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Thursday, 26 May 2011

Obama's Egyptian Dawn Under Military Rule

"The decades-long political winter in the Arab world seemed to be thawing early this year as mass protests toppled Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in January and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in February. It appeared as though one rotten Arab dictatorship after another might fall during the so-called Arab Spring. Analogies were quickly conjured to 1989, when another frozen political space, Eastern Europe, saw one dictatorship after another collapse. A similar wave of democratic transitions in the Arab world was finally possible to imagine, particularly given the extent to which previous transformations had been regional in scope: Portugal, Spain, and Greece all democratized in the mid-1970s; much of Latin America did shortly thereafter; Korea and Taiwan quickly followed the Philippines’ political opening in 1986; and then a wave of change in sub-Saharan Africa began in 1990. All of those were part of the transformative “third wave” of global democratization. In March, many scholars and activists reasonably imagined that a “fourth wave” had begun.

Two months later, however, a late spring freeze has seemingly hit some areas of the region. And it could be a protracted one. Certainly, each previous regional wave of democratic change had to contend with authoritarian hard-liners, opposition divisions, and divergent national trends. But most of the Arab political openings are closing faster and more harshly than happened in other regions -- save for the former Soviet Union, where most new democratic regimes quickly drifted back toward autocracy.

If Tunisia still provides grounds for cautious optimism, the Egyptian situation is already deeply worrying. Its senior officer corps, which currently controls the government, does not want to facilitate a genuine democratic transition. It will try to prevent it by generating conditions on the ground that discredit democracy and make Egyptians (and U.S. policymakers) beg for a strong hand again. The ruling officers have turned a blind eye to mounting religious and sectarian strife (and an alarming explosion in crime). The military has spent enormous effort arresting thousands of peaceful protesters in Tahrir Square and trying them in military tribunals over the last two months. (In April, one such detainee, a blogger named Maikel Nabil, was sentenced to three years in prison for “insulting the military establishment.”) Yet it claims that it cannot rein in rising insecurity. Many Egyptians see this as part of the military’s grand design to undermine democracy before it takes hold.

The parliamentary elections slated for September are unlikely to help: New political forces have no chance of being able to build competitive party and campaign structures in time. The Muslim Brotherhood, which initially said it would only contest a third of the parliamentary seats, has now announced its intention to contest half of all seats, forming a new political party (Freedom and Justice) for the purpose. If the electoral system retains its highly majoritarian nature, it might well win a thumping majority of the seats it contests (perhaps 40 percent in all), with most of the rest going to local power brokers and former stalwarts of the Mubarak-era ruling party, the National Democratic Party.

Both theory and political experience teach that regimes with spent legitimacy do not last, and the legitimacy of the Libyan, Syrian, and Yemeni dictators is utterly depleted.

Elsewhere in the region, Bahrain’s minority Sunni monarchy opted to crush peaceful protests and arrest and torture many of those with whom it might have negotiated some future power-sharing deal. With active Iranian support and a bizarre degree of American and Israeli acceptance, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad unleashed a slow-motion massacre that could go on for weeks or even months. In Yemen, the government is paralyzed, food prices are rising, and the country is drifting. Having seen the fate of Mubarak, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh is playing for time, but his legitimacy is irretrievably drained, and he lacks the ability to mobilize repressive force on the scale of Assad’s."

Anglo-American Joint Strategy Board Announced

President Obama has announced the formation of an Anglo-American Joint Strategy Board, cementing what he referred to as "the essential relationship" between the two powers. The details, such as they are, are provided below in a White House press release. Among other measures, the White House also announced that Britian and the Us would work more closely together to support their armed forces and veterans in various ways, including linking them ever more deeply into community life. Postgraduate student exchange programmes also receive a boost as do links between the British Voluntary Service Overseas organisation and the US Peace Corps.
It may not be 'special' but the relationship between the two Anglo-Saxon powers remains deep and enduring. This is not because of sentiment, though that does play a peripheral role. It is because Anglo-American elites share an understanding and definition of the world, and its 'problems' and issues, which tends to align them on the really biq questions of world politics: resistance to western power, rising Chinese influence, uprisings in the Arab world.

President Obama's Visit to the UK, May 2011
25 May 2011

Office of the Press Secretary



FACT SHEET: The U.S.-UK Joint Strategy Board

The United States and the United Kingdom today are announcing the creation of a Joint Strategy Board. The Board will help enable a more guided, coordinated approach to analyze the “over the horizon” challenges we may face in the future and also how today’s challenges are likely to shape our future choices. It is designed to better integrate long-term thinking and planning into the day-to-day work of our governments and our bilateral relationship, as we contemplate how significant evolutions in the global economic and security environment will require shifts in our shared strategic approach.

The Joint Strategy Board, co-chaired by the U.S. National Security Staff and the U.K. National Security Secretariat, will include representatives from the Departments of State and Defense, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Ministry of Defense, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Joint Intelligence Organization. It will report to the U.S. and U.K. National Security Advisors, Thomas E. Donilon and Sir Peter Ricketts.

The Joint Strategy Board will meet quarterly alternating between sites in the United States and United Kingdom. The U.S. and U.K. National Security Advisors will review the status of the Board after one year and decide whether to renew its mandate.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Obama Elides America's record in the Middle East

President Barack Obama's recent speech on the Middle East is hailed by many as signalling new departures for the region. Even those those who read speeches carefully, or at least press accounts and commentaries on them, are encouraged by the tone and 'realism' in the words Obama used. They are encouraged by the 'moderate' language, the soothing tone, the reasonableness of it all. Here is a man struggling to redefine America's approach in line with its recent history in Iraq and recent uprisings across the Arab world. He's constrained, many eager and reluctant supporters argue, by entrenched forces so he can only do so much: the US foreign policy establishment, as Stephen Walt argues, is hard to shift and casts a permanent shadow over the White House. Two inherited wars from the Bush era continue to hamstring Obama. "Girl power" it is said - Hillary Clinton, Samantha Power, Susan Rice - forced Obama's hand on Libya. The US military forced his hand over the 'surge' in Afghanistan. Israeli PM, Netanyahu, threatens the 'peace process' while Obama tries against entrenched interests to solve the problem.

The United States is now on the 'right side of history' in backing democratic forces in the Arab world, Obama suggests. It is on the side of the people against the vested interests, and is backing democratic change. Of course, it must uphold its 'vital interests' in defeating terrorism and maintaining the free flows of commerce and oil, and the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

Therein lies the elision of history in Obama's latest speech to restore America's image in the world: the war on terror has been waged largely in the Middle east and involved the active support of pro-US elites in torture and rendition and disappearances. Billions of dollars of US aid has poured into the coffers of the militaries of the region, many of which are using those weapons systems and equipment to put down uprisings across the region - in Yemen, Egypt, Bahrain, among others. Obama has hardly uttered a word on that oppression and even when he has the words are contradicted by the renewed aid packages to the military regime in Egypt, and the Saleh administration in Yemen.

In Egypt, the US supports a 'negotiated path to reform' under the auspices of the very regime that was headed by Hosni Mubarak. Even as Obama lauds democracy's stirrings in Egypt the military there are cracking down on strikes by underpaid workers suffering untrammeled neoliberal reforms forced by the US in a bid to keep open the flows of commerce.

On Israel Obama is said to lead the way to renewing the peace process: two states based on 1967 borders. Yet, in his speech, he pledged undying support for Israel, the only power with nuclear weapons in the region and which has violated UN resolutions for decades with American support. Israel continues to build illegal settlements on the West Bank; meanwhile Obama signed off Bush's $30 billion aid package to Israel and continues to sell weapons systems to Israel far superior to such aid and sales to US' Arab allies in the region - to maintain Israel's qualitative military edge. To the Palestinians he urged moderation and non-violence.

The 'Palestine Papers' published by The Guardian and other media a few months ago showed quite clearly the doube standards of the US and Israel in the peace process: the Palestine Authority offered practically everything Israel demanded. Like Israel, Obama refuses to recognise Hamas, despite its victory in democratic elections.

American policy towards a democratic Middle east remains wedded to its 'core interests'. Caught on the hop by the uprisings in the Arab world, Obama initially gave full backing to repressive regimes. Finding that the uprsings were serious and unlikely to fade away, he eventually backed change - but a negotiated change under the auspices of the very regimes that were the source of the problem so far as protestors were concerned. Such negotiated change is likely to produce 'low-intensity democracy' - regimes that have limited space for dissent because their own elites have a lot to lose, including massive American aid. But market reforms will proceed at full pelt.

No leader operates without constraints. Yet, it's clear that Obama chose after long deliberation to send in tens of thousands of additional US troops to Afghanistan. Contra Walt, Obama is part of the US foreign policy establishment - not its plaything or pawn.

The 'hesitation' that Obama exhibits before taking action is born of his own character and personality - a 'fence sitter' who deliberates excessively to look at the pros and cons of action, according to Britain's ambassador to the US. And the world situation today suits Obama's personality - it's complicated and changing. It requires an Obama rather than a Bush. In the end, however, American policy hardly seems to shift, despite Obama's continuous re-setting oratory.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

The Education of Osama Bin Laden

Below is a reprinted article from the Southern Times, a Southern African online publication: in all essentials, it correctly details the rise and education in terror tactics of Osama bin Laden. It shows that America's desire to destabilise the illegal Soviet occupation of Afghanistan led to its backing of forces that later, and now, constitute a major problem for the region (and for the Obama administration). CIA operations, training, and funding of Osama bin Laden led directly to the rise of the Taliban and of his al qaeda organisation. It also led to funding for the Pakistan military's Interservices Intelligence agency (ISI), which is still, to this day, backing the Taliban.


On July 3, 1979 US President Jimmy Carter, under advice from National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, signed the first directive allowing secret aid to be given to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime that had recently come to power in Afghanistan.

It marked the beginning of a now infamous convergence of interests, which saw the CIA, the Saudi Arabian regime and the Pakistani Intelligence Directorate (ISI) train and equip the Islamist mujahideen resistance to the Soviet Union.

The US saw an immense opportunity.

In the preceding five years, they had been forced out of both Vietnam and Iran. It had been 'the most humiliating half decade in American history'.

Now they sought to lure the Soviets into an intractable guerrilla war in Central Asia.

Over more than a decade up to 35 000 fighters from the Muslim world were recruited, US$10 billion worth of aid was channelled (including, by 1987, 65 000 tons of arms), and a 'ceaseless stream' of CIA and Pentagon officials helped to plan mujahideen operations.

According to Stephen Coll, writing in the Washington Post: 'At any one time during the Afghan fighting season, as many as 11 ISI teams trained and supplied by the CIA accompanied mujahideen across the border to supervise attacks…

'CIA operations officers helped Pakistani trainers establish schools for the mujahideen in secure communications, guerrilla warfare, urban sabotage and heavy weapons.'

Not only this.

They gave support to the most retrograde elements like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. His followers, according to journalist Tim Weiner, 'first gained attention by throwing acid in the faces of women who refused to wear the veil'.

The reasoning of the CIA was simple: the more fanatical the fighters and the more brutal their methods, the better they would fight. And the better they fought the more support they should receive.

Ronald Reagan – the same man who denounced the African National Congress and the Palestine Liberation Organization for not renouncing violence – described the mujahideen as 'freedom fighters'.

As president, Reagan met in Washington with rebel leaders like Abdul Haq, who openly admitted his responsibility for terrorist attacks such as a 1984 bomb blast at Kabul's airport that killed at least 28 people.

Meanwhile, with CIA assistance, the mujahideen greatly expanded opium production in areas under their control – turning Afghanistan into what one US official later described as the new Colombia of the drug world.

One of the first non-Afghan volunteers to join the ranks of the mujahideen was Osama bin Laden, hailing from a wealthy construction family in Saudi Arabia.

Bin Laden recruited 4 000 volunteers from his own country and developed close relations with the most radical mujahideen leaders.

He also worked closely with the CIA, raising money from private Saudi citizens. By 1984, he was running the Maktab al-Khidamar, an organization set up by the ISI to funnel 'money, arms, and fighters from the outside world in the Afghan war'.

According to journalist John Cooley, 'The CIA gave Osama free rein in Afghanistan, as did Pakistan's intelligence generals. They looked with a benign eye on the build up of Sunni sectarian power in South Asia to counter the influence of Iranian Shi'ism of the Khomeiny variety.'

By 1989 the Russians were exhausted.

Afghanistan had become to them what Vietnam had become to the US. News of the Soviet defeat saw champagne corks popping all over Washington.

The Cold War was about to become history, the US had triumphed.

But when the USSR finally withdrew, the administration of George Bush Sr. turned its back on Afghanistan – leaving it, in the words of The Economist, 'awash with weapons, warlords and extreme religious zealotry.' – The Socialist Alternative

As the state funding from the Saudis and the US dried up, private financiers – like bin Laden himself – further stepped up their contributions to 'the cause'.

The Soviets may have gone, but there were new targets, and they weren't limited to within Afghanistan's borders.

Looking back on his role in the conflict Zbigniew Brzezinski asked (in 1998), 'What is most important to the history of the world…some stirred up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?'

In light of the 'war on terror' Brzezinski's question is tragic.

The hypocrisy is there for all to see: the 'terrorists' of today were trained, funded and backed by modern imperialism yesterday.

Bin Laden gave Bush just the excuse the US needed to go into Afghanistan again, and to follow it up with the obliteration of Iraq. That war shows that while bin Laden may have been a useful protégé, the US is still the master when it comes to terror.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Osama bin Laden is Killed but no end in sight to the war on terror

Below is a post from Richard Jackson's new blog, offering his interesting and salutory reflections on the killing of Osama bin Laden and the likely consequences. His blog is at

The Death of Osama bin Laden: It’s a pity…

The fact that Osama bin Laden, a man who fought his enemies with violence that frequently killed the innocent, is now dead could be a positive development…

But it’s a pity that the US chose to pursue a massive ‘war on terrorism’ as a response to bin Laden’s terrorist campaign, a war that has killed and injured far more innocent people than bin Laden’s initial attacks…

And it’s a pity that the Bush administration and the coalition of the willing linked Iraq to al Qaeda and bin Laden, and then invaded with the result of more than 600,000 dead…

And it’s a pity that so many people, including many innocents, were kidnapped, rendered and tortured for information on bin Laden’s whereabouts, and in the end, normal methods of intelligence-gathering found him anyway…

And it’s a pity that the US did not respond to the Taliban’s offer to hand over bin Laden to trial in Pakistan in 2001, and that they did not take the opportunity to strengthen international law and the ICC, so that bin Laden (and any other terrorist or war criminal) could be captured, tried and imprisoned at the Hague. A strong international legal system guaranteed by the US would have been far better than the disastrous decade of war on terrorism than we have had instead…

And it’s a pity that so many are celebrating using violent means to fight a violent group, and that it will most likely lead to a continuing, maybe even intensifying, cycle of violence. It’s a pity that so few recognize that violence rarely leads to any long-term solutions, but instead, most often creates ever more violence and suffering in the long run…

And it’s a pity that some think we should just celebrate his death without thinking about the context in which it occurred, the history of suffering he and his enemies engendered, the inherent moral and strategic problems with the way it was done, and the likely future consequences for so many…

And it’s a pity that the US and other Western states view ‘justice’ as killing a man extra-judicially and then disappearing his body in the sea. This seems like a surrender of our own values and principles, and it helps to create a world in which law and justice is ever weaker…

And it’s a pity that targeted killing is now a core tactic of counter-terrorism, especially when the Israeli experience clearly demonstrates that it does not work to reduce terrorism, kills many innocent bystanders, and leads to more recruits for the terrorist groups…

And it’s a pity that bin Laden came to be seen as the personalization of evil, the mastermind who could be blamed for causing most of the world’s terrorism, and who therefore needed to be eradicated at all costs. Solely focusing on one man meant that the history and context of real political grievances which lead to bin Laden’s rise was silenced and erased; terrorism was about one evil guy, not decades of US foreign policy, entrenched grievances, structures of oppression and daily physical, structural and cultural violence. Now he’s gone, I wonder who will take his place as the next personification of evil…

And it’s a pity that it happened so late that it will have no positive effect at all on terrorism or counter-terrorism, or on bin Laden’s mythical status as the man who stood up to the Western world for more than a decade…

And it’s a pity that they dumped his body in the sea, which will most likely add to his mythical status. It won’t surprise me if a lot of his supporters refuse to believe he is really dead. They may also be further angered that his corpse was thrown into the sea rather than being given a normal burial…

And it’s a pity that killing him in this way now makes him even more of a martyr to his followers, and a potent symbol of resistance. It would have been better to de-mythologise him and exorcise his power by putting him on trial and showing him in prison – an ordinary man growing old, rather than some kind of super-terrorist who eluded the world’s greatest superpower for years…

And it’s a pity that all the resources and efforts put into killing bin Laden over ten years was not instead put into strengthening international law, dealing with political grievances, supporting peace constituencies, resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, genuinely promoting political participation and democracy, and reconsidering oppressive and unjust foreign policies which provoke violent resistance…

And it’s a pity that so many Americans are on the streets celebrating and so many political leaders are crowing about it as a major victory. It will be a further humiliation for some in the Middle East, and they may rightly feel that the celebrations contain no acknowledgement of the suffering they have experienced from US invasion, counter-terrorism operations, drone attacks, rendition, etc. I wonder how we would react to celebrations in Iraq at the news of Bush’s death…

And it’s a pity that no one is talking about the other three people killed in the operation, one of whom was bin Laden’s son and the woman who was purportedly his wife. They may be more ‘collateral damage’ in our war on terror. It illustrates something about our real values that their lives are so unimportant that they won’t be discussed or mourned in all the euphoria over killing bin Laden, the evil mastermind. And it’s a pity that Obama said ‘no Americans were harmed’ in the operation, as if American lives are more valuable than others. This way of ordering the world into worthy and unworthy victims, people to be mourned and people to be erased, is what keeps the cycle of violence ever turning…

And it’s a pity that it will not lead to the end of the war on terror, the culture of fear, and all the intrusions into daily life of militarized forms of counter-terrorism. It’s a pity that in response to bin Laden’s initial attacks, we irrevocably changed our way of life and undermined our own values, and that political leaders are already saying that his death changes none of these things but that we will have to (endlessly) continue to be vigilant in the fight against terrorism…

It’s a pity that this event will do nothing to end the sheer stupidity and shameful waste of ten years of war and violence.