Focal Points Blog

WikiLeaks XVII: Nigerian Extortion Butts Up Against Pfizer Blackmail

We’re honored to have Michael Busch dissecting the latest WikiLeaks document dump for Focal Points. This is the seventeenth in the series.

A brief, but interesting, cable released by WikiLeaks on Thursday offers some insight into how international pharamaceutical company Pfizer conducts itself in legal business overseas. The embassy dispatch from the Nigerian capital Abuja describes a meeting between US diplomats, two Pfizer lawyers, Joe Petrosinelli and Atiba Adams, and the company’s country director Enrico Liggeri.

The meeting had been arranged to discuss the condition of a lawsuit that had been brought against the drug giant by the Nigerian government. At issue were the allegedly harmful results of medical tests conducted by the company on Nigerian children living in the state of Kano during a meningitis outbreak in 1996. The company had administered an antibiotic, Trovan, to children throughout the state during the epidemic, a drug authorities claim produced adverse effects in those to whom it had been given

According to the cable, the pharma reps met with American officials on April 2 of last year where the lawyer Petrosinelli reported that

Pfizer has agreed to the Kano State Attorney General’s (AG) settlement offer of $75 million, including a $10 million payment for legal fees, $30 million to the Kano State government, and $35 million for the participants and families.

The Pfizer officials presented their concerns to the American embassy that they were unwilling to issue damage payments in lump sums to Nigerian authorities for fear that the money would be lost through corrupt channels. The cable reports that

Pfizer is concerned with transparency issues and is pushing for a $35 million trust fund for the participants to be administered by a neutral third party and the remaining $30 million to be used for improving health care in Kano state. Pfizer underscored that the Nigerian representatives were pushing for lump sum checks and Pfizer will not agree to that. Pfizer is considering rebuilding Kano’s Infectious Disease Hospital where the trial was conducted and working with health care nongovernmental organizations. Adams suggested that the trust fund for participants be administered by a neutral third party because he expects “additional” participants to come forward after they hear about the settlement. The Ambassador suggested Pfizer work with NGOs already working in Kano State and for Pfizer to consider working with local NGO implementing partners that the USG has used because of their transparency record.

Given Nigeria’s less than sterling record on issues of transparency, the concern seems entirely warranted. But as the dispatch develops, it soon becomes apparent that Pfizer isn’t exactly acting out of good faith itself. In fact, the cable discusses the company’s efforts to blackmail Kona’s attorney general, Michael Aondoakaa, in order to pressure him to drop the case.

Liggeri said Pfizer was not happy settling the case, but had come to the conclusion that the $75 million figure was reasonable because the suits had been ongoing for many years costing Pfizer more than $15 million a year in legal and investigative fees. According to Liggeri, Pfizer had hired investigators to uncover corruption links to Federal Attorney General Michael Aondoakaa to expose him and put pressure on him to drop the federal cases. He said Pfizer’s investigators were passing this information to local media, XXXXXXXXXXXX. A series of damaging articles detailing Aondoakaa’s “alleged” corruption ties were published in February and March. Liggeri contended that Pfizer had much more damaging information on Aondoakaa and that Aondoakaa’s cronies were pressuring him to drop the suit for fear of further negative articles.

The Guardian contacted both Aondoakaa and Pfizer for comment. For its part, Pfizer stuck to its guns, issuing a very lawyerly comment:

The Trovan cases brought by both the federal government of Nigeria and Kano state were resolved in 2009 by mutual agreement. Pfizer negotiated the settlement with the federal government of Nigeria in good faith and its conduct in reaching that agreement was proper. Although Pfizer has not seen any documents from the US embassy in Nigeria regarding the federal government cases, the statements purportedly contained in such documents are completely false.

As previously disclosed in Pfizer’s 10-Q filing in November 2009, per the agreement with the federal government, Nigeria dismissed its civil and criminal actions against the company. Pfizer denied any wrongdoing or liability in connection with the 1996 study. The company agreed to pay the legal fees and expenses incurred by the federal government associated with the Trovan litigation. Pursuant to the settlement, payment was made to the federal government’s counsel of record in the case, and there was no payment made to the federal government of Nigeria itself. As is common practice, the agreement was covered by a standard confidentiality clause agreed to by both parties.

Aondoakaa, on the other hand, responded with shock. He noted that he couldn’t fathom the possibility that Pfizer would resort to such underhanded tactics in its legal wrangling with Nigeria, but pointed out that “For them to have done that is a very serious thing. I became a target of a multinational: you are supposed to have sympathy with me … If it is true, maybe I will take legal action.” Hmmmm. It will be interesting to see just what legal action Aondoakaa might take, seeing as he was removed from his post earlier this year by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan.

There’s Light at the End of the Tunnel — or, It’s Deja Vu All Over Again

“We have now cleared and held a great deal of insurgent-held territory that the insurgents have never lost in.”
– Col. Art Kandarian, a brigade commander with the 101st Airborne Division

So . . . let me get this straight. The new metric for success in a COIN environment is to clear and hold ground?

Gosh, what’s next? Strategic hamlets? The Maginot Line? Pikes and crossbows?

And this is what secdef describes as progress that has exceeded his expectations?

A friend of mine has a T shirt I love. It says

Southeast Asia War Games
1959 – 1975

SECOND PLACE

Drop ‘east’, change the date, and you have a franchise.

Anybody got a screen printer I can borrow?

Fireground Rules, Part 2: A Scheme is Not a Vision

Wildfire Israel(Pictured, wildfire reaches a main road in Ein Hod, Israel on December 4.)

Someone asked me after an earlier FPIF post (Fireground Rules, Part 1) why I use so many firefighting analogies to explore foreign policy / security issues. The answer is simple.

It was wildland firefighting that started me studying complexity science. Because other than global weather (and bipedal hominid groups!) I think wildfire is the most complex natural phenomenon around. Like Mongol cavalry, it’s fast, mobile, dynamic and fierce. The interplay of dozens of factors, and millions of variations in each, can generate manifestly different outcomes.

Also, to a fire, you and your crew are just another fuel type. It’s not personal, but given the opportunity, it will kill you. So dancing with it calls for some serious agility and adaptiveness, and a different way of thinking – which I would hope someday to see in US foreign policy.

Long before David Petraeus and the FM 3-24 COIN manual called for teaching warfighters how to think, rather than what to think, fireground commanders were developing algorithms to keep their crews alive while taking down the beast. To be effective, they had to be relatively simple, allow wide latitude in behaviors and responses of leadership and crews, and continuously update.

Here’s another example. We called it the ICG – Incident Commander’s Guidelines. It’s a simple decision tree that works in a variety of emergency response situations, whether wildland, structure, mass casualty, hazmat or rescue. In my experience, it works pretty well in non-emergency situations, too, not least organizational leadership.

  1. Visualize Desired Future State
  2. Gather Companions (no ‘freelancing’– you always go as a team!)
  3. Identify Objectives
  4. Prioritize Objectives
  5. Base Assignments on Priorities
  6. Allocate Resources based on Assignments
  7. Ensure Communications
  8. Follow Up

Now, in the fire biz, some of this is pretty simple. The vision is typically not much more complex than, ‘No one gets hurt and the fire goes out with minimal damage to the environment.’ But it does drive all the other decisions on down the line.

So when we wonder how, for example, Iraq or Afghanistan got to be the total clusters they are, the fireground analysis is pretty simple – No one knew what the desired future state was! And if you don’t know what it is, you can’t bring it forward. Or as songwriter Bruce Cockburn put it so well, ‘In the absence of a vision there are nightmares.’

The rest of the list is simply a handy way to prosecute the effort of achieving that desired outcome / future state. But do you notice any other major gaps when it’s applied to IrAfPak? I would argue pretty much all of them.

Because the US didn’t know – and so couldn’t articulate – what it envisioned, it couldn’t

  • gain the wholehearted participation and support of allies
  • determine or prioritize intelligent, achievable objectives
  • commit appropriate force levels
  • allocate personnel properly
  • provide adequate equipment
  • get all the appropriate people talking to each other
  • or even decide if what they were doing was working

That, sports fans, is how you get ‘burned over’.

If the US hopes to accomplish anything positive with its foreign (and domestic) policy, it needs to start every proposed endeavor at Number 1 on the ICG, and genuinely answer that question – what do we envision as our Desired Future State?

If the answer is a good one – such as liberty and justice for all – it won’t have trouble selling the idea to congress, the American people, and even those citizens at the receiving end.

If the answer is a bad one – such as greater hegemony or another Halliburton contract – don’t even start. It’s gonna end ugly.

And thanks to singer / songwriter Leonard Cohen for the line, ‘A scheme is not a vision.’

WikiLeaks XVI: Cancun — From a Combustible Regional Summit to a Lacklustre Climate Conference

We’re honored to have Michael Busch dissecting the latest WikiLeaks document dump for Focal Points. This is the sixteenth in the series.

Reading through the Latin American cache of recently released WikiLeaks dispatches, it’s hard not to feel a little sorry for Mexican president Felipe Calderon. Not only are things looking grim on the home front, according to a cable dating from earlier in the year, the Mexican government can’t even get it together to host a conference of regional leaders that doesn’t break down into failure.

In February, Calderon gathered Latin American heads of state in Cancun to hammer out a regional initiative to promote greater unity among the neighboring countries. But instead of harmony, Calderon nearly got a fistfight between Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

According to the cable, things were doomed from the jump:

Notwithstanding President Calderon’s best intentions to create a more practical regional forum for regionally dealing with Latin American priorities (ref A), Mexico’s Latin American Unity summit in the tourist resort of Cancun (22-23 February) was poorly conceived, inadequately managed, and badly executed.

Already at the ceremonial opening on Monday (22 February) it was clear that things were not going well… The low point of the meeting was the verbal exchange between Uribe and Chavez at the opening day official lunch. Uribe raised Venezuela’s economic embargo on Colombia, terming it unhelpful and inconsistent with the region’s economic interest and at odds with Venezuela’s strong criticism of the U.S. Embargo on Cuba. Colombia’s Ambassador in Mexico, Luis Camilo Osorio, told the polmincouns [politicians, ministers, counselors? -- RW] that, contrary to press accounts, Uribe raised the issue in a non-confrontational way. According to Osorio and press accounts, Chavez reacted emotionally accusing Colombia of having sent assassination squads to kill him and ended a verbal and physical tirade with “You can go to hell; I am leaving (the lunch).” Uribe responded, “Don’t be a coward and leave just to insult me from a distance.” Verbal and body language continued to escalate, until Raul Castro stepped in to urge civilized discussion. Outside of the dining room, Venezuelan security officials were scuffling with Mexican security guards in an attempt to assist their President.

Needless to say, American observers weren’t alone in thinking the forum a failure. Osorio shared his quick analysis of the gathering, referring to it as the “worst expression of Banana Republic discourse that blames all of the regions problems on others without any practical solutions of their own.”

Of course, the Colombian ambassador to Mexico was quick to make clear that his country was not part of the problem, but instead had only tried to provide solutions.

Osorio said the Colombians had proposed working jointly on a concrete agenda during Calderon’s recent visit to Colombia. The Mexicans, he said, were not interested, confident that they had everything under control. Osorio opined that “Calderon had simply put a bunch of the worst types together in a room, expecting to outsmart them. Instead, Brazil outplayed him completely, and Venezuela outplayed Brazil.” There was no practical planning, there was no management of the agenda, and there was none of the legwork that would have been needed to yield a practical and useful outcome.

The cable sums things up by noting that

Notwithstanding President Calderon’s best intentions to create a more practical regional forum for regionally dealing with Latin American priorities (ref A), Mexico’s Latin American Unity summit in the tourist resort of Cancun (22-23 February) was poorly conceived, inadequately managed, and badly executed.

Worse still,

The Cancun Latin American Unity Summit was not an example of a new and bold step into the future but rather a reminder of Mexico’s at times conflicting message on how it sees the future of the region and Mexico’s role as one of its leaders.

Not exactly inspiring news, especially in light of another, far more important set of negotiations currently underway in Cancun. This week, high-level governmental representatives are arriving in the resort city to salvage a climate deal from the wreckage of last winter’s disastrous negotiations in Copenhagen. It won’t be easy.

According to the Economist, the Cancun gathering will be

much less dramatic, less heated and less pressured than the ill-tempered snowy confusion of Copenhagen. Which is exactly what the Mexicans, as hosts of the conference, have been aiming for and what most of the assembled countries want. The idea is to show that progress within the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is still possible.

The problem is that it may not be. Copenhagen, judged a failure in many ways, was a success in its fudging of a particularly thorny issue: the future of the Kyoto protocol, which commits most developed countries to specific reductions in their greenhouse gas emissions.

Beyond that, there are other difficulties as well. “Other potentially irresolvable arguments” include the fact that

America wants its pledges to be written down in the same language as those made by China, while China wants America to make commitments that are more binding than its own. But most of these arguments could be kicked down the road a bit. An agreement on making commitments binding in the future, in ways as yet to be fully resolved, might serve as offering a sufficient sense of progress. But the battle lines on Kyoto seem sufficiently stark to make such an approach very hard on this particular disagreement.

At the same time, however, there’s a bit of good news. The summit’s hosts have delegated responsibility for herding the various cats on this issue to more effectively positioned negotiators. Reports The Economist,

The Mexican foreign minister, Patricia Espinosa, who is president of the conference, has asked Brazil’s environment minister, Izabella Teixeira, and Britain’s secretary of state for energy and climate change, Chris Huhne, to talk to the various major players and look for a solution.

But while Britain and Brazil may keep another brawl from breaking out in Cancun, it’s far less clear that they’ll convince countries like China and the United States their short-term policy interests are far less important than saving succeeding generations from the scourge of environmental destruction.

Disarmament and Nonproliferation: Which Is the Cart, Which Is the Horse?

Recently, Dr. Christopher Ford of the Hudson Institute wrote a post, the title of which expressing a conflict, hitherto unnoticed by most: Disarmament Versus Nonproliferation. It begins:

For those who are believers in what I call the “credibility thesis” — that is, the idea that a lack of progress in demonstrating disarmament “credibility” is the main “missing ingredient” that has helped ensure that the post-Cold War world has seen so little progress in preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons — this must have been a disheartening year. To hear its adherents tell the story over the years, bringing great numbers of countries together in a strong united front against proliferation only awaited a long-overdue commitment by the nuclear weapons states, and above all, the United States, to move more rapidly to abolish nuclear weapons. [It doesn't look much like we're turning too much of a corner as a result of our disarmament-friendly rhetoric.

I responded in a post titled Are Nonproliferation and Disarmam, which beginsent, Once Joined at the Hip, Headed for Divorce?:

In the words of the old Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen song, as made famous by Frank Sinatra, nonproliferation and disarmament, like love and marriage, "go together like a horse and carriage." Nonproliferation -- preventing states that don't currently possess nuclear weapons -- works in tandem with disarmament -- states with nuclear weapons divesting themselves of same. "You can't have one without the other." Right?

After all -- continuing with the musical metaphor -- that's how the refrain goes in that old strain of a treaty, the NPT (nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty). Let's all sing the sixth stanza (aka, article) together: "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 under strict and effective international control." (Actually, it would probably require a good rapper to do it justice.)

Yet many maintain that Article VI does not, in fact, commit nuclear-weapons states to a long-term divestment of those weapons. Christopher Ford of the Hudson Institute outlined this position as well as anybody in a Nonproliferation Review article that he wrote shortly after he left the Bush administration as its lead negotiator on the NPT. Negotiations toward that end in themselves, he wrote, are sufficient for a state to be in compliance with Article VI.

Chris Ford responded to my article with A Nonproliferation and Disarmament Colloquy on his website New Paradigms Forum:

Russ Wellen is a thoughtful and attentive reader, and his view of the inseparability of nonproliferation and disarmament is widely shared. To make sure my position is understood, however, let me make three clarifications.

First, just for the record, let me make clear that my position on Article VI of the NPT is that while the text of that article clearly requires that we try in good faith to bring about disarmament through negotiations, it does not impose any concrete disarmament obligations (e.g., that such negotiations actually succeed, or that any unilateral steps be taken). During the negotiation of the NPT, repeated attempts were made to insert just such concrete requirements into the Treaty, but they all failed to win adoption. One might bemoan this, of course, but one cannot deny it.

There is today a widespread political expectation that the nuclear weapons states need to do more on disarmament, but it is a mistake to read this as a legal requirement. I do not defend disarmament inaction, and indeed there has not been disarmament inaction. (The United States, for instance, has so far decommissioned four weapons out of every five it had at the end of the Cold War, and we even run our civilian nuclear power plants partly on uranium downblended from Soviet nuclear weapons.) My point about Article VI was merely that we confuse the issue by pretending that this is a legal and not simply a policy challenge. It is understandably tempting for disarmament advocates to deploy the argumentative weight of "legal" obligations in support of their agenda, but this isn't very good lawyering.

Second, I'd caution the reader not to be too dismissive of President Obama's nuclear weapons infrastructure modernization plan, which Russ contemptuously describes as "an ingenious force multiplier for our hypocrisy." I am not -- shall we say -- the most practiced or comfortable defender of the Obama Administration's agenda, but it bears emphasis that if there is a feasible road toward a global nuclear "zero," our travel down that path needs to include sensible nuclear weapons stewardship during the period prior to abolition. And even according to the optimists, this might be quite a while. (As Obama noted in his Prague speech in April 2009, abolition is not likely to take place in his lifetime -- and he's not an old geezer, either.) Until then, we have a responsibility not to be foolish in weapons management.

For so long as we retain nuclear weapons and rely to any extent upon them for strategic deterrence, for instance, we need to make sure such devices remain safe and reliable. Unless Russ wants us to resume underground nuclear testing -- and to a great extent even then -- this will entail maintaining quite a robust and well-funded weapons laboratory infrastructure for years to come. Having a weapons complex capable of producing new weapons should the threat environment "go south," as the saying goes, is also important to disarmament progress, for such productive capacity will allow us to reduce stockpile numbers by shifting from strategic "hedging" based upon warheads-in-being -- on the shelf, as it were, in our reserve stockpile -- to hedging based merely upon potential warheads. (This process is already underway, as we pointed out during the Bush Administration, and which Obama officials emphasize frequently today.) In fact, a failure to fund the laboratory infrastructure needed for these various purposes might well impede U.S. reductions, not to mention ratification of future treaties.

It's certainly somewhat counterintuitive that U.S. weapons complex modernization is a key to moving forward more quickly and sustainably on disarmament -- but it is true nonetheless. This is why so many "hawks" and "doves" in the U.S. policy community tend to support Obama's modernization plans, with the former being distinguished merely by concern that the president's plan provides insufficient funding. The idea of modernization -- which has its origins in President Clinton's support for the U.S. weapons labs in the name of "stockpile stewardship" and in connection with negotiating the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty -- is well-nigh a bipartisan consensus in mainstream political Washington.

Third, and for present purposes most importantly, let me stress that I actually do not think disarmament and nonproliferation are unrelated. It's just that precisely how they are related is extremely important.

I would be the first to argue, for instance, that disarmament and nonproliferation are indeed linked in one specific sense: in that a failure to stop the spread of nuclear weapons capabilities would destroy whatever hope there may otherwise have been for nuclear disarmament. It is inconceivable that anyone would (or should) take disarmament seriously if the international community cannot demonstrate its ability to stop nuclear weaponry from spreading. (If we cannot stop today's hemorrhaging, there's no point in worrying about tomorrow's recovery program.) So "linkage," at least in this sense, is quite real: unchecked proliferation is a showstopper for complete disarmament.

I am more skeptical, however, about linkage in the other direction: the oft-expressed idea that our failure to contain proliferation is due to a failure to demonstrate more of a commitment to rapid disarmament -- and that if such a commitment were to appear, we would finally be able to bring today's proliferation challenges under control. This variety of linkage may have been plausible at some point, but it doesn't seem to be supported by the evidence, despite earnest U.S. (and other) efforts to operationalize it. Despite the vast reductions in U.S. and Russian arsenals since the end of the Cold War, and despite the recent Nobel Prize-winning U.S. enthusiasm for disarmament, the proliferation situation is worsening, not improving.

I worry about Russ' lack of concern over disarmament's inability to discourage proliferation. He says this failure is "immaterial." I find this hard to credit, however, because as I have noted, if proliferation cannot be stopped, one can be quite sure that we will never see the complete disarmament for which Russ so earnestly hopes.

Perhaps Russ means to suggest that the United States should abandon nuclear weapons even if other states continue to acquire them, but I think that position would be difficult to defend -- especially over the longer term, when we cannot ensure that we will continue to enjoy today's pronounced superiority in conventional arms. At any rate, such a position would speak only to the issue of whether and to what degree we should engage in unilateral reductions: by definition, to speak of such a world would entail the abandonment of ambitions for nuclear weapons abolition.

Alternatively, perhaps Russ means that disarmament's failure to support nonproliferation is "immaterial" in the sense that there may be some way to stop proliferation by other means, even though continuing disarmament has no effect upon proliferation dynamics. I certainly hope that there is some such way, for we shall need it.

Russ Wellen responds:

As usual, Chris, with his experience with U.S. nuclear weapons policy and his knowledge of its history, provides me with material to which I'd never before been exposed. For example, he writes (emphasis added):

It's certainly somewhat counterintuitive that U.S. weapons complex modernization is a key to moving forward more quickly and sustainably on disarmament -- but it is true nonetheless. [And before that] Having a weapons complex capable of producing new weapons should the threat environment go south, as the saying goes, is also important to disarmament progress, for such productive capacity will allow us to reduce stockpile numbers by shifting from strategic hedging based upon warheads-in-being on the shelf, as it were, in our reserve stockpile to hedging based merely upon potential warheads. . . . In fact, a failure to fund the laboratory infrastructure needed for these various purposes might well impede U.S. reductions, not to mention ratification of future treaties.

It hadn’t occurred to me that funding the laboratory infrastructure and maintaining productive capacity might be critical steps to “hedging based merely upon potential warheads.” Though the outcome would be a disarmament milestone, personally I’m constitutionally incapable of supporting the process, but concede it might work. Another example:

I would be the first to argue, for instance, that disarmament and nonproliferation are indeed linked in one specific sense: in that a failure to stop the spread of nuclear weapons capabilities would destroy whatever hope there may otherwise have been for nuclear disarmament. It is inconceivable that anyone would (or should) take disarmament seriously if the international community cannot demonstrate its ability to stop nuclear weaponry from spreading. . . . unchecked proliferation is a showstopper for complete disarmament.

Most who prefer nonproliferation as the lead dog to disarmament instead of disarmament itself tend to ignore the elemental concerns — “It’s just not fair” — of states that aspire to develop nuclear-weapons programs. The unstated assumption seems to be: “We’re rational and you’re not.” Chris, however, acknowledges the concerns of other states (presumably including the nuclear-aspirational). But he holds that among them is: “It is inconceivable that anyone would (or should) take disarmament seriously if the international community cannot demonstrate its ability to stop nuclear weaponry from spreading.”

In the future, I will need to account for these ideas in order to continue to make the case for disarmament Again, thanks for bringing them to our attention, Chris.

WikiLeaks Reveals U.S. Twisted Ethiopia’s Arm to Invade Somalia

By mid 2007, the 50,000 Ethiopian troops that invaded Somalia in late 2006 found themselves increasingly bogged down, facing much fiercer resistance than they had bargained for as Somalis of all stripes temporarily put aside their differences to stand together against the outside invader.

As the military incursion turned increasingly sour, then US Under Secretary of State for Africa, Jendayi Frazer, who taught at the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies in the 1990s, insisted that, prior to the invasion, the United States had counseled caution and that Washington had warned Ethiopia not to use military force against Somalia. Frazer was a close collaborator with former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, for whom there also is a strong University of Denver connection. Frazer certainly tried to distance the United States from responsibility for the Ethiopian invasion in a number of interviews she gave to the media at the time.

But one of the released WikiLeaks cables, suggests a different picture, one that implicates Frazer in pressing Ethiopia’s President Meles Zenawi to invade its neighbor. The content of the cable is being widely discussed in the African media. It exposes a secret deal cut between the United States and Ethiopia to invade Somalia.

If accurate — and there is no reason to believe the contrary — the cable suggests that Ethiopia had no intention of invading Somalia in 2006 but was encouraged/pressured to do so by the United States which pushed Ethiopia behind the scenes. Already bogged down in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at the time, the Bush Administration pushed Ethiopia to invade Somalia with an eye on crushing the Union of Islamic Courts, which was gaining strength in Somalia at the time.

At the time of the invasion there was little doubt that the Ethiopian military incursion was “made in Washington.” Like so many other WikiLeaks cables, this one merely puts a dot on the “i” or crosses the “t” on what was generally known, although it does give specific information about Jendayi Frazer’s deep involvement in the affair.

According to the cable, as the main U.S. State Department representative in Africa, Frazer played a key role, spearheading what amounted to a U.S.-led proxy war in conjunction with the Pentagon. At the same time that she was pushing the Ethiopians to attack, Frazer was laying the groundwork both for the attack in the U.S. media and for a cover-up, by claiming that although the United States did not support Ethiopian military action, she could understand “the Somali threat” and why Ethiopia might find it necessary to go to war.

Frazer spread rumors of a possible jihadist takeover in Somalia that would threaten Ethiopian security. Turns out that media performance was little more than a smokescreen. The U.S. military had been preparing Ethiopia for the invasion, providing military aid and training Ethiopian troops. Then on December 4, 2006, CENTCOM Commander, General John Abizaid was in Addis Ababa on what was described as “a courtesy call.” Instead, the plans for the invasion were finalized.

At the time of the Somali invasion, Zenawi found himself in trouble. He was facing growing criticism for the wave of repression he had unleashed against domestic Ethiopian critics of his rule that had included mass arrests, the massacres of hundreds of protesters and the jailing of virtually all the country’s opposition leaders. By the spring of 2006 there was a bill before the U.S. Congress to cut off aid to Zenawi unless Ethiopia’s human rights record improved. (His human rights record, by the way, has not improved since. Given how the United States and NATO view Ethiopia’s strategic role in the “war on terrorism” and the scramble for African mineral and energy resources, Western support for Zenawi has only increased in recent years).

In 2006, dependent on U.S. support to maintain power in face of a shrinking political base at home — a situation many U.S. allies in the Third World find themselves — and against his better judgement, Zenawi apparently caved to Frazer’s pressure. Nor was this the first time that Frazer had tried to instigate a U.S. proxy war in Africa. Earlier as U.S. ambassador to South Africa, she had tried to put together a “coalition of the willing” to overthrow Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe, an initiative that did not sit so well with South Africa’s post-apartheid government and went nowhere.

The 2006 war in Somalia did not go well either for the United States or Ethiopia. Recently a State Department spokesperson, Donald Yamamoto, admitted that the whole idea was “a big mistake,” obliquely admitting U.S. responsibility for the invasion. It resulted in 20,000 deaths and according to some reports, left up to 2 million Somalis homeless. The 50,000 Ethiopian invasion force, which had expected a cake walk, instead ran into a buzz saw of Somali resistance, got bogged down and soon withdrew with its tail between its legs. The political result of the invasion was predictable: the generally more moderate Union of Islamic Courts was weakened, but it was soon replaced in Somalia by far more radical and militant Islamic groups with a more openly anti-American agenda.

As the situation deteriorated, in an attempt to cover both the U.S. and her own role, Frazer then turned on Zenawi, trying to distance herself from fiasco using an old and tried diplomatic trick: outright lying. Now that the invasion had turned sour, she changed her tune, arguing in the media, that both she and the State Department had tried to hold back the Ethiopians, discouraging them from invading rather than pushing them to attack. The WikiLeaks cable tells quite a different story. In 2009, the Ethiopian forces withdrew, leaving Somalia in a bigger mess and more unstable than when their troops went in three years prior. Seems to be a pattern here?

Rob Prince is the publisher of the Colorado Progressive Jewish News.

WikiLeaks XV: Does Tehran Really Press-Gang Ninjas Into Its Services?

We’re honored to have Michael Busch dissecting the latest WikiLeaks document dump for Focal Points. This is the fifteenth in the series.

Amidst some pretty stiff competition, the award for most provocative cable headline released thus far by WikiLeaks goes to United States embassy in Baku. Entitled “Iran: Ninja Black Belt Master Details Use of Martial Arts Clubs for Repression,” the dispatch dating from September of last year reports rumors that the regime of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has pressed martial arts experts into service to help the country’s security forces put down public dissent.

According to the cable

a licensed martial arts coach and trainer xxxxxxxxxxxx, told Baku Iran watcher that private martial arts clubs and their managers are under intense pressure to cooperate with Iranian intelligence and Revolutionary Guard organizations, both in training members and in working as “enforcers” in repression of protests and politically motivated killings

Interestingly, the cable conveys news that

Iranian internal security forces are highly suspicious of these clubs as potential vehicles for organization and “combat” training of future protesters and regime opponents. Nonetheless, he asserted that their main motivation is seeking to control these clubs is less driven by such fears as by a desire to deploy their trained membership at will for “special tasks.” According to xxxxxxxxxxxx these tasks range from providing martial arts training to Revolutionary Guard members and Basij, assistance in protest repression, intimidation, and crowd control, to political killings. He observed that use of these clubs and their members provides the security forces with “plausible deniability” for dirty undertakings, as well as trained fighters and potential trainers.

Apparently, security forces have had some success in rounding up ninjas to do their dirty work. The source that provides the information claims that

he personally knew one such martial arts master whom he said was used by the Intelligence service to murder at least six different individuals over the course of several months in xxxxxxxxxxxx said that the victims included intellectuals and young “pro-democracy activists,” adding that his assassin acquaintance was ultimately “suicided” by the authorities (i.e., killed in what was subsequently labeled a suicide).

If this story seems like the work of a fanciful imagination, think again. Indeed, if it’s true that the current regime in Tehran is using martial arts experts as assassins, it wouldn’t be without precedent. The cable’s author, Donald Lu, notes that

A xxxxxxxxxxxx student recently echoed some of xxxxxxxxxxxx story, noting that xxxxxxxxxxxx could only be held at night as during the daytime his instructors are “required to train the Revolutionary Guard.” The use of martial arts clubs members as political enforcers/repressors existed under the Shah, and, according to sources, exists today in several neighboring countries, including the Republic of Azerbaijan.

While Daniel Schulman over at Mother Jones seems to think that this crew of Iranian ninjas is pretty badass (and he’s got a video to support his case), I’m not convinced. By the end of the cable, they’re described as being pragmatic to the point of timidity.

Discussing the elections of 2009, the cable reports that

On the topic of xxxxxxxxxxxx post-election protest activities, xxxxxxxxxxxx said that almost everyone he knew voted for Moussavi, and was angered by the fabricated result. However, he claimed that there was considerable reluctance to turn to the streets once serious repression began. He said that xxxxxxxxxxxx are “very pragmatic”; while not afraid of protesting per se, they will only do so in favor of a tangible end result that they feel is clearly in their interest. He asserted that xxxxxxxxxxxx saw the election and subsequent fallout as a power struggle within the Tehran regime which had little to do with them or their felt interests. “People see it as an issue for Tehranis,” he said, and are “reluctant to risk their necks” unless/until they feel that real regional policy changes are achievable.”

Beyond the snark that this cable will surely generate, one has to ask oneself just how strong Iran’s supposedly fearsome Revolutionary Guard is if they are both fearful of local karate clubs and reliant on them for training and assistance. With the Guard’s elite Qods force largely scattered around the world supposedly working in the shadows to further regime interest abroad, could it be that country’s domestic security forces are in fact weaker than we might have otherwise thought?

Assange’s Arrest: Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop

Yesterday, in the Globe and Mail, Doug Saunders wrote: “At the centre of a tightening web of death threats, sex-crime accusations and high-level demands for a treason trial, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange threatened to unleash a ‘thermonuclear device’ of completely unexpurgated government files if he is forced to appear before authorities. Mr. Assange . . . has referred to the huge, unfiltered document as his ‘insurance policy.”’

Events are accelerating. The New York Times reports: “Police in Britain arrested Julian Assange on Tuesday on a Swedish warrant issued in connection with alleged sex offenses, British police officials said.”

About the “insurance policy”: “‘Over 100,000 people’ were given the entire archive of 251,287 cables in encrypted form, Mr. Assange said on Friday.”

That’s some serious proliferation of his “thermonuclear device.” Doesn’t that constitute the famous ticking time bomb scenario? Let’s torture him. (Kidding, kidding.) In fact, do Focal Points readers think Assange is within his rights — ethically anyway — to pursue that course of action? Do you see it as personal revenge or a measure to protect WikiLeaks? Might it endanger lives as his previous document dumps, despite the fears that have been hyped, don’t seem to have yet?

Anyway, Assange has already begun to counter-escalate:

Perhaps in a warning shot of sorts, WikiLeaks on Monday released a cable from early last year listing sites around the world — from hydroelectric dams in Canada to vaccine factories in Denmark — that are considered crucial to American national security.

Nearly all the facilities listed in the document, including undersea cables, oil pipelines and power plants, could be identified by Internet searches. But the disclosure prompted headlines in Europe and a new denunciation from the State Department, which said in a statement that “releasing such information amounts to giving a targeting list to groups like Al Qaeda.”

We’ll have to wait to see if it’s the indictment, trial, or verdict which will occasion the leak of the rest of the documents — and they are legion. The Times again:

. . . as of Monday night the group had released fewer than 1,000 of the quarter-million State Department cables it had obtained.

WikiLeaks Western Sahara Cables Reveal Role of Ideology in State Dept.

Over the years, as part of my academic research, I have spent many hours at the National Archives poring over diplomatic cables of the kind recently released in Wikileaks. The only difference is that rather than being released after a 30+ year waiting period – when the principals involved are presumably dead or in retirement and the countries in question have very different governments in power – the Wikileaks are a lot more recent, more relevant and, in some cases, more embarrassing as a result.

However, those of us who have actually read such cables over the years find nothing in them particularly unusual or surprising. Indeed, the only people who would be surprised or shocked by what has been released in the recent dump of diplomatic cables are those who have a naïve view that the U.S. foreign policy is not about empire but about freedom, democracy, international law, and mutually-respectful relationships between sovereign nations. There is little indication that the foreign governments in question are particularly surprised at any of the content in these cables either.

It would be a mistake, however, to assume the interpretations of events by State Department personnel contained in these documents are accurate reflections of reality. While many career Foreign Service officers are sincere and dedicated people, the nature of their role forces them to see the world from inside the prism of a hegemonic power. They cannot expect to have a more enlightened view of developments within a Middle Eastern state than, for example, a representative of the British Foreign Office would have had a century earlier.

For my doctoral dissertation on what motivated U.S. military intervention in Latin America and the Middle East during the 1950s, I spent many hours reviewing cables sent to and from U.S. embassies in Guatemala and Iran in the months prior to the U.S.-backed coups in those countries. I read frantic messages sent by senior diplomats in the U.S. embassy and top officials in the State Department and the White House regarding what they feared to be imminent Communist takeovers of those countries. Neither of these fears was based on reality, of course, but it was widely believed to be true.

By contrast, there is absolutely nothing in the hundreds of cables I reviewed in the lead-up to the coups indicating that the desire to overthrow Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossedegh was based primarily on his nationalization of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company or that the plans to overthrow Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz was based upon his nationalization of some lands owned by the United Fruit Company. It was based on a sincere, if grossly exaggerated, fear that there was a real threat that these countries would become dominated by pro-Soviet Communists. This certainly does not rule out the likelihood that powerful corporate interests which had a stake in ousting these nationalist leaders helped create the climate that led to such paranoid speculation. However, as far as those who made the key decisions were concerned, it appears to have been based primarily on this fear of Communist takeovers.

There is a tendency among critics of U.S. foreign policy to assume a level of rationality in decision-making that has led to the emergence of many popular conspiracy theories. Yes, there have certainly been conspiracies. Yes, in the final analysis, powerful corporate interests do play an important role in U.S. foreign policy. Yet what is often overlooked is the role of ideology, of the way that those embedded in U.S. embassies are willing to take the prevailing line simply because that it what they are pre-disposed to believe and they didn’t have the opportunity or the willingness to figure things out otherwise. This is why, absent of corroborating evidence, I’m skeptical about leaked documents regarding large-scale Iranian support of Iraqi insurgents and other claims which appear to legitimate U.S. militarism.

Our man in Rabat

One of the clearest examples of this phenomenon of allowing ideology to interfere with honest reporting comes in a recently-released cable from the U.S. charge d’affairs in the U.S. embassy in Morocco, Robert P. Jackson.

In his lengthy analysis regarding the conflict over Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara, he makes the preposterous assertion that the independence struggle is essentially an Algerian creation, ignoring decades of popular resistance and longstanding Sahrawi nationalism which pre-dated Algeria’s support for the nationalist Polisario Front. He bases this claim on the fact that because the Polisario has failed to claim Sahrawi-populated parts of southern Morocco as part of the Western Sahara state, this somehow proves that the struggle is “less nationalist than geopolitical, linked to the much older dispute between Algeria and Morocco, and hardly boosts the case for an independent state.”

In reality, the reasons for this distinction between the two Sahrawi-populated regions is that the Polisario – unlike Morocco and its supporters – understands international law: The Sahrawi-populated Tefaya region is universally-recognized as part of Morocco whereas Sahrawi-populated Western Sahara is recognized as a non-self-governing territory under foreign belligerent occupation and therefore has the right to self-determination, including the option of independence. If Morocco would allow the Tefaya region to become part of an independent Western Sahara, there certainly would be no objections by the Polisario, but they simply understand that they have a much stronger case regarding Western Sahara itself. Instead, the U.S. charge implies that this willingness to recognize this important legal distinction somehow delegitimizes the nationalist struggle.

Jackson goes on to criticize the United Nations for recognizing the Polisario, along with Morocco, as the two principal parties in the conflict, insisting that the Algerians – who have no claim to Western Sahara – are the key to peace because of their support for the Polisario. Rather than pressure Morocco to abide by a series of UN Security Council resolutions and a landmark decision by the International Court of Justice to allow for an act of self-determination, he calls on UN special envoy Christopher Ross, a veteran U.S. diplomat, to “budge [Algerian] President Bouteflika and his government” to allow Morocco to consolidate their conquest.

This cable is very reminiscent of the longstanding effort by State Department officials during the Cold War to delegitimize national liberation struggles by claiming they were simply the creation of Cuba, the Soviet Union, or some other nation-state challenging U.S. hegemony. Indeed, in a throwback to Cold War rhetoric, Jackson insists that the Polisario Front, which has been recognized as the legitimate government of Western Sahara by over 80 governments, is “Cuba-like.” In the cable, Jackson calls for U.S. support for Moroccan calls for a census and audit of international programs in Polisario-led refugee camps, but not support for the international call for human rights monitors in the occupied territory. In addition, rather than recognizing the right of Sahrawi refugees to return under international law, he unrealistically suggests that the Sahrawi refugees all be resettled in Spain.

Contradicting findings by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other observers which provide evidence to the contrary, he insists that “respect for human rights in the territory has greatly improved” and “once common beatings and arbitrary imprisonment have also essentially ceased.” Despite an unprecedented level of popular resistance against the occupation, he insists “support for independence is waning.” He praises Morocco’s development efforts in the occupied territory, even claiming that Al Aioun, the occupied Western Sahara capital, is “without any Shantytowns,” which is news to those of us who have actually been there and seen them.

In a rare moment of candor, Jackson acknowledges that Morocco’s “hard-line stance may have been bolstered by what was perceived in the Palace as uncritical support from Washington.” However, he falsely claims that most governments in the UN Security Council support Morocco’s “autonomy” plan for Western Sahara, which not only promises a very circumscribed level of self-governance but prohibits the people of Western Sahara from voting on the option of independence as required under international law.

Not long after this cable was written, Jackson was promoted by President Obama to his first post as full ambassador, as the U.S.-backed dictatorship to the Republic of Cameroon. This serves as yet another example that a willingness to tow the official line rather than critically examining the evidence is the key to advancement in the U.S. Foreign Service.

Stephen Zunes, professor of Politics and chair of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco, is a senior analyst for Foreign Policy in Focus. His most recent book, co-authored with Jacob Mundy, is Western Sahara: War, Nationalism, and Conflict Irresolution (Syracuse University Press, 2010.)

WikiLeaks XIV: Mexican Government’s Drug Policy Benefits Drug Cartels

Edgar 'La Barbie' Valdez VillarrealWe’re honored to have Michael Busch dissecting the latest WikiLeaks document dump for Focal Points. This is the fourteenth in the series.

Apologists for Mexico’s horrifically violent war against drugs ought to check out the latest cables released by WikiLeaks, which offer a sobering reality check. Just under three months ago, articles like this one from Newsweek’s Malcolm Beith took stock of the escalating violence in the country and suggested that “the carnage may actually be a sign that the Mexican government, rather than losing control, is winning.” This line of reasoning strikes me now, as it did then, as specious at best. Doubly so when we consider that Beith’s argument is based solely on one source—a former high-ranking government official within the Mexican establishment.

But special-access journalism at its worst—where politicians tell publications exactly what you would expect them to say—has seemingly come to kneel under the equalizing force of WikiLeaks and its trove of unvarnished expert assessments that were never intended to see the light of day. In the case of Mexico, a recently released cable dated just under a year ago offer common sense analysis that the spiraling violence in the country—far from a sign of progress—suggests a descent into failure.

The cable describes a Mexican government pursuing losing tactics in the name of an unfocused strategy that leaves everyone worse off, with the exception of the country’s increasingly powerful powerful drug cartels. While President Felipe Calderon is described as being a largely trustworthy ally who continues to enjoy healthy levels of public support, the embassy report argues that Mexico’s leaders is acting from a position of relevant weakness to the challenges facing him.

President Calderon has entered the last three years of his six-year term facing a complicated political and economic environment. His National Action Party (PAN) emerged seriously weakened from a dramatic set-back suffered in the July congressional elections and was unable to recoup any real momentum during the last legislative session. Calderon’s bold plan for ten ambitious areas for reform, announced in September, has yet to translate into politically viable initiatives. His personal popularity numbers have dropped, driven largely by massive economic contraction and a public sense that there is little strategy to create new and sustainable jobs.

But beyond the perennial problems facing any world leader, Calderon’s situation appears unusually troublesome.

Calderon has aggressively attacked Mexico’s drug trafficking organizations but has struggled with an unwieldy and uncoordinated interagency and spiraling rates of violence that have made him vulnerable to criticism that his anti-crime strategy has failed. Indeed, the GOM’s inability to halt the escalating numbers of narco-related homicides in places like Ciudad Juarez and elsewhere — the nationwide total topped 7,700 in 2009 — has become one of Calderon’s principal political liabilities as the general public has grown more concerned about citizen security.

Here the cable fails to fully articulate the full scale of the country’s drug related violence, fighting that has accounted for over 30,000 civilian deaths since Calderon took office. The source of the trouble, as might be expected, lies in the country’s security institutions, which

are often locked in a zero-sum competition in which one agency’s success is viewed as another’s failure, information is closely guarded, and joint operations are all but unheard of. Official corruption is widespread, leading to a compartmentalized siege mentality among “clean” law enforcement leaders and their lieutenants. Prosecution rates for organized crime-related offenses are dismal; two percent of those detained are brought to trial. Only 2 percent of those arrested in Ciudad Juarez have even been charged with a crime.

The cable notes that reform efforts at bolstering more productive approaches to dealing with the country’s drug cartels—including reducing military units to secondary support functions in police-led operations—have shown some signs of success. Unfortunately, however, the gains will be necessarily limited.

They simply lack the necessary numbers of trained federal police to deploy them in such numbers in more than a few cities. There are changes in the way that the military can interact with vetted municipal police, as we have seen in Tijuana, that produce better results. But in the near term, there is no escaping that the military will play a role in public security.

Even if ideally coordinated efforts could be achieved, it still would likely not matter.

The [drug traffickers] are sophisticated players: they can wait out a military deployment; they have an almost unlimited human resource pool to draw from in the marginalized neighborhoods; and they can fan complaints about human rights violations to undermine any progress the military might make with hearts and minds.

Undermining all of the government’s efforts at rooting out the drug cartels and establishing order have been serious human rights concerns. The country’s Ministry of National Defense (SEDENA)

has taken a serious beating on human rights issues from international and domestic human rights organizations, who argue with considerable basis, in fact that the military is ill-equipped for a domestic policing role. While SEDENA has moved to address human rights criticisms, its efforts are mechanistic and wrapped in a message that often transmits defensiveness about bringing a hermetically sealed military culture into the twenty-first century.

Public pressure has forced Mexican authorities to reign human rights abuses in, but to little effect. The cable cites a recent report by Amnesty International noting

that complaints to the National Commission on Human Rights against the military increased from 367 in 2007 to over 2000 from 2008-June 2009.

Since the cable’s release, things have hardly improved. As an excellent Reuters article recently demonstrated, the government’s war on drugs is literally bleeding the country’s heartland dry.

Grisly assassinations and gang extortion are terrifying Mexicans in the western state of Michoacan, where President Felipe Calderon launched his war on drug cartels, sending in about 5,000 soldiers in December 2006 following a narrow election victory.

Not only do the drug traffickers continue business as usual in open defiance of the military, but

Federal authorities have had a hard time gaining local trust, with complaints of torture and rape by soldiers lodged at Michoacan’s state human rights commission.

On a recent afternoon in the central square of the bustling city of Uruapan near Morelia, couples, groups of old men and clusters of youths watched warily as a contingent of federal police pulled on their ski masks and climbed into armored vehicles to set off on a patrol of their new beat.

“You do not know who to watch out for, the bad guys or the federal police,” said a 60-year-old farmer as he sat on a bench with his wife, who added: “Calderon said he would make things better in Michoacan, but things have gotten worse.”

When security forces do effectively move against the mafias, the traffickers simply ratchet up their retaliatory measures.

Earlier this month, drug hitmen blocked roads with burning cars and set fire to a gas station after security forces arrested two local smugglers, effectively shutting down Morelia. Gunmen fired 1,700 rounds into an armored vehicle carrying the former state police chief in April. The official barely survived and later resigned. A top state policeman was also gunned down in October.

Still, President

Calderon insists there is no turning back, that violence shows gangs are becoming desperate and that he is winning. “We will persevere until we leave Mexico free of the cancer of organized crime,” he said in a speech on Sunday.

This might be persuasive rhetoric if the Mexican drug trade were only in its nascent stages of development. But it’s not. And as anyone who has experience battling late-stage, metastasizing cancers can tell you, poisonous treatments are often be more immediately deadly than the cause.

Page 151 of 179« First...102030...149150151152153...160170...Last »