Focal Points Blog

The Military: Unlikely Advocate for Green?

There has been much talk of late of the military’s efforts to “go green.” This characterization is accurate in a sense, but misleading if interpreted too broadly. The military recognizes that its dependence on massive quantities of fossil fuels imposes substantial risks, and to reduce these risks it must reduce its energy requirements. Although the military cites dependence on foreign oil and the dangers posed by continued climate change as a component of these risks, the more important issue is the logistics and costs involved in delivering fuel to distant operational centers around the world. The most obvious example of this danger is the staggering number of casualties suffered by servicemen and women during fuel shipments.

In response, the military has not only set impressive goals, but has already made significant headway in reducing its energy consumption. The Environmental and Energy Study Institute military greening Fact Sheet provides details for the Navy’s energy efficiency programs. Some of their goals include sailing the “Great Green Fleet,” a Green Strike Group run on biofuels and nuclear power by 2016; reducing non-tactical petroleum use in the commercial fleet by 50 percent by 2015; and deriving 50 percent of total energy consumption from alternative fuel sources by 2020. The fact sheet also reports that “[t]he Navy launched its first hybrid electric‐drive surface combatant, the USS Makin Island, in 2006; estimated cost savings will be $248 million over its service life.”

Despite the benefits of these clean energy programs, the House voted on July 7 to strike section 526 of a 2007 law aimed at promoting energy independence. This section prohibits federal agencies from purchasing fuels with higher lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions than conventional petroleum fuels. Those who wish to repeal this section argue that it is an unnecessary constraint on operational flexibility and will damage the liquid coal industry. Those who hope to maintain the provision argue that it can serve as a tool for solidifying the military’s commitment to clean energy, and in the long run will lead to a broader spectrum of operational possibilities.

The climate activist’s view

From a green economy perspective, this legislation could not be more important. The military’s huge demand for energy translates into enormous market pull. By creating a market for biofuels and green technology, the military can spur further research and drive down the price of clean energy to levels that would be competitive with traditional energy sources. According to analysis presented at a congressional briefing on the Defense Department’s Deployment of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, section 526 sends positive signals to the green energy sector by reassuring clean energy producers that their investments will be met with steady demand from the DoD. Such stability is critical for any burgeoning industry.

Indeed, Pew Charitable Trust cites the lack of a coherent, stable clean energy policy framework as the main cause of the United States’s falling share of global clean investment. Maintaining clean energy supportive policies in the military could give green industries the toehold they need to become competitive in the U.S. market.

The military and the green economy

If the military does maintain a strong commitment to clean energy, it can play a unique role in the development of viable biofuels and other reduced carbon emissions sources. The Center for American Progress argues, “The military can test various advanced biofuels to determine the most effective blend before they are commercialized. And it can do this more easily than private businesses because it can afford to experiment without concern about a short-term profit.” With increased, stable demand, prices will drop and the industry will expand.

Many biofuels have only dubious credentials as friends of the environment. Thankfully, the Navy reports that it will not use corn as a fuel source, nor any other fuel that would diminish the food supply. The Navy is in fact mandated to only use fuels with lifecycle costs and emissions that are lower than traditional fossil fuels.

Military investment could also help develop green technologies. Many commentators point to GPS as an example of a technology initially developed for the military that gained a second life in civilian applications. Thomas Hicks, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy, recently argued that we are unlikely to anticipate the most important technological transfers, but did speculate that censors capable of detecting heat loss could be a likely candidate for one of these transformative cross-over technologies. He noted that military investment in this technology has dropped the cost of development substantially and has made it more likely that civilian applications could become economically viable.

The military: A PR agent for green?

There is another potential spillover effect that a successful military greening project could offer. The military is a nationally recognized organization with great prestige, giving its energy efficiency initiative the potential to legitimize going green and even to broaden recognition of the dangers of climate change. At a recent congressional briefing on the Defense Department’s Deployment of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Richard Kidd, deputy assistant secretary of the Army, Energy and Sustainability, argued that the military has historically led the nation toward broader acceptance of some of its most controversial social issues. Given their high level of respectability, veterans who understand the benefits of energy efficiency could change minds in their own communities and places of work. Kidd stated “When the army goes green, the nation will.” For an example of veteran climate activism already under way, take a look at Operation Free, a collection of veterans for sensible energy use. Merely having military planners discussing climate change as a legitimate concern within policy discussion certainly puts climate skeptics on shakier ground.

The military’s green programs could also offer proof that green initiatives don’t hurt the economy. When the military’s green programs achieve real successes in the form of jobs created, costs reduced, and lives saved, the military will have definitively demonstrated that a viable economy is not the necessary casualty of a strong policy on climate preparedness.

Maintaining the commitment

While cited frequently in DoD policy pieces, climate change and energy dependence remain secondary concerns in their strategic analysis. Military planners deal with hard choices, and will always be most concerned with the immediate, measurable consequences of their policies. While high capacity batteries and portable solar panels achieve obvious results, the cost of climate change and oil dependence cannot be easily measured, and are thus more difficult to fit neatly into strategic calculations.

So long as the military’s short-term considerations — cutting costs and increasing capabilities — translate into investments in emission reducing projects, climate activists will have something resembling an ally in the DoD. If the military’s strategic calculus changes due to a realignment of short-term considerations, we can expect to see any convergence of interests dissolve rapidly.

Some military planners have already parted ways with the logic of clean energy. Gen. Philip Breedlove, vice chief of staff of the Air Force, reports that the Air Force has nearly completed certifying its fleet to use carbon-intensive coal-to-liquid fuels. The use of these fuels is exactly what the section 526 legislation was designed to prevent. With the legislation in place, the Air Force is still unable to purchase coal-to-liquid fuels. That the Air Force moved forward with the certification process despite the legislation demonstrates that it is ready and willing to begin using these fuels as soon as legal barriers are removed.

Because military planners differ in their assessments of strategic realities, strong legislation remains necessary to maintain the military’s commitment to clean energy and energy reducing policies. The success or failure of those who wish to repeal section 526 will determine whether or not the many benefits of military greening will ever be wholly realized.

Keith Menconi is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.

The Hidden Culprit of 9/11: Clinical Depression

In one of the most useful articles occasioned by the tenth anniversary of 9/11, at Foreign Policy, Adam Lankford writes that “when it comes to the underlying motives and psychology of the 19 terrorist hijackers, the experts got it wrong.”

There were four terrorists piloting the hijacked airplanes on 9/11. And four sets of personal problems.

Mohamed Atta, who crashed the first plane into the World Trade Center, never wanted to leave his home country in the first place. … Since childhood, Atta had been pressured by his overbearing father to meet absurdly high expectations. … Marwan al-Shehhi, who flew the second plane, told his family that he had been going through a tough time, but could see a light at the end of the tunnel. Hani Hanjour, who crashed into the Pentagon, was described as meek and timid. … ” Ziad Jarrah, who intended to strike the Capitol building but crashed outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania, spoke repeatedly of suicide long before the planning of 9/11. … [He] complained to his girlfriend … about being “dissatisfied with his life” and insisted that he didn’t want to leave Earth “in a natural way.”

Research increasingly shows that [suicide terrorists] are motivated far more by personal crises, mental-health problems, and suicidal desires than by ideology or commitment to the cause.

It’s long been known, as Lankford writes, “that terrorist recruiters often exploit the vulnerability of these desperate individuals to further their own ideological goals.” In fact, one can’t help but conclude that these men have suffered childhoods that may have included beating and sexual abuse.

Lankford concludes:

There has been more than 100 years of research on conventional suicide and murder-suicide, and previous scholars have identified many common risk factors and warning signs. It is time for counterterrorism officials to extend these findings to help them increase their precision and narrow their sights. While scanning jihadi websites, criminal databases, and intelligence files, they should stop just looking for radicalized individuals — and start looking for radicalized individuals who match these specific profiles.

Beyond just tagging and cataloguing these individuals lies another frontier: sparing human childred trauma to help them grow up healthy and whole. As Lloyd deMause, dean of psychohistory, writes in the twelfth chapter of his new book, The Origins of War in Child Abuse.

The crucial task of future generations will be to raise loved children who grow up to be peaceful, rather than walking time bombs.

That’s difficult enough to accomplish in the West. Wouldn’t such an initiative require yet more intrusion into Muslim cultures? DeMause explains

Even developing nations such as Palestine have had successes in child abuse prevention classes. … establishing Community Parenting Centers and early home visits for families has been shown to reduce both the amount of child abuse and the crime rates in the cities that provide the centers. … The child abuse prevention programs save so much money by reducing crime and saving some of the huge costs of wars that they have been shown to cost the government nothing.

A first step to gaining acceptance by, say, Muslim nations is by using peace counseling in conflict mediation. DeMause again.

I believe trained psychoanalysts and psychohistorians—particularly those who have done marital therapy and those who have treated delinquent gangs, who have handled the inner fears of people who are often ready to kill each other—should indeed be peace counselors. These counselors could identify the demonic dissociated voices in each group, their “Terrifier” voices,examine the fears, hatreds and scapegoating those voices engender … locate the self-destructive wishes they embody, and finally express remorse for the harm they have done.

Peace counseling should begin at home, however.

The first task of peace counselors would not just be talking to the Islamist terrorists, but talking to and changing the emotional states of U.S. foreign policy officials who are behind the current American practices of killing, torturing, beating, humiliating and shaming “enemies” around the world.

Traumatized members of other cultures helped cause 9/ll. Traumatized members of our own were responsible for the over-response in Iraq and Afghanistan that have left untold more injured and dead.

Ian Williams’s Lost 9/11 Chronicle, Part II

On 9/11, noted reporter and author, and Foreign Policy in Focus contributor, Ian Williams lived near the World Trade Center and reported on the attacks for Canadian Broadcasting. Not long afterward, he wrote a heretofore unpublished account, which we present in two parts. (Part I here.) — Ed.

On the Hudson side of Manhattan, the debris, smashed vehicles and even deeper ashes made for an even more apocalyptic scene. We were closer and the wind blew from the west into the fire, giving a clearer view of the firefighters trying to control the blaze in the surrounding buildings. Next to us, lines of hoses led from the fireboats which normally only seemed to provide water displays for the visiting cruise liners. Now they were pumping thousands of tons of Hudson water into the ruins.

I lent my cell phone to several exhausted firemen, checking on children, wives and friends. Someone had forced open a local deli, and they were helping themselves to water and snacks. Even though it was technically looting, no one took more than they needed, except one young man, who looked like a local resident. He helped himself to a pack of cigarettes, paused, and then took two more. Tobacco does that to a person, I thought, even as I wondered at an ash-covered fireman who came out with a huge lit cheroot in his mouth. How much smoke can you take!

Another fireman came out of the store. Caked in dust and sweat, he was voraciously stuffing a banana into his mouth in between gulps of water. He looked around with a sort of pugnacious puzzlement at the ash, the debris, the mud, and the smoke. “Can you believe it?” he asked me, “I’m looking for a fucking garbage can!” He threw the peel at the ashes on the floor as if it were a demonstration against the lack of civilization in the neighbourhood.

One of the firemen who had used my phone was telling me bitterly “You know, three hundred of our guys got caught when they collapsed.” He then said, “I don’t want to offend anyone, but we just gotta go in and nuke the whole fucking Middle East now.” It was timely reminder. It was early days, and no one had fingered the perpetrators, but somehow, I didn’t want to remind him of Timothy McVeigh and the anti-Arab hysteria that the media had perpetrated before it had happened.

It was now eight hours from the first crash. I had enough local colour, and thought that I was in danger of degenerating from a reporter to a rubbernecker, so I decided to make my way back and file. I headed south only to meet a more than usually implacable police cordon on the Hudson River promenade. “Get on the boat,” they said, pointing to a tug whose bow was nudging the sea wall. “No thanks, ” I said politely, waving my press card. “You have to. It’s dangerous.”

“I’m press — it’s my job to take risks. I’ve been in Beirut and the Balkans. No one’s shooting at me here, I told him, brandishing my press card.

“Get on, or we put you on. We already put two of you guys on,” he said with “make my day” relish. The tug took us to New Jersey, and dropped us at a pier with large signs saying “Condemned structure. No trespassing.” I had no idea how to get back into Manhattan to file, or to wash or change for that matter.

The view from the boat was almost worth it. The sun setting behind us was lighting up the intact windows of lower Manhattan as if they too were on fire, and tingeing the column of smoke with an appropriately bloody hue. All weekend I had been sailing on the Hudson from the Manhattan Yacht Club out of the North Cove in the shadow of the WTC. We had used the two towers as our navigation aids as we practiced tacking up and down the harbour. Their absence was even more striking. And I remembered, so was that of my fellow crew member, a Brit I had met for the first time, who had just arrived and was working on the 25th floor of one of the towers. He only had an office number. Death moved from wholesale to personal.

In New Jersey, waiting on the pier were police. Paramedics — Red Cross — waited for casualties. They had spent hours watching the pyre burn across the Hudson: they wanted desperately to help, but we were disappointments for their eleemosynary instincts, deportees more than evacuees. Lines of ambulances and doctors waited on the other side. No casualties emerged, except as smoke.

Hours later, a train from New Jersey to midtown and a long hike down the East River side brought us home. The police manned checkpoints on all the roads, but as so often in New York, the bike paths and foot paths are invisible to drivers. The police overlooked the route along the esplanade, and it became my own personal route for several days. At home, the power was gone, so were the phone lines. And a week later they still were.

Downtown reminded me of divided Berlin or Beirut. To the north of the police perimeter, there were bright lights, shops, bars and restaurants open for teeming crowds. To the south the inhabitants stumbled about in the dark. If they trudged north to resupply, they were shaken down at innumerable checkpoints by a motley array of military and police uniforms. I suspect, despite rather than because of them, there was little of the looting or lawlessness that the stereotype of New York City would suggest. The only vehicles moving were official vehicles with flashing lights on top. Looking for light relief, I suggested, “Hey, if aliens were looking on, they’d think it was the lights made them move!”

At the end of the week, the police commissioner reported that crime was way down. Even the criminal classes rose to the occasion. Radio reports dwelt on the few crimes. A man appropriated a fireman’s jacket, a retired warder stole some watches while someone else broke into Brooks Brothers. Brooks Brothers! Did he need a suit to start work on Monday? One thing was sure. He would pay some small part of the price for the absent perpetrators when the courts opened.

Our recently stocked refrigerator was thawing rapidly. On the first night, exhausted, dusty and thirsty I made an executive decision. There was a bottle of champagne in the fridge, still cool. We knocked it back before it could warm and sank into fitful sleep, punctuated by long vigils at the window watching as the first convoys of armoured cars and troops arrived along the FDR, and noting the absence of ambulances among the sporadic bursts of traffic.

We began an ironic tribute to the Paris Zoo menu from the siege of 1870. A born-again carnivore with a cholesterol problem, I had stocked up on venison, buffalo burgers and ostrich loin. No fricassee of elephant trunk at the back of the freezer, but we ate our way through the rest.

Just around the corner, our problem was writ large, much larger in fact. There was no power for the Fulton Street fish market, where millions of dollars worth of fish waited in freezers without power. Never particularly sweet smelling, I quailed at the thought of their eventual exhumation.

Two days later, the police allowed in generators for them, and trucks to ship some out. I went down to check. “Is this fish being dumped or sold?” “It’s still in ice, it’s fine,” they told me, as I made a mental note to drop fish from my menu for a few weeks. In a way, it was a reassuring sign of the return of the commercial impulse. One bleak reminder of the shock of the tragedy was that no umbrella sellers appeared on the streets to sell their wares when the rain of dust fell. After two days, in Chinatown, a storekeeper was selling visitors photo postcards of the explosions at 2 for three dollars. And of course there were flags, a dollar each.

The flags began to appear two days later. CBC wanted a series of interviews for their local stations, so I got up at 6 and went down to the river side so my cell phone could get a strong signal from across the East River in Brooklyn. Half an inch of rain had fallen, and more was bucketing down. I shuddered at the thought of the murky slurry that the rescuers would be working in.

In the grey morning light, the low clouds obscured the smoke and the rain even quelled the ubiquitous smell and dust. Under the shelter of the elevated highway, life had returned to normal. Elderly Chinese from nearby Chinatown did their exercises, and one solitary man brandished a sword in an intricate series of balletic movements. He did not pause as a column of a steel workers formed up in bright yellow waterproofs and hard hats with their union local number written on the side. Led by a large stars and stripes they headed south into the inferno.

About a dozen homeless usually live in the vicinity and four of them who seemed to make a virtual family were inspired to mount their own surreal march. Pushing the one in a wheelchair, they paraded with a placard, “United We Stand, Divided We Fall. New York City/The World.” Pausing in between radio interviews, I asked “Why?” “Gotta a ciggy?” one replied in an London accent. “No, sorry!” I apologized as the phone rang, from, of all places, Iquiluit in the Inuit new territories.

I’ve never understood flag fetishism, but I could see why people would want to respond. Over the next few days, the flags proliferated, but in almost reverse proportion to the distance from what the news reports were calling Ground Zero. “Positive patriotism” is all too often sullied with xenophobia, which is never an exact science. Maronite Churches were firebombed along with Sikh temples. Maronite and Sikh enthusiasm for Islam, let alone Islamic fundamentalism, has been historically someone tenuous, as anyone should know. But few voters in the world’s only superpower ever take time to study the world, which was perhaps precisely why I was standing in a disaster zone.

Another friend called, with semi-light relief, but again with a dark side.

His friend Mohammed worked in a restaurant where 11 of the 14 waiters were also called Mohammed. They used their colleges as names. “Hi Princeton! Hi Columbia!” He was earnestly seeking advice on how to change his name. Quickly.

You could almost tell how foreign a storekeeper, or a yellow cab driver felt from how many flags they were flying or sticking like talismans on their doors and windows. And the more I spoke to people, I could see solid reasons for the fear. “Someone must be punished,” is a universal cry. I did a radio interview for the left-wing station Pacifica in California. The anchorman on the other side of the continent, said “We have to punish them.” Inhaling the smoke from what was after all a near-miss for me personally, I asked, “How do you punish eighteen people who have just killed themselves? And if they had accomplices, can you trust the ideologues round this administration, the Cheneys and Rumsfelds, to identify the real perpetrators rather than use the opportunity to hit at their own perverse enemies’ list?”

I could trust Powell, who knows that even gestures have their price, but the others worried me. Each day, the news brought more suggestions of right-wing wish lists being tacked across the stable door after the Trojan horse had already exploded. More wire taps, tougher immigration, more defence spending, and calls for action all the more ominous for being so nebulously targeted.

I had seen the best side of New York and America in the long lines of volunteers, the heroism of the rescuers, the donations of food, clothes, and money, and the flood of resources available when the will was there. But the urge to do something could be as innocuous as standing on street corners with candles, or it could lead to applause for the incineration of other faraway cities of which they know or care little.

As Sunday drew on, Mayor Giuliani opened the way to Wall Street. Back to normalcy. Radio advertisements told Americans that the way to show their patriotism was to show their support for American companies. “Buy stock,” the broker harangued. I did a double take: it was genuine, not some subversive parody. And within sniffing distance, an army of rescuers used muscle power to sift the still smouldering ruins, looking with almost certain futility for survivors among the five thousand lives snuffed out in less than an hour on bright sunny morning in Manhattan.

Ian Williams’s Lost 9/11 Chronicle, Part I

On 9/11, noted reporter and author, and Foreign Policy in Focus contributor, Ian Williams lived near the World Trade Center and reported on the attacks for Canadian Broadcasting. Not long afterward, he wrote a heretofore unpublished account, which we present in two parts. – Ed.

I moved from midtown to lower Manhattan in late August 2001. South Street Seaport seemed like home to someone who left Liverpool twelve years before. Indeed in some ways I had hardly left. The plaque on the esplanade mentioned that it was built on rubble landfill from blitzed London that returning supply ships used as ballast. Those ships actually came from bombed Liverpool. I’d used it to illustrate my thesis that American civilian experience of war was vicarious and inaccurate compared with that of Europeans, even younger ones like me brought up playing in bomb sites and listening to tales of evacuations and bomb shelters from older family members.

I had developed a routine in the new apartment. A brisk cycle ride round the southern tip of the island, past Battery Park and up the new bike path up the Hudson that begins by running through the dark valley between the World Trade Center and the World Financial Center. On the morning of September 11, I began my day as usual by checking my email as I swigged my first mug of tea, sitting, I must confess, in stark naked comfort.

The email brought several promising commissions, and so I decided to postpone my daily ride, even though the blue skies and equable temperature outside promised one of New York’s few sweet spots between its more customary extremes of frigidity and torridity. Instead I began work on an article for Punch, on the underlying wobbliness of the American economy.

I had written “The” when I heard the bang. It sounded like a building collapsing, so I ran to the window to look out. The fish porters from the Fulton market were standing in the square of Peck Slip staring up as if at the Second Coming. I pulled on clothes and ran down with a cell phone, recorder, binoculars and a camera. If this was indeed the second coming, it was the early stages, the arrival of Satan on Earth. The World Trade Center’s north tower had an exit wound some three quarters of the way up, with flames erupting from the northeast corner, and thick black smoke framing the brightness.

“Look there’re people jumping” a woman shouted in anguish. As far as I could see, what she thought were people was in fact metal siding drifting downwards on the wind. However, my reassurance was premature: shortly afterwards, that’s just what people trapped in the upper floors began doing.

I began trying to call various newsrooms on my cell phone, to no avail. Either everyone else in Lower Manhattan was hitting their dial buttons at the same time, or, I suspected, the antennae were on top of the Twin Towers.

I ran inside to call from my desk phone, but Canadian Broadcasting’s Toronto newsroom was already calling. Ducking between my fire escape platform and the phone, I began to tell them what was happening. The other tower exploding at a slightly lower level. Then the apocalyptic crash as it collapsed.

Up the East River Drive, the FDR, I could see along the shore line as ambulances, fire trucks and police cars fought the rush hour traffic to get closer. Then the evacuees began to trudge by. I had seen refugees in war zones before, but to see endless columns of necktied office workers was a new experience. Most of them marched onwards stolidly without a backward glance, perhaps not realizing that this stretch of their route offered a direct view of the disaster they were fleeing.

On the Brooklyn Bridge, the marching files were silhouetted against the sky like a scene from an Eisenstein film. But then, even those who still stood transfixed in the square had no view. A white cloud, like Pliny’s description of Vesuvius spread from the tower. Heavy, choking, white ash, which fell like snow over the area. By then, most of the rubberneckers had joined the majority marching out the city. A few optimistic ones tried to stop yellow cabs, which sensibly wanted nothing to do with them: just to get out.

In the square some young Indian women had lost their shoes in the rush, and were bleeding from head wounds. My girlfriend invited them to wash off in the bathroom and phone relatives before setting off. A young African man, probably illegal since he did not want to give his name, waited anxiously. He’d been taking his three year old son to pre-school and had lost him in the stampede. In one of the day’s happy stories, he found him, intact at the nearby hospital where some passerby had taken him. He stood in the square in front of us, hugging him thankfully and staring at the column of smoke that marked the site.

I’d been describing the scene from my fire escape for CBC in Toronto, who told me to stand by for ninety seconds for “local announcements.” As they did so, the second tower collapsed. It was the first time I lost my calm. I bellowed down the phone, cursing them and telling them what to do with their local announcements, but to no avail. I had to hold the line open as it was transferred from editor to editor, producer to producer, mostly ignoring the call waiting signals which represented the more successful attempts of friends and family to check on our safety. As the news spread, inward circuits were blocked as people across the world tried to do the same.

A second cloud headed across Manhattan, adding more white ash to the dust that drifted like snow across downtown. By now I was recounting the morning’s events for the BBC, while wrestling with an illustrative side issue. I had mentioned to another editor earlier that Mayor Rudy Giuliani had built his $16 million dollar command and control center for emergencies and disasters in the World Trade Center. She commissioned an immediate piece.

I thought it was a potent metaphor for the inefficacy of expensive Star Wars defence systems against this type of attack and spent several hours alternating between radio interviews by phone and checking my memories. It was true. The “bunker,” widely derided as a grandiose folly when it was built, was indeed on the 23rd floor of number 7 WTC, already aflame and later to collapse.

I clicked the send button and as the call volume fell, the adrenaline aftershock set in. Coughing and hoarse with dust and talking, I decided I could take it no longer. I had to go to see what was happening closer to the scene.

The Pompeii parallels became more apt outside. On Fulton Street, the local deli’s display of flowers was shrouded in ash. A fish porter’s breakfast lay in its foil tray, similarly coated, and the little mobile hot dog stands stood abandoned, their bagels and buns buried in a drift of grey dust.

Smoke streamed across towards Brooklyn, and the emergency vehicles stirred up dust devils as if on a desert road as they sped through the police lines to the epicenter. Looking straight down Fulton Street, I expected to see a stump, a pyramid of rubble. But who’d a thought the old towers had so little substance in them. It was clear that despite the column of smoke, there was nothing to be seen.

I could flee, or carry on working. First, I wanted to pay my debts so we went to the downtown hospital to give blood. They were not accepting it, and what’s more, there was what I thought of as a “fee fo fi fum” warning out. The blood of Englishmen smelt of mad cow disease and was not acceptable.

So, brandishing a tape recorder I approached Alex MacLain, a junior doctor at NYU hospital. She had been on duty forty hours, she recalled just as she was leaving. She described an early rush of burn victims — “glove injuries.” She explained. “Like one woman came in, and all the skin on her arm and shoulder came off.” Then there was a rush of impact injuries and fractures: followed by an ominous hiatus. She had come to the corner of Fulton Street to see what was happening.

As we spoke, behind us I could the lighthouse-shaped Titanic monument. In front of us the world was ending in fire, not ice. Coughing despite the masks that the local hospital was distributing, I suddenly had a terrible thought. We were breathing people. There was no way that everyone could have escaped. This smoke, these ashes, were from a massive funeral pyre: the Windows on the World had become a peephole into Hell.

Blowing around in the ashes, the memories of the world’s life were flashing by in the form of charred and chewed papers. Plans for environmental projects financed by Wall Street bonds, cheques for unimaginable numbers of zeroes, bunkering invoices from Pakistan, Japanese investment reports, and personnel files. I learned from a police deposition that a Ms. Watkins earned $500 a day in a massage parlour, charging $40 for a hand job, $80 for oral sex and $150 for full sex. But it had done her little good since her pimp took the lot. Down by Wall Street, in front of Federal Hall, where George Washington was proclaimed the first president, his statue overlooked his handiwork, his hair appropriately powdered like a Georgian wig for the first time in two centuries.

The NYPD working press pass says it entitles the bearer to cross police lines. It had never worked before, so I was not surprised to be greeted with customary brusqueness when I probed the police perimeter to get closer. I moved south and discovered a motley Dunkirk-style line of tour boats and tug boats at Battery Park, waiting for evacuees. It was a weak link in the cordon and I sidled through.

Part II on September 11.

We Could Take a Lesson From Islamist Militants When It Comes to ROI

“Determining just how expensive,” an improvised electric device is, writes Spencer Ackerman at Wired’s the Danger Room, “is difficult, owing to all of the different components in the bombs. But according to the Pentagon’s bomb squad, the average cost of … the cheapo IEDs have dropped from $1,125 in 2006 to $265 in 2009.”


… the U.S.’ measures to stop them — robots, optics, flying sensors — are orders of magnitude more expensive. Explosive ordnance detection teams in Afghanistan use a small robot called a “Devil Pup” to locate IEDs. JIEDDO has paid $35 million for the 300 mini-robots.

The tenth anniversary of 9/11 is becoming not only an occasion to take the national pulse, but to add up the figures spent on war. On June 29, a Brown University research team issued a report that grew into a website named Costs of War. Contributors include Andrew Bacevich, Dahr Jamail, and William Hartung. At Huffington Post, Elise Foley wrote:

Even just paying the interest on the United States’ war debt will be a large endeavor, according to the report, at a time when the country is set to exceed its current debt limit of $14.29 trillion. The government has already paid about $185 billion in interest on war spending, and could accrue another $1 trillion — an amount not included in the $3.7 trillion estimate — in interest by 2020.

One of Costs of War’s directors, Catherine Lutz, said “Wars, in a sense, are never over when they’re over. … They go on for decades, and [some of] the peak costs for this war will be incurred forty years from now.”

A double standard exists for the defense budget. Even when it’s being scrutinized — and even cut by Republicans — the underlying assumption seems to be that national security is automatically entitled to a disproportionate amount of the budget. During wartime, constraints against spending are further loosed and the prevailing attitude seems to be that we’ll figure out how to pay for it later.

Those days are obviously over. If only to avoid being humiliated by insurgents pulling off successful operations for what amounts to a handful of change, boring principles such as cost-benefit analysis and return on investment must assume pride of place.

100 Members of Hamas Arrested Just Before UN Vote for Palestinian Statehood

Israeli security forces report that they have arrested at least 100 suspected members of Hamas and claim to have foiled multiple bombing and kidnapping plots. These actions would seem to indicate a severe setback for Hamas’s influence in the Occupied Territories and undermine prospects for reconciliation between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. With the UN vote approaching, the timing of the announcement can only help buttress the Netanyahu government’s security credentials after the embarrassment of the August 18th Eilat attacks. The arrests also coincide with a major media and diplomatic campaign by the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian activists ahead of the UN vote for recognition of a Palestinian state.

The Israeli government states that it is not holding the Palestinian Authority responsible for the cells’ presence in the Occupied Territories and that the IDF is “cooperating” with Ramallah to conduct further security sweeps and prepare for Palestinian demonstrations later this month. The following information has been officially released:

On Wednesday (September 7), it was released for publication that the IDF, Israel Security Agency and Israel Police prevented a major terrorist attack in Jerusalem last month.

The attack was thwarted after a terrorist had already entered Jerusalem planning to activate an explosive device on a bus or at a shopping mall in the Pisgat Ze’ev neighborhood [ed note: According to unnamed sources, the “explosive device” was being delivered to a suicide bomberYnet reports that the alleged suicide bomber, a 20-year old male from Hebron, is now in police custody].

The attack was prevented through joint operations by the IDF, ISA and police. During those operations, members of 13 terrorist cells (around 100 terrorists) were arrested. The detained terrorists included some senior operatives.

The ISA has noted that Hamas has been trying to rehabilitate its military infrastructure in Judea and Samaria in order to carry out attacks against Israeli targets.

According to the ISA, Hamas leadership abroad (in Syria, Saudi Arabia and Turkey) has provided funding, guidance and training for the establishment of terrorist infrastructure. Hamas in the Gaza Strip has been involved as well, attempting to move weaponry into Judea and Samaria and providing funding for terrorist activities.

Questioning of detained terrorists has revealed that they were instructed to carry out a kidnapping in order to bargain for the release of prisoners [according to media reports, these capture operations constituted the cells’ main operational preparations].

Some of those arrested are being linked to a bus bombing in Jerusalem this past March. Connections with Hamas cells and fundraisers in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Jordan, Turkey and China have been alluded to by the IDF and Shin Bet.

Few of the arrested individuals have yet been identified, though the Israeli media report that most of those being held in custody are “repeat offenders.” These arrests follow the detention of amnestied Hamas founder Sheikh Hassan Yousef (better known as the father of the Shin Bet’s former Hamas double agent Mosab Hassan Yousef).

Regarding that arrest, Defense Minister Ehud Barak had this to say, which reflects the Israeli government’s position on these most recent arrests:

Readiness is very high. We are determined to strike at those carrying out the attacks, to take action as much as possible to intercept the attack and we are reiterating that responsibility stems from the Gaza Strip. It is not just Islamic Jihad but also Hamas.

It looks like every player in this game is running out of options these days.

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

How Can a Junta Survive With a Weak Army?

Officially, the junta known as the SPLDC (State Peace and Development Council) no longer rules Burma. It was dissolved for the 2010 elections, in which Thein Sein was “elected” president and a veneer of democracy was applied to the country. But the military still rules. In Asia Times Online, Bertil Lintner writes about the expansion of Burma’s arms manufacturing.

Myanmar has embarked on a massive expansion of its military and military capabilities since the country was shaken by a nationwide pro-democracy uprising that almost toppled the regime in 1988. … Recent defectors from the Myanmar military say that the number of infantry battalions and other military units have been increased dramatically since 1988, but most of these are understaffed and the foot soldiers are often forcibly recruited, poorly paid and badly motivated [and] the troops, and even most of the officers, lack combat experience.

… Myanmar’s newly recruited infantry may lack combat experience, and the quality of the weapons produced in its defense industries may be of poor quality. … But it is clear that the Myanmar regime is in no hurry to change its priorities, as defense spending still accounts for as much as 50% of the central government’s budget.

In particular, those priorities are

… creating a loyal officer corps that the regime can depend on for its survival rather than building a professional fighting force. Regime survival has always been the main prerogative of Myanmar’s generals and thus a loyal and well-supplied officer corps is still of utmost importance, regardless of their weakness on the battlefield.

Obviously when a populace is as disempowered as Burma’s, the junta doesn’t need a strong army.

Saudis: “We’re Killing Too Many Civilians in Yemen? Then Give Us Drones”

Yemeni militants

Yemeni militants

Cross-posted from the Arabist.

U.S.-Saudi military cooperation in Yemen (which I reported on for The Arabist a few months ago) has not been without controversy. While the U.S. conducts its own drone strikes in Yemen against suspected al Qaeda targets and provides extensive funding, intelligence and training to government forces, it also provides satellite imagery to the Saudis, who conduct airstrikes and ground offensives against suspected al Qaeda targets and anti-government Shia militias. Given that much of the U.S.-Saudi joint effort has come in the form of airstrikes, many of the same objections regarding civilian casualties in Afghanistan and Pakistan have been raised over the air campaigns in Yemen. In February 2010, according to diplomatic cables from the U.S. embassy in Riyadh recently released by Wikileaks, the U.S. raised such objections with the Saudi Ministry of Defense, but was satisfied with their response to the matter and has continued supplying them with satellite data.

The Saudi military, never ones to pass up an opportunity to expand their capabilities, used the opportunity of a meeting with the U.S. Ambassador to suggest that “if we had the Predator, maybe we would not have this problem [of killing Yemeni civilians].”

“Obviously, some civilians died, though we wish that this did not happen,” Saudi Defense Minister Prince Khaled concluded, when the U.S. presented him with evidence that Saudi airstrikes were inaccurate and caused collateral damage to civilian facilities, such as medical clinics.

So despite U.S. concerns over civilian casualties, the defense minister’s assurances were stated to be sufficient to warrant continued cooperation in Yemen, much like the decision to provide Saddam Hussein with satellite imagery of Iranian positions during the Iran-Iraq War. Yemen’s domestic turmoil is viewed as a sideshow, an impediment, to the real purpose of Saudi and U.S. intervention. Like then, the Islamist specter is driving cooperation between the U.S. and an Arab government with a questionable human rights record. In the 1980s, it was Khomeinism. Today, it is al Qaeda. From Wikileaks:

[The] Ambassador met with Assistant Minister of Defense and Aviation Prince Khaled bin Sultan to relay U.S. concerns about sharing USG imagery with Saudi Arabia in light of evidence that Saudi aircraft may have struck civilian targets during its fighting with the Houthis in northern Yemen. Prince Khaled described the targeting decision-making process and while not denying that civilian targets might have been hit, gave unequivocal assurances that Saudi Arabia considered it a priority to avoid strikes against civilian targets. Based on the assurances received from Prince Khaled, the Ambassador has approved … the provision of USG [United States Government] imagery of the Yemeni border area to the Saudi Government.

Some examples of black comedy can be found in the Saudi explanation of their airstrikes in Yemen, particularly their growing reluctance to take everything President Saleh’s forces are telling them at face value:

There was one occasion when Saudi pilots aborted a strike, when they sensed something was wrong about the information they received from the Yemenis. It turned out that the site recommended to be hit was the headquarters of General Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar, the Yemeni northern area military commander, who is regarded as a political opponent to President Saleh. This incident prompted the Saudis to be more cautious about targeting recommendations from the Yemeni government.

Another classified cable from this period, discussing the opinion of the powerful Saudi Ministry of the Interior [MOI] on events in Yemen, evidences extreme frustration and disdain on the part of the Saudis towards the Yemenis (including their strongman, President Saleh):

The reality is that “everything failed,” and “repression is back,” exercised by political parties, tribes, the military and corruption. Today, “everything is for sale in Yemen, including loyalty.” Saudi Arabia believes that the reconciliation effort failed, in part because President Saleh’s opponents were largely excluded

MOI has concluded that Yemeni leaders are now playing a “survival game,” with no clear strategic plan to take Yemen into the 21st century. Instead, most of the government’s tactics seem focused on maintaining the status quo.

When even the Saudi government says that political exclusion is a problem, then it is indeed a problem. But, it is not the main problem. The main reason all of this galls the Saudis (and Americans) is that they see Yemen turning into a new Afghanistan because of Yemeni actions.

Still, President Saleh is one of the Saudis’ and Americans’ few viable choices for a southern ally, so the Saudis are not quite willing to hang him out to dry. And on a related note, while bemoaning Yemeni mendacity, the Saudi Ministry of the Interior simultaneously expressed optimism about the expansion of the U.S.-trained Facilities Security Force to provide military protection to critical Saudi infrastructure. Once a ceasefire in Yemen goes into effect, Prince Khaled told the U.S. Ambassador, “we can concentrate on Al-Qaida.”

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

China Forced to Temper Its Mercenary Approach to International Trade

China trades with authoritarian regimes, such as Burma, sells arms to human rights abusers, and exploits its own workforce. It seems determined to take the ethos of Western corporations – “ye who enter the marketplace, abandon all ethics” – to the next level. Recently though, called out for such behavior, it’s been forced to backtrack. Toronto’s Globe and Mail broke the story.

China offered huge stockpiles of weapons to Colonel Moammar Gadhafi during the final months of his regime, according to [showing] that state-controlled Chinese arms manufacturers were prepared to sell weapons and ammunition worth at least $200-million to the embattled Col. Gadhafi in late July, a violation of United Nations sanctions.

The Christian Science Monitor captures China backpedaling.

China has denied selling weapons to Muammar Qaddafi’s regime in violation of a UN embargo, but admits that Libyan officials did meet with Chinese arms manufacturers over the possibility of a sale.

China also felt compelled to withdraw from a trade agreement with Iran, which, of course, is under heavy U.S. sanctions. Reuters reports.

China has put the brakes on oil and gas investments in Iran, drawing ire from Tehran. … The slowing of China’s energy investments in Iran was prompted, at least partly, by Beijing’s efforts since late 2010 to ease tension with the Obama administration and cut the risk of Chinese oil firms being hit by U.S. sanctions that Congress has vigorously backed, said officials.

Maybe China’s recent prudence reflects a new policy. Xinhuanet reports on a white paper that the Chinese government just released. (Thanks to Bernhard of Moon of Alabama for bringing it to our attention.)

The white paper, titled “China’s Peaceful Development”, was released by the State Council Information Office. It introduces the path, objective and foreign policy of the peaceful development and elaborates on what China’s peaceful development means to the rest of the world. … The Chinese have a strong collective consciousness and sense of social responsibility. The paper says “we believe that ‘you should not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you.'”

… China has no reason to deviate from the path of peaceful development. China’s … national interests and its long-term interests — all these factors have created the innate force driving China’s peaceful development [which] has broken away from the traditional pattern where a rising power was bound to seek hegemony.

China gets a lot of mileage out of not having started any wars recently. But it’s about time it started factoring into its decisions the impact of its international trade policies on the world. China’s belief that business outranks all other considerations is extremely short-sighted, nor is it becoming of a world citizen.

To Whatever Extent Libya Is a Victory, It’s a Defeat for Nuclear Nonproliferation

However one might care to characterize the U.S.-NATO campaign in Libya, it’s another blow to worldwide nuclear nonproliferation. At the Christian Science Monitor, Reza Sanati writes:

The lesson is elementary. Eight years ago, Libya agreed to dismantle its infant nuclear program. … Would NATO have launched a bombing campaign against Libya if [it] had possessed nuclear weapons?

The United States set a precedent when it attacked Iraq in 2003. The door had been shut on Iraq’s attempts to develop nuclear weapons by the UN inspections regime known as UNSCOM (United Nations Special Commission). Which, of course, didn’t prevent George W. Bush’s administration from propping up the corpse of Iraq’s nuclear weapons program to justify its invasion.

Thus, adding insult to injury, not only did the U.S. attack a country without nuclear weapons, it conjured up the fiction that Iraq had renewed its program. This constituted a double blow to nonproliferation. What’s the point of a state disarming if it’s not only subjecting itself to attack, but leaving itself vulnerable to the possibility that a nuclear-weapons state might make the claim that, in fact, it hasn’t disarmed?

Of course, if Saddam Hussein, in the interests of regional security as he saw it, hadn’t tried to keep up the pretense that Iraq still possessed a nuclear weapons program, the accusations about its program might never have been mounted. What’s worrisome today is that Iran’s contentiousness makes it ripe for exactly that sort of double crossing.

More from Sanati:

Qaddafi’s forceful downfall will make acquiring nuclear weapons all the more justifiable to states that feel threatened by outsiders. In turn, that will erode the vision of nonproliferation that held such promise in the post-cold-war era.

Furthermore, while Iraq and Libya were attacked, “troublesome nuclear-armed states such as North Korea and Pakistan have not been attacked since they acquired the bomb. They’ve also garnered multilayered benefits from the international community.” In other words, Sanati eloquently writes:

The threat or reality of military intervention against nonnuclear states … at times done to dissuade them from acquiring nuclear capability, can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy.

By which he means that those states might seek to develop nuclear weapons. In fact, the United States would be better served if it paid more than lip service to the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty’s Article VI, which reads: “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament.”

Nuclear-weapons advocates sometimes claim that Article VI is lip service itself. They maintain that Article VI does not actually require states party (aka signatories) to negotiate said “treaty on general and complete disarmament” into actual existence. They’re only required “to negotiate in good faith” to that eventual end. That’s despite an advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice in 1996 which maintained: “There exists an obligation to … bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament.”

In any event, non-nuclear-weapon states, especially those that belong to NAM (the Non-Aligned Movement) delight in throwing Article VI back in the faces of the nuclear weapons states. Failure on the part of nuclear-weapon states to take substantive disarmament measures, they claim, only allows states that aspire to nuclear weapons to justify their needs as they see them. But nuclear-weapons advocates believe that western leadership on disarmament would not only do nothing to discourage states that aspire to nuclear weapons but might even encourage them. Nevertheless, even though it might not produce immediate results, there’s really nothing for it but to deprive states that aspire to nuclear weapons of justification.

For its part, though, the United States will probably stick to the status quo. A token treaty like New START while it commits $85 billion to its nuclear weapons program over the next decade. Continuing to contain Iran and North Korea’s nuclear programs with sanctions and incentives respectively.

Furthermore, the United States may comfort itself with the knowledge that the state of surveillance today makes it possible to detect nuclear programs in their infancy and cut them off at the root. How, though, is another matter. While Israel got away with its 2007 airstrike on an alleged undeclared reactor in Syria, just as it did in 1981 with Iraq’s Osirak reactor, the odds of arriving at an international consensus on an attack on, say, Burma, are slim to none.

As long as the United States continues to cultivate a thriving nuclear-weapons program, states that aspire to nuclear weapons — whether or not the effect of our disarmament on them is salutary or not — can continue to use ours to justify growing them in their own defense garden.

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