Focal Points Blog

Assad-Erdogan Bromance on the Rocks?

Assad Erdogan(Pictured: Syrian President Assad and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan in happier times.)

“Until recently,” reports Henri Barkey at the National Interest, the AKP, Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development party, “saw its burgeoning relations with Damascus as the model success story for its improved foreign policy . . . that sought renewed political and economic engagement in the Middle East and its periphery.”

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Syrian Preside Bashar al-Assad “had developed a strong and close personal relationship. Erdogan appeared to take the young Bashar under his wing, and Turkey provided critical support to the embattled Assad regime when it came under pressure to remove its troops from Lebanon after the 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and even at the outset of the recent uprising in Syria. The AKP developed a narrative of ‘two peoples, one state’ as the leaderships held joint cabinet meetings, eliminated visa requirements and discussed economic integration.”

Ultimately, though, the relationship has gone south.

As protests began, Turkey made clear its preference that Assad reform his regime. . . . Ankara certainly wanted to avoid the kind of bloodshed that has characterized the Libyan and Yemeni uprisings. . . . However, by initiating a major military attack on Jisr al-Shughour, Assad may have committed a strategic blunder. [Near the border, the town’s] refugees. . . . with their own tales of horror that seep into the Turkish press, making it all the more difficult to ignore their plight . . . streaming into Turkey forced Erdogan’s hand. . . . Erdogan must have come to the realization that the Ba’ath regime in Syria is doomed. . . . Assad, therefore, has lost the only friend willing to stand up for him other than the regime in Tehran.

In fact, reports Borzou Daragahi in the Los Angeles Times:

Many say it was the harrowing images and horror stories of Syrian refugees that changed political calculations for Erdogan, who considers himself a world figure embracing the oppressed. . . . Erdogan, analysts say, is enraged that Assad didn’t heed his advice to curtail violence and embark on reforms, humiliated that for years he has been talking up the Syrian president to partners in the West as the man to reform Syria.

Meanwhile, much hand-wringing over how the United States should respond. At Foreign Policy’s the Middle East Channel, Marc Lynch counsels caution for a variety of reasons.

I am troubled by . . . very limited international media and an aggressive activist campaign shaping the narrative. I am not confident about any assessments of Syrian public opinion, which may be tipping against Assad in response to the rolling violence but may not be. I am skeptical of the Syrian opposition coalition which has been slowly emerging. . . . And despite the horrible bloodshed and brutality, the conditions which made intervention appropriate in Libya [sic] simply do not exist in Syria.

He advises the Obama administration to

. . . continue working carefully with regional partners to shape a broad regional response to the crisis — an approach which is paying off with Turkey, much of the Gulf, and now even the Arab League. Attempting to lure Asad [Lynch’s spelling] away from Tehran made sense even a few months ago, but by this point his brutality has rendered it virtually inconceivable that he would find an open door [to the West] even if he wished to switch sides. The policies [that, among other things, the administration] adopts should be consistently designed to shape an environment in which parts of the Syrian ruling coalition see the benefit in abandoning the regime.

At Asia Times Online, via AlterNet, M.K. Bhadrakumar explains the implications for Russia.

Russia is stubbornly blocking US attempts to drum up a case for Libya-style intervention in Syria [because it] understands that a major reason for the US to push for regime change in Syria is to get the Russian naval base in that country wound up [removed. For its part] the US wants Russia to leave Syria alone for the West to tackle. But Russia knows what follows will be that the Russian naval base there would get shut down by a pro-Western successor regime . . . that succeeds Assad.

On a related issue, Bhadrakumar points out that

. . . Western reports are completely silent as to the assistance that the Syrian opposition is getting from outside. No one is interested in probing or questioning, for instance, the circumstances in which 120 Syrian security personnel could have been shot and killed in one “incident”.

Actually, among others, the Guardian is. On June 6, it reported that Syria’s

. . . state news agency, Sana, initially said 28 personnel had been killed, including in an armed ambush and at a state security post. It revised the figure up to 43, 80 and then 120 within the space of an hour without an explanation. The claims could not be independently verified. . . . The regime and state media have little credibility . . . blaming the escalating violence on armed gangs and extremist insurgents. . . . Activists and analysts suggested members of the security forces may have been killed but. . . . pointed out that armed gangs never roamed Syria before the Arab spring.

Gen. Kayani’s Tenure as Most Powerful Man in Pakistan Coming to Premature End?

Petraeus Kayani(Pictured: An uneasy alliance.)

In the wake of the U.S. attack on the bin Laden compound, four-star General Ashfaq Kayani, successor to Pervez Musharraf as the Pakistan army’s chief of staff and called by the New York Times “the most powerful man in the country,” finds himself between a rock and a hard place.

The rock, according to the Times

[Gen. Kayani] faces such intense discontent over what is seen as his cozy relationship with the United States that a colonels’ coup, while unlikely, was not out of the question. . . . The Pakistani Army is essentially run by consensus among 11 top commanders, known as the Corps Commanders, and almost all of them, if not all, were demanding that General Kayani get much tougher with the Americans, even edging toward a break, Pakistanis who follow the army closely said.

And the hard place . . .

Washington, with its own hard line against Pakistan, had pushed General Kayani into a defensive crouch

In response

. . . to rally support among his rank-and-file troops, who are almost uniformly anti-American. . . . General Kayani made an extraordinary tour of more than a dozen garrisons, mess halls and other institutions in the six weeks since the May 2 raid that killed Bin Laden.

Meanwhile

General Kayani had already become a more obstinate partner [with the United States], standing ever more firm with each high-level American delegation that has visited since the raid.

While not clear what part Kayani played, a possible example of this is the arrest by the ISI (which Kayani once headed) of five informants who helped the Central Intelligence Agency with the Bin Laden raid. The Times also reports

Apart of his survival mechanism, General Kayani could well order the Americans to stop the drone program completely.

In which case you can kiss much of the United States’ military aid goodbye. In any event, if Kayani doesn’t survive as army chief, good luck to the next guy who tries to walk that tightrope.

Israel’s 1981 Osirak Attack Poor Precedent for Attacking Iran

Osirak Israel attack Iran(Pictured: Osirak after the attack.)

Israel’s 1981 attack on Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor is, along with other episodes such as the Six-Day War and Operation Entebbe, is the stuff of Israel’s military legend. Some are citing it as a precedent for attacking Iran’s nuclear-enrichment facilities. As Bennett Ramberg wrote in 2006 for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (behind a pay wall) about the Osirak attack’s applicability to Iran:

“A dramatic military action to prevent nuclear weapons proliferation, the June 7, 1981 strike left a legacy that echoes today in the ‘all options are on the table’ drumbeat emanating from Washington and Jerusalem. The seemingly straightforward message to Iran and other would-be proliferators: Abrogate nonproliferation pledges in this post-9/11 era and risk being ‘Osiraked.'”

But during the course of an issue brief in which he assesses the difficulties of attacking Iran, the Arms Control Association’s ace analyst Greg Thielmann writes:

Generally regarded as a spectacular success, the attack did indeed delay Saddam Hussein’s nuclear weapons program. But Iraq’s determination to succeed was strengthened, its commitment of personnel and resources skyrocketed, and its success at hiding its activities from the IAEA and Western intelligence collectors increased.

Meanwhile, at the National Interest in 2006 (also behind a pay wall) Richard Betts won’t even concede that the attack delayed Iraq’s nuclear-weapons program.

As pressure mounts to reckon with Iran’s nascent nuclear program [many] strategists. . . . are pointing to Israel’s 1981 air attack on Iraq’s Osirak reactor as a model for action–a bold stroke flying in the face of all international opinion that nipped Iraq’s nuclear capability in the bud or at least postponed a day of reckoning. This reflects widespread misunderstanding of what that strike accomplished. Contrary to prevalent mythology, there is no evidence that Israel’s destruction of Osirak delayed Iraq’s nuclear weapons program. The attack may actually have accelerated it. . . . Recall the surprising discoveries after the Iraq War. In 1991 coalition air forces destroyed the known nuclear installations in Iraq, but when UN inspectors went into the country after the war, they unearthed a huge infrastructure for nuclear weapons development that had been completely unknown to Western intelligence before the war. . . . Iraq’s nuclear program [abandoned, of course, before the second Iraq War — RW] demonstrates how unsuccessful air strikes can be even when undertaken on a massive scale.

Finally, Theilmann nicely sums up the other reasons why attacking Iran is inadvisable:

  • Military Experts Advise Against
  • It Won’t Work
  • A Complex, Costly Operation
  • Little International Support [Israel only]
  • Creating All the Wrong Incentives for Iran
  • Energy Insecurity [for the West]
  • A Third Ground War? [Along with Iraq and Afghanistan]

If We Survive the Next 100 Years, Which Came First: Nuclear Abolition or World Peace?

Imagine a future in which mankind has wrestled global warming to a draw and the rich have finally come to understand that extreme income inequality degrades their quality of life as much as the next guy’s. To those of us who, for so long, have been begging for crumbs — just the survival of the planet and our financial lives — it’s a veritable golden age.

The third leg on which, if not utopia, the next best thing to it — the ability to stave off dystopia — stands Global Zero, the abolition of nuclear weapons. Which bring us to the old chicken and egg cliché. In this case, which came first: global zero or world peace?

In November of 2010, Hudson Institute fellow Christopher Ford issued a paper, in response to which I’ve written a number of posts, titled Nuclear Weapons Reconstitution and its Discontents: Challenges of Weaponless Deterrence. In the course of his work, he details the challenges of a possible transitional stage to Global Zero: dismantling nuclear arsenals, but retaining the infrastructure and know-how to re-build them in the event of a perceived national-security emergency. Ford writes:

. . . that it is difficult to imagine today’s weapons possessors actually agreeing to it without some quite fundamental transformation in international politics already having taken place. [It may, in fact, be] a self-solving problem by virtue of becoming unnecessary under the only conditions that would make abolition possible in the first place. [Commentator Alexei Arbatov] has argued that “much more important” than solving the many “concrete problems” presented by [weaponless deterrence] is the likely precondition it demands of “profound improvements in the world’s political and military environments and in great powers’ ability to cooperate and trust one another.”

Continuing to belabor the obvious, another commentator has

. . . . suggested that “[t]raditional worries associated with nuclear crisis stability disappear if all states no longer find the need to maintain an operational assured nuclear retaliation capability.” For his part, Harald Müller also argues that “[i]n order to realize the vision of a nuclear weapons free world, the relationship among the great powers must be one of cooperation and mutual trust, not one of sharp geopolitical rivalry in which the security dilemma reigns.”

In other words, if that’s not obvious enough for you, two other commentators

. . . have averred that “a world free of nuclear weapons would likely become a reality only after significant political developments around the globe, leading to more stable and secure international relations than at present.” [Another observed] that “the nuclear weapons problem cannot be separated analytically, politically, or militarily from the larger strategic context.”

Along similar lines, at Switzerland’s ISN (International Relations and Security Network), John Mueller, author of Atomic Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism from Hiroshima to Al-Qaeda (Oxford University Press, 2010), writes:

It is difficult to see how any country that has possessed nuclear weapons has found them beneficial since World War II. They have supplied little diplomatic advantage, and no nuclear-armed country has discov­ered an effective use for them in the many wars waged [since]. Nor have they been useful in deterring war. Their supposed chief achievement was to prevent World War III during the Cold War, but this notion continues to be undercut with each leak from Soviet archives. . . . For nuclear weapons to fade toward obliv­ion, perhaps nothing needs to be done but wait, as more and more people come to question the weapons’ value and cost. . . . No real “manage­ment” may be necessary.

Already, the US and Russia have engaged in something of a negative arms race, mas­sively reducing their atomic arsenals from levels that are ridiculously large to ones that are merely foolishly large. Meanwhile, France has unilaterally and without any in­ternational agreement cut its collection of nuclear bombs by two-thirds; the UK has wondered in public why it needs to have any at all. . . . in time, perhaps even American taxpayers will come to muse on the expense. . . . The weap­ons, without studied effort, might then be allowed to rust in peace.

What’s missing here? Oh, the urgency of the nuclear threat. Little things like an irrational leader (such as in North Korea), overweening nationalism (as in India and Pakistan), or, of course, an accident. Both approaches — waiting for international relations to heal or for nuclear weapons to live out their usefulness — are, in fact, too casual. Under these circumstances, Zen-like forbearance only adds to the threat of nuclear risk.

Improved international relations, to help ensure disarmament, would be ideal. But, the situation is an emergency, and, as with other illegal weapons such as land mines and cluster weapons, it cries out for us to be in a “put down the weapon” mode.

Like Strauss-Kahn, Christine Lagarde Dragging Baggage Into Likely IMF Directorship

Lagarde Geithner(Pictured: “Bilderbergers” building bridges.)

In the infamous column in which French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy cried his outrage at the public humiliation inflicted to Dominique Strauss-Kahn in the aftermath of his arrest, one sentence described particularly well the unspoken but unshakeable consensus governing politicians and the law in France. Levy expressed his indignation against: “The American judge who by delivering him to the crowd of photo hounds, pretended to take him for a subject of justice like any other.”

The idea that Strauss-Kahn should not be treated as “a subject of justice like any other” remained a leitmotiv through the flood of media reactions to his arrest in France. Because he had more to lose than “a vulgar delinquent” would have in a similar case, the argument went, because of his years of service to the world as head of the IMF and because of his prestige as future presidential candidate, he should be given special treatment. His disgrace should be hidden from public view; he should be spared the humiliation and disagreement of handcuffs, detention, and monitoring; and most importantly he should be given the benefit of the doubt.

This is nothing new in under the sun in French Politics. During his twelve years as President, Jacques Chirac was cited in nine different corruption cases while shielded both by presidential immunity and a merciful public opinion. One of his former Prime Ministers, Alain Juppé, was convicted of corruption in 2004, only to be recently welcomed back into Sarkozy’s government in the key spot of Minister of Foreign Affairs. Other prominent members of the French government have been implicated in scandals in the past few years, from Minister of Budget Eric Woerth’s shady dealings with L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt to former Minister of Interior Brice Hortefeux’s conviction for racial slander. While these cases certainly sparked media scandals, Sarkozy maintained his public support to the indicted ministers — perpetuating the tradition of that political figures benefiting from impunity, proportionally to their rank. The message is clear: you might have to lay low for a couple of years after the scandal but you will be protected, and eventually come back safely to the front rows of power.

Another such disreputable figure is Bernard Tapie, a Berlusconi-esque figure who has dabbled in murky-yet-profitable business ventures, show business, politics and soccer club management. He last hogged newspaper headlines in 2008, for receiving 403 million Euros of public funds in compensation for having been cheated fifteen years earlier by the French Bank Credit Lyonnais in the sale of the firm Adidas, which he headed at the time. In a time of economic downturn, public opinion was outraged that Tapie would received such a colossal sum, coming straight from their tax-Euros. But most importantly, the procedure through which the settlement was made was shady: three arbiters were picked to review the case and come to a decision behind closed doors a process contested at the time by several legal commentators, since public funds were involved.

Most critical to the affair is who took these questionable decisions and personally picked the arbiters: France’s Minister of Economy and Finances, and now leading candidate to take Strauss-Kahn’s spot as head of the IMF, Christine Lagarde. Lagarde could face prosecution for “abuse of authority” in this case, as the Cour de Justice de la Republique (CJR), in charge of judging crimes and offenses perpetrated by Ministers in office, is evaluating the case and deliberating on the need for further investigation. More severe than the dubious process chosen to settle the case is the fact, revealed by french independent news website Mediapart (), that Lagarde knew of a relationship between one of the arbiters and Tapie’s attorney and chose not to interrupt the process or appeal its outcome.

In the mainstream media’s coverage of Lagarde’s candidacy, the case is usually referred to as a detail, almost a footnote. Lagarde herself dismisses these accusations as innocuous. “I am perfectly confident and serene regarding this subject and this has absolutely no bearing on my candidacy” she declared on June 10th, after her audience was pushed back to July. Once again, just as Strauss-Kahn’s widely known compulsion toward sexual harassment never impeded his political ascendency, we are faced with an example in which a political leader is not held to the rule of law because of a “special treatment” granted by her position on the national and now global political chessboard. There is serious evidence that Christine Lagarde, in the cesspool of corruption that is France’s political landscape turned a blind eye on another instance of cronyism. Should it be disregarded as Strauss-Kahn’s history of sexual “misconduct” was four years ago?

Jeanne Kay is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.

Can Lasting Disarmament Be Achieved Without Peace First?

When speaking about nonproliferation and disarmament, it’s usually assumed that the latter cuts the ice for nonproliferation. In fact, it’s part and parcel of the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. In other words, large nuclear states are expected to demonstrate via substantive disarmament measures that it’s safe for smaller nuclear states to follow their lead in disarming. In the same vein, it becomes un-necessary for non-nuclear states to acquire or develop nuclear weapons.

But conservatives and even some realpolitik types, especially lately, seek to decouple nonproliferation from disarmament. That is, they believe that not only shouldn’t nonproliferation depend on disarmament, but that disarmament shouldn’t transpire until nonproliferation has been assured.

That’s not the only cart they put before a horse.

In A Survey of the Nuclear Weapons Landscape, Hudson Institute fellow Christopher Ford at New Paradigms Forum illustrates another such transposition. He asks:

. . . has the Cold War model of bilateral and numerically-focused arms control finally run its course? Does traditional arms control need to give way to a new era focusing more upon improved transparency and confidence-building relationships as a prerequisite for any potential further cuts? . . . That’s certainly a lot harder than just crunching numbers for a new treaty, but the time when disarmament could be regarded as being principally about numbers may be past.

In other words, he suggests disarmament may be contingent on the political climate, a position that conservatives can scarcely be faulted for adopting. It’s true, of course, that improved relations between states is the only enduring answer to arms control. In fact, in its idealism and faith in human nature to change, adhering to this position is kind of endearing on the part of conservatives.

At the same time, this approach reveals a conservative blind spot: inability to acknowledge that possession of nuclear-weapons program is a global emergency. The sheer existence of nuclear weapons is more of a threat than the dispositions of the states that possess them.

We’re talking about triage. As with land mines and cluster bombs, for example, nuclear weapons need to be taken out of the hands of mankind well before it sorts out its dark impulses, if it ever does.

Specter of Not Only 9/11, But the ’93 WTC Bombing, Haunts One World Trade Center

One reason for the failure of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing to make as great an impact on America’s consciousness as it deserved may have been because that was all it was called. In other words, the incident was never properly branded like — however simply, but effectively — 9/11 (along with the other attacks of the day). Our concerns may also have been alleviated because “mastermind” Ramzi Yousef and other conspirators were rounded up post haste as opposed to the decade it took to locate Osama bin Laden.

How quickly we forgot that the 1,336-lb. fertilizer-based bomb — supercharged with hydrogen cylinders — tore a 30-yard-wide hole through four concrete sub-basements, killed seven, and injured thousands injured. From one perspective, along with swift apprehension of the suspects, the incident was viewed as a success because the buildinsg survived the bombing. (How did they survive that attack and not planes crashing into them? Oh, sorry. Down, you bad Truther.)

Since the structural damage to the building wasn’t significant, it couldn’t be demolished and insurance money collected. Lessors just had to soldier on. In the years between 1993 and 9/11, one couldn’t help wondering how distracting the threat of another attack must have been to employees of companies that leased space in those buildings.

But even 9/11 failed to prevent plans for the 1,776-foot-tall replacement for the Twin Towers, the Freedom Tower, the name of which was soon changed to One World Trade Center. As Ron Rosenbaum at Slate writes, “The new thinking, I guess: no use in unduly provoking al-Qaida—after all, they hate our freedoms!” But, he calls it a “never-ending security nightmare.”

Because the security concerns that were there from the beginning have not gone away, and the fixes for the flaws in the security have not been proven, and the site planners have been shown over and over again to be shockingly, scandalously inept.

Among the flaws:

One of the things the NYPD counterterrorism squad insisted on was that the base of the tower be moved further back from . . . heavy truck traffic. (Can you say “truck bomb”?) Of course, I may have missed it, but what’s the plan to prevent an explosion originating on one of the hundreds of trains that will be passing below the base of the tower?

As for ineptitude, Rosenbaum reminds us of

. . . the “confidential” floor plan leak last month. . . . Documents marked “confidential” and containing floor plans for One World Trade Center were posted and made available to terrorists on New York City’s website by mistake in May. . . . There are 17 documents stamped confidential showing every nook and cranny—including load-bearing walls, mechanical rooms, and ground floor entrances—of the still under construction tower.

What’s the big deal? After all, writes Rosenbaum, “al-Qaida has no reason lately for renewed interest in the World Trade Center anyway. That’s so 2001. Oh, right.”

In case you didn’t catch his meaning, that last comment is presumably an allusion to the raid on bin Laden’s compound. Perhaps most frightening of all (emphasis added):

Here’s what usually savvy NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly (probably under pressure from real estate types) had to say about it last December. See if you find it reassuring (emphasis added):

Landlords, managing agents and tenants will change over time, but the threat to the World Trade Center will persist. . . . the NYPD and the Port Authority are working together to make the World Trade Center the safest work environment in the world. . . . Now is the time for anyone with alternate ideas for securing the site to present them for consideration. They admit they don’t know if there’s a better plan than the one they’re putting in place!

Sounds suspiciously like a disclaimer . After all what could Kelly do “about a Stinger missile (widely available on the black market, I’m told) from across the river?” In the end the name change from Freedom Tower to One World Trade Center (emphasis added)

. . . has not diminished the folly of the whole building-as-symbolic-gesture, nor has it eliminated the fear factor in forcing thousands of middle-class and working-class employees to serve as live bait in World Terrorist Target No. 1. . . . Would you want to go to work in place people are scheming 24/7 to destroy?

If the Twin Towers looked like bowling pins just asked to be knocked down, consider that before conspirators had to make a split; now they need hit only one pin.

Will Flotilla 13 Attack Freedom Flotilla 2?

Shayetet 13(Pictured: Emblem of Shayetet – Flotilla – 13.)

“We will have to come prepared in the future as if it was a war.”
– Top Israeli Naval Commander on the response to efforts to break the siege of Gaza

The attack on the flagship of the Freedom Flotilla on May 31, 2010 was carried out by an elite branch of the Israeli Navy known as the Shayetet 13, or Flotilla 13 in English. The unit, “one of the most decorated units in the Israeli military,” is frequently compared to the U.S. Navy Seals – most recently in the news for their high profile extrajudicial execution in Pakistan – and they sometimes train together.

The Shayetet 13 (or S-13; get your t-shirts here!) reputedly “specializes in sea-to-land incursions, counter-terrorism, sabotage, maritime intelligence gathering, maritime hostage rescue, and boarding.” As such, they represent a telling choice to lead operations to stop civilian ships in international waters. Imagine if in 1961 Washington had sent the Green Berets to halt the Freedom Rides in the Deep South.

The outcome of last year’s operation in the dead of night could hardly have come as a great shock. Sending lethal combat teams on operations of civilian crowd control is a recipe for bloodshed.

The point was made by Max Blumenthal just days after the attack on the Mavi Marmara. He quotes the leading Israeli daily Maariv in an article published before the May 31 attack: “If the people aboard the boats will not agree to turn around, the operation will transfer to the stage of force.” The article quotes a “high ranking” Israeli officer: “We want to avoid using force but as soon as there will be danger to the life of our forces we will be forced to use live fire as a last resort.” As Blumenthal comments, “The stated conditions for using live fire were arbitrary and poorly defined, giving the commandos little direction and lots of leeway to kill — at the very least the plan demanded force in some form.”

In the past decade, the S-13 have become engaged in enforcing the occupations of Gaza and the West Bank, including participation in the infamous April 2002 combat in Jenin, and earned a reputation for extrajudicial executions in Nablus in 2004.

Most telling, the Israeli political leadership has sent clear signals that they intend to once again stop the flotilla, using violence if necessary to “neutralize” passengers. They have refused to apologize to Turkey or the United States (not that Washington would seek such an apology anyway) for the executions of their citizens last year.

The Times of London reported last year, shortly after the Mavi Marmara attack, that, “Israeli military experts have questioned whether it was wise to send a unit trained in covert operations behind enemy lines into a scenario with so many civilians present.” The Times paraphrased an Israeli military analyst commenting that the S-13 “should have been sent with a police force, or other security unit more accustomed to riot control and civilian disturbances.”

Yet once again Israel appears to be planning to board the ship with heavily armed commandos, rather than, say, simply disabling the propeller and towing the ship. Just days after the 2010 attack, Israeli officials were already asserting that the S-13 would likely be used in any similar future actions. Furthermore, “a top Navy commander” told The Jerusalem Post anonymously that, “We boarded the ship and were attacked as if it was a war. That will mean that we will have to come prepared in the future as if it was a war.”

In October, Netanyahu visited the Atlit naval base to address the S-13, and spoke of their “professionalism,” “heroism,” and “restraint.” He said of the flotilla raid, “The Shayetet’s mission was vital, necessary, legal and of the utmost importance.”

Then he went on to tell his men — while the Israeli government’s internal investigation (the Turkel Committee) into the killings was ongoing, thus inevitably prejudicing the results — “You, the fighters, encountered a violent terrorist-supporting force armed with knives, clubs and electric chain saws, and also with arms. I have to say that your actions against people that came to kill you and tried to kill you were professional and characterized by heroism, restraint and a morality that I don’t believe could be exemplified any better by any army or navy in the world.” He assured them that, “you enjoy my full backing as well as the full backing of the Israeli government, the Israeli people and of every decent person looking at the facts as they are.”

The Prime Minister told his elite team, “I salute all of you. You act in the name of the State of Israel for Israel’s security. Nobody’s better than you. I salute you.”

All of which is just as well perhaps – it is certainly a more honorable course than throwing the hired muscle under the bus after they finish the dirty work. But it is also an indication of the depths of debasement that Israeli political culture is plumbing.

As Blumenthal commented in the aftermath of the flotilla raid, “Though Israel may be more isolated than ever as a result of the massacre, the Netanyahu administration is reaping considerable political benefits at home. The day after the massacre, spontaneous celebrations broke out in Ashdod, Tel Aviv, and throughout the country, bringing together right-wing elements with everyday Israelis.”

Not to be outdone in the midst of this rapturous ode, Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi piped in with, “You shot at whom you had to, and not at those you didn’t have to.” Official sanction does not get much clearer than that.

Meanwhile, rather than seek assurances for the safety of its citizens, Washington has devoted itself to initiatives to prevent the flotilla from getting out of the docks.

Fittingly, reports indicate that all participants in the flotilla will undergo nonviolence training — while the S-13 preparations consist of additional training in hand-to-hand combat.

Along with Kevin Funk, Steven Fake is the author of “Scramble for Africa: Darfur – Intervention and the USA” (Black Rose Books). They maintain a website with their commentary at scrambleforafrica.org.

Germans Now Draw as Much of Afghans’ Ire as Americans

On May 18, thousands of people took to the streets of Taloqan, the provincial capital of Takhar province, in the north of Afghanistan. They were protesting nighttime raids by Afghan and NATO troops the day before in which four people were killed, including two women. They clashed with security forces and 12 people reportedly lost their lives. NATO said four “insurgents” were killed and two captured.

That evening scenes of the massive and angry protest march were shown on television throughout the world. The major U.S. networks said that the demonstrators shouted “death to the Americans.” Only the German news agency Deutsche Welle reported shouts of “death to the Germans.”

That the people waving their fist in the streets were especially angry with the German troops stationed in the area was clear, and they tried to storm a Bundeswehr military outpost. It was later confirmed that the dead were victims of German gunfire. What remains unclear is why the sharp Afghan-German tension went unreported in the U.S. media, even after May 28, when a bombing attack killed Gen. Daud Daud, regional police commander in northern Afghanistan, the provincial police chief, and two German soldiers. The bombing also wounded German Gen. Markus Kneip, the NATO forces’ commander for northern Afghanistan.

This week, the German magazine Spiegel gave a more complete picture of the May events.

On June 7, under the headline “Mood in Northern Afghanistan Shifts against German Troops,” Spiegel Online reported that “The situation is in northern Afghanistan is deteriorating. Bomb attacks against German soldiers are increasing in frequency and force, and local ambivalence has turned into hate. The risk for Bundeswehr troops deployed in the country has increased as has the number killed.”

When Afghan demonstrators took to the streets again following the death of Daud and Kneip, “They were carrying one of their great generals to his grave, thousands of mourners marching through the streets of the small city, chanting words of hate and trembling with rage,” said the magazine.

“But when the crowd surged through the streets of the provincial capital Taloqan, it wasn’t calling for revenge against the attackers but, rather, against those who are supposedly to blame for everything: Americans, Germans and any other foreigners,” wrote Spiegel correspondents Matthias Gebauer, Susanne Koelbl and Christoph Reuter. “At the head of the march was a car equipped with loudspeakers. Inside, a young cleric chanted ‘Khariji,’ an umbrella term for evil directed toward the foreigners. It didn’t seem to matter that the Taliban promptly and proudly claimed responsibility for the attack, or that German soldiers were among its victims.”

“Indeed, Germany is once again at odds over the war in Afghanistan,” said the Spiegel report. “This ironically comes at a time when the northern part of the country was supposed to be getting safer. Since 2009, American Special Forces have conducted nighttime ‘capture or kill’ operations, often several times a week, though prisoners are rarely taken. Last year, they killed at least two-dozen Taliban commanders in Kunduz. By last fall, half of the Taliban’s leaders were dead, and most of the remaining ones had reportedly fled to Pakistan. Some even defected to the government’s side.

“Likewise, coalition and Afghan troops were gradually recapturing large swaths of Taliban-held territory. They were operating in tandem with — and rearming — the same local militias they had tried to disarm before 2006. In early January 2011, Gen. Hans-Werner Fritz, Gen. Kneip’s predecessor as the German regional commander in the north, sounded self-assured and confident of victory in a video press conference with Pentagon correspondents. ‘They are leaving the area,’ he said, in reference to the Taliban. ‘If they don’t leave, they are killed.’ But Gen. Kneip, who barely escaped with his life, has now been forced to realize that this strategy can cut both ways.”

According to Spiegel, the day after the deadly May 17 raid, “At about 8 a.m., a first wave of protesters marched through the streets of Taloqan carrying four bodies covered in flowered shrouds. The procession wound its way toward the foreigners at the German base. The protesters started throwing stones, but they pulled back after the Germans fired warning shots.

“The next wave arrived two hours later. This time there were an estimated 2,000-3,000 people, some of whom were armed with Molotov cocktails and hand grenades. They tried to storm the German base, but Afghan guards and Bundeswehr soldiers fired on the crowd. By evening, 12 protesters were dead, and local hospitals were treating 75 people for wounds.”

The next day German military officials said there was “no indications that attackers had been killed by shots coming from German soldiers.” Subsequently, the Bundeswehr released a statement online indicating that German soldiers might have shot an attacker after all. “According to current information,” the statement said, “it cannot be ruled out that one person was shot in the head-and-neck area.”

“A United Nations investigative report now concludes that the Bundeswehr shot and killed three attackers in Taloqan,” said Spiegel. “The UN account describes the situation as follows: The mob was raging out of control, four Afghan and two German soldiers were already wounded, and the camp’s generator was on fire. The Germans hadapplied the correct methods of escalation, first firing with signal pistols, then firing warning shots in the air and, finally, shooting at the attackers
with live ammunition.”

“The UN calls the behavior of German soldiers ‘appropriate.’” said Spiegel. “The same conclusion is reached in the German investigative report that the Defense Ministry has kept under wraps for more than a week now, along with the images recorded by surveillance cameras at the base. Though the reports seem balanced, the Germans soldiers are still hated in Taloqan. Of course, none of this matters much in Taloqan, where residents now believe that the foreigners are killers. Now that the local population’s confidence in the foreigner aid teams has been destroyed, the last remaining German reconstruction and development workers and the entire UN staff are being withdrawn.”

Most of the troops with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan’s north are German. Germany commands two Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), and operates the logistical support base for all forces in the region, including 5,000 U.S. troops.

The events in Taloqan can be expected to affect the situation in Berlin. German public opinion is running strong against the country’s involvement in the war. A recent opinion poll by the magazine Focus says 84 percent of Germans oppose sending combat troops to the south of Afghanistan where the fighting is most fierce, and 63 percent do not support present deployment in the north, where the emphasis is said to be on reconstruction.

All this happened while repots were circulating that Germany is sponsoring one of the efforts to bring U.S. and Taliban representatives together for truce negotiations, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel was preparing to visit the U.S for talks with President Barak Obama. Very little was disclosed about the content of those talks, with scant mention of Afghanistan aside from Obama’s public statement of appreciation for Germany’s efforts there. But Spiegel had this to say June 8: “And in Afghanistan, the US has ceased making demands that Europe step up its engagement in the war-torn country. Indeed, Washington itself is considering a quicker withdrawal than originally planned. ‘We wish to go in together, out together,’ Merkel said on Tuesday. ‘Afghanistan will need our support, however, in the long run. So we will not abandon them.’ But the end of the Afghanistan engagement will also mark the end of another project that bound Europe to America.”

Can Economists Back Us Out From the Corner of Poverty They Helped Paint Us Into?

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

No matter how disastrously myopic they might be, it seems that economists can do no wrong in the eyes of many.

If there was one outcome of mainstream economists failing to recognize the multi-trillion dollar housing bubble of the past decade and being roundly blindsided by the most significant economic downturn in three-quarters of a century, you would think it would be a decrease in the amount of respect afforded to their “expert” opinions.

Instead, with a distressing lack of mea culpas, the economics profession—still dominated by neoclassical, “free market” assumptions—continues its march of progress. Ever greater swaths of public life and democratic decision-making are handed over to economists, and they continue to fearlessly propagate the idea that they are the right technocrats to get the job done.

Now, globetrotting liberal Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times has decided to give them a hand. In his column, “Getting Smart on Aid,” he offers—without irony or any mention of recent blemishes on their record—“a paean to economists.” He writes:

When I was in college, I majored in political science. But if I were going through college today, I’d major in economics. It possesses a rigor that other fields in the social sciences don’t—and often greater relevance as well. That’s why economists are shaping national debates about everything from health care to poverty, while political scientists often seem increasingly theoretical and irrelevant.

Economists are successful imperialists of other disciplines because they have better tools. Educators know far more about schools, but economists have used rigorous statistical methods to answer basic questions: Does having a graduate degree make one a better teacher? (Probably not.) Is money better spent on smaller classes or on better teachers? (Probably better teachers.)

If our society’s alternative to irrelevant political scientists is letting economists take over the university, I’d say we’re in big trouble. (I can’t help but recall Larry “Daddy Truck” Summers’ imperial move on the field of women’s studies, which, as it turned out, was not the most insightful contribution to feminist thought one could imagine.)

Yet, satisfied that the incisive thinking of the market-minded experts has punctured those pesky schooling problems, Kristof proposes that the experts be unleashed to solve the problem of global poverty.

Now, I’m not against the use of quantitative methods. And there are certainly left-leaning and heterodox economists who do good work challenging market-fundamentalist assumptions. But they are in the minority. The project of bringing economic reasoning to bear on social problems is usually loaded with neoliberal assumptions and ideological biases, and its boosters are distressingly naive about the past damage done in the name of applying market know-how. Dean Baker, one of the good guys—and one of the few economists to warn early and often about the housing bubble—thankfully pointed to at least of few of Kristof’s glaring oversights. As Baker writes, the columnist

…urges people who want to help the world’s poor to study economics and points to useful results that economists have uncovered. While the results he mentions are intriguing, Kristof somehow manages to ignore all the harm that economists have done in the developing world.

For example, the economists at the International Monetary Fund had routinely imposed structural adjustment programs that required that parents pay fees for their children to attend primary school. These agreements also often required fees for the provision of basic health services. This practice kept millions of children out of school and denied them basic preventive health care, since even small fees were unaffordable to many poor parents.

The practice was not changed voluntarily by the economists at the IMF.Rather it was a change that was forced on the institution by activists who were able to use their influence in Congress to require that the IMF stop making these fees a condition of getting loans.

In truth, Kristof’s proposition that economists should get more involved in solving social problems is not an uncommon one. It is part of the thriving field of “philanthrocapitalism.” Last year I wrote a review (with co-author Arthur Phillips) of Michael Edwards’ Small Change: Why Business Won’t Save the World. Arthur and I argued:

The activities covered under the umbrella of philanthrocapitalism are diverse enough to offer exceptions to any generalization about the category. But its practitioners would almost uniformly describe themselves as ‘results-oriented,’ implicitly critiquing the ineffectiveness of existing nonprofits and voluntary organizations. Their unifying idea is that business is more efficient and outcome-driven than government and civil society, and that unleashing market forces is the best means of addressing entrenched problems such as poverty, malnutrition, preventable disease, and poor education.

In Edwards’ words, ‘the basic message of this movement is pretty clear: Traditional ways of solving social problems do not work, so business thinking and market forces should be added to the mix.’ During his nine-year tenure as a director at the Ford Foundation, Edwards saw the popularity of this argument skyrocket. He writes, ‘if I had dollar for every time someone has lectured me on the virtues of business thinking for foundations and nonprofits, I’d be a philanthropist myself.’

….Ironically, in the wake of the recent economic collapse, an increasing number of such consultants are now offering their ‘services’ to civil society. Edwards quotes a leading Indian social activist, who spoke to him anonymously out of fear of retribution from funders, who argues, ‘In a world falling apart with the financial crisis, the nonprofit sector is a good haven for management consultants. Lots of money to pontificate about obvious things, very little questioning of the fact that you can cover your ignorance of fields and issues through management jargon, no accountability to anyone for mistakes arising from your lack of experience or plain ignorance, and plenty of arrogance to boot.’

In a slightly more philosophical vein, Alix Rule had a brilliant essay in the Spring 2009 issue of Dissent entitled “Good-as-money,” which very effectively attacks the theoretical underpinnings of the philanthrocapitalist school of thought.

Kristof’s argument about the work of economists is a little more specific than some of the broad claims about the power of business thinking. But the idea that global poverty persists because of a lack of econometric studies into its dynamics only serves to compound our problems. The injustices of unfettered capitalism are not an accident; they are a product of a system whose academic advocates have a lot to answer for. Economists have done enough of late. Let’s hold the paeans.

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.

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