February 28, 2007

The Iran Debacle

Two closely related articles here. The first interesting point is that Karl Rove received and subsequently ignored an Iranian peace offer in 2003 that may have had the opportunity to stem a great deal of the blustering debate and threatening action by both sides made up to this point. He personally received it, and then ignored it outright. While I don’t specifically point the finger at Rove himself for this-I have no doubt in my mind that anyone else in the Bush White House would have done the exact same thing and subsequently covered it up, including President Bush himself. The chilling point is that it happened in 2003, as the Iraq war was beginning, and before Iranian nuclear capabilities made front page news as an imminent threat to American security.

On Democracy Now, Amy Goodman speaks with Tita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), about what happened in 2003. It’s also worthy of note that Iran has repeatedly said, including to a massive American religious delegation that went there this month to meet with Iranian President Ahmadinejad [ Religious Delegation to Iran meets with President Ahmadinejad ] that they’re open to talks with the United States to work out our collective differences diplomatically without strings, conditions, or exchanging bribes or aid – that we simply need to drop our conditions and they’ll drop theirs. (our conditions are that Iran can talk with us, but for us to come to the table they have to stop their nuclear program) The message from both the delegation and Parsi is that Iran is ready to talk, but we won’t until we get what we want. Whether or not that’s a good idea, and whether or not we should waive our conditions are another debate, one that I personally don’t have an opinion on right now, but I wonder how much good holding out a demand in exchange for talks does.

[ Ex-Congressional Aide: Karl Rove Personally Received (And Ignored) Iranian Peace Offer in 2003 ]
Source: Democracy Now! (courtesy of TruthOut)

In an ironic twist, John Edwards is saying what most of us who aren’t blinded by old hate for Iran (even if that disgust is well-founded, no one should forget what happened in 1979, but harboring an old hatred over it may not be wise) is thinking, that a comprehensive peace accord with Iran and a commitment to work to resolve our differences is not just possible, but would be an incredible step towards restoring American credibility around the world, healing our rifts with our neighbors, and showing those nations displeased with us that we’re not a blind juggernaut who can’t be spoken with:

[ Edwards: Treaty With Iran Possible ]
Source: ABC News

I can only hope that whomever wins the White House, whether it’s Edwards or someone else, heeds his suggestions. The world would be a safer place if we engaged those who oppose us at the table of diplomacy first and hardest, rather than opting to go to the mat in blood first, even if some of those enemies would rather do the same.

February 19, 2007

Waging Peace In Africa

Some good news is in order, and while we generally think of Africa as a war-torn continent rife with ethnic conflict, the reality is that much of the news from the African continent these days is good. Africa is not nearly as violent as it has been in past years, and with the help of peacekeepers, trade opportunities, and sincere diplomatic efforts to compliment the presence of African peacekeepers (not foreign ones), much of the continent’s strife has begun to show significant signs of progress. There’s a long way to go, naturally, and many regimes and governments are still either isolated, clinging to power and rejecting social reforms, or incredibly impoverished. Even so, a lot of work has been done, and the road is paved for more:

Over the past six years, peace agreements have been signed in Angola (2002), the Democratic Republic of Congo (2002), Eritrea-Ethiopia (2000), Ivory Coast (2005), Liberia (2003), Senegal (2004), Sierra Leone (2000) and Southern Sudan (2005). Several more conflicts have ended in military victory or simply petered out. And other countries are moving towards peace: Burundi’s last active rebel group signed a ceasefire in September, negotiations between the Lord’s Resistance Army and the Ugandan government may end a brutal 19-year old war and recent events in Somalia could bring some much-needed stability.

But it’s not just the number of wars that is down. The number of countries beset by wars in Sub-Saharan Africa also declined from 13 to 4 between 1999 and 2005, allowing more governments to focus on development.

Perhaps most importantly, the severity of conflicts is way down in Sub-Saharan Africa (and globally). Although combat deaths are notoriously tricky to measure accurately, the number of combatants and civilians killed directly by the fighting (‘battle-deaths’) dropped over 95 percent, from close to 100,000 in 1999 to around 2,000 in 2005. In 1999, the average conflict in Sub-Saharan Africa had over 6,000 battle-deaths per year. In 2005, the figure was less than 400.

The news of course, given the conflicts in Darfur and in Somalia for example, is not all good. But the fact that the continent is making progress, with positive reinforcement from the rest of the global community, is heartening.

[ Waging Peace In Africa ]
Source: TomPaine.com

November 3, 2006

Stay On Target :: 19 Things The Republicans Would Like You to Forget

An incredible list of things that the Republicans would like you to have completely forgotten by the time you get to the ballot box, replaced completely with the sense of fear that they’ve been trying desperately to instill in all of us with commentary like “To the Democrats, the terrorists win and America loses,” and so on, like the “What’s at stake” ads.

Here’s a few tidbits from the list:

* Republicans want you to forget that there were no weapons of mass destruction.

* Republicans want you to forget that while the Republican Policy Committee was opposed to the deployment of U.S. Soldiers to Bosnia under President Clinton,they’ll brand you a terrorist if you oppose President Bush’s war in Iraq.

* Republicans want you to forget that they inherited the biggest surplus in the history of the United States when they assumed control of all three branches of the United States government in 2000 when they took power, and turned it into the largest deficit in the history of the United States.

* Republicans want you to forget that they had a plan to attack Iraq drawn up long before 9/11

* Republicans want you to forget that they have people in their party who solicit sex from underage boys – and when they get caught, they just quit and oh darn, Congress has no authority over private citizens so now Mark Foleycannot be prosecuted.

* Republicans want you to forget that they use racial slurs on colleagues’ voicemail. When they are caught, they say they are drunks.

See these, and more, and reference information for each one of these statements, linked below:

[ Stay On Target ]
Source: EightandFive

October 23, 2006

Foreign Policy Blindness

We can hope and pray and go to the polls and make our own voices as clear as a bell on election day; we can do everything we can to vote in more compassionate, fair-minded, flexible, and representative officials; but a series of significant questions remain, sadly.

The Democrats and progressive candidates running in jurisdictions around the country have long told us the failings of their Republican counterparts, and indeed linked them to the massive power chain that leads all the way down from the White House and the annals of the conservative power cabal that rules Capitol Hill and the White House from their offices on K street. They’ve been incredibly successful in this regard; because massive discontent with the status quo can often be enough to get you elected. But what’s been missing from the progressive message is not just how wrong the conservatives have been, and how dangerous a direction America is headed-we all know this, and we’ve all heard it-but what progressive candidates and Democrats running for office can really truly do for our country. In essence, don’t just tell the public why you’re not bad, tell the public why you’re (and subsequently, what you can do) better.

With regard to Americas dismal relationship with the rest of the world and our stubborn and overly aggressive foriegn policy, Immanuel Wallerstein, senior research scholar at Yale University, andauthor of The Decline of American Power: The U.S. in a Chaotic World, has a few choice words for progressive candidates looking to unseat their conservative rivals and replace their domineering attitude about the rest of the world:

But what will a Democratic Congress do that is better? That, as everyone has remarked, is not at all clear. Indeed, one has to doubt that the Democrats collectively have a really better foreign policy to offer. The primary problem of the leadership of the Democratic party is that they believe, at least as much as the Republicans, that the United States is the center of the world, the font of wisdom, the great defender of world freedom—in short, a deeply virtuous nation in a dangerous world.

Worst of all, they seem to believe that, merely by purging the element of exaggerated unilateralism practiced by the current regime, they will be able to restore the United States to a position of centrality in the world-system, and regain the support of their erstwhile allies and supporters, first of all in western Europe and then everywhere else in the world. They seem really to believe that it’s a matter of form, not substance, and that the fault of the Bush regime is that it wasn’t good enough at diplomacy.

It’s true that not all Democrats feel that way, and indeed for that matter not all Republicans and independents. But at this moment, those who are ready to take a real look at the fallacies of U.S. policies are a minority—furthermore, a minority without a clear agenda themselves and certainly without a major political leader to express an alternate view.

A frightening thought in a few regards; that serious discussions about changing course with regard to our foriegn policy will be limited to a minority of progressives who would prefer real diplomacy and substantial change in the way America deals with its neighbors, treats its allies, and engages its opponents. Wallerstein goes on to predict a few foriegn policy setbacks in the future that Democrats will doubtlessly be blamed for, and put the deteriorating situation in Iraq in historical context. Still, when Democrats take at least one and hopefully both houses of Congress this fall, they may remember the importance of such a discussion.

[ Foreign Policy Blindness ]
Source: TomPaine

September 14, 2006

The Wisdom Of Exporting Democracy

I’ve been dreaming of a new American relationship with the middle east for years. Wishing that American diplomats in the region would remember that you only really need to sit at the negotiating table and talk with your enemies, not your friends-your friends will naturally agree and take your side, but the people you desperately need on the other side of the table are the people who disagree with you-you’ll never make progress any other way. But that being said, “progress” is a dirty word for the political ideology that currently dominates global politics.

The middle east needs democracy, but not at the barrel of a gun. The middle east needs America, but not flying overhead or attempting to isolate their leaders. There’s a hard line to be taken, and a dangerous aspect to going to the negotiating table with countries like Iran and Syria, but if we never do, we’ll never understand what motivates them, and never, ever, have the opportunity to work with them to improve relations and start the long long road to resolving our differences. The middle east wants democracy, but not a transplant from Washington DC; they want to grow it themselves, incorporate their own values and morals, and truly be a part of their governments, truly have a stake in their nations-then, when people believe that they have a stake, they have something to be proud of and fight for, they’ll stop blowing themselves up to fight against it.

Shadi Hamid, founding member and associate at The Project on Middle East Democracy, agrees with me, or rather, I agree with Hamid, at least in principle. In an excellent piece published at TomPaine, Hamid outlines why nations in the middle east view western democracy suspiciously-they still hear the ringing of a western imperialist part that arbitrarily drew national boundaries and split up tribal homelands, and they’re wary of doing that to themselves. And they have every right to be-they simply need to turn on western television networks to hear about all the problems we have with our democracies, and wonder if getting it, by hook or by crook, by bomb or by rifle, is necessarily a good idea.

Hamid writes:

Some commentators —including most recently the American Prospect’s Matt Yglesias —have argued that the central problem in the Middle East is not so much its lack of democracy but, rather, “the enduring legacy of imperialism.” According to this line of reasoning, the solution to our Mideast dilemmas would be to change the policies that Middle Easterners hate the most. Unfortunately, the list of grievances is so long, that to actually redress them would, one suspects, take a very, very long time. Moreover, in a region where our vital interests are engaged, it is unlikely that an avowedly “anti-imperialist” foreign policy—whatever that might mean in practice—will stand a chance of being supported by either political party. More fundamentally, however, this diagnosis fails to grasp the real source of our difficulties in the Middle East.

It’s not so much that people are angry at us, but rather that people have no political outlet with which to express their anger in a peaceful, legitimate manner.

Well said.

[ The Wisdom Of Exporting Democracy ]
Source: TomPaine.com

August 18, 2006

Welcome to Neo-Fascism 101

I really can’t top the language in this actual article; essentially it boils down to a offhand comment that the President made after the London arrests took place, where he told the American people that we were still facing a threat from “Islamic Fascists,” ushering a new hateful term next to the word “Islamic” which, aside from being irrelevant by definition, made the Muslim community squirm in their seats at having their religion associated with fascism. But who are the “facsists” again? Allow me to blockquote the opening from the article, written by Andrew Bosworth, Ph.D., a political science professor, in a series about real Fascism and modern America:

Neo-conservatives decided that World War III is to be waged against “Islamic-Fascists” or “Islamo-Fascism.”

Who is reading from the new script? William Kristol, Bill O’Reilly, Christopher Hitchens, Michelle Mankin, Michael Savage, Ann Coulter, Nick Cohen, Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, Daniel Pipes, Glenn Beck, Oliver North – even George W. Bush, prompting legitimate complaints from Muslim-Americans.

How many names in there do we know? An impressive number of hatemongers, liars, crooks, bigots, racists, sexists, and other American extremists-heck, even our good old friend Glenn Beck is in the list. Not at all surprising. Let’s continue:

Middle Eastern powers include pan-Arab socialist dictatorships (Syria), monarchies (Saudi Arabia), constitutional theocracies (Iran), and assorted fundamentalist movements. None are “fascist.” For three decades of political scientists, “fascism” is a phenomenon of industrialized societies and exhibits features alien to the Middle East.

Classical fascism was evident in inter-war Italy, Germany and Japan, and full-blown fascism exhibits three dimensions: economic, political and cultural.

Bosworth goes on to define Fascism, and explain how as objectionable as the regimes in the middle east are, they’re nothing remotely similar to fascist, and that the very term was likely either tossed out in a moment of ignorance by the President and similarly latched onto by his gaggle of apologists and attack dogs, chomping at the bit at any opportunity to be as hateful and divisive as possible, or there was a far more malicious and distasteful rationale behind the President’s choice of words, one which is far more disturbing than the words themselves.

Bosworth is even kind enough to follow up his analysis of the Bush Administration’s failures in logic with regard to Islamic fundamentalism and its associated movement across the middle east (a lack of understanding and respect for one’s enemy that will more than likely-and already has in several ways-prove to be influential in the overall failure of current American foriegn policy) with some examples of how we can make progress at home. His words may ring from the GOP’s tin ears, but they’re definitely heard in the progressive community:

It’s not fair to perform a vivisection of the Bush regime without pointing to what a healthier body politic might look like – a “post-crisis” body politic.

1) The restoration of the checks and balances, and limited government, of a democratic republic. This includes voter protections and a pencil-paper-box voting system.

2) The restoration of foreign relations to open diplomacy (as envisioned by the Founders) – to the power of persuasion – unless attacked, upon which military force will be restricted to the forces demonstrably responsible. This means no foreign aid, no weapons sales, no forward bases, and no committing political adultery by dividing loyalties between the people of the United States and any foreign power. The American people can express their solidarity with people around the world with short-term disaster relief.

3) Challenging both Israel and Arab powers to follow the letter of international law. Compliance means full participation in an international economy and community (the carrot); and resistance invites the atrophy of embargoes, travel restrictions, and blockages (the stick). Under UN Resolution 181, Israel secures its right to exist according to the 1948 borders, with protection from the United Nations. Simultaneously, Israel withdraws all of its settler colonies from the West Bank, illegal under Article 49 of the Geneva Conventions: “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” And Jerusalem becomes the international city as intended in 1948.

4) Challenging the world’s people and states with a transformative proposal: universal nuclear disarmament. If states do not disarm, take the proposal to their peoples. Inspired, motivated and determined, masses of people will quickly sideline both foot-dragging politicians and terrorists. The best weapon against terror is not the US Army; it is civilized men and women everywhere. The world is ready to make nuclear weapons – and then war – extinct.

Thomas Paine: “We have it in our power to make the world new again.”

[ Welcome to Neo-Fascism 101 ]
Source: Virtual Citizen

July 30, 2006

Chest-Beating — While Losing the War

Perhaps the most evocative line from this story is this:

“War is the total failure of the human spirit,” says British journalist Robert Fisk, which I think encapsulates it better than just about anything I have heard.

But war forces humans to survive under seemingly impossible circumstances, and in these conditions some strive to help others when barely capable of helping themselves.

That’s a signature line if I’ve ever seen one. Dahr Jamail writes for the Associated Press from the front lines in Beirut, covering the war there in all of its horrific details; a war started by Islamic extremists and then enflamed out of control by the overcompensation of a nation offended. Haven’t we heard that story before?

The story is an excellent primer on the conflict in Lebanon for the unitiated, albeit told from the perspective of someone who very much believes that Israel overstepped its necessary force in this arena, and the all but collapse of a fledgling democracy that only months earlier the United States and Israel have been supporting without question in the attempts to “bring democracy” to the region. Now, officials like Secretary of State Condi Rice claim that we’re witnessing the “birth of a new middle east” as opposed to the truth; a burning region set aflame by western arrogance and eastern hatred, and the President claims that these people are simply “enemies” trying to “stop the march of Democracy,” which is another example of our own arrogance. Still, regardless of the rhetoric at home, the bodies are still piling up in Lebanon, and all we can do at this point is watch and hope that eventually the people there will be convinced to put their weapons down. Jamail brings us the story in incredible detail.

[ Chest-Beating — While Losing the War ]
Source: MotherJones

July 24, 2006

What to Read While the Cradle of Civilization Burns

In the absence of a good and proper Not So Humble reading list, I’ll pose Alternet’s excellent roundup of excellent books that we can sit back and read in the summer heat to help us undersand the kind of heat that the United States is facing when it comes to Israel, Iraq, Iran, and the entire middle east. The article, titled “What to Read Whie The Cradle of Civilization Burns,” lists off some excellent books to give the reader historical perspective on the conflict in the middle east, one that began long long before the establishment of the Israeli state after the second world war, but not completely exclusive of it.

Among the books in the list are The Yellow Wind By David Grossman, which helps us understand the current Israeli/Palestinian conflict, how it got that way, and why it’s not too late to put a permenent end to the conflict there. Also on the reading list is the story of an American activist who was crushed to death by a bulldozer while trying to stop Israeli demolishers from tearing down the home of a doctor in Gaza, the book is called My Name Is Rachel Corrie, Edited by Alan Rickman and Katharine Viner. Another excellent book on the list is Charlie Wilson’s War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History By George Crile, which outlines how Afghanistan became such a breeding ground for anti-american extremists and terrorists, and the CIA war in Afghanistan against the Russians when they attempted their invasion of Afghanistan. Crile tells the story of how one politician changed the course of history by arming and funding the mujahideen to fight the russians, and the implications for America when the Russians were driven away.

These are only a few books on the list, and there are several more, some involving the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979 which are also timely reads. Stop by and see what to pick up from your bookstore this summer if you’re looking for perspective on why the middle east is so turbulent, and why the entire region of the globe is in flames.

[ What to Read While the Cradle of Civilization Burns ]
Source: Alternet

July 13, 2006

U.S. Will Give Detainees Geneva Rights

Well here’s a shocker. The Pentagon sent a memo to all US forces stating that all detainees held by US forces in all parts of the world will be treated in accordance with the Geneva accords. I know, sounds as if that should have been the procedure all along, but the Pentagon and the Bush Administration had been fighting for a long time to be able to treat detainees any way they saw fit, deprive them of legal protections that would allow even the innocent among them to prove their innocence or force the government to assert their guilt in front of an impartial body, or even to deprive them of their very human right to be treated like human beings, regardless of their crime and whether or not they truly deserve it in the eyes of the people of America.

This is what makes America special, this is what makes America different and great, and this is what makes America such a threat to the world that looks on us with hatred and scorn. We take the moral high ground, and we fight for it-we demand that even our leaders be subject to the rule of law and that they serve at the discretion of the people to whom they have taken an oath, and we demand that even in the most brutal and bloody wars and conflicts that when America takes a prisoner, she grants that prisoner the justice that America beleives is fit for all human beings. We hold trials, we have impartial judges wiegh evidence, we believe in due process and the rule of law, not infinite jail terms for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or torture, even for the most outrageous and deranged ciminal. We refuse to sink to their level, we show them a different way, even if it’s better than they would have recieved, or have given us. We see past anger to justice. That’s America-or at the very least the America that those of us on this side of the debate believe in.

And that vision has won the day, at least for the time being; in the form of both a Supreme Court ruling that the Bush Administration exceeded its power in holding detainees indefinitely without due process and creating secret military tribunals that allowed everything from heresy evidence to evidence obtained under torture to be admissable (a ruling which demanded that Congress assert its oversight power of the executive branch and mandate how detainees will be treated) as well as this cave-in by Pentagon brass that states that detainees will be treated in accordance with Common Article Three of the Geneva Accords.

Let this stand as an example, America can show the world that even in the depth of our anger, those who harm us and violate our laws and threaten our communities will see no mercy, but even so we are at the very least fair and just in exercising that force.

[ U.S. Will Give Detainees Geneva Rights ]
Source: Associated Press (courtesy of Yahoo! News)

Explosions on Trains in India Kill Scores

I normally try to keep my distance from a lot of the stories that you can read about anywhere on the front pages of most newspapers and things, but I had to reach out to the people of Mumbai, India (formerly Bombay), who have suffered the loss of nearly 150 of their friends, loved ones, and neighbors from a horrific act of terrorism. On Tueday the 11th during the rush hour in India’s financial capital, a series of bombs exploded on commuter trains, killing nearly 150 and injuring hundreds more.

Now, as the people of India pick up the pieces and move on despite the terror plot, we’re left with the ashes to sift through to see why this had to happen and who is responsible. Many people have noted that Mumbai may have been targeted Mumbai is the financial capital of India, others point out the heartlessness of attacking innocent civilians who were simply trying to get home from work on the commuter trains, and right now all evidence points to our usual foes when it comes to attacks like this, muslim extremists, in this case potentially supported by Pakistan, one of our greatest “allies” in the “War on Terror.”

Perhaps what’s most dismaying about this is the fact that with all of the focus and effort and money being spent on “protecting” the people of the world from terror and terrorists, altogether we’ve had limited success. It’s only a matter of time before another attack happens somewhere in the world, and even here in the United States, and perhaps, just perhaps, our current take on tackling terror around the world are just a bit flawed. Don’t get me wrong, America and the rest of the free world (since India is the world’s largest democracy) needs to take a tough stand against terrorism and those who would commit these kinds of crimes against humanity-they should be treated as criminals and brought to justice. However, as necessary as it is, a hard line on one end does not necessarily indicate a hard line on everything. Perhaps we, as the United States, should take this opportunity to find out why these hostile elements are willing to strap bombs to themselves and kill themselves along with our wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, children, friends. This needs to stop, and taking an all spearhead approach won’t do the trick-it won’t work here, and it won’t work anywhere else in the world. And our lack of foresight in this regard makes me sad, and makes me worried.

This is a two pronged “war,” and we need to pay attention to both sides. In the meantime, all we can do is mourn the deaths of the 150 people lost in this attack, and hope and pray for the over 400 others who were injured.

[ Explosions on Trains in India Kill Scores ]
Source: The New York Times