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Wednesday, 18 June 2014

US Hands Off Iraq!

In 2001, immediately following 9-11 Barbara Lee stood alone in opposing an open-ended war authorisation that remains in force today.
Below she responds to President Obama's recent speech on Iraq amid a new clamour from many quarters for US military intervention in Iraq today.

Congresswoman Lee Responds to President Obama's Remarks on Iraq

For Immediate Release:
Friday, June 13, 2014
Contact: Katherine Jolly, (510)-763-0370
Washington, DC - Today, Following President Obama's remarks concerning the crisis in Iraq, Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) issued the following statement:
"After more than a decade of war, thousands of America lives and billions of dollars, the American people are looking to Congress to promote security and diplomacy," said Congresswoman Lee. "The ongoing crisis in Iraq is the tragic product of President George W. Bush's unnecessary and unjust 2003 invasion. The response must not be more military action, but a political process led by the Iraqis and representative of all Iraqis.
"Earlier this week, during the Appropriations Committee committee consideration of the Fiscal year 2015 Department of Defense funding bill, Congresswoman Lee offered an amendment, based on her bipartisan legislation (HR 3852),  to repeal the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) in Iraq.

"As  the House considers next week's defense bill, I will again work to repeal the 2002 Iraq war authorization, as well as the 2001 AUMF which has led to a perpetual state of endless war. I welcome the support of my colleagues who believe Congress should debate any and all use of military force.

"In May, President Obama used his speech at West Point to remind the American people that not all problems have military solutions. The political crisis in Iraq is one such problem.

"As the President has so eloquently stated, our military cannot solve all crises. The future of Iraq is in the hands of the Iraqi people," added Congresswoman Lee. "The U.S. must continue to pursue international and regional engagement, recognition of human rights and political reforms in order to promote the long term national stability and the  reconciliation necessary to address this complex problem."
Follow Barbara Lee on Facebook and Twitter at @RepBarbaraLee. To learn more, visit
Congresswoman Lee is a member of the Appropriations and Budget Committees, the Steering and Policy Committee, is a Senior Democratic Whip, as well as the Whip of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), where she serves as the Co-Chair of the CPC Peace and Security Task Force.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

America's legacy in Iraq

Below is an insight into the current crisis in Iraq:

By Stephen Zunes

The dramatic rise of the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)—which even al-Qaeda deemed too extreme to remain part of its network—is a tragedy by any measure. It would also be tragic if we allowed the very forces that created this mess to explain it away.

Despite claims by the Bush administration and its supporters to the contrary, outside of a few dozen fighters in a remote valley of the Kurdish autonomous region, there was no Al-Qaeda or related Salafi extremist presence in Iraq under the Saddam Hussein regime. But now, thanks to the U.S. invasion and occupation, the extremists control most of the northern and western parts of the country, including Iraq’s second largest city.

Under U.S. occupation, Iraq’s two major bastions of secular nationalism—the armed forces and the civil service—were effectively abolished, only to be replaced by partisans of sectarian Shiite parties and factions, some of which were closely allied to Iran. Sunni extremists, believing Iraqi Shias had betrayed their country to Persians and Westerners, began targeting Shia civilian neighborhoods with terrorist attacks. The Iraqi regime and allied militia then began systematically kidnapping and murdering thousands of Sunni men. The so-called “sectarian” conflict, then, has been a direct consequence of U.S. policy.

Despite this, recognizing al-Qaeda related extremists among them were a bigger threat, Sunni tribesmen and other leaders in northern and western Iraq agreed in 2007 to ally with the government in return for better incorporating Sunnis into the government and armed forces. This led to a temporary lull in the fighting, which Republicans and various pundits have falsely attributed to the U.S. troop surge that followed.

However, the Maliki regime did not come through with its end of the agreement. Indeed, discrimination and repression increased. Nonviolent protesters were gunned down. Dissident journalists were targeted for imprisonment and assassination. There was widespread torture. Thousands of Iraqis were detained for years without trial. Sunnis and their communities faced rampant discrimination and the Maliki regime became recognized by Transparency International as one of the most corrupt governments in the world.

As a result, when ISIS emerged as the latest manifestation of al-Qaeda-style extremists, the Sunni population—despite their relatively secular outlook and strong opposition to such ideologies and tactics—found them to be the lesser evil, and various militia have joined with their former rivals in expelling government forces.

Their advance was made easier by the failure of the Iraqi army to fight. As the U.S. learned in South Vietnam, no matter how well you train a foreign army and how many arms you provide them, they will only be successful if they believe their regime is worth fighting and dying for.
The good news is that, thanks to an influx of Shiite militia and Iranian Revolutionary Guard fighting alongside the army, the ISIS advance appears to have stalled. The bad news is that it will reinforce the sense among the Sunni population that their country is controlled by Iranian-backed Shiite sectarians, which will only strengthen the power of religious chauvinists within their own community. Should there be attacks by the regime and its allies on the ISIS-occupied cities, the inevitable civilian death toll that would result would only increase the country’s divisions further.

It is ironic that many of the very U.S. politicians and pundits who supported the invasion and occupation of Iraq are now being paraded through the mainstream media giving advice on how the Obama administration should respond, ignoring how the rise of ISIS and the underlying “sectarian” conflict is a direct consequence of Bush administration policies.

It is particularly bizarre that some of the very people who supported the illegal and unnecessary invasion of Iraq are now trying to somehow blame Obama for the unfolding fiasco. Obama opposed the war in part because he recognized that a U.S. invasion and occupation would "only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaida."

Ironically, in that same 2002 speech, Obama called on the Bush administration to “make sure our so-called allies…stop oppressing their own people, and suppressing dissent, and tolerating corruption and inequality, and mismanaging their economies so that their youth grow up without education, without prospects, without hope, the ready recruits of terrorist cells.” Unfortunately, as president, Obama has spent more than $25 billion in taxpayer money arming, training, and propping up the corrupt, oppressive, and discriminatory Maliki regime in Baghdad whose policies have directly resulted in the rise of the ISIS extremists.

There do not seem to be any good options for the United States to pursue now. Since the ISIS takeover is in many respects part of a larger popular rebellion, it cannot be reversed simply through air strikes and drone attacks. Conditioning aid on the Maliki regime becoming more democratic, inclusive, and transparent would seem like a sensible first step, but instigating such reforms would be difficult in the midst of such a major crisis. Ultimately, as difficult as it may seem for many Americans to accept, the Iraqis may just need to work things out themselves. Almost everything else the United States has done to that country in recent decades has only made things worse.

Stephen Zunes is a professor of Politics and coordinator of the Middle Eastern Studies program at the University of San Francisco.
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Anglo-Saxonism and the World Cup

Just as I was glowingly acknowledging to an American friend how far multiculturalism had come, while watching the racially and ethnically mixed football teams of Europe and South America compete in Brazil, I was reminded of how deeply embedded remain racial and cultural stereotypes in the field of sports. Though I do tend to see the world in political-historical terms, even while enjoying a beer and a good game of football, so bear with me....

Monday 16 June's New York Times published a very interesting article that jolted me back from Planet Football to Anglo-American history.

It is said that the British Empire was built on the playing fields of Eton. The sporting spirit is inextricably linked with spreading civilisation. The very term - "it's not cricket" - captures the essence of the notion of playing by the spirit and the letter of the rules of the game, the civilised way, like the British do (but please don't mention the 'bodyline' tour of Australia in the 1930s when short-pitched leg-side bowling aimed at the body tactics, then considered 'not quite cricket', were used by England to try and thwart the batting skills of the legendary Don Bradman and causing severe head and other injuries to several batsmen).

And by the rules and spirit of the game is how the Americans currently, it is lamented, play football. The NYT article is headlined "Where Dishonesty Is Best Policy, U.S. Falls Short". And it's all about how Brazilians and continental Europeans dive and 'simulate' i.e., cheat, in order to win free kicks and penalties in order to win games. But, "the American nature is to try and make everything fair... That's just how Americans are."

And so are the English, America's Anglo-Saxon cousins. They also, to their detriment, tend to stay on their feet, "traditionally stayed upright", unlike their "Continental European" counterparts. Though Michael Owen, David Beckham and Ashley Young provide examples to the contrary.

At stake, however, in the debate about whether American players should emulate continentals and other lesser breeds, is nothing less than the "moral high ground" of the American ethos.

Of course, football is just a game, in the end, and too much should not be made of this. But, the echoes of British imperial era claims to moral superiority against the barbarians in need of civilisation are clearly visible.

And just as Britannia ruled the waves by waiving the rules, America's moral outrage over cheating in football should be seen not just in the context of football, perhaps, but also in its role in the world since 1945 - when America has made and enforced the rules of the global order, with their English cousins at their side.

What's going on today in Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq certainly isn't cricket.