FEATURED PHOTOS AND STORIES

Wednesday: April 2, 2014 

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus

 

(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)

LINKS TO OTHER STORIES

                                

Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler

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Tuesday
Mar202012

Iraq and the Limits of US Power (COMMENTARY) 

By Paul Mutter

Malaki and Obama 

 “Washington has lost a valuable opportunity to nurture and support a key counterweight to Iranian influence among Shiites in the Arab world,” lament Danielle Pletka and Gary Schmitt of the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute in an op-ed for the Washington Post. They subsequently call on the Obama administration to bulk up its already grossly overloaded staff at the gigantic U.S. embassy in Baghdad. But in these few words, the two writers fleshed out a more fundamental concern for hawkish pundits in the Middle East: the fear of a “Shia Crescent” of Iranian-backed regimes in Baghdad, Beirut, and Damascus linking the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf.

Indeed, with Iran now able to meddle in Iraq in ways it never could have with Saddam Hussein in power, the country will be more able to contest US-Israeli hegemony in the Middle East. The grim irony, notes Ted Galen Carpenter, is that by invading Iraq in 2003, “the United States has paid a terrible cost - some $850 billion and more than 4,400 dead American soldiers – to make Iran the most influential power in Iraq.” Few, if any, of the war’s architects and boosters will now concede this, even as they raise alarm over Iran’s influence in Iraq.

Looking East

But where today’s neoconservatives see an encroaching Iranian Islamist threat in the Middle East, an older guard has reached back to the not-so-distant Cold War past for parallels. Notably, many leading neoconservative lights hold out hope that Iraq can be turned into an Arabian version of postwar South Korea and Japan.

Prominent neoconservatives draw heavily on the memory of America’s seizure of Japanese hegemony in Asia after 1945. The United States worked steadfastly with postwar Japanese and South Korean governments to build the two countries up as buffers to Soviet and Chinese influence during the Cold War — efforts that were, by Washington’s standards at least, quite successful. Despite challenges from a resurgent China, the Pacific Ocean was (and still is) an American lake.

In a 2010 op-ed for the New York Times, leading Iraq war agitator Paul Wolfowitz invoked this history explicitly, treading breezily past US support for authoritarian South Korean regimes. “The United States stuck with South Korea even though the country was then ruled by a dictator and the prospects for its war-devastated economy looked dim,” he wrote. Wolfowitz noted that Iraq’s struggling democracy and central location were not unlike South Korea’s during the Cold War.

However unseemly, there is some truth to Wolfowitz’s recollection. It may be impossible to imagine a fifth column of South Korean agitators helping Pyongyang take over Seoul today, but during the Cold War this was a real concern for the United States. So Washington chose to prop up feudalistic landlords and former Japanese collaborators as Seoul’s ruling class, stiffening South Korea’s sinews against the appeal of the North Korean model with a glut of military and economic support. Today, Japan and South Korea remain firmly within the US fold.

Moreover, these alliances continue despite the brutal wars that spawned them. U.S.-led forces laid waste to the Korean peninsula with saturation bombing in the 1950s, but Washington could always count thereafter on “our men in Seoul.” Japan is an even more extreme case. After several years of firebombing and blockading the country, the United States annihilated two of the Japan’s cities with nuclear weapons. And yet Japan plays host to U.S. troops even today.

Those who fear that the United States “lost Iraq” because Barack Obama went through with the U.S. withdrawal schedule negotiated by President Bush are clearly thinking about longer-term issues of American hegemony (see Mitt Romney’s foreign policy white paper and list of advisors for good examples of this kind of thinking). It's simple logic, really: everything with Iraq keeps coming back to the dual-track policy of containment and rollback the United States has pursued against Iran. Iraq is a vital piece of this strategy; Juan Cole’s map of American bases around Iran is unimpeachable evidence of this.

American neoconservatives may hope that a U.S.-buttressed military-political establishment in Iraq could form a bulwark against a potential “Shia Crescent” led by Iran, just as South Korea and Japan helped stem the red tide spreading through East Asia during the Cold War. They may even have some reason to hope that Iraqis will overlook their resentment over the immensely destructive US war on the country.

Wishful Thinking

Just as in South Korea and Japan, there are Iraqis who see the United States as a partner — or at least as a cash cow that can be milked by exploiting US jitters about Iran. In contrast to most Iraqi politicians, who have been almost uniformly opposed to an ongoing US military presence in Iraq, there are Iraqi military officers who wanted to maintain ties with the US military because they doubted their own forces could keep the peace.

There are always people within a country's security establishment who can be made into agents of American influence. But in Iraq, the United States is confronting a much less homogeneous society than in South Korea or Japan, and it faces a much better equipped rival for hegemonic influence in Iran. As Washington’s influence in Baghdad recedes, Tehran’s hidden hands in Iraq are coming to the fore.

It’s not that Iran doesn’t have its own baggage to contend with in Iraq as it vies with the United States for influence—Iran wasn’t winning Iraqi hearts and minds, after all, when the two countries were busy destroying each other in the 1980s. But a key distinction for Iraqis between that war and the U.S. invasion was that the Iran-Iraq War was launched by their own Saddam Hussein, driving thousands of Iraqi Shia refugees into Iran by the end of the 1980s. By all appearances, America’s war on Iraq was purely voluntary and imposed on Iraqis from the outside. Moreover, Iran has from at least 1982 on been working to build up its own agents of influence in Iraq's security and religious establishments.

Most importantly, an Iraqi alignment with Iran is the result not only of two decades of Iranian intrigue, but also of two decades of US sanctions, war, and occupation. Especially since the US occupation, Iraqis have viewed Iranian machinations in Iraq—and even Iran’s quiet participation in Iraq’s horrific sectarian violence—as just another symptom of a plague brought by the US invasion. 

A Lack of Options

Suppose Obama came into office determined to overturn the withdrawal agreement and keep US troops in Iraq. What tools would he have to force Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to reverse himself in the face of an angry Iraqi public and threats by some Shia groups to take up their arms again if the U.S. military presence continued? What could Obama do to "reclaim the partnership with Maliki," as Danielle Pletka and Gary Schmitt ask?

The answer is surprisingly little, mainly because the US-Iraqi relationship was never a partnership to begin with. It was, from the start, an occupation. The US presence in Iraq – where it tried not just to police the country but at times even had Provincial Reconstruction Teams stand in for civil society – meant that Maliki had little agency of his own. Additionally, holdouts like the Sadrists, Sunni tribal militias, and the Badr Brigades had little reason to lay down their arms; it was fight or collaborate, and they chose to fight.

But ever since the United States enabled Maliki to build his own security forces, electoral bloc, and bureaucracy – and thus achieve an understanding with members of the “insurgency” – he has found other people he can depend on to bolster his rule. He doesn't need US forces to intimidate, capture, or kill people for him; his own people are quite capable of doing that.

Far from being run out of the country after detaining hundreds of former Ba’athist officials this winter, Maliki has apparently managed to use such heavy-handed actions to his advantage. As paper by the neoconservative Institute for the Study of War recently noted, “It is clear that Maliki has come out as the winner . . . He has made it more difficult for his Shia rivals to dissent while simultaneously confining his Sunni opponents in a position suitable for exerting pressure and exploiting divisions within their ranks.” For all of the rampant disunity and criminality of the Iraqi government, its leadership has been able to achieve ever-greater independence from its U.S. backers.  

Most importantly, Iraq has little reason to sully an important relationship with its Iranian neighbor just to please Washington. Moreover, it’s uneasy about having such a long border with a regime change target and has no wish to get involved with the nuclear question that so preoccupies Israel and the United States. “Iraqis," Adil Shamoo notes, "can tell the difference between mutually beneficial programs and those that create the impression that the U.S. is powerful and can do what it wants in Iraq."

Out of Cards

Even "our man in Iraq" Ahmed Chalabi – who swept back into the country by way of Langley, Virginia after a decade of agitating for U.S.-led regime change in exile – wanted the United States out of Iraq because he thought it would be political suicide to keep associating with the country that paid his organization $335,000 a month during the first year of the occupation.

If the United States could not secure gratitude from a man who spent over a decade working with the CIA to overthrow Saddam Hussein, then from whom in Iraq can it call in any favors? Short of sectarian violence reaching the level it did in 2005, gratitude is the only thing that would compel Iraqi officials to reverse course, let U.S. troops back in, and focus their foreign policy efforts on a dual-track policy of rollback and containment against Iran.

Unfortunately for neoconservatives, Iraq is no South Korea or Japan, and “gratitude” seems to be in short supply.

-- Paul Mutter is a fellow at Truthout.org, as well as a contributor to Foreign Policy in Focus, Mondoweiss, The Arabist, and Salon. He is currently on leave from NYU’s graduate program in journalism and international affairs.  This work by Institute for Policy Studies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.

Monday
Sep262011

The Annual Clinton Lovefest: A Disconnect Between Rich and Poor? (PERSPECTIVE)

by Themrise Khan

CGI 2011 Plenary Session: Redefining Business As Usual

President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton at CGI 2011. CREDIT: CGI/Paul Morse

(HN, September 26, 2011) - It was three days of self-praise, self-glorification and self-affirmation. The outlying message at the end was, “we are good people doing good for others, but we need more money to do it”.


This was the seventh annual Clinton Global Initiative, aka CGI, in New York -  a collection of many men in suits and some women in heels. A globally respected event, which has also recognized Pakistani social entrepreneurs in the past, the theme of this years gathering was, “The World at Seven Billion”.

It was an astonishingly busy week in New York, with the CGI sharing limited Manhattan space with the opening of the UN General Assembly, where Palestinian statehood took a rude beating, as expected. Mid-town Manhattan was in lock-down and gridlock as heads of state moved between one glorified political event to another, followed by a slew of black SUV’s containing a frightening number of some very mean looking people. For five days, the apocalypse had come to visit New York City. Manhattan looked like a showroom for GMC Suburban SUVs.

And an apocalypse of sorts it was, as political royalty rubbed shoulders with aristocratic royalty. There were strategically placed Saudi princes and princesses, talking about ending violence against women and global poverty. The Arab presence was not complete without a fleeting appearance by the stately Queen Rania of Jordan, at the special session on Change in the Middle-East and North Africa.

One of the highlights of the forum this year, was Burma’s very own Aung San Suu Kyi speaking live via satellite from Rangoon, to a completely smitten Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa. We suspect Clinton must have pulled some strings to convince the Burmese generals to allow Suu Kyi to go live on air.

Gridlock in Manhattan during the opening of the UNGA. CREDIT: HUMNEWSPresident Barack Obama dropped by as well, to embrace his dear friend President Bill Clinton on stage, while subtly trying to woe the uber-rich audience towards his looming but not so booming election campaign. Speaking about America’s creaking infrastructure, including the ageing LaGuardia Airport in New York City, Obama said that the chief of the discount carrier, Southwest Airlines, told him that fuel bills could be cut drastically if only modern GPS were installed at US airports. “Maybe they will start serving peanuts on flights again.”.

There were also other presidents, former and current, prime ministers, ministers, corporate CEO’s, media moguls, New York’s rich and famous who realistically came to life off the pages of Vanity Fair and Vogue, fashion statements, furs and all. However, it seemed that the hotel lobby and bar were the real action was though, as deals were made, partnerships discovered and just plain old people watching gave the likes of the mere mortals like myself, an adrenaline high.

But despite the heady attendance of global heavy weights, it was hard to put a finger on exactly what this year’s conference had set out to achieve. For one, the sessions had nothing to do with the title. It was supposedly an ode to improving the lives of women and girls in the developing world, as a laudable initiative on eliminating child-brides was launched. But there was also a hint of the prevention of non-communicable diseases, a smattering of climate change and food security and a very, very, heavy dose of the connection of corporate philanthropy as a solution to all of this and more.

Members of organizations working with the help of CGI funds, such as the Desert Research Foundation in Namibia, shared the stage with the CEOs of PepsiCo and Unilever, who strenuously explained how their companies were helping the impoverished with food security issues around the developing world.  PepsiCo, for example, explained how it was sharing excess food products, such as high-protein chickpeas, with the World Food Programme (WFP).

In another session, the Dreamers for Tomorrow Association in Egypt, the poster-child nation of the Arab Spring, who laid bare their hope for peace in the Arab world, alongside a the diamond encrusted Princess Ameerah of the Al-Waleed Foundation and the CEO of The Coca-Cola Company, who are apparently the ones to watch out for where ‘doing good” is concerned.

Clinton himself, freshly trim from a non-meat diet, showed some very visible signs of a disconnect with his supposed “target audience”, was the most baffling outcome of this forum.

Case in point. In allowing young girls to access education and schools, what attempts can be a made to prevent their harassment and sexual molestation as they walk the long distances to schools in Africa. Clinton’s response; more law-enforcement along those paths and more street lights to that fewer girls are raped in the evening hours. A surprising declaration from a man who makes it his business to spend as much time as possible in the field.

It didn’t help that this year, the press (of which this scribe was a member), were kept sequestered in a basement with no access to any of the small group discussions or breakout sessions, save a few “by permission only” sessions. Frankly, one may as well have stayed home and watched it all on YouTube.

To me, CGI 2011 was a stark reminder to most of us from the marginalized world that we are still - and will be for many decades to come - mere pawns in the games of the rich and famous for greater wealth and power (CGI members and corporate participants pay up to US$20,000 to attend the event). The solutions to global poverty and security are mostly the result of political and corporate misgivings. As such, might the CGI is simply a way to absolve any pangs of guilt the well heeled in the western world may have about it?

The Clinton Global Initiative is an annual conference that brings together philanthropists and world leaders to inspire, connect and forge solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges. Since it was established in 2005, nearly 150 current and former heads of state, 18 Nobel Prize laureates, and hundreds of CEOs, heads of foundations, nonprofits and major philanthropists have made nearly 2,000 commitments impacting over 180 countries, the lives of over 300 million people, and commitments upwards of $60 billion.

Monday
May232011

Change in a New World (PERSPECTIVE)

By Alina Vrejoiu

Many people have criticized Barack Obama for putting his reputation on the line by being the first U.S president to boldly declare that the Israeli border should go back to the 1967 lines and insisting that a Jewish state "cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation" of Palestinian lands.

The dramatic remarks were made only a week after Obama successfully caught one of the biggest terrorist masterminds.President Obama delivers the historic Middle East speech. CREDIT: White House

It is by no accident that Obama is carefully strategizing his move in terms of the juxtaposition events from the past - comparing the upheaval in the Middle East and Africa to the American Revolution and the Civil Rights movement - and present in order to make his next move in the Middle East. He knows that there is a thirst by the public for dignity and freedom and he is willing to move out ahead into the torrent of change. Israel, on the other hand, is not ready for this sudden change to happen even though a democratic approach would work in its favor.

Obama has reassured the Israelis in his recent meeting on May 19th with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that, “Our commitment to Israel's security is unshakable. And we will stand against attempt to single it out for criticism in international forums.”

Obama was, unfortunately, criticized for siding with the Israelis instead of understanding that we are not going to take sides. Yes, the United States sees Israel as an ally because we are supposed to share the same values and because it is the only country in the Middle East that embraces democracy and freedom.

However, in Obama's landmark Cairo speech of June 2009 he strongly recognized the suffering of Palestinian people through dispossession, occupation, and refugee status.

Said Obama: "...It is also undeniable that the Palestinian people - Muslims and Christians - have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than sixty years they have endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations - large and small - that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own."

With the Palestinian population steadily growing and technology and social networking playing a big role in revolution and change, there is an urgency like never before to establish peace between these two parties. The existing state of affairs is no longer sustainable; there must be agreement to conform to a peace process and Israel should take the lead in these negotiations.

Obama has made it clear that neither he nor the United Nations can force an agreement if face-to-face discussions don’t happen and there is no real determination for peace to occur. After all, the 1967 line settlement was supposed to be for Israeli defense purposes and we have seen Jewish family settlements put in place instead.

Transparency and open dialogues with a fair redrawing of state lines is the only way a peace process can begin to flourish. I hope we will not allow misconceptions to contaminate history once again.

Establishing a new government and a new state for Palestinians that will allow for freedom of speech, thought and free elections is better than one that imposes its ideology by force.  Israel needs to step up to the plate and recognize a Palestinian state in order to move forward into the new world.  Waiting for a peace accord is no longer an option in the Middle East.

Alina Vrejoiu is a faculty member of Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, New York and has taught international students for the last four years.