Site Meter

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Americans and Anti-Americanism: US Foreign Policy's to Blame

Although a little dated, the public opinion report below, by, at the University of Maryland, buttresses arguments presented in USBlog yesterday concerning the sources of "anti-Americanism" or, more accurately, opposition to US foreign policies.

Citing US Department of Defense and Council on Foreign Relations reports, yesterday's post indicated full awareness among US administration officials that Muslims in the Middle East were opposed to US foreign policies in the region and not to American people or American values. Despite that, however, US administration officials continue to treat opponents of US power as motivated by irrational resentment, hatred of US values, or envy. The blogpost also noted that "Anti-Americanism" in the main was viewed by US administrations as an inevitable and bearable cost of American power.

The polling data below indicate the other side of the picture: what Americans think about the reasons why so much of the world holds negative views and images of the United States. The findings complement the data from surveys of overseas opinion: Americans generally believe that negative views of the United States are sourced in American foreign policies. Large majorities also indicate they do not consider negative views to be in the interests of the United States.

US Role in the World

Americans' Assessments of World Public Opinion on the United States

Large majorities believe that the US is viewed negatively by people in other countries and see this as derived primarily from the current US foreign policy not American values. Most see goodwill towards the United States as important for US national security. Most Americans believe that people around the world are growing more afraid that the US will use force against them and that this diminishes US national security and increases the likelihood that countries will pursue WMDs.

This negativity was largely attributed to the Bush foreign policy. Asked in a WPO/KN October 2006 poll whether the way the Bush administration has been conducting US foreign policy, on balance, has increased or decreased "goodwill toward the US", 78% said it had decreased goodwill and just 18% said it had increased.

Americans tend to believe that dislike of the US stems from its policies rather than an inherent dislike of American values. Asked in the October 2006 WPO/KN poll if negative attitudes toward the United States in the Middle East were based mostly on their "dislike of American values" or "dislike of American policies in the Middle East," more than 62% said that dislike of American policies in the region were largely responsible. Only one-third (34%) said that it was dislike of American values.

Negative views of the US concern Americans. A September 2006 Public Agenda survey found 87% saying it that it was important to US national security that "the rest of the world sees the United States positively." A WPO/KN October 2006 poll showed nine out of 10 (87%) saying it is very (47%) or somewhat (40%) important "for people in other countries to feel goodwill toward the United States."

Even when given counter-arguments against viewing goodwill as an important factor, a very large majority continues to affirm its value as a tool for US security, rather than something that would inhibit pursuit of US goals. The November 2006 WPO/KN poll presented respondents with two arguments: 1) "Goodwill toward the US is important in order to obtain cooperation in dealing with important threats to US security, and because...hostility towards the US can lead people to actively work against the US." 2) "Goodwill is not really critical for the US because it is so much stronger than all other countries. Trying to be popular can tie the US's hands and distract the US from pursuing its security." A very large majority-80 percent-rejected the view that the United States was so strong it did not need to be concerned about maintaining other countries' goodwill. Only 17 percent saw goodwill as not critical for US security.

Americans believe that people around the world increasingly view the US as a military threat. The November 2006 WPO/KN poll found that 63% assumed that over the last few years countries around the world have grown more afraid that the United States will use force against them.

A majority views this growing fear of US military power as negative for US security, even when presented the argument, sometimes made in policy circles, that fearing American military power will make other countries more responsive to US preferences. Respondents were asked whether "as a general rule, if leaders of some countries grow more afraid that the US will use military force against them," on balance, this tends to be good for US security because such leaders are "more likely to refrain from doing things the US does not want them to do", or bad for US security "because it makes them seek out new means of protecting themselves from the US, such as acquiring weapons of mass destruction." By a two-to-one margin (63% to 33%), a majority thought that rising fear of US force was bad for US security (WPO/KN November 2006).

When asked, in a later question, “if leaders of some countries grow more afraid that the US will use military force against them, this tends to increase or decrease the likelihood that countries will try to acquire weapons of mass destruction,” a very large 80 percent said it increased the likelihood foreign governments would pursue WMD.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Anti-Americanism and Public Diplomacy

Anti-Americanism is a label used with some extravagance and frequency but is rarely worn as a badge of honour. It is a pejorative label applied by one's opponents: it indicates that the individual voicing an opinion critical of US policies or leaders is biased, prejudiced, irrational. The label is designed to close off debate. The-then UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, you will recall, levelled the "anti-American" charge at Lib Dems' leader Nick Clegg during one of the televised debates ahead of the May 2010 general election. Julian Assange, head of the Wikileaks organisation, is currently the World’s Number One "Anti-American" although, today, that label appears insufficient to some, like Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich, who call Assange a "terrorist" and "enemy combatant".

It is a significant matter that “anti-Americanism” is almost invariably seen by scholars and US administration officials, by definition, as an irrational, unreasonable or prejudiced response to American culture. This is so much the case that even Francis Fukuyama, who accused Neocons of not recognizing that American policies must take part of the responsibility for generating opposition to the US, actually labels the phenomenon as “anti-American”. That is, it is embedded in the very language that is used to categorize all opposition to the US as irrational, even when an individual might actually hold a reasoned differing view.

They hate our values and resent our success. This is the most conventional explanation of opposition to US policies.

Very occasionally, however, the nearly-unthinkable appears in print from within the inner sanctum of US power (this is not a reference to leaked secret cables etc…). A report a few years back from the US Defense Science Board (Task Force on Strategic Communication, 2004) was very explicit. It noted that American public diplomacy could only be effective if weighed in the context of actual US policies, “conflicts of interest, cultural differences, memories…. [that] shape perceptions and limit the effectiveness of strategic communication.” It also recognized that Muslims’ perceptions of the United States were overwhelmingly negative, citing polls showing that Muslims saw the US as trying to weaken Islam and to dominate the Muslim world. The Report further argued that among Muslim masses there was “no yearning-to-be-liberated-by-the-US groundswell…. except to be liberated perhaps from what they see as apostate tyrannies that the U.S. so determinedly promotes and defends.” The Report went on to argue that “Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom’, but rather they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support of Israel and against Palestinian rights… and support for… tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, and the Gulf States.” The idea that America is bringing democracy to the region was seen as “self-serving hypocrisy… [because]… in the eyes of Muslims, American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq has not led to democracy there, but only more chaos and suffering.”

Put simply, the Defense Science Board Report concluded, the US has “a fundamental problem of credibility. Simply, there is none – the United States today is without a working channel of communication to the world of Muslims and of Islam.”

As Osama Siblani, publisher of America’s largest Arab-American newspaper, argued, “They [the US] could have the prophet Muhammed doing public relations and it wouldn’t help.” The Obama effect, while real enough, has not prevented high levels of Muslim dissatisfaction with US policies.

But the dominant view in the foreign policy elite mind set, hardwired and unalterable, is the fundamental belief in the rightness of America’s cause and its right to use its power however and whenever it deems necessary to maintain a preponderance of power and to prevent the emergence of rivals. As a Council on Foreign Relations report noted, the “United States must further broaden and sharpen the message and the messengers we use to persuade the peoples of the world of the justness of our cause,” and not permit “the foreign opinion tail to wag the dog of American foreign policy.”

This raises a key question: if extending or at least consolidating its power is the principal purpose of US foreign policy, could anti-Americanism be seen as a cost worth bearing? Opposition to United States’ foreign policies has been high for decades in the Middle East and south Asia, and moderately or very high in parts of Europe. If anti-Americanism increases as a result of the post-9-11 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, especially among populations that already oppose or “hate” America, does it really matter? After all, the “costs” of Muslims’ opposition to American support of Israel have been borne for decades. This point is, in fact, implied in the Council on Foreign Relations report in which they recommend public diplomacy officers to get involved in foreign policy-making not in order to “change its [America’s] policies to suit others’ wishes… [but to make Washington]… aware of the cost of [resulting] anti-Americanism….”

This clearly suggests that cost-benefit analyses are being applied to foreign policy, much as they routinely are to domestic issues, and that the administration may consider the costs of “anti-Americanism” bearable.

Yet, American administrations continue to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into public diplomacy to convince the world of the justice of its cause. Why?

There are two logics that appear to determine administrations’ efforts to “combat” anti-Americanism. The first logic is domestic opinion – media, Congress, and public – demanding action from the White House to curb rising hostility to the United States, the self-evidently “good” country. The second logic, however, is the logic of viewing anti-Americanism as an absorbable cost, too low normally to matter in the world of power politics. The two logics would suggest the policies rolled out to combat anti-Americanism are likely to be, despite the fanfare, superficial, lacking consistency and coordination, unsystematic, inefficiently administered, and relatively cheap. They are followed largely to mollify public opinion, Congress, media critics, and the political opposition, rather than as a serious attempt to solve the problem:

That would require modification or abandonment of US policies and is therefore unthinkable.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Frankie Boyle and X Factor: How Balanced is our Media

When the X Factor - the British mass entertainment talent show - featured their tribute to British soldiers serving and wounded in Afghanistan, the show went out to millions of viewers at peak time. Heroic, stoical, self-sacrificing, patriotic, tragically wounded - that's how the item portrayed the soldiers. Worthy of admiration and charitable donations.

At the time of that broadcast, USBlog pointed out that the issue was not that the soldiers were not deserving of any sympathy or admiration for that matter, but that hero status was being bestowed without thought to the character of the war, and the fact that several hundreds of thousands of Afghans had been killed and wounded in the war there and no mention of that was made nor hinted at. X Factor nailed its political colours to the mast: WE look after our own and we have no concern for anyone else.

A few nights ago, on Channel 4 and late at night, the comedian Frankie Boyle, in characteristically forthright and uncompromising style, argued that when it came to the relative worth of human life, there was no equality. As reported, he stated in relation to the Afghanistan War that "Basically, we are murdering a load of shepherds. What gets me is our callousness as a society when we read out our dead on the news first, because our lives are more important. Other people's aren't worth as much."

The controversy is over what he said next, apparently in the tone and style of a TV newsreader: "A bomb went off in Kandahar today, killing two British servicemen, three UN relief workers and a whole bunch of pakis." The media storm is over the world "pakis".

USBlog agrees that the term - "pakis", a catch-all term used by many to refer to all peoples of south Asia - is offensive. But as used by Boyle, in the voice of a newsreader, use of the term is not only warranted but necessary. It expresses an essential truth that respectable media should sit up and listen to: where does BBC 'balance' go when deaths and casualties are reported and how they are reported. Boyle got it absolutely right - there is no balance: the truly valued human lives are counted in precise numbers, have names, parents, partners, and children. They have a face. Their bodies arrive home, they have funerals. They were somebody.

Typically, the political controversy is over the use of a term: it's not polite. The essential message that Boyle was sending - which so few are willing to do at the height of a deadly war that has attained the status of a TV soap opera - seems to have been drowned out: open your eyes and hearts and see that this war is a tragedy for everyone, not just for the handful of 'our' boys who have been killed or wounded.

Boyle is the one who used a racist term to get his message across: the real, deeper, and endemic racism lies in the routine of British and American, and no doubt other nations', everyday life: in the institutionalised unequal distribution of sympathy and value of human life.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Wikileaks: Imran Khan Hits American Power For 6 Which Americans Say is Beyond Boundary

It was only meant to be a courtesy call by a delegation of US congressman to the splendid home of Imran Khan in the hills above Islamabad. But the embassy clearly hadn't done it's homework on Imran Khan, the outstanding former Pakistan Test all-rounder who had a reputation for blowing apart many a puffed up (cricketing) superpower, with bat or ball. But the US ambassador complained about being hit for 6, that Khan went beyond the boundaries of diplomatic delicacy. It just wasn't cricket, Anne Patterson, the ambassador, might have said.

According to Wikileaks cables released recently, US diplomats are supposed routinely to collect detailed personal information - finger prints, DNA, iris scans, frequent flyer accounts, email addresses, pager numbers, encryption codes, among other things. They ought, perhaps, to read the newspapers from time to time, before going to a country ravaged by the war on terror to lecture about the importance of law and order. They should have done their preparation before going to see the leader of Pakistan's iconoclastic Law and Justice Party (Tehreek-E-Insaf). They should have read up a little on the man they were about to meet for afternoon tea. They messed with the wrong guy.

US Embassy Cables reveal, or rather confirm, that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI), which receives large-scale support from the US, backs, trains, protects and organises various terrorist groups and insurgents in Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as those that attack Indian Kashmir and the ‘mainland’. Pakistan is described as an unstable state, with large lawless and ungoverned spaces, armed with nuclear weapons in violation of international non-proliferation treaties, which receives billions of dollars in US aid – long before Bush and during the Obama administration.

Yet, despite massive US aid, and the personal popularity of President Obama, cables reveal, “America is viewed with some suspicion by the majority of Pakistan’s people and its institutions… We are viewed at best as a fickle friend, and at worst as the reason why Pakistan is attacking its own…” The Pakistani administration is also officially confirmed as supporting US drone attacks in its own territory, with Prime Minister Gilani saying that “We’ll protest in the National Assembly and then ignore it” .

Cables also show that Pakistan's leaders knowingly permit US special forces to take action there as embedded units.

Embassy cables also note large-scale extra-judicial killings by security forces in frontier areas during anti-terrorist operations. While not condoning such abuses, the cable explains that civilian and anti-terrorist courts have a “poor record” and tend unconditionally to release detainees from border operations. Hence, soldiers and paramilitaries, who have a strict honour code, engage in “revenge killings”. For fear of undermining military “goodwill”, however, cables caution against public criticism.

Pakistani popular opposition to the United States was explained to US Representatives Stephen Lynch et al by Imran Khan. Citing claims and evidence that were recognised in previous embassy cables, Khan argued that drone attacks in tribal areas were not only wrong but counter-productive because they were radicalising youth and fuelling revenge killings by tribals.

On drone attacks, Khan “pointedly stated that the GOP allows the ‘drone attacks’ to occur, then lies to the Pakistani public that it has no control over them to deflect the public’s anger,” which was precisely the strategy pursued by Gilani. Khan urged “Dialogue, policing, and intelligence gathering… instead of the use of military force…”

After visiting Swat, Khan said, he was convinced the Army had engaged in “extrajudicial killings, summary executions, and ‘sexual humiliation’ of residents in some villages.” It was clear that “80% of Pakistanis believe the U.S. is a greater threat to Pakistan than India is,” Khan opined. The US was not supporting democracy in Pakistan and pursued excessively militaristic policies in Afghanistan.

It would be interesting to see any follow up cables on this matter as Khan outlined a radically different approach for US policy towards Pakistan, and issues related to the Af-Pak border.

Anne Patterson, the US ambassador who reported on the meeting and would have arranged the visit, is one of the few diplomats whose reputation is enhanced by the Wikileaks revelations.
So how did she not know that Imran Khan would give the congressman a piece of his mind?

Me thinks Patterson bowled them a googly. HOWZAT!

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Cheney Nigerian Bribery Case Highlights Gap Between Rhetoric and Practice

Investigations in the US, Europe and Nigeria revealed that a corporation run by former US vice president, Dick Cheney, bribed public officials in Nigeria in return for lucrative oil and gas contracts during the 1990s and up to 2004. Halliburton admitted paying millions in bribes over a decade in return for contracts worth $6 billion. Cheney led Halliburton from 1995. Just this week he plea bargained his way out of Nigerian charges of corruption, agreeing to pay over $250 million in fines. Former US president George HW Bush and former secretary of state James Baker III intervened on his behalf.

A Halliburton subsidiary, KBR, was fined $579 million in the US after an investigation by the US Department of Justice in 2007 over their bribery of Nigerian public officials.

Readers will also recall that Cheney, upon taking up the vice presidency in 2000, stepped down from Halliburton and related companies. Yet, it is also well known that Halliburton went on to win billions of dollars of 'no-bid' contracts in the Iraqi oil sector. These contracts were not won in open competition.

US claims to be promoting democracy and good governance in Africa and other parts of the third world are undermined. Corruption is said to be one of the key factors that holds back economic and political development, preventing the institutionalisation of the rule of law. Cheney, a champion of both democracy and good governance, showed how hollow such principles can be when it comes to naked corporate self-interest. He also shows that the American state and corporations, so closely identified with one another particularly in the era of free markets and globalisation, operate in tandem to secure their interests. This was nicely expressed by secret US embassy cables that quoted a Shell executive in Nigeria to the effect that the corporation had infiltrated every relevant department and agency of the Nigerian state. In another cable, reproduced by USBlog a few days ago on this site, assistant secretary for African Affairs, Johnnie Carson, noted the necessity for further cooperation between the US state and foreign oil corporations to "develop" Nigeria in order to prevent instability, disorder and possibly violent Islamist extremism.

Earlier this year, Shell was fined $30 million for paying bribes to Nigerian customs officials.

The 'scramble for Africa' of the 1880s and 1890s among European powers is back on with a vengeance in Nigeria, which has enormous oil and gas reserves. After Saudi Arabia, Nigeria possesses the largest untapped oil reserves in OPEC, the oil producers' cartel. The money to be made from liquid gold is incredible and dazzles oil companies and their shareholders, exposing their claims to corporate social responsibility as overblown to say the least. In one quarter alone in 2008, Shell made worldwide profits of $8.7 billion.

Establishing itself more firmly in Nigeria, before the Chinese move in, is a key US state priority. They are doing it to "save" Nigeria from itself, from ending up in 25 years as "another Pakistan". Nigeria supplies about 10% of US crude oil imports, thereby earning 40% of its revenues from that market alone. 98% of Nigeria's export earnings derive from oil. In the process, both are wrecking the environment and enforcing mass suffering on the peoples of Nigeria, the vast majority of whom live in dire poverty, in a land of plentiful natural resources.

It is unsurprising that a resistance movement is growing stronger in that country. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), among others, referred to as "militants" by Shell officials in secret US embassy cables, demands that foreign oil companies and the Nigerian state share the benefits of the country's oil wealth with the people. The Nigerian state has paid off its international debts and has financial reserves of over $50 billion. Hardly any of it reaches ordinary Nigerians due to corruption within the Nigerian government and its regional authorities. According to Human Rights Watch, the governor of of Rivers State awarded himself a travel budget of $65K per day and a daily allowance of $92K for other expenses. Expect more "militancy".

Amnesia on US and other imperial powers' and corporate behaviour is stunning. America's roles in funding, through Pakistani auspices, the Mujaheddin of Afghanistan against Soviet occupation forces in the 1980s, which flooded the region with weaponry, is forgotten. The Taliban resulted. That the elites who dominate Nigeria, and who collect hundreds of millions in tax revenues from oil and gas production, were those favoured by the departing British colonialists in the 1960s, is now forgotten. The only facts recalled are that Nigeria was a prosperous colony under British rule; it's gone 'down hill' ever since, demonstrating the need for continued Western influence. 50 years after "independence", the Nigerian state and its foreign corporate allies, with strong Western states' connivance, is on the verge of violent revolt and implosion.

What Johnnie Carson complacently predicts might happen in 25 years' time, without greater US intervention - that Nigeria will be socially and economically polarised and politically unstable - is already happening. It is unfortunate that even experts on Africa cannot, or refuse to, see that Nigeria's condition is down to foreign governments and corporations, in alliance with Nigerian parasitic elites. They are not the solution; they are the problem.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Wikileaks: US Sees Nigeria as a Vaccuum to be Filled

The item below this introductory commentary- a secret US embassy cable from February 2010 - offers an example from the numerous Wikileak cables released in the past fortnight or so of the way the United States administration and oil multinationals discuss "issues and problems" of Nigeria, and Africa more generally, betraying a mindset that sees it largely as a territory for contestation - between China and the United States, for example, or between oil corporations.

Mr. Johnnie Carson, who is African-American, is the assistant secretary for African Affairs, an old "Africa hand" who served the Nixon administration, discusses Nigeria as a "vaccuum" into which other forces - states or terrorist groups - might move in the absence of American influence or foreign oil corporations.

The cable further indicates that national policies not to the liking of oil corporations are generally defined as "disincentives" and as hindrances to progress. The division of labour that operates between large corporations and the US state is also portrayed here: the US administration focuses on 'securing' the territory and on 'governance' reform in Nigeria/Africa while the oil companies 'develop' natural resources.

The commission-collecting role of the Nigerian elite, it is alleged by oil executives from Shell, Chevron and the like, nets them billions of dollars merely for being in gate-keeping but parasitic positions. This suggests that the historic role of Nigerian elites - as brokers who collect a fee from foreign companies and others who exploit national resources, largely at the expense of local populations - continues unabated. At one point an oil executive notes that the 10% of equity in new ventures allotted to the "community" is likely to cause disappointment as it is to be divided among so many people. In any case, he continues, how does one even define "community"?

Carson, who looks further ahead than the next oil deal, fears that Nigeria in 25 years might look like Pakistan - an unstable, corrupt state with an Islamic extremist insurgency, brought about the fact that Nigeria might not 'develop' unless America steps up interest. It could end up, he says, a polarised society with a small wealthy elite and mass poverty. The fact that 70% of Nigerians today live in poverty, while a small elite collects oil receipts, appears to have escaped Mr Carson. His solution is to open more consular offices in key areas and increase American influence : "No presence means no access, which leads to no influence. Without influence you have nothing," he concludes.

America must move in, Carson argues, because China, which has no morals and is self-interested, is willing to deal with dictators like Mugabe and Bashir, promoting its model of "authoritarian capitalism" which is "contrarian" and "politically challenging". The unstated assumption,which underlies America's imperial creed, is that the US is in Africa for some higher purpose beyond selfish political and economic interests, taking care of security and prosperity. Ironically, it appears that an African-American assistant secretary, appointed by an African-American president, sees Africa in ways congenial to oil corporation interests, and entirely in line with historic images of Africa as dependent, helpless and in need of development.

There is, and probably can be, no recognition accorded to failed economic development strategies pushed by the US and its multilateral institutions like the World Bank since the 1950s when Carson offers to set up a conference for oil companies and international institutions to consider plans for 'developing' Nigeria.

HERE IS THE SECRET CABLE, for your convenience:

Tuesday, 23 February 2010, 08:20
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 05 LAGOS 000075
EO 12958 DECL: 2020/02/23
CLASSIFIED BY: Donna M. Blair, CG, State, ConGen Lagos; REASON: 1.4(B), (D)




1. (C) Assistant Secretary (A/S) Carson met with members of the International Oil Companies (IOCs) on February 7. The A/S stressed the fact that Nigeria is the most important country in Africa for the United States. The IOC members noted that the A/S spoke mainly of issues in Northern Nigeria and did not dwell on Southern issues. The Petroleum Industry Bill is discouraging future investment mostly in deep-water fields where most of the remaining oil in Nigeria lies. If Nigeria raised the price of gas to two-thirds of the world price, the IOC's would be at each others throats trying to cut the price by a penny or two. Nigeria has the possibility of becoming the next Pakistan within 25 years. A/S Carson allayed the IOCs concerns of the United States' relationship with China. END SUMMARY.

2. (C) Assistant Secretary Carson met with members of the international oil community in Lagos on February 7. In attendance were the following: Shell Senior Vice President's Ann Pickard and Ian Craig; Shell Vice President Peter Robinson; Chevron Managing Director Andrew Fawthrop; Chevron Public Affairs Manager Femi Odumabo; Exxon Mobil Managing Director Mark Ward; Hercules Manager Coleman McDonough; Schlumberger Manager Supply Chain Service Demi Adenusi; American Business Council (ABC) President Dick Kramer; Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary; Economic Officer; Maritime Affairs Officer; Marine AttachC) and, Consul General Lagos.




3. (C) Fawthrop asked the A/S whether he was in Nigeria to deliver a message or was it more of a fact-finding trip? A/S Carson stated that he was in Nigeria for both reasons in that he wanted to listen and engage with Nigeria. Nigeria is the most important country in Africa for the United States due to: the size of its population; presence of hydro-carbons; peace keeping role in ECOWAS, especially in Sierra Leone and Liberia; its seat on the United Nations Security Council; along with the strength and size of its financial markets the A/S continued. Nigeria has enormous potential and is the seventh largest Muslim country in the world with an Islamic population that will eclipse Egypt by 2015 according to A/S Carson. Having no United States presence in Northern Nigeria is akin to having no presence in Egypt and is why the United States is considering opening a Consulate in Kano.

4. (C) The United States is concerned about the power vacuum in Nigeria and the state of health of President Yar A'dua, per A/S Carson. The president is "very, very, very, very ill" and Nigerians are under illusions regarding the state of their president. "Nigeria cannot afford to implode or run aground." 30 years of military government was not good. The United States expects a stable, legal, democratic, constitutionally-based government with no "military involvement, full stop" A/S Carson stated. It is important for the GON to do a better job this time around in regards to elections. Only ten percent of Nigerians saw a ballot ticket in the 2007 elections. If Nigeria brings credibility to its democratic processes, its economic processes will improve.

LAGOS 00000075 002 OF 005

--------------------------------------------- -------------


--------------------------------------------- -------------

5. (C) Some places are more important than others within the Federal system of Nigeria and Lagos is one of the more important places, according to A/S Carson. Consulate General Lagos is bigger and more important than Embassies Benin and Togo together. Lagos is significantly more important than Cape Town even though the latter is 100 times better in terms of livability. The United States must be in Lagos in a significant way, A/S Carson declared.

6. (C) The statements of the A/S sounded wonderful from a Hausa viewpoint, but nothing was mentioned about Southern and Eastern Nigeria, Fawthrop pointed out. The A/S agreed that Fawthrop was correct. The United States is underrepresented diplomatically, economically, commercially, militarily and from a security standpoint. When the A/S served in Nigeria from 1969-1971, the United States had the Embassy in Lagos with Consulates in Ibadan, Kaduna, and briefly in Port Harcourt, before the Civil war, and also a USIS post in Kano. With the Nigerian population at 50 million the United States was better and more broadly represented in a Nigeria that produced almost no oil. With an Embassy in Abuja and a Consulate in Lagos, the United States has experienced a "huge loss" in Nigeria today, per A/S Carson. The United States must get back into Enugu and Port Harcourt. "No presence means no access, which leads to no influence. Without influence you have nothing."

7. (C) Akwa Ibom governor Godswill Akpabio was singled out as an impressive governor by Mark Ward. Akpabio has built up infrastructure and industrial development. He is "one to watch" per Ward. Other Southern governors that were highlighted included were Rivers State governor Chibulke Amaechi and Edo State governor Oshiomhole. Fawthrop suggested that USAID has a lot to offer in the South in that if USAID makes a mistake it is OK. If a private company engages in a similar project and makes a mistake you have a FCPA investigation. The Consul General (CG) added that it might be possible to team up with security assets of the IOCs to arrange diplomatic trips to the Niger Delta. This arrangement would not happen "100 percent of the time," but more often than not, per the CG.




8. (C) The PIB is more about taking control and not a real solution, per Mark Ward. XXXXXXXXXXXX There are currently three versions between the Senate, House, and Interagency committee and it is unclear when and what will materialize, according to Ward. Fawthrop added that the PIB amounts to resource nationalization and stated that it costs more than 40 percent to develop the oil as opposed to leaving it in the ground. The current fiscals of the PIB estimate that is costs 25 percent to develop the oil, thereby creating a disincentive. If the oil stays in the ground then billions of development money will go away and the resulting slowdown will be a massive problem. The IOCs received a lecture from a team made up of various GON agencies (the interagency team) in Abuja In a recent meeting in an example of the current level of communication per Fawthrop. The whole group then went to the office of the Vice President where the interagency team stated that there was very good communication between them and the IOCs.

9. (C) The large fields, elephants, have all been developed in

LAGOS 00000075 003 OF 005

Nigeria per Fawthrop. What remains are fields one-quarter to one-third the size. The same costs are involved in producing the oil but the revenue will be less because there is less oil. The IOCs need more incentive, not less, in order to develop these fields profitably. What the PIB accomplishes is a disincentive. The downstream sector is very simple in Nigeria in that the refined gas is moved from one tanker to another, to a smaller tanker and then sold. The refining sector, exploration and production sectors are very complex. It is unrealistic for the PIB to try to change all of these areas in one tome of legislation, asserted Fawthrop.

10. (C) The gas side of the PIB tries to legislate the delivery of gas rather than incentivize it. "The donkey is tired and beaten. It will not go no matter what you tell it" stated Fawthrop. If the gas price went to two thirds of the world price the IOCs would "cut each others throat" to cut the price by one or two cents. The rest of the IOC members nodded in agreement to this statement by Fawthrop. European gas competition has gas developed on a cost plus basis adding about eight percent to the cost. The model should be based on rate of return and not forced upon operators by legislative decree.

11. (C) Whenever gas doubles the cost of electricity goes up by one quarter. Stable electricity will allow industry to flourish in Nigeria but this will not happen 15 months before the elections. Amateur technocrats run the oil and gas sector according to Shell's Peter Robinson. They believe that they can control the industry via spreadsheets and pushing through the PIB. There are many emotional issues in the PIB with Nigerian politicians believing that they make no money on deep-water projects. Potential banker and businessmen partners do not understand the industry. The GON has made USD 2.5 billion with no investment in the past two years according to Robinson.

12. (C) A large problem will be the ten percent of equity that is to go to the communities argued Fawthrop. Equity going into the communities will make them explode. The recipients of the monies will be highly disappointed when they see the amount they will receive, a much larger sum will be expected. Kramer referred to the community equity as the "lawyer relief act" and wondered how one defines an actual community.

13. (C) Peter Robinson stated after the meeting that Pedro Van Meurs, the oil consultant hired by the GON to help negotiate with the IOCs, is considering leaving. Van Meurs has been trying to show the GON officials that their fiscal math does not work with the PIB. Van Meurs does not agree with the IOC position completely but sees areas for improvement. One example given to Lagos Econoff by Exxon Mobil Project Manager Anh Tran concerned the levels of cost involved with deep-water projects. Exxon, and other IOCs, maintain that their capital costs are at least 40 percent of deep-water projects while the GON allows for 25 percent capital costs under the PIB. Van Meurs agreed that 25 percent was not adequate.




14. (C) It is possible that Nigeria could be a future Pakistan according to A/S Carson. In 25 years, there could be impoverished masses, a wealthy elite and radicalism in the North. The question is whether the oil wells will be dry as well and could Nigeria be on "sustainable and irreversible glide path to a new economic base" per the A/S. When you look at the 2020/20 plan by the GON you see that Nigeria needs to grow by 14 percent a year to

LAGOS 00000075 004 OF 005

be at the current level of Indonesia Fawthrop asserted. That is using today's figures, which does not take into account Indonesia's growth Kramer added. Nigeria is growing at five percent now and would need 20 percent growth per annum in energy and USD 22 billion investment in power plants Fawthrop stated. What would happen if Nigeria fell just short of their goals, would there be an alternative plan in place Fawthrop wondered? He cited the example of the 2009 6,000 Megawatt goal. It was apparent early on that the goal was not feasible and an alternative plan could have been devised. The GON insisted that they would reach their goal and did not develop alternatives. The same would hold true for 2020/20 Fawthrop assumed.

15. (C) The A/S offered that a forum could be organized in Nigeria with World Bank President Robert Zoellick speaking to a wide audience. Under Secretary for Economic, Energy, and Agricultural Affairs Bob Hormats would be invited as well to lend his knowledge of Africa. The forum would be shaped with the broader picture in mind, not just oil. This would not be sponsored by the IOCs. Members of the business community and individuals that were committed to making oil meaningful to Nigeria's future would be asked to participate. Talk would center on "over the horizon" issues, where Nigeria has gone right and where it has gone wrong. Two or three fora would be defined with key people to spark debate. Religious tensions, North-South issues, the lack of capacity in the GON, narco-trafficking, the growing irrelevance of Nigeria, as Princeton Lyman has suggested, could be potential subjects. Nigeria is at a critical financial and political threshold and the entire nation could possibly tip backwards permanently, per A/S Carson.




16. (C) What is the status of America's influence in Africa and how does it compare to China, Fawthrop queried? The influence of the United States has increased in Africa, the A/S countered. The United States' reputation is stable and its popularity is the highest in Africa compared to anywhere else in the world. Obama has helped to increase that influence. "We must manage the expectations of the Obama administration" offered the A/S. The United States does not consider China a military, security or intelligence threat. China is a very aggressive and pernicious economic competitor with no morals. China is not in Africa for altruistic reasons. China is in Africa for China primarily. A secondary reason for China's presence is to secure votes in the United Nations from African countries. A third reason is to prove that Taiwan is not an issue. There are trip wires for the United States when it comes to China. Is China developing a blue water navy? Have they signed military base agreements? Are they training armies? Have they developed intelligence operations? Once these areas start developing then the United States will start worrying. The United States will continue to push democracy and capitalism while Chinese authoritarian capitalism is politically challenging. The Chinese are dealing with the Mugabe's and Bashir's of the world, which is a contrarian political model, A/S Carson stated.




17. (C) A/S Carson effectively provided the IOCs with a rationale for the United States' interest in Nigeria and its commitment to the country. This commitment seems more substantial than the IOCs given the prospect of the PIB and the current state of play in Nigeria. Providing the IOCs with statements of support through continuing if not increasing the USG presence in Nigeria will be important in determining the increasing, decreasing or non-existent role of the IOCs in the future in Nigeria. As the A/S stated, if we can have a substantial presence in Pakistan, why not Nigeria? END COMMENT.

LAGOS 00000075 005 OF 005

18. (U) A/S Carson did not have an opportunity to clear this cable before departing post. BLAIR

Monday, 13 December 2010

US Reactions to Wikileaks: A Terrorist For Opposing American Imperial Power?

US Reaction to Wikileaks: A Terrorist For Opposing American Imperial Power?

Sarah Palin, a likely Republican candidate for the presidency in 2012, has called for Wikileaks’ founder, Julian Assange, to be “hunted down in the way armed forces are targeting the Taliban and Al-Qaeda”. Assange, according to the potential next leader of the free world, is “an anti-American with blood on his hands”. Secretary of State, Clinton, suggests that Assange has attacked the entire “international community”. Other US leaders have assailed Bradley Manning, the youthful US army intelligence operative who passed secret cables to Assange, and called for his prosecution and even execution. Wikileaks, having been dismissed by Amazon and other internet service providers, has found refuge in Switzerland.

For some, it is impossible to oppose US foreign policy without being an irrational, backward, evil, fanatical terrorist, who is against all things decent. It is automatically to be branded “anti-American” – against Americans per se and, therefore, almost “racist”. The construction is not dissimilar to what some Israeli leaders say when anyone criticises their country’s behaviour in Gaza and elsewhere: you are an anti-Semite. In the latter case, a Jew who criticises Israel is labelled “self-hating Jew”. An American who criticises his country, like Bradley Manning, is smeared as “un-American”. Such an approach to criticism unites a broad range of Americans – liberals to conservatives to neo-conservatives, state agencies and private philanthropic foundations: it is a core element of an informal but powerful operational code that brooks little opposition and declares any criticism of the imperial hegemon as an attack on God himself or, in Clinton’s secular term, “the international community”.

As God, or the world community, the US is ordinarily used to controlling outcomes – at least that’s the operating myth. They are used to doing what they want and also portraying it they way they want. Al-Jazeera is bad enough but the wikileaks episodes have exposed America’s vulnerability at a particularly bad time. Having one’s secrets laid bare is galling but the knowledge that there’s more to come is truly frightening. And coming at a time when American power is meeting stern resistance all around the world – Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea, from a burgeoning anti-war movement inside the US itself – and the American economy is failing to produce jobs and growth, more fully exposes US vulnerability.

Imperial powers rarely see anything in isolation. They tend to believe in the interconnectedness of things. They see the world as an interdependent system; when something goes wrong in one part of the system it has knock on effects across the system as a whole. Hence, wikileaks is seen as an attack on the entire “international community”, of which the US is self-appointed head. And imperial hegemons do not appease aggressors.

It is difficult for the US to carry on “business as usual” even if the wikileaks episode has been dismissed by some as of little or no consequence. Things have changed. For Americans brought up on the myth of America the ‘exceptional’ country, the City Upon A Hill, the beacon of light pointing the way to the rest of the world, the eschewer of wicked power politics, wikileaks is nothing less than a reminder that the United States is like any other imperial power in history. In a deeply conservative nation, the American myth remains powerful: wikileaks’ revelations chip away at American self-confidence, adding to the woes of lost status – an expensive budget-busting war in Afghanistan, economic relative decline, rise of China, a faltering American dream, and so on. And all that plus being led by a black president – who is believed by disturbingly large proportions of the electorate to be Muslim and foreign-born, an outsider – who fails to deal with an ungrateful world in quite the same way as George W. Bush or a Ronald Reagan.. or a Sarah Palin?

At a conference on anti-Americanism a couple of years ago, it was said by one delegate that we should “take America out of anti-Americanism”. That is, expressions of opposition to US policies abroad revealed more about the speaker than they did about the USA. It revealed the speaker’s own psychological inadequacies, political motives, irrationalities. It echoed George W. Bush’s comment that anyone who attacks America does it because they “resent our values and envy our success”. It’s not America, it’s YOU.

Yet, American administrations must take heed of “anti-Americanism”: the issue occupies a myriad of Washington, DC, think tanks and public diplomacy experts, in and out of government. It vexes the American public – “why do they hate us?” – and it gives the opposition party a stick with which to beat the administration. And in some of the weighty reports produced by blue-ribbon commissions headed by state intellectuals, there is a flicker of recognition, some credibility afforded to the notion that opposition to the US in the Middle East and elsewhere might actually be rooted in American behaviour – the deployment of lethal military force over time, costing millions of lives - over large parts of the Third World, a failure to match deeds with lofty ideals. After all, the reports note, such large majorities like American films and culture and even wish to settle in the US – so they’re not actually anti-American. They say that they don’t like our policies, such as unequivocal support for Israel.

But the policy implications of that insight are simply too radical to pursue. Support for Israel reflects a core interest, as do so many other national security policies. Opposition to the US that results from defending and promoting core interests is considered inevitable and viewed as a bearable cost of American power. Great powers have been and will be hated. But they must continue to pursue their vital interests. Anyone who opposes imperial power in pursuit of core interests is, by definition, evil and, in the age of Guantanamo, a terrorist.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Wikileaks, Shell and Neo-colonialism in Nigeria

Wikileak US embassy secret cables continue to educate, performing a significant public service and, hence, drawing fire from all ‘responsible’ quarters beholden to American hegemonic power. This week saw significant revelations about the role of Royal Dutch Shell in Nigeria where over two-thirds of the population live in poverty in an oil-rich economy.

However, it is not just the Nigerian state that is infiltrated by Western multinational corporations: the university system was created by and operated largely for western interests in the run up to and after independence in 1960. Such penetration was organised by the British Colonial Office, funded by the Carnegie Corporation and other American ‘philanthropic’ foundations, and facilitated by a western-educated Nigerian elite whose mentality was entirely self- and Western-oriented.

In effect, ‘independent’ Nigeria was handed over to social, economic and political forces that were economically, militarily and intellectually dependent on the West, particularly Britain and the United States. Nigerian elites effectively adapted the role they had long played since the days of the slave trade: middlemen between the resources of Nigeria and traders and others from the West who wanted slaves and minerals. With every transaction, Nigeria’s unpatriotic middlemen collected a fee for services rendered, enriching themselves and their Western overlords at the expense of the peoples of that artificially constructed country.

The Wikileak cables that reveal the degree of penetration – colonialisation – of the Nigerian state by just one, admittedly massive, multinational corporation is not especially surprising but remains shocking nonetheless. It shows that the end of colonial rule did not presage genuine independence for Nigerians but the transfer of political power to nominally Nigerian elites that continued to see the country as a set of resources for sale, at a price. They took advantage of their situation for their own benefit, using the context of Cold War competition between the West and the Soviet Union to wrest as high a price as possible for their services. They ran an anticommunist regime, based on Western precepts of modernisation and development, promising political stability and economic, commercial and raw material flows from Nigeria to the industrial West. While they got richer and richer, the mass of ordinary Nigerians got poorer and poorer.

It was hardly surprising that Nigeria erupted in bloody civil war in the late 1960s: the Western economic development experts sent over by American philanthropic foundations and the American state, such as Wolfgang Stolper of Michigan State University, saw Africa as the “dark continent”, and Africans as backward, lazy, corrupt and inferior. The likes of Stolper, and Arnold Rivkin of MIT (and later adviser to the US Agency for International Development, and the World Bank’s Africa division) also prided themselves on their objectivity, wearing their ignorance of matters African as a badge of distinction. They proceeded to meddle at the very heart of economic policy and development, establishing fiercely market-based economies in the context of an ethnically-charged, class-based political order that they knew nothing about, let alone understood.

They openly spoke and wrote about Nigeria, and Africa in general, as a laboratory for experimentation, especially for their economic theories and for theories of public administration. It is not surprising then that Pfizer sent over, during an epidemic a team of scientists to test out on human beings new drugs that were not permitted in the United States. The “dark continent” remains in the Western elite mind a place for “discovery”, a laboratory with human guinea pigs whose own leaders might have “forgotten”, according to a Shell Oil representative, how deeply penetrated are their own organs of state power.

In a typically provocative essay in the Daily Mail about 5 years ago, the pro-imperial Anglo-Saxonist historian Andrew Roberts who, I suspect, will be among the gaggle of pro-imperial historians to advise Tory Education Secretary Michael Gove on how to teach history in Britain’s schools, demanded the west “Colonialise Africa” again. He claimed that all the evidence of post-colonial Africa’s corruption, poverty, and lack of economic development, demanded a return to Western colonial rule.

Roberts, at least, was writing almost 50 years after independence. The telling fact is that amnesia about the creation of such endemic problems in Africa had begun even before the end of British colonial rule. By the time the likes of Stolper and Rivkin turned up in Africa to ‘develop’ and ‘modernise’ it, with the help of colonially-educated and oriented Nigerian elites, the colonial past and its massive negative consequences, were already being denied and forgotten.

In truth, colonial rule in Nigeria transformed into neo-colonialism: the granting of political sovereignty through a negotiated settlement that would retain, maintain and extend economic, commercial, intellectual and military ties. The colonial mind-set lives on. It merely changed its outer appearance, its garb. That superficial change is now so deeply accepted and taken for granted a part of the African story that it is promoted as actual history.

What the Wikileaks US embassy cables have done is to cast especially brilliant light on one stark example of neo-colonial rule in Africa, striking at the heart of dark deeds perpetrated by Western power and, very significantly, its forgetful but affluent Nigerian allies.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Wikileaks, Blood Ties, and the Special Relationship: "America is the essential power"

It was inevitable that Julian Assange's wikileaks would give unwelcome publicity to the enduring and unequal relationship between Britain and the United States. The Guardian newspaper, under the headline "Tories promised to run a 'pro-American regime'" has exposed the Coalition government of Cameron and Clegg once again. While during the election campaign both leaders were proclaiming their "independence" of the United States, and criticising New Labour's "slavishness" towards the US, Cameron's foreign policy and national security team were paying homage to their imperial overlord. They promised a thoroughly "pro-American regime", if elected.

Like a puppy in desperate need of demonstrations of approval and affection from his master, Cameron's team - William Hague, Liam Fox, now heading the FCO and MoD, respectively - reassured the Americans they would be loyal and subservient. In future war-fighting, Liam Fox suggested the advantages of improved levels of "interoperability". Future Anglo-American wars - already being considered when Britain was/is in the depths of an economic and financial crisis? One hopes for more on this from wikileaks.

Told by an American representative that the US wanted a "pro-American regime" in Britain in the interests of the US and, of course, the world, William Hague reassured him of his loyalty by invoking blood ties: his sister is American. He also spends his holidays there. America, he said, is the "'other country to turn to'", the "essential" relationship, for people like him - "Thatcher's children". He could not vouch for anyone else, however, perhaps a nod towards those lacking kith and kin or ties of blood with the American 'cousin'. Was this also a hint of questioning of President Barack Obama's loyalties too? After all, he has, according to one cable, no "natural" ties to Britain. He's not an Anglo-Saxon, in other words....

Ahead of his first visit as PM to Washington, DC, last July, David Cameron, you may recall, admonished the press for "obsessing" about the special relationship, looking for every little sign that things were looking up or going sour. Now it turns out that the removal by president-elect Obama of a bust of Churchill's from the Oval office appeared to cause "paranoia" in both New Labour's and Cameron's circle that the special relationship was in peril.

Luckily, American officials provided reassurance that Britain was safe and special: it provides "unparalleled" help in achieving American foreign policy objectives and national interests. The same official thought it would be quite a wheeze to "keep HMG off balance about its current standing with us" as it might make London "more willing to respond favourably when pressed for assistance..." But British support was too important to play with.

"The UK's commitment of resources - financial, military, diplomatic - in support of US global priorities remains unparalleled". Britain is able and willing to fight wars in faraway lands alongside the United States and try to marshal others' support as well. This makes Britain almost indispensable to the US. So, the "essential" nation to Britain appears indispensable to the US too. Together, the Anglo-Americans keep going the global system.

None of this will be especially surprising to anyone remotely familiar with British foreign policy. What is interesting is the thoroughly subservient tone and character brought out by the wikileaks cables and the complete confidence that the special relationship remains central to the UK. This was as true of New Labour, Hague acknowledges in one secret cable, as it is of the Tories.

Of the New Labour government's national security strategy, Hague notes that his own party fully supported it although it required greater depth and detail. This suggests that talk of the death of the special relationship earlier in 2010 was, indeed, premature.

Other wikileak revelations concerning Anglo-American relations offer evidence of the enduring alliance between the two countries: evading laws to permit the US to keep cluster bombs on UK territory; protecting US interests in the Iraq inquiry, and trying to block the return of the people of Diego Garcia to their homeland, several decades after Britain evicted them to make for a US military base in the Indian Ocean.

The racial-colonial attitude at the heart of the relationship - pointed out above and in previous blog posts on this site - is further underlined in regard to Diego Garcia: their people are referred to as "Man Fridays" in the wikileaks cables. Man Friday was 'discovered' by Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe on 'his' desert island, and civilised by him after a suitable period of tutelage.

President Dwight Eisenhower got it right in the 1950s when he referred to Britain as "my right arm". He was referring to Tory PM, Anthony Eden, in the wake of the Suez disaster. During the Korean War, PM Clement Attlee declared Britain would stand shoulder to shoulder with the Americans; the Union Jack would follow the Stars and Stripes. After Basra and in Helmand, despite all the muttering about British military failures, Blighty remains America's indispensable ally.

And the Tories remain as much committed to delivering a "pro-American regime" in Britain as did New Labour.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Nursery Militarism: X Factor is just the tip of the iceberg

I paste below extracts from a disturbing article on John Hilley's blog from 28 November which touces upon and deepens the analysis advanced by USBlog on Help For Heroes in the past week or so. Nursery militarism - Us and Them

My thanks to Simon, a Media Lens contributor, for posting this revealing email letter received from his two year-old child's nursery:

We’re Busy helping our Heroes at Nursery!Dear parent/guardianBusy Bees Nurseries in our region are holding special Heroes open weeks across the UK to celebrate local heroes in our community, and raise vital funds for the Help for Heroes charity to support British soldiers wounded in service.from the 7th – 11th June, the nursery will be holding a special Heroes Open Week, when the children will be taking part in various hero-themed activities including a march around the nursery garden, an assault course, and a creative day, where children will have the chance to make cards and presents for their Dads, just in time for Father’s Day! Special visits from firemen, nurses, and policemen and other community and Nursery heroes will also take place throughout the week, sharing their skills and knowledge with the children.The climax of the Heroes Open Week will be a ‘Family Fun Day in aid of Help for Heroes, on Saturday 12th June. This exciting event will include a one minute silence at 12pm in remembrance of all the brave soldiers who have served for their country, followed by a superheroes fancy dress parade.We hope you can support this fantastic fundraiser by coming down to nursery on the 12th June for a spectacular event the whole family can enjoy!Yours sincerelyThe Busy Bees Team

Simon objects to his child being selectively exposed to this kind of militaristic display and 'Hero' ethic. While happy to see people from the emergency services present, he believes this "goes way beyond that". Simon is concerned at the prospect of his little one marching around a nursery building, military style, and being urged to negotiate assault courses.I share his concern. It's deeply disturbing that such innocent minds can be inculcated in this way; indeed, one might reasonably view it as a form of child abuse.But it's symptomatic of the intensified popular militarism we're currently seeing and the darker ways in which the 'Heroes' agenda serves to authenticate brutal and illegal wars.I had a useful chat, in passing, the other day with a Help for Heroes collector. I asked her whether injured, traumatised, bereaved and displaced Iraqis and Afghans could also be considered heroes and worthy of support. She said that would be "controversial" and that "in time of war, we have to support our own."

I suggested that all human beings, irrespective of ethnicity or state, should be regarded as "our own", that "we're all the same human beings worthy of equal care and empathy." She accepted the point, agreeing that there are many victims of war, but that our priority is still with "ours"."Ours." 'Us' and 'Them'.

What ideological assumptions and 'educational' values lie behind those words? Only the lives and well-being of 'our' soldiers seemingly matter, not the tragedy and suffering of civilian and - yes, dare I say it - military 'others'.Charity, some say, should begin at home. That's often a convenient pretext for downgrading or ignoring the suffering of those 'we' consider 'them.'

Despite its proclaimed intentions, Help for Heroes is part of that same 'our boys' jingoism peddled by 'our' political elite and obedient media to excuse and sanitise violent and unconscionable actions against those 'others'.
The irony is important: it is they, 'our' rulers and controllers, who, in thought and deed, are actually foreign to many, probably most, peace-seeking citizens of the planet. As was massively articulated on streets around the world, the warmongers do not speak in 'our' name.Help for Heroes claims it is not political. Judge for yourself from the appeal presented in their handout leaflet:

Meanwhile, Simon has written, in good conscience, to his child's nursery challenging its planned displays of militarism. His complaint has been passed on to the group's regional operations director for consideration.
It often takes not a little courage to defy 'educational' convention and other parents' polite or 'dutiful' acceptance of such events. Indeed, risking possible social estrangement in doing so is a little heroic statement in itself.John
* Busy Bees is currently owned by the US-Singaporean corporation Knowledge Universe, which was co-founded by Michael Milken, the convicted US junk bond dealer and model for Oliver Stone's character Gordon "greed is good" Gecko in the film Wall Street.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Help For Heroes: Uncritical, Political, Militarist

Last week, USBlog noted the surprise use of X-Factor to sell a record to aid Help For Heroes. The character of the presentation (a wounded ex-serviceman, his weeping mother, soldiers on patrol in Afghanistan, mourning families at graveside, the militarist-nationalism inherent in the overall message) it was argued, was to encourage uncritical admiration of military service in Britain's current wars.

Since then, it's been suggested that USBlog was "hard" on young men and women who serve in Iraq and Afghanistan, who probably do not even understand what's going on there and serve in the armed services just because they have a vague love of country, sense of adventure, and not necessarily because of the 'politics' of the wars.

In the background there was also a suggestion that unless you lay your life on the line, you really shouldn't criticise those who do. And, the argument went, how can you possibly deny or bemoan assistance to those who have been injured, regardless of the circumstances?

USBlog takes on board all those arguments: I suspect some of those arguments are acceptable. They strike at the most vulnerable flank of those who oppose Britain's war in Iraq and in Afghanistan, and make opponents suitably defensive.

But there remains an issue or two that need addressing: should H4H be using programmes like X-Factor to promote their message, especially the way it was done last week? Secondly, why isn't the British state taking care of these wounded soldiers? Where is the 'military covenant' that Cameron spoke so much about when he was in opposition?

Also, what does H4H do to push the British state on this matter?

To address such questions, USBlog conducted a fairly quick check on H4H to find out who they are and what they do. The results are not surprising and tend to support the views expressed in last week's blog post:

H4H as it is often labelled, is an uncritical, deeply political, and militarist 'charity', formed by a former military officer, Bryn Parry, at the instigation of General Sir Richard Dannatt, the-then Chief of Staff, with seed-money from the Army Benevolent Fund.

According to information gleaned from H4H's own website, the charity assists serving service personnel - not just those who have been discharged. It works closely with the MoD and other Service charities.

Its patrons and trustees offer a glimpse into the military culture in which H4H is steeped. In addition to Dannatt, the charity draws patrons and trustees from across the British army, navy and air force. There are links with serving naval ships' crews and other armed service units. Celebrity patrons include Jeremy Clarkson, Ian Botham, James Blunt, Andy McNabb, and Ross Kemp. From the Tory ranks in parliament there is Richard Benyon MP, a former Green Jacket who served in Northern Ireland. 12 of 20 patrons served in in the armed forces - Northern Ireland, Iraq, Bosnia, Afghanistan. Trustees include an Air Vice Marshal (John Ponsonby), and Sir Robert Fry who, among other things, was deputy Commander of Coalition Forces in Iraq.

Its publicity machine counts among its ranks The Sun, the Sunday Times, and the Daily Mail, helping the charity raise ca £64 million in just 3 years since its formation. It was The Sun that hooked up H4H with Simon Cowell's and X-Factor. The Sun is an organ that has long supported Britain's wars, frequently in the most gung-ho, jingoistic and xenophobic manner. "Supporting Our Boys" is not far from the oft-repeated "supporting our blokes" phrase used by H4H.

One (unintended?) effect of H4H's work is, according to Richard Dannatt is to weld the general public to the armed forces, showing the public's "respect and gratitude to the Armed Forces". Dannatt notes that "The excellent relationship that now exists fills our troops with pride and confidence that they have the support of their nation." The money H4H raises, he says, assists the Government in its work with servicemen and women. The people, the armed services, and HMG: working together to fight wars and clean up the mess they leave so many young men and women with.

Is this not political? Is this compatible with charitable status?

Andy McNabb, the ex-SAS officer and best-selling novelist says that, "Your money also [in addition to medical rehabilitation] provides simple things in life for our troops, like providing Troop Aid 'Hero Grab Bags'", handed out to the wounded admitted to hospital. This is direct assistance to serving soldiers in combat.

H4H says that they work closely with MoD and Armed Forces who are "happy to accept our contribution". They claim they are "not letting the Government off the hook" by their work but its clear that H4H is an essential aspect of the state's efforts. Is this the sort of thing that is meant by the Big Society that Cameron promotes?

H4H claims to be "simply" there to "support our blokes" and does not involve itself in politics. They claim to be "non judgemental" on the nature of the wars Britain is waging. According to H4H, "wars happen" - and they don't question why they happen or what they're for and whether the cause is just. They're effectively unconcerned that the wars might be illegal under international law or wars of aggression.

What they do not acknowledge is that the positions they take ARE political: they were formed by, are led by, military personnel proud of their service in various wars and conflicts. What they implicitly admit but publicly deny is an imperial mindset that considers perfectly normal the waging of wars in faraway lands. That mindset continues to exert power in British society today.

Should all those who lay down their lives, or at least risk them, be considered heroes? Is a suicide bomber a hero? Were Nazi stormtroopers heroes when they carried out genocide?

Are there no other considerations involved in determining who is a hero and who a villain? Surely, we must consider what someone does, why they fight, how they fight, and the consequences of wars before reaching a conclusion?

It used to be quite conventional to think that people should make up their minds on the merits of an argument, considering key public issues in an all-sided way.

In post-modern imperial Britain, matters have been simplified: forget the reasons for wars, just "support our blokes".