31 Aug 2010

Assessing America's 'imperial adventure' in Iraq

By John Simpson
BBC World Affairs Editor, Baghdad


"This," a leading American supporter of President George W Bush wrote in a British newspaper back in February 2003, just before the invasion of Iraq, "is our imperial moment".

He went on to argue that the British had no right to criticise America for doing what they themselves had done so enthusiastically a century before.

But America's imperial moment did not last long. And now, seven years later, the US is criticised for just about everything that happens here.

Opinion is evenly divided between those who are glad to see the Americans go, and those who criticise them for leaving too soon and potentially laying Iraq open to fresh sectarian violence.

US troops have been packing up as their combat operation in Iraq officially ends

It is a pattern that every occupying power becomes used to. America, it seems, cannot do anything right - not even getting out.

Most of the arguments in favour of invading back in 2003 have come to nothing.

Many Iraqis welcomed the overthrow of Saddam Hussein - 50% regarded the invasion as a liberation, according to a BBC poll taken in 2004, while 50% regarded it as an occupation - but nowadays it is hard to find anyone who sees America as Iraq's friend and mentor.

Nor has the overthrow of Saddam Hussein led to a general domino effect towards democracy throughout the Middle East.

On the contrary, America's position in the Middle East has been visibly eroded.

Some of the things done by the American authorities in Iraq, based in the Green Zone in Baghdad, were sober, positive and practical.

Some have become a burden, for instance the constitution the Americans wished on Iraq, which makes it fiendishly hard to create a decent effective government.


Grotesque mismanagement

And because the Green Zone administration was thrown together in a huge hurry back in 2002-03, overseen by former Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld - a man with no interest in nation-building - some of what was done involved grotesque levels of corruption and mismanagement.

Mr Rumsfeld was sent a careful, conscientious 900-page report by the state department containing detailed plans for the post-invasion period. He reportedly dumped it, unopened, straight into his waste-paper basket.

Iraqis, and some Americans, pile a good deal of the blame for what happened during this period on to Mr Rumsfeld's ally Paul Bremer, the temperamental pro-consul who often seemed unaware of what was going on right under his nose.

Former Vice-President Dick Cheney, when asked by the Saudi foreign minister why the US insisted on going ahead with the invasion, answered: "Because it's do-able."

But the problem began even higher up.

A respected Iraqi dissident, who later became vice-president, has described how shocked he was to find, a few weeks before the invasion, that President Bush seemed wholly unaware that Muslims in Iraq were divided between Shia and Sunni Islam.

American generals seemed to despair of finding a solution to the growing insurgency.


Petraeus's luck

The US forces, contrary to all the basic rules of counter-insurgency, allowed the enemy to attack "Route Irish", the main road between Baghdad airport and the Green Zone, as and when it chose.

British soldiers, used to Northern Ireland, pointed out again and again that occasional nervous sorties in armoured vehicles were not the same as taking control of it.

Their American counterparts took no notice, and the situation grew worse.

It took an expert in counter-terrorism, Gen David Petraeus, to turn the situation around. Like most successful generals, he had luck on his side.

Gen Petraeus understood that insurgencies have a specific life-span, and he was fortunate enough to arrive in Baghdad at the time when the Iraqi insurgency was starting to wind down.

Sunni Muslims were increasingly sick of the violence that Sunni extremists were causing, and he encouraged the growth of Awakening Councils which enabled moderate Sunnis to rise up and deal with both Baathists and supporters of al-Qaeda.

The supply of people willing to become suicide bombers began to dwindle.

Gen Petraeus's tactics turned the tide. At the height of the violence something like 100 people were dying each day across the country from bombings and shootings.

Now the number killed in political violence has dropped to about 10 a day - unacceptable in a more peaceable society, but a great relief here.


Uncertain future

Yet many Iraqis fear that with the Americans no longer here in force, and the Iraqi army and police still lacking sufficient training, the violent extremists on both the Sunni and the Shia sides could start fighting again.

Whatever happens here for the next decade, the Americans will get the blame - unless of course Iraq becomes peaceful and prosperous, in which case no-one will thank them.

That is the usual fate of an occupying force.

Vast numbers of people have died, the overwhelming majority of them Iraqi.

Unthinkably large amounts of money have been spent here, and yet Iraq has slipped far down the world's rich list.

Has the United States benefited? It is hard to see how.

As the British learned in the Boer War, and Russia learned by invading Afghanistan, great military powers run big risks by putting their strength to the test against weak-seeming opponents.

America seems to have shrunk as a direct result of its imperial adventure in Iraq.

It will have to work very hard to persuade the rest of the world that it is strong again.

Israel Threatens War with Lebanon

by Stephen Lendman / August 31st, 2010


Palestine is belligerently occupied. Threats continue against Iran and Syria as well as Lebanon, specifically Hezbollah, elected partner in the nation’s unity government, bogusly designated a US State Department Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), what Israel also calls it, repeating veiled and overt warnings, suggesting violence or an impending attack.

Why not, after so many earlier in 1978, 1982, 1993, 1996, and 2006. Also numerous incidents besides:

– refusing to comply with UN Security Council Resolution 425 by occupying South Lebanon belligerently and illegally for 18 years until mostly, but not entirely, withdrawing in May 2000 – still holding Sheba Farms, the 14-square mile water-rich land near Syria’s Golan, also illegally occupied since 1967; in addition, Ghajar, the Lebanese village bordering Golan;

– during its occupation, using a proxy Christian South Lebanon Army as enforcer, UNIFIL Blue Helmets giving them and the IDF free reign instead of maintaining peace, how UN forces always operate, as paramilitaries against people they’re supposed to protect; and

– for over 40 years, repeatedly violating Lebanon’s territory, often daily, including 12 Israeli jet overflights on August 19.


Hezbollah: Israel’s Pretext for Incursions, Violence and War

Hezbollah was born out of Israel’s 1982 Lebanon invasion, its horrific war slaughtering around 18,000 people, mostly civilians, including in the Sabra and Shatila camps, what journalist Robert Fisk called “one of the most shocking war crimes of the 20th century.”

In 1999, it was put on the FTO list, removed after condemning the 9/11 attack, then added back by Dick Cheney after bogusly linking it with Al Qaeda.

Throughout his tenure, George Bush (and other administration officials) called Hezbollah, Iran and Syria “the root cause” of Middle East terrorism, despite Israel being the only threat, a notorious regional menace.

In mid-July 2010, Rep. Sue Myrick (R. NC) was over the top accusing the organization of being a threat on the US-Mexican border, saying:

Our intelligence sources have really clarified that they are in Mexico, that there is an operation that is quite large in place there, and it’s very frightening to me because this is national security. We know some of them have gotten across the border in the past…. They are starting to target the United States and that’s my concern.

She also linked Hezbollah with Mexican drug cartels, DEA assistant intelligence administrator Anthony Placido saying “There are numerous reports of cocaine proceeds entering the coffers of Islamic radical groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas” – reports as credible as Saddam’s WMDs.

Hezbollah, in fact, is politically legitimate, former Lebanon President Emile Lahood calling it “an integral part of the Lebanese government… (also) part of our military (and) social order,” what former Prime Minister Rafik Harriri confirmed. It’s also a social, charitable, educational, and medical organization, involved in establishing over 50 hospitals, over 100 schools, many libraries, and providing other essential social services, why it has broad support, especially among Shiites, comprising over 35% of Lebanon’s population.

In addition, its military wing is for defense, not belligerency, but it’s prepared to respond effectively when attacked, what Israel learned painfully in the 2006 war, outfoxed and humiliated despite a vastly superior force. It’s a lesson the IDF never forgot and wants to avenge, as well as conceal its own terrorist history, by far the region’s most extensive with tentacles reaching globally.

An early 2007 American University of Beirut study documented 6,672 Israeli terrorist acts against Lebanon and Palestine alone from 1967-2007 (plus thousands more since then), unrewarded by inclusion on America’s FTO list, Israeli influence getting others on it, including Hezbollah and Hamas, Palestine’s legitimate government.

Without evidence, Hezbollah’s rap sheet includes the 1983 US Lebanon Embassy and Marine barracks bombings, highjackings, hostage taking, rocket attacks against Israel, suicide bombings, and more, charges the organization vehemently denies, saying it responds only in self-defense against militants, not civilians, its leader Hassan Nasrallah stating: “Hezbollah remains on the US and Israel ‘terrorism’ list for purely political reasons and to punish the organization for its resistance to Israeli aggressions against Lebanon and (America’s) plans for the region.”

Expecting its members to be charged with assassinating former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on February 14, 2005, he accused Israel of the crime, presenting visual and audio material as evidence. They included Israeli surveillance footage (intercepted in real time) of routes he used to be able to target his motorcade, Nasrallah saying:

We have definite information on the aerial movements of the Israeli enemy the day Hariri was murdered. Hours before… an Israeli drone was surveying the Sidon-Beirut-Junieh coastline as warplanes were flying over Beirut. This video can be acquired by any investigative commission to ensure it is correct. We are sure of this evidence, or else we would not risk showing it.

He also said an Israeli spy “confess(ed) in front of a camera that he had repeatedly tried to falsely convince Hariri that (Hezbollah) intended to assassinate him.” Though not a smoking gun, this information warrants serious investigation, especially given Israel’s history of similar acts, inside and outside the region.

According to Lebanese University Professor Hasan Jouni, an international criminal law expert, Nasrallah’s evidence was exceptional, saying:

“Logically and legally, in this stage, any new finding should be investigated by the general prosecutor. Sayyed Nasrallah submitted tangible evidence of the Israeli potential role in Hariri’s assassination.” It appears incriminating. “Furthermore, the previous investigations which were circulated here and there should be revised.”

Antoine Airout, North Lebanon Bar Association head, agreed, saying: “Sayyed Hasrallah’s revelations are very serious and objective,” especially given Israel’s long-term interest in destroying Lebanon to seize portions for itself. Hariri’s assassination furthered that goal.

In late July, Nasrallah further disclosed the arrest of nearly 100 Israeli spies who’d infiltrated Lebanon’s military and security sectors, including Ret. Army Brig. General Fayez Karam, once head of its antiterrorism/counterespionage units.

In his recent article titled, “Israel Takes Control of Lebanon,” investigative journalist Wayne Madsen covered the same issue, saying:

He’s “learned from (his) Lebanese intelligence sources that the Lebanese government is coming to realize that Israeli intelligence penetration of all political groups in the country is worse than originally believed.”

“The Israeli espionage network also extends to Syria. Lebanese sources report that former Syrian Vice President Abdel Halim Khaddam, who accused Syrian President Bashar al Assad of ordering (Hariri’s) assassination, is tactically backed by Israel and the United States.” He heads the National Salvation Front (NSF) effort to oust Assad, getting Israeli, American, French and German help to do it.

For decades, the US/Israeli partnership ruthlessly pursued its joint regional imperial project, including assassinations, state terrorism and wars. Murdering Hariri indeed furthered their goal, and if an August 28 Press TV report is right, more is planned, the Iranian English language network saying:

“Israel is reportedly preparing to strike arms depots and weapons manufacturing plants in Syria, claiming they belong to… Hezbollah… Tel Aviv (having) escalated its military presence in” Golan and Lebanon’s Shebba Farms, according Haaretz, “citing a report in the (August 28) edition of the Kuwaiti daily Al Rai. (It) quoted European sources as saying that recent Israeli reconnaissance flights (over) Lebanese and Syrian airspace, are indications that Israel is ready to start a war in the area (against) targets… far inside Syrian territory….”


Targeting Lebanon: Stoking Tensions, Threatening More War

In early 2010, Israel’s Defence Minister Ehud Barak warned Hezbollah to “avoid entering conflict with us, (adding that) We need to constantly prepare for a change in the status quo, though we don’t know when it will occur. We don’t want for it to happen, and it might not, but we will not be afraid to react if we have to fight back.”

Thinly veiled fighting words with July 23 elaboration, provocatively telling the Washington Post that Israel will hold the Lebanese government responsible for Hezbollah’s actions, saying “we will see it as legitimate to hit any target that belongs to the Lebanese state, not just to the Hezbollah” — the same 2006 blitzkrieg strategy causing vast destruction, billions in damage, killing over 1,000, injuring thousands more, and displacing one-fourth of Lebanon’s four million population, the vast majority being civilians, including 300,000 children, Israel’s Dahiya Doctrine strategy.

Named after the Beirut suburb destroyed in 2006, it’s how past and future wars will be fought, including Cast Lead, applying disproportionate force against civilians and non-military infrastructure, carried out with overwhelming intimidating force in violation of fundamental international law, prohibiting collective punishment and attacks against non-combatants, Israel’s preferred targets.

On a mid-April US visit, Jordan’s King Abdullah II expressed concern, telling a “Congressional Friends of Jordan Caucus” that he fears “imminent” conflict again with Hezbollah in Lebanon.

At the same time, AFP reported that Washington “voiced alarm” about Syria’s “possible sale of Scud missiles to Hezbollah militants, warning it would put Lebanon at ’significant risk.’ ” On April 13, Israeli President Shimon Peres accused Syria of doing it, saying it “claims it wants peace while at the same time it delivers Scuds to Hezbollah whose only goal is to threaten the state of Israel” – false and Peres knows it.

In response, an unnamed US official said a sale was suspected but not verified. Syria flatly denies it, and unmentioned was American aid to Israel, more than to all other nations combined, including annual billions of dollars in military aid, additional amounts when requested, plus the latest weapons and technology, enough to destabilize the entire region and beyond, given Israel’s capacity and inclination to wage war aggressively and illegally.

It’s bloodstained history confirms what US major media reports suppress — that no outside threat or attack on its territory occurred since the October 1973 Yom Kippur war, nearly 37 years ago after which Israel repeatedly attacked Lebanon and Occupied Palestine. It also menaces the entire Middle East, its goal being to divide, conquer and control it, a future article dealing solely with that topic.

At the end of the 2006 Lebanon war, UN Security Council Resolution 1701 called for a full cessation of hostilities on both sides, specifically that Hezbollah cease “all attacks” and disarm, Israel given freedom to respond to perceived threats. In other words, it can claim bogus ones justify war, Hezbollah denied comparable discretion.

Since passage, Hezbollah refused to disarm, but committed no aggressive acts. For its part, Israel breaches the resolution daily, including regular airspace, territorial, and sea encroachments. In early 2010, Michael Williams, UN special envoy to Lebanon said:

“To the best of my knowledge, there is probably no other country in the world which is subject to such an intrusive regime of aerial surveillance,” other intrusions and spying. In fact, none besides America, Israel’s paymaster/partner and early mentor, both countries the world’s most bellicose and aggressive, what Hezbollah understands and will respond. Lebanon’s government also, saying it supports its right to defend sovereign state territory, Foreign Minister Ali al-Shami calling Israel a “permanent menace” with good reason.

Further, Syria said it will act if Lebanon is attacked, adding it considers a threat to Beirut’s security one to its own. Hamas’ Ali Baraka also avowed to back Hezbollah if attacked, stoking more tension, what Israel’s expert at exploiting, manufacturing threats when none exist.

On August 2, the George Soros-funded International Crisis Group published a report titled “Drums of War: Israel and the ‘Axis of Resistance,’” saying:

More war, if it comes, will be “far more devastating and broader in scope,” the regional dynamics dangerously explosive, so any “miscalculations” may launch it, including against Syria.

Despite a deceptive quiet, “Beneath the surface, tensions are mounting with no obvious safety valve.” Hezbollah’s readiness and “escalating Israeli threats (could) trigger the very outcome” so far avoided.

With “no effective forum for communication, (there’s) ample room for misunderstanding and misperception. Meanwhile, (Israel has waged) an underground war of espionage and assassinations… now a substitute for more open confrontation.”

“There is scant reason for optimism on the peace front,” not helped by America talking only with one side (Israel), “keeping another at arm’s length (Syria), ignoring a third (Hezbollah) and confronting the fourth (Iran).”

As a result, “the world should cross its fingers that fear of a catastrophic conflict will continue to be reason enough for the parties not to provoke one.”

Not explained is that Israel and America alone pose threats, the same ones for over 40 years, what all regional states know and fear, hoping they won’t end up like Iraq — destroyed by imperial lawlessness, the fake August 19 “combat” troop pullout just PR cover for permanent occupation, or as one Iraqi official said: “This is about America’s midterm elections,” Washington’s presence is here to stay, even Newsweek calling it a “nonevent,” saying:

“The departure of the last ‘combat troops’ from Iraq (more a strategic retreat than victory lap) is hardly the end of American combat there. (What about the other) 50,000… staying behind? They didn’t exactly send their (formidable weapons arsenal) out with that Stryker brigade. And they’re not going to transform themselves into the Peace Corp overnight,” or, in fact, ever.

The region’s strategic importance assures permanent war, America’s presence, and continued danger for everyone there – cursed, not benefitting from oil.


A Final Comment

Besides bordering on Israel, Lebanon’s resources make it vulnerable, namely its water and natural gas reserves, one reason for the 2006 war, South Lebanon to the Litani River especially important. Also the Wazzini springs feeding into the Hasbani River tributary of the Jordan River. It flows into Israel two miles downstream from the Wazzini, then into the Sea of Galilee that’s Israel’s largest fresh water source.

Israel covets the 20-mile stretch from its border to the Litani to use Lebanese water for its own needs, a considerable supply if controlled, besides what’s gotten from Golan, seized from Syria in 1967 and still held.

The Tamar and Leviathan offshore natural gas fields are also key, located off Israel’s north coast and Southern Lebanon. Tamar contains an estimated 8.5 trillion cubic feet supply, Leviathan another 16 trillion, and on August 29, Israel National News.com said it may hold four billion or more barrels of oil, making it a richer than ever prize.

The London-based Lebanese newspaper As-Safir said if Israel attempts to siphon gas from Lebanese waters, conflict could result. The paper’s Israel affairs analyst, Hilmi Mousa, said Leviathan “lies mostly off Lebanese shores and in international waters between the sea border of Palestine (and Cyprus waters). However, Israel received a guarantee from Britain, which has no rights in Palestine, to search for oil in the area near the Lebanese shores. The map of deposits, as published in the Israeli economic papers, shows the scope of the deviation into Lebanon’s international waters,” ones Lebanon surely will protect.

Yet Mousa headlined, “Israel preparing to steal gas fields in Lebanon’s waters,” saying doing so “will quickly turn into a new conflict (in which) Lebanon… will defend its rights in the water.” Other sites include Rut and Alon, also off Lebanese shores or in areas far from Israel. The situation bears watching given the possibility that Israel may attack Lebanon and Hezbollah, needing or inventing a pretext to do it, an old trick it may use again, Lebanon perhaps the next target.

Israeli academics boycott West Bank settlements

More than 150 Israeli academics say they will no longer lecture or work in Jewish settlements in the West Bank.


An arts centre in Ariel, one of the West Bank's largest settlements, is to open in November

In a letter, they said they supported the recent decision by a group of actors and others not to take part in cultural activity there.

The academics said that acceptance of the settlements caused "critical" damage to Israel's chances of achieving peace with the Palestinians.

The actors were criticised for refusing to perform at a new cultural centre.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the last thing Israel needed as it resumed direct peace talks was a boycott from within.

'Stupid behaviour'

In a letter published on Sunday, the academics said they would no longer take part in any kind of cultural activity, or lecture in any kind of academic setting, in settlements built on land occupied following the Middle East war - demarcated by what is commonly known as the "Green Line".

They explained that they wanted to show support and solidarity for the 53 actors, writers and directors who last week said they would not take part in performances at the new cultural centre built in Ariel.

"We'd like to remind the Israeli public that, like all settlements, Ariel is also in occupied territory," the academics said.

"If a future peace agreement with the Palestinian authorities puts Ariel within Israel's borders, then it will be treated like any other Israeli town."

"Legitimatisation and acceptance of the settler enterprise cause critical damage to Israel's chances of achieving a peace accord with its Palestinian neighbours."

Settlements are illegal under international law

Close to 500,000 Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel's 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. [...]

A separate letter, signed by a number of well-known Israeli authors and artists, is expected to be published in the coming days.

Yigal Cohen-Orgad, the chancellor of the Ariel University Centre, told Haaretz newspaper on Tuesday that "stupid behaviour seems to attract academic stupidity".

Several right-wing politicians have criticised the actors, saying they are subsidised by the Israeli state and should have their funds withdrawn if they refuse to work in any settlements.

27 Aug 2010

Not a draw, a fix

by Jim White


At one point during the interminable and bombastic Champions League draw, Gary Lineker cracked a joke.

The Match of the Day presenter was responsible for drawing the group numbers out of glass bowls and made chortling reference to hot balls. He was recalling the old-style method of fixing a draw, the way in which the tokens were heated up to ensure the right ones were pulled from the hat.


The joke passed unnoticed by the UEFA officials on duty. But then, even if they'd spotted it, Michel Platini and his outfit would not have concerned themselves with the quip. They have no need of hot balls at UEFA when the draw is already institutionally fixed to ensure that the proper outcome is adhered to.

Group stage? It needs to be renamed immediately thus: stage to extract a little bit more cash before the real business begins in the spring.

Let's face it, thanks to the nakedly corrupt system of seeding, there was no real need to stage a draw this week. We can already predict who will be in the knock out phase. The real shock of the competition would be if the last sixteen were any different from this: Inter, Tottenham, Lyon, Barca, Manchester Utd, Valencia, Panathinaikos, Benfica, Chelsea, Marseille, Bayern, Roma, Milan, Madrid, Arsenal and Shakhtar. Ajax might feel a little aggrieved at the lucklessness of their draw, but otherwise, it went absolutely to form. The group stage of the Champions League is not a competition, it is an exercise in ensuring the big names progress smoothly.

Take Manchester United. Thanks to the in-built security measures to protect their interests, they will be playing a club even more hamstrung by debt than they are, a club hamstrung by the steady decline of their nation's club game and a club hamstrung by the fact they are, in this case, literally making up the numbers.

Valencia, Rangers and Bursaspor: that is less a draw than an opportunity for Alex Ferguson to give his first choice players the week off in advance of the more robust challenges ahead.

But even their group has nothing on the feather-bedding Barcelona have been gifted. If the Spanish champions fail to emerge from engagements with Panathinaikos, Copenhagen and Rubin Kazan then frankly, the bookmaking business might as well give up tomorrow.

Harry Redknapp used his column in the Sun to purr contentedly about how being drawn in the same group as Inter was "what you are in the game for". And while it might be true that a couple of games against the European champions present a fundamentally more enticing prospect that the sort of opponents who await Manchester City and Liverpool in the Europa League, you don't imagine that down the road at the Emirates the fans are ringing the game against FK Partizan in their diaries as one of those must-see events that set the adrenalin running.

The Champions League became a cartel for the continent's richest clubs in the mid 90s, when it expanded to include non-champion clubs from the bigger leagues. Now, the naked bias of the group stage means that the real competition is deferred until March, gifting a good autumn of money-spinning to all the big boys. Though increasingly the bulk of that money comes from television, not the gate.

For some time on the continent, the followers of the big clubs have realised its pantomime nature by staying away in droves from group games, most of which are played out in Barcelona and Milan to empty stands. Only in England has the fantasy persisted that this is somehow the pinnacle of the game and something to be watched at all cost.

Yet the evidence is, even here, that enthusiasm is waning. The chances of Manchester United against Bursaspor filling Old Trafford or Chelsea selling out when they play MSK Zilina are about as high as Michael Owen being given a hero's welcome on his return to Anfield for Jamie Carragher's testimonial.

This is not to say the small clubs do not deserve a shot at the big time. Of course they do. Actually, they deserve the proper chance that comes from an open draw. Instead, thanks to the way it works, we can cheerfully predict the final four even now: Inter, Barca, Chelsea and United. Yup, the same old same old.

In the Champions League romance is something they used to do in the old days. Before they discovered economics.

26 Aug 2010

Saudi Arabian judges add insult to Indonesian maid's injuries

As Human Rights Watch calls on Saudi judges to overturn a decision to drop charges against a Saudi couple accused of severely abusing an Indonesian maid, it is high time to take a closer look at the Saudi kingdom...


The Kingdom of Corruption
by Tariq Ali

The hijackers responsible for the September 11 outrage were not illiterate, bearded fanatics from the mountain-villages of Afghanistan. They were all educated, highly-skilled, middle-class professionals. Thirteen of the nineteen men involved were citizens of Saudi Arabia. Their names are recognisable. The three Alghamdis are clearly from the Hijaz province of the Kingdom, the site of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Mohamed Atta, born in Egypt, travelled on a Saudi passport. Regardless of whether he gave the order or not, what is indisputable is that the bulk of Osama Bin Laden's real cadres (as opposed to footsoldiers) are located in Egypt or Saudi Arabia, the two principal allies of the United States in the region barring Israel. Support for Bin Laden is strong in Saudi Arabia. He was a close friend of the Saudi boss of Intelligence, Prince Turki bin Faisal al Saud, who was dismissed last month after his failure to curb attacks on US personnel in Riyadh. The real reason is probably his refusal to take sides in the fierce faction fight to determine the succession after the death of the paralysed King Fahd. Both sides are aware that too close an alignment with the United States could be explosive. That is why till now the Saudi regime despite its support for the US is not 'allowing its bases to be used'.

In normal times the Saudi Kingdom is barely covered by the Western media. The Ambassadors report to their respective chanceries that all is well and the continuity of the regime is not threatened. It requires the imprisonment of a American or British citizen or for a British nurse to be chucked out of a window for attention to focus on the regime in Riyadh. Even less is known about the state religion, which is not an everyday version of Sunni or Shia Islam, but a peculiarly virulent, ultra-puritanical strain known as Wahhabism. This is the religion of the Saudi royals, the state bureaucracy, the army and air-force and, of course, Ossama Bin Laden, the best-known Saudi citizen in the world, currently resident in Afghanistan.

A moderate equivalent of this in Britain would be if the Church of England was replaced by the United Reformed Church of Dr Ian Paisley, the Royal Family became ardent Paisleyites and the state bureaucracy and armed services were barred to non-Paisleyites.

Sheikh Mohammed Ibn Abdul Wahhab, the inspirer of this sect, was an 18th century peasant who became tired of tending date palms and grazing cattle and began to preach locally, calling for a return to the pure beliefs of the seventh century. He opposed the excessive veneration of the Prophet Mohammed, denounced the worship of holy places and shrines and stressed the 'unity of one God'. On its own this was harmless enough, but it was his social prescriptions that created problems even in the 1740s: he insisted on Islamic punishment beatings and more: adulterers should be stoned to death, thieves amputated, criminals executed in public. Religious leaders in the region objected when he began to practice what he preached and the local chief in Uyayna asked him to leave. Wahhab fled to Deraiya in 1744 and won over its ruler, Mohammed Ibn Saud, in 1744. Ibn Saud, the founder of the dynasty that rules Saudi Arabia today, utilised Wahhab's revivalist fervour to inculcate a sense of discipline in the tribes before hurling them into battle against the Ottoman Empire. Wahhab regarded the Sultan in Istanbul as a hypocrite who had no right to be the Caliph of Islam and preached the virtues of a permanent jihad(holy war) against Islamic modernisers, hypocrites as well as the infidel. The Ottomans hit back, occupied the Hijaz and took charge of Mecca and Medina, but Wahhabi influence remained and the heroic battles became part of local folk-lore.This proto-nationalism was utilised by Saud's successors to expand their influence throughout the peninsula.

Two centuries later they laid the foundations of what is now Saudi Arabia, but it was the discovery of liquid gold that changed the region forever. Fearful of the competition from Britain, the United States merged Esso, Texaco and Mobil to form the Arabian American Oil Company (ARAMCO). This link established in 1933 was strengthened during the Second World War, when the USAF base in Dhahran was deemed crucial to 'the defense of the United States.' The Saudi monarch was paid millions of dollars to aid development in the Kingdom. The regime was a despotism, but it was seen as an important bulwark against communism and nationalism in the region and, for that reason, the United States chose to ignore what took place within its borders.

The entry of the United States and the creation of the Kingdom has been brilliantly depicted in one of the most remarkable contributions to Arabic fiction: the 'Cities of Salt' pentalogy by the exiled Saudi novelist, Abdelrahman Munif, whose own birth in 1933 coincided with that of the new state. Munif's multi-layered fiction---savage, surreal and satirical---- angered the Royal Family. He was deprived of his nationality and banned from ever returning to the country. His books became delicious contraband circulating everywhere including the royal palaces. When I met him about ten years ago on a rare trip to London he was as lucid as ever: ' The 20th century is almost over, but when the West looks at us all they see is oil and petro-dollars. Saudi Arabia is still without a constitution, the people are deprived of all elementary rights, even the right to support the regime without asking for permission. Women, who own a large share of private wealth in the country are treated like third-class citizens. A woman is not allowed to leave the country without a written permit from a male relative. Such a situation produces a desperate citizenry, without a sense of dignity or belonging...'

Denied secular openings in a society where the royal family---a clan with multiple factions and micro-factions...... and its tame clerics dominates all aspects of everyday life, there were a number of rebellions in the 60s and 70s. One of Munif's novels, The Trench, has a striking finale. Two revolutions are being plotted, one of them by angry young men inspired by modern ideas. The other, invisibly, inside the palace. Everything ends in tears with curfews and tanks in the street. The young revolutionaries discover that the wrong revolt has succeeded. The reference was to the assassination of King Feisal in 1975 by his own nephew, Prince Faisal Ibn Musaid. Ten years earlier Ibn Musaid's brother Prince Khalid, a fervent Wahhabite, had demonstrated in public against the entry of television into the kingdom. Saudi police entered his house and shot him dead. To this day Prince Khalid is venerated by hardline believers and years later the Taliban government paid its own tribute by the public burning of audio cassettes and videos and a ban on television.

But Wahhabism remains the state religion of Saudi Arabia, imported with petro-dollars to fund extremism elsewhere in the world. During the war against the Soviet Union, Pakistani military intelligence requested the presence of a Saudi prince to lead the jihad in Afghanistan. No volunteers were forthcoming and the Saudi leaders recommended the scion of a rich family, close to the monarchy. Ossama Bin Laden was despatched to the Pakistan border and arrived in time to hear President Carter's National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brezinski, turban on head, shout: "Allah is on your side."

The religious schools in Pakistan where the Taliban were created were funded by the Saudis and Wahhabi influence was very strong. Last year when the Taliban decided to blow up the old Buddhas there were appeals from the ancient seminaries of Qom and al-Azhar to desist on the grounds that Islam was tolerant. A Wahhabi delegation from the Kingdom advised the Taliban to execute the plan. They did. The Wahhabi insistence on a permanent jihad against all enemies, Muslim and non-Muslim, was to leave a deep mark on the young boys who later took Kabul. The attitude of the United States in those days was sympathetic. A Republican Party packed with Christian cults could hardly offer advice on this matter and both Clinton and Blair were keen on advertising their Christianity.

Just last year, a former liberal State Department expert on Pakistan, Stephen P. Cohen wrote in the Wall Street Journal (Asian Edition, 23 October 2000): "some madrassas, or religious schools are excellent." He admitted that "others are hotbeds for jihadi and radical Islamic movements," but these are only about twelve percent of the total. These, he said, "need to be upgraded to offer their students a modern education." This indulgence is an accurate reflection of the official mood before 11 September.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the internal opposition became totally dominated by religious groups. These core Wahhabis now saw the Kingdom as degenerate because of the American connection. Others were depressed by the failure of Riyadh to defend the Palestinians. The stationing of US soldiers in the country after the Gulf War was a signal for terrorist attacks on soldiers and bases. Those who ordered these were Saudis, but Pakistani and Philipinno immigrants were sometimes charged and executed in order to appease the United States.

The expeditionary force being despatched to Pakistan to cut off the tentacles of the Wahhabi octopus may or may not succeed, but its head is safe and sound in Saudi Arabia, guarding the oil-wells and growing new arms and protected by American soldiers and the USAF base in Dhahran. Washington's failure to disengage its vitat interests from the fate of the Saudi monarchy could well lead to further blow-back. They should the warning first sounded by the secular 10th century Arab poet, Abul Ala al-Maari, which still seems apposite:

And where the Prince commanded, now the shriek Of wind is flying through the court of state: 'Here', it proclaims, 'there dwelt a potentate Who could not hear the sobbing of the weak.'

US wars: People vs Generals

By Marwan Bishara in Imperium on August 25th, 2010


While the Obama administration continues to affirm its intention to withdraw US troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, the US' military presence in the Muslim world is actually expanding and this is exacerbating tensions and inflaming animosities.

Barack Obama's promise to open a new page with the Muslim world on the basis of mutual respect and interests - supplemented and enforced by the use of soft rather than hard power - now rings hollow.

This is most evident in the withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq and the corresponding surge in Afghanistan - an exercise in redeploying military forces, not extracting them.

As the gap between words and deeds; declarations and policies; public diplomacy and military strategy deepens, so the political and strategic crisis facing the Obama administration continues to deepen.


Enduring presence

There are now more than 140,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan - from the 100,000 Americans to the three Austrians - in an estimated 400 bases.

But, almost a decade after it invaded and a year after the adoption of a new AfPak strategy, the escalation of fighting there serves to underline the failure of the US to implement an effective counter-insurgency strategy.

The complete military and political failure in places such as Marjah, in Helmand province - which was presented as a prototype for future operations - has further complicated the military mission in the country.

But Robert Gates, the US secretary of defence, Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, and General David Petraeus, the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, have been unequivocal in insisting that their priority is to 'get the job done' - which places a big question mark over previous presidential commitments to draw troops down by the end of next year.

The US generals are adamant and are lobbying their Nato allies to also expand their presence in the country.

photo by Getty
 
And in Iraq ...
 
US and Iraqi generals question the wisdom of a total US troop withdrawal by the end of next year, with some like Lieutenant-General Babaker Zebari, going as far as to speak of another decade of US deployment in the country.

Moreover, the US state department's decision to hire and deploy a private army of some 7,000 additional mercenaries in Iraq - to add to the estimated 200,000 private contractors already deployed there and in Afghanistan, is further militarising its diplomatic presence in the region.

As of next month, there will still be some 50,000 US soldiers in more than 100 military bases in Iraq.

As former US Colonel Andrew Bacevich, the author of an insightful new book called Washington Rules and whose son was killed in Iraq, told EMPIRE: If it looks and sounds like an occupation, the US presence in Iraq will still be just that.

The political paralysis in the country and recent escalation of violence aren't making matters any easier.


The wider region

A new report show that the Obama administration is intensifying its secret war and covert operations in the Muslim world, including assassinations through the use of drones.

Much of this is being executed by the CIA, turning the intelligence agency into, in the words of The New York Times, a "paramilitary organisation".

Other covert operations are being carried out by unaccountable private contractors who are complicating US missions and rules of engagement.

Although the covert operations are defended as less costly in terms of "collateral damage" or human losses, their use comes in addition to, not instead of, military operations - or, in the words of the 'terrorismologists', using the "scalpel" in addition to, not instead of, the "hammer".

According to the report, the CIA's operations have been expanded in Algeria, Morocco, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Kenya, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Yemen.

US military attacks in Pakistan and Yemen have led some to warn that, just as George Bush got America stuck in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama might get the US trapped in these two complex countries.


At a crossroads

Unfortunately, despite its continuous and costly military fiascos, Washington persists in using military power to impose its political will, resulting in terrible human and political losses.

The US fiasco in Iraq and Afghanistan has exposed the limits of the superpower's military capacity to win wars, let alone hearts and minds, in faraway lands. Instead, Western wars in Eastern lands have spread chaos and exposed its weaknesses.

And yet, in addition to hundreds of military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US military continues to deploy its forces in more than 100,000 structures in over 700 bases in more than 100 countries around the world.

Indeed, for decades Washington has further redeployed, not withdrawn, its forces from the world.

Since the end of the World War II, and over the last six decades, the US fought three major wars - Korea, Vietnam and Iraq.

It is still deployed heavily between the Koreas, lost Vietnam and remains an occupying power in Iraq two decades after it first attacked in 1991 and seven years after it invaded in 2003.

Some reckon Obama, a liberal who never served in the military, is worried about being seen as a wimp.

Others lament that he has been out-manoeuvred by powerful forces in Washington, including the Pentagon and its generals.

And yet others remain hopeful that he will prevail and eventually downsize the US military presence overseas.

Consider me a realist, but I doubt the empire will be downsized any time soon.

However, the good news is that the majority of Americans today - like the absolute majority of the Greater Middle East - would like to see the US mind its own business and stop interfering militarily around the world.

Call me an idealist, but I think in a democracy, it is the people and their political representatives that have the last word, not the generals.

I guess a "readealist" (realist/idealist) reading of the US empire shows it's better to keep your expectations of its generals low, and your hopes regarding the people high.

Wikileaks releases CIA 'exporter of terrorism' report

Whistle-blowing website Wikileaks has published a CIA memo examining the implications of the US being perceived as an "exporter of terrorism".

The three-page report from February 2010 says the participation of US-based individuals in terrorism is "not a recent phenomenon".

The memo cites several cases of alleged terrorist acts by US residents.

25 Aug 2010

Academy Award-Winning Filmmaker Oliver Stone Tackles Latin America’s Political Upheaval in "South of the Border", US Financial Crisis in Sequel to Iconic "Wall Street"

Academy Award-winning filmmaker Oliver Stone has taken on three American presidents in JFK, Nixon and W. and the most controversial aspects of the war in Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July. He looked at the greed of the financial industry in the Hollywood hit Wall Street and its forthcoming sequel. In South of the Border, his latest documentary out this week in the United States, Stone takes a road trip across South America, meeting with seven presidents about the revolution sweeping the continent. The leftist transformation in the region might be ignored or misrepresented as nothing but "anti-Americanism" in the corporate media, but this film seeks to tell a different story. Stone joins us along with the film’s co-writer, the Pakistani British author and activist Tariq Ali. [includes rush transcript]


 
Guests:


Oliver Stone, three-time Academy Award-winning director and screenwriter. A Vietnam War veteran, he’s made nearly two dozen acclaimed Hollywood films, including Platoon, Wall Street, Salvador, Born on the Fourth of July, JFK, Nixon and W. His latest films are South of the Border, out this week in the United States, and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.

Tariq Ali, British Pakistani political commentator, historian, activist, filmmaker, novelist and editor of the New Left Review. The author of over twenty books, he co-wrote the screenplay of South of the Border.

24 Aug 2010

The Spirit Level’s Political Wobble: The Inequality Debate Rages On

by George Irvin


Wilkinson and Pickett’s The Spirit Level: why equality is better for everyone is an admirable book and has generated a long-overdue debate about the high social costs of inequality. Inequality is not just about the poor staying poor; it is about the huge leap in income and wealth of the rich, or ‘super rich’ as they are now referred to, so it is hardly surprising that the book has been attacked on statistical grounds by several right-wing think-tanks. But the right-wing attack is largely waffle. If there is a weakness in this book, it is that having correctly identified the malady, the authors are too hesitant to set out a political agenda for the cure – redistribution.

First, let’s get the methodological argument straight. The authors have quite correctly limited their sample to 23 of the world’s richest (mainly OECD) countries and backed their findings with state-level data from the United States. A quick glance at the appendices shows how meticulously sources have been cited – after all the senior author, Richard Wilkinson, has published two previous books on the subject and has been working on the data for 30 years. Moreover, those who argue that some of the correlations are spurious are on shaky ground. For example, one hostile publication (from Policy Exchange) claims ‘… the (more equal) Scandinavian nations routinely appear at one end of many of their graphs, and the (less equal) Anglo nations often appear at the other. But these differences probably reflect a deeper divergence between Nordic and Anglo cultures…’[1] Perhaps Policy Exchange believes that all those blond, blue-eyed Nordics simply have more egalitarian cultural genes?

Wilkinson and Pickett are careful to offer nothing more than graphic descriptive statistics accompanied by the suggestion that there is an association between the variables; eg, the more unequal a society, the greater the crime rate is likely to be. And although formal statistical inference is rightly eschewed, the connection between inequality and crime remains pretty obvious – it is certainly not a spurious ‘sharks and ice-cream sales’-type correlation.[2]

Nor can critics like Christopher Snowdon be taken seriously when they argue that ‘the working class doesn’t worry about what Wayne Rooney is earning’. As one astute Guardian letter writer noted, perhaps Snowdon should have listened to England football fans when their humiliated team returned from the World Cup in South Africa.

A more serious critique is that advanced by David Runciman. While Runciman is essentially sympathetic to Wilkinson and Pickett, his case is that greater equality is not as unambiguously good for us all as the book’s title appears to claim.[3] Each of the points on each graph represents an arithmetic mean (or average); hidden beneath the average is a distribution of outcomes for different social classes. While infant mortality across all social classes is better in Sweden than in the UK, implying that the rich in the UK would be better off [in infant mortality terms] moving to Sweden even if it meant giving up their wealth, this is not the case for all social variables. As Runciman correctly notes, while the average literacy score may be higher in egalitarian Finland than in the UK, it does not follow that rich kids in the UK have worse literacy scores than poor kids in Finland; i.e., rich kids in the UK would not be unambiguously better off being poor in Finland.

Strictly speaking, The Spirit Level does not show that equality is unambiguously better for everybody. Ruciman’s conclusion is telling:

‘This is why the difference between ‘almost everyone’ and ‘everyone on average’ matters so much: politics. If it is almost everyone who would benefit from a more equal society, then this is an encouragement to solidarity across social boundaries, so that joint action to remedy the problem might be possible. But if it is everyone on average, then this can go along with an absence of solidarity and the hardening of divisions, because the disadvantages may be so unequally distributed.’

Some will take the above as a mere quibble, perhaps spurred on by the authors’ determination to convince the world of the justice of their case. Doubtless, the authors are correct in arguing that the steeper the inequality gradient in rich countries, the greater the social cost in terms of life expectancy, infant mortality, obesity levels, crime and incarceration rates, literacy scores and so forth. The obvious question is where we go from here – politically speaking, how do we reduce inequality? The final chapter of the book is entitled ‘Building the future’, but it is precisely here that the authors’ determination weakens.

It is not that Wilkinson and Pickett fail to recognise that the inequality gradient in countries like the US and the UK has steepened sharply since the 1970s; much less, that part of the explanation lies in the manner in which the Thatcher-Reagan revolution destroyed traditional industries and communities, greatly weakened trade unions and privatised and casualised much employment. They say this clearly, although arguably too briefly.[4] It is rather that their self-imposed goal of removing the inequality debate from the ghetto of left-wing politics is a bemusing.[5] One is entitled to ask ‘since when has the political right championed greater equality?’

Equality of opportunity based on a radical levelling of the playing field has always been one of the principal goals of the left. If anything has changed, it is that party politics in Britain (much like the US) has shifted so far rightward in the past generation that the left’s political space has constricted – witness the mass defection of the LibDems to conservative values, or the US Republican rejection of Obama’s bipartisan overtures. One would have thought that the authors would wish to extend this space, not desert it.

Equally puzzling is Wilkinson and Pickett’s view that greater equality will result not so much from state action – the authors are wary of concentrating power in the hands of the state – as from the gradual advance of democratic employee-ownership. While it is true that John Lewis in Britain is more equitably run than the common or garden capitalist venture, there is little evidence to suggest that employee-ownership, now called the social economy sector, is advancing more rapidly in the Anglo-Saxon world than, say, in (far more egalitarian) France. Apart from government bailouts of the financial services sector, what is selling fastest on this side of the channel is still mergers and takeovers by private equity firms; i.e., making a shed-full of dosh from asset stripping.

Perhaps the poverty of political response in Britain and the US is because the rapid spread of inequality in the past 20 years has left the losers too politically weak and unfocussed to take decisive action. No matter, The Spirit Level remains a supremely important book in helping to place inequality and its consequences at the top of a future social-democratic agenda. The point cannot be overstressed: Britain under the ConDems (and the US under a Republican Congress) will become far more unequal – the left must find a way of translating this compelling book into a political programme of redistribution.


Endnotes:

[1] See P. Sauders (2010) ‘Beware False Prophets: equality, the good society and the Spirit Level’ London: The Policy Exchange.

[2] The reference is to Gary Young’s ‘Immigrants cause job losses? Like ice cream brings sharks’ The Guardian, 16 August 2010.

[3] See David Runciman ‘How messy it all is’, London Review of Books, vol 31, No 20, 22 October 2009.

[4] For a strong critique on this point, see G Hassan ‘The Fantasyland of ‘The Spirit Level’ and the Limitations of the Health and Well-Being Industry’, Open Democracy, 1 August 2010.

[5] See Robert Booth, ‘The Spirit Level: how ‘ideas wreckers’ turned book into political punchbag’ The Guardian, 14 August 2010.

Pont-Saint-Esprit poisoning: Did the CIA spread LSD?

By Mike Thomson, BBC News


Nearly 60 years ago, a French town was hit by a sudden outbreak of hallucinations, which left five people dead and many seriously ill. For years it was blamed on bread contaminated with a psychedelic fungus - but that theory is now being challenged.

On 16 August 1951, postman Leon Armunier was doing his rounds in the southern French town of Pont-Saint-Esprit when he was suddenly overwhelmed by nausea and wild hallucinations.

"It was terrible. I had the sensation of shrinking and shrinking, and the fire and the serpents coiling around my arms," he remembers.

Leon, now 87, fell off his bike and was taken to the hospital in Avignon.

He was put in a straitjacket but he shared a room with three teenagers who had been chained to their beds to keep them under control.

"Some of my friends tried to get out of the window. They were thrashing wildly... screaming, and the sound of the metal beds and the jumping up and down... the noise was terrible.

"I'd prefer to die rather than go through that again."

Over the coming days, dozens of other people in the town fell prey to similar symptoms.

Doctors at the time concluded that bread at one of the town's bakeries had become contaminated by ergot, a poisonous fungus that occurs naturally on rye.


Biological warfare

That view remained largely unchallenged until 2009, when an American investigative journalist, Hank Albarelli, revealed a CIA document labelled: "Re: Pont-Saint-Esprit and F.Olson Files. SO Span/France Operation file, inclusive Olson. Intel files. Hand carry to Belin - tell him to see to it that these are buried."

F. Olson is Frank Olson, a CIA scientist who, at the time of the Pont St Esprit incident, led research for the agency into the drug LSD.

David Belin, meanwhile, was executive director of the Rockefeller Commission created by the White House in 1975 to investigate abuses carried out worldwide by the CIA.
 
Albarelli believes the Pont-Saint-Esprit and F. Olson Files, mentioned in the document, would show - if they had not been "buried" - that the CIA was experimenting on the townspeople, by dosing them with LSD.

The conclusion drawn at the time was that one of the town's bakeries, the Roch Briand, was the source of the poisoning. It's possible, Albarelli says, that LSD was put in the bread.

It is well known that biological warfare scientists around the world, including some in Britain, were experimenting with LSD in the early 1950s - a time of conflict in Korea and an escalation of Cold War tensions.

Albarelli says he has found a top secret report issued in 1949 by the research director of the Edgewood Arsenal, where many US government LSD experiments were carried out, which states that the army should do everything possible to launch "field experiments" using the drug.

Using Freedom of Information legislation, he also got hold of another CIA report from 1954.
 
In it an agent reported his conversation with a representative of the Sandoz Chemical company in Switzerland.

Sandoz's base, which is just a few hundred kilometres from Pont-Saint-Esprit, was the only place where LSD was being produced at that time.

The agent reports that after several drinks, the Sandoz representative abruptly stated: "The Pont-Saint-Esprit 'secret' is that it was not the bread at all... It was not grain ergot."


'Wrong symptoms'

But American academic Professor Steven Kaplan, who published a book in 2008 on the Pont-Saint-Esprit incident, insists that neither ergot nor LSD could have been responsible.

Ergot contamination would not, he says, have affected only one sack of grain in one bakery, as was claimed here. The outbreak would have been far more widespread.

He rules out LSD on the grounds that the symptoms people suffered, though similar, do not quite fit the drug.

He also points out that it would have not have survived the fierce temperatures of the baker's oven - though Albarelli counters that it could have been added to the bread after baking.

While they disagree on the cause of the hallucinations, on one point they are united - the need for a French government inquiry to get to the bottom of what really happened in Pont-Saint-Esprit all those years ago.

23 Aug 2010

"I've just been on a once-in-a-lifetime holiday. I'll tell you what, never again."

Comedian Tim Vine has won a prize for the funniest joke of this year's Edinburgh Fringe.

The top 10 festival funnies were judged to be:

1) Tim Vine "I've just been on a once-in-a-lifetime holiday. I'll tell you what, never again."

2) David Gibson "I'm currently dating a couple of anorexics. Two birds, one stone."

3) Emo Philips "I picked up a hitch hiker. You've got to when you hit them."

4) Jack Whitehall "I bought one of those anti-bullying wristbands when they first came out. I say 'bought', I actually stole it off a short, fat ginger kid."

5) Gary Delaney "As a kid I was made to walk the plank. We couldn't afford a dog."

6) John Bishop "Being an England supporter is like being the over-optimistic parents of the fat kid on sports day."

7) Bo Burnham "What do you call a kid with no arms and an eyepatch? Names."

8) Gary Delaney "Dave drowned. So at the funeral we got him a wreath in the shape of a lifebelt. Well, it's what he would have wanted."

9) Robert White "For Vanessa Feltz, life is like a box of chocolates: Empty."

10) Gareth Richards "Wooden spoons are great. You can either use them to prepare food. Or, if you can't be bothered with that, just write a number on one and walk into a pub…"

20 Aug 2010

The UN - the neoliberals' laughing stock of a talking shop - urges Israel to loosen Gaza restrictions

A UN report says the Israeli military has increasingly restricted Palestinian access to farmland in the Gaza Strip and fishing zones along its shore.

The Office for Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Gazans were never informed of the exact nature of such restrictions, and the Israeli army used live ammunition to enforce them.

The policy has led to tens of thousand of people losing their livelihoods.

Israel says the restrictions are necessary to prevent militant attacks.

Palestinians are totally or partially prevented from accessing land up to 1.5km from the border

"What is foremost in our minds is protection of our civilians who live within range of the border," Israeli military spokeswoman Lt Col Avital Leibovich told the New York Times.

"If your choice is to operate terror, you have to bear the consequences."


'Dire situation'

The UN report found that over the past 10 years, the Israeli military had gradually unilaterally expanded restrictions on access to farmland on the Gaza side of the 1949 Green Line, and to fishing areas along the territory's coastline.

Since late 2008, Palestinians had been totally or partially prevented from accessing land located up to 1.5km (0.9 miles) from the border and the Mediterranean Sea beyond 5.5km (3 nautical miles) from Gaza's shore, the report said.

Overall, it was estimated by the UN that access to 17% of the total land mass of the Gaza Strip and 35% of its agricultural land was restricted.

Meanwhile, fishermen were totally prevented from accessing 85% of the maritime areas they were entitled to access according to the 1993 Oslo Accords.


An estimated 178,000 people - 12% of the population - were directly affected by the access regime implemented by the Israeli military, the report added.

The OCHA said this was primarily enforced by Israeli troops firing "warning shots" near people entering the restricted areas. However, since the end of the Israeli offensive of December 2008 and January 2009, troops had killed 22 civilians and injured 146 while doing so.

"Despite the potential for civilian casualties, the Israeli authorities have not informed the affected population about the precise boundaries of the restricted areas and the conditions under which access to these areas may be permitted or denied," OCHA said.

"Additional risks to the affected population stem from military activities of Palestinian armed factions in the restricted areas and their confrontations with the Israeli military."

The report said a complementary method used by the Israeli military to discourage access was the systematic levelling of farm land and the destruction of other private property located in restricted areas.

This, it added, had cost Gazans $308m (£197m) in the past five years and resulted in a yearly loss of approximately 75,000 tonnes of potential produce. Gaza's fishing industry was estimated to have lost $26.5m of income over the same period.

Such restrictions had also affected access to schools - seven of which are located within the restricted areas - and impeded the maintenance and upgrading of existing wastewater and electricity infrastructure, it found.

"To start addressing the dire situation of one of the most vulnerable segments of Gaza's population, the current restrictions on civilian access to Gaza's land and sea must be urgently lifted to the fullest extent possible," the OCHA urged.

19 Aug 2010

Who's paying the price for US wars?

Nine years after the war in Afghanistan began and as the last American combat brigade officially leaves Iraq, much has been made of the financial and human cost paid by America but as Ted Koppel explains, it is a price paid by an increasingly small segment of the population.

Gordon Gekko Reborn

by Nouriel Roubini


In the 1987 film Wall Street, the character Gordon Gekko famously declared, “Greed is good.” His creed became the ethos of a decade of corporate and financial-sector excesses that ended in the late 1980’s collapse of the junk-bond market and the Savings & Loan crisis. Gekko himself was packed off to prison.

A generation later, the sequel to Wall Street – to be released next month – sees Gekko released from jail and returned to the financial world. His reappearance comes just as the credit bubble fueled by the sub-prime mortgage boom is about to burst, triggering the worst financial and economic crisis since the Great Depression.

The “Greed is good” mentality is a regular feature of financial crises. But were the traders and bankers of the sub-prime saga more greedy, arrogant, and immoral than the Gekkos of the 1980’s? Not really, because greed and amorality in financial markets have been common throughout the ages.

Teaching morality and values in business schools will not tame such behavior, but changing the incentives that reward short-term profits and lead bankers and traders to take excessive risks will. The bankers and traders of the latest crisis responded rationally to compensation and bonus schemes that allowed them to assume a lot of leverage and ensured large bonuses, but that were almost guaranteed to bankrupt a large number of financial institutions in the end.

To avoid such excesses, it is not enough to rely on better regulation and supervision, for three reasons:

· Smart and greedy bankers and traders will always find ways to circumvent new rules;

· CEOs and boards of directors of financial firms – let alone regulators and supervisors – cannot effectively monitor the risks and behaviors of thousands of separate profit and loss centers in a firm, as each trader and banker is a separate P&L with its own capital at risk;

· CEOs and boards are themselves subject to major conflicts of interest, because they don’t represent the true interest of their firms’ ultimate shareholders.

As a result, any reform of regulation and supervision will fail to control bubbles and excesses unless several other fundamental aspects of the financial system are changed.

First, compensation schemes must be radically altered through regulation, as banks will not do it themselves for fear of losing talented people to competitors. In particular, bonuses based on medium-term results of risky trades and investments must supplant bonuses based on short-term outcomes.

Second, repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which separated commercial and investment banking, was a mistake. The old model of private partnerships – in which partners had an incentive to monitor each other to avoid reckless investments – gave way to one of public companies aggressively competing with each other and with commercial banks to achieve ever-rising profitability, which was achievable only with reckless levels of leverage.

Similarly, the move from a lending model of “originate and hold” to one of “originate and distribute” based on securitization led to a massive transfer of risk. No player but the last in the securitization chain was exposed to the ultimate credit risk; the rest simply raked in high fees and commissions.

Third, financial markets and financial firms have become a nexus of conflicts of interest that must be unwound. These conflicts are inbuilt, because firms that engage in commercial banking, investment banking, proprietary trading, market making and dealing, insurance, asset management, private equity, hedge-fund activities, and other services are on every side of every deal (the recent case of Goldman Sachs was just the tip of the iceberg).

There are also massive agency problems in the financial system, because principals (such as shareholders) cannot properly monitor the actions of agents (CEOs, managers, traders, bankers) that pursue their own interest. Moreover, the problem is not just that long-term shareholders are shafted by greedy short-term agents; even the shareholders have agency problems. If financial institutions do not have enough capital, and shareholders don’t have enough of their own skin in the game, they will push CEOs and bankers to take on too much leverage and risks, because their own net worth is not at stake.

At the same time, there is a double agency problem, as the ultimate shareholders – individual shareholders – don’t directly control boards and CEOs. These shareholders are represented by institutional investors (pension funds, etc.) whose interests, agendas, and cozy relationships often align them more closely with firms’ CEOs and managers. Thus, repeated financial crises are also the result of a failed system of corporate governance.

Fourth, greed cannot be controlled by any appeal to morality and values. Greed has to be controlled by fear of loss, which derives from knowledge that the reckless institutions and agents will not be bailed out. The systematic bailouts of the latest crisis – however necessary to avoid a global meltdown – worsened this moral-hazard problem. Not only were “too big to fail” financial institutions bailed out, but the distortion has become worse as these institutions have become – via financial-sector consolidation – even bigger. If an institution is too big to fail, it is too big and should be broken up.

Unless we make these radical reforms, new Gordon Gekkos – and Charles Ponzis – will emerge. For each chastised and born-again Gekko – as the Gekko in the new Wall Street is – hundreds of meaner and greedier ones will be born.

Limited choices push Roma from Romania

on the eve of the Nazi-style deportations from France, Nick Thorpe analyses the plight of the Rroma population in Romania...

Sociologists believe there may be more than two million Rroma in Romania


By Nick Thorpe
BBC News, Bucharest


"The only point on which we agree with the French authorities is that the authorities here in Romania have dealt very poorly, very irresponsibly with the integration of the Roma," says David Mark, of the Civic Alliance of Roma in Bucharest.

That, he believes, is the root cause of the current exodus - not only to France, but to Italy, Spain, Belgium, the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom.

"We are not even talking just of Roma here," agrees his mother, Letitia Mark, who runs a non-governmental organisation (NGO) for Roma women in the western city of Timisoara.

"The economic crisis is turning the poorest Romanians into Roma as well. Some of those being expelled from France now are not actually Roma. They are victims of the 'gypsification' of the Romanian countryside."


Government schemes

In the latest census, 530,000 people identified themselves as Roma (Gypsies), but sociologists suggest the real figure may be more than two million out of Romania's population of 22 million.

Not all Roma are poor. On the road between Oradea and Cluj, the traditional capital of Transylvania, ornate, Chinese-style villas sprout at the roadside - evidence of the conspicuous wealth of some Roma clans.

But these are the exceptions which prove the general rule - barefoot children carrying buckets from the village well, even in winter; unemployment rates close to 100% in places; low rates of literacy as a result of failing to finish school; and a life expectancy far below the national average.

Many national and international programmes have been drawn up to help.

In a wide circle of villages around Oradea, the Ruhama foundation works in co-operation with local churches to encourage Roma children to attend pre-school education to help them prepare for primary school each September.

In Bucharest, the Civic Alliance for Roma groups 21 Roma NGOs and recently held talks with the state secretary responsible for Roma integration in the Labour Ministry, Valentin Mocanu.

Mr Mocanu is one of two Romanian government officials due to attend talks in France next week.


Low priority

"We asked for two things - for the Romanian government to provide legal assistance to Roma living in France who do not want to leave and above all, for the government to finally draw up and implement a strategy for the integration of Roma," Mr Mark explains.

A similar programme, announced in 2001, was never taken seriously by previous governments, he adds.

As positive examples, he highlights two government-sponsored initiatives which were more effective than most - appointing local health and school mediators.

When local school mediators were appointed, attendance rates dramatically increased

The first were responsible for helping Roma get proper identification papers - often lacking in Romania - which would entitle them to at least rudimentary health care.

The second were tasked with encouraging Roma children go to school. Where the scheme was implemented, attendance rates shot up, Mr Mark says.

Both programmes are, however, now under threat as a result of the government's decentralisation strategy, which leaves local mayors with the financial burden.

"They don't prioritise Roma integration, so they don't find the funds for the mediators," he says.

According to Marian Daragiu in Oradea, children fail to attend school not out of unwillingness to learn but out of shame - that they do not have shoes, or proper clothes.

And if they do turn up, they are often too hungry to concentrate on their lessons.

In Timisoara, Mrs Mark recognises that many of the Roma who are currently being sent back to Romania will soon return to France, or other countries.

But she says they have little choice.

"What harm can a few hundred people do?" she asks.

"France has already forgotten the slogan of the European Roma Summit in Cordoba, Spain, in April - exclusion is much more expensive than integration."

16 Aug 2010

The Two Churchills

By JOHANN HARI
Published: August 12, 2010

Winston Churchill is remembered for leading Britain through her finest hour — but what if he also led the country through her most shameful one? What if, in addition to rousing a nation to save the world from the Nazis, he fought for a raw white supremacy and a concentration camp network of his own? This question burns through Richard Toye’s superb, unsettling new history, “Churchill’s Empire” — and is even seeping into the Oval Office.


Terrence Spencer/Time & Life Pictures — Getty Images
A British prison camp in Kenya in 1954, during the Mau Mau uprising

CHURCHILL’S EMPIRE

The World That Made Him and the World He Made
By Richard Toye
Illustrated. 423 pp. A John Macrae Book/Henry Holt & Company. $32



George W. Bush left a big growling bust of Churchill near his desk in the White House, in an attempt to associate himself with Churchill’s heroic stand against fascism. Barack Obama had it returned to Britain. It’s not hard to guess why: his Kenyan grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama, was imprisoned without trial for two years and tortured on Churchill’s watch, for resisting Churchill’s empire.

Can these clashing Churchills be reconciled? Do we live, at the same time, in the world he helped to save and the world he helped to trash? Toye, one of Britain’s smartest young historians, has tried to pick through these questions dispassionately. Churchill was born in 1874 into a Britain that was coloring the map imperial pink, at the cost of washing distant nations blood-red. He was told a simple story: the superior white man was conquering the primitive dark-skinned natives, and bringing them the benefits of civilization.

As soon as he could, Churchill charged off to take his part in “a lot of jolly little wars against barbarous peoples.” In the Swat valley, now part of Pakistan, he experienced, fleetingly, an instant of doubt. He realized that the local population was fighting back because of “the presence of British troops in lands the local people considered their own,” just as Britain would if she were invaded. But Churchill soon suppressed this thought, deciding instead that they were merely deranged jihadists whose violence was explained by a “strong aboriginal propensity to kill.”

He gladly took part in raids that laid waste to whole valleys, writing: “We proceeded systematically, village by village, and we destroyed the houses, filled up the wells, blew down the towers, cut down the shady trees, burned the crops and broke the reservoirs in punitive devastation.” He then sped off to help reconquer the Sudan, where he bragged that he personally shot at least three “savages.”

The young Churchill charged through imperial atrocities, defending each in turn. When the first concentration camps were built in South Africa, he said they produced “the minimum of suffering” possible. At least 115,000 people were swept into them and 14,000 died, but he wrote only of his “irritation that kaffirs should be allowed to fire on white men.” Later, he boasted of his experiences. “That was before war degenerated,” he said. “It was great fun galloping about.”

After being elected to Parliament in 1900, he demanded a rolling program of more conquests, based on his belief that “the Aryan stock is bound to triumph.” As war secretary and then colonial secretary in the 1920s, he unleashed the notorious Black and Tans on Ireland’s Catholics, to burn homes and beat civilians. When the Kurds rebelled against British rule in Iraq, he said: “I am strongly in favor of using poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes.” It “would spread a lively terror.” (Strangely, Toye doesn’t quote this.)

Of course, it’s easy to dismiss any criticism of these actions as anachronistic. Didn’t everybody in Britain think that way then? One of the most striking findings of Toye’s research is that they really didn’t: even at the time, Churchill was seen as standing at the most brutal and brutish end of the British imperialist spectrum. This was clearest in his attitude to India. When Gandhi began his campaign of peaceful resistance, Churchill raged that he “ought to be lain bound hand and foot at the gates of Delhi and then trampled on by an enormous elephant with the new Viceroy seated on its back.” He later added: “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.”

This hatred killed. In 1943, to give just one example, a famine broke out in Bengal, caused, as the Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen has proven, by British mismanagement. To the horror of many of his colleagues, Churchill raged that it was their own fault for “breeding like rabbits” and refused to offer any aid for months while hundreds of thousands died.

Hussein Onyango Obama is unusual among Churchill’s victims only in one respect: his story has been rescued from the slipstream of history. Churchill believed the highlands, the most fertile land in Kenya, should be the sole preserve of the white settlers, and approved of the clearing out of the local “kaffirs.” When the Kikuyu rebelled under Churchill’s postwar premiership, some 150,000 of them were forced at gunpoint into detention camps, later called “Britain’s gulag” by the historian Caroline Elkins. Obama never truly recovered from the torture he endured.

This is a real Churchill, and a dark one — but it is not the only Churchill. He also saw the Nazi threat far ahead of the complacent British establishment, and his extraordinary leadership may have been the decisive factor in vanquishing Hitlerism from Europe. Toye is no Nicholson Baker, the appalling pseudo­historian whose recent work “Human Smoke” presented Churchill as no different from Hitler. Toye sees all this, clearly and emphatically.

So how can the two Churchills be reconciled? Was his moral opposition to Nazism a charade, masking the fact that he was merely trying to defend the British Empire from a rival? Toye quotes Richard B. Moore, an American civil rights leader, who said that it was “a most rare and fortunate coincidence” that at that moment “the vital interests of the British Empire” coincided “with those of the great overwhelming majority of mankind.” But this might be too soft in its praise. If Churchill had been interested only in saving the empire, he could probably have cut a deal with Hitler. No: he had a deeper repugnance to Nazism than that. He may have been a thug, but he knew a greater thug when he saw one — and we may owe our freedom today to this wrinkle in history.

This is the great, enduring paradox of Churchill’s life. In leading the charge against Nazism, he produced some of the richest prose poetry in defense of freedom and democracy ever written. It was a check he didn’t want black or Asian people to cash, but as the Ghanaian nationalist Kwame Nkrumah wrote, “all the fair brave words spoken about freedom that had been broadcast to the four corners of the earth took seed and grew where they had not been intended.” Churchill lived to see democrats across Britain’s imperial conquests use his own hope-songs of freedom against him.
 
In the end, the words of the great and glorious Churchill who resisted dictatorship overwhelmed the works of the cruel and cramped Churchill who tried to impose it on the world’s people of color. Toye teases out these ambiguities beautifully. The fact that we now live at a time where a free and independent India is an emerging superpower in the process of eclipsing Britain, and a grandson of the Kikuyu “savages” is the most powerful man in the world, is a repudiation of Churchill at his ugliest — and a sweet, unsought victory for Churchill at his best.


Johann Hari is a columnist for The Independent newspaper in London.

Crises of Capitalism. RSA Animate

The radical social theorist David Harvey asks whether it is time to look beyond capitalism towards a new social order that would allow us to live in a truly responsible, just and humane system.

12 Aug 2010

Ignoring the Obvious

by Alan Fisher, in Europe, on August 12th, 2010

Photo by Getty Images

You may know I’ve just returned from Niger. There, tens of thousands of people are facing extreme hunger because of the droughts of the last two years.

The rainy season is under way but the rains around the capital of Niamey have been torrential and persistent. It's not what is needed. The water is not nourishing the soil. It’s washing away the crops. It’s washing away homes. It is destroying lives.

The trouble there comes as Pakistan struggles to cope with the worst floods since the creation of the state. Millions of people are homeless. The UN predicts the devastation will be worse than the Asian Tsunami, which struck several countries.

Torrential rain has swept through China. The official death toll is creeping up all the time. It is going to be in the thousands. Mudslides have brought havoc to many places across the country’s northwest.

In Russia’s capital, Moscow, forest fires - started in scorching hot temperatures - have left the air quality so poor, the authorities are telling people who cannot leave the city to stay indoors.

In Greenland, a mass of ice has broken away from a glacier. Four times the size of Manhattan Island; it’s the biggest iceberg in more than half a century. Scientists say arctic ice is melting at record pace and 16 countries have recorded record temperatures this year.

Yet despite the evidence of floods and flames, of drought and danger, there is no concerted international action towards reaching an agreement on the best way to fight climate change.

Most countries of the world gathered in Denmark in December. I know because I was there. They left after ten days suggesting there had been substantial progress, that things were moving in the right direction and it takes time for an international agreement to be hammered out.

There were hopes that a comprehensive, legally binding deal could be reached when the next round of talks convened in Cancun in Mexico in November 2010.

That was both optimistic and unlikely. The politicians smiled and used honeyed words of good intention, but already the process leading up to Cancun is, in the words of a leading environmental journalist, in "semi-crisis".

There is a preparatory meeting scheduled for China in October. What should happen there is that a draft text is agreed so that the politicians can roll up, sign the deal and depart looking like they’ve saved the world. Sound familiar? Well, that was what was meant to happen in Barcelona last year.

Instead, what we have is a forty page document which has to be negotiated line by line. And there simply isn’t the time to do that.

There is an optimistic idea that with countries suggesting things to be added to the text, it means they are now fully engaged in trying to reach a balanced agreement.

In Copenhagen last year, developing countries reacted angrily to the deal, which was tabled. The idea was the Kyoto Protocol, the only legally binding agreement on reducing carbon emissions, would be scrapped, replaced by a new agreement which would allow industrialised countries to set their own targets and timetables to make the changes needed.

The countries most at risk raised their voices loud. They felt they were being told that they must reduce their minor emissions and deprive their people of developing a stronger economy while richer nations did little to minimise the impact of more than 100 years of mass industrialisation.

The US is the largest historical emitter and the second biggest carbon polluter in the world. China overtook it in 2007. Its plan to help remains essentially the same - cut emissions by four per cent on the 1990 figure; a suggestion widely derided in Copenhagen, and a sign the US isn’t quite ready to face the pain of significant changes to the lifestyle its people enjoy or the way it uses fuel.

The poorest countries are getting angry again. More than 100 of them are now calling for any future climate change agreement to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5C – not the 2C everyone has been talking about. They are demanding more money to help with fighting the costs of climate change – saying the $100bn a year already suggested simply isn’t enough. And they want much more from richer countries that aren’t willing to give.

And that’s where the basis of future disappointment in Cancun lies. If the rich don’t want to do anything – despite the howls of protests outside the halls and the demands for action from charities and non-governmental organisations – then nothing will happen.

And Cancun will be remembered for failure in the same way that Copenhagen is remembered. The countries will leave, claim they’re taking important steps and push for agreement in 2011, or 2012 or 2013. And the whole process starts again.

Meanwhile, the floods and fires, the droughts and disasters will continue.

'Secret hand' in French Sahel raid

A faux pas gone mauvais! What a cock-up for the not-so-intelligent French secret services...

Read Jeremy Keenan's article analysing why an attempt to liberate the French hostage, Michel Germaneau, was an 'unmitigated disaster'...

10 Aug 2010

The Lies Of Hiroshima Are The Lies Of Today

By John Pilger

Global Research, Monday, Aug 9, 2010


On the anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, John Pilger describes the 'progression of lies' from the dust of that detonated city, to the wars of today - and the threatened attack on Iran.

When I first went to Hiroshima in 1967, the shadow on the steps was still there. It was an almost perfect impression of a human being at ease: legs splayed, back bent, one hand by her side as she sat waiting for a bank to open. At a quarter past eight on the morning of August 6, 1945, she and her silhouette were burned into the granite. I stared at the shadow for an hour or more, then walked down to the river and met a man called Yukio, whose chest was still etched with the pattern of the shirt he was wearing when the atomic bomb was dropped.

He and his family still lived in a shack thrown up in the dust of an atomic desert. He described a huge flash over the city, "a bluish light, something like an electrical short", after which wind blew like a tornado and black rain fell. "I was thrown on the ground and noticed only the stalks of my flowers were left. Everything was still and quiet, and when I got up, there were people naked, not saying anything. Some of them had no skin or hair. I was certain I was dead." Nine years later, when I returned to look for him, he was dead from leukaemia.

In the immediate aftermath of the bomb, the allied occupation authorities banned all mention of radiation poisoning and insisted that people had been killed or injured only by the bomb's blast. It was the first big lie. "No radioactivity in Hiroshima ruin" said the front page of the New York Times, a classic of disinformation and journalistic abdication, which the Australian reporter Wilfred Burchett put right with his scoop of the century. "I write this as a warning to the world," reported Burchett in the Daily Express, having reached Hiroshima after a perilous journey, the first correspondent to dare. He described hospital wards filled with people with no visible injuries but who were dying from what he called "an atomic plague". For telling this truth, his press accreditation was withdrawn, he was pilloried and smeared - and vindicated.

The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a criminal act on an epic scale. It was premeditated mass murder that unleashed a weapon of intrinsic criminality. For this reason its apologists have sought refuge in the mythology of the ultimate "good war", whose "ethical bath", as Richard Drayton called it, has allowed the west not only to expiate its bloody imperial past but to promote 60 years of rapacious war, always beneath the shadow of The Bomb.

The most enduring lie is that the atomic bomb was dropped to end the war in the Pacific and save lives. "Even without the atomic bombing attacks," concluded the United States Strategic Bombing Survey of 1946, "air supremacy over Japan could have exerted sufficient pressure to bring about unconditional surrender and obviate the need for invasion. Based on a detailed investigation of all the facts, and supported by the testimony of the surviving Japanese leaders involved, it is the Survey's opinion that ... Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated."

The National Archives in Washington contain US government documents that chart Japanese peace overtures as early as 1943. None was pursued. A cable sent on May 5, 1945 by the German ambassador in Tokyo and intercepted by the US dispels any doubt that the Japanese were desperate to sue for peace, including "capitulation even if the terms were hard". Instead, the US secretary of war, Henry Stimson, told President Truman he was "fearful" that the US air force would have Japan so "bombed out" that the new weapon would not be able "to show its strength". He later admitted that "no effort was made, and none was seriously considered, to achieve surrender merely in order not to have to use the bomb". His foreign policy colleagues were eager "to browbeat the Russians with the bomb held rather ostentatiously on our hip". General Leslie Groves, director of the Manhattan Project that made the bomb, testified: "There was never any illusion on my part that Russia was our enemy, and that the project was conducted on that basis." The day after Hiroshima was obliterated, President Truman voiced his satisfaction with the "overwhelming success" of "the experiment".

Since 1945, the United States is believed to have been on the brink of using nuclear weapons at least three times. In waging their bogus "war on terror", the present governments in Washington and London have declared they are prepared to make "pre-emptive" nuclear strikes against non-nuclear states. With each stroke toward the midnight of a nuclear Armageddon, the lies of justification grow more outrageous. Iran is the current "threat". But Iran has no nuclear weapons and the disinformation that it is planning a nuclear arsenal comes largely from a discredited CIA-sponsored Iranian opposition group, the MEK - just as the lies about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction originated with the Iraqi National Congress, set up by Washington.

The role of western journalism in erecting this straw man is critical. That America's Defence Intelligence Estimate says "with high confidence" that Iran gave up its nuclear weapons programme in 2003 has been consigned to the memory hole. That Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad never threatened to "wipe Israel off the map" is of no interest. But such has been the mantra of this media "fact" that in his recent, obsequious performance before the Israeli parliament, Gordon Brown alluded to it as he threatened Iran, yet again.

This progression of lies has brought us to one of the most dangerous nuclear crises since 1945, because the real threat remains almost unmentionable in western establishment circles and therefore in the media. There is only one rampant nuclear power in the Middle East and that is Israel. The heroic Mordechai Vanunu tried to warn the world in 1986 when he smuggled out evidence that Israel was building as many as 200 nuclear warheads. In defiance of UN resolutions, Israel is today clearly itching to attack Iran, fearful that a new American administration might, just might, conduct genuine negotiations with a nation the west has defiled since Britain and America overthrew Iranian democracy in 1953.

In the New York Times on July 18, the Israeli historian Benny Morris, once considered a liberal and now a consultant to his country's political and military establishment, threatened "an Iran turned into a nuclear wasteland". This would be mass murder. For a Jew, the irony cries out.

The question begs: are the rest of us to be mere bystanders, claiming, as good Germans did, that "we did not know"? Do we hide ever more behind what Richard Falk has called "a self-righteous, one-way, legal/moral screen [with] positive images of western values and innocence portrayed as threatened, validating a campaign of unrestricted violence"? Catching war criminals is fashionable again. Radovan Karadzic stands in the dock, but Sharon and Olmert, Bush and Blair do not. Why not? The memory of Hiroshima requires an answer.



Global Research