Focal Points Blog

Libya: “R2P” and Humanitarian Intervention Are Concepts Ripe for Exploitation

Libya bombingReasonable people can disagree on the appropriateness of the decision by the United States and its NATO allies to attack Libya in the wake of the Gadaffi regime’s offensive against rebel-held cities under the doctrine of “the responsibility to protect.” Though the intervention likely prevented a slaughter, there is no guarantee that it won’t simply protract a bloody military stalemate that could result in at least as many civilian deaths. There are any number of other legitimate concerns raised by those distressed over the fact that there is now a third country in the greater Middle East in which the United States has found itself at war. At the same time, there are also legitimate arguments being made by prominent human rights advocates arguing that there is still a moral imperative for the use of force to avoid a large-scale massacre by a criminal regime.

In any case, let’s be clear: Even if one can justify the war on Libya on humanitarian grounds, this is probably not why it’s actually being fought.

The establishment of a no-fly zone was supported by the League of Arab States, an organization composed primarily of pro-Western autocracies which have shown little hesitance in brutally suppressing their own pro-democracy struggles. There was initially a fair amount of popular support within many Arab countries – even among some pro-democracy activists normally critical of U.S. interventionism – for some limited outside assistance to prevent the Libyan opposition from being wiped out. However, the air and missile strikes have gone well beyond simply protecting civilians from bombings by pro-government forces to active support for an armed opposition. This, combined with the failure of rebels to take greater advantage of the large-scale outside support to regain the offensive, has resulted in growing nervousness, even from top officials. As Arab League secretary general Amr Mussa told reporters, “What has happened in Libya differs from the goal of imposing a no-fly zone and what we want is the protection of civilians and not bombing other civilians.”

Despite its potential of being abused, the concept of an international “responsibility to protect” is both legally and morally valid in theory. National sovereignty should not provide a tyrant protection to unleash a genocidal campaign against his own people. However, as horrific as the military response by Gaddafi towards civilians in suppressing both armed and nonviolent forms of resistance against his autocratic rule, it would naïve to claim that foreign intervention is prompted by Western leaders’ concern about protecting civilian lives. The United States, Great Britain and France have each allied with governments – such as Guatemala, Indonesia, Colombia, and Zaire – which, in recent decades, have engaged in the slaughter of civilians as bad or worse as had been occurring in Libya.

The number of civilian casualties from Gaddafi’s attacks is difficult to verify. Some estimates run as high as 8,000, some as low as 1,000, but most estimates put the number of civilians killed during the five weeks between the start of the uprising and the Western intervention country at approximately 1,700 people, roughly the same number of civilians killed during Israel’s 2006 war on Lebanon and its 2008 war on the Gaza Strip combined. Rather than referring those responsible to the International Criminal Court (ICC) or engage in military intervention to stop the slaughter, as has been the case of Libya, both the U.S. Congress and the administration vigorously defended Israel’s assaults of heavily-populated civilian areas and condemned UN agencies and leading international jurists for documenting Israeli violations of international humanitarian law and for recommending that officials of both Israel and its Arab adversaries suspected of war crimes be referred to the ICC.

The principal intellectual advocate of the Responsibility to Protect is Gareth Evans, former head of the International Crisis Group, who has also emerged as one of the most vocal proponents of what he referred to as “the overwhelming moral case” for military intervention against Gaddafi. Ironically, as Australian foreign minister, Evans was a major defender of Indonesia’s genocidal war against East Timor, which took the lives of over 200,000 civilians, and repeatedly downplayed and even covered up for Indonesian war crimes.

Hypocrisy and double-standards regarding military intervention does not automatically mean that military intervention in this case is necessarily wrong. Though many of us familiar with Libya remain dubious, it cannot be ruled out that events could transpire in such a way that this intervention could prove to have saved lives, brought stability, and promoted a democratic transition. However, it would be naïve to believe that the attacks on Libya are motivated primarily by humanitarian concerns. Certainly, there aren’t many Libyans – even those who support foreign intervention on behalf of the uprising – who believe this. Ongoing U.S. support of the Yemeni and Bahraini regimes as they brutally suppress nonviolent pro-democracy protesters raises questions as to why the U.S. is so quick to intervene militarily against the Libyan regime suppressing an armed rebellion by those whose commitment to democracy in more suspect.

As a result, any honest debate on Libya should not be based just upon the question as to whether foreign military intervention is necessary to stop widespread repression. It should also be as to whether the United States should take sides in a civil war. It should also be as to whether democracy can be imposed through air strikes. It should also be as to whether the best way to overthrow dictators is through a foreign-backed armed uprising or – as demonstrated in Egypt, Tunisia, Serbia, Chile, the Philippines, Indonesia, Poland, and dozens of other countries – whether the people of the affected countries themselves be allowed to do so through the power of mass strategic nonviolent action.

Is the Libya Intervention Directed at China?

AFRICOMCynicism is not a healthy sentiment, and as the late Molly Ivins pointed out, it absolutely wrecks good journalism. But watching events in the Middle East unfold these days makes it a pretty difficult point of view to avoid.

Let’s take the current U.S. bombing of Libya. The rationale behind United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 is to protect civilians from being beaten, shot up, and generally abused.

But while this applies to Libya, it does not apply to Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, or Yemen, where civilians are also being shot up, beaten, and generally abused. Is this because Moammar Gadhafi is uniquely evil? Crazier and odder, certainly, but being in the “opposition” in any of those countries is not a path to easy retirement. Civil liberties don’t exist, prisons are chock full of political prisoners, and getting whacked if you don’t like the leader is an operational hazard.

So what’s it all about? Okay, here is the cynical joke: “Is it all about oil? Nope. Some of it is about natural gas.”

Too simplistic? Maybe, but consider the following.

1) In 2009, the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicted that world oil reserves had “peaked” and that over the next several decades supplies would drop and prices would rise. There is some controversy over the study, but there is general agreement that easy-to-get petroleum sources are getting harder and harder to find.

2) Approximately 65 percent of the world’s remaining oil reserves are in the Middle East, as well as considerable amounts of natural gas. Iran has the second greatest reserves of gas outside of Russia.

3) The U.S.—with the largest economy in the world—uses around 21 million barrels of oil per day (bpd). Since it produces only 7.5 million bpd domestically, it imports two thirds of its oil. Its major sources are (in descending order) Canada, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Venezuela, and Iraq.

4) China—the world’s number two economy—uses about 8 million bpd, a demand that is projected to rise to 11.3 million bpd by 2015. Since it only produces 3.7 million bpd domestically, it too relies on imported oil. It main suppliers are (in descending order) Saudi Arabia, Iran, Angola, Russia, Oman and Sudan.

It is estimated that, sometime between 2030 and 2050, China will surpass the U.S. and become the world’s number one economy—provided that it can secure enough energy for its growing industrial needs. Insuring access to oil and gas is a major focus of Chinese foreign policy, particularly because Beijing is nervous about how it currently obtains its supplies. Some 80 percent are transported by sea, and all of those routes involve choke points currently controlled by the U.S. The U.S. Fifth Fleet based in Bahrain controls the Hormuz Straits, through which Saudi Arabian, Iranian, and Omanian oil passes. The Fifth also dominates the straits of Bab el-Mandab that control access to the Red Sea and through which Sudan’s oil is shipped into the Indian Ocean. In addition the Malacca Straits between Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula is the major transit point for oil going to China. The U.S. Seventh Fleet controls that choke point.

China’s nervousness over its sea-based oil supplies is one of the major reasons behind Beijing’s crash naval program, its construction of ports in South and Southeast Asia, and its efforts to build land-based pipelines from Russia, Central Asia, and Pakistan.

The Chinese are also trying to cope with the fact that Iran, its second largest supplier of oil and gas, is currently under international sanctions that have reduced production and cut into China’s supplies. Beijing has invested upwards of $120 billion to upgrade Iran’s energy industry, but recently has had to cut back investments because its banks could end up being sanctioned for helping out the Teheran regime.

The Chinese are not the slightest bit cynical about why the U.S. is bombing Libya and not challenging Bahrain and Yemen: Bahrain hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet, and Yemen’s port of Aden dominates the Red Sea. China can play chess.

As for Libya, the U.S. doesn’t get oil from Libya, but its allies in Europe do. And the current crisis is African Command’s (Africom) coming out party. Up to now the record of the spanking new military formation has been less than impressive. First, no one would host it, because the U.S. military in Africa makes the locals nervous. So it is still based in Germany. Then it coordinated the absolutely disastrous Ethiopian invasion of Somalia that ended up turning most of the country over to the extremist Shabab.

But Libya is a fresh slate for Africom, and that is making the Chinese even more nervous (and explains why they have been so cranky about civilian casualties in Libya). When Africom was in its infancy it war-gamed a military intervention in the Gulf of Guinea in case civil disturbances caused any disruptions in oil supplies. Angola, China’s other major African supplier, is in the Gulf of Guinea. It hardly seems like a coincidence that, at the very moment that African oil supplies become important, the U.S. creates a new military formation for the continent. Africom is currently advising and training the military forces of 53 countries in the region.

Okay, so here you are in Beijing. Your industries are clamoring for power. Media in the United States reflect a growing hostility toward you, with headlines in newspapers reading, “The Chinese Tiger Shows Its Claws,” and U.S. politicians routinely blame you for America’s economic problems. And the U.S. has basically puts its thumb on each one of your oil and gas sources. Nobody is cutting off any supplies at this point, but the implied threat is always there.

In end, it is not so much about oil and gas itself, as the control of energy. Any country that corners energy supplies in the coming decades will be in a powerful position to dictate a whole lot of things to the rest of the world. That’s not cynicism, its cold-blooded calculation. And right now a lot of people in the Middle East are paying the price of the ticket.

More of Conn Hallinan’s work can be found at Dispatches From the Edge.

Consistency Is the Hobgoblin of Those Who Oppose Supporting the Libyan Rebels

Libya BenghaziAs Western intervention against the Qaddhafi regime enters its seventh day, rebels remain enthusiastic. The Arab League, though considerably less enthusiastic, also continues to back the effort. In the United States, however, some commentators have adopted a more critical approach.

One such figure is Glenn Greenwald, who stands out as perhaps the most principled and scathing media critic with a sizeable audience. In a blog post yesterday, titled, “The manipulative pro-war argument in Libya,” Greenwald takes the New Republic’s John Judis to task for asserting that opponents of intervention are indifferent to the rebels’ plight:

[D]o you support military intervention to protect protesters in Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and other U.S. allies from suppression?… Did you advocate military intervention to protect protesters in Iran and Egypt, or to stop the Israeli slaughter of hundreds of trapped innocent civilians in Gaza and Lebanon or its brutal and growing occupation of the West Bank?

Greenwald then delivers the blow: “If not, doesn’t that necessarily mean — using [your own] reasoning — that you’re indifferent to the suffering of all of those people…?”

This rebuttal smartly stands Judis’ logic on its head: those favoring military action in Libya cannot blithely assume that opponents neglect the plight of others when, in truth, most people on both sides of the argument reject military action elsewhere in the world — not out of callousness — but over concern about the consequences of more violence.

The problem, however, is that many bloggers and writers — including one approvingly linked by Greenwald — now brandish this line as an all-purpose rationale for opposing action. “If you do not support military intervention against so-and-so,” goes the argument, “then you are a hypocrite for supporting intervention in Libya; therefore, it is wrong.”

This line of reasoning suffers from at least three logical fallacies.

1. Avoiding The Issue

A failure to solve all the world’s ills does not justify a failure to address one particular ill.

On more than one occasion, defenders of Israeli occupation have pointed to injustices committed by Arab rulers, a deflection which, in their minds, somehow mitigates the brutality of Israeli colonialism. And by the same logic, defenders of apartheid in South Africa could point to atrocities in other parts of Africa to argue that no one should oppose white supremacy until all the continent’s other problems were fixed first.

This paralyzing notion — you should do nothing until you do everything — could be applied to most any situation, and with equally ridiculous results.

In short, pointing to a failure to intervene militarily in crises around the world says nothing about the pros and cons of helping Libyan rebels.

2. A False Equivalency

While it is illogical to make support for military intervention in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, or Israel a precondition for helping Libyan rebels, it is wrong to posit that intervention in those countries would be equivalent to the mission in Libya in the first place.

In the case of America’s allies, the administration could likely stop the bloodshed by ending its military, diplomatic, and political cover for the oppressive regimes. That would place serious pressure on rulers who depend on American enablement and impede their ability to inflict violence on their victims.

With Qaddhafi, those levers of influence are absent.

3. Consistent Immorality is No Virtue; Inconsistent Morality is a Lesser Vice

The heart of the popular anti-interventionist argument — “you are a hypocrite” — is a moral one: but it is a heart that does not beat.

For while it is deplorable that policymakers apply their moral outrage selectively (in accordance with perceived national interests), that does not mean we should abandon the moral impulse altogether for the sake of consistency.

Consider, for instance, a scenario where ten innocent men are lined up to be shot. A bystander intervenes and saves the life of one or two men, but, for whatever selfish reason, leaves the rest to die. Now consider a parallel scenario, wherein the only difference is that the bystander does absolutely nothing and leaves all ten men to their demise.

Which is the better choice: consistency or hypocrisy?

Some arguments against intervention deserve serious consideration. The “hypocrisy” mantra, however, is not one of them.

M. Junaid Levesque-Alam blogs on Islam and America at his website, Crossing the Crescent.

Didn’t Take Long for Libyan Rebels to Hollow the “Humanitarian” Out of “Intervention,” Did It?

The headline to a March 24 Los Angeles Times article by David Zucchino reads Libyan rebels appear to take leaf from Kadafi’s playbook. To wit:

The rebels of eastern Libya have found much to condemn about the police state tactics of Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi: deep paranoia, mass detentions, secret prisons and tightly scripted media tours.

But some of those same tactics appear to be creeping into the efforts of the opposition here as it seeks to stamp out lingering loyalty to Kadafi. Rebel forces are detaining anyone suspected of serving or assisting the Kadafi regime, locking them up in the same prisons once used to detain and torture Kadafi’s opponents.

And who are these “suspected mercenaries and government spies”? “Libyan blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa,” Zucchino reports.

“We know who they are,” said Abdelhafed Ghoga, the chief opposition spokesman. He called them “people with bloodstained hands” and “enemies of the revolution.” Any suspected Kadafi loyalist or spy who does not surrender, Ghoga warned, will face revolutionary “justice.”

At one detention center, a

. . . young man from Ghana bolted from the prisoners queue. He shouted in English at an American reporter: “I’m not a soldier! I work for a construction company in Benghazi!” . . . The Ghanaian was one of 25 detainees from Chad, Niger, Sudan, Mali and Ghana described by opposition officials as mercenaries, though several of them insisted they were laborers.

All too easy to finger immigrants and those of a darker hue. Meanwhile, it’s characteristic of rebels that they often fail to understand that, when applied to justice, the use of the word revolutionary doesn’t refer to its definition as a novelty. Justice isn’t a new car you’re taking for a joy ride. Ideally, it means that justice in their country is finally afforded an opportunity to be what it’s meant to be — truly just.

Gaddafi’s Genocidal Buzzwords No Doubt Sent up Red Flag to Samantha Power

Ban Ki-moon, Samantha Power(Pictured: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Samantha Power.)

Much has been made about the united front that three women in the Obama administraton — UN Ambassador Susan Rice, Secretary of State Clinton, and National Security Council staffer Samantha Power — presented in making the case for intervention in Libya. They’ve been called valkyries, while the men who opposed them — Secretary of State Gates and National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon, among others — have been portrayed as “henpecked.” More likely, the men can’t see intervention except in the most brutally stark terms — to be used only with countries in which a perceived threat to the United States resides.

Though she needed convincing, as has been speculated Ms. Clinton may have influenced by her husband, still ostensibly in a state of penitence for his refusal to commit U.S. troops to quelling violence in Rwanda that metastasized into genocide. Ms. Power, who won the Pulitzer prize for Problem From Hell, her important book about genocide, has long been an advocate of humanitarian intervention and may have been the driving force. Exactly why? I suspect it had something to do with this. The Christian Post reports.

The group was heard singing a song quoting a Gaddafi speech, “Disinfect the germs [rebels] from each house and each room.”

Those words no doubt sent up a red flag to Ms. Power, attuned as she is to the language of genocide. “Disinfect,” “germs,” “insects,” “cockroaches” are terms heard in a state prior to genocidal acts. Now Gaddafi may not be inclined, nor in a position, to incite genocide. But it’s well within his capabilities to approximate it with massacres.

Meanwhile, humanitarian intervention would be ideal if it were always under the aegis of the United Nations and applied evenly — such as to Bahrain, not to mention the Democratic Republic of Congo and Darfur. Oh, and it would be nice if the number of military resources were not open-ended: for example, if intervention in Libya were were contingent upon withdrawal of troops and arms from Afghanistan.

Hey, Syrians, What Are You Complaining About? At Least Deraa Is Not Hama

Deraa protests“The Syrian government is struggling to contain a week-old uprising in the southern city of Deraa, the deepest popular unrest since president Bashar al-Assad took office a decade ago. . . . Syrian officials, clearly unnerved, have flown thousands of security forces into the city and brutally cracked down on demonstrators.”

. . . reports Gregg Carlstrom at Aljazeera. The latest from MSNBC:

The main hospital in the Syrian city of Deraa received the bodies of at least 25 protesters after Syrian forces launched a relentless assault on a neighborhood sheltering anti-government activists.

Carlstrom again:

At the same time, though, he has made a few conciliatory gestures to protesters, like releasing the children whose arrests . . . for writing pro-democracy graffiti . . . helped spark the protests, and sending a delegation of government ministers to meet with protesters. . . . Popular protests have been slow to kick off in Syria, where many have bitter memories of former president Hafez al-Assad’s brutal repression of opposition groups in Hama.

Hama, of course, was the city that the senior Assad attacked in response to violent uprisings by the Muslim Brotherhood and killed 7,000 to 35,000, including about 1,000 Syrian soldiers. In addition, cyanide gas was reportedly used. Yes, a city — the fourth largest — in his own country!

In other words, thank goodness for small favors, Syrians. In fact, you should be counting your blessings. Your president only seems to be suffering sociopathic symptoms, or of Antisocial Personality Disorder, as it’s called in more recent editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Whereas his father was a textbook case.

AFRICOM’s General Ham Waging War from Djibouti

Guelleh Gates(Pictured: U.S. Secretary of Defense Gates and Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh.)

Army Gen. Carter F. Ham, commander of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) arrived on the continent a couple of weeks ago just in time for the big doings. Ham, who had only taken over his new post three days earlier, conferred with local and U.S. military and political officials in the east African nation of Djibouti, in the words of the newspaper Stars and Stripes, just as the United States and other nations debated “whether to place a no-fly zone over Libya.” If that were to happen, the paper said, AFRICOM “would play its first lead role.” Djibouti’s chief of defense, Maj. Gen. Fathi Ahmed Houssein, is said to have “advised circumspection, since any use of military force in Libya would have long-term ramifications.” Ham said he took it under advisement.

Ham’s visit to Djibouti, where the U.S. maintains its only military base on the continent, the timing of it and its subsequent use as coordinating point for the attacks on Libya, speak volumes about the quandary of U.S. policy toward Africa. It forms a contentious backdrop for the tour President Barak Obama in planning there for later this year.

Ham, who once served as an advisor with a Saudi Arabian National Guard Brigade, is based at AFRICOM headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany. That it is not located somewhere in Africa owes to the fact that most African governments view it with, at best, suspicion and all the countries that really matter have refused to host it.

Ham’s predecessor in the job was Gen. William “Kip” Ward, one of the highest-ranking African Americans in the U.S. military. The new chief faces “some tough questions about the mandate and intentions of the nascent command” said Stars and Stripes. Ward “had gone to great lengths to assure African nations that the United States does not seek to build bases on the continent,” the paper said. And “Ham said that while he was looking at other locations in the U.S. and Europe as a long-term command headquarters, and will decide on one next year, he would not rule out Africa, either.”

The troubling little matter of where the command is to be headquartered is something that most major media reports leave out, along with another aspect of the current story. In a number of respects tiny Djibouti could be considered in some ways the Bahrain of Africa.

Since the early 1990s Bahrain has been the site of the U.S. military base at Juffair, home of the headquarters for the United States Naval Forces Central Command and the U.S. Fifth Fleet involving about 1,500 military personnel. Built by the colonial French, Djibouti’s Camp Lemonier is home to about 2,000 U.S. military personnel attached to the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa. But the similarities don’t end there.

There are said to be no foreign correspondents stationed in Djibouti but that’s no excuse for a paucity of news from there. There has been plenty of time to get someone there because, drawing inspiration from events in North Africa, people in Djibouti have taken to the streets in large number since early last month. Their calls for reform have been beaten back by clubs, water cannons and sometimes bullets. Political parties have been outlawed and opposition figures jailed. Last week, the government expelled a group of U.S. election monitors there to witness a disputed presidential election slated for next month. Opposition groups are boycotting the vote because they say the current regime is repressing dissent.

“The country is nominally democratic, but events leading up to the April 8 presidential election appear to show a hard line approach by President Ismail Omar Guelleh at a time when democracy movements are upending administrations,” the Associated Press reported last week from nearby Kenya.

“The unrest in the Arab world has spread south to the small Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti, host to the only official U.S. military base on the African mainland,” wrote Stephen Roblin on ZNet March 10. “In what have been called protests triggered by a wave of political unrest sweeping through the Middle East, Djiboutians numbering in the thousands have taken to the streets in opposition to President Ismail Omar Guelleh, who has held power since succeeding his uncle in 1999. The Guelleh family has maintained its grip over the small nation of 750,000 people since its independence from France in 1977.

“Demonstrations broke out in anticipation of the upcoming election in April, when Guelleh hopes to extend his reign by winning a third term. His bid for presidency comes a year after he scrapped the two-term limit in the constitution in a move the opposition considers unconstitutional.

“The first political rally took place on January 28 and was attended by an estimated 2-3,000 people. Djiboutians continued to organize demonstrations throughout the month of February,” wrote Roblin. “The Guelleh regime responded by ordering state security forces to disperse demonstrators through force and perform mass arbitrary arrests in a campaign to stifle the democratic opposition.”

An estimated 30,000 Djiboutians calling for Guelleh to step down gathered in Djibouti City March 19. (Again, there are only 750,000 people in the country.) They “were met by riot police, who violently dispersed the protesters,” wrote Roblin. “Unlike in Egypt, where citizens temporarily took control over Tahrir Square, state violence in Djibouti successfully repressed the attempt by pro-democracy forces to establish a permanent protest camp in the center of the capital.”

“Djibouti’s primary donor, the United States, is fully aware of the harsh economic conditions facing the country, as well as the government’s poor human rights record and corrupt rule,” wrote Roblin. “But the paymaster has been willing to put aside its unflinching commitment to high principles due to the Guelleh regime’s well-demonstrated reliability as a regional client.

The Guelleh regime is also charged with direct involvement in the US CIA’s secret detention and rendition program that saw alleged terrorism suspects secreted off to foreign locations for interrogation said to have involved torture.

The similarity of Bahrain and Djibouti these days is apparent in another respect: The failure of the U.S. to resolutely condemn the brutal repression by the regime on the former is in line with the soft gloves treatment and even support to the regime in the latter – as Ham’s visit attests.

Events these days in Djibouti certainly shed light on the real scope of AFRICOM’s mission. On March 21, Eric Schmitt of the New York Times wrote from Washington that it was ‘the military’s first ‘smart power’ command. “It has no assigned troops, no headquarters in Africa itself, and one of its two top deputies is a seasoned American diplomat,” he wrote.

“Indeed, the command, known as AFRICOM, is designed largely to train and assist the armed forces of 53 African nations and to work with the State Department and other American agencies to strengthen social, political and economic programs in the region including improving H.I.V. awareness in African militaries and removing land mines.”

Descriptions like that have floated through the media repeatedly over the three years of the command’s existence. And now, suddenly it blossomed into control center for war in a neighboring country.

For three years, critics of AFRICOM in Africa and the U.S. have charged that it serves to militarize U.S. foreign policy in the region, as opposed to aid and diplomacy. Schmitt says Ward and others have consistently emphasized that AFRICOM’s role is “to train African militaries only when requested by governments.”

“Now the young, untested command and its new boss, Gen. Carter F. Ham, find themselves at their headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, setting aside public diplomacy talks and other civilian-military duties to lead the initial phase of a complex, multinational shooting war with Libya,” wrote Schmitt.

Obama will no doubt have trouble explaining that away as he arrives in various African capitals.

Carl Bloice, a member of the National Coordinating Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, is a columnist for the Black Commentator. He also serves on its editorial board.

Fukushima: Where Do Aliens Store Their Spent Fuel Rods?

When the massive tsunami smacked into Fukushima Daiichi, the nuclear power plant was stacked high with more uranium than it was originally designed to hold. . . . the equivalent of almost six years [almost 4,000] of the highly radioactive [spent] uranium fuel rods produced by the plant . . . stored in deep pools of circulating water built into the highest floor of the Fukushima reactor buildings.

. . . reports Reuters.

The pile-up of used radioactive fuel stored at Fukushima underscores a dilemma that the nuclear power industry has faced in Japan and in the United States for decades: there is no easy answer to the question of where to store radioactive nuclear fuel after it has been used to produce power. In the United States, industry planners had once assumed that spent fuel rods would be moved to the Yucca Mountain Repository in Nevada. But political opposition in that fast-growing state helped put the plan on hold, meaning spent fuel has largely piled up in on-site cooling ponds.

Just the Vermont Yankee nuclear energy plant alone, reports Christian Parenti at the Nation “has a staggering 690 tons of spent fuel rods on site.”

Increasingly, spent fuel rods — with the half lives of their radioactive elements running into the tens of thousands of years — are finally taking a star turn in the leading role of nuclear risk. For those who advocate nuclear energy as a “bridge” technology to more carbon-free fuel, or as the devil we know, or for those who, with unapologetic counterintuitiveness, declare (I’m talking to you, George Monbiot) “the crisis at Fukushima has converted me to the cause of nuclear power,” what do you propose that we do with all the spent fuel rods?

As one frankly biased toward the possibility of life on other plants (at however far a remove), it helps me to provide perspective by asking, “How did they handle it on another planet?” With the financial crisis, I can’t help but conclude that capitalism was but a blip in their history. But that’s another story. If, because of the dilemma disposal of nuclear waste poses, nuclear energy was also a blip, what did they do with their spent fuel rods?

Why shove them over the edge of a black hole, of course. But it may have been 10,000 years after their nuclear period that they developed the technology to ship their fuel rods out of sight and out of mind. Unless we want to wait until that time when we too can dispatch space freighters to black holes, perhaps we should consider whether we want to consider using an energy technology that produces such lethal waste.

Arab League Walks a Tightrope With Libya Intervention

Arab League(Pictured: The Arab League leaders, once upon a time.)

Two days after Western forces struck Libyan military targets, halting Qaddhafi’s attack on civilians in Benghazi and elsewhere, some observers wonder whether the Arab League will withdraw its support for the intervention.

The League had unanimously endorsed the no-fly zone on March 12th—a “turning point” that compelled America to pursue passage of a U.N. resolution authorizing air strikes. However, the League’s rare commitment to action appeared to be flagging on Sunday when its secretary general, Amr Moussa, averred that the air strikes had gone too far.

Moussa told reporters that “What happened differs from the no-fly zone objectives,” adding, “What we want is civilians’ protection not shelling more civilians.”

His comment about “shelling more civilians” was an allusion to Qaddhafi’s claim that the Western strikes had killed a number of innocents. (That assertion, however, appears to be yet another one of the Libyan leader’s orchestrated shams—see here and here.)

Today, Moussa backpedaled from Sunday’s comments, saying in a press conference with U.N. President Ban Ki-Moon that the League has “no conflict” with the U.N. resolution and supports the rebels.

So what accounts for the Arab League’s apparent waffling?

One reason is Egyptian politics. Moussa, who commands respect in Egypt for standing up to Israel, plans to run for president now that the Mubarak regime has been ousted. He may have been shielding himself against future criticism for his role in green-lighting Western military action in Libya, should things go wrong.

Another reason is that the Arab League faces the same challenge as the kleptocrats and despots who make up its membership: trying to retain relevance in the face of a powerful current of change washing over the Arab world.

League members such as Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh, and Bahrain’s Khalifa bin Salman al Khalifa have responded to protests in their own countries with thuggish violence. They are thus wary of encouraging foreign involvement in another Arab country, as it might set a precedent for their own removal. On the other hand, the last thing Arab rulers want is further instability—including scenes of Qhaddafi-inflicted carnage and chaos.

“People might not like it but the only other option is to allow a civil war to develop in Libya; you’re going to create another Somalia,” Mustafa Alani, a scholar at the Gulf Research Center in the UAE, told the LA Times. “They don’t like military intervention, but in this case it is seen as the lesser evil.”

The Arab rulers are in a “delicate situation,” another expert in the LA Times piece, Mustafa Labbad, noted. “They wouldn’t want to see foreign powers aiding rebels against their regimes. They also don’t want the prospect of another Iraq.”

Stopping Qaddhafi, whose unpredictable antics are now on full display, is therefore seen as the best available option by Arab leaders. At least for now.

M. Junaid Levesque-Alam blogs on Islam and America at his website, Crossing the Crescent.

Thanks to Fukushima Light Shed on U.S. Nuclear Facility Located on a Volcano

The light shining on the safety of nuclear energy as a result of the Japanese nuclear crisis has been of such powerful wattage that it’s even flushing safety issues with nuclear weapons labs and manufacturing facilities out of hiding. Roger Snodgrass reports for the Santa Fe New Mexican.

On Friday, President Barack Obama asked the independent Nuclear Regulatory Commission to review the safety of American nuclear power plants. . . . At Los Alamos National Laboratory, nuclear safety issues have been complicated with seismic concerns, as geological studies have uncovered an increasingly precarious underground structure.

Los Alamos, of course, is the national lab in New Mexico created for the Manhattan Project, which developed the atomic bomb. Still a work in progress after all these years, the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) facility is being built to the tune of a cool $4.3 billion. That’s six times the cost (adjusted for inflation) of the division of the Manhattan Project that was based in Los Alamos.

The CMRR will be used to increase the capacity to produce plutonium “pits,” which is where a nuclear weapon’s chain reaction occurs. If that doesn’t sound like disarmament, you’re right. Funding for the project by the Obama administration was intended, in part, to win Republican votes for the ratification of New START. But, in terms of pure disarmament, it not only cancels out New START, it ensures the health of the nuclear-industrial complex for many years.

Snodgrass writes:

Everet Beckner . . . formerly a high-ranking official in the National Nuclear Security Administration during the Bush administration, called Friday for a pause in the design work underway [at the CMRR. He said] “the earthquake event in Japan was outside the current window of expectations because it was larger than a thousand-year event. . . . Maybe that isn’t enough of a margin.”

Turns out that at

. . . Los Alamos National Laboratory [LANL], nuclear safety issues have been complicated with seismic concerns, as geological studies have uncovered an increasingly precarious underground structure. . . . in the late 1990s [faults were] found to run near and even beneath some LANL nuclear facilities. . . . A survey found a number of LANL buildings to be at considerable risk of earthquake-induced collapse.

But this information

. . . was not immediately applied to building siting and design . . . . “When they set up Los Alamos initially, they didn’t care about these things. They were looking for an isolated site,” said [Greg] Mello [of the Los Alamos Study Group], who has studied seismic issues at the lab since 1996. . . . “Since then, many people have questioned the wisdom of putting a plutonium processing facility and now a nuclear pit manufacturing facility on the side of a volcano.”

In fact, when it comes to locating such facilities on the side of a volcano in an area prone to seismic activity, there’s no wisdom whatsoever to question.

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