the vast majority of Venezuelan media is privately owned. In 2012, the BBC noted that a mere 4.58 percent of television and radio channels belonged to the state.

Regarding Maduro’s decision to indefinitely block the far-right Colombian news channel NTN24 from transmitting in Venezuela, Ciccariello-Maher commented that, “while we should be very concerned any time a media outlet is blocked, however briefly, we should also remember that the private media is far from neutral” and that “this is a government that has seen a coup d’etat led by the private media”.

The doom-and-gloom squawking of the elite in response to the effective anti-polarisation campaign of the chavistas has merely been a natural reaction to a perceived threat against formerly entrenched positions of arbitrary privilege.

Indeed, the narrative spun by anti-Chavez outlets during the 2002 coup wasinstrumental to its initial success.

Polarisation by whom?

On the occasion of Chavez’s last landslide victory in 2012, Keane Bhatt listed some aspects of the man’s legacy thus far in a blog post for the North American Congress on Latin America: “[In the pre-Chavez years of] 1980 to 1998, Venezuela’s per capita GDP declined by 14 percent, whereas since 2004, after the Chavez administration gained control over the nation’s oil revenues, the country’s GDP growth per person has averaged 2.5 percent each year.

At the same time, income inequality was reduced to the lowest in Latin America, and a combination of widely shared growth and government programmes cut poverty in half and reduced absolute poverty by 70 percent – and that’s before accounting for vastly expanded access to health, education, and housing.”

Such improvements might be of more interest to the majority of Venezuelans than, say, Duarte’s cake saga. Although Chavez is relentlessly cast in the mainstream media as a “polarising” figure, the fact is that the late president laboured to reduce the already existing polarisation of Venezuelan society by reducing the income gap and offering the poor masses some acknowledgement as human beings.

The doom-and-gloom squawking of the elite in response to the effective anti-polarisation campaign of thechavistas has merely been a natural reaction to a perceived threat against formerly entrenched positions of arbitrary privilege.

As for the current opposition efforts against Maduro, it’s not difficult to see that US support for regime change in Venezuela is itself quite polarising – both domestically and continentally.

While the Mercosur member states – Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela – havecondemned the violent “attempts to destabilise [Venezuela's] democratic order”, US Secretary of State John Kerry has condemned “this senseless violence” and exhorted the Maduro government “to provide the political space necessary for meaningful dialogue with the Venezuelan people”.

To be sure, it’s more convenient to blame Maduro for the phenomenon of “senseless violence” than to ponder, say, the practice of assassinating civilians with US drones. That the anti-chavista crowd is cast in the role of “the Venezuelan people” also raises the question of what the millions of people who support the government qualify as.

Initiated by ultra-right factions of the opposition, this bout of violence was far from “senseless”; it did, after all, have a point. And that point, as usual, was to agitate on behalf of an eventual systemic overhaul and the deliverance of Venezuela into the imperial embrace.

Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, published by Verso. She is a contributing editor at Jacobin Magazine. 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

US Support for Regime Change in Venezuela is a Mistake February 18, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Imperialism, Latin America, Venezuela.
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Roger’s note: Only the wilfully naive can believe that the United States government is not providing all the support to the anti-Venezuelan government protests it can get away with.  As we have seen in the recent past with Honduras and Egypt, the U.S. government will set aside its sacred belief in democracy  in favor of military takeovers when it serves its geopolitical interests.  This is not to say that there aren’t serious problems in Venezuela or that Venezuelan government security forces have not on occassion reacted with undue force.  Violence begets violence.  But this does not alter our view of  the big picture.  Beginning with the era of Chavez, the Venezuelan government has been a serious thorn in the side of Uncle Sam, and the latter has acted as he always has, regardless of the party in power, which is to use whatever means necessary to maintain quasi and sometimes not that quasi client regimes south of the Rio Grande.

Oh, and by the way, don’t expect this kind of analysis to appear in the American mainstream media, quite the opposite.  No???

 

Published on Tuesday, February 18, 2014 by The Guardian/UK

The US push to topple the Venezuelan government of Nicolas Maduro once again pits Washington against South America

 

by Mark Weisbrot

A student takes part in a protest against Nicolas Maduro’s government in Caracas, Venezuela on 4 February 2014. (Photograph: Jorge Silva/Reuters)

When is it considered legitimate to try and overthrow a democratically-elected government? In Washington, the answer has always been simple: when the US government says it is. Not surprisingly, that’s not the way Latin American governments generally see it.

On Sunday, the Mercosur governments (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Venezuela)released a statement on the past week’s demonstrations in Venezuela. They described “the recent violent acts” in Venezuela as “attempts to destabilize the democratic order”. They made it abundantly clear where they stood.

The governments stated:

their firm commitment to the full observance of democratic institutions and, in this context, [they] reject the criminal actions of violent groups that want to spread intolerance and hatred in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela as a political tool.

We may recall that when much larger demonstrations rocked Brazil last year, there were no statements from Mercosur or neighboring governments. That’s not because they didn’t love President Dilma Rousseff; it’s because these demonstrations did not seek to topple Brazil’s democratically-elected government.

The Obama administration was a bit more subtle, but also made it clear where it stood. WhenSecretary of State John Kerry states that “We are particularly alarmed by reports that the Venezuelan government has arrested or detained scores of anti-government protestors,” he is taking a political position. Because there were many protestors who committed crimes: they attacked and injured police with chunks of concrete and Molotov cocktails; they burned cars, trashed and sometimes set fire to government buildings; and committed other acts of violence and vandalism.

An anonymous State Department spokesman was even clearer last week, when he responded to the protests by expressing concern about the government’s “weakening of democratic institutions in Venezuela”, and said that there was an obligation for “government institutions [to] respond effectively to the legitimate economic and social needs of its citizens”. He was joining the opposition’s efforts to de-legitimize the government, a vital part of any “regime change” strategy.

Of course we all know who the US government supports in Venezuela. They don’t really try to hide it: there’s $5m in the 2014 US federal budget for funding opposition activities inside Venezuela, and this is almost certainly the tip of the iceberg – adding to the hundreds of millions of dollars of overt support over the past 15 years.

But what makes these current US statements important, and angers governments in the region, is that they are telling the Venezuelan opposition that Washington is once again backing regime change. Kerry did the same thing in April of last year when Maduro was elected president and opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles claimed that the election was stolen. Kerry refused to recognize the election results. Kerry’s aggressive, anti-democratic posture brought such a strong rebuke from South American governments that he was forced to reverse course and tacitly recognize the Maduro government. (For those who did not follow these events, there was no doubt about the election results.)

Kerry’s recognition of the election results put an end to the opposition’s attempt to de-legitimize the elected government. After Maduro’s party won municipal elections by a wide margin in December, the opposition was pretty well defeated. Inflation was running at 56% and there were widespread shortages of consumer goods, yet a solid majority had still voted for the government. Their choice could not be attributed to the personal charisma of Hugo Chávez, who died nearly a year ago; nor was it irrational. Although the past year or so has been rough, the past 11 years – since the government got control over the oil industry – have brought large gains in living standards to the majority of Venezuelans who were previously marginalized and excluded.

There were plenty of complaints about the government and the economy, but the rich, right-wing politicians who led the opposition did not reflect their values nor inspire their trust.

Opposition leader Leopoldo López – competing with Capriles for leadership –has portrayed the current demonstrations as something that could force Maduro from office. It was obvious that there was, and remains, no peaceful way that this could happen. As University of Georgia professorDavid Smilde has argued, the government has everything to lose from violence in the demonstrations, and the opposition has something to gain.

By the past weekend Capriles, who was initially wary of a potentially violent “regime change” strategy – was apparently down with program. According to Bloomberg News, he accused the government of “infiltrating the peaceful protests “to convert them into centers of violence and suppression”.

Meanwhile, López is taunting Maduro on Twitter after the government made the mistake of threatening to arrest him: “Don’t you have the guts to arrest me?” he tweeted on 14 February:

Hopefully the government will not take the bait. US support for regime change undoubtedly inflames the situation, since Washington has so much influence within the opposition and, of course, in the hemispheric media.

It took a long time for the opposition to accept the results of democratic elections in Venezuela. They tried a military coup, backed by the US in 2002; when that failed they tried to topple the government with an oil strike. They lost an attempt to recall the president in 2004 and cried foul; then they boycotted National Assembly elections for no reason the following year. The failed attempt to de-legitimize last April’s presidential election was a return to this dark but not-so-distant past. It remains to be seen how far they will go this time to win by other means what they have not been able to win at the ballot box, and how long they will have Washington’s support for regime change in Venezuela.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.
Mark Weisbrot

Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), in Washington, DC. He is also president of Just Foreign Policy. He is co-author, with Dean Baker, of Social Security: The Phony Crisis. E-mail Mark: weisbrot@cepr.net

Libya: Here We Go Again September 5, 2011

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Published on Monday, September 5, 2011

Chris Hedges
www.truthdig.com, September 5, 2011

 

Here we go again. The cheering crowds. The deposed dictator. The encomiums to freedom and liberty. The American military as savior. You would think we would have learned in Afghanistan or Iraq. But I guess not. I am waiting for a trucked-in crowd to rejoice as a Gadhafi statue is toppled and Barack Obama lands on an aircraft carrier in a flight suit to announce “Mission Accomplished.” War, as long as you view it through the distorted lens of the corporate media, is not only entertaining, but allows us to confuse state power with personal power. It permits us to wallow in unchecked self-exaltation. We are a nation that loves to love itself.

A rebel fighter enters the house of Al-Saadi Gadhafi the son of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi through a window. (AP / Sergey Ponomarev)

I know enough of Libya, a country I covered for many years as the Middle East bureau chief for The New York Times, to assure you that the chaos and bloodletting have only begun. Moammar Gadhafi, during one of my lengthy interviews with him under a green Bedouin tent in the sprawling Bab al-Aziziya army barracks in Tripoli, once proposed marrying one of his sons to Chelsea Clinton as a way of mending fences with the United States. He is as insane as he appears and as dangerous. But we should never have become the air force, trainers, suppliers, special forces and enablers of rival tribal factions, goons under the old regime and Islamists that are divided among themselves by deep animosities and a long history of violent conflict.

Stopping Gadhafi forces from entering Benghazi six months ago, which I supported, was one thing. Embroiling ourselves in a civil war was another. And to do it Obama blithely shredded the Constitution and bypassed Congress in violation of the War Powers Resolution. Not that the rule of law matters much in Washington. The dark reasoning of George W. Bush’s administration was that the threat of terrorism and national security gave the executive branch the right to ignore all legal restraints. The Obama administration has made this disregard for law bipartisan. Obama assured us when this started that it was not about “regime change.” But this promise proved as empty as the ones he made during his presidential campaign. He has ruthlessly prosecuted the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where military planners speak of a continued U.S. presence for the next couple of decades. He has greatly expanded our proxy wars, which rely heavily on drone and missile attacks, as well as clandestine operations, in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya. Add a few more countries and we will set the entire region alight.

The NATO airstrikes on the city of Sirte expose the hypocrisy of our “humanitarian” intervention in Libya. Sirte is the last Gadhafi stronghold and the home to Gadhafi’s tribe. The armed Libyan factions within the rebel alliance are waiting like panting hound dogs outside the city limits. They are determined, once the airstrikes are over, not only to rid the world of Gadhafi but all those within his tribe who benefited from his 42-year rule. The besieging of Sirte by NATO warplanes, which are dropping huge iron fragmentation bombs that will kill scores if not hundreds of innocents, mocks the justification for intervention laid out in a United Nations Security Council resolution. The U.N., when this began six months ago, authorized “all necessary measures … to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack.” We have, as always happens in war, become the monster we sought to defeat. We destroy in order to save. Libya’s ruling National Transitional Council estimates that the number of Libyans killed in the last six months, including civilians and combatants, has exceeded 50,000. Our intervention, as in Iraq and Afghanistan, has probably claimed more victims than those killed by the former regime. But this intervention, like the others, was never, despite all the high-blown rhetoric surrounding it, about protecting or saving Libyan lives. It was about the domination of oil fields by Western corporations.

Once the Libyans realize what the Iraqis and Afghans have bitterly discovered—that we have no interest in democracy, that our primary goal is appropriating their natural resources as cheaply as possible and that we will sacrifice large numbers of people to maintain our divine right to the world’s diminishing supply of fossil fuel—they will hate us the way we deserve to be hated. Libya has the ninth largest oil reserves in the world, which is why we react with moral outrage and military resolve when Gadhafi attacks his citizens, but ignore the nightmare in the Congo, where things for the average Congolese are far, far worse. It is why the puppets in the National Transitional Council have promised to oust China and Brazil from the Libyan oil fields and turn them over to Western companies. The unequivocal message we deliver daily through huge explosions and death across the occupied Middle East is: We have everything and if you try and take it away from us we will kill you.

History is replete with conquering forces being cheered when they arrive, whether during the Nazi occupation of the Ukraine in World War II, the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon or our own arrival in Baghdad, and then rapidly mutating from liberator to despised enemy. And once our seizure of Libyan oil becomes clear it will only ramp up the jihadist hatred for America that has spread like wildfire across the Middle East. We are recruiting the next generation of 9/11 hijackers, all waiting for their chance to do to us what we are doing to them.

As W.H. Auden understood:

I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

The force used by the occupier to displace the old regime always makes sure the new regime is supine and complaint. The National Transitional Council, made up of former Gadhafi loyalists, Islamists and tribal leaders, many of whom detest each other, will be the West’s vehicle for the reconfiguration of Libya. Libya will return to being the colony it was before Gadhafi and the other young officers in 1969 ousted King Idris, who among other concessions had let Standard Oil write Libya’s petroleum laws. Gadhafi’s defiance of Western commercial interests, which saw the nationalization of foreign banks and foreign companies, along with the oil industry, as well as the closure of U.S. and British air bases, will be reversed. The despotic and collapsed or collapsing regimes in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Syria once found their revolutionary legitimacy in the pan-Arabism of Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser. But these regimes fell victim to their own corruption, decay and brutality. None were worth defending. Their disintegration, however, heralds a return of the corporate and imperial power that spawned figures like Nasser and will spawn his radical 21st century counterparts.

The vendettas in Libya have already begun. Government buildings in Tripoli have been looted, although not on the scale seen in Baghdad. Poor black sub-Saharan African immigrant workers have been beaten and killed. Suspected Gadhafi loyalists or spies have been tortured and assassinated. These eye-for-an-eye killings will, I fear, get worse. The National Transitional Council has announced that it opposes the presence in Libya of U.N. military observers and police, despite widespread atrocities committed by Gadhafi loyalists. The observers and police have been offered to help quell the chaos, train new security forces and provide independent verification of what is happening inside Libya. But just as Gadhafi preferred to do dirty work in secret, so will the new regime. It is an old truism, one I witnessed repeatedly in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and the Balkans, that yesterday’s victims rapidly become today’s victimizers.

NATO Nations Set to Reap Spoils of Libya War August 29, 2011

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Published on Saturday, August 27, 2011 by Al Jazeera

 

As rebels take Tripoli, foreign powers are eyeing the prize of Libya’s high quality crude oil.

  by Rachel Shabi

 

It looks like the more telling news on Libya has migrated to the business pages. With jubilant reporting of Gaddafi’s imminent downfall seizing headlines, it’s the financial pages that have the clinical analysis. So, for instance, it is in this section that the Independent reports a “dash for profit in the post-war Libya carve up”.

France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy, like his counterparts in the UK, Italy, the US and other countries, is keen to garner oil contracts once a new government emerges in Libya [Reuters] Similarly, Reuters, under the headline, “Investors eye promise, pitfalls in post-Gaddafi Libya” noted that a new government in that country could “herald a bonanza for Western companies and investors”.

Before Tripoli has completely fallen, before Gaddafi and his supporters have stepped down and before the blood dries on the bodies that have yet to be counted, Western powers are already eyeing up what they view us just rewards for the intervention.

There are no more illusions over how far NATO forces exceeded the UN security resolution that mandated its campaign. For months, NATO officials insisted it was operating within brief – an air campaign, designed to protect civilians under threat of attack. But now it is described as an “open secret” that NATO countries were operating undercover, on the ground.

Add to that the reluctance to broker a negotiated exit, the practice of advising, arming and training the rebels, and the spearheading of an escalation in violence and it looks like NATO’s job morphed from protecting civilians to regime change.

Oil for regime change

And there’s a reason for this sudden rush of honesty over its involvement. As alluded to by the Economist, each country’s contribution to the NATO effort in Libya is expected to have some impact on how much of the spoils it gets in the looming post-war period.

The French Le Figaro newspaper is keen to talk up Libya as “Sarkozy’s war”, while the British Telegraph drops references to the involvement of British military and intelligence officers, including MI6 and the RAF.

Aiding the Libyan rebel forces of the National Transitional Council has created a debt of gratitude. In the context of responsibility for what happens next in Libya, an anonymous British official told the Economist that NATO’s involvement in the Libyan uprising means that: “Now we own it.”

As Reuters reports, “Western companies look well positioned as billions of dollars in oil exploration and construction contracts come up for grabs as part of the reconstruction effort.”

Leaving aside the massive profits from the rebuilding that Libya is now going to need, there are vast oil spoils to distribute. The Libyan oil industry produced 1.6 million barrels a day prior to the war. The country is thought to have 46 billion barrels of reserves – the largest in Africa.

Winners and losers

And this is what the information manager at the rebel-controlled Arabian Gulf Oil Company, Libya’s largest oil producer, had to say about who it now intends to trade with: “We don’t have a problem with Western countries like the Italians, French and UK companies. But we may have some political issues with Russia, China and Brazil.” Those last three countries weren’t involved in the NATO mission in Libya.

None of that is to bemoan the downfall of a terrifying dictator who has kept Libyans crushed and brutalised for decades. Gaddafi’s demise is welcome; the courage of Libyans who fought his regime is staggering and only a stone would fail to be moved by their celebration of freedom now.

But it does not negate those factors to point out that NATO countries have not previously seemed bothered by the bloodiness of this dictator’s 42-year-rule – or that the striking feature of the West’s relationship to the Middle East has been its cynical alliances with repressive rulers, propped up to shut down their populations while opening up resources to foreign access.

It is exactly this track record – of being a corrosive influence and a self-interested broker – that has made Middle Eastern countries wary of any Western intervention in the tide of revolutions now sweeping the region. Libyan rebels asked for help, but were wary of what was viewed as a necessary alliance with Western forces. It does the flow of Arab uprisings a disservice to now glorify NATO’s mission. A liberal intervention for humanitarian ends may be the comfortable hook; but securing assets and resources, as usual, is the real goal.

© 2011 Al Jazeera

End the US-led Armed Intervention in Libya March 23, 2011

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(Statement of Focus on the Global South, March 22, 2011)

Focus on the Global South supports the democratic opposition in Libya that seeks to end the 43-year-old dictatorship of Muammar Gaddafi.   Focus shares the Libyan people’s desire to be free of a corrupt and repressive ruler who does not hesitate to employ massive force against his own people to hang on to power. 

Focus cannot, however, support the massive armed intervention launched by the United States, France, and Britain on Sunday, March 20. 

A “No Fly Zone” to protect civilians is one thing.  An armed assault aimed at regime change is another thing altogether.  The latter is the intent of the US/UK/French-led intervention, which, although displaying the figleaf of a United Nations Security Council resolution, goes far beyond the defensive aims of a no-fly zone to cross over into aggression against Libya. 

Firing on ground troops and preemptively and indiscriminately destroying anti-aircraft installations will bring about precisely that loss of life that the intervention ostensibly seeks to prevent.  Civilians are being killed by the western assault when civilians were supposedly the very people the action was supposed to protect.

The fight for democracy waged by the Libyan people must be supported, but not by western military action that is an instrument of regime change.  This action may ostensibly have humanitarian objectives, but its main objective is to reassert western hegemony in a region that is caught up in the winds of democratic change.   

Owing to its support for authoritarian regimes in the Middle East, the US has lost much of its credibility among the Arab peoples.  Indeed, the US may be said to be one of the targets of the Arab democratic revolution.  In this context, the intervention in Libya for regime change is Washington’s belated attempt to appear as a pro-democratic force, shore up its tattered legitimacy, and remind the Arab nations of its strategic hegemony in the region.   Yet the world will not miss the hypocrisy of a hegemon which shouts that it is supporting democracy in Libya while it stands on the side as a reactionary regime it has armed and supported, Saudi Arabia, has invaded and is crushing democratic forces in Bahrain. 

The West’s “armed intervention for democracy “ will not advance the cause of democracy.  Indeed, it will discredit it by associating democracy with a western show of force. The intervention in Libya risks stoking forces as powerful as the democratic movement: Arab nationalism and Islamic solidarity.  It will end up creating conflicts among movements which should be complementary, and the only victor will be western hegemony.

We in Focus on the Global South call for an immediate end to the US/UK/French-led war on Libya. 

We call on global civil society and on governments throughout the world  to support the Libyan people’s struggle for democracy against Gaddafi. 

We ask especially the democratic movements in Tunisia and Egypt to come to the aid of the Libyan people.

We call for an end to all efforts to maintain or reassert US hegemony in the Middle East.

Iranians Ponder Their Future With an Obama Administration December 29, 2008

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29 December 2008, www.truthout.org

by: Ann Wright, t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Embassy hostage crisis.expanded in 2007 by this authorization.time frame unchanged from previous estimates. Mr. Ahmadinejad. Nazi-style extermination of a people. regional wind power manufacturer . We met with the director and staff at the modern state-of-the-art factory in south Tehran. Saba Niroo has installed some of the 143 wind turbines planned for the wind farm in Manjil, Guillan Province and the 43 wind turbines planned for the Binalood wind farm in Khorasan Razavi Province. They have installed four wind turbines in the Pushkin Pass wind farm in Armenia.Danish wind energy company with whom the Iranian company has had a contractual relationship has now refused to honor its 15-year contract to furnish critical parts for the wind turbines.compared to American society, we don’t have many homosexuals – in Iran, we don’t have homosexuals like in your country.” criminally sexually assaulted another youth. As the leader of one of the most powerful states in the Middle East, President Ahmadinejad’s views are enormously influential. As we approach a critical time in international relations, we are offering our viewers an insight into an alternative world view. Channel 4’s role is to allow viewers to hear directly from people of world importance with sufficient context to enable them to make up their own minds.”promoting Western hairstyles.” to protect against attacks from rogue states” is perceived by many Iranians as a strategy to ensure that tensions in the region continue to escalate. The United States is planning to deploy 10 Ground-based Mid-course Interceptors in Poland and batteries of shorter-range Patriot PAC-3 anti-ballistic missiles to protect the Interceptors.»Dissent: Voices of Conscience.”

iranian-womanAn Iranian woman holds up a lamp during a power outage in Tehran, Iran. (Photo: Morteza Nikoubazi / Reuters)

 Traveling to Iran as a Citizen Diplomat for Peace

    Just a month ago, while Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and US President George Bush met for the last time as heads of state in late November 2008 in Washington and continued their relentless bellicose rhetoric toward Iran, I and three activists from the United States were in Iran as citizen diplomats talking with Iranians on their views of a new American presidential administration and their hopes for their country.

    We went to Iran with no illusions. We knew well the history of United States involvement in Iran. We knew of Iranian support for organizations U.S. administrations have labeled as “terrorist” groups. And we were very familiar with international concerns about Iran’s nuclear enrichment program and human rights record.

    We wanted to talk with members of the Iranian government as well as with ordinary Iranians. We ended up meeting with officials in the Iranian president’s office and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and with two women members of the Iranian Parliament (Majles). We also spoke with businesspersons, members of nongovernmental organizations, writers, filmmakers and university students and faculty.

    Writing about the concerns of the Iranians we met leaves one open to comments of being one-sided, not speaking with enough Iranians to provide the “real” voices and of picking and choosing voices to record. I acknowledge the possible criticism in advance, but believe our discussions are worthy of presentation to those who have not been so fortunate to have traveled to Iran to see and hear for themselves. So here goes.

    Iranians Want Peace, Not War

    Codepink Women for Peace co-founders Jodie Evans and Medea Benjamin, Fellowship of Reconciliation Iran program director Laila Zand and I were reminded in virtually every conversation that Iranians want peace with the United States, not war. Not one person in Iran told us that first, she believed her country would begin a war with the United States or any other country, to include Israel, and second, that if the United States initiated military actions against Iran, that those actions would resolve problems in Iran or with the United States.

    They reminded us that, unlike the United States, which has invaded and occupied Iran’s neighbors Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran has not attacked any country in the last 200 years. They reminded us that Iran was the victim of an eight-year war in the 1980’s when Iraq invaded Iran and the United States and European countries provided Iraq with military equipment, intelligence and chemical weapons that were used at least 50 times against Iranian civilians and military forces. We learned that during the eight-year war the Revolution’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini had mandated that it would be against Islamic precepts to bomb Iraqi cities or use chemical or unconventional weapons on Iraq – and Iranian military forces complied – even though the Iraqi military bombed Iranian cities, including Tehran, and used chemical weapons on Iranians.

    Most Iranians Have Issues With Their Government, as Most Americans Have Issues With Theirs

    Iran is a county with a population of about 70 million (two and one-half times as many people as Iraq) and a geographic area about the size of Alaska (four times as large as Iraq). Tehran, the Iranian capital, has 7.5 million people in the urban area and 15 million in surrounding areas. It is a modern city, with a beautiful subway and cosmopolitan shops, as well as a huge traditional bazaar and an incredible number of cars, trucks and motorcycles. Tehran and Iran have recovered from the Iraq war that ended 20 years ago and are holding up remarkably well to US and international sanctions.

    Most Iranians with whom we talked openly said they have issues with many aspects of their government. Many said the Iranian people share a common dislike with Americans – dislike of their government – noting that President Bush’s and the US Congress’s approval ratings with the American people are extremely low, as is Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s ratings, particularly in urban areas. But, they strongly said they do not want outside interference in the internal political events of their country and definitely do not want a political system and government installed by invasion and occupation. Their democracy, even with its flaws, is better than a US-enforced democracy, they said.

    America’s best policy would be to treat Iran with respect and not with threats of military action. Any attempt to overthrow the Iranian government would be met with stiff opposition, even from those who don’t like the government, they repeated. “Regime change” will come in due time and in an Iranian manner.

    US Interference in Iran’s Internal Affairs

    Several reminded us that in January 1981, the United States signed the Algiers Accord, in which the US agreed “not to intervene directly or indirectly, politically or militarily, in Iran’s internal affairs.” The Algiers Accord was the agreement signed by the United States and Iran to end the 444-day US

    However, this Accord has been violated numerous times by the United States. Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh wrote that, in late 2007, President Bush requested and received from Democratic Congressional leadership $400 million reprogrammed from previous authorizations to fund a presidential finding that substantially increased covert activities designed to destabilize Iran’s religious leadership. These covert actions involved support for the Ahwazi Arab and Baluchi groups and other dissident organizations. Hersh also revealed that United States Special Operations Forces had been conducting cross-border operations from southern Iraq, with presidential authorization, since 2007, including seizing members of Al Quds, the commando arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and taking them to Iraq for interrogation, and the pursuit of “high-value targets” who could be captured or killed. Hersh said operations by the Central Intelligence Agency and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) were significantly

    Iran’s Nuclear Program

    Iran has had a nuclear program for almost 50 years, having purchased a research reactor from the United States in 1959 during the Shah’s reign. The Iranian government states that its nuclear energy program will allow increased electricity generation to reduce consumption of gas and oil to allow export of more of its fossil fuels. The US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) made public December 3, 2007, concluded with “high confidence” that the military-run Iranian nuclear weapons program had been shut down in 2003, but that Iran’s enrichment program could still provide enough enriched uranium to produce a nuclear weapon by the middle of the next decade, a

    Virtually everyone with whom we spoke said they believe that their country has a right to have a nuclear enrichment program and to produce nuclear energy. Many questioned why Iran would ever need a nuclear weapons program, unless as leverage against the United States’ 30-year antagonism toward their country. They reminded us that Iran is a member of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (unlike nuclear states Israel, India and Pakistan, which refused to join the NPT and developed nuclear weapons purposefully outside the treaty.) Additionally, they insist that Iran is in compliance with the IAEA standards, according to the November 2008 IAEA report, despite interpretations of the report by the United States and Israel.

    Some reminded us that on August 9, 2005, at the IAEA meeting in Vienna, 60 years after the US atomic bombing of Japan, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei announced that he had issued a fatwa, or religious mandate, forbidding the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons. Importantly, the Supreme Leader controls the Iranian military and the nuclear program of Iran, not the President of the country,

    Iran, Israel and the United States

    Iran, Israel and United States have had a disturbing, but fascinating, history over the past 30 years. Iran’s current relationship with Israel and Western countries seems to be defined by President Ahmadinejad’s October 2005 statement – widely reported, but tragically and dangerously mistranslated and misinterpreted – that “Israel should be wiped off the face of the earth.” According to highly respected Middle Eastern scholar Juan Coles, Ahmadinejad was “not making a threat, but was quoting a saying of Ayatollah Khomeini that urged pro-Palestinian activists in Iran not give up hope – that the occupation of Jerusalem was no more a continued inevitability than had been the hegemony of the Shah’s government. Whatever this quotation from a decades-old speech of Khomeini may have meant, Ahmadinejad did not say that “Israel must be wiped off the map” with the implication that phrase has of

    But the history of Iranian-Israeli relationships is more than just Ahmadinejad’s misinterpreted statement. Israel, like the United States, had a long history of selling arms to the Shah, which Iran’s revolutionary government was willing to exploit secretly, despite its public animosity toward the state of Israel. In the early years (1980-82) of the Iranian Revolution and during the war with Iraq, Ayatollah Khomeini’s government sold oil to Israel in exchange for weapons and spare parts. Even during the American hostage crisis (1979-1981) in which 52 US diplomats were held for 444 days, Israel made weapons deals with Iran. Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of State Alexander Haig gave permission to Israel to sell US-made military spare parts for fighter planes to Iran in early 1981.

    In another remarkable relationship known as the Iran-Contra affair, funds from Israel’s sale to Iran of US weapons in 1985-1986 were used by U.S. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, National Security Adviser Adm. John Poindexter, National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane (President Reagan’s first National Security Adviser) and National Security Council staffer US Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North to fund the Contras’ war against the revolutionary government in Nicaragua. This was in violation of a Congressional ban on funding the Contras and took place during the Iraq-Iran war when the US was also providing military equipment including chemical weapons to Iraq, Iran’s opponent in the war. Iranians remember that those convicted for their actions, including Weinberger, Poindexter, McFarlane and North, were pardoned by President George H.W. Bush, who was vice president during the period of criminal actions conducted by government officials during the illegal Contra affair.

    Iranian Support for Hamas and Hezbollah

    When asked about one of the most contentious points in US-Israeli-Iranian relationships – the Iranian government’s support for Hamas in Palestine and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon – Iranians pointed out that the US has consistently and heavily funded Israel during its 62-year existence (US provides about $4 billion per year to the Israeli government and the Israeli Defense Forces.) Many Iranians suggested that Palestinians who have lived in refugee camps during those 62 years must be provided assistance. Hezbollah began in 1982 as a small militia fighting against the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and is now not only a military group but a political organization that won seats in the Lebanese government, has a radio and satellite television station and provides social development and humanitarian assistance for much of southern Lebanon. Iranians strongly felt that Hamas, the elected (and they emphasize elected) government of Gaza, needs financial support, particularly now in current extraordinary humanitarian crisis due to the lengthy Israeli blockade of foods and services into Gaza.

    Iraq

    On the question of Iraq, many Iranians who lived in the border regions with Iraq during the eight-year war said they personally knew the agony of deaths, injuries, destruction and other costs of war and do not wish that on their former enemies. They talked of the irony of the political outcome of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, in which many Shi’a Iraqis, who lived in exile in Iran during Saddam’s regime and have long-standing ties to the Iranian government, are now in leadership positions in the new US-backed Iraqi government.

    Afghanistan

    Other Iranians reminded us of Iran’s help to the US in 2001 and 2002 in the early days of the US military action in Afghanistan. When we asked about recent United States intelligence analysis that indicated Iranian support for the Taliban, we were met with laughs. The Taliban are of the Sunni branch of Islam, while Iranians are of the Shi’a branch. They reminded us that in 1998 the Taliban murdered 11 Iranian diplomats and one Iranian newsperson at the Iranian consulate in Afghan northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, an incident which Iranians have not forgotten. The Iranians consider the Taliban their adversaries and feel that a Taliban government in Afghanistan would make the region more unstable.

    Sanctions Are Drying Up Lines of Credit for Businesses

    We found that Iranians are proud of their creativity to outwit the 29 years of various sanctions the US has placed on their country. They say the US has only isolated itself commercially by its sanctions, as Iran trades with many other nations. Europeans, Chinese, Russians and Indians have had flourishing businesses with Iran. However, the recent international sanctions clampdown on lines of credit for Iranian banks has had a rippling effect into the business community, where money for loans to Iranian businesses for purchase of materials is drying up. Oil dollars that paid for an incredible amount of imports are drying up with the downturn in oil prices, and the government is beginning to reevaluate the large subsidizes given to the population for food, gasoline and services.

    We spoke with four businesswomen (an architect, a chemist, a business consultant and an agricultural professional) who said each of their businesses had been affected negatively with the shrinking of money available for purchase of materials from outside the country and for continuation of current levels of operation or expansion of their business.

    One of the most incredible stories we heard about the effect of the sanctions was on the alternative energy sector. Since there is so much rhetoric in the US about the dangers of the Iranian nuclear program, we decided to see if there were alternative energy companies in the country. On the aircraft flying into Iran, we met a European businessman who said he would put us in touch with the director of a wind energy company. He introduced us by telephone to the director of Saba Niroo, an Iranian company that makes wind turbines and is the largest

    However, the director told us that because of US sanctions pressure, Vestas, a

    As a result, Saba Niroo has 50 huge 70-foot-long wind blades and corresponding chassis and installation towers lying useless in its warehouse and warehouse yard. Saba Niroo may go bankrupt in six months if it is unable to complete and sell the wind turbines – all because of US sanctions and pressure.

    As a part of citizen diplomacy, we decided to defy sanctions and show our support of alternative energy programs, by purchasing shares in Saba Niroo. We have also decided to purchase shares in the Danish company Vestas, which has a big US headquarters in Portland, Oregon. As shareholders, we could put shareholder pressure on Vestas to honor its contract with the Iranian company.

    Human Rights in Iran

    On the question of human rights in Iran, executions, political prisoners and rights of gays and lesbians, many Iranians strongly want changes in their government’s policies. In response to a question on September, 24, 2007, from an audience at Columbia University in New York, President Ahmadinejad drew widespread criticism when his answer was translated as “In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals in our country, we do not have this phenomenon. I don’t know who told you that we have it.” In October 2007, one of Ahmadinejad’s media advisers said that the President had meant that “

    Homosexual acts are punishable by law: sodomy (defined as “sexual intercourse with a male) is punishable by execution and punishment for “lesbian acts” is 100 lashes. However, conviction takes the testimony of four witnesses and if the accused recants before witnesses testify, the accused will not be punished. The discussion of human rights of youth and gay youth combined in the much-publicized 2005 execution by hanging of two young men in Iran. Some say they were executed because they were solely because they were gay and others say the two young men – minors – were convicted and hanged because they

    Interestingly, sex change is legal in Iran and there are more sex change operations in Iran than any other country except Thailand. The Iranian government provides grants up to $4,500 for the operation and further funding for hormone therapy on the theory that persons wanting a sex change have a “treatable disorder.”

    Iranians want change to come from within their society, not imposed by another government, especially one, as we were reminded, that has its own human rights issues, including incarceration of the highest percentage of its citizenry of any country in the world, high rates of execution (Texas in particular), state-sponsored kidnapping from other countries (known in the Bush administration as extraordinary rendition), imprisonment without due process, extrajudicial courts and a military and an intelligence agency that are notorious for torture.

    Women’s Issues

    When thinking of women in Iran, many in the West immediately respond with comments about the clothing women must wear. Few realize that 70 percent of all university students are women, 30 percent of doctors in Iran are women, 80 percent of women are literate (88 percent of men can read), women receive 90 days of maternity leave at two-thirds pay and right to return to their jobs, and the number of children per woman has declined from seven in 1979 to 1.7 now. Abortions are illegal in Iran, but it’s the only country I know of where couples must take a class on modern contraception before being issued a marriage license. It has the only state-supported condom factory in the Middle East, and it produces 45 million condoms a year in 30 different colors, shapes and flavors.

    In one of the most successful instances of women’s grassroots organizational pressure on the government, in September 2008, over 100 advocates for women’s rights successfully lobbied against proposed changes to marriage laws which were detrimental to women and forced the Iranian Parliament to drop the regressive amendments.

    Clothing Restrictions

    Yes, there are mandatory clothing rules for women, including wearing a scarf and clothing that covers the arms to the wrists and legs to the ankles, and they are cited by Western women as a form of human rights concern. In fact, as our aircraft arrived at the Tehran International Airport terminal, the aircraft crew announced “By the law of the country of Iran, women cannot leave the aircraft without a scarf on their heads – and there will be an Iranian official outside the aircraft to return women who are not properly covered.” While some Iranian women say wearing the scarf is burdensome, others are comfortable with the dress code. In any case, clothing restrictions are not the main focus of women’s rights advocates. Rights to custody of children and property after divorce, right to education and health care are more important than mandatory wearing of a scarf.

    In the Month Since Our Visit

    Sparks Fly Over Iranian President’s BBC Christmas message – “Jesus Christ Would Stand Up to Bullying, Ill-Tempered and Expansionist Powers”

    In what they surely knew would be a very controversial request, the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) asked Iranian President Ahmadinejad to deliver the BBC channel 4’s traditional “alternative Christmas message” to the Queen’s Christmas address.

    The head of BBC News and Current Affairs said the decision to ask President Ahmadinejad was because “

    It turned out that Ahmadinejad’s short, 36-second message in Farsi with English subtitles broadcast on Christmas Day 2008, probably resonated with much of the world, but predictably provoked a British government hornet’s nest with his comment that if Jesus Christ lived today he would stand up against bullying powers. “If Christ were on earth today, undoubtedly he would stand with the people in opposition to bullying, ill-tempered and expansionist powers.” Ahmadinejad, a devout Muslim, criticized the “indifference of some governments and powers” towards the teachings of the “divine prophets, including Jesus Christ” and said that “the general will of nations” was for a return to “human values.” He declared, “The crises in society, the family, morality, politics, security and the economy … have come about because the prophets have been forgotten, the Almighty has been forgotten and some leaders are estranged from God.”

    Ahmadinejad’s remarks received very little media coverage in the United States, minuscule when compared to the news story of the month – President Bush’s encounter with the Iraqi shoe thrower. However, a spokeswoman for the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, in predicting anticipated Bush administration displeasure, said: “President Ahmadinejad has during his time in office made a series of appalling anti-Semitic statements. The British media are rightly free to make their own editorial choices, but this invitation will cause offense and bemusement not just at home but amongst friendly countries abroad.”

    Labor Member of Parliament (MP) Louise Ellman, chairwoman of the Labor Jewish Movement, said: “I condemn Channel 4’s decision to give an unchallenged platform to a dangerous fanatic who denies the Holocaust, while preparing for another, and claims homosexuality does not exist while his regime hangs gay young men from cranes in the street.” Conservative MP Mark Pritchard, a member of the Commons all-party media group, said: “Channel 4 has given a platform to a man who wants to annihilate Israel and continues to persecute Christians at Christmas time.”

    Media Relations Not a Strong Suit of the Iranian Government

    It’s almost as if Iranian President Ahmadinejad, who is up for re-election in summer 2009, has hired lame ducks US Vice President Dick Cheney and Israeli Prime Minister Olmert as his foreign policy, national security and media consultants. How else could the Iranian government have come up with so many incidents in the past weeks that give ammunition to those in the United States and Israel who do not want dialogue with Iran on nuclear and regional security issues, who want human rights issues to publicize and who wish ill to the Iranian government and people?

    For example, on December 22, 2008, the Iranian government closed down two human-rights organizations headed by 2005 Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi. The government accused the organization of carrying out illegal activities, such as publishing statements, writing letters to international organizations and holding news conferences. The Center for Participation in Clearing Mine Areas helps victims of landmines in Iran and Defenders of Human Rights Center reports human rights violations in Iran, defends political prisoners and supports families of those prisoners. Ebadi was also taken into police custody briefly following the raids.

    The first week in December 2008, in a campaign against Western cultural influence in Iran, Qaemshahr city police arrested 49 people during a crackdown on “satanic” fashions and unsuitable clothing and closed five barbershops for “

    And now, there is the predictable increased international criticism about the Russian government providing the Iranian government with S-300s, anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense systems, triggered by the Bush administration’s decision to put a “missile shield” in Poland and the Czech Republic. On December 23, 2008, United Press International reported that the Russian government had begun delivery to the Iranian government of some of its most modern anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense systems, the S-300s. These missile systems can shoot down ballistic missiles and aircraft at low and high altitudes as far away as 100 miles. Iran conducted well-publicized air force and ballistic missile defense exercises in September 2008.

    The Bush administration’s ballistic poke in the eye of Russia and Iran by the deployment of ballistic missiles in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic “

    Iranians Not Optimistic About Future Relations with the United States Under an Obama Administration

    Despite President-elect Barack Obama’s comments during the presidential campaign that he would have dialogue with the Iranian government without preconditions, many Iranians with whom we spoke are not optimistic that there will be meaningful change in US policy during an Obama administration. Citing appointments of former Israeli Defense Force member and US Congressman Rahm Emanuel as chief of staff; Hillary Clinton, who during the summer campaign said she would “obliterate” Iran if Iran used nuclear weapons against Israel (a statement that Iranians find incomprehensible since it is Israel that has nuclear weapons, not Iran, and Israel continues to threaten Iran), and Dennis Ross, the Middle East negotiator during the Clinton and Bush administrations, Iranians said they hoped the AIPAC lobby in the United States had not already determined Obama’s agenda toward Iran.

    Iranians Want Peace

    To emphasize again, the overwhelming comment from Iranians during our visit was that they want peace with the United States. They hope that the new president of the United States will talk with their government to resolve issues, instead of resorting to the threat, much less the use, of military action.

    Our Future With Iran – a Hope for Diplomacy, Not Military Action

    As we have seen from the American invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, the use of our military to resolve security issues kills and injures innocent civilians, destroys cities and villages, creates more people who dislike/hate our country and who may be willing to use violence against us, and jeopardizes, not enhances, the security of the United States.

    As a retired US Army colonel and a former US diplomat, I hope that the Obama administration will throw away the old template of 30 years of crisis, threats of military action, vindictiveness and retaliation and look to diplomacy to develop a peaceful future with Iran!

 

Ann Wright is a 29-year US Army/Army Reserves veteran who retired as a Colonel, and a former US diplomat who resigned in March 2003 in opposition to the war on Iraq. She served in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia and Mongolia. In December 2001 she was on the small team that reopened the US Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. She is the co-author of the book “
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