March 24, 2011

Instead of Bombing Libya…

Medea Benjamin and Charles Davis offer a better way to fight tyranny overseas:

If protecting civilians from evil dictators was the goal...—as opposed to, say, safeguarding natural resources and the investments of major oil companies—there’s an easier, safer way than aerial bombardment for the U.S. and its allies to consider: simply stop arming and propping up evil dictators. After all, Libya’s Muammar Gadhafi’s reaped the benefits from Western nations all too eager to cozy up to and rehabilitate the image of a dictator with oil, with those denouncing him today as a murderous tyrant just a matter of weeks ago selling him the very arms his regime has been using to suppress the rebellion against it. 

In 2009 alone, European governments—including Britain and France—sold Libya more than $470 million worth of weapons, including fighter jets, guns, and bombs. And before it started calling for regime change, the Obama administration was working to provide the Libyan dictator another $77 million in weapons, on top of the $17 million it provided in 2009 and the $46 million the Bush administration provided in 2008.

Meanwhile, for dictatorial regimes in Yemen, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia, U.S. support continues to this day. On Saturday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even gave the U.S. stamp of approval to the brutal crackdown on protesters in Bahrain, saying the country’s authoritarian rulers “obviously” had the “sovereign right” to invite troops from Saudi Arabia to occupy their country and carry out human rights abuses, including attacks on injured protesters as they lay in their hospital beds.

In Yemen, which has received more than $300 million in military aid from the U.S. over the last five years, the Obama administration continues to support corrupt thug and president-for-life Ali Abdullah Saleh, who recently ordered massacre of more than 50 of his own citizens who dared protest his rule. And this support has allowed the U.S. [to] carry out its own massacres under the auspices of the war on terror, with one American bombing raid last year taking out 41 Yemeni civilians, including 14 women and 21 children, according to Amnesty International.

Rather than engage in cruise missile liberalism, Obama could save lives by immediately ending support for these brutal regimes.

Benjamin and Davis proceed to note that US support for these regimes is largely driven by arms sales.  Regarding this point, Nick Turse recently wrote:

Beginning last October, the Pentagon started secretly lobbying financial analysts and large institutional investors, talking up weapons makers and other military contractors it buys from to bolster their long-term financial viability in the face of a possible future drop in Defense Department spending.  The Gulf States represent another avenue toward the same goal.  It’s often said that the Pentagon is a “monopsony,” the only buyer in town for its many giant contractors, but that isn't entirely true. 

The Pentagon is also the sole conduit through which its Arab partners in the Gulf can buy the most advanced weaponry on Earth.  By acting as a go-between, the Pentagon can ensure that the weapons manufacturers it relies on will be financially sound well into the future.  A $60 billion deal with Saudi Arabia this past fall, for example, ensured that Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, and other mega-defense contractors would remain healthy and profitable even if Pentagon spending goes slack or begins to shrink in the years to come. 

So, in other words, the US keeps supporting these evil regimes because these regimes buy arms from US defense contractors. 

And why, you might be wondering, would the Pentagon be concerned about keeping the likes of Boeing and Lockheed Martin so rich?  One reason, a big reason, is that there is a revolving door between the Pentagon and defense contractors.  As William Hartung and Michelle Ciarrocca noted in a 2004 report for the World Policy Institute:

When the Bush administration first took office, it appointed 32 executives, paid consultants, or major shareholders of weapons contractors to top policymaking positions in the Pentagon, the National Security Council, the Department of Energy (involved in nuclear weapons development), and the State Department. Since that time, the “revolving door” has continued to spin, including a high profile scandal in which Air Force procurement official Darleen Druyun pled guilty to criminal charges for negotiating for a position at Boeing while simultaneously negotiating with the company on the terms of a controversial scheme to lease 100 more Boeing 767 airliners for modification and use as aerial refueling tankers. Another controversial move involved Pentagon acquisition chief Edward “Pete” Aldridge’s decision to move straight from Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon to a position on the board of Lockheed Martin.

For more on this revolving door, see Richard Cumming’s 2007 article “Lockheed Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.”

March 20, 2011

Our Dictator in Bahrain

President Obama claims that the US has gone to war against Libya for humanitarian reasons:

I want the American people to know that the use of force is not our first choice and it’s not a choice that I make lightly. But we cannot stand idly by when a tyrant tells his people that there will be no mercy, and his forces step up their assaults on cities like Benghazi and Misurata, where innocent men and women face brutality and death at the hands of their own government. (NY Times)

Of course, anyone who’s been following the news for the past two months must smell the hypocrisy here.  If Obama really cared about protecting innocent men and women from tyrants, then his administration would have also declared war against the tyrant in Bahrain, a.k.a. King (read Dictator) Khalifa. 

That King Khalifa a brutal dictator is beyond dispute.  Although he periodically allows parliamentary elections, these elections are essentially meaningless.  First of all, he can veto any legislation he likes, without any recourse on the part of parliament.  He can also dismiss parliament at will (Stephen Zunes).  His government is repressive in many other ways, as well; even the State Department acknowledges that it “restricts civil liberties, freedoms of press, speech, assembly, association, and some religious practices” (Mark LeVine).

This February 14, activists took to the streets in Bahrain, demanding a series of political reforms.  Although the protests were nonviolent, the government responded with brutal force, wounding dozens of protestors and killing one (Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Al Jazeera).  The following day, security forces fired on protestors during the funeral service for the man who had been killed the day before and in the process killed another protestor.  Despite this, the protests grew as thousands moved into Pearl Square, a roundabout in Manama (NY Times).

Although the protests were by and large nonviolent, the government continued responding with brutal force, attacking, not just peaceful protestors, but also children and paramedics (NY Times, HRW, HRW, HRW).  On February 18, the New York Times released video footage showing “the moment that Bahraini protesters, holding their hands in the air and chanting ‘peaceful, peaceful,’ were shot at close range by soldiers” (NY Times).  Since then, government atrocities have continued (Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, BBC, CNN, NY Times).

And how has the Obama administration, which purports to be so concerned about human rights violations in Libya, responded to the atrocities committed by the Bahraini government?  Did it declare war on the king?  Did it announce that it would no longer be sending the king “large quantities of military materiel, ranging from trucks and aircraft to machine-gun parts and millions of rounds of live ammunition”? (Nick Turse). No, and no.  What it did instead was simply call upon the king to exercise restraint (Hilary Clinton) and to respect the “universal rights” of his people (Obama) (Telegraph, CBS).

And then on February 23, Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met with King Khalifa and Crown Prince Salman and, according to his spokesman, “reaffirmed [America’s] strong commitment to [its] military relationship with the Bahraini defense forces” and even thanked the men “for the very measured way they have been handling the popular crisis here” (Stephen Zunes).  A few weeks later, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates met with the two men and, according to Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell, offered them “reassurance of our support” (Nick Turse). 

Morally speaking, there are obviously no good reasons why the US, which claims to be so concerned about Libyans, continues supporting the dictator in Bahrain.  Although the king has long claimed that his opponents are Iranian lackeys, a 2008 WikiLeaks memo reveals that US diplomats have never taken this charge seriously (Guardian).  Bahraini Shias, as Stephen Zunes writes, tend to be fiercely independent and most of them do not follow ayatollahs.  Although the king wants to portray the uprising as a “fundamentalist Shiite revolution, the protests in Bahrain have the support of both the progressive Sunni and secular populations. This pro-democracy movement is as legitimate as the popular struggles in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. Signs and chants at the demonstrations indicate that they eschew sectarianism, emphasizing Shia-Sunni unity in the cause of democracy” (Zunes).

By continuing to support the king, Obama has further shown the world that he has absolutely no regard for human life. He doesnt care about the lives of Americans, and he certainly doesnt care about those living overseas. Like most American politicians, he only cares about perpetuating the American Empire and the giant corporations that profit from it.

March 9, 2011

Four Things You Need to Know About Rep. Peter King’s Anti-Muslim Witch Hunt

1) The Threat of Homegrown Islamic Terrorism Has Been Greatly Exaggerated. 

According to the FBI, Muslim-Americans were responsible for just 6% of all domestic terrorist attacks from 1980 to 2005.  Latinos were responsible for 42% of terrorist attacks, left-wing extremists for 24%, and Jewish extremists for 7%.  Yes, that’s right, Latinos and Jews have committed more domestic terrorist attacks since 1980 than Muslims (LoonWatch). 

Since 9/11, America has drastically increased its terrorism against Muslims living overseas, thus fueling an increase in anti-American Islamic terrorism.  Despite this, the number of terrorist attacks committed by Muslim-Americans is still relatively low.  Last year, for instance, 10 Muslim-Americans were suspected of planning domestic terrorist attacks; of them, just one, Faisal Shahzad (aka the Times Square Bomber) actually carried out his plot, which, we all know, failed.  Let me repeat that: last year, one Muslim-American attempted an act of terrorism on US soil.  One.  One attempt, zero deaths (Duke). 

By contrast, 20 non-Muslim-Americans were suspected of planning domestic terrorist attacks last year, including right-wing suicide terrorist Joseph Stack, who flew a small plane into an IRS building in Austin, Texas, killing himself and an innocent bystander, a father and grandfather named Vernon Hunter.  Richard Cohen points out that, “when measured against ordinary violent crime,” the threat of Muslim-American terrorism “is slight” and that “the threat from non-Muslims is much greater” (Washington Post).

2) Muslim-Americans Have Played a Key Role in Fighting Terrorism.

Although King has claimed that “85 percent of the mosques in this country are controlled by ‘extremist leadership’” (and also that there are “too many mosques in this country”) (Politico), the University of North Carolina’s Charles Kurzman notes that the evidence suggest that “Muslim-American communities have been active in preventing radicalization. This is one reason that Muslim-American terrorism has resulted in fewer than three dozen of the 136,000 murders committed in the United States since 9/11” (CNN).

A recent study conducted by Kurzman and others found that tips from Muslim-Americans have been the government’s “largest single source of initial information” in bringing terror suspects to the attention of authorities.  Since 9/11, Muslim-Americans have provided the government with tips in 48 of 120 terrorist cases (Duke).

3. King’s Witch Hunt Could Fuel Anti-American Terrorism. 

As Paul Pillar notes: “The focus of the hearings should be of greater concern for the message they send overseas as well as to communities at home. They will be widely read as an indication that U.S. postures and policies that are ostensibly aimed at combating terrorism are really more about combating Muslims. And that reading will in turn stir more anti-Americanism among Muslims” (National Interest).

Pillar’s reasoning has been corroborated by the likes of General David Petraeus, who claimed during last year’s planned Koran-burning in Florida that such actions can be easily exploited by Islamic radicals overseas and in turn harm American national security (Washington Post). Similarly, Brian Fishman, an associate at West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center, has warned “that anti-Islamic rhetoric feeds into the message of al Qaeda propagandists like Anwar al-Awlaki, who try to recruit terrorists by advancing claims that American Muslims face a dark future of ever-worsening discrimination and vilification” (Human Rights First).

4. Peter King Has a History of Supporting Irish Terrorism.

The Washington Post recently noted that in the 1980s King, “then a local politician on Long Island, was one of the most zealous American defenders of the militant IRA and its campaign to drive the British out of Northern Ireland. He argued that IRA violence was an inevitable response to British repression and that the organization had to be understood in the context of a centuries-long struggle for independence.

“‘The British government is a murder machine,’ King said. He described the IRA, which mastered the car bomb as an instrument of urban terror, as a ‘legitimate force.’ And he compared Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein, the IRA's political wing, to George Washington…

“The IRA was responsible for half of the more than 3,500 people killed in the ensuing 30-year conflict; of those killed by the IRA, about 600 were civilians, according to statistics compiled by researchers in Northern Ireland” (Washington Post).

March 1, 2011

Of the Corporations, By the Corporations, For the Corporations

This pretty much describes modern-day America.  We are a democracy in name only.  Although we the people have the right to vote in free elections every other year, our “representatives” habitually act against us and in favor of corporations.  Examples of this abound: 

  • The 2008 Bank Bailout.  Big banks favored the bailout.  Most Americans opposed it.  Washington sided with the banks.
  • The Public Option.  Insurance and pharmaceutical companies have long opposed the public option.  Most Americans have long demanded it.  Last year, Congress sided with the insurance and pharmaceutical companies and excluded the public option from its Healthcare Reform Bill.
  • The War on Afghanistan.  Defense firms like Lockheed Martin and Boeing love the war.  Most Americans oppose it.  Washington continues siding with the defense firms.
  • Military spending.  Defense firms want more military spending.  Most Americans want less military spending.  Washington continues siding with the defense firms.
  • Corporate Tax Loopholes.  Big corporations oppose closing corporate tax loopholes.  Most Americans favor closing such loopholes.  Washington continues siding with big corporations. 

The reason that the will of corporations always trumps the will of the American people should be obvious enough.  It’s about money.  It’s all about money.  Corporations dump massive amounts of money into political campaigns and in so doing manage to essentially buy the loyalties of politicians.  Political scientist Thomas Ferguson has shown that “[o]ver a long period…you can pretty well predict policies by just looking at concentration of campaign funding.”  To see who’s funding your congressperson and senators, just go to OpenSecrets.org.

Although corporations have been buying politicians for some time, it’s now easier than ever, thanks to a January 2010 Supreme Court decision.  In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Court ruled that corporations can “spend unlimited amounts of their treasuries’ money on political advertisements.”  Moreover, the ruling allows such giving “to take place without complete or immediate disclosure of who funds such communications, preventing voters from understanding who is truly behind many political messages.”  It should have come as no surprise then that, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, “outside spending during the 2010 midterms was more than four times the amount recorded during the 2006 midterm election.” Forty-two percent of this spending came from undisclosed donors.  

These facts should outrage all of us, not just leftists and libertarians but also Tea Party activists.  Democracy has been subverted before our very eyes and both parties are to blame.  (See The vindication of Dick Cheney,NYT confirms Obama made deal to kill Public Option, Obama’s $3.7 Trillion Budget Calls for Military Spending Increases and Deep Cuts to Social Service Programs, The Great Tea Party Sell Out.)  For this reason we need to follow the lead of Ralph Nader and Ron Paul and start working together.  No more bickering about the things that divide us.  Instead we need to join forces against corporatism, which is by and far the most pressing issue of our time.  Lefties need to swallow their pride and start promoting the likes of Ron Paul and Chuck Baldwin, and conservatives and libertarians need to start promoting people like Ralph Nader and Dennis Kucinich.  We can hash out our differences later.  For now we need to stand as one.