24 Jun 2010

Why the Taliban is winning in Afghanistan

by William Dalrymple... in the New Statesman

As Washington and London struggle to prop up a puppet government over which Hamid Karzai has no control, they risk repeating the blood-soaked 19th-century history of Britain’s imperial defeat.

In 1843, shortly after his return from Afghanistan, an army chaplain, Reverend G R Gleig, wrote a memoir about the First Anglo-Afghan War, of which he was one of the very few survivors. It was, he wrote, "a war begun for no wise purpose, carried on with a strange mixture of rashness and timidity, brought to a close after suffering and disaster, without much glory attached either to the government which directed, or the great body of troops which waged it. Not one benefit, political or military, has Britain acquired with this war. Our eventual evacuation of the country resembled the retreat of an army defeated."

It is difficult to imagine the current military adventure in Afghanistan ending quite as badly as the First Afghan War, an abortive ­experiment in Great Game colonialism that slowly descended into what is arguably the greatest military humiliation ever suffered by the west in the Middle East: an entire army of what was then the most powerful military nation in the world utterly routed and destroyed by poorly equipped tribesmen, at the cost of £15m (well over £1bn in modern currency) and more than 40,000 lives. But nearly ten years on from Nato's invasion of Afghanistan, there are increasing signs that Britain's fourth war in the country could end with as few political gains as the first three and, like them, terminate in an embarrassing withdrawal after a humiliating defeat, with Afghanistan yet again left in tribal chaos and quite possibly ruled by the same government that the war was launched to overthrow.

Certainly it is becoming clearer than ever that the once-hated Taliban, far from being swept away by General Stanley McChrystal's surge, are instead regrouping, ready for the final act in the history of Hamid Karzai's western-installed puppet government. The Taliban have now advanced out of their borderland safe havens to the very gates of Kabul and are surrounding the capital, much as the US-backed mujahedin once did to the Soviet-installed regime in the late 1980s. Like a rerun of an old movie, all journeys by non-Afghans out of the capital are once again confined largely to tanks, military convoys and helicopters. The Taliban already control more than 70 per cent of the country, where they collect taxes, enforce the sharia and dispense their usual rough justice. Every month, their sphere of influence increases. According to a recent Pentagon report, Karzai's government has control of only 29 out of 121 key strategic districts.

Just recently, on 17 May, there was a suicide attack on a US convoy in the Dar-ul Aman quarter of Kabul, killing 12 civilians and six American soldiers; the following day, there was a daring five-hour-long grenade and machine-gun assault on the US military headquarters at Bagram Airbase, killing an American contractor and wounding nine soldiers, so bringing the death toll for US armed forces in the country to more than 1,000. Then, over the weekend of 22-23 May, there was a series of rocket, mortar and ground assaults on Kandahar Airbase just as the British ministerial delegation was about to visit it, forcing William Hague and Liam Fox to alter their schedule. Since then, a dozen top Afghan officials have been assassinated in Kandahar, including the city of Kandahar's deputy mayor. On 7 June, the deadliest day for Nato forces in months, ten soldiers were killed. Finally, it appears that the Taliban have regained control of the opium-growing centre of Marjah in Helmand Province, only three months after being driven out by McChrystal's forces amid much gung-ho cheerleading in the US media. Afghanistan is going down.

Already, despite the presence of huge numbers of foreign troops, it is now impossible - or at least extremely foolhardy - for any westerner to walk around the capital, Kabul, without armed guards; it is even more inadvisable to head out of town in any direction except north: the strongly anti-Taliban Panjshir Valley, along with the towns of Mazar-e-Sharif and Herat, are the only safe havens left for westerners in the entire country. In all other directions, travel is possible only in an armed convoy.

This is especially true of the Khord-Kabul and Tezeen passes, immediately to the south of Kabul, where as many as 18,000 British troops were lost in 1842, and which are today again a centre of resistance against perceived foreign occupiers. Aid workers familiar with Afghanistan over several decades say the security situation has never been worse. Ideas much touted only a few years ago that Afghanistan might become a popular tourist destination - a Switzerland of central Asia - now seem to be dreams from a distant age. Lonely Planet's guidebook to Afghanistan, optimistically published in 2005, has not been updated and is now once again out of print.

The present war is following a trajectory that is beginning to feel unsettlingly familiar to students of the Great Game. In 1839, the British invaded Afghanistan on the basis of sexed-up intelligence about a non-existent threat: information about a single Russian envoy to Kabul was manipulated by a group of ambitious and ideologically driven hawks to create a scare - in this case, about a phantom Russian invasion - thus bringing about an unnecessary, expensive and entirely avoidable war.

Initially, the hawks were triumphant - the British conquest proved remarkably easy and bloodless; Kabul was captured within a few weeks as the army of the previous regime melted into the hills, and a pliable monarch, Shah Shuja, was successfully placed on the throne. For a few months the British played cricket, went skating and put on amateur theatricals as if on summer leave in Simla; there were discussions about making Kabul the summer capital of the Raj. Then an insurgency began and that first heady success slowly unravelled, first among the Pashtuns of Kandahar and Helmand Provinces. It slowly gained momentum, moving northwards until it reached Kabul, so making the British occupation impossible to sustain.

What happened next is a warning of how bad things could yet become: a full-scale rebellion against the British broke out in Kabul, and the two most senior British envoys, Sir Alexander Burnes and Sir William Macnaghten, were assassinated, one hacked to death by a mob in the streets, the other stabbed and shot by the resistance leader Wazir Akbar Khan during negotiations. It was on the retreat that followed, on 6 January 1842, that the 18,000 East India Company troops, and maybe half that many again Indian camp followers, were slaughtered by Afghan marksmen waiting in ambush amid the high passes, shot down as they trudged through the icy depths of the Afghan winter. After eight days on the death march, the last 50 survivors made their final stand at the village of Gandamak. As late as the 1970s, fragments of Victorian weaponry and military equipment could be found lying in the screes above the village. Even today, the hill is said to be covered with the bleached bones of the British dead.

One Englishman lived to tell the tale of that last stand (if you discount the fictional survival of Flashman) - an ordinary foot soldier, Thomas Souter, wrapped his regimental colours around him to prevent them being captured, and was taken hostage by the Afghans who assumed that such a colourfully clothed individual must command a high ransom. It is a measure of the increasingly pertinent parallels between the 19th-century war and today's that one of the main Nato bases in Afghanistan was recently named Camp Souter after that survivor.

In the years that followed, the British defeat in Afghanistan became pregnant with symbolism. For the Victorian British, it was the country's greatest imperial disaster of the 19th century. It was exactly a century before another army would be lost, in Singapore in 1942. Yet the retreat from Kabul also became a symbol of gallantry against the odds: William Barnes Wollen's celebrated oil painting The Last Stand of the 44th Regiment at Gundamuck - showing a group of ragged but doggedly determined British soldiers standing encircled behind a porcupine of bayonets, as the Pashtun tribesmen close in - became one of the best-known images of the era, along with Remnants of an Army, Elizabeth Butler's image of the wounded and bleeding army surgeon William Brydon, who had made it through to the safety of Jalalabad, arriving before the city walls on his collapsing nag.

For the Afghans, the British defeat of 1842 became a symbol of freedom from foreign invasion. It is again no accident that the diplomatic quarter of Kabul is named after the general who oversaw the rout of the British in that year: Wazir Akbar Khan.

For south Asians, who provided most of the cannon fodder - the foot soldiers and followers killed on the retreat - the war ironically became a symbol of possibility: although thousands of Indians died on the march, it showed that the British army was not invincible and a well-planned insurgency could force them out. Thus, in 1857, the Indians launched their own anti-colonial uprising, the Great Mutiny (as it is known in Britain) or the first war of independence (as it is known in India), partly inspired by what the Afghans had achieved in 1842.

This destabilising effect on south Asia of the failed war in Afghanistan has a direct parallel in the blowback that is today destabilising Pakistan and the tribal territories of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata). Here the Pakistani Taliban are once more on the march, rebuilding their presence in Swat, and are now surrounding Peshawar, which is almost daily being rocked by bombs, while outlying groups of Taliban are again spreading their influence into the valleys leading towards Islamabad. Across much of the North-West Frontier Province - roughly a fifth of Pakistan's territory - women have now been forced into the burqa, music has been silenced, barbershops are forbidden to shave beards and more than 125 girls' schools have been blown up or burned down.

A significant proportion of the Peshawar elite, along with the city's musicians, have decamped to the relatively safe and tolerant confines of Lahore and Karachi, while tens of thousands of ordinary people from the surrounding hills of the semi-autonomous Fata tribal belt, and especially the Bajaur Agency (or tribal area), have fled from the conflict zones blasted by US Predator drones and strafed by Pakistani helicopter gunships to the tent camps ringing the provincial capital.

The Fata, it is true, have never been fully under the control of any Pakistani government, and have always been unruly, but the region has been radicalised as never before by the rain of shells and cluster bombs that have caused huge civilian casualties and daily add a stream of angry foot soldiers to the insurgency. Elsewhere in Pakistan, anti-western religious and political extremism continues to flourish, as ever larger numbers of ordinary Pakistanis are driven to fight by corruption, predatory politics and the abuse of power by Pakistan's feudal elite, as well as the military aggression of the drones. Indeed, the ripples of instability lapping out from Afghanistan and Pakistan have reached even New York. When CIA interrogators asked Faisal Shahzad why he tried to let off a car bomb last month in Times Square, he told them of his desire to avenge those "innocent people being hit by drones from above".

The route of the British retreat of 1842 backs on to the mountain range that leads to Tora Bora and the Pakistan border, an area that has always been a Taliban centre. I had been advised not to attempt to visit the area without local protection, and so last month I set off for the mountains in the company of a regional tribal leader who was also a minister in Karzai's government. He is a mountain of a man named Anwar Khan Jegdalek, a former village wrestling champion who made his name as a Hezb-e-Islami mujahedin commander in the jihad against the Soviets in the 1980s.

It was Anwar Khan Jegdalek's ancestors who inflicted some of the worst casualties on the British army of 1842, something he proudly repeated several times as we drove through the same passes. "They forced us to pick up guns to defend our honour," he said. "So we killed every last one of those bastards." None of this, incidentally, has stopped Anwar Khan Jegdalek from sending his family away from Kabul to the greater safety of Northolt, Middlesex.

He drove himself in a huge 4x4, while a pick-up full of heavily armed Afghan bodyguards followed behind. We left Kabul - past the blast walls of the Nato barracks built on the very site of the British cantonment of 170 years ago - and headed down a corkscrewing road into the line of bleak mountain passes that links Kabul with the Khyber Pass.

It is a dramatic and violent landscape: fault lines of crushed and tortured strata groaned and twisted in the gunpowder-coloured rock walls rising on either side of us. Above, the jagged mountain tops were veiled in an ominous cloud of mist. As we drove, Anwar Khan Jegdalek complained bitterly of western treatment of his government. "In the 1980s when we were killing Russians for them, the Americans called us freedom fighters," he muttered, as we descended through the first pass. "Now they just dismiss us as warlords."

At Sorobi, where the mountains debouche into a high-altitude ochre desert dotted with encampments of nomads, we left the main road and headed into Taliban territory. A further five trucks full of Anwar Khan Jegdalek's old mujahedin fighters, all brandishing rocket-propelled gren­ades and with faces wrapped in keffiyehs, ­appeared from a side road to escort us.

At the crest of Jegdalek village, on 12 January 1842, 200 frostbitten British soldiers found themselves surrounded by several thousand Pashtun tribesmen. The two highest-ranking British soldiers, General Elphinstone and Brigadier Shelton, went off to negotiate but were taken hostage. Only 50 infantrymen managed to break out under cover of darkness. Our own welcome was, thankfully, somewhat warmer. It was my host's first visit to his home since he had become a minister, and the proud villagers took their old commander on a nostalgia trip through hills smelling of wild thyme and rosemary, and up on to mountainsides carpeted with hollyhocks, mulberries and white poplars. Here, at the top of the surrounding peaks, lay the remains of Anwar Khan Jegdalek's old mujahedin bunkers and entrenchments. Once the tour was completed, the villagers fed us, Mughal style, in an apricot orchard: we sat on carpets under a trellis of vine and pomegranate blossom as course after course of kebabs and mulberry pulao was laid in front of us.

During lunch, as my hosts casually pointed out the various places in the village where the British had been massacred in 1842, I asked them if they saw any parallels between that war and the present situation. "It is exactly the same," said Anwar Khan Jegdalek. "Both times the foreigners have come for their own interests, not for ours. They say, 'We are your friends, we want democracy, we want to help.' But they are lying."

“Whoever comes to Afghanistan, even now, they will face the fate of Burnes, Macnaghten and Dr Brydon," said Mohammad Khan, our host in the village and the owner of the orchard where we were sitting. The names of the fighters of 1842, long forgotten in their home country, were still known here.

“Since the British went, we've had the Russians," said an old man to my right. "We saw them off, too, but not before they bombed many of the houses in the village." He pointed at a ridge of ruined mud-brick houses.

“We are the roof of the world," said Mohammad Khan. "From here, you can control and watch everywhere."

“Afghanistan is like the crossroads for every nation that comes to power," agreed Anwar Khan Jegdalek. "But we do not have the strength to control our own destiny - our fate is always determined by our neighbours. Next, it will be China. This is the last days of the Americans."

I asked if they thought the Taliban would come back. "The Taliban?" said Mohammad Khan. "They are here already! At least after dark. Just over that pass." He pointed in the direction of Gandamak and Tora Bora. "That is where they are strongest."

It was nearly five in the afternoon before the final flaps of nan bread were cleared away, by which time it had become clear that it was too late to head on to the site of the British last stand at Gandamak. Instead, that evening we went to the relative safety of Jalalabad, where we discovered we'd had a narrow escape: it turned out there had been a huge battle at Gandamak that morning between government forces and a group of villagers supported by the Taliban. The sheer scale and length of the feast had saved us from walking straight into an ambush. The battle had taken place on exactly the site of the British last stand.

The following morning in Jalalabad, we went to a jirga, or assembly of tribal elders, to which the greybeards of Gandamak had come under a flag of truce to discuss what had happened the day before. The story was typical of many I heard about the current government, and revealed how a mixture of corruption, incompetence and insensitivity has helped give an opening for the return of the once-hated Taliban.

As Predator drones took off and landed incessantly at the nearby airfield, the elders related how the previous year government troops had turned up to destroy the opium harvest. The troops promised the villagers full compensation, and were allowed to burn the crops; but the money never turned up. Before the planting season, the villagers again went to Jalalabad and asked the government if they could be provided with assistance to grow other crops. Promises were made; again nothing was delivered. They planted poppy, informing the local authorities that if they again tried to burn the crop, the village would have no option but to resist. When the troops turned up, about the same time as we were arriving at nearby Jegdalek, the villagers were waiting for them, and had called in the local Taliban to assist. In the fighting that followed, nine policemen were killed, six vehicles destroyed and ten police hostages taken.

After the jirga was over, one of the tribal elders came over and we chatted for a while over a glass of green tea. "Last month," he said, "some American officers called us to a hotel in Jalalabad for a meeting. One of them asked me, 'Why do you hate us?' I replied, 'Because you blow down our doors, enter our houses, pull our women by the hair and kick our children. We cannot accept this. We will fight back, and we will break your teeth, and when your teeth are broken you will leave, just as the British left before you. It is just a matter of time.'"

What did he say to that? “He turned to his friend and said, 'If the old men are like this, what will the younger ones be like?' In truth, all the Americans here know that their game is over. It is just their politicians who deny this."

The defeat of the west's latest puppet government on the very same hill of Gandamak where the British came to grief in 1842 made me think, on the way back to Kabul, about the increasingly close parallels between the fix that Nato is in and the one faced by the British 170 years ago.

Now as then, the problem is not hatred of the west, so much as a dislike of foreign troops swaggering around and making themselves odious to the very people they are meant to be helping. On the return journey, as we crawled back up the passes towards Kabul, we got stuck behind a US military convoy of eight Humvees and two armoured personnel carriers in full camouflage, all travelling at less than 20 miles per hour. Despite the slow speed, the troops refused to let any Afghan drivers overtake them, for fear of suicide bombers, and they fired warning shots at any who attempted to do so. By the time we reached the top of the pass two hours later, there were 300 cars and trucks backed up behind the convoy, each one full of Afghans furious at being ordered around in their own country by a group of foreigners. Every day, small incidents of arrogance and insensitivity such as this make the anger grow.

There has always been an absolute refusal by the Afghans to be ruled by foreigners, or to accept any government perceived as being imposed on the country from abroad. Now as then, the puppet ruler installed by the west has proved inadequate to the job. Too weak, unpopular and corrupt to provide security or development, he has been forced to turn on his puppeteers in order to retain even a vestige of legitimacy in the eyes of his people. Recently, Karzai has accused the US, the UK and the UN of orchestrating a fraud in last year's elections, described Nato forces as "an army of occupation", and even threatened to join the Taliban if Washington kept putting pressure on him. Shah Shuja did much the same thing in 1842, towards the end of his rule, and was known to have offered his allegiance and assistance to the insurgents who eventually toppled and beheaded him.

Now as then, there have been few tangible signs of improvement under the western-backed regime. Despite the US pouring approximately $80bn into Afghanistan, the roads in Kabul are still more rutted than those in the smallest provincial towns of Pakistan. There is little health care; for any severe medical condition, patients still have to fly to India. A quarter of all teachers in Afghanistan are themselves illiterate. In many areas, district governance is almost non-existent: half the governors do not have an office, more than half have no electricity, and most receive only $6 a month in expenses. Civil servants lack the most basic education and skills.

This is largely because $76.5bn of the $80bn committed to the country has been spent on military and security, and most of the remaining $3.5bn on international consultants, some of whom are paid in excess of $1,000 a day, according to an Afghan government report. This, in turn, has had other negative effects. As in 1842, the presence of large numbers of well-paid foreign troops has caused the cost of food and provisions to rise, and living standards to fall. The Afghans feel they are getting poorer, not richer.

There are other similarities. Then as now, the war effort was partially privatised: it was not so much the British army as a corp­oration, the East India Company, that provided most of the troops who fought the war for Britain in 1842, just as today both the British and the Americans have subcontracted much of their security work to private companies. When I visited the British embassy, I found that many of the security guards at the gatehouse were not army or military police, but from Group 4 Security. The US security contracts offered to Blackwater/Xe and other private security forces under Dick Cheney's ideologically driven policy of privatising war are worth many millions of dollars.

Finally, now as then, there has been an attempt at a last show of force in order to save face before withdrawal. As happened in 1842, it has achieved little except civilian casualties and the further alienation of the Afghans. As one of the tribal elders from Jegdalek said to me: "How many times can they apologise for killing our innocent women and children and expect us to forgive them? They come, they bomb, they kill us and then they say, 'Oh, sorry, we got the wrong people.' And they keep doing that."

The British soldiers of 1842 found the same reaction in their day. In his diary of his time with the British army of retribution, which laid waste to great areas of southern Afghanistan as punishment for the massacres on the retreat from Kabul earlier in the year, the young Captain N Chamberlain reported how his troops inflicted horrible atrocities on any Afghan civilians they could find. One morning he met a wounded Afghan woman dragging herself towards a stream with a water pot. "I filled the vessel for her," he wrote, "but all she said was, 'Curses on the feringhees [foreigners]!' I continued on my way disgusted with myself, the world, above all with my cruel profession. In fact, we are nothing but licensed assassins."

However, there are some important differences between Britain's first defeat in Afghanistan and the current mess. In 1842, we were at least reinstalling a legitimate Afghan ruler and removing one who could genuinely be cast as an illegitimate usurper. Shah Shuja, the British puppet, was a former ruler of the Sadozai dynasty, from the leading Pashtun clan, and a grandson of the great Ahmed Shah Durrani, the first king of a united Afghanistan. As the traveller and pioneering archaeologist Charles Masson observed: "The Afghans had no objection to the match; they merely disliked the manner of the wooing."

This time, we have been clumsier, and Nato has helped instal a former CIA asset accused by a high-ranking UN diplomat of drug abuse and of having a history of mental instability, with little to recommend him other than that he was once run out of Langley. Although Karzai is a Pashtun of the Popalzai tribe, under his watch Nato has in effect installed the Northern Alliance in Kabul and driven the country's Pashtun majority out of power.

The reality of our present Afghan entanglement is that we took sides in a complex civil war, which has been running since the 1970s, siding with the north against the south, town against country, secularism against Islam, and the Tajiks against the Pashtuns. We have installed a government, and trained up an army, both of which in many ways have discriminated against the Pashtun majority, and whose top-down, highly centralised constitution allows for remarkably little federalism or regional representation. However much western liberals may dislike the Taliban - and they have very good reason for doing so - the truth remains that they are in many ways the authentic voice of rural Pashtun conservatism, whose views and wishes are ignored by the government in Kabul and who are still largely excluded from power. It is hardly surprising that the Pashtuns are determined to resist the regime and that the insurgency is widely supported, especially in the Pashtun heartlands of the south and east.

Yet it is not too late to learn some lessons from the mistakes of the British in 1842. Then, British officials in Kabul continued to send out despatches of delusional optimism as the insurgents moved ever closer to Kabul, believing that there was a straightforward military solution to the problem and that if only they could recruit enough Afghans to their army, they could eventually march out, leaving that regime in place - exactly the sentiments expressed by the Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, on his visit to Afghanistan last month.

In 1842, by the time they realised they had to negotiate a political solution, their power had ebbed too far, and the only thing the insurgents were willing to negotiate was an unconditional surrender. Today, too, there is no easy military solution to Afghanistan: even if we proceed with the plan to equip an army of half a million troops (at the cost of roughly $2bn a year, when the entire revenue of the Afghan government is $1.1bn - in other words, 180 per cent of revenue), that army will never be able to guarantee security or shore up such a discredited regime. Every day, despite the military power of the US and Nato and the $25bn so far ploughed into rebuilding the Afghan army, security gets worse, and the area under government control contracts week by week.

The only answer is to negotiate a political solution while we still have enough power to do so, which in some form or other involves talking to the Taliban. This is a course that Karzai, to his credit, is keen to pursue; he made it clear that his peace jirga at the start of this month was open to any Taliban leader willing to lay down arms, and that jobs and monetary incentives would be available to former Taliban who changed their allegiance and joined the government. It is still unclear whether the new Tory government supports this course; Barack Oba­ma certainly opposes it. In this, he is supported by the notably undiplomatic US envoy to the region, Richard Holbrooke, described by one senior British diplomat as "a bull who brings his own china shop wherever he goes".

There is something else we can still do before we pull out: leave some basic infrastructure behind, a goal we notably failed to achieve in the past nine years. Yet William Hague and Liam Fox oppose this policy - as Fox notoriously said in his 21 May interview with the Times, which infuriated his Afghan hosts: "We are not in Afghanistan for the sake of the education policy in a broken 13th-century country." The Tories could do much worse than consult their own newly elected backbencher Rory Stewart. He knows much more about Afghanistan than either Fox or Hague. As Stewart wrote shortly before he entered politics, targeted aid projects that employ Afghans can do a great deal of good, "and we should focus on meeting the Afghan government's request for more investment in agriculture, irrigation, energy and roads".

In the meantime, Obama has announced that he will begin withdrawing troops in July 2011. The start of the US withdrawal is likely to begin a rush to evacuate the other Nato forces located in pockets around the country: the Dutch have announced that they will be pulling out of Uruzgan this summer, and the Canadian and Danes won't be far behind them. Nor will the Brits, despite assurances from Hague and Fox. A recent poll showed that 72 per cent of Britons want their troops out of Afghanistan immediately, and there is only so long any government can hold out against such strong public opinion. Certainly, it is time to shed the idea that a pro-western puppet regime that excludes the Pashtuns can remain in place indefinitely. The Karzai government is crumbling before our eyes, and if we delude ourselves that this is not the case, we could yet face a replay of 1842.

George Lawrence, a veteran of that war, issued a prescient warning in the Times just before Britain blundered into the Second Anglo-Afghan War in the 1870s. "A new generation has arisen which, instead of profiting from the solemn lessons of the past, is willing and eager to embroil us in the affairs of that turbulent and unhappy country," he wrote. "Although military disasters may be avoided, an advance now, however successful in a military point of view, would not fail to turn out to be as politically useless."

William Dalrymple's latest book, "Nine Lives: in Search of the Sacred in Modern India", won the first Asia House Literary Award in May, and is newly published in paperback (Bloomsbury, £8.99). His book on the First Anglo-Afghan War is planned for release in autumn 2012

Keynes and Social Democracy

by Robert Skidelsky... in the Social Europe Journal

For decades, Keynesianism was associated with social democratic big-government policies. But John Maynard Keynes’s relationship with social democracy is complex. Although he was an architect of core components of social democratic policy – particularly its emphasis on maintaining full employment – he did not subscribe to other key social democratic objectives, such as public ownership or massive expansion of the welfare state.

In The General Theory of Employment, Wages and Interest, Keynes ends by summarizing the strengths and weaknesses of the capitalist system. On one hand, capitalism offers the best safeguard of individual freedom, choice, and entrepreneurial initiative. On the other hand, unregulated markets fail to achieve two central goals of any civilized society: “The outstanding faults of the economic society in which we live are its failure to provide for full employment and its arbitrary and inequitable distribution of wealth and incomes.” This suggested an active role for government, which dovetailed with important strands of left-wing thought.

Until The General Theory was published in 1936, social democrats did not know how to go about achieving full employment. Their policies were directed at depriving capitalists of the ownership of the means of production. How this was to produce full employment was never worked out.

There was an idea, originally derived from Ricardo and Marx, that the capitalist class needed a “reserve army of the unemployed” to maintain its profit share. If profits were eliminated, the need for that reserve army would disappear. Labor would be paid what it was worth, and everyone willing to work would be able to find a job.

But, apart from the political impossibility of nationalizing the whole economy peacefully, this approach suffered from the fatal flaw of ignoring the role of aggregate demand. It assumed that demand would always be sufficient if profits were eliminated.

Keynes demonstrated that the main cause of bouts of heavy and prolonged unemployment was not worker encroachment on profits, but the fluctuating prospects of private investment in an uncertain world. Nearly all unemployment in a cyclical downturn was the result of the failure of investment demand.

Thus, the important thing was not to nationalize the capital stock, but to socialize investment. Industry could be safely left in private hands, provided the state guaranteed enough spending power in the economy to maintain a full-employment level of investment. This could be achieved by monetary and fiscal policy: low interest rates and large state investment programs.

In short, Keynes aimed to achieve a key social democratic objective without changing the ownership of industry. Nevertheless, he did think that redistribution would help secure full employment. A greater tendency to consume would “serve to increase at the same time the inducement to invest.” And the low interest rates needed to maintain full employment would lead in time to the “euthanasia of the rentier” – of those who live off the rents of capital.

Moderate re-distribution was the more politically radical implication of Keynes’s economic theory, but the measures outlined above were also the limits of state intervention for him. As long as “the state is able to determine the aggregate amount of resources devoted to augmenting the instruments [i.e., the capital base] and the basic reward to those who own them,” there is no “obvious case” for further involvement. The public was never to substitute for the private, but merely to complement it.

Today, ideas about full employment and equality remain at the heart of social democracy. But the political struggle needs to be conducted along new battle lines. Whereas the front used to run between government and the owners of the means of production – the industrialists, the rentiers – now, it runs between governments and finance. Such measures as the efforts by the European Parliament to regulate the derivatives market or the British government’s ban on short selling in the wake of the financial crisis or the demand to caps bankers’ bonuses are contemporary expressions of the wish to reduce the power of financial speculation to damage the economy.

The new focus on the need to tame the power of finance is largely a consequence of globalization. Capital moves across borders more freely and more quickly than goods or people do. Yet, while large global firms habitually use their high concentration of financial resources to press for further de-regulation (“or we will go somewhere else”), the crisis has turned their size into a liability.

Being too big to fail simply means being too big. Keynes saw that “it is the financial markets’ precariousness which creates no small part of our contemporary problem of securing sufficient investment.” That rings truer today – more than 70 years later – than in his own day. Rather than securing investment for productive sectors of the economy, the financial industry has become adept at securing investment in itself.

This, once again, calls for an activist government policy. Yet, as Keynes would have argued, it is important that the expansion of government involvement is informed by sound economics rather than political ideology, social democratic or otherwise.

State intervention needs to bridge gaps that the private sector cannot reasonably be expected to do on its own. The current crisis has shown with utmost clarity that private markets are unable to self-regulate; domestic regulation is therefore a key area in which government has a role to play. Similarly, time-inconsistency issues prevent large international firms from compartmentalizing their markets. Re-erecting barriers to capital flows in the form of international taxes, thereby cordoning off crises before they turn global, is therefore another task for government.

Keynes’s main contribution to social democracy, however, does not lie in the specifics of policy, but in his insistence that the state as ultimate protector of the public good has a duty to supplement and regulate market forces. If we need markets to stop the state from behaving badly, we need the state to stop markets from behaving badly. Nowadays, that means stopping financial markets from behaving badly. That means limiting their power, and their profits.

Copyright Project Syndicate

22 Jun 2010

US concern over Jerusalem home demolition plan

The US State Department has expressed concern about an Israeli plan for the demolition of 22 Palestinian homes in occupied East Jerusalem.

Spokesman PJ Crowley said it was the kind of action that undermined trust and increased the risk of violence.

The scheme, part of a redevelopment project in the Silwan neighbourhood, is still in an initial stage.

Israel's Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, has also criticised Jerusalem's municipality for "bad timing" and poor "common sense".

Under the plan approved on Monday, 22 homes would be demolished to make room for an Israeli tourist park. Another 66 other buildings constructed without Israeli permission would be legalised.

It is strongly opposed by the Palestinians, who believe it will tighten Israel's control of the area.

Settlement row

The US, which has previously criticised similar demolition plans as damaging for the Middle East peace process, said it had raised the Silwan plan with the Israeli government.

"We're concerned about it... This is expressly the kind of step that we think undermines trust that is fundamental in making progress to the proximity talks and ultimately in direct negotiations," said Mr Crowley.

Within hours, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, who is in Washington for talks with the Obama administration, issued a statement criticising the Jerusalem municipality.

"The Jerusalem municipality and the planning committee have shown a lack of common sense and sense of timing - and not for the first time," Mr Barak was quoted as saying by Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

Israel's relations with the US have been strained since the announcement in March of the construction of 1,600 housing units in a Jewish neighbourhood in East Jerusalem during the visit of US Vice President Joe Biden.

The Jerusalem municipality said that, while the plan has been approved, there are still several legal stages to get through before it is implemented.

The chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, has said it was a dangerous move which required world intervention.

Israel has occupied East Jerusalem since 1967. It annexed the area in 1981 and sees it as its exclusive domain. Under international law the area is occupied territory. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.


In a separate development, Israel has asked the UN to suspend attempts to organise an international inquiry into the deadly raid on the Mavi Marmara ship trying to break the blockade of Gaza. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/world/middle_east/10372283.stm

Reforming Global Economic Governance — Towards Bretton Woods III

Social Europe Journal
by Pierre Defraigne

World economic governance needs to move towards a Bretton Woods III involving effective supervision of all structural imbalances by the IMF, greater resources for the IMF along with fundamental reforms of that institution, and a shift from the dollar as dominant international reserve currency. This requires cooperation between the G3 – the US, China and the EU.

From ancient Rome to Britain until World War One, the world economic hegemon has always provided the currency for its sphere of influence. At the 1944 Bretton Woods Conference the torch was passed from the pound to the dollar despite Lord Keynes’ last-ditch efforts to switch to the Bancor, which would have been the first ever genuine international currency. Wasn’t America then the sole candidate for securing the liquidity the world was badly in need of? On the one hand, the dollar shortage exerted a deflationary pressure on the economies hit by the war and confronted with the heavy task of rebuilding their productive capacities. On the other, as the leader of the free world the USA considered the ‘dollar privilege’ as a sort of seigniorage right for a superpower in charge of the Western camp’s security.

As was to be expected, the USA eventually took advantage of that facility, inundating the world with dollars to the point that gold reserves were a mere fraction of the volume of dollars issued by the Federal Reserve. It is worth noting that the main dynamics at work were the successful attempts by Washington, through this massive oversupply of dollars, to dodge the ‘guns and butter dilemma’: the Vietnamese War and President Johnson’s Great Society social program were indeed the two pillars of US policy. Nixon broke the spell by decoupling the dollar from gold: Bretton Woods II was born with the responsibility of financing deficits transferred from the IMF to the market. But trust in American economic dynamism and strategic superiority was such that it made the financial markets very accommodating of a US profligacy which went unbridled through successive Presidential mandates until George W. Bush.

With the benefit of hindsight, it appears that the dollar’s ‘exorbitant privilege’, as President Giscard d’Estaing once qualified it, probably played an important role in the race between America and the Soviet Union, allowing the USA – through Washington’s unrestrained external indebtedness and exchange rate policy – to share the burden of defense, including the arms-race which culminated in ‘star wars’, with its Western allies. The USSR, plagued with systemic inefficiency, did not enjoy the same transfers of resources from its own impoverished camp.

Once the race was over, the extravaganza went on, nurturing world economic growth, this time thanks to the transfer of Asian savings to the USA to finance the trade deficit, mainly through the massive purchase of Treasury bonds. Japan was footing the bill for American security whilst China was buying access to the US manufactured goods market.

The financial crisis that broke out on September 15th 2008, has been shown to have as its underlying origin the Fed’s lax monetary policy, which allowed for an abundance of liquidity and low interest rates, enticing households to go into debt through excessive use of credit cards or mortgage credit and financial institutions to take on excessive leverage at an unprecedented scale. The end of the boom sent a shockwave throughout an over-indebted US economy and triggered the subprime crisis. But the ultimate cause was US monetary policy and the fault line lay in the international monetary system.

Has the time of reckoning arrived? The self-interest of the USA may no longer lay in the continuation of the present system because it either makes its economy vulnerable to its Asian creditors or to a sea-change in the assessment of the robustness of the American economy by financial markets. Although it should remain for another generation the world’s leading economy, its relative weight is declining. For the EU, being subject to the vagaries of the dollar-based system constitutes the counterpart of the defence burden borne by the USA within the Atlantic Alliance. In this respect the EU behaves as a tributary ally of Washington and it will therefore not raise the issue of revamping the international monetary system. China takes an ambivalent view: On the one hand, as an emerging global economy and strategic power, it cannot satisfy itself with the present asymmetric system; on the other, as a large creditor, it must be careful about the real value of its dollar-denominated assets. For all players, the transition is critical and calls for a cautious step-by-step approach.

A Bretton Woods III must be conceived from now on, building up on the strengths and mending the weaknesses of the present system. This reform should cover a four-pronged agenda:

•Effective surveillance and gradual correction of all structural imbalances (including of the US and China) by the IMF;

•Giving more resources to the IMF so as to allow it to ease adjustment in poor and emerging economies;

•Rebalancing the governance of the IMF and the World Bank, by making more room for China and other emerging countries, and by substituting the EU for individual European Member States, and in particular the eurozone members;

Switching very gradually and cautiously from the dollar as a reserve currency to a basket of currencies including the renminbi. This implies a move to the latter’s full convertibility with the inherent risk of appreciation. This would ease the control of inflation and the move from an export-driven to a consumption-driven growth model in China. This would work towards smoother integration of China in the world economy and would contribute to the medium term recovery and rebalancing of the global economy.

Moving towards Bretton Woods III, calls for collective leadership which the G20 – extended to some poor countries – can provide. But the three largest economies, namely, the USA, China and the EU – a sort of G3 – have a key role to play in shaping the architecture of the system and piloting its implementation. If the EU means to become an effective player in the emerging multipolar world by assuming a growing role in the multilateral economic governance system, it must at the same time gain full autonomy with regard to its currency and more responsibility for its own defence since both issues are narrowly intertwined. This is what the future of the EU is about. A very long road ahead indeed.

This article is part of the book ‘After the crisis: towards a sustainable growth model‘, edited by Andrew Watt (ETUI) and Andreas Botsch (ETUI/ETUC) and published by the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI).

14 Jun 2010

President Chavez's socialist world vision

By Stephen Sackur 
Presenter, BBC HARDtalk
Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez intends to inject new urgency into his socialist and anti-imperialist revolution, claiming "capitalism is destroying the world".
In a combative 60-minute interview with the BBC HARDtalk programme in the Miraflores Presidential Palace in Caracas, Mr Chavez blamed Venezuela's deepening recession on the irresponsible economic policies of the United States.
He also expressed disappointment with President Barack Obama's "very negative signals" towards Latin America.
"In Colombia (the Americans) are building seven military bases; that is one of the very negative signals that Obama sent just after taking office," Mr Chavez said.
"Bush decided to reactivate the US Fourth Fleet to operate in Latin America. Obama, instead of suspending or getting rid of the Fourth Fleet has seven military bases planned in Colombia. What for? Is it to go to war, to dominate the Latin American continent?

Colombia has signed a deal to give the US military access to seven Colombian bases with the aim to combat drug trafficking and rebels.
It caused alarm among some of Colombia's neighbours, including Venezuela, who object to an increased US military presence.
"I wish Obama would focus on governing the United States and would forget his country's imperialist pretensions," Mr Chavez said.
While there was no repeat of the insults he hurled at George W Bush, such as "donkey," "devil" and "terrorist", President Chavez indicated that the high-profile handshake he and Obama shared at an Americas summit last year had not resolved fundamental differences.

Red carpet
The 55-year-old Venezuelan president rarely grants extended interviews to the Western media. This one was arranged to coincide with the premiere in Caracas of a new documentary by Oscar-winning director Oliver Stone.
The film, South of the Border, portrays Latin America being transformed by Leftist radicalism.
The leaders of Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia and Ecuador all get walk-on parts, but it is to Mr Chavez that Stone gives the starring role.
The director and the president shared a limousine to the red carpet launch of the film in Caracas's national theatre.

"What's been going on in Venezuela for the last 10 years is amazing - a piece of history. The least I can do is introduce this man and this movement to the American people," said Stone, with a beaming Chavez by his side.
Whether many Venezuelans will ever see South of the Border remains unclear.
The premiere was full of Socialist party bigwigs and activists who hooted with delight as their president was seen lambasting Bush, beating off a coup attempt in 2002 and generally adopting the mantle of a 21st Century Castro.
But no amount of support from the American filmmaker can disguise a simple truth; domestic support for President Chavez's "Bolivarian" socialism (named in homage to Latin America's 19th Century liberator Simon Bolivar) is being sorely tested by a second consecutive year of economic recession.
Venezuela possesses the biggest reserves of oil outside the Middle East and supplies more than one-tenth of US oil imports, but still the economy has woefully underperformed against others in Latin America in the last two years.
Inflation has leapt to 30% and seems likely to rise further. The Venezuelan currency has been devalued and is still sinking amongst Caracas's black market money changers.

'Road to hell'
In the capital's sprawling hillside neighbourhoods, jobs are scarce and Mr Chavez's Socialist party is looking electorally vulnerable just three months before National Assembly elections.

In his HARDtalk interview, the president blamed his country's economic woes squarely on America's "rampant, irresponsible capitalism" which was taking the world "on the road to hell".
"In England and in Europe you should know this," Mr Chavez went on. "'You have more problems than we do."
He quoted a stream of economic statistics to illustrate his claim that 11 years of socialism had "begun to redress the balance between a very rich Venezuelan minority and a very poor majority."
He said unemployment had been halved, extreme poverty was down from 25% to just 5%.
Domestic critics of Mr Chavez's nationalisation programme - which has turned the oil, power and agriculture sectors into vast state bureaucracies - accuse him of creating a "Bolivarian bourgeoisie" of corrupt officials and cronies.
But Mr Chavez emphasised he intended to go further with his socialist model.
Privately owned enterprises are now being expropriated with increasing frequency - a recent controversial example involved the French-owned Exito supermarket chain after allegations of profiteering and currency manipulation.
"Eleven years ago I was quite gullible," the president said. "I even believed in a 'third way'. I thought it was possible to put a human face on capitalism. But I was wrong.
"The only way to save the world is through socialism, but a socialism that exists within a democracy. There's no dictatorship here."

Angry exchanges
Mr Chavez became visibly agitated when faced with a set of specific questions about his government's respect for the independence of the judiciary, the freedom of the press and the rights of political opponents.

He was asked about the imprisonment of one of his fiercest critics, former defence minister Raul Baduel, and the pending charges filed against former opposition candidate, Oswaldo Alvarez Paz.

The Venezuelan president responded: "You don't know what you're saying. Wow, does the BBC in London defend corruption. You are being used. You really don't know what you're saying."

As the tension in the presidential palace rose, Oliver Stone who was seated in a corner listening intently to the exchanges - along with a host of presidential aides and one of the president's daughters - gestured to the president with both hands.
The message was easy to read: Calm down.
Venezuelans are used to seeing an angry president. Last week he went on television to vent his fury on a judge who ruled that a wealthy businessman should be freed from detention after three years of imprisonment without trial.
Mr Chavez accused the judge, Maria Afiuni, of behaving worse than an assassin and he demanded that she be jailed for 30 years. Judge Afiuni is now in prison facing corruption charges.

'Axis of unity'
It is not President Chavez's domestic record that most concerns Western governments, it's his determination to create an "axis of unity" with countries he sees as fellow strugglers against American and Western imperialism.
He lists the leaders of China, Russia, Syria and Belarus as "good friends", along with President Ahmedinejad of Iran.

 I am not Obama's enemy but it's difficult not to see imperialism in Washington. Those who don't see it, don't want to see it 
President Chavez

In the last three years Tehran and Caracas have strengthened military and intelligence cooperation while deepening their trade ties, and Mr Chavez responded indignantly to the latest round of UN sanctions on Tehran.
"Venezuela is a free country and we will not be blackmailed by anyone," he said.
"We will not accept being told what to do over Iran, we will not accept being anyone's colony".
But he categorically denied claims frequently aired in the US that Venezuela is supplying Iran with uranium.
His disappointment with Barack Obama was expressed in highly personal terms.
"I shook Obama's hand and I said, 'I want to be your friend'. My hand is still outstretched.
"I am not Obama's enemy but it's difficult not to see imperialism in Washington. Those who don't see it, don't want to see it, like the ostrich."
The Venezuelan President did have a dialogue with the last Democrat in the White House, and that memory seems to have sharpened his disillusion with Obama.
"I said to Hillary Clinton in front of President Obama, 'I wish I could enjoy the same relationship with a US president that I had when your husband was in power.'"
President Chavez refused to say whether he would seek another term in elections scheduled for 2012. Though few doubt that he will, having pushed through the abolition of term-limits in a hard-fought referendum.
"Fidel has spent his whole life on his (revolution)," Chavez reflected. "Whatever life I have left I will dedicate to this peaceful democratic revolution in Venezuela."
You can watch HARDtalk from Venezuela on Monday 14 June and the interview with President Chavez on Tuesday 15 June on the BBC News Channel at 0230, 0430 and 2330 BST and on BBC World News at 0330, 0830, 1530 and 2030 GMT.

Targeting Whistleblowers: Truth Telling Endangered

by Stephen Lendman / June 14th, 2010

On April 16, journalist John Cole wrote:
The message is clear – you torture people and then destroy the evidence, and you get off without so much as a sternly worded letter. If you are a whistle blower outlining criminal behavior by the government, you get prosecuted.
In fact, it’s worse. Under Bush, torture was official policy. It remains so under Obama who absolved CIA torturers, despite unequivocal evidence of their guilt. But leaking it risks criminal prosecution for revealing state secrets and endangering national security.
On June 7, New York Times writer, Elisabeth Bumiller, headlined, “Army Leak Suspect Is Turned In, by Ex-Hacker,” explaining that US Army intelligence analyst Specialist, Bradley Manning, told Adrian Lamo that he leaked the following materials to WikiLeaks:
– “260,000 classified United States diplomatic cables and video of a (US) airstrike in Afghanistan that killed 97 civilians last year,” and
– an “explosive (39 minute) video of an American helicopter attack in Baghdad that left 12 people dead, including two employees of the Reuters news agency.” Manning called it “collateral murder,” a crime he felt obliged to expose.
Lamo told the military, saying “I outed Brad Manning as an alleged leaker out of duty. I would never (and have never) outed an Ordinary Decent Criminal. There’s a difference.” He didn’t explain or how any criminal can be decent.
On June 7, the military command in Iraq arrested Manning, saying in Pentagon boilerplate:
“The Department of Defense takes the management of classified information very seriously because it affects our national security, the lives of our soldiers, and our operations abroad.”
So far, Manning is uncharged and is being held in Kuwait pending further action.
On June 6 in wired.com, Kevin Poulsen and Kim Zetter broke the story in their article headlined, “US Intelligence Analyst Arrested in WikiLeaks Video Probe,” explaining:
The Army’s Criminal Investigation Division arrested Manning after Lamo outed him. The State Department said it wasn’t aware of the arrest. The FBI had no comment, then later the Defense Department confirmed his arrest for allegedly leaking classified information. According to army spokesman, Gary Tallman:
If you have a security clearance and wittingly or unwittingly provide classified information to anyone who doesn’t have security clearance or a need to know, you have violated security regulations and potentially the law.
Manning said:
Everywhere there’s a US post, there’s a diplomatic scandal that will be revealed. It’s open diplomacy. World-wide anarchy in CSV format. It’s Climategate with a global scope, and breathtaking depth. It’s beautiful and horrifying. (The documents describe) almost criminal political back dealings. (They belong) in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark corner in Washington, DC. (Our government is involved in) incredible things, awful things.
He exposed cold-blooded murder of innocent civilians and reporters, the perpetrators laughing on video like it was a game – the public unaware that Pentagon rules-of-engagement (ROEs) target Iraqi and Afghan civilians as well as alleged combatants.
On June 11, New York Times writer, Scott Shane, headlined, “Obama Takes a Hard Line Against Leaks to Press,” saying:
In 17 months in office, President Obama has already outdone every previous president in pursuing leak prosecutions,” citing actions against Thomas A. Drake (discussed below), and Times columnist James Risen, subpoenaed (by Bush and Obama) to disclose his sources for his book, “State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration.
Lucy Dalglish, executive director for Reporters Committee for Freedom, explained: The message they are sending to everyone is ‘You leak to the media, we will get you.’ As far as I can tell there is absolutely no difference (between Bush and Obama), and (he) seems to be paying more attention to it. This is going to get nasty.
Attorney General Eric Holder approved the subpoena, his Justice Department spokesman, Matthew Miller, saying: “As a general matter, we have consistently said that leaks of classified information are something we take extremely seriously.”
Risen’s lawyer, Joel Kurtzberg, explained that the subpoena relates to his report about covert CIA measures to subvert Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program. “We will be fighting to quash” it, he said. “Jim is the highest calibre of reporter and adhered to the highest standards of his profession. And he intends to honor the promise of confidentiality he made to (his) source or sources.”
Risen’s publisher, Simon and Schuster, is handling the matter, but a Timesstatement said:
Our view, however, is that confidential sources are vital in getting information to the public, and a subpoena issued more than four years after the book was published hardly seems to be important enough to outweigh the protection an author needs to have.
First brought in 2006 by Bush Attorney General Michael Mukasey, the grand jury session expired without resolution. Holder will impanel a new one. Risen faces possible prosecution and jail time for honoring his confidentiality commitment, what no reporter should ever violate.
WikiLeaks: What It Is, How It Operates
Calling itself “the intelligence agency of the people,” WikiLeaks says it’s “a multi-jurisdictional public service designed to protect whistleblower, journalist and activists who have sensitive materials to communicate to the public” that has a right to know.
Only when they’re told “the true plans and behavior of their governments” can they decide whether or not they deserve support, or as Jack Kennedy said on April 27, 1961:
The very word secrecy is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings. We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers, which are cited to justify it.
WikiLeaks believes that “Principled leaking has changed the course of history for the better; it can alter the course of history in the present; it can lead us to a better future.” It can expose abuses of power by “rel(ying) upon the power of overt fact to enable and empower citizens to bring feared and corrupt governments and corporations to justice,” and help make nominal democracies real ones.
Secrecy and Targeting Whistleblowers and Journalists Under Obama
More than ever under Obama, we live in a secret society, in which whistleblowers and journalists are targeted for doing their job — why Helen Thomas, unfairly pilloried by the pro-Israeli chorus, last July said his administration was “controlling the press,” during a White House Robert Gibbs briefing, then afterwards added: “It’s shocking. It’s really shocking….What the hell do they think we are, puppets? They’re supposed to stay out of our business. They are our public servants. We pay them.”
In a July 1, 2009 interview with CNSNews.com, she said even Nixon didn’t exert press control like Obama, saying:
Nixon didn’t try to do that. They couldn’t control (the media). They didn’t try…. I’m not saying there has never been managed news before, but this is carried to (a) fare-thee-well for town halls, the press conferences. It’s blatant. They don’t give a damn if you know it or not. They ought to be hanging their heads in shame.
In February 2009, the Free Flow of Information Act was introduced in the House and Senate. In March, the lower body passed it overwhelmingly, after which it stalled in Senate Committee.
At the time, the Obama administration weakened it in opposition to strong congressional support — on the pretext of national security considerations over the public’s right to know, to let prosecutors judicially force reporters and whistleblowers to reveal their sources. Though the bill never passed, the administration uses it to prevent exposure of information it wants suppressed, more aggressively than any of his predecessors, another measure of a man promising change.
Thomas Drake was an Obama administration target, a former National Security Agency (NSA) “senior executive,” indicted on April 15, 2010, on multiple charges of “willful retention of classified information, obstruction of justice and making false statements,” according to Assistant Attorney General, Lanny A. Breuer, of the Criminal Division.
The 10-count indictment alleges he gave Baltimore Sun reporter, Sibohan Gorman, classified NSA documents about the agency. In fact, she wrote about waste and mismanagement in its “Trailblazer” project (a program analyzing data on computer networks), and illegal spying activities, saying on May 18, 2006 in her article headlined, “NSA Killed System That Sifted Phone Data Legally” that:
Once President Bush gave the go-ahead for the NSA to secretly gather and analyze domestic phone records – an authorization that carried no stipulations about identity protection — agency officials regarded the encryption as an unnecessary step and rejected it.
Her stories, however, focused mainly on the Trailblazer $1.2 billion initiative that one insider called “the biggest boondoggle going on now in the intelligence community,” what the public had every right to know.
Drake’s leaks exposed illegal NSA spying, its enormous amount of waste and fraud, and the formation of a public/private national security/surveillance state, incentivizing profiteers to hype fear for their own bottom-line self-interest.
As a candidate, Obama promised transparency, accountability, and reform of extremist Bush policies. As president, he usurped unchecked surveillance powers, including warrantless wiretapping, accessing personal records, monitoring financial transactions, and tracking e-mails, Internet and cell phone use to gather secret evidence for prosecutions. He also claims Justice Department immunity from illegal spying suits, an interpretation no member of Congress or administration ever made, not even Bush or his Republican allies.
As a result, his national security state targets activists, political dissidents, anti-war protestors, Muslims, Latino immigrants, lawyers who defend them, whistleblowers, journalists who expose federal crimes, corruption, and excesses who won’t disclose their sources, and WikiLeaks, cited in a 2008 Pentagon report as a major US security threat, important to shut down by deterring, discouraging or prosecuting its sources. More on that below.
At a time of extreme government secrecy, lawlessness, and betrayal of the public trust, exposes and public debate more than ever are vital — whistleblowers, WikiLeaks, and courageous reporters essential to an open society, one endangered without them.
WikiLeaks March 15, 2010 Release: “US Intelligence planned to destroy WikiLeaks”
The group’s founder, Julian Assange, described a 32-page February 2008 counterintelligence investigation “to fatally marginalize the organization.” However, after two years, without success, at least so far.
It called WikiLeaks “a potential force protection, counterintelligence, operational security (OPSEC), and information security (INFOSEC) threat to the US Army, (jeopardizing) DoD personnel, equipment, facilities, or installations. Such information (could help) foreign intelligence and security services (FISS), foreign military forces, foreign insurgents, and foreign terrorist groups (by providing them) information (they could use to attack) US force(s), both within the United States and abroad” — typical Pentagon boilerplate to hype threats and deter whistleblowers from exposing government crimes and excesses, what the public has every right to know.
In response, WikiLeaks said protecting the identity of leakers takes high priority. It operates “to expose unethical practices, illegal behavior, and wrongdoing within corrupt (government agencies and) corporations (as well as) oppressive regimes” abroad, some in collusion with Washington.
The goal — expose wrongdoing, demand accountability, and support democratic principles in a free and open society — what governments are supposed to do, but when they don’t, organizations like WikiLeaks exhibit the highest form of patriotism, to be lauded, not spied on, pilloried, or destroyed.
Among its many accusations, DOD claimed WikiLeaks:
  • has possible DOD moles giving it sensitive or classified information;
  • uses its site to post fabricated and manipulated information;
  • has 2,000 pages of leaked army documents with information about US and coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan,
  • including on the kinds and numbers of equipment assigned to US Central Command;
  • Julian Assange wrote and co-authored articles, based on leaked information, “to facilitate action by the US Congress to force the withdrawal of US troops by cutting off funding for the war(s);”
  • leaked information “could aid enemy forces in planning terrorist attacks, (choose) the most effective type and emplacement of improvised explosive devices (IEDs)” and use other ways to target US military units, convoys, and bases;
  • data published is misinterpreted, manipulated misinformation, disinformation, and propaganda;
  • a November 9, 2007 report said US forces “had almost certainly violated the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC),” and has 2,386 low grade chemical weapons in Iraq and Afghanistan;
  • the same report charged DOD with illegal white phosphorous use in the 2004 Fallujah attack;
  • the Bush administration was accused of torture and denying ICRC representatives access to Guantanamo detainees;
  • details were provided on DOD’s use of asymmetric tactics, techniques, and procedures in the April 2004 Fallujah assault; and
  • many other accusations and concerns were listed, including whether “foreign organizations… foreign military services, foreign insurgents, or terrorist groups provide funding or material support to Wikileaks.org.”
DOD concluded that successfully identifying, prosecuting, and terminating the employment of leakers “would damage and potentially destroy” WikiLeaks’ operation and deter others from supplying information. It also stressed “the need for strong counterintelligence, antiterrorism, force protection, information assurance, INFOSEC, and OPSEC programs to train Army personnel” on ways to prevent leaks and report “suspicious activities.”
Julian Assange is a man with a mission — total transparency. WikiLeaks is a vital resource by providing key information on how governments and corporations betray the public interest. Given America’s tradition of war crimes, corruption and other abuses of power, no wonder DOD is concerned, thankfully so far without success, or according to WikiLeaks:
Its activities are “the strongest way we have of generating the true democracy and good governance on which all mankind’s dreams depend,” and may have a chance to achieve from their work and others like them — grassroots activism, power and determination, the only way change ever comes, never from the top down, a lesson to internalize, remember, and act on.
A Final Note
On June 10, Daily Beast writer, Philip Shenon, headlined, “Pentagon Manhunt,” saying:
“Anxious that WikiLeaks may be on the verge of publishing a batch of secret State Department cables, investigators are desperately searching for founder, Julian Assange.”
In early June, he was scheduled to speak at New York’s Personal Democracy Forum, but was advised against it for his safety. Instead, he appeared via Skype from Australia.
Interviewed about Assange, famed whistleblower Daniel, Ellsberg, believes he could be in danger, saying:  “I happen to have been the target of a White House hit squad myself. On May 3, 1972, a dozen CIA assets from the Bay of Pigs, Cuban emigres, were brought up from Miami with orders to ‘incapacitate me totally.’ ” Ellsberg asked if that meant to kill him, and was told “It means to incapacitate you totally. But you have to understand these guys never use the word ‘kill.’ ”
Is Assange now in danger?
Absolutely. On the same basis, I was…. Obama is now proclaiming rights of life and death, being judge, jury, and executioner of Americans without due process” at home or abroad, besides non-citizens anywhere as well, the rule of law be damned. “No president has ever claimed that and possibly no one since John the First.”
Ellsberg’s advice to Assange:
“Stay out of the US. Otherwise, keep doing what he is doing. It’s pretty valuable…. He is serving our democracy and serving our rule of law precisely by challenging the secrecy regulations, which are not laws in most cases, in this country. He is doing very good work for our democracy,” something Obama, like his predecessors, works daily to subvert.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. Contact him at:lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. Also visit his blog site and listen to The Global Research News Hour on RepublicBroadcasting.org Mondays from 11AM-1PM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests. All programs are archived for easy listening. Read other articles by Stephen.