Monday, 25 May 2015

On Memorial Day, Remember Veterans for Peace

Memorial Day 2015

Mon May 25, 2015 at 07:34:30 AM EDT
My father Alex Efthim was a Captain in the Army Air Corps, combat intelligence, Pacific Theater, World War II. He always taught me in any peace march to find the veterans and walk behind them. I always have. My father was a member of Veterans for Peace, and his idea of peace was about human rights and justice. So is mine. My friend Michael McPhearson now runs Veterans for Peace; he served in the Gulf War. For a while, Michael lived in New Jersey while his wife Deborah Jacobs ran ACLU-NJ. Now they're in St. Louis, and after Mike Brown was killed, were on the ground in Ferguson. This is Michael's Facebook status of a couple days ago, and I find it about perfect. I hope you find a way today to honor those who never came ho me, and to let your concern for living veterans move to action on their behalf.
This is Michael

I wanted to get this down before I forget his name. I just met a Black Vietnam combat vet named Milton. He saw me walking and called out, "Hey young man are you a veteran?" He was so enthusiastic, shaking my hand. He told me where he served, who with etc like we vets and service members do when we meet. I told him my service credentials. He went on to tell me he always wants to thank veterans because he was not thanked and was treated bad when he returned home. I told him about Veterans For Peace, gave him my card and a brochure.

We talked about how we are sent to serve and thrown away when we come home. We agreed on how we are lied to about why we are sent to war. He called the politicians professional liars being paid to lie.

As I was about to go, he told me he was going to take the brochure and place it on the bulletin board at the shelter where he is staying. Until that moment I had no idea this enthusiastic, smiling and energetic veteran was homeless. I asked him his name again, we shook hands in what I'll call the Unity fashion, we hugged and I set off feeling very emotional.

I'm tired of meeting homeless people. We have homelessness because of greed, indifference and a depraved social structure. I am particularly hurt when I meet homeless veterans. This one was such a wonderful happy man. There is no excuse for this. The U.S. is waging wars around the world to the tune if a trillion dollars a year. Killing innocent people in the name of freedom and discarding many sent to do these dirty deeds. What other word is there for this other than evil?

Call me naive, idealistic or foolish. Whatever, but God(dess) did not put us here to do this. I won't accept it.
If you see me this Memorial Day, don't wish me a happy one and don't thank me for my service. Reflect on how to stop this madness. Figure out something large or small, grand or minute you can do and then do it. That's a real way to honor those who have died in war. Peace is possible, but we must be wiling to sacrifice and belive in it just as much as it appears we believe in killing and chaos. [emphasis added]
Rosi Efthim::Memorial Day 2015


Friday, 15 May 2015

After the UK Elections, a more divided Britain

After the Elections, an Even More Divided Britain

London: We expected a landmark election but not quite like this. We thought it would signal the end of two-party politics in Britain and herald a new dawn – of continental style coalition politics. Instead, the Conservatives scored a surprising victory, added two dozen seats to their 2010 tally and will now form a majority government. And in the process, they decapitated all their opponents, from Lib Dems to Labour to UKIP – Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband and Nigel Farage have all resigned and have been replaced by women. Cameron is now truly the last man standing, with just 22% of the electorate voting Conservative (around 36% of those who voted, a slight increase since 2010). The Conservatives frightened Lib Dem and Labour voters with the spectre of a Miliband administration in the pockets of the SNP, and UKIP did the rest, leaving the Conservatives in prime position. They played the ‘fear’ card well.

Does this election teach us anything we didn’t already know? What are its implications for Britain, Europe and the wider world?

For Britain
A kingdom increasingly divided. The Tory government’s writ hardly runs in Scotland where Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party won an unprecedented 56 of 59 seats, decimating Labour north of the border and ensuring the latter’s defeat. The SNP running on an anti-austerity, anti-Trident nuclear submarine and anti-war programme – captured a stunning 50 seats more than in 2010. There’s only a single representative of each of the three main parties in Scotland now. The Conservatives and Labour are English parties with a toe-hold in Wales; Westminster no longer rules the hearts or minds of Scotland.

But even more than this, the election shows disillusionment with and distance from the politics of Westminster – a 66% turnout despite an apparently more open field than in any previous election. Votes for the SNP, UKIP and Greens are votes against the political establishment of an increasingly fragmented United Kingdom. The Green Party and UKIP, between them, garnered over 5 million votes but ended up with just 2 seats. Electoral reform is surely back on the agenda both better to reflect popular opinion and restore the credibility and representativeness of Parliament.
Cameron’s second term as premier is going to be tougher than the first. His backbenchers, who rebelled more frequently than at any time since World War II, want to cut the budget deficit while handing out tax cuts. Conservative Eurosceptics, like John Redwood, want a referendum on EU membership as soon as possible, something Cameron promised to hold by the end of 2017. And he has no moderating Lib Dems in a coalition to assist him. Scottish nationalism has been boosted and will likely lead to demands for another referendum on independence unless Cameron quickly delivers ‘Devo [lution] Max [imum]’ – full fiscal autonomy.

War on the poor and vulnerable
Leaked Conservative Party planning documents during the election campaign suggested Tories are planning £12 billion of government spending cuts while promising an additional £8 billion every year for the National Health Service (NHS). Having already imposed savage cuts on welfare and disability benefits since 2010, somewhat tempered by the Lib Dems, the war on the vulnerable in British society may now be waged without restraint. Between 2010-2014, public sector spending cuts led to job losses of around 900,000, mainly in the north of England where the Labour vote is strongest. Across the country, one million people use food banks for basics such as baby food. The social security budget was hit with a cut of up to £25 billion – affecting children, working parents and the disabled. It is unsurprising that shoplifting of food has gone up, according to the police. According to the Child Poverty Action Group, if current government policies persist, the number of children living below the poverty line is due to rise by over a million to 4.7 million by 2020. Already noted by the OECD as one of the most unequal societies in the West, the new Tory government is set to preside over even greater social polarisation.

The pressure on the Cameron government to fight hard to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU opens up the risk of losing its most important trading partner. The rise of anti-EU nationalism across Europe, of which UKIP is symptomatic, threatens the European project. All of the main parties campaigned on the issue of curbing EU immigration. This has sharpened nationalism in the UK too – handing Scotland to the SNP and 13% of all votes cast to UKIP. Ultimately, however, Britain is a core member of the EU and central to the project: it is highly unlikely to withdraw. But the uncertainty and instability caused by such a controversial and emotional issue undermines Britain’s position in Europe and the world and, more significantly, distracts the government from major issues at home, especially the re-building of Britain’s infrastructure and constructing millions of affordable new houses in and around the biggest cities where demand is greatest. This is also central to the growth in productivity that the Conservatives claim is essential to reversing spending cuts by 2018.

Global impact
Foreign policy does not shift quickly and Britain’s is unlikely to change appreciably, despite claims of the death of the ‘special relationship’ with the United States. Britain, notwithstanding cuts to military spending, remains the US’s most willing partner in military interventions in the Middle East and Africa. Cameron was, with French president Nicolas Sarkozy, the initial and enthusiastic champion of military strikes and regime change, under cover of humanitarian intervention, in Libya, now a failed state, a third of whose population has abandoned the country as ISIS takes root. Britain supports Saudi suppression of Bahraini uprisings against oppression and is now building a naval base there next door to the US 5th fleet. The illegal Saudi bombing of Yemen has been conducted with US and British logistical support. The City of London remains a global financial centre, Britain still has a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, and is at the heart of an increasingly global NATO. Its imperial mindset, despite decolonisation, has yet to disappear.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

US Policy, Yemen Crisis

How the U.S. Contributed to Yemen’s Crisis

By Stephen Zunes
yemen-pro-democracy-protests-arab-spring
(Photo: Al Jazeera English / Flickr)
As a Saudi-led military coalition continues to pound rebel targets in Yemen, the country is plunging into a humanitarian crisis. Civilian casualties are mounting.

With U.S. logistical support, the Saudis are attempting to re-instate the country’s exiled government — which enjoys the backing of the West and the Sunni Gulf monarchies — in the face of a military offensive by Houthi rebels from northern Yemen.

None of this had to be.

Not long ago — at the height of the Arab Spring in 2011 — a broad-based, nonviolent, pro-democracy movement in Yemen rose up against the U.S.-backed government of dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh. If Washington and Saudi Arabia had allowed this coalition to come to power, the tragic events unfolding in Yemen could have been prevented.

The movement had forged an impressive degree of unity among the various tribal, regional, sectarian, and ideological groups that took part in the pro-democracy protests, which included mass marches, sit-ins, and many other forms of nonviolent civil resistance. Leaders of prominent tribal coalitions — as well as the Houthis now rebelling against the government — publicly supported the popular insurrection, prompting waves of tribesmen to leave their guns at home and head to the capital to take part in the movement.

These tribesmen, along with the hundreds of thousands of city dwellers on the streets, were encouraged to maintain nonviolent discipline, even in the face of government snipers and other provocations that led to the deaths of hundreds of unarmed protesters.

The Obama administration, however, was more concerned about maintaining stability in the face of growing Al-Qaeda influence in rural areas. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates acknowledged that Washington had not planned for an era without Saleh, who had ruled the country for more than three and a half decades. As one former ambassador to Yemen put itin March 2011, “For right now, he’s our guy.”

“That’s How It Is”
Though the pro-democracy movement largely maintained a remarkably rigorous nonviolent discipline in its protests, some opposition tribes and rebel army officers added an armed component to the resistance movement. An assassination attempt against Saleh that June forced the severely wounded president to leave for Saudi Arabia for extended medical treatments.

John Brennan, Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser and future CIA director, visited Saleh in a Saudi hospital in July andencouraged him to sign a deal transferring power. Not only was the mission unsuccessful in convincing Saleh to resign, however, the regime — in a continuation of its efforts to use Saleh’s close relationship with the United States to reinforce his standing — broadcast images of the surprisingly healthy-looking president and emphasized his statesmanlike demeanor in meeting with a top U.S. official as a signal of continued U.S. support for the regime.

As the pro-democracy struggle tried desperately to keep the movement nonviolent in the aftermath of the assassination attempt and a growing armed rebellion, the United States escalated its own violence by launching unprecedented air strikes in Yemen, ostensibly targeting Al-Qaeda cells. The Pentagon acknowledged, however, that Al-Qaeda operatives often intermingled with other anti-government rebels.

Indeed, U.S. policy allowed the CIA to target individuals for drone strikes without verifying their identity, resulting in some armed Yemeni tribes and others allied with pro-democracy forces apparently being attacked under the mistaken impression they were al-Qaeda. This scenario was made all the more likely by U.S. reliance on the Yemeni regime for much of its intelligence in determining targets. Complicating the situation still further during this critical period of ongoing protests, teams of U.S. military and intelligence operatives were continuing to operate out of a command post in the Yemeni capital.
It’s entirely possible, then, that the Yemeni government may have used the pretext of al-Qaeda to convince the U.S. government to take out its rivals.

U.S. officials insisted that the violence between the pro- and anti-regime elements of the Yemeni armed forces did not involve U.S.-trained Yemeni special operations forces, and Brennan initially maintained that the unrest had not affected U.S.-Yemeni security cooperation. By the end of the year, however, he acknowledged that the “political tumult” had led these U.S.-trained units “to be focused on their positioning for internal political purposes as opposed to doing all they can against AQAP.”
That meant that Yemeni forces trained by the United States for the purpose of fight al-Qaeda were instead directly participating in the squelching of a democratic uprising. “Rather than fighting AQAP,” an exposé in The Nation noted, “these U.S.-backed units — created and funded with the explicit intent to be used only for counterterrorism operations — redeployed to Sanaa to protect the collapsing regime from its own people.”

According to the well-connected Yemeni political analyst Abdul Ghani al-Iryani, these U.S.-backed units exist “mostly for the defense of the regime.” For example, rather than fighting a key battle against Al-Qaida forces in Abyan, al-Iryani told reporter Jeremy Scahill, “They are still here [in Sanaa], protecting the palace. That’s how it is.”

“Keeping Enough of the Regime Intact”
At the end of July 2011, despite the ongoing repression of pro-democracy forces, a congressional committee approved more than $120 million in aid to the Yemeni government, primarily in military and related security assistance. The aid was conditional on the State Department certifying that the Yemeni government was cooperating sufficiently in fighting terrorism, but there were no conditions regarding democracy or human rights.

As the repression increased, U.S. officials praised the Yemeni regime’s cooperation with U.S.-led war efforts, with Brennandeclaring in September, “I can say today the counterterrorism cooperation with Yemen is better than it’s been during my whole tenure.”
Meanwhile, the United States and Saudi Arabia, joined by the other monarchies of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), presented a plan whereby Saleh would step down. According to the deal, he and other top officials in the regime would be granted immunity from prosecution, and a plebiscite would be held within 60 days to ratify the transfer of power to Saleh’s vice-president, Major General Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi.

Pro-democracy protesters largely rejected this U.S.-Saudi mandate for Hadi. It soon became apparent that despite occasional calls for Saleh to step down — such as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice’s strong statement in early August — the Obama administration was deferring to its autocratic GCC allies on the peninsula to oversee a political transition.
In mid-August, opposition activists formed a National Council, which they hoped would form a provisional government until multiparty elections could be held. It consisted of 143 members representing a broad coalition of protest leaders, tribal sheiks, South Yemen separatists, opposition military commanders, former members of the governing party, and the Houthi militia representing the Zaydi minority in the north.

The Saudis and the U.S. government, however, kept pushing for Saleh to transfer power to his vice president. Supporters of the National Council denounced these foreign efforts as “only a plot to foil the revolution.”

Following a meeting with Hadi in September, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman said, “We continue to believe that an immediate, peaceful, and orderly transition is in the best interest of the Yemeni people. …We urge all sides to engage in dialogue that peacefully moves Yemen forward.” Pro-democracy protesters pushed ahead in their campaign of civil resistance, insisting that the National Council representing a broad array Yemenis not be circumvented.
Shortly thereafter, government security forces fired into crowds during a massive pro-democracy protest in Sanaa. Dozens of protesters were killed and hundreds more wounded.
The U.S. embassy, however, appeared to blame both sides for the killings, saying the United States “regrets the deaths and injuries of many people” and calling “upon all parties to exercise restraint. In particular, we call on the parties to refrain from actions that provoke further violence.” Similarly, U.S. ambassador Gerald Feierstein criticized a peaceful pro-democracy march from Taiz to Sanaa in December as “provocative.”

Soon afterwards, 13 more pro-democracy demonstrators were killed by government security forces, leading many activists to accuse the ambassador of preemptively giving Saleh permission to shoot civilians. Time magazine, summarizing the view of pro-democracy activists, noted, “The early intercession of foreign powers with a transition plan distracted attention from popular demands, they say, and allowed the president to cite ongoing talks in delaying his resignation. Many Yemenis believe the key interest guiding the U.S. has been keeping enough of the regime intact to combat al Qaeda, and that this has distorted the outcome.”

“This Revolution Has Been Stabbed in the Back”
Eventually, U.S. officials bowed to international concerns and put forward a threat of United Nations sanctions against the regime, which finally forced Saleh to formally resign.
In January 2012, the Obama administration allowed Saleh into the United States for medical treatment, rejecting calls for his prosecution. U.S. officials believed that doing so was the best way of finally forcing him to step down as president and finally make a peaceful transition of power possible.

Pro-democracy activists in Yemen were outraged.

Protest leader Tawakkol Karman, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize the previous month, called on the United States to “hold Saleh accountable.” She also observed, “There shouldn’t be any place for tyrants in the free world. This is against all international agreements, laws, and covenants. The entry of Ali Saleh into America is an insult to the values of the American people. This was a mistake by the administration, and I am confident he will be met with wide disapproval in America. This will tarnish the reputation of America among all those who support the Arab Spring revolutions.”
Saleh returned to Yemen the following month to oversee the transfer of power to his vice-president and has remained the country ever since. Now, he’s making a bid to retake control, having formed an alliance with his former Houthi adversaries and, with the support of some allied army units, playing a critical role in their rise to power.

This has greatly angered the pro-democracy movement, whose leaders twice petitioned the Obama administration for support but were rejected in favor of negotiations led by the Saudi regime and other autocratic GCC monarchies. This greatly set back the hopes for a genuine democratic revolution and alienated the very liberal youth who would otherwise be the West’s most likely Yemeni allies.
As Francisco Martin-Royal, an expert on counter-radicalization in the region, at that time, “The lack of U.S. support means that these young men and women, who effectively ousted Saleh and continue to call for democratic institutions, have broadly failed to have a voice in the formation of Yemen’s new government or have their legitimate concerns be taken seriously.”

He continued, “Yemen’s pro-democracy activists largely blame the U.S. for failing to live up to its rhetoric — a disillusionment that potentially makes them vulnerable to recruitment by other well-organized forces that are against the existing regime, namely extremist groups like AQAP and separatist movements. From their perspective, the only real changes in Yemen — the establishment of a semi-autonomous region by the Houthis and the propagation of sharia law in various cities in southern Yemen by Ansar al-Sharia — have come through violence.”

U.S. Ambassador Feierstein kept pushing the vague idea of a “national dialogue” among elites and criticized ongoing protests within the government institutions, particularly military units, on the grounds that “the problems have to be resolved through this process of dialogue and negotiations.” By contrast, he castigated the pro-democracy activists, saying “We’ve also been clear in saying we don’t believe that the demonstrations are the place where Yemen’s problems will be solved.”
In February 2012, President Obama publicly endorsed Hadi, claiming — despite Hadi’s service as vice-president in a repressive regime and his distinction as the only candidate in the subsequent plebiscite — that his subsequent election was “a model for how peaceful transition in the Middle East can occur.”

The pro-democracy movement thus largely gave up on the United States, with prominent young pro-democracy activist Khaled al-Anesi fuming, “This revolution has been stabbed in the back.”

What Could Have Been?
This marginalization of Yemeni civil society — which had struggled for so many months nonviolently for democracy — and Washington’s failure to accept the broad-based National Council to head an interim government created the conditions that led to the dramatic resurgence of the armed Houthi uprising, which until last year had only operated in the Zaydi heartland in the far northern part of the country.
The Houthis were helped along by the Hadi government’s lack of credibility, ongoing corruption and ineptitude at all levels of government, a mass resignation of Yemen’s cabinet, and controversial proposals for constitutional change. They also received support from armed groups allied with the former Saleh dictatorship, which enabled the Houthis — who represent only a minority of Yemenis — to nevertheless emerge as the most powerful force in Yemen. They surprised the world by seizing the capital of Sanaa in August, consolidating power in January, and subsequently expanding southward.
Most Yemenis strongly oppose the Houthi militia and, in Taiz and other parts of the country, have challenged their armed advance through massive civil resistance and other nonviolent means. Yet the Houthis have actually expanded their areas of control in some key regions, even where they’ve faced armed resistance and Saudi air strikes.

It would be much too simplistic to blame the current crisis in Yemen entirely on the United States. However, one still has to wonder: If instead of allying with Saudi autocrats to install another strongman in the name of stability, Washington had supported that country’s nonviolent pro-democracy movement, what might have been?

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Miliband's Militarist Foreign Policy


Just how anti-war is Ed Miliband?

His supporters see in him an alternative to the Conservatives’ aggressive foreign policy, but Ed Miliband has repeatedly backed wars of choice to further his own career. 

Ed Miliband. Image: Flickr
Challenged by Jeremy Paxman on whether he was “tough enough” to be Prime Minister on the Sky News/Channel 4 programme ‘Cameron & Miliband Live’, Labour leader Ed Miliband replied:
“In the summer of 2013 this government proposed [military] action in Syria, the bombing of Syria, right? I was called into a room by David Cameron and Nick Clegg because President Obama had been on the phone, The Leader of the Free World, right? I listened to what they said and over those days I made up my mind and we said ‘No’, right?” 
Miliband has also repeatedly pointed out that he opposed the 2003 Iraq War. Desperate to shore up the Labour vote, Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee has been only too happy to confirm Miliband “rejected the Iraq war”.

However, before everyone starts labelling ‘Red Ed’ as anti-war, it’s worth taking some time to consider his positions on recent British foreign policy.

2014: The bombing of ISIS in Iraq
After he had unironically referred to Barack Obama as “The Leader of the Free World” on the Sky News/Channel Four programme, Miliband went on to explain he did not want to “repeat the mistakes of the 2003 Iraq War when Labour was in power, which was a rush to war without knowing what your strategy is and without being clear about what the consequences would be.”
Given these – apparently sincerely held – concerns, one would presume Miliband would be opposed to, or at least very sceptical of, the on-going US-led airstrikes on Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq. However, he fully supported the airstrikes in the House of Commons in September 2014 – and continues to do so as far as I am aware.

He supported the war for a number of reasons. “Iraq is a democratic state. It is a government that we would want to support”, he said. As I’ve argued elsewhere this statement conceals the deeply authoritarian and undemocratic nature of the present Iraqi government, and the West’s role in helping to create it.

Miliband also referred positively to the regional support the proposed airstrikes had from Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Side-stepping the question of whether being in a coalition with the most fundamentalist nation on earth is a good thing, it is important to remember Saudi Arabia and Qatar have played an important role in the rise of ISIS.
In September 2014 the Director of the FBI told Congress the US-led airstrikes were increasing support for ISIS. Similarly, the former head of counterterrorism at MI6 has warned the airstrikes could “increase the risk” of terrorist attacks in the West. In terms of the military action itself, President Obama recently said the war against ISIS is likely to take up to three years, with the US Defence Secretarysuggesting this was probably an underestimate. And what of the democratic Iraqi Government Miliband was so keen to protect?

In February 2015 Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report arguing the widespread abuses perpetrated by the government-enabled Shia militias could well be war crimes, while an October 2014 HRW commentary noted the "relentless arson and pillaging" carried out by Shia militias in Iraq have displaced over 7,000 families in recent months.
After recently visiting Iraq, award-winning US journalist Matthieu Aikins explained that “Iraq has become a militia state”. With US arms sent to the Iraqi government ending up in the hands of Shia militias the “US risks helping to perpetrate the same violence and state corruption that led to ISIS's stunning rise last year”, he noted.

2013: The proposed US-led bombing of Syria
Miliband told Paxman he had stood up to the Prime Minister and “The Leader of the Free World” over Syria in September 2013. The normally questioning Labour backbencher Michael Meacher MP declared Miliband’s actions on Syria will be “recognised as an act of courage and statesmanship that shows his mettle as a leader.”

The reality is a little less heroic than Miliband and Meacher would have us believe. 
A read of the parliamentary debate about the proposed military action shows the Labour motion was very similar to the defeated Government motion, a fact not lost on some of the more experienced foreign affairs experts in the House of Commons. “I can find no difference of substance or principle anywhere in the two offerings”, said Sir Menzies Campbell, the former Foreign Affairs spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats. Likewise, former Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind noted “virtually all” of Labour’s list of requirements for supporting military action “appear in the Government’s own motion.”

Moreover, in the parliamentary debate Miliband explained he would support military action against Syria without a United Nations Security Council Resolution – essentially agreeing with the Government again. As Jonathan Steele, the Guardian’s former Chief Correspondent, noted “Cameron and Miliband used dubious legal grounds to try to justify bypassing a veto in the UN Security Council by saying western military strikes were needed to protect Syrians.” Does Miliband’s self-serving position on the UN remind you of any other Labour leader?

2011: The NATO intervention in Libya
Along with the vast majority of British newspapers and 557 MPs, Miliband supported the NATO intervention in Libya, supposedly carried out to stop a massacre of civilians in Benghazi. Accepting the government’s – highly questionable – narrative of the crisis, Miliband cited his parents’ experience of the Holocaust in the House of Commons debate.
The NATO intervention arguably escalated the violence and elongated the conflict, plunging the country into a militia-dominated Hobbesian nightmare. Fast-forward four years and, as I have argued elsewhere, Libya is a chaotic mess:
“In November 2014 Amnesty International warned that ‘lawless militias and armed groups on all sides of the conflict in western Libya are carrying out rampant human rights abuses, including war crimes.’ The same month the UN refugee agency reported that nearly 400,000 Libyans had been displaced by the ongoing violence, while the Associated Press noted the Libyan city of Darna had become the first city outside of Syria and Iraq to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State group.”
With this reality in mind, again it is worth reminding ourselves of Ed Miliband’s supposedly sincere concerns about Iraq in 2003: “a rush to war without knowing what your strategy is and without being clear about what the consequences would be.”

2003: The US-UK invasion of Iraq
In attempt to disassociate himself with New Labour’s 2003 illegal, aggressive attack on Iraq, Miliband has repeatedly boasted he was opposed to the invasion. Miliband was in the US in the run-up to the war, teaching at Harvard. However, he has said “I did tell people at the time that asked me that I was against the war.” Ed Miliband’s biographer Mehdi Hasan claims that Miliband Jr rang Gordon Brown from the United States to try and persuade the then Chancellor of the Exchequer to resist the push to war.

Speaking at the Labour leader hustings in 2010 Ed Balls labelled Miliband’s claim to be anti-war as “ridiculous” noting that Miiband “did not tell people” he was against the war. Speaking at the same hustings, Former Foreign Secretary David Miliband made a rare honest statement: “Diane Abbott [who was also standing to be Labour leader] is the only candidate that can say she was against the war at the time, and if that is the sole criterion, she is in a different position to every other candidate. She did not just think she was against it, she said she was against it, and she marched against it.”
And this is the key point. There were numerous opportunities for Miliband to make a public stand against the impending war – which arguably would have had a far greater impact than his supposed behind the scenes advice – including speaking at the biggest protest in British history. That Miliband, at best, opposed the war in private strongly suggests to me that he was thinking more about his future political career than the welfare of Iraqis or the British soldiers being sent to fight in Iraq.
And we should not forget that Miliband voted against an official inquiry into the Iraq War being set up on four occasions.

2001-14: The invasion and occupation of Afghanistan
Though it’s difficult to find out Miliband’s position on Afghanistan prior to him becoming Labour leader in 2010, his record of support for the bloody and deeply unpopular British occupation since then has been clear. “I want you to know that our mission in Afghanistan is not a matter of party politics”, he told British troops when he visited Afghanistan in 2011. “It is about what is right for our country. A more stable Afghanistan will lead to a more safe Britain… above all I want you to know you have our support, our respect and our admiration for what you are doing for our country.”
Compare this pro-military guff to the brutal reality of the British occupation. “In practice, we ended up killing a lot of people, destroying lots of bazaars and mosques. We absolutely knew it was not what we were there to do, and would not be helpful”, explained  General David Richards, the former Chief of the Defence Staff, about what went wrong in Afghanistan. Mike Martin, a former British Army Officer, notes that in summer 2006 British forces dropped 18,000 pounds of explosives on the town of Now Zad alone, “flattening the bazaar” and killing civilians. This “injudicious use of firepower was reminiscent of Soviet military operations” and “made funding and recruitment non-issues” for the Afghan insurgency, Martin explains.

Unsurprisingly, these actions have not led to stability. Far from it. Former British military intelligence officer Frank Ledwidge: “Britain’s efforts have resulted in the ‘stabilization’ (i.e. the temporary pacification) of 3 of the 14 districts that make up the province of Helmand – just one of 34 provinces in a country with a population that is half that of the UK. In terms of overall political significance, this might be the equivalent of three large market towns in rural Lincolnshire. Before the British burst onto the scene, Helmand was ‘stable’, in the sense there was almost no Taliban presence and little prospect of any.”

As for the British occupation of Afghanistan making “a more safe Britain”, it is likely the opposite is true. In the words of Anatol Lieven, a professor in the War Studies Department of King’s College London: “What we can surely say is that UK policy has been an absolute disaster in the perception of the Muslim population and has produced a significantly increased terror threat.” The justification given for the murderous attack on British soldier Lee Rigby suggest Lieven’s analysis is correct.

Trident
Miliband supports the renewal of Trident, which is estimated to cost the UK over 80 billion over the next 100 years, with a lower-cost deterrent. “I’m not in favour of unilateral disarmament”, he explained in January 2015.

And the rest
In addition to the big set piece interventions set out above, it is important to note Miliband’s lack of criticism of other parts of British foreign policy that either has already had, or will likely have, serious, deleterious consequences: the UK training of Syrian rebels; the UK training of Ukrainian Government forces; the UK support for the Saudi Arabian attack on Yemen; the UK’s support for the Bahrain Government’s deadly crackdown on pro-democracy protests; the on-going diplomatic and military support the UK gives to Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf monarchies; Obama’s drone wars.

Conclusion
What all these examples show is that far from being anti-war Miliband has repeatedly supported wars of choice, often with dubious legal and moral justifications (Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq 2014), most of which have turned out to be a disaster for the country he claimed to be protecting and the wider world (Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq 2014). Like the deeply unpopular Tony Blair, Miliband has publicly stated he would support military action without a UN Security Council resolution. When he did oppose military action this was either done in private, thus minimising the danger to his future political career (Iraq 2003), or has been presented as a clear, moral stand, when in actual fact his position was difficult to distinguish from the government’s own position – and based on ignoring the will of the United Nations (Syria).

If this is how Miliband acts in opposition, what can we expect from him as Prime Minister when he is likely to be under intense American and domestic pressure (from a combination of the armed forces, the intelligence services, the press, his own cabinet, his own party, the opposition party) and is keen to show he is “tough enough”?

It is clear the fight against the UK’s aggressive foreign policy will have to continue after the election, whether it is David Cameron or Ed Miliband sitting in 10 Downing Street.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Clinton Foundation's Shoddy and Dangerous Haiti Programme




Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the White House in 2016 will need to answer many major questions about her integrity and judgement as much as what she might do about the Ukraine, ISIS or China’s rise. Her campaign hit trouble even before it began – on using a private email address throughout her tenure as secretary of state, claims of ‘missing emails’ from that account that might compromise her official role and, more recently, on conflict of interest claims regarding foreign government donations to the Clinton Foundation. Yet, there are also rather disturbing concerns about the Foundation’s role in post-earthquake Haiti, the philanthropy’s major claim to fame.
The Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation accepted millions of dollars from seven foreign governments – including governments with a dubious record on human rights - during Hillary Clinton’s tenure as US secretary of state, skirting dangerously close to outright violation of conflict-of-interest agreements it had made with the Obama administration. Other reports in 2013 suggested a prominent businessman and donor to the Clinton Foundation secured major contracts from Kazakhstan after former President Bill Clinton introduced him to the central Asian republic’s president - http://ij-poli-blog.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/clinton-foundation-corruption-and-human.html. Businessman Frank Giustra, who secured lucrative uranium mining contracts, and later donated over $30 million to the Clinton Foundation, with a promise of a further $100 million, is on the foundation’s governing Board of Directors.
In response, the Clinton Foundation argued that it was more transparent than the law required and would continue to be once Hillary declared her presidential candidacy. But this is unlikely to quell criticism, however, as the Clintons and controversy are familiar bedfellows.
The Clinton Foundation’s work in the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake has been roundly condemned by independent agencies and local people themselves: the Clinton Foundation's first contributions to Haiti -- "hurricane-proof . . . emergency shelters that can also serve as schools . . . to ensure the safety of vulnerable populations in high-risk areas during the hurricane season" – were revealed as shoddy and dangerous. 

An investigation by The Nation found the following: temperatures in the shelters/classrooms reached over 100 degrees, causing kids headaches and other illnesses; trailers also showed high levels of formaldehyde, a known carcinogen (and also a cause of asthma and other lung diseases); trailers were manufactured by Clayton Homes, which is being sued by the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) for having provided formaldehyde-laced trailers to Hurricane Katrina victims; and Clayton Homes is owned by Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway; Buffet was was an early and high-profile member of the Clinton Global Initiative.

Yet, Republicans who attack the Clintons are unlikely to recall the scandals that surrounded high profile members of their own party – John McCain, Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, for example – who set up non-political foundations that called into question their objectivity. Nor do they much care for the people of Haiti.

In the end, politicians are interested in power; their foundation activities reflect that fundamental principle.