Focal Points Blog

By Enabling India’s Nuke Program U.S. Shares Blame for Pakistan’s

AQ Khan(Pictured: AQ Khan, the founder of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program.)

“Washington — New American intelligence assessments have concluded that Pakistan has steadily expanded its nuclear arsenal since President Obama came to office . . . for the Obama administration the assessment poses a direct challenge to a central element of the President’s national security strategy, the reduction of nuclear stockpiles around the world.”
New York Times

The above words, written this past February, were followed by a Times editorial, titled “Pakistan’s Nuclear Folly,” decrying that “the weapons buildup has gotten too little attention,” and calling on Washington to “look for points of leverage” to stop it.

Well, the administration and the Times may be unhappy about Pakistan’s nuclear buildup, but it certainly should not have come as a surprise, nor is there much of a secret to the “points of leverage” that would almost certainly put a stopper on it: scupper the so-called 1-2-3 Agreement between the U.S. and India.

Back in 2003, Douglas Feith, then Under Secretary of Defense for Policy in the Bush Administration, pulled together a meeting of the U.S.-India Defense Policy Group to map out a blueprint for pulling New Delhi into an alliance against China. The code word used during the discussions was “stability,” but as P.R. Chari of the Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies noted, “What they really mean is how to deal with China.”

The Bush administration changed the Clinton Administration’s designation of China as a “strategic partner” to “strategic competitor,” and in its U.S.-China Security Review concluded that Beijing is “in direct competition with us for influence in Asia and beyond” and that in “the worst case this could lead to war.” Another Pentagon document revealed by Jane’s Foreign Report argued that both India and the U.S. were threatened by China, and that “India should emerge as a vital component of US strategy.”

One of the obstacles to that alliance was the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which blocks any country that is not a signer from buying nuclear fuel on the world market. Since neither India nor Pakistan has signed the Treaty, they can’t buy fuel from the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group. That has been particularly hard on India because it has few native uranium sources and has to split those between nuclear energy and nuclear weapons. The ban, however, is central to the NPT, and one of the few checks on nuclear proliferation.

But the Bush administration proposed bypassing the NPT with the so-called 1-2-3 Agreement that permitted India to purchase nuclear materials even though New Delhi refused to sign the Treaty. India would agree to use the nuclear fuel only in its civilian plants and open those plants for inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). But the Agreement also allowed India to divert its own domestic supplies to its weapons program, and those plants would remain off the inspection grid. In short, India would no longer have to choose between nuclear power and nuclear weapons: it could have both.

In July 2008, Pakistan’s then Foreign Minister Khurshid Kusuri predicted that if the 1-2-3 Agreement went through, “The whole Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty will unravel,” and, in a letter to the IAEA, Pakistan warned that the pact “threatens to increase the chances of a nuclear arms race in the subcontinent.”

However, neither the Bush administration nor the Obama administration paid any attention to Pakistan’s complaints. The results were predictable. Pakistan ramped up its nuclear weapons program and may soon pass Britain as the fifth largest nuclear weapons nation in the world.

It also dug in its heels at the 65-nation 2011 Conference on Disarmament in Geneva and blocked a proposal to halt the production of nuclear weapons-making material. The 1-2-3 Agreement and the push to bring India into the Nuclear Suppliers group, warned Ambassador Zamir Akram, were “undermining the validity and sanctity of the international non-proliferation regime” and would “further destabilize security in South Asia.” The Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT) is a priority for the Obama administration.

Islamabad is not alone in its criticism of the 1-2-3 Agreement or the FMCT. A number of nations are challenging NPT signers, including the U.S., China, Russia, Britain and France, to fulfill Article VI of the NPT that requires the elimination of nuclear weapons. While the U.S. and Russia have reduced their arsenals, both still have thousands of weapons, and the Americans are in the process of modernizing their current warheads.

Pakistan is a far smaller country than India, and would likely face defeat in a conventional conflict. It has already lost three wars to India. Its ace in the hole is nuclear weapons, and some Pakistanis have a distressingly casual view of nuclear war. “You can die crossing the street, or you could die in a nuclear war,” remarked former Pakistan army chief Gen. Mirza Aslem Beg. A BBC poll found that the Pakistani public has an “abysmally low” understanding of the threat.

Many Indians are not much better. Former Indian Defense Minister Georges Fernandes commented that “India can survive a nuclear attack, but Pakistan cannot.” And that same BBC poll found that for most Indians “the terror of a nuclear conflict is hard to imagine.”

Both countries have recently rolled out cruise missiles that are capable of carrying nuclear warheads. The Pakistani Hatf-7, or “Babur,” has a range of almost 500 miles and a speed of 550 miles per hour. It appears to have been copied from the U.S. BGM-109 “Tomahawk,” several of which crashed in Pakistan during 1998 air strikes against Afghanistan. The Indian PJ-10 BrahMos cruise has a shorter range—180 miles—but a top speed of 2,100 mph. India and Pakistan also have ballistic missiles capable of striking major cities in both countries.

In its editorial declaiming Pakistan as guilty of “nuclear folly,” the Times pointed out that “Pakistan cannot feed its people [or] educate its children.” Neither can India. As a 2010 United Nations Development Program report discovered, as bad as things are in Pakistan, life expectancy is lower in India, and the gap between rich and poor is greater. In fact, neither country can afford large militaries—Pakistan spends 35 percent of its budget on arms, and India is in the middle of a $40 billion military spending spree—and a nuclear war would not only destroy both countries, but also profoundly affect the entire globe.

Nuclear weapons are always folly, but what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. The U.S. currently spends in excess of $1 trillion a year on all defense and security related items, while our education system is starving, our infrastructure is collapsing, and hunger and illiteracy are spreading. If the Times wants to ratchet down tensions in South Asia, let it call for dumping the 1-2-3 Agreement and beginning the process called for in Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty: “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measure relating to the cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty of general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”

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

Not Only al Qaeda But West on Outside Looking in at Libyan Opposition

At Asia Times Online Syed Salaam Shahzad reports on Libya.

The root of the unrest is intrinsically liberal and secular — as it was in Egypt and Tunisia — leaving very little ground on which Islamic political forces can operate. [But while during] these turbulent times in the Arab world, al-Qaeda has been only a spectator . . . it is poised to pounce on any opportunity that might arise to allow it to become a part of the action in Libya. [In fact al-Qaeda’s] most powerful Libyan cluster, al-Jamaa al-Muqatilah (Libyan Islamic Fighting Group), is apprehensive of being marginalized, according to members of the Libyan militant camp in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal area.


. . . this places al-Qaeda in the same position as Western countries, some of which are positioning to actively intervene in Libya, even if it is at the least by enforcing a no-fly zone.


[Al-Jamaa al-Muqatilah] believe that al-Qaeda needs to kick in to give an ideological mooring to the armed opposition and to prevent the situation from falling into the hands of pro-Western agitators.

It’s looking to one of al Qaeda’s most notorious members to help pull it off.

Asia Times Online contacts in the militant camps say that current al-Qaeda ideologue and military strategist Abu Yahya al-Libi is now trying to mobilize of al-Qaeda’s cadre in Libya to quickly jump onto the unrest bandwagon. . . . Crucially, though . . . it will not incorporate the terror operations that have characterized al-Qaeda’s operations over the past years, notably in Iraq. . . . Libi, who . . . escaped from the US detention facility at Bagram in 2005 and was recently elevated as one of al-Qaeda’s main leaders . . . played a significant role in al-Qaeda’s mobilization in Yemen and Somalia.

Well, if anyone can do it he can. Meanwhile, who does the West have to compare with al-Libi’s star power? Hillary Clinton?

Loose Nuclear Ends

At the “other” IPS Thaif Deen reports:

The global civil society campaign for the abolition of nuclear weapons could be politically reignited by the phenomenal successes of the grassroots demonstrations in Egypt and Tunisia, shadowed closely by Libya, Bahrain, Yemen and Jordan.

“Developments in the Middle East [and North Africa] show how fragile ‘stability’ is when people’s needs and desires are ignored,” says Hirotsugu Terasaki, executive director of the Office of Peace Affairs at the Tokyo-based Soka Gakkai International.

Apparently he’s extrapolating a fragility to the stability of the worldwide nuclear arms regimen, as well. Wishful thinking?

Jeopardy wizard Ken Jennings writing at Slate on playing against IBM computer Watson:

To [the IBMers], I wasn’t the good guy, playing for the human race. That was Watson’s role, as a symbol and product of human innovation and ingenuity. So my defeat at the hands of a machine has a happy ending, after all. At least until the whole system becomes sentient and figures out the nuclear launch codes. But I figure that’s years away.

Author of the new book How the End Begins: The Road to a Nuclear World War III, Ron Rosenbaum, also writing at Slate about a man who trained for work in a missile silo, but was unceremoniously discarded when he questioned the command and control structure:

. . . some might say we can’t give the impression that everyone in missile launch control centers engages in Socratic debate about whether genocidal revenge is justified, or could be seen as “insane” in itself. Such debate, the official line goes, would end up “weakening the credibility of our deterrent” and perhaps inviting a genocidal attack.

Speaking of deterrence, they’re ba-a-a-ck. Who? The four horsemen. Of the apocalypse? Not exactly — ostensibly, in fact, that’s what they seek to head off at the pass. George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn, of course, joint authors of Wall Street Journal op-eds calling for nuclear arms control. Their latest, titled Deterrence in the Age of Nuclear Proliferation, is an attempt to advocate for reducing the number of nuclear weapons needed for deterrence.

Achieving deterrence with assured security will require work by leaders and citizens on a range of issues, beginning with a clearer understanding of existing and emerging security threats.

The op-ed comes with the usual disclaimer, though.

. . . as long as nuclear weapons exist, America must retain a safe, secure and reliable nuclear stockpile primarily to deter a nuclear attack and to reassure our allies through extended deterrence.

Sometimes I think we won’t make any substantive progress toward nuclear disarmament until we declare a moratorium on phrases such as “our nuclear deterrent” and “a safe, secure and reliable nuclear stockpile.” As long as policymakers continue to resort to them, we’ll continue to view other states (and non-state actors) as a greater threat than the most “existential” of all threats to life on earth — nuclear weapons themselves.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki Sabotaged Prospects for a True Post-War Peace

Recently John Dower’s Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, 9-11, Iraq (W.W. Norton, 2010) was reviewed by Greg Chaffin for Foreign Policy in Focus. Halfway through it, I find Cultures of War, in which the author uses a comparison between U.S. reactions to Pearl Harbor and 9/11 as a starting point, powerful and convincing. In the course of the book, he delivers a compelling analysis of the “terror” or area — as opposed to precision — bombing campaigns that the allies waged against, in large part, the citizens of Germany and Japan. After that, it only seemed natural to the United States to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Dower writes:

The euphoria of victory over Japan, and of the end of the struggle against Axis fascism and aggression more generally, was extraordinary.

It was also fragile and ephemeral. The underside of triumph was profound anxiety — a presentiment that making and using the atomic bomb had birthed not peace but vulnerability of a sort inconceivable just a few years earlier.

In other words, instead of laying a solid foundation of peace, the use of nuclear weapons ensured that it was constructed, as it were, of inferior materials. As a result, the whole house of our national security could come crashing precipitously down at any time. Dower quotes Manhattan Project physicist I.I. Rabi, reflecting on Trinity, the first nuclear test: “Suddenly the day of judgment was the next day and has been ever since.”

Two sentences after his first quote above, Dower writes:

When the twin towers of the World Trade Center were taken down on September 11, this suppressed or diluted dread [of nuclear attack] erupted, certainly among Americans, as full-blown collective trauma.

Our arms race with the Soviet Union instilled a deep-seated fear in our hearts. Damped down and building pressure over the years, that fear only needed to be ignited by 9/11 before it came spewing out. Hence, most of us were all too happy to, in the words of Donald Rumsfeld, “go massive.” Our wide-of-the-mark reaction to 9/11 paralleled area as opposed to precision bombing and, in the process, only stiffened the resolve of the opposition.

Should the Arms Control Community Back Off Missile Defense?

Cross-posted from the CUNY Graduate Center Advocate.

If you followed the halting progress that the New START nuclear treaty made towards ratification at the end of last year, you know missile defense was a bone of contention. Russians fear its implementation while American conservatives fear the implications on national security of its lack of implementation. Nevertheless, Republican senators swallowed their pride and ratified New START while the Obama administration managed to win Moscow’s acknowledgment that current U.S. missile defense systems were no threat to Russia.

Wait, missile defense is still around? “Star Wars” gained infamy at the 1986 Reykjavík summit when it became the security blanket that Ronald Reagan couldn’t relinquish in return for the prospect held out by Mikhail Gorbachev of the abolition of nuclear weapons. Replete with lasers, particle-beam weapons, and space-based systems, hasn’t it since been laughed off the national security landscape?

Besides the experimental nature of the weapons, it was obvious that, during the Cold War, a system that could stop Russia’s prodigious ICBMs from raining down on the United States was decades from coming to fruition. But, thanks in part to relentless lobbying by the likes of right-wing defense think tanks such as the National Institute of Public Policy, once the Cold War ended, the defense establishment decided that, instead of turning a crisis — peace — into an opportunity — cutting back defense spending — it would turn the newfound lack of a crisis into one.

In other words, at least for the purpose of the missile defense discussion, it conceded that Russia’s nuclear weapons were no longer a central concern of the United States. Instead, it reconfigured the concept of missile defense as a way to halt nuclear attacks from rogue countries with their starter kit nuke programs, such as North Korea and, ostensibly, Iran. Russia, of course, wasn’t buying that. For instance, while the missile defense program on U.S. soil has been winnowed down to Ground-Based Interceptor missiles, they’re based in the region of the United States in closest proximity to Russia — Alaska and California.

Meanwhile, in September 2009, President Obama announced that the United States was scrapping plans for missile-defense sites in East Europe, in favor of the sea-borne Aegis system. But the United States still harbors long-range plans to to install missile-defense systems just to the west of the former Soviet Union. Besides, though temporarily mollified enough to sign New START, Moscow has long doubted that missile defense is meant to intercept missiles from North Korea and Iran because it knows full well both states are a long way from fielding missiles that can reach Europe. Russia, of course, deploys its own missile-defense, such as the S-300 anti-ballistic missile. In fact, it had planned to sell the system to Iran until a recent round of U.N. sanctions against Iran forced Russia to abandon that idea.

The fundamental question that the controversy over missile defense evokes is: How can a nuclear power, such as Russia, object to the wish of another nuclear power, such as the United States, to defend itself with weapons intended solely to block Russia’s weapons once launched, not target its soil and people?

In other words, how can a state be faulted for attempting to erect a shield to shelter it from nuclear weapons? Turns out, conventional thinking on nuclear strategy holds that missile defense upsets — “destabilizes” — the whole nuclear-deterrence apple cart.

Here’s how it works. A state — Russia again — is considered vulnerable to a first, or initial, strike by the United States, during the course of which many of its surface (as opposed to those based in submarines, which are, of course, mobile) nuclear weapons would be wiped out. (This argument requires a suspension of belief that Russia would refrain from launching a counterattack on warning, that is, while the U.S. missiles were in the air, instead of waiting until they struck — still the only sure-fire method of verifying a nuclear attack.)

Russia’s retaliatory force would be further diminished if much of it was destroyed while in the air by U.S. missile defense. (This requires a suspension of belief that the day when missile defense is that effective will ever come). The crux of this theory is that since Russia knows that under this arrangement it’s going to lose missiles both on the ground and in the air it’s motivated to build more to compensate. (Why Russian missile defense isn’t considered destabilizing to America’s “deterrent” is a question seldom, if ever, raised.)

That’s what nuclear strategists mean when they make the claim that missile defense destabilizes deterrence — it disturbs the fragile “balance of power.” I know: you’re incredulous that in the same year in which we toast the Cold War’s two-decade-old demise that the United States and Russia still relegate themselves to such old-school thinking. The other supposedly destabilizing characteristic of building a missile defense system is that it’s a red flag to Russia signaling the United States plans to mount a first strike. (Of course, Moscow knows the unlikelihood of that scenario; it’s just playing politics.

Ironically in the 1960s and 1970s roles were reversed. The United States feared Soviet anti-ballistic missile defense and consequently fortified its ballistic missile offense. But the two superpowers realized that it was to the benefit of each to refrain from running what’s been called a “missile defense arms race.” The 1972 ABM Treaty set a limit to missile defense systems and offensive warhead totals were reduced in kind during the 1980s and 1990s. But, in defiance of the common wisdom that held that reductions in nuclear weapons required keeping missile defense to a minimum, the Bush administration withdrew from the ABM treaty in 2002.

Again, it must be asked: why does the burden fall on the designated victim to keep its defenses to a minimum lest the aggressor augment its armaments? It’s like saying the best defense is a bad defense.

Counterintuitive to a fare-thee-well, this argument provides ammunition for conservatives. First, though, we need to mention that many of those who support missile defense share Reagan’s child-like fantasy of an umbrella that will shield us from the very same weapons that we’re still allowed to wield. Second, consciously or not, many are only too glad to see the other side build up its offensive capabilities to justify the continuation of the U.S. nuclear-weapons industry.

Granted, steeped in game theory, nuclear strategy is not for everybody. But faulting a party for defending him or herself not only encourages passivity, it’s a form of blaming the victim. Imagine holding someone who’s been attacked responsible for his fate because, in the act of putting up his dukes or even just adopting a defensive crouch, he’s provoked the bully into not just attacking with his fists but upping the ante and bringing a baseball bat to the affair.

In other words, those of us opposed to missile defense should cease and desist making the case that defending ourselves tips the nuclear scale. Not only do neither conservatives nor the public understand the argument, it provokes them. While polls on missile defense are few and far between, back in 2006 a pro-missile defense group found that over 70 percent of New York state citizens supported missile defense and in 2004, 84% of Floridians.

In effect, this approach resembles another mistake made by progressives: reciting the mantra that the U.S. presence in the Middle East creates terrorists. Even though, these days, realpolitik types ring in with this refrain as often as progressives, the reaction of conservatives runs something like this: since when does the United States worry about making enemies when (in their eyes, anyway) it’s in the right?

But opponents of missile defense, who, by definition, are also disarmament advocates, still have a great fall-back position, right? When you get down to it, what good is this curtain of the heavens if it fails to protect us when we most need it — against states like Russia with formidable nuclear arsenals? In fact, as missile defense stands, it’s questionable whether it would even prove effective against North Korea’s nuclear weapons.

But making that case is walking into a trap. It caters to conservatives all too eager to stand in judgment of a state, because of its perceived potential for mounting such an attack, as insufficiently “rational” enough to be allowed to develop a nuclear weapons program. In other words, despite failing to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Israel and India, yes. Iran and North Korea, on the other hand, no. Worst of all, it encourages a recent tendency on the part of nuclear-weapons advocates to deny the link between nonproliferation and disarmament. States deemed unworthy of nuclear weapons are to be denied them, by force if necessary, without reciprocity in the form of substantive disarmament (beyond the tepid New START), as ordained by the NPT, on the part of the large states.

Missile defense is ultimately a more defensible investment than nuclear weapons. But it’s best for disarmament advocates to keep their eyes on the big picture — nuclear weapons themselves, as well as the overarching subject of massive casualties. Missile defense is just a subdivision of nuclear weapons and when the rationale powering their acquisition runs out of steam, the umbrella of missile defense will collapse upon itself as well.

In the interim, one argument remains to which we can avail ourselves. If, however unlikely, we ever succeed in building the perfect missile defense, why would we need nuclear weapons any longer?


Podvig, Pavel. “Russia and missile defense in Eastern Europe,”, August 26, 2009.

Podvig, Pavel, “The false promise of missile defense,” The Bulletin Online, June 14, 2009.

Thielmann, Greg, “Strategic Missile Defense: A Threat to Future Nuclear Arms Reductions?,” Threat Assessment Brief, Arms Control Association, January 16, 2010.

What the Army Thinks the Taliban Would Do With Data on Genitourinary Injuries

David Brown for the Washington Post reports on land-mine injuries suffered by U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Doctors and nurses treating soldiers injured in Afghanistan have begun speaking of a new “signature wound” — two legs blown off at the knee or higher, accompanied by damage to the genitals and pelvic injuries. . . . Of the 142 soldiers with genitourinary wounds who arrived at Landstuhl [Germany, site of U.S. military hospital] last year. . . . 47 had injury to one testicle, and 21 men lost a testicle. Eleven soldiers had injuries to both testicles, and eight lost both testicles.

In fact

Twice as many U.S. soldiers wounded in battle last year required limb amputations than in either of the two previous years. . . . and nearly three times as many suffered severe wounds to their genitals.

Why the increase?

Although the U.S. Army Medical Command released the data on genital injuries, military officials are reluctant to discuss these wounds further.

Why not? According to Maj. Gen. Stephen R. Lanza, chief of Army Public Affairs, “detailed discussion . . . can potentially provide insights to our enemies into the effectiveness of their improvised explosive devices and other weapons they use.”

What kind of insights is the Army afraid that the Taliban might glean from information about the injuries? Let’s take a guess: figuring out exactly how much explosives and of what variety to ensure the majority of victims lose both testicles.

What about body armor? Brown reports:

Body armor, which has greatly reduced fatalities, usually includes a triangular flap that protects the groin from projectiles coming from the front. It doesn’t protect the area between the legs from direct upward blast.

Odd oversight, isn’t it? Brown again.

Various laboratories are reportedly working on forms of shielding that would provide such protection.

Doesn’t this remind you of the early years of the Iraq War when Hummers were insufficiently protected with armor plating? Meanwhile, Americans need to ask themselves if they really want their troops in a conflict where not only do our young men need to concern themselves with being injured and killed, but with an enemy that may be all too eager to calibrate its mines for maximum castrating effect.

Bradley Manning: Death by Elastic Underwear Waistband

In an earlier Focal Points post on depriving Pfc. Bradley Manning of his clothing for three days, we quoted the New York Times:

First Lt. Brian Villiard, a Marine spokesman, said. . . . that the step was “not punitive” and that it was in accordance with brig rules, but he said that he was not allowed to say more. . . . “It would be inappropriate for me to explain it. . . . I can confirm that it did happen, but I can’t explain it to you without violating the detainee’s privacy.”

Manning’s lawyer, David Coombs, subsequently learned the rationale, which he posted it at his website Army Court Martial Defense.

On Wednesday March 2, 2011, PFC Manning was told that his Article 138 complaint requesting that he be removed from Maximum custody and Prevention of Injury (POI) Watch had been denied by the Quantico commander, Colonel Daniel J. Choike. Understandably frustrated by this decision after enduring over seven months of unduly harsh confinement conditions, PFC Manning inquired of the Brig operations officer what he needed to do in order to be downgraded from Maximum custody and POI. . . . In response to PFC Manning’s question, he was told that there was nothing he could do to downgrade his detainee status and that the Brig simply considered him a risk of self-harm. PFC Manning then remarked that the POI restrictions were “absurd” and sarcastically stated that if he wanted to harm himself, he could conceivably do so with the elastic waistband of his underwear or with his flip-flops.

Hey, maybe Col. Choike is right: look at the self-abuse Manning has already inflicted on himself with his humor and sense of irony. Still, Choife is whiffing on a learning moment. He should interrogate Manning to learn how he would turn the elastic in his underwear or flip-flops into a his garrote. It could be incorporated into SERE training* to help our troops escape if they’re captured by the enemy.

As for the rest of us, Pfc. Manning has much to teach us in the way of courage.

*SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) military training in, among other things, evading and/or surviving capture.

Gaddafi’s Ace In The Hole? Algeria (Part 2)

Algeria protestsCross-posted from Counterpunch.

Algeria, Part 1: Where the Demonstrators Wave Black Flags

At this moment when it appears that Muammar Gaddafi’s days in power are numbered, the Libyan leader has made it clear repeatedly that he will stay and fight. So far he has. His domestic support is evaporating around him, leaders of the country’s 140 tribes siding with the rebels, military units siding with the rebellion in larger and larger numbers, air force pilots and naval vessels defecting to Malta. Much of his government, other than his sons, has abandoned him as well.

What is left?

Those heavily armed private militias controlled by his sons? The army of mercenaries from sub-Saharan Africa? Some Mirage jet fighter planes with, until now, pilots less than willing to bomb rebel strongholds? All that is true. Yet while the U.S. and Europe work to isolate Gaddafi, he is not completely alone and without allies.

Libya appears more and more headed for civil war. Given his ever shrinking domestic base, one has to wonder how it is that Gaddafi can appear so defiant? It might come from the fact that he is not entirely isolated and alone. Indeed, the support that Gaddafi is garnering has stiffened the colonel’s backbone.

Gaddafi has the support of at least one important regional ally, the Algerian government, which has both militarily and diplomatically thrown its full (and substantial) weight behind his effort to retain power. In so doing, it would appear that Algeria, which has long cooperated with the US and NATO on its North and Sub-Saharan Africa anti-terrorism policies, is breaking ranks to protect its regime’s very survival.

Since its independence, Algeria has been controlled by its military which lives high off the country’s oil profits at the expense of its own people. Algeria’s leaders fear that if Gaddafi falls, their hold on power will be that much more fragile. Their support of Gaddafi is very much one to save their own skins.

If Mubarak saw the writing on the wall as Ben Ali’s little castle in Tunisia crumbled, so the Algerian military leadership understands that if Gaddafi falls, it very likely is next in line, or if not, not very far down the list. Desperate to cling to power, the Algerian government is – offering a few political and economic concessions it is true – essentially reorganizing the state’s substantial repressive apparatus to weather the protest storm. But in addition, it is pulling out all stops to support Gaddafi’s increasingly feeble hold on power.

Maybe it is the support of its North African oil producing ally Algeria that has given Gaddafi that confident appearance that he can indeed – with a little help from his friends – hold out longer. An alliance of two of Africa’s most important oil producing countries is nothing to sneeze at, and could have all kinds of implications, consequences. Should the alliance between the two tighten, and they engage in a common front oil embargo, which some news outlets speculate could happen, oil prices could jump to as high as $220 a barrel.

Less than a week ago, an Algerian human rights group based in Germany Algeria Watch published a statement alleging that the Algerian government is providing material aid – in the form of armed military units – to Muammar Gaddafi to help prop up his shrinking (and sinking) regime. The statement is found on the website of an Algerian youth group, Mouvement Rachad, involved in the current protests against the current Algerian government.

The statement opens as such:

It is with both sadness and anger that we have learned that the Algerian government has sent armed detachments to Libya to commit crimes against our Libyan brothers and sisters who have risen up against the bloody and corrupt regime of Muammar Khadafi [their spelling]. These armed detachments were first identified in western Libya in the city of Zaouia where some among them have been arrested. This has been reported in the media and confirmed by eye witnesses. (Prince translation)

Zaouia is the site of fierce fire fights between the residents of Zaouia, now a zone liberated from Tripoli’s control and under the authority of rebel forces on the one hand, and the military elements still faithful to Gaddafi on the others. There were reports today of a 6-8 hour battle in which Gaddafi’s forces, led by one of his sons, tried to recapture the city but were repulsed by the city’s defenders and pushed back after fierce fighting.

Algeria Watch goes on to accuse the Algerian government of having provided the air transport planes that have carried sub-Saharan African mercenaries from Niger, Chad and the Dafur province of Sudan to Libya to strengthen Gaddafi’s position militarily. It goes on to add that Algeria had played a similar role in transporting troops to Somalia to support the U.S. directed government military offensive against rebellious Somali tribes.

The statement goes on to allege that on the diplomatic front that the Algerian government has been lobbying different European powers (which are presumably France, Italy, German, Belgium, Luxembourg and Spain) pressing them to continue to support Gaddafi. These diplomatic efforts are being led by Abdelkader Messahel, Algerian Minister of Magrebian and African Affairs. On the all-European level, Amar Bendjama, Algerian ambassador to Belgium and Luxembourg, as well as Algeria’s representative to the European Union and NATO and Belkacem Belgaid, another Algerian diplomat whose responsibilities include NATO and the EU, have together opened up an active lobbying campaign in support of Gaddafi.

The political approach that Bendjama and Belgaid are pursuing echoes Gaddafi’s own statements – that if his government were to fall, Libya would fall into the hands of radical Islamic fundamentalists – all this nonsense about Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden being behind the national uprising. Gaddafi’s argument is identical to what Ben Ali and Mubarak have been arguing for decades: that they are the alternative to an Islamic takeover. The West might not like them, but better Gaddafi than Osama. This kind of fear mongering – the threat of Islamic radicalism – has lost its appeal in the current protest wave in which the Islamic fundamentalist element has been marginalized or irrelevant.

The lobbying is similar to what has happened in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, where the first offer of concessions consists of ceding as little as possible. Bendjama and Belgaid appear to be pressing (unsuccessfully) for a solution that would see Gaddafi’s son, Saif, replace his father. It is not clear if they are asking for some kind of arrangement that would protect Gaddafi from prosecution in exchange for stepping down, but such an approach is more than likely. But as one of the first demands in the Tunisian, Egyptian and Yemeni protests was precisely that no family member (sons or family member) succeed these elder and now disgraced statements to power, it is not likely that such arguments or suggestions will carry much if any weight. There is more.

Under the direction of Colonel Djamel Bouzghaia, an advisor to Algerian President Bouteflika on security matters, Algeria has, according to the statement, ‘embraced’ a large number of elements of disposed Tunisian president Zine Ben Ali’s private security force and republican guard. These are the same units that were used as snipers to assassinate demonstrators in Kasserine, Sidi Bouzid and Thala in Tunisia. Now in the employ of Algeria, they too have been sent to Libya to shore up Gaddafi’s regime. Bouzghaia works directly under Major General Rachid Laalali (alias Attafi), head of Algeria’s external relations bureau.

Who else is helping Gaddafi? Will be interesting to see what shakes out.

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

Waterboarding Next for Bradley Manning?

In response to reports that Bradley Manning was deprived of his clothes and forced to sit naked in his cell for seven hours on Wednesday, the New York Times reports:

First Lt. Brian Villiard, a Marine spokesman, said. . . . that the step was “not punitive” and that it was in accordance with brig rules, but he said that he was not allowed to say more.

Then he added

“It would be inappropriate for me to explain it. . . . I can confirm that it did happen, but I can’t explain it to you without violating the detainee’s privacy.”

I’m sorry, but what the heck did the army just do if it wasn’t a violation of Manning’s privacy?

We’re Being Out-Democracied

On March 1, Doug Saunders of Toronto’s Globe and Mail reported from Zarzis, Tunisia:

The entire student population, plus one teacher, have defied their principal’s orders and skipped school to pack the streets in a jubilant and defiant mood. They are demanding a quick move to democracy — not just in the capital of Tunis, but also here in Zarzis, where it is the youth who have forced out the regime-appointed mayor and set up a committee that now controls the town.

Walid Fellah, 27, one of the organizers of the local-government committee. . . . set up Zarzis TV, a Facebook page upon which he posted videos of local protests and government reprisals. It became an instant hit and fanned the local revolution. . . . The comment threads on Zarzis TV became a rallying point for students, who would spend hours debating the best structure for municipal government and the pathway to elections.

“These students were never taught anything about democracy . . . but they’re learning it all by experience,” said Mourad Dani, 32, the lone high-school teacher willing to join the school’s “revolution.” (He risks suspension from his job, and the students risk losing their diplomas, for being involved.)

In one respect, though, they resemble American students. Mr. Dani added:

“Before, government was the most boring subject, nobody thought about it.”

With one important difference.

“Now it’s all they can talk about.”

No matter to what extent the civic foundation of the United States disintegrated, it’s difficult to imagine American teenagers debating the structure of municipal government. Meanwhile, the Obama administration was a couple of beats slow in voicing its support for the opposition in Tunisia and Egypt. As for American adult citizens, one can’t help suspect that were the Constitution drawn up and submitted for ratification today, it would be considered much too radical for passage in the House and Senate.

Recent events in Wisconsin and elsewhere caution one against caving in to complete cynicism. Still, it’s entirely likely that most Americans are more comfortable with a surveillance (if not all-out police) state than one in which civil liberties rang throughout the land. If America is China’s future, China may be America’s future.

We’d better be careful: we’re about to be out-democracied by newly engaged citizens around in the world.

Page 151 of 195« First...102030...149150151152153...160170180...Last »