Focal Points Blog

Hiroshima, Mon Ami: “History’s Most Awkward Handshake”

In August of last year, the blog Conelrad Adjacent, which traffics in what it calls “Cold War strangeness,” posted a story that attracted much well-deserved attention.* It described a 1955 episode of the infamous TV show This Is Your Life, hosted by Ralph Edwards. For those too young to remember, the show, Conelrad Adjacent explains

. . . would flabbergast an ordinary citizen or a celebrity by telling him or her that they were on live, national TV. From the stage of the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, the genial emcee would then proceed to reveal the subject’s biography with the help of the This Is Your Life scrapbook. The most emotionally resonant component of the show was when Edwards would dramatically unveil the identity of a mystery guest who had some deep sentimental connection to the subject.

Believe it or not, This Is Your Life actually based an episode on the Hiroshima bomb, which

. . . focused on Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto, a Japanese-born, American-educated Methodist minister who had a parish in the doomed target city. Fate spared Tanimoto on that August 6, 1945 morning [and he was] able to bear witness to the hideous aftermath. John Hersey’s landmark 1946 book, Hiroshima, documents how Tanimoto, without regard to his personal safety, aided his wounded and dying countrymen in the hours and days following the bombing [and] large portion of the updated version of Hersey’s book concerns Tanimoto’s life-long mission to promote peace and help the hibakusha (the Japanese term for survivors of the atomic bomb).

How exactly, you may be wondering, did This Is Your Life imagine it could pull off showing sympathy for survivors without incurring the wrath of much of America? Then, even more than today, many Americans believed that dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was the bow that tied the gift of Japanese surrender in World War II. In fact, This Is Your Life basically let the chips fall where they may. Conelrad Adjacent explains.

After the minister recounted how he and his friend had disregarded the commonplace air raid signals . . . a loud, disembodied Brooklyn-accented voice was heard from offstage: “At zero six hundred on the morning of August 6, 1945, I was in a B-29 flying over the Pacific. Destination, Hiroshima.” . . . Edwards explained to his confused guest . . . that what he had just heard was “A voice of a man whose life is destined to be woven up in the threads of your own, Reverend Tanimoto. We’ll meet him later in your story.” Tanimoto still looked confused and . . . worried.

After the commercial, with

. . . a harp flourish, the co-pilot of the Enola Gay walked out from behind the sliding door and shared history’s most awkward handshake with Tanimoto. The audience applauded this unprecedented meeting.

Perhaps mindful of his fund-raising tour and, as a man of the cloth disposed to forgiveness, Reverend Tanimoto was gracious enough. Meanwhile, turns out that, perhaps unique among the Enola Gay crew, Robert Lewis was a tormented soul. Later, fellow crew members accused him of selling them out, not only in regards to their shared mission, but financially because Lewis sought to profit from his story. For instance, according to Conelrad Adjacent, he nearly cancelled his appearance on This Is Your Life because it refused to pay him a fee.

Makes today’s reality TV, however over-the-top, seem tame in comparison, doesn’t it?

*The term Conelrad was taken from an emergency broadcasting system deployed in the United States during the Cold War.

Kim Jong Il’s Visit to Russia: Just More Mixed Messages?

Kim Jong Il visits Russia.

Kim Jong Il visits Russia.

Historical partners North Korea and Russia held a bilateral summit on August 24th for the first time in a decade. According to a Russian spokeswoman, Kim Jong Il “made known his position that North Korea is ready to return to the six party talks without preconditions, and also ready to impose a moratorium on tests of weapons of mass destruction.”

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said after the meeting that he “had a candid and substantive conversation with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il” and was “overwhelmed with a sense of positivity.” He also estimated that prospects for a pipeline project, which is to be stretched from Russia through North Korea and down to South Korea, are highly promising after Kim Jong Il expressed his support for it.

The two leaders are more or less satisfied with the outcome out of the generally friendly, two-hour meeting. Compared to the rather discrete media coverage of Kim Jong Il’s visit to China this May, the North Korean media’s daily coverage of his visit to Russia shows how much import the meeting with Russia carried. It is said that the “special nature of the relations between North Korea and Russia” makes this difference.

Despite the promising progress both in economic cooperation and nuclear talks, it seems that North Korea’s neighbors in South Korea and Japan still hold on to their initial attitude toward North Korea’s recent gestures. Both countries have experienced first hand North Korea’s volatile behavior in the past. It seem unlikely that the six-party talks over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program will resume unless North Korea at least shows its sincerity by implementing a tangible action that other participating countries could build trust upon.

Moreover, the pipeline project, which needs multilateral cooperation among Russia, North Korea, and South Korea, is facing challenges of its own. The substance of this project is to lay a thousand-kilometer-long pipeline through the entire Korean peninsula, enabling Russia to sell its natural gas to South Korea and even Japan. However, enthusiasm for the agreement cannot be conjured overnight, especially because South Korea did not participate in the meeting. On top of that, there are also concerns over the pipeline project in Russia. “The idea is preposterous because [Kim] has shown that he is not a reliable partner,” said Dmitry Oreshkin, a political analyst in Moscow. “They could steal gas, play with the pipeline any way they like,” he said of the North Koreans.

It is still too early to conclude definitively whether North Korea truly wants to sit and talk about its thorny problems or is only seeking a way to realize its ultimate goal for 2012. However, what can be clearly seen through North Korea’s recent gestures is that, according to a South Korean government official, “there was uncertainty over the situation of the Korean peninsula while Kim Jong Il visited China. Whereas, after the recent meeting between the U.S. and North Korea, the North’s major future steps have been more or less decided.”

North Korea has been sending out mixed messages to the outside world — from knocking on the door to negotiate to attacking Yeonpyeong Island in South Korea. Now it seems that it is up to both those who participate in the six-party talks and the international community as a whole to make sense of the country’s intentions.

Ikhwan Kim is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.

Divvying up South Sudan

South SudanThough much of the attention on land grabs in Africa has focused on Asian and Middle Eastern buyers, the Oakland Institute has been revealing that U.S.-based institutions are active as well. This is particularly true of South Sudan, where “US investors are intimately involved” in land dealing.

Earlier this summer the Oakland Institute discovered that one of the largest land deals in the new South Sudan was made by a Texas-based firm. It was even more underhanded than might be expected. The deal would have granted the company a 49-year lease on the 600,000 hectares – an area larger in size than the state of Rhode Island – and full resource exploitation rights, for a mere $25,000. The communities residing on the land in question weren’t even aware of the deal being made on their homeland. While only starry-eyed naïfs would expect that the people living on the land affected would receive more than cursory consultations, even the cynic might anticipate that the communities would at least be informed of “the unfair and exploitive land investment deal of the Texas-based Nile Trading & Development, Inc. (NTD).” Such expectations would be misplaced. The Dallas company secretly bargained the land rights with three local elites: a chief, a judge, and a government official (surely they must walk into a bar in the service of some joke). The lessor in the deal is a “fictitious cooperative” of “a group of influential natives from Mukaya Payam and the neighboring payams (districts)…The influential natives leased out the land behind the backs of the entire community.”

The Dallas-based company (how many sinister, Wild West capitalist ventures in Africa originate out of Texas?) that sought to perform an end-run around local residents has links to Howard Eugene Douglas, an official in the Reagan Administration (who did a stint working under the odious Alexander Haig). The company is part of a cluster of firms and individuals in Texas concentrated on exploiting the resources of South Sudan.

The NTD’s land speculation deal would have, at a minimum, “significantly affect[ed] patterns of land access and use for tens, or even hundreds of thousands of people.”

Happily however, once the community of Mukaya Payam, in southern South Sudan, learned of the deal, they protested and quickly emerged victorious. The President of the Republic of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, quickly acceded to their demands.

Anuradha Mittal, of the Oakland Institute, commented, “This is a rare example of a community viewed by investors as near-squatters and essentially dispensable who are getting their voices heard by the highest officials in government. It is an important democratic action in South Sudan.”

The nixed deal is part of a larger trend. As The Times (UK) reported on the eve of South Sudan’s formal independence, investors “have already bought up nearly a tenth of the new nation in a series of huge land deals that researchers say cheat the nacent (sic) nation of its birthright” (Tristan McConnell, “The Secret Sale of South Sudan,” The Times, July 2, 2011).

Another deal detailed by The Times involves New York-based Jarch Management, which is developing an even larger tract of land in an area of northern South Sudan with potential oil reserves. There are fears that the “development” will entail displacing residents. The Norwegian People’s Aid director for Sudan commented, “It is all done secretly. The people don’t know what’s going on.”

No less a publication than the Financial Times characterized the deal as having “a decidedly 19th-century flavour to it.” In a piece suggestively entitled “Rhodes Redux,” the publication noted of the deal in 2009, “It is the largest private land deal in Africa yet — involving the lease of a huge tract of remote territory bordering the Nile. … the deal depends as much on control exerted… the warlord whose son’s company claims rights to some of the land, as it does on legal title.”

The head of Jarch is Philippe Heilberg, former Wall Street banker “backed by former CIA and state department officials” who apparently tired of commodity trading to become “one of Africa’s biggest private landowners,” namely in Sudan. The land lease was granted by a notorious, atrocity-happy, local Nuer warlord — who had allied with Khartoum and the SPLM by turns in the North-South civil war — to Jarch and its partner firm, managed by the son of the warlord. An aid worker commented on the deal, “The community knew nothing, it was done secretly between Philippe Heilberg and [the warlord]’s family.”

Jarch is comprised of quite a rogue’s gallery. The Times notes that, “High-profile appointees to Jarch’s management have included former US ambassadors and spies. Its Advisory Board is a who’s who of Sudan’s warlords, many of whom led insurgencies against the South.” Former State Department, Pentagon, and White House officials, as well as the famous Joe Wilson, fill out the roster.

As for Heilberg himself, in an interview with Rolling Stone he commented, “This is Africa. The whole place is like one big mafia. I’m like a mafia head.” Unsurprisingly, Jarch now tells reporters that “Mr Heilberg no longer does interviews.” Such honest braggadocio is best kept away from the public. We might get upset.

Why Not a Fantasy Foreign Policy League?

News coverage of terrorist groups in the American media increasingly sounds like sports commentary. Not just because of the incessant moralizing or the play-by-play rundowns. It’s just that we waffle between “an evolving threat,” “a renewed threat,” “the #1 threat” – and all the accompanying statistics (almost as bad as baseball) – so often it’s getting just as hard to find a source with good predictive validity as it is when you’re looking for solid postgame analysis. But chatter is airtime, and airtime is money (and name recognition).

“Intelligence” is increasingly like that today.

So we have the military intelligence equivalent of sports statements like “Although this was a bad year for the team, there were some notable offensive moves by . . . ” and “Fans are showing their disappointment as the three season slump continues . . . ”. About the only thing news networks don’t do is give out MVP awards to the terrorists in question (though the publicity is sort of an award in and of itself). And then when a seminal anniversary comes up . . . all the stops go out to mark the date.

And the threat assessments put forward by any number of commentators are basically a counterterrorism version of the ESPN Power Ratings:

Indianapolis Colts: #8 this year, up from their #10 spot last year thanks to some smart draft picks for their offensive lineup and a more balanced defensive line.

Domestic Muslim Terrorists: #1 this year, and while a lot of that may just be hype, that hype stands in sharp contrast to former #1 al Qaeda’s three-season slump.

And of course, like ESPN’s Power Ratings, there is no shortage of commentators to weigh in on the action, especially when the team everyone loves to rag on — the New England Patriots the Iranians — is in question:

So Tim, is it true that the Iranians are trading horses with al Qaeda? Is this a sign of desperation, or a shrewd move on their part? Should we buy the hype?”

Absolutely. It’s a very shrewd move by them. I tell you, the checks have already been signed. There is no doubt in my mind they both have big plans in the works. They might even be working it into their nuclear option.”

“Uh-oh! The nuclear option? Fred, we know you’ve been going over that all year in your head.”

“That’s right, Leon. The nuclear option is definitely on the table. I sneaked a peak at the U.S. playbook, and I can tell you that the U.S. coaches aren’t taking this seriously at all. They practically tore the book out of my hands when I brought it up!”

“Talk about having the wool pulled over your eyes, right, Leon?”

Talk about Fantasy Football.

Paul Mutter is a graduate student at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at NYU and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus.

Why Are Some Progressives Gloating over Libya?

(Alexandre Meneghini / AP)

(Alexandre Meneghini / AP)

As presumably ousted Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi remains in absentia, as Saif al-Islam Gaddafi emerges a free man after his alleged “capture,” as fighting continues in Tripoli, as murmurs pick up of NATO ground troops in Libya, and as myriad questions linger about the cohesion of the rebel forces who ousted Gaddafi and the intransigent loyalist forces who remain, it is easy enough to conclude that Libya’s civil war is far from settled.

Certainly, most post-mortems on the subject pay some or another degree of lip service to this particular narrative inconvenience, even as they also tell us what “lessons” there are to be gained from America’s latest encounter with regime change in the Middle East – on the vindication of “leading from behind,” on the extent to which President Obama is owed credit, on the effectiveness of NATO’s various methods of infiltrating the rebel ranks and coordinating their activities, and so forth.

This is more or less to be expected; journalists and bloggers have pressing deadlines and hungry audiences – and also perhaps editors who would find it remiss of them to pass up such a salient media hook just to gain a little more nuance or perspective.

However, there is something a bit unseemly about some of the coverage so far, and mostly it comes from progressive or Democratic-leaning outlets: boasting.

This was perhaps best encapsulated by a Think Progress tweet flagged by Glenn Greenwald, which asked, “Does John Boehner still believe military operations in Libya are illegal?” Greenwald, clearly irked, responded, “The towering irrationality of this taunt is manifest… What comments like this one are designed to accomplish is to exploit and manipulate the emotions surrounding Gaddafi’s fall to shame and demonize war critics and dare them to question the War President now in light of his glorious triumph.”

Greenwald points out, as have others since, that hardly anyone, whether critic or champion, ever doubted the ability of a NATO bombing campaign to oust Gaddafi. The realization of this objective (which, although it seems quaint to point out now, was not the objective authorized by the UN Security Council) is immaterial to questions about the legality, practicality, or appropriateness of the war – and this was of course a war, despite the White House’s weirdly Orwellian insistence to the contrary.

To the credit of Think Progress, which usually does commendable work uncovering the networks and rhetorical excesses of neoconservatives and sundry other militarists in the Washington establishment, it has also run cautionary posts about the “shades of Iraq” in Libya and on the uncertainties that lie ahead for the country. But for the most part these have succeeded or run alongside a handful of posts blasting various members of the GOP for “refusing” to credit President Obama with Gaddafi’s fall, or else a celebratory post showcasing a “Thank You” banner for the U.S. and its allies held up by Libyan demonstrators in Benghazi.

Certainly Libya is no Iraq or Afghanistan. And no doubt the hypocrisy of certain GOP politicians’ pronouncements on Libya, vis-à-vis their views on Iraq or Afghanistan (or even their previously stated views on Libya), has often bordered on breathtaking. It’s also admittedly hard not to be moved by the surreal scene of a U.S. president being honored in an Arab city – and not least at what the revolutionaries have accomplished so far.

But mostly I am taken by the similarities of such remarks to those that have appeared in neoconservative publications like Commentary, where editor Jonathan Tobin called the day of Tripoli’s fall “a bad day for Libyan intervention critics,” or the National Review, where torture apologist extraordinaire John Yoo declared that “Qaddafi’s fall should embarrass GOP isolationists,” even generously assessing the affair “a half-victory” for Obama.

Of course, it doesn’t really matter in the long run (or now, for that matter) whether the GOP gives any credit to Obama. And the efficacy of “leading from behind” is hardly the fundamental question about the U.S. approach to Libya, no matter how much mud some Republicans threw at it.

The crux of the matter is that even if the president led the NATO coalition from behind, he led his country into war from practically another planet. The administration scarcely shrugged when Congress voted against authorizing the Libya campaign, an authorization the administration had only sought belatedly because it was insisting all along that the United States was not actually “at war.” By then NATO was already waging a thinly veiled, open-ended campaign for regime change that hardly squared with the UN mandate to protect civilians in Benghazi (a mandate the United States may well have helped secure by agreeing to look the other way as Saudi Arabia helped quash the nascent democratic uprisings in Bahrain and beyond).

Unseemly developments still emanate from Tripoli: the $1.6 million reward Libyan business leaders have placed on Gaddafi’s head, for one, or the all-too-eager preparations of multinational oil companies to extract new contracts from the rubble of the Gaddafi regime – perhaps on the tail of UN or NATO ground troops. Progressives should be warier about gloating over another war that smells unsubtly of oil.

One hopes this chapter ends happily for the Libyan people, and certainly the taunts of Libya hawks will be endurable if it does. But no progressive should celebrate yet another circumvention – this one by a Nobel Peace Prize winner, no less – of the mechanisms intended to prevent the wanton and unaccountable waging o­f war.

The Warsaw Ghetto: Dry Run for a Death Camp

The Warsaw Ghetto

The Warsaw Ghetto

Most of us have only read about, or seen film clips of, the Warsaw Ghetto. In 1940, after the Germans occupied Poland, they herded Jews into one district of the ghetto, the largest Jewish community in Europe. In addition, they forcibly relocated 100,000 more Jews from other parts of Warsaw into the district and crammed them into already occupied apartments one family to a room.

But it wasn’t until I recently watched A Film Unfinished, Yael Hersonski’s 2010 documentary, that I realized the Warsaw Ghetto was only one degree of separation from the concentration camps that they foreshadowed. The title A Film Unfinished signifies is the filming it chronicles of an eventually aborted propaganda film about the Warsaw Ghetto by the Nazis shortly before its liquidation.

As background, the Nazis filmed street scenes of a restless, haunted city, with children dying of malnutrition before your eyes and corpses in the street – as well as those in the moneyed classes ignoring the squalor around them. The Nazis also created sets of luxurious apartments with actors portraying Jews dining well and enjoying themselves, to make it appears as if affluent Jews were profiting at the expense of poor Jews. One suspects, though, that the film was never completed because the Nazis realized that viewers – no matter how “good Germans” they were – couldn’t help but ask themselves how most of the Jews suddenly found themselves in such horrible straits in the first place. In other words, the finger inevitably points back at the Nazis.

When A Film Unfinished was released, it was rated “R.” The Wall Street Journal reported:

“A Film Unfinished”. … shows the human rights atrocities we all associate with the holocaust, and the graphic imagery earned the movie an “R” rating from the MPAA. But is “A Film Unfinished” an important educational tool? That’s the argument being made by Oscilloscope Laboratories, the company releasing “A Film Unfinished.” Adam Yauch, a member of the rap group Beastie Boys and the co-founder of the distributor, railed against the MPAA’s decision, which makes it difficult for the documentary to be shown to minors in an educational setting. … David Fenkel, the company’s co-founder, said the ruling isn’t “consistent with cultural norms,” citing the graphic footage on display at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., which is visited by school children.

Still, the “R” rating can be taken as a backhanded compliment, a testimony to the power An Unfinished Film holds over more graphic films. The New York Times pronounced it “Moving, mysterious and intellectually provocative.” But An Unfinished Film is much more than that. Because of the repetition, partly through outtakes, of street scenes, the viewer becomes increasingly familiar with the same street, the same buildings, some of the same people. In fact, the viewer’s immersion in the Warsaw Ghetto is total. Insidiously effective, A Film Unfinished indelibly stamps the Warsaw Ghetto on our consciousness.

The Saudi Counterrevolution

saudi flag insetAt the end of February 2011, it looked as though the old order was crumbling across the Arab world. Inspired by the self-immolation of a Tunisian street vendor, massive popular demonstrations ousted Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was not long to follow. Similar uprisings began to swell in Algeria, Jordan, Bahrain, and Yemen, and the anciens regimes appeared helpless against the rising tide of popular anger and nonviolent resistance.

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, actively worked to encourage the forces of counter-revolution throughout the region. From Morocco to Bahrain, Saudi financing, support, and intelligence has sought to prevent political turmoil, reinforce existing dynasties, and crush nascent democratic movements before they could reach critical mass. This reactionary tide has been supported by some ideologues in Washington, who worry that Arab democratization would be detrimental to U.S. policy objectives.

Though allowing Saudi Arabia to stifle change and suffocate democratic aspirations within the region may appear to serve U.S. interests in the short term, it will certainly have blowback down the road. At a watershed political moment, the United States has failed to act in accordance with its stated principles, and as a result, popular anger towards Saudi Arabia’s counter-revolutionary campaigns is causing increasing numbers of Arabs to turn against the United States as well. The fallout from Washington’s support for the Arab counter-revolution could haunt U.S. policy for decades to come.

Read the whole piece at Right Web.

Gaddafi’s Whereabouts Unknown — But Is It Too Soon to Declare Victory in Libya?

The reemergence of Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, after rebel claims of his capture, has only stoked further doubts. (Dario Lopez-Mills / AP)

The reemergence of Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, after rebel claims of his capture, has only stoked further doubts. (Dario Lopez-Mills / AP)

This commentary first appeared on AlterNet.

Muammar Gaddafi’s whereabouts are still unknown, and the defeat of his regime may be near at hand. But the consequences of that defeat remain uncertain.

The origins of the Libyan transition emerged very much in the context of the Arab Spring – a popular uprising against a brutal dictatorship. But unlike others in the neighborhood – Egypt and Tunisia especially, but also Bahrain, even Syria – Libyans quickly took up arms on a large scale to challenge the regime’s assault. That initial decision soon led to calls for a Western no-fly zone, and quickly to the welcoming of direct US/NATO/Qatari military intervention based on the UN resolution’s “all necessary measures” language.

Despite the resolution’s focus on protecting civilians, it was U.S., European and NATO officials who made the actual decisions about the use of force – and quickly the NATO planes soon began what one al Jazeera reporter described as “openly functioning as the air force of the opposition army.” Particularly in these last few days of fast-moving gains by the opposition, air power played a disproportionately important role. That means that the ability of opposition forces to move into Tripoli, take control of at least parts of the capital so quickly, and potentially accede to power, was dependent on NATO.

The circumstances are different from other recent overthrows of Arab tyrants. The people visible overnight celebrating in Tripoli’s Green Square (renamed Martyrs Square by the opposition) were overwhelmingly armed rebels, largely coming into Tripoli from the mountains to the south. Unlike the celebrations in Tahrir Square in Egypt and other similar venues, there were virtually no women except for reporters. Many local residents had already fled the city, most others remained indoors, as violence continued to flare across Tripoli. Few were visible to greet the rebel forces as they entered the city. This may have been the continuing uncertainty of conditions in the city, but it also may reflect ambivalence or perhaps even stronger unease about the opposition forces among Tripoli’s population, which accounts for about a third of Libya’s people.

In Benghazi, the rebel capital in eastern Libya, Sunday’s celebrations went on all night. By mid-day Monday the head of Libya’s Transitional National Council, the rebel leadership already recognized by the U.S. and numerous other countries as the rightful government of Libya, spoke at a press conference, congratulating the people of Tripoli and in effect claiming the expanding control by anti-Gaddafi forces as the achievement of the TNC.

But the legitimacy of the TNC remains contested. It is a widely diverse, self-selected group already facing significant and sometimes lethal division within its ranks. It remains unclear how much popular support there was for the TNC’s decision to ask for foreign military intervention. Even now, as Patrick Cockburn wrote in The Independent, the “Transitional National Council (TNC) in Benghazi is now recognized by more than 30 foreign governments, including the U.S. and Britain, as the government of Libya. But it is by no means clear that it is recognized as such by the rebel militiamen who are in the process of seizing the capital. The rebel fighters in Misrata, who fought so long to defend their city, say privately that they have no intention of obeying orders from the TNC.” Certainly it is military and security exigencies that have resulted in Tripoli not being represented in the Council, but it also remains uncertain whether the TNC’s leadership is recognized in the capital or not. It remains too soon to say whether the TNC will show itself willing to broaden out to embrace Libyans so far excluded.

The success of Libya’s uprising will have a great deal to do with the willingness of its leadership to break its dependency on the U.S. and NATO. In what might or might not be a positive sign in that direction, TNC officials have said they intend to call for United Nations assistance in holding new elections within eight months of taking power. But more immediately, if the U.S. and European countries turn over the billions in frozen Libyan assets directly to the TNC, the question of the breadth of its representation and its legitimacy become even more crucial. Will the TNC, eager to claim the billions of oil money being held by European and U.S. banks, demand that NATO and the U.S. pull back and allow Libya to sort out its own problems and develop its own trajectory for an independent future? That may be difficult with President Obama announcing that the U.S. “will join with allies and partners to continue the work of safeguarding the people of Libya.” During a Monday press conference the president of the TNC, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, thanked the international community as a whole but singled out those countries that had been especially supportive of the TNC; the implication was unmistakable that those countries, presumably the U.S., other NATO members, and Qatar (whose special forces had trained the TNC’s “Tripoli Brigade”) could expect closer ties and privileged access to Libyan resources in the future.

That, more than anything else, will determine whether a “new Libya” has a chance of becoming a truly new, unified, and sovereign Libya, or whether it just moves from control by a small family-based autocracy to control by outside Western forces more interested in maintaining privileged access to Libya’s oil and strategic location than in the human and national rights of Libya’s people.

The Libyan uprising began as part of the Arab Spring, with an effort to depose one more Arab dictator. Current developments are moving towards that goal. But the complications of the Libyan Summer, and the consequences of the militarization of its struggle, leave unanswered the question of whether events so far are ultimately a victory for the Libyan people, or for NATO. Given recent models of U.S. and NATO involvement in overthrowing dictatorships, we don’t have a lot of examples of how it can be both.

Emira Woods: Libya Must Shape its Own Future

Libyans celebrated as the end of Qaddafis regime seemed near. [Gianluigi Guercia/AFP]

Libyans celebrated as the end of Qaddafis regime seemed near. [Gianluigi Guercia/AFP]

As the Libyan people celebrate freedom from the rule of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, many are wondering what will come next for the North African nation. In an interview at 12:30 PM EDT, Emira Woods, Co-Director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies, stresses the need for the Libyan people to seize the opportunity to create a political and economic Libya that works for the benefit of all the people of Libya.

“After 42 years of Muammar el-Qaddafi, it is now long overdue for the Libyan people to determine their own destiny,” says Woods. “The question is, can this be a real revolution, where the interests of all the people are heard, are reflected, where the political infrastructure that is put into place is representative of all?”

Interviewer: What does it mean for the Libyan people that the end of Qaddafi’s rule seems to be at an end?

Emira Woods: The most critical issue now is for Libyans to be able to control their own destiny. After 42 years of Muammar el-Qaddafi, it is now long overdue for the Libyan people to determine their own destiny. Whether it’s the oil sector or other elements of their economy, or it’s their political decision-making, it is now time for the Libyan people to take control of their own destiny and not for short-term interests of the United States or other NATO countries to determine key next steps in Libya’s future.

Interviewer: Do you think there is a chance that the Transitional National Council might hand over any part of Libya’s sovereignty to outside interests?

EW: Well I think the Transitional National Council is a big unknown. There are varied interests in the council, including interests that were allied with the CIA and other western agencies and other western forces, including interests that were quite frankly at odds with each other. You know, the internal fighting and bickering that led to even the recent assassination of their general from within I think shows quite a splintering of the rebel factions.

EW: The key issue now is, can they come together to pull together a political entity that has legitimacy for all Libyans, that is able to put the interests of all of the country first, and not outside interests or once again reinforcing the interests of the elite. So what we have is a situation where the elite and a very narrow segment of the population benefitted from the enormous wealth of Libya. And the question is, is there an attempt now to transfer from the elites that sided with Qaddafi to elites that are opposed to Qaddafi but still elites dominating the decision-making and the economic benefits and the economic resources of the country?

EW: So the question is, can this be a real revolution, where the interests of all the people are heard, are reflected, where the political infrastructure that is put into place is representative of all — both east and west factions and ethnic groups within the country, whether all Libyans regardless of their racial complexion, regardless of their political affiliations, will have an opportunity to have representation in decision-making for their future? I think that’s the key here. Can there be a legitimate political authority put forward, given how the ouster of Qaddafi has taken place.

Interviewer: Regarding that legitimate political authority, a lot of people have been saying that that includes “democracy.” Of course that is what our President Obama says should be the next step for Libya and what might you say that that means for Libyans?

EW: Democracy is rule of the people, for the people, by the people. In case of Libya now it means not having the oil companies determine what comes next because of tremendous interests in Libya’s oil for the global market. Democracy means having now a transitional government that looks to constitutional reform in a way that is representative of the needs and the interests of all of the country, that unites all of the country, that does a large measure of the national healing needed after this type of political as well as military crisis.

Interviewer: Will you be celebrating if the opposition fighters actually do manage to overthrow the last remaining part of Tripoli?

EW: I think “celebration” is a tough word. I think with the level of deaths and violence and civilians that have been killed now in this military operation, both from NATO and from the rebel forces and from Qaddafi’s forces, I think “celebration” is a tough word. But I think what is needed is a sense that Libya can actually turn a page, turn a page from dictatorship towards democracy, towards an environment where all Libyans are able to have a role in their future, determining their destiny, all Libyans have a role in determining the future of their economy so that it works in the interests of all of the people. I think that there is an incredible potential now for Libyans to be able to link hands in solidarity and look toward a future together in the region. Again, Libya is well situated between Tunisia and Egypt. It is a neighborhood that has dramatically transformed in the past eight months. And I think a key issue is, can that region, can North Africa, can the uprisings that it has encouraged throughout the world, those efforts at people power, can they be strengthened in ways that shape the months, years, and decades to come — not only for that region, but for the entire world.

Emira Woods is the co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Israel’s Anti-Egypt Posturing a Boon to Eilat Attackers

Following the 8/18 terrorist attacks near Eilat, the IDF launched air strikes at Rafah, Gaza, killing at least six Palestinians (including members of the Popular Resistance Committees, who Israel alleges are behind the attacks). Further IDF action in Gaza, apparently directed at Hamas targets, began in the early morning hours of August 19.

The Commander-in-Chief of Israel’s Southern Command has stated that “terrorists carrying explosive devices, weapons, and grenades entered Israel from Sinai.” Mortar fire was also reported as being directed at Israeli targets from the Sinai, and the IDF claims that the attackers infiltrated and exfiltrated Israel through the Sinai Peninsula. Egyptian leaders deny that any armed group could have accomplished this.

Israel also says it already knows the ultimate point of origin of the attacks: Tahrir Square, Cairo!

Tahrir Square?

Yes, Tahrir Square. “It is clear that the Egyptian revolution that began in Tahrir Square and spread through other Arab states has now made its way into Israel,” according to a Haaretz analysis of the attacks. Ynet states that “Sinai turns into terror hotbed – and Israel is first to pay [the] price.” The official Israeli response clearly intimates the unreliability of the “new” Egypt in maintaining Israel’s security (militarily, though, the official response is focused on Gaza for now). Defense Minister Ehud Barak told reporters that “the incident shows the weakening Egyptian grip on Sinai and the widening operation of terrorists there,” though he concluded that “the source of these terror acts is in Gaza and we will act against them with full force.” CNN opines that the Egyptians now “have something else to worry about: the use of Egyptian soil by Islamist extremists to recruit, train, acquire arms, and take the fight to Israel.” U.S. officials have stated that “the attacks reinforce concerns about the ability and willingness of the Egyptian government to safeguard its borders against the passage of militants and weapons” (Egypt, as a major U.S.-aid recipient, ought to be worried over these Beltway rumblings, especially since popular demonstrations are still going on Egypt ).

While all of these individuals have a point – the Sinai has become a greater security issue in 2011, for both Israel and Egypt – the Israeli government (and American neoconservatives) has been questioning Egyptian “reliability” for months, and not just over the Sinai. Egypt’s reliability is being questioned because Israel’s long-time ally, Mubarak, is now on trial after being deposed by the army and demonstrations. The new situation in the region (unrest in Syria is increasing as well) unnverves the government: better the devils you know – Mubarak and Assad – than the ones you don’t.

Assertions that the “Arab Spring” is undermining Israeli security (FM Lieberman concluded in May that the “Arab Spring” will end in an “Iranian Winter,” a view echoed in the U.S. as well) are exactly what the attackers, whether Palestinian, Egyptian or even members of al Qaeda, want to hear: Israel condemning the “Arab Spring” because it poses a threat to Israeli security (never mind what Egypt’s army does to Egyptians; just keep the borders sealed).

Haaretz’s military analyst Amir Oren had this to say:

“Israel has lost a cold but tough partner. Mubarak also had difficulty imposing authority on Sinai, but his deposers and heirs aren’t even trying.”

[Snip]

“Israel does not border on the Suez Canal or the Nile. Egypt is a hostile state that enables Israel’s enemies [the popular resistance committees and Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, Iran] to attack it.”

Oren evinced the growing sense of siege that the Israeli security establishment feels today:

“Without Mubarak, and with Hamas in Gaza, with a Jordanian king fearing for his throne and an American administration that doesn’t believe in Israel’s judgment, what comes next could be even worse.”

This is very much in line with statements made by the Netanyahu government, particurally Foreign Minister Lieberman. Lieberman is to be taken seriously (not only is the Foreign Minister, but he is also the leader of the small but influential right-wing Yisrael Beitenu party in Netanyahu’s government): he, among others, regards the seizure of power by pro-Iranian Islamists in Egypt, Tunisia, and other Arab countries such as Syria and Libya as very real possibilities (though with Bahrain, Israel probably has little to worry about; the U.S. and the Saudis are doing a job of keeping things quiet down in the Gulf).

Yet Oren and I do agree on one thing in our analysis: that the real damage of this attack will be felt between Tel Aviv and Cairo. Except my understanding of the damage is different from his. The timing of the attacks coincides with ongoing Egyptian military operations against Islamist groups in the Sinai Peninsula (a move Israel endorsed). Since the fall of Mubarak, anti-government fighters in the Sinai have been attacking Egyptian military outposts, infiltrating into towns and blowing up gas pipelines between Egypt and Israel. Meanwhile, Israel, which occupied the Sinai between 1967 and 1982, asserts that Hamas smuggles fighters, supplies and weapons into Gaza through an extensive tunnel system. After Mubarak fell, the Israeli government argued that Hamas had redoubled its efforts to ship weapons into Gaza through these tunnels (indeed, the Egyptian Army’s control of the region slackened during the anti-regime protests; the resulting campaign is an effort to reassert control over the strategic peninsula).

In choosing to attack Eilat, the attackers may have sought to influence Egypt’s position towards Israel by stoking the fires of anti-Israeli sentiment in the region (and not just merely take advantage of the chaos in the Sinai for tactical purposes). One of the first things the transitional government that replaced Israel’s long-time ally Mubarak promised to do was uphold the 1979 peace treaty with Israel, a treaty which at the time was regarded as an act of craven capitulation by then-Egyptian president Anwar Sadat. The transitional government had absolutely no desire to test Israeli will or American largess by repudiating that treaty, or agreements that followed it. By attacking targets on the Israeli-Egyptian border, the insurgents may hope to win accolades for so brazenly “sticking it” to the two main regional powers. Like a judo master, the attackers are compensating for their small frame by using their opponent’s own power and momentum against him.

Israel, though refuses to consider this, responding reflexively by attacking the alleged perpetrators. Netanyahu, judo-like, is turning the attacks into a political victory for his government. For the Israeli government, the latest attacks present an oppotunity to have the country “rally ’round the flag.” With the Palestinian statehood initiative at the UN pending and a series of social protests among Israelis of all political colors, this event takes some of the pressure off the latter and allows a refocusing of the debate on the former (Israel opposses the UN initiative). No one wants to be derided as weak on the attackers. The Knesset is already closing ranks behind the PM (how long this lasts is anyone’s guess), and the J14 demonstrators will be giving their weekend protests over to solidarity rallies with the Israeli victims of the attack.

Israeli security concerns are valid: terrorists, possibly working to destabilize both Egypt and Israel, have invaded Israeli territory and killed Israeli civilians. But Israeli denunciations of the “Arab Spring” are counterproductive because they only reinforce the perception that Israel supports dictatorial rule in the region. No one’s security is being served by Netanyahu’s response – including Israel’s.

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