Focal Points Blog

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

Yemeni militants

Yemeni militants

Cross-posted from the Arabist.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

China Forced to Temper Its Mercenary Approach to International Trade

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

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

The Christian Science Monitor captures China backpedaling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More from Sanati:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christian and Muslim Extremists: Power-Mad Brothers Under the Skin

Cross-posted from Mondoweiss.

With national elections approaching in Egypt, Islamists are increasing their public presence through mass demonstrations and media action. Some seems to be trundling out this gem from 2009 — favorably featured by a Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated site — that (according to The Arabist) raises the alarms about what secularism will do to Egypt:

  • In 2013, the Egyptian parliament outlaws polygamy.
  • In 2014, women’s rights organizations celebrate a new law that gives women equal inheritance rights.
  • In 2015, women are prohibited from wearing the hijab in public buildings.
  • In 2017, the first movie theater “specializing in porno films” opens.
  • The Ministry of Higher Education decides all students will learn “Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Baha’ism on an equal footing.”
  • In 2019, there is the first gay marriage in Egypt.
  • In 2020, all religious references are removed from official documents and government buildings.
  • In 2022, the call to prayer is prohibited.
  • In 2024, Egypt and Israel sign a joint defense agreement, and an Egyptian soldiers raises an Israeli flag over Gaza.

In the end, “street fighting breaks out between the religious and secularists,” and the streets fill with sexual predators, aggressive women and drunks. The chaos of godlesness ensues.

As disconcerting as this reactionary ad is, don’t a lot of the bugaboos sound familiar to, well, the fears expressed by the 2012 Republican presidential field? Same page, different book, really. As Jeff Sharlet of The Revealer writes:

The movement’s increasingly religious economic conservatism is cast in gender terms, as a quest for the restoration of masculine dignity, a revival of breadwinning in an era of genuinely humiliating economic conditions. What do social conservatives want in 2012? Same thing they’ve always wanted. “One man, one woman,” and a passel of kids. A family, narrowly defined, daddy in charge, with maybe some gentle wisecracks about how the wife is really in control.

“Daddy” would be in charge, from the household to the halls of government. Gay rights, feminism, pornography, secular education, the separation of church and state — all pernicious, character-destroying concessions to faux-humanitarians (aka liberals). According to Christian Dominionism, “salvation by [secular] law is the rankest form of humanistic paganism.” Government is a “mission field” to be dominated by true believers. Granted, this sounds like fundamentalism, but this is a bit of a misnomer. This isn’t just fundamentalism, this is “dominionism.” It is domination of state and society by a particular set of religious codes, a domain modeled after an ideal kingdom in heaven. It’s no coincidence that Regent University (motto: “Christian leadership to change the world”), a bastion of far-right Christian education, is called “regent.” The word refers to those whole will rule:

Christians have an obligation, a mandate, a commission, a holy responsibility to reclaim the land for Jesus Christ — to have dominion in civil structures, just as in every other aspect of life and godliness. But it is dominion we are after. Not just a voice. It is dominion we are after. Not just influence. It is dominion we are after. Not just equal time. It is dominion we are after. World conquest. That’s what Christ has commissioned us to accomplish. We must win the world with the power of the Gospel. And we must never settle for anything less.


Thus, Christian politics has as its primary intent the conquest of the land — of men, families, institutions, bureaucracies, courts, and governments for the Kingdom of Christ. It is to reinstitute the authority of God’s Word as supreme over all judgments, over all legislation, over all declarations, constitutions, and confederations.

The above could be applied to any far-right political-religious movement, Christian, Muslim, Jewish or otherwise. About the only difference between the Islamist far-right and the Christian (and Jewish) far-right is the tone. Such movements, whether branding themselves as Muslim, Christian or Jewish, are all essentially the same: alarmist, anachronistic and most, of all, power-hungry. As Bertrand Russell put it:

Men who allow their love of power to give them a distorted view of the world are to be found in every asylum: one man will think that he is the Governor of the Bank of England, another will think he is the King, and yet another will think he is God.

Still, the U.S. (and Israel) would never reconcile themselves to mainstreaming such thinking at home, right?

Well, you have this. And this. These are not isolated incidents, but indicators of a growing rightward shift. And there was a time when Islamists (including Egyptian Islamists) were here counted among the moral equivalents of the U.S. Founding Fathers.

Theocratic views, as opposed to somewhat more benign evangelical and fundamentalist rhetoric, are becoming more mainstream among all the Abrahamic faiths in the 21st century. Such views been the norm in Iran (and to a lesser extent, Saudi Arabia) for decades now, but Iran isn’t so singularly different from other nations where the authorities use religious and ethnocentric rhetoric to justify power plays. Look at Netanhayu and Likud’s governing arrangement with Lieberman and Yisrael Beitenu. Or the way American conservatives have turned Evangelicalism into policy through the seemingly unassailable Defense of Marriage Act and repeated fits of “pro-life” foreign aid. Muslim-baiting in Western countries is a lucrative business (not unlike Copt-baiting in Egypt, or Baha’i-bashing in Iran). So whether the leadership and rank-and-file seriously believe their own press, there’s no denying that it’s good for votes and good for business (and are not commercial and electoral success a sign of divine favor in all of the Abrahamic faiths?).

For deeply religious government types, like former Secretary of States John Foster Dulles, “success” in policymaking (and moneymaking) was religious. The practice of power is part of God’s plan (the Abrahamic faiths are all pretty good at ignoring what Jesus had to say on the matter). No contradictions to worry about! Defend your hold on power (and your profit margins), and you defend your God! The business of fundamentalism is booming all over the world (especially if you’re in defense, energy, construction, or finance). And since private enterprise (/corporatism) can function in a theocracy, the capitalists can honestly say that “we are not selling them the rope with which they will hang us.”

And there has been a long history of collusion (though sometimes strained) between the religious right and military-industrial interests in Egypt, Israel and the U.S. (of course, in Iran, this strained collusion is already the norm). Until it became a challenge to his domestic authority, Anwar Sadat grudgingly tolerated the Muslim Brotherhood as a foreign policy tool and played up Islamist rhetoric (in place of “Arab nationalism”) against Israel. The IDF, when not evicting settlers, is either bulldozing Palestinian homes for them, heavily subsidizing their lifestyles, or actively arming them to beat back demonstrators.

U.S. officials, as noted above, have not always been so picky about which religious rightists they do business with. Many of the loudest and most well-placed voices in the American right easily move between socially conservative, national security circles in the U.S and Israel. “Homeland Security” is for God and country! Brilliant!

Oh, if only they were all members of the same religion! They’re already members of the same faith after all! Such wonderful theocracy they could make together!

“Moshiach” Qutb feat Santorum. The hit single for 2012. David Yerushalmi does a cover version.

Oddly enough, the supposed porno theater looks like one of my psychology lecture halls from college.

We never got to watch anything good in that class.

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

Libyan Rebel Forces Continue to Detain Sub-Saharans and Black Libyans

The Associated Press reported on Friday that rebel forces and sympathetic Libyan civilians have been rounding up sub-Saharan Africans and black Libyans in Tripoli, accusing them of serving as “mercenaries” for the Gaddafi regime:

Virtually all of the detainees say they are innocent migrant workers, and in most cases there is no evidence that they are lying. But that is not stopping the rebels from placing the men in facilities like the Gate of the Sea sports club, where about 200 detainees — all black — clustered on a soccer field this week, bunching against a high wall to avoid the scorching sun.

The report quotes a prison director who acknowledges that many of the detainees are likely stranded migrant workers, but insists that “a big percentage” had been “fighting against our people.” The report adds that while there is little “credible” evidence of widespread violence against the prisoners (if racially motivated detention cannot be said already to constitute “violence”), Amnesty International and the African Union have warned that “there is potential for serious abuse.”

Racially motivated violence, which the United Nations had warned could occur prior to the NATO intervention, has marked a seedy and under-reported underbelly of an uprising that has otherwise professed democratic aspirations.

Black residents of Libya, “mercenaries” or otherwise, might be fairly characterized as victims of the Gaddafi legacy in their own right, caught up in a cynical ploy by a paranoid regime to turn the country’s residents against one another. More immediately, however, they are victims of the revolutionaries on whose behalf NATO has been dropping bombs for months. And more importantly, most are the “civilians” NATO’s mandate compels it to protect, regardless of their stripe. No word on whether to expect new strikes on Tripoli if the situation deteriorates.

With parallel reports of NATO allies working to outmaneuver one another to secure oil contracts in a new Free Libya, the potential spoils of regime change – however well the change might have been deserved – have once more overshadowed the proclamation of a “responsibility to protect.”

Life lesson for liberal hawks: “humanitarian” bombing campaigns are destined to disappoint.

Will Obama Sabotage His Jobs Plan With Job-Killing Free-Trade Agreements?

Cross-posted from the Dissent Magazine blog Arguing the World.

After a slight scheduling kerfuffle, President Obama is now set to give a major speech on jobs before a joint session of Congress next Thursday, September 8. Commentators have speculated that Obama could “go big” in his proposals to fight unemployment, and there are some solid suggestions on the table for how the government could help put Americans back to work. These include major investment in public infrastructure and changing the tax structure in order to reward businesses for creating U.S. jobs, rather than off-shoring their production abroad.

Unfortunately, Obama is also likely to advance some bad ideas. In his pledge to “to find bipartisan solutions” to the country’s economic problems, the president will almost certainly push several neoliberal “free trade” agreements. Specifically, he is expected to reassert his support for previously stalled trade pacts with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea.

As Lori Wallach argues, “whatever one thinks about the idea of ‘free trade,’ the federal government’s own studies predict that these three deals would increase the U.S. trade deficit—costing more jobs than they create.” Wallach’s organization, Global Trade Watch, has had to regularly correct news reports that uncritically accept false numbers about trade. In a post on why “Trade Does Not Equal Jobs,” even Paul Krugman, normally a trade booster, has argued that claims about the South Korea trade agreement being an engine of job creation are bunk.

The idea that “free trade” is in fact a bipartisan issue is also debatable. It’s true that President Bill Clinton and his generation of “New Democrats” enthusiastically embraced NAFTA and other neoliberal trade deals—and were far more serious about creating hemisphere-wide pacts like the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) than the administration of George W. Bush ever was. (The argument of my 2008 book, How to Rule the World: The Coming Battle Over the Global Economy, was that a new Democratic president would be likely to repudiate Bush’s unilateralist, America-first brand of “imperial globalization,” but would revert to promoting a friendlier, more multilateral form of “corporate globalization”—different in some respects, but plenty bad in its own right. Obama hasn’t done much to disprove this thesis.)

Yet while Bill Clinton and the Democratic Leadership Council led the “free trade” charge in the 1990s, it is not at all clear that this can still be called a “Democratic” position—and thus form part of bipartisan platform. In the past decade, recognizing a strong voter backlash against the neoliberal trade agenda, Democratic elected officials have increasingly embraced a pro-worker, pro-environment “fair trade” agenda. Global Trade Watch has documented that the fair trade platform was effective even in the 2010 midterms, when the Republicans made gains overall. In fact, many conservatives also adopted “fair trade” messaging, expressing skepticism about future trade deals made in the NAFTA mold.

Even Bill Clinton has shown some remorse for his “free trade” advocacy—at least in selected instances. With regard to Haiti, he said in March 2010 that pushing neoliberal policies was “a mistake” that hurt the poor in that country. “I had to live everyday with the consequences of the loss of capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people because of what I did; nobody else,” he explained.

Apart from sentiments in Washington, it is clear that popular opinion would in no way justify pushing trade deals as a matter of broad, “bipartisan” agreement. Citing a November 2010 poll by the Pew Research Center that showed public support for “free trade” at one of its lowest points in over a decade, Dan Denvir recently pointed out at the Guardian that pushing through the stalled “free trade” agreements could well be a liability for Obama at the polls. Todd Tucker has previously made this case in even stronger terms, calling Obama’s support for “free trade” pacts a “political death wish.”

As a presidential candidate, still in a primary fight against Hillary Clinton, Obama recognized that the base of the party was squarely against “free trade” neoliberalism. He called NAFTA “devastating” and “a big mistake” on the campaign trail. Voters in 2012 will have every right to be disgusted by his subsequent “about-face.”

While the more progressive elements of Obama’s jobs agenda will no doubt have trouble getting through a Republican-controlled House of Representatives, passing the trade deals with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea would also be divisive, requiring him to split the Democrats in Congress. The president therefore has a choice: Fight the Republicans on domestic investment, or fight the prevailing sentiments of his own party—in Washington and beyond—on trade.

Mark Engler is a senior analyst with Foreign Policy In Focus and author of How to Rule the World: The Coming Battle Over the Global Economy (Nation Books, 2008). He can be reached via the website Democracy Uprising.

Mass Killing: a Higher Calling?

In Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (Basic Books, 2010) Timothy Snyder writes of the years 1933 and 1945, during which the “bloodlands” — Poland, the Ukraine, Belarus, and the Balkan states — were alternately occupied by Russia and Germany.

Fourteen million [yes, 14 – RW] is the approximate number of people killed by purposeful policies of mass murder implemented by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in the bloodlands.

The difficulty contemplating barbarity of that magnitude prompts us to simply write Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union off as pure evil. However, writes Snyder

To dismiss the Nazis or the Soviets as beyond human concern or historical understanding is to fall into their moral trap. The safer route is to realize that their motives for mass killing, however revolting to us, made sense to them. Heinrich Himmler said that it was good to see a hundred, or five hundred, or a thousand corpses lying side by side. [Emphasis added.]

In what world does Himmler’s declaration make a shred of sense? Snyder suspects that what Himmler meant was

… that to kill another person is a sacrifice of the purity of one’s own soul, and that making this sacrifice elevated the killer to a higher moral level. This was an expression of a certain kind of devotion.

Paralleling this, heads of state also relinquish control of the fate of their own souls. When they make the decision to take their countries to war, they’re well aware that atrocities will ensue on both sides. In keeping with what Himmler called for, they’re jeopardizing their own salvations for the good of the state. Still, unless the leaders are pathological (many, of course, are), they no doubt hold out hope, however unconsciously, that their higher power will understand and cut them some slack.

At Foreign Policy in Focus, John Feffer writes:

We make a bargain with our governments. … we delegate the responsibility to declare and prosecute war to our legislative and executive branches. … Governments, in other words, kill on our behalf. This arrangement is a form of social contract, which means that governments are basically contract killers.

Contract killers, of course, don’t go to heaven. But this may help explain why much of the public is loath to bring the likes of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney to justice for prosecuting an illegal war. Again, however unconsciously, they’re forever in debt to their leaders for shouldering the karmic debt, if you will, accrued by killing.

Did Nuclear Weapons Tests Tear Holes in the Sky?

If you’ve ever watched any of the numerous videos available on the web of nuclear-weapons tests perhaps you experienced one of more of these reactions, especially with the big ones —hydrogen bombs:

Don’t those tests do permanent damage to the earth? Don’t they, I don’t know, scar it or something? If the government had to develop nuclear weapons, couldn’t they have been tested in outer space?

Of course, at the time that nuclear weapons were developed, the capability to launch missiles into space didn’t exist. Even if it did, space tests were of limited use to nuclear scientists because nuclear weapons behave differently in space than on earth where, of course, they would be used.

Eventually, though, before the Partial Test Ban Treaty ended them in 1963, the United States and Russia each tested a series of nuclear weapons outside the atmosphere — one, by the United States, 335 miles from earth. Besides the difference in appearance, such as an aurora-like effect in space as opposed to the earth’s mushroom cloud, the electromagnetic pulse that the nuclear weapons emitted were hard to control and endangered satellites orbiting the earth at that time.

Meanwhile, when nuclear weapons were first tested, scientists — some, anyway — must have swallowed their gut feelings that the planet was being irretrievably damaged by the tests in ways that were difficult to quantify. But, if, like me, you can’t help suspecting that the atmosphere was seriously seared, the following will reinforce your fears.

While in the navy in 1956, Robert Osborn, who maintains the website Words from the Wildernesse, witnessed the hydrogen bomb tests in Bikini Atoll. He describes the aftermath of one of them.

The cloud was sharply defined, like a thunderhead, and had a fluorescent, amethyst colored glow, which tinged toward a dark red. It is impossible to communicate the scale of the cloud. . . . We stood there in silence, looking at the cloud and quietly commenting on the colors. On the right side, close to the cloud, we could see two bright, stationary lights. They were visible for a short while, then they faded. . . . We were quite curious about the mysterious lights we saw beside the cloud. About a week or so after the shot, I was speaking to one of the scientists that had been aboard. He said they also had been puzzled by the appearance of the lights. They finally concluded that what we saw were two bright stars, essentially as we would have seen them from outer space. Apparently, the heat of the explosion was so great that it literally burned away the atmosphere around the fireball.

Call it what you will — a hole in the sky, a rent in the very fabric of existence — a nuclear war could leave the heavens in tatters like a flag that’s been through a battle.

UN Origins Project Series, Part 4: In WWII, It Took Teamwork to Defeat Not Only Germany, But Japan

UNIOHistory tends to remember the defeat of Japan as a purely American victory. It is unlike the allied victory over Hitler in Europe that was the result of the combined efforts of the United States, Britain, the USSR, the Canadians, Free French and countless others. History remembers victory in Europe as a triumph of the Allies.

The Pacific War is different. In the minds of most Americans, the Pacific War was a one-on-one fight with Imperial Japan, and it was America alone that prevailed. It was American forces that turned the tide against the Japanese at Midway, Americans who carried out the costly strategy of Island-hopping, it was Americans who took the fight to mainland Japan and it was America that broke the back of the Empire by bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Indeed, the American victory in the Pacific, and in particular, certain battles such as Pearl Harbor, Midway and Iwo Jima have become important to the American identity and continue to attract great interest nearly seven decades later.

The United States did achieve a great victory over Imperial Japan, and that accomplishment should be recognized; however, it did not achieve that victory alone. The United States did not have large and powerful allies in the Pacific War as it did in Europe, however, despite this, its Pacific allies played an integral part in achieving victory over Japan.

Australia offered U.S. forces strategic depth within the Pacific theater. Throughout the Pacific war, Australia acted as a sanctuary outside of Japanese reach where battle-weary troops could be rotated away from the front and given the chance to recuperate. Australia also provided invaluable logistical support as U.S. forces began its counter-offensive to retake territory occupied by the Japanese.

The Philippines. a U.S. possession at the time of the war, housed a large contingent of combined U.S. and Filipino forces, including the U.S. Asiatic fleet and was the headquarters of the US Army Far Eastern Command. Thousands of Filipino and American soldiers fought and died alongside one another in a heroic yet doomed attempt to stem the initial Japanese onslaught; many later suffered untold horrors on the infamous ‘Bataan Death March,’ or in Japanese prison camps. Those that escaped formed a guerrilla network to resist the Japanese occupation. Aided by many local villages, Filipino and American soldiers were able to continue to fight the Japanese, and importantly, provide intelligence that proved invaluable to the liberation of the Philippines in 1944, itself a hugely important step towards bringing about the Japanese defeat.

China, one of the original ‘big four’ signatories of the 1942 Declaration by United Nations, was another vital ally in the struggle to liberate Asia and the Pacific. Japan seized on the internal turmoil caused by years of civil war between the Communists and the Kuomintang by invading and conquering Manchuria in 1931. Japanese forces pressed onward into China following the orchestrated attack at the Marco Polo Bridge. The Japanese quickly captured Peking, Shanghai and Nanjing, at which time hundreds of thousands of Chinese civilians were killed in some of the worst atrocities of the war. By the time Europe became engulfed in war, the Chinese had been fighting against the Japanese occupation for nearly a decade, in what many would later term, “the forgotten war.” Estimates of Chinese casualties during the war range from 10 to 20 million as the result of enemy action or from widespread famine and illness resulting from the war.

The tenacity exhibited by Chinese forces to continue fighting despite suffering such horrendous losses stretched the Japanese war machine to its breaking point, as the Japanese were required to direct increasingly scarce resources to the Chinese front, thereby hastening their own defeat.

Finally, in what was to prove the war’s final act, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, an important detail is often left out in many historical accounts. On August 8th 1945, two days after the Enola Gay dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, the USSR entered the war against Japan and advanced troops into Manchuria early in the morning of August 9th. Shortly after, the second bomb fell on Nagasaki. Emperor Hirohito announced Japan would surrender 6 days later on August 15th.

In his August 15th radio address, Emperor Hirohito cited the use of a “new and most cruel bomb,” as the reason for Japan’s capitulation. However it is nearly impossible to conclude that a stark appraisal of the power now arrayed against it upon the Soviet entry into the war was not a significant factor in Tokyo’s decision to surrender.

The United States did do a great deal of the heavy lifting in beating back the Japanese. However, these advances could not have been made without the vital help of its Pacific allies. In many cases, the sacrifices that enabled an Allied victory in the Pacific War have gone unnoticed or unmentioned. As in Europe, victory was only achieved through the collective efforts of nations and peoples united, fighting towards victory.

Greg Chaffin is a research assistant for the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at the University of London.

Western Multinationals Enabled Qaddafi’s Suppression of Libyans

Cross-posted from the Arabist.

Reporting from Tripoli, The Wall Street Journal’s Paul Sonne and Margaret Coker reveal the depths of collusion between Colonel Qaddafi’s spooks and their foreign tech support:

The recently abandoned room is lined with posters and English-language training manuals stamped with the name Amesys, a unit of French technology firm Bull SA, which installed the monitoring center. A warning by the door bears the Amesys logo. The sign reads: “Help keep our classified business secret. Don’t discuss classified information out of the HQ.”

Amesys of Bull SA was just one of those whose wares were on display. Narus, a subsidiary of Boeing, the ZTE Corporation of China and a small (but apparently important) South African firm called VASTech SA (Pty) were all represented. Other names will likely follow. But so far, they all are following the warning on the Amesys sign, offering limp responses to the WSJ’s inquiries, or just declining to comment.

But the HQ records speak for themselves: the government recorded thousands of online conversations, phone calls and web histories, from regular citizens to human rights activists (those who had overseas contacts were priority targets, of course).

In the end, Colonel Qaddafi’s tech support was a waste of money, even after his government killed the internet in March to try and cut off Libyans from each other and the outside world. Libya’s uprising has apparently succeeded in toppling Qaddafi’s government, and his IT department is nowhere to be found.

Even the building’s architecture speaks for itself, according to the WSJ. The reporters who entered the place say that in addition to the communications section, the place also has “a windowless detention center.”

As the WSJ points out, none of this is especially shocking. Foreign companies and their products have been involved in suppressing the Arab Spring, and from the Middle East to East Asia, multinationals have made hefty profits from providing surveillance capacity, security contracting and arms sales to repressive regimes. ThisSIGINT Road, if you will, is the e-version of the old Silk Road running from Beijing to Tunis with many stops along the way.

Libya is a good example of the political dealings that are so common when multinational corporate interests stand to gain. When Qaddafi extended an olive branch as the Second Gulf War began, Western (and non-Western) governments and firms leaped at the chance to do business with a seemingly older and wiser dictator.

International trade and arms sanctions were imposed on Libya between 1988 and 1992 due to the country’s support for terrorist organizations. These sanctions were lifted from Libya starting in 2003 because Qaddafi agreed to disclose and dismantle its nuclear program, help track down Libya’s international nuclear black market contacts and started “cooperating” with the UK’s Lockerbie bombing investigation.

Qaddafi made a shrewd choice when he decided to cooperate with the U.S., the UK and the IAEA. Having seen where the WMD “smoking gun” justification had led the U.S. in Iraq, he had no desire to give the Marine Corps cause to pay a visit to “the shores of Tripoli” once again. A grateful West began restoring diplomatic niceties.

But there were tangible benefits as well: diplomatic niceties paved that way for what the Libyan government really wanted: new technology and new money. Qaddafi looked at Western arms manufacturers, investors, security-surveillance providers and oil majors in the same way that a tech junkie would salivate over an Apple Store’s fancy gadgets and efficient tech support.

Big EU arms manufacturers like BAE Systems and the Finmeccania Group basically just picked up where they left off in 1992, selling everything from surveillance networks, firearms, and aircraft. Oil majors, discouraged from going into Libya during the Cold War due to nationalization efforts and Libya’s late pariah status started negotiating contracts.

If there was one sector of Libya’s economy that Qaddafi believed benefited from free enterprise and globalization, it was the surveillance market. The aforementioned Finmeccania Group, (although not mentioned in the article) also helped the Libyans with surveillance work, according to a report put out a few years ago by the partly-government owned Italian multinational.

One hopes the new government will make a conference center available ASAP to host an open house for Qaddafi’s old business partners. Some are already dipping their toes into post-Qaddafi waters to keep or expand these contracts – joined by security contractors who hope to do a brisk business protecting VIPs and pricey machines.

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

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