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Friday, 25 February 2011

Europe's renewed imperialism

The European Council on Foreign Relations, a shadow of its American counterpart, or rather the elite think tank it seeks to emulate in developing an imperial policy for Europe, is calling for intervention, military and other, into the affairs of sovereign Libya. Whatever one thinks of the protests and uprisings in the Arab world, one thing is clear: a great deal of the problems of those lands rest with European, followed by American, colonialism, the effects and legacies of which continue to haunt those lands.

Below is reproduced a call from the ECFR to intervene in Libya: it represents the dangerous initial stirrings of European-level neo-colonialism.

Briefing: What Europe needs to do on Libya

Europe must act decisively and rapidly to halt Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s murderous behaviour. Failure to do so will condemn many Libyans to their deaths, undermine the nascent revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, and create problems for Europe on issues ranging from migration to terrorism.

In ‘What Europe needs to do on Libya’, ECFR senior policy fellow Daniel Korski outlines the concrete steps that European leaders must take, including:

1. Making it clear that the EU intends to freeze Libya’s assets.

2. Putting military options, including a no-fly zone or an intervention force, on the table

3. Developing support toanti-Gaddafi factions, include assistance to liberated areas and clandestine help. The EU should also support a gathering of Libyan opposition and offer safe haven to Libyan aircraft pilots and other security personnel who refuse to carry out illegal regime orders to attack civilians

4. Calling for an independent investigation into possible breaches of humanitarian law and appointing a War Crimes Coordinator.

Militarised Britain: From Poppies to X Factor to the Premier League

War may well be the continuation of politics by violent means, as Clausewitz said, but it is by no means obvious in British popular culture.

USBlog has in recent months considered the militarisation of British culture by highlighting the ways in which the annual 'poppy appeal' has incorporated support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; support for those wars on prime-time programmes like X-Factor, as well the ways in which military charities are visiting schools and even nurseries to parade their cause. In each instance, and I'm sure in many others too, war is lifted out of politics - the struggle over who gets what and how - and placed in the domain of the welfare of 'our boys'. By so doing, sympathy and empathy are mobilised behind one side and implicitly against the 'other' side, without examining the nature of the war or the gross imbalance of casualties, military and civilian.

Yesterday's Daily Mail added a new dimension to the issue (24 February 2011). Its sports pages are normally opinionated, dramatic and sensationalist. This is not surprising. In uncharacteristically un-sensational terms, the paper reported that a former premier league footballer, Lee Crooks, has joined the RAF and is about to go to fight in Afghanistan. The article purports to be non-political, and just mere reporting, but notes in its very first sentence that Crooks "is about to move from defence on the pitch to the front line in Afghanistan". By noting Crooks's defensive role as footballer in the same sentence as announcing his move to Afghanistan, it implies that British forces there are engaged in a defensive war, an opinion not shared by everyone.

The article quotes Crooks arguing that football and war are quite similar: Being a soldier and player both require "working as a team, being there for your team-mates and moving forward as a team," Crooks suggested. These must be waht Edmund Burke meant when he referred to the "little platoons" that make for a cohesive social structure. Crooks may be in for a shock.

The British empire was built on the playing fields of Eton - sports made Victorian school boys muscular Christians who would civilise the world. As far back as George Orwell, it was noted that football is war minus the shooting. Countries at war often produce aggressive sports, a consequence of militarised culture. The results are not pretty.

Lee Crooks is not going from playing in defence to defending his country. He is going from a sports field full of aggression to the killing fields of Afghanistan.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Wikileaks: Tim Sebastian Tackles US Wrong-doing Head On

A recent post on this site noted the stunning silence from the mass media on questioning illegal and lethal acts carried out by American diplomats and military forces, as revealed by Wikileaks over the course of 2010.

Below is a brief exchange during a televised debate in Doha, Qatar, at the end of January, betweem the veteran journalist, Tim Sebastian, and Carl W. Ford, jr., a former CIA analyst, defense and state department assistant secretary and official. During 2001-03, Ford served the Bush administration's State Department as assistant secretary of state for intelligence and research, playing a significant role in crafting the war on terror and the (false) WMD justification for the illegal US invasion of Iraq.

In 2003, Ford joined a consulting firm, Cassidy and associates, that specialised in military issues with special focus on the far east and Middle east. Previously, back in the 1990s, Ford had established his own consulting firm, with a client list that included Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Raytheon. He now teaches a course in teaches courses in government decision-making and the theory and practice of intelligence at Georgetown and George Mason universities.

Going by his contribution to the debate and subsequent questioning by Tim Sebastian, Carl Ford remains wedded to the principle that American power is unquestionably good for the world.

Carl W. Ford Jr.

Speaking against the motion (that Wikileaks is good for the world)
Carl W. Ford Jr.

Thank you Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen. I came to the debate tonight thinking that most of you would agree that diplomacy is an essential element in international relations and that trust is an important aspect of all diplomatic communications, if for no other reason than the fact that misunderstandings have been a major cause of war and political disputes throughout history. Those who support this motion tonight would have you believe that these principles are no longer important; I hope most of you disagree. Julian (Assange), of course, says Wikileaks' disruptions are justified because he's helping the American people. Apparently he believes that it's his mission to uncover illegal US government activities. He hasn't shown me any yet, any illegal activities, maybe he's saving the best for last, I don't know. But certainly we in the United States are no strangers to misconduct by government officials, but instead of relying on Julian we have independent inspector generals, we have whistleblower laws, we have congressional oversight, we have courts to ensure that our law enforcement and intelligence organisations don't overstep their authorities. I think that the help that Julian is talking about is fixing the US policy that he dislikes, and there are a lot of those. But I think that's a different matter, he's free to speak his mind as often and as loudly as he wants, I don't always agree with what my government says or does either. In the case of Wikileaks however, Julian did far more than speak his mind or express an opinion; he attacked the United States. But it's not news to Julian, he knows full well the consequences of his actions, he wrote about them in a paper he wrote in 2006. Back then Julian was promoting the idea of disrupting communications links between the United States and other countries using leaks, but not to help.

Could you come to a close please.
But instead to demonstrate that Washington couldn't keep a secret, that it would complicate the free flow of information by governments and would require the executive branch to tighten up its security procedures. Well, he says that Wikileaks' attacks are different this time, because it's for our own good. Well some of you may agree that the United States deserves attacking and applaud the damage Wikileaks has done to us. I, of course, disagree on both counts.

I must ask you to wrap up please.

But at least it's a legitimate position to take that you protest against American policies, clearly we don't always do everything right. But please, be honest...

Carl Ford, I must bring you to a close here. Thank you you've had well over your time, thank you very much indeed, thank you. You say that Wikileaks hasn't uncovered any illegal activity; you appear to have missed the order from the State Department authorising illegal bugging of offices at the United Nations, and the illegal hacking into delicate information belonging to UN officials. That's certainly illegal activity and the United States hasn't even contested that fact. Isn't that helpful to the world's public to know about that?

Well I think that if we are bugging the United Nations and I found out about it I would be one of those whistleblowers, and I've been in Intelligence in government for over forty years.

So we're better off knowing about it, thanks to Wikileaks?
Whistle blowers are necessary and I would be one if I thought that there was some real wrongdoing being done.

Isn't it also instructive that we now know that contrary to their assurances that they didn't keep any record of civilian casualties in Iraq, we now know that out of 109,000 casualties, 65,000 belonged to non-combatants. That's also something that Wikileaks has told us, that's worth knowing too, isn't it?

We know that they did not publicise those casualties.

They said they didn't have them.
They knew what they were, they kept close...

So they lied, they lied?

No, no I think that not everybody...

So Wikileaks has caught them in a lie?

Not everybody in the field knows exactly what's going on, and what's not going on.

But they said they didn't, now it transpires that they do, it's a straight lie.

No, if you believe...

You can't have it both ways, you can't be a little bit sure and...

Well, if it were up to me...

You're either sure or you're not sure.

Young men and women have already experienced things so that they will never recover in our lifetime, and to believe that somehow war is not horrible and bad things don't happen, there are casualties.

I'm talking about details, I'm talking about details that were lied about, I'm not talking about the horrors of war, we all know war is horrible, which is why we're not supposed to launch it. You either tell the truth about what you know or not; they've caught them in a lie and they've caught them in illegal activity at the United Nations as well. So there are two things that Wikileaks have brought to the attention of the public that are worth having aren't they?

What you're saying is that you accept that privacy in diplomatic communications is not important.

It's only important if people tell the truth but they lie a lot don't they, so what other chance does the public have to get at it?

You can't get away with that, you can't get away with. The fact is you're saying that you don't think diplomatic communications of any country should be private.
I'm not saying that, Carl Ford thank you very much indeed.

The US-backed Egyptian Military-Industrial Complex

Last week USBlog briefly alluded to the commercial and industrial power of the Egyptian armed forces, in addition to its sheer size and repressive capacity. Below is an article that provides far greater detail of the Egyptian military's business empire.

So what? The significance of the evidence provided below is pretty clear: if the armed forces are the vehicle for political reform and 'democratisation', as touted by themselves, and the Obama administration, the character of that 'democracy' is likely to be 'low intensity'. Unless there is a more thorough-going popular revolution in Egypt, it is the US-backed armed forces that will set the terms and conditions, and limits, of political reform. While this may leave the Egyptian business and military elite, and their supporters in Washington DC and Tel Aviv, very happy, it is unlikely to lead to a popular-democratic Egypt.

Egyptian military commands a vast business empire
By Mike Head 17 February 2011

Egypt’s military has been presented by the Obama administration, as well as by the leaders of Egypt’s official “opposition,” such as Mohamed ElBaradei, as the guarantor of an “orderly transition” to a new democratic order. This is false to the core. The generals have a long record of repression against the working class, starting with the court-martial and execution of two textile workers’ strike leaders just a month after the 1952 military coup that inaugurated the Nasser regime (see: “The Egyptian working class moves to the forefront”).

Contrary to the myth of the armed forces’ neutrality, every acute crisis of the military-backed dictatorship has seen troops mobilised to suppress working class discontent. These occasions included the 1977 food riots triggered by the implementation of World Bank and International Monetary Fund-ordered price rises, and an uprising of police conscripts in Cairo and other cities in 1986.

Last August, eight employees of Military Factory 99 were placed on trial—in a military court—for calling a strike. The workers had demanded safer working conditions, as they are formally entitled to do under Egyptian law, after a boiler exploded, killing one civilian worker and injuring six. The strikers were charged with “disclosing military secrets” and “illegally stopping production”. In the end, after a quick trial, three were acquitted and the five others received suspended sentences. The outcome was regarded as lenient, but the military had sent an unmistakeable message. “There are no labor strikes in military society,” a retired army general, Hosam Sowilam, told the New York Times.

In addition to its unabiding commitment to maintain the capitalist order as a whole, Egypt’s officer caste commands its own huge business empire, which has mushroomed since the 1952 coup. Military Factory 99, at Helwan, in Cairo’s south, is a prime example. The plant produces a wide variety of consumer goods—stainless steel pots and pans, fire extinguishers, scales, cutlery—in addition to its primary function of forging metal components for heavy ammunition.
Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi, a life-long henchman of ousted president Hosni Mubarak, remains both Defence Minister and Minister of Military Production, posts he has held since 1991. That makes him not only the commander-in-chief of the military junta but, in effect, the chief executive officer of a giant military-run commercial enterprise.

Military-run firms hold strong positions in key industries, including food (olive oil, milk, bread and water); cement and gasoline; clothing; kitchen appliances; vehicle production (joint ventures with Jeep to produce Cherokees and Wranglers); resorts and hotels; and construction, in which the military benefits from being able to deploy conscripts during their last six months of service.
Among the range of products sold by military companies are medical equipment, laptops, televisions, sewing machines, refrigerators, butane gas bottles and Egypt’s best-known bottled water brand, Safi. The military businesses do not pay taxes and are immune from government regulation.

The generals also control swathes of public land, which is increasingly being converted into gated communities and resorts for the benefit of the military caste, as well as the rest of Egypt’s obscenely wealthy business elite. Among the resorts is one on the Red Sea at Sharm el-Sheikh, where Mubarak reportedly fled to one of his seaside palaces. Extravagant and well-watered golf courses have become notorious in a country where millions of people have no access to running water.

There are divergent estimates of the size of the military’s business empire—partly because it is illegal in Egypt to report on the military’s activities. Paul Sullivan, a US National Defense University professor, has stated that the military conglomerates probably account for 10 percent to 15 percent of Egypt’s $US210 billion per year economy.
According to US Naval Postgraduate School Professor Robert Springborg, estimates of military control of Egyptian businesses range from 5 percent to 40 per cent. Whatever the exact percentage, officers in the Egyptian military were making “billions and billions” of dollars, Springborg said in a recent interview. He told the Global Research web site: “It’s a business conglomerate, like General Electric. It’s represented in virtually every sector of the economy.”

The Ministry of Military Production alone has 40,000 civilian employees and takes in approximately $345 million a year, according to its head, former General Sayed Meshal. A journalist from the online publication Slate, who interviewed Meshal last year, described the ministry’s “lavish headquarters”. It had “golden handrails” and “fancy custom-made drink counters”. The place was “awash with cash”.

At the pinnacle of this pyramid of wealth stood Mubarak, a former military commander himself, and his family. Their fortune amounts to as much as $70 billion, according to a report by the ABC television network in the United States. The family is believed to own properties in Manhattan, Beverley Hills, California and London, to have large deposits in banks in Britain and Switzerland, and to have invested heavily in hotels and tourist businesses on the Red Sea.

Washington, which is now relying on Tantawi’s military council to restore order, has long been well aware of the venal interests of the generals, who collaborate intimately with the Pentagon in return for military aid and weaponry worth an average of $2 billion per year since 1979. In a 2008 US embassy cable published by Wikileaks, Ambassador Margaret Scobey reported that “analysts perceive the military as retaining strong influence through its role in ensuring regime stability and operating a large network of commercial enterprises”.

Scobey said her sources “opined that the regime gives the six businessmen in the cabinet carte blanche to pursue commercial activities, but that the defense minister can put a hold on any contract for ‘security concerns’.” One source “pointed out that military companies built the modern road to the Ain Souknah Red Sea resorts 90 minutes from Cairo and Cairo University’s new annex. He noted the large amounts of land owned by the military in the Nile Delta and on the Red Sea coast, speculating that such property is a ‘fringe benefit’ in exchange for the military ensuring regime stability and security.”

Scobey reported the existence of “economic and political tensions between the business elite and the military,” but concluded that “the overall relationship between the two still appears to be cooperative, rather than adversarial”. Her cable reviewed the military’s unease at the rise of Mubarak’s son Gamal, who was being groomed to succeed his father as president. She observed that his power base lay in the super-rich layer that had profited from the wholesale privatisation of state enterprises since 2004, rather than the military elite.

Not discussed in the cable, however, was the overriding concern of the military leadership: that the blatant wealth disparity produced by the privatisation process would generate convulsive social unrest. The sell-off of several hundred businesses to the profiteers associated with Gamal Mubarak resulted in the firing of thousands of employees. At the same time, again at the behest of the international financial markets, government subsidies for essential commodities were reduced or eliminated, creating dire poverty and immense popular discontent.

Samer Shehata, an Egyptian academic at Georgetown University told Time that the military had in 2008 pointed to the hundreds of strikes that the post-2004 economic changes had unleashed. “They said this was becoming an issue of national security,” Shehata said. One of the groups organising on Facebook this year took its name, the April 6 Movement, from an April 6, 2008, strike by textile workers in the Nile delta that was brutally suppressed by the regime.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Wikileaks and Egypt: has Obama Got Away With It?

Wikileaks and Egypt: Has Obama Got Away With It?

There is a crescendo of self-congratulation in the US State Department about the lack of damage to America’s standing from the continuing Wikileaks’ release of secret US embassy cables. Few observers of American power – academic, journalistic or other - disagree. The lack of media interrogation of the Obama administration’s complicity in carrying out illegal and deadly policies abroad, as exposed by Wikileaks, is stunning to observe.

Yet, the case of Egypt advances a clear and damaging thesis that challenges that view: that successive American administrations from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama knowingly financed, armed and propped up a repressive regime directed to keeping its people down at home and undermining Palestinian aspirations for self-determination abroad. Instead, the Hosni Mubarak regime protected Israel and effectively permitted and connived in its successive wars against the Palestinians. Israel, according to secret cables, gave Egypt advanced warning of its war on Gaza in December 2008, and even offered Gaza to Egypt as a prize if Hamas were removed from power. And the Israelis, along with the Americans, were Mubarak’s most fervent supporters until the bitter end when his fate was sealed by the insistent demands of popular protests and dissension within the ranks of the Egyptian armed forces.

Released US embassy cables described Egypt as dominated by corruption and cronyism on a stupendous scale. They detailed the excessive power of the armed forces within Egyptian society, economy and polity. Mubarak was characterised as an egotistical and stubborn dictator, and as actively grooming his son to takeover Egypt after him. The Egyptian military high command was described as taking the ca $1.3 billion paid annually into its coffers from American “aid” as the price of friendship with the United States and its policies of protecting Israel and containing the Palestinians.

Yet, despite the critical character of the message in American embassy cables, there was not a hint of a recommendation that the Mubarak regime should publicly be criticised let alone cut-off by the Americans. Barack Obama, with his Nobel Peace Prize in hand, valued Mubarak virtually till the end of his days as Egypt’s virtual pharoah. Obama described him as a man to be trusted and respected because he ensured stability in the Middle East, a counterweight to Iran. It will be recalled that the late Shah of Iran had received President Jimmy Carter’s blessings and support right up until he was ousted in 1979.

American administrations, including that of Barack Obama, have not just turned a blind eye to the Mubarak regime’s human rights and other violations: they have valued and exploited Egypt’s willingness to crush anyone remotely espousing “Islamic” politics, including the Muslim Brotherhood which is opposed to al Qaeda. American administrations have used Egypt for torturing suspected terrorists for years.

So where now for Egypt and US policy there?

America has invested ca $50 billion in Egypt’s armed forces since 1979. Another $28 billion in non-military aid has been invested there. America is not going to yield Egypt to its own people without a fight. Egypt’s military reportedly controls around 15% of national economic output, worth almost £140 billion. It owns companies in practically every area of national life – from hotels to clubs to banks and other businesses. Its senior officers enjoy lavish lifestyles; even its middle ranked officers retire to lucrative posts in state-owned businesses. The military has finally ousted Mubarak; but it now has direct control of Egypt, even if constitutionally it ought to pass to the leader of parliament should the president resign.

50 years after outgoing President Dwight Eisenhower warned about the rise of a military-industrial complex as a threat to American democracy, the Americans have constructed an even more fearsome complex of military repression, torture, rendition, and capitalist corruption in the leading country in the Arab world. Egypt’s armed forces, at almost 470,000, are the world’s tenth largest, with thousands of tanks, armoured vehicles, fighter jets, attack helicopters and submarines. A far cry from promoting democracy and freedom that is the usual rallying call of American power.

Obama’s policy of supporting corrupt Arab dictators lies in tatters. Despite his credentials as a man of the people and as the harbinger of change, of his claim to understand and empathise with the peoples of the Middle East, and of offering a hand a friendship to Muslim peoples, he has demonstrated the exact opposite. His administration takes its place right alongside post-1945 American administrations that have helped install and prop up military dictatorships whose ultimate virtue is that they support United States policies regardless of the interests of their own peoples.

What the Wikileaks cables have shown is that the brutal facts are coolly recognised and catalogued by America’s diplomatic representatives – or rather their viceroys – in dictatorial regimes. The significant point is, however, is that they are more than happy to continue supporting such vassals because they help maintain American power and interests. Egypt remains in the grip of American power.

Those double standards damage American standing abroad and corrupt the meaning and values of democracy within the United States and its craven western and other allies, regardless of the mainstream media’s stunning silence on the question.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Wikileaks Official I: Nothing to Report?

It's the 'line' heard everywhere whenever the issue of Wikileaks' publication of secret US embassy cables comes up - from academic conferences to the mass and broadsheet media, and from confidential briefings (official and, therefore, "good" leaks) from the US Department of State and the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office. "We got away with it" appears to be the line from Anglo-American diplomats and others, echoed in the media - and in an impressive 16 page supplement in today's Guardian newspaper (5 February, 2011).

In the next few posts, USBlog, which has followed the Wikileaks 'story' closely for some weeks, aims to analyse the matter with a view to determining in as balanced a manner as possible, the effects of the Wikileaks cables (both in terms of content but also in terms of their significance as a political issue in its own right) mean for America's global standing.

That they've "got away with it" is the chosen expression is instructive in itself: that the third level of secrecy at which the leaked cables were designated revealed little that damages America's global standing. It's pretty cynical. And it suggests that at the top two levels of secrecy there would be much more damaging material. Hence, the orders issued by the White House to all executive departments in December 2010 to review information security procedures and limit even level 3 information to far fewer than the previous 2.5 million government officials.

That just ca 2500 cables have yet to be published, and that ca 249,000 remain unpublished, is left increasingly unacknowledged. Maybe there's more to come? How representative is what we've seen up to now, even of the 250,000 in the original cache of leaked cables? And how representative are the quarter million leaked cables of the total number of cables? There is an eagerness to close the book on Wikileaks. Indeed, the Guardian's supplement is headed "After Wikileaks". Perhaps the Guardian's new book on the matter is the final word on the subject. They certainly think so.

The cynicism is quite staggering. David Miliband, former foreign secretary (2007-2010), an ex-emperor looking for a role, notes in the Guardian that most diplomats would be glad they got away with it. Yet, did Britain 'get away with it'? He does not address the question of the deal with the Americans first to remove and then to prevent, in the most undignified and cynical manner, the people of the Chagos Islands from returning to their homes after an enforced decades-long expulsion to make way for American military bases. What a wheeze it must have been to designate the islanders home as a marine park and make the whole sordid matter look like an environmental issue. Nor the issue that his government manipulated parliament to permit the Americans to retain cluster bombs, against British and international law, on British soil.

It seems that you "get away" with things by just ignoring them, with media connivance and lack of investigative follow up. (Which is why Wikileaks and others like them will remain significant actors).

Take the matter of William Hague's promise to the Americans of a "pro-American regime" should the Conservatives be returned to power in the may 2010 elections. Surely worth a few questions from the Guardian one would think, even in the House? Going by Prime Minister Cameron's declaration this week that Britain would shun anyone who lacks or rejects "British values", Hague should be called to explain why American values are so attractive that Britain's foreign policy is closely aligned to them. A British regime should really be "pro-British" one would have thought.

Then there's the issue of State Department orders to diplomats to spy on UN officials - including the secretary-general and his staffs - and diplomats, violating international law, specifically the US-UN HQ agreement of 1946 and the Vienna convention of 1961. The CIA's wish list, you may recall, included iris scans, DNA, credit card numbers and statements, encryption codes, finger prints. For sub-saharan Africa, US diplomats were asked to collect military base information, aircraft markings, vehicle licence plates of cars used by Hamas officials, and the like.

All illegal. And met with astonishing silence from Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration, except for relentless war - cyber, financial, words, and legal - on the wikileaks organisation , its founder, and Bradley Manning, in military custody and held under conditions now revealed to be so harsh that the UN and Amnesty International have taken up the case.

Miliband praises those US diplomats who noted the corruption in Tunisia and Egypt: we need more like them, he says. The problem is, David, that those diplomats did not suggest that the US should change it's policies towards those regimes. The Obama administration, following in the footsteps of administrations from Ronald Reagan through the Bushes, had already promised Mubarak $2 billion dollars military aid for 2011.

And one diplomat who did upset the applecart - former Pakistan ambassador Anne Patterson - is now, well, an ex-ambassador. Has US policy to Pakistan's terror-backing regime changed at all? No. Has US policy to Saudi Arabia changed as a result of revelations that they're backing Taliban forces against US troops in Afghanistan? No.

More to follow...