Focal Points Blog

UN Origins Project Series, Part 1: How the Allies Won World War II and Forged a Peace

This project builds on the recently published book, America, Hitler and the UN: How the Allies Won World II and Forged a Peace, by Dan Plesch, the Director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy. The project intends to show how the United Nations was born in 1942, defeated the Axis Powers led by Germany, Italy and Japan, created today’s UN system and gave rise to a stable and peaceful post-war international system. America, Britain and the Soviet Union led a coalition of states organised as the United Nations to respond to the greatest crisis in human history. Contrary to the commonly held origin story of the United Nations, Bretton Woods and San Francisco were United Nations conferences, convened by interim United Nations organisations, which preceded the Charter.

Understanding the wartime United Nations reframes our understanding of the second half of the last century and of our own. From UNESCO to the World Bank the primary purpose of the multilateral system is conflict prevention; a system bequeathed to us by its wartime architects as a realist necessity, vital in times of trial, not as a liberal accessory to be discarded when the going gets rough.

The project leaders are interested in developing partnerships with other researchers and organizations on the implications of the wartime United Nations (WUN) for contemporary international policy and U.S. politics in particular and in its relationship to IR theory, the archaeology, genealogy and historiography of the study of international politics since 1945, and the impact of the WUN on the campaigns and politics of the Second World War.

Please see the CISD website for more details on the project, its members and its activities.

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

Doha Peace Agreement: Khartoum and the Rebel Groups’ Moment of Truth

In June, Special Envoy to Sudan Princeton Lyman displayed cautious optimism when he called the Doha Peace Talks to reach a peaceful agreement between the Sudanese government and Darfur’s rebel groups a step in the right direction. On July 14, 2011, Khartoum and some of the major rebel groups in the Northern half of Darfur, including the Liberation and Justice Movement (LJM) and Abdul-Wahid Mohamed Nur faction of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), officially signed the document these talks produced. After nine years of genocidal civil war and thirty months of dialogue, the situation is still less than ideal. In spite of this, the implementation of a peace agreement will finally begin. How much of a cause for celebration this is will become clear in the weeks and months to come.

In accord with the signed agreement, local governance is being returned to the people of Darfur – even those rebel groups that denounce violent resistance and join the fold. This includes leadership postings. Former rebels will occupy positions such as the chairmanship of the Darfur Regional Authority (DRA), the assistant and advisor to the DRA, ministerial positions (the latter three to be held by LJM members), as well as a gubernatorial position in one of the new states being established in the region. In addition, the LJM will hold 17 of the 67 seats in the new DRA Council that will act as a parliamentary body to assist the DRA implement the peace agreement. Among those 17 positions is the Council vice-chairperson. Abdul-Aziz Adam, Commander of the Bedouins and Routes Alliance forces that signed its own agreement with the government shortly after LJM signed on to the Doha agreement, says:

This is a great opportunity to achieve the comprehensive peace in Darfur. The signing of the Doha agreement, with a great support of our people in Darfur and the international community, avails the chance for the realization of peace in the region according to the aspirations of its people…

Not all of the parties in the Darfur conflict are willing to sign on to division of authority prescribed in this agreement. Still noticeably absent are the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) as well as the Nur and Minnawi factions of the SLA that continue their military struggle in the southern part of Darfur. Though provisions exist in the document that would award JEM government positions should they put down their arms, these groups argue that the agreement does not meet their needs and that the government in Khartoum cannot be negotiated with on principle. They seek to not only achieve reforms in Darfur but to instigate regime change that will finally topple the power of President Omar al-Bashir and the National Congress Party (NCP).

Khartoum vows to continue its fight against those groups reluctant to cooperate with what it vows is the “final document.” The Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) have begun bombing villages in South Darfur in an effort likely to pressure those rebel groups refusing to buckle and submit. Typical of Sudanese military-political strategy, civilians are caught directly in the crossfire.

The implementation of this peace agreement should be used as a barometer of many things. First and foremost, Khartoum now has the opportunity to prove that it can be taken at its word. Should the NCP allow the peace agreement to help the rebel groups who put down their weapons and bring stability to the people of North Darfur, it will prove to onlookers that it is seriously interested in honest cooperation and creating what Special Envoy Lyman calls an “enabling environment” for open political dialogue that is currently missing the in the region. The other groups in Darfur might consider ending their fight and coming into the fold as well. South Sudan could be encouraged to work more cooperatively with Khartoum to make progress on border disputes and oil revenue sharing.

As lofty as the upsides of cooperation are, the consequences of a disappointment are just as extreme. If the NCP allows the Doha agreement to become a meaningless piece of paper, all semblance of regional trust could be destroyed. By proving that a zebra cannot change its stripes, the rebel groups and regional players will be even more skeptical about accepting Khartoum’s olive branches in the future. Regional conflict and suffering would be sure to deepen, as would the international isolation of Bashir’s regime. As it becomes clearer that carrot and stick calculations do not faze the Sudanese government, ending the humanitarian crises it incites becomes a difficult paradox to solve. All have much to gain from making good on this step forward. All have much to lose.

Adam Cohen is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.

The Paranoid Style of Anti-Islamism

Cross-posted from Right Web.

The mass killings in Norway have caused recriminations on both sides of the U.S. ideological divide. Some observers have highlighted Anders Behring Breivik’s keen interest in American anti-Muslim bloggers like Pamela Geller, Daniel Pipes, Robert Spencer, and Andrew McCarthy. These writers and other purveyors of anti-Muslim paranoia are scrambling to deny or minimize their culpability. Most notably, the Rupert Murdoch papers in Britain have insisted on labeling Breivik a neo-Nazi, in spite of his avowed identification with the militarist Israeli right.

But the blame game seriously misses the point. There is no denying that Breivik’s manifesto and beliefs are rooted in a distinctly post-9/11 ideology of anti-Islamism. This relatively new ideology of anti-Islamism reveals much about the deeper pathologies in current U.S. politics.

Critics have also lambasted efforts by some U.S. media outlets to label Breivik a “Christian fundamentalist.” This is a vitally important point to understanding the larger pathology of anti-Islamism. Whereas those who traditionally speak of a “clash of civilizations” refer to a struggle between the “Judeo-Christian West” and “Islam,” the anti-Islamism circulating through the “West” is neither historically Jewish nor Christian. Rather, it is best understood as what the neocon propagandist David Gelernter calls “Americanism: The Fourth Great Western Religion,” with the other three being Judaism, Catholicism, and Protestantism—pointedly excluding Islam.

Read the rest at Right Web.

Nuclear Deterrence: a Bridge Not Yet Crossed

Archbishop ChullikattAs part of its training for those who man the silos that launch nuclear-armed missiles, reports Jason Leopold at Truthout, until recently the U.S. Air Force forced them to sit through a PowerPoint presentation that used passages from the New Testament to convince them that launching a nuclear weapon is ethical. Included was a quote by Wernher von Braun. You remember him: he was the Nazi rocket scientist brought into the United States under the infamous Operation Paperclip whose work turned out to be critical to the U.S. space program.

As Leopold reports, after surrendering to American forces in May 1945, von Braun said, “We wanted to see the world spared another conflict such as Germany had just been through and we felt that only by surrendering such a weapon [missiles, apparently. – RW] to people who are guided by the Bible could such an assurance to the world be best secured.” [Emphasis Leopold’s.]

Apparently it was lost on those repeating the quote that von Braun was obviously ingratiating himself with the United States at a time when by all rights it should have been trying him for war crimes. As Leopold reminds us, he “used Jews imprisoned in concentration camps and captured French anti-Nazi partisans and civilians to help build the V-2 rocket, a weapon responsible for the death of thousands of British civilians.”

Meanwhile, it’s not as if nuclear weapons and deterrence haven’t been given the imprimatur of organized religions, though usually reluctantly. But organized religion is at its best when it joins the fight for disarmament since nuclear weapons is, at heart, an ethical issue. (As in: doesn’t the deaths of millions on each side stretch the meaning of Saint Augustine’s Just War theory just a hair?)

On July 1, Archbishhop Francis Chullikatt, the permanent observer of the Holy See (the Church’s central government in the Vatican) to the United Nations, addressed the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. As a former Catholic, I take care not to stand downwind of anything emanating from the Church, lest I contract hives. But sometimes you have to give the devil its due.

In fact, Archbishop Chullikatt and the Holy See’s speech is as inspiring to read as it must have been to witness live. Its purpose:

With new efforts now being made to build a global legal ban on nuclear weapons, this is a good moment to review the Church’s teachings on weapons of mass destruction.

The church’s main objections seems to be that “the current modernization of nuclear forces and their technical infrastructure are casting doubt on” the good faith required to abide by nuclear treaties because the modernization makes “difficult or impossible a negotiated achievement on global nuclear disarmament.” Some background.

Catholic teaching on nuclear deterrence is found in the documents of the Second Vatican Council and in subsequent statements by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. Indeed, we can see that the indiscriminate use and devastating effects of nuclear weapons have led the Church to abhor any use of nuclear weapons.

However, in keeping with the times,

… the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council … seemed to have rather reluctantly accepted the strategy of nuclear deterrence. … Pope John Paul II restated the Catholic position on nuclear deterrence … at the height of the Cold War: In current conditions, ‘deterrence’ based on balance, certainly not as an end in itself but as a step along the way towards a progressive disarmament, may still be judged morally acceptable. …

This statement made clear that nuclear deterrence during the Cold War years could only be acceptable if it led to progressive disarmament. What is intended therefore is not nuclear deterrence as a single, permanent policy. … the Church’s moral acceptance of nuclear deterrence was always conditioned on progress toward their [sic] elimination.

To the defense establishment, deterrence is as an enduring strategy. Viewing it as a bridge may be particular to the Church and a few others (it was new to me). Archbishhop Chullikatt continues.

As the Soviet Union disintegrated and the Cold war came to a close, great hope was ignited that the world could move decisively and expeditiously with nuclear disarmament. … Unfortunately, the nuclear-weapon states engaged in a reinvestment in their nuclear weapons complexes, pouring tens of billions of dollars into new technologies. …

As the Cold War receded and a new century dawned, the international community continued to press the nuclear-weapon states for concrete movement on fulfilling their obligations to eliminate their nuclear arsenals as called for under the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The Church’s efforts in this area increased, and became focused on challenging what we came to see as the institutionalization of deterrence. [Emphasis added.]

As if that’s not clear enough

… With development needs across the globe far outpacing the resources being devoted to address them, the thought of pouring hundreds of billions of additional dollars into the world’s nuclear arsenals is nothing short of sinful.

Furthermore

The nuclear-weapon states must abide by their obligations to negotiate the total elimination of their own arsenals if they are to have any authenticity in holding the non-nuclear-weapon states to their commitments not to pursue nuclear weapons.

Then Archbishhop Chullikatt reminds that disarmament was infused with a boost in “1996, fifteen years ago this very month [when] the International Court of Justice issued its landmark decision on [signatories] to the NPT. The Court said that negotiations for elimination must be concluded,” not just promised.

Yet the comprehensive negotiations called for the International Court of Justice have not even started. The bilateral START treaty between the US and Russia only makes small reductions and leaves intact a vast nuclear arsenal on both sides, with many nuclear weapons held on constant alert status.

Besides supporting UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Five-Point Plan for Nuclear Disarmament, Archbishhop Chullikat issues a call for safeguards for workers at both nuclear weapons facilities and nuclear energy facilities such as Fukushima. In the end, he and the Church declare

The simple truth about the use of nuclear weapons is that, being weapons of mass destruction by their very nature, they cannot comply with fundamental rules of international humanitarian law forbidding the infliction of indiscriminate and disproportionate harm. Nor can their use meet the rigorous standards of the Just War principles’ moral assessment of the use of force.

Ramadan Stops Libyan Rebels Neither From Fighting Gaddafi’s Forces, Nor Among Themselves

Until Thursday last week, the situation in Libya was relatively good news compared with countries also complicated by the Arab Spring. After the NATO-led intervention in Libya to overthrow dictator Muammar el-Gaddafi, more than 30 countries including the United States have recognized the legitimacy of the Transitional National Council (TNC) based in the rebels’ de facto capital of Benghazi as the new governing body. The rebel side has been slowly gaining an edge over Gaddafi, who was isolated in Tripoli.

Compared with Syria at least, Libya seems to have an easier path toward democracy. In Libya, with a relatively small population of about 5 million people, sectarianism is not as strong as it is in Syria. Unlike Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, Gaddafi now has little clout in Libya and is unlikely to regain control of the entire country. Robert Dreyfuss wrote on The Nation that “It’s clear that Qaddafi is hanging on not because he believes that he can survive as before, but because he’s trying to get the best deal he can for himself and his family.” Moreover, the rebel forces have pretty solid Western backing. Two senior members of the TNC who toured Washington last week even cheerfully expressed their vision for a stabilized country and a liberal democracy post-Gaddafi.

However, the Obaida Ibn Jarrah Brigade’s killing of Gen. Abdul Fattah Younes, a top Libyan rebel military commander, undermined this sanguine view and it is likely that another Libyan war will be initiated before the current one has ended. Younes, a former officer and interior minister in the Qaddafi administration who served Gaddafi since the 1969 coup that brought Gaddafi to power but defected to the rebel side soon after the uprising began in February, had been a contentious figure whose loyalty to the rebel side was frequently questioned. According to an interview with Qaddafi’s daughter in April, Younes still remained loyal to Qaddafi. TNC finance and oil minister Ali Tarhouni also indicated that the fighters strongly suspected Younes was secretly working for Gaddafi as a double agent.

A Wall Street Journal post calls the divisions within the TNC “inevitable” due to its diverse makeup. The TNC is composed of a medley of secularists, Islamic fundamentalists, technocrats, independents, and former regime figures. The center of public rivalry within the TNC is between Younes and Khalifa Hifter. Hifter was in exile in the United States after an unfortunate military adventure in Chad in the late 1980s, and returned to Libya in March. Soon after Hifter’s return, the TNC put Hifter in charge of his ground forces. Younes and Hifter worked in an uncoordinated manner from the very beginning, which hampered the rebels’ progress and their march toward Tripoli. At one point, the relationship between the two became so troublesome that the TNC had to appoint a watchdog to keep them at arm’s length.

Unfortunately, the rebel forces are not going to stop fighting among themselves despite Ramadan (August 1st – 29th this year), the annual Muslim fasting month. Impatience is palpable within Libya. “The important thing is we need to go. Time is running out. We have to liberate our country,” said Salah Matouk, a colonel who defected from Gaddafi’s army to fight in the western mountains. Col. Juma Brahim, head of the rebel fighters’ operational command in the Nafusa region, also said:

The Koran specifically says the sick, travelers, and combatants do not have to respect the fast if they are unable to. Our cause is also sacred — it’s a jihad. There is no question of us giving Gaddafi the advantage, especially since he’s in a poor position. This is not the moment to stop fighting … There’ll be time to fast next year, when we are free. The Prophet, peace be upon him, fought two battles during the holy month. In fact, it’s a good month to fight and maybe die. You are closer to God.

J CurveThe tension between the yearning for modernism in the name of democracy and freedom and the persistent forces of tribalism and sectarianism keep jeopardizing pro-democracy efforts. Based on political scientist Ian Bremmer’s J-curve openness versus stability model that is detailed in his 2006 book The J Curve: A New Way to Understand Why Nations Rise and Fall, for an undemocratic state to become a democracy, the stability of that state will decrease before it can become a more stable state.

The UN resolution authorizing the war in Libya expires in September. The TNC is not intended to remain in power but to organize a “completely transparent democratic transition.” But this transition is now under serious doubt in the wake of the killing of Younes. It is time that the NATO countries reach a deal to help Libya make its transition and prevent even more severe violence from happening.

Shiran Shen, a senior honors political science student at Swarthmore College, works as a research intern at the Foreign Policy In Focus program.

Pamela Geller’s, uh, Ill-Timed Rants Malign Memory of Utoya Victims

Cross-posted from Mondoweiss.

Pamela Geller, founder of Atlas Shrugs, delayed a full response to the shootings in Norway (by her own admission). Her ideological associates, in the meantime, had been issuing statements condemning the violence — as well as the victims’ politics. And now, Atlas Shrugs has finally joined this argument: this past Sunday, Geller published an analysis of the victims titled “Summer Camp? Antisemitic Indoctrination Training Center“:

But the jihad-loving media never told us what antisemitic war games they were playing on that island. Utoya Island is a Communist/Socialist campground, and they clearly had a pro-Islamic agenda.

Only the malevolent media could use the euphemism summer camp and get away with it.

The slaughter was horrific. What these kids were being taught and instructed to do was a different kind of grotesque. There is no justification for Breivik’s actions whatsoever. There is also no justification for Norway’s antisemitism and demonization of Israel.

Even Geller knows these statement will be construed by the “Genocidal Leftists” as an endorsement of violence, but insists that it necessary to put the shootings in a larger context — the context of the global struggle against Islam:

. . . . Utoya camp was not Islamist but it WAS something not much more wholesome (by our standards, at any rate).

It was a summer indoctrination camp run by Norway’s ruling Labor Party for up-and-coming children of the ruling elite.

Glen Beck [sic] was not far off when he compared it to the Hitlerjugend or Young Pioneers.”

Think Progress caught on to the fact that an earlier version of this post referred to “race mixing” among the Norwegian youth at the camp. Specifically, a now-removed picture caption read “Note the faces which are more Middle Eastern [sic] or mixed than pure Norwegian.” Even some favorable commenters on the post called Ms. Geller out on this caption. Perhaps the intent of this statement was to demonstrate that there were Muslims present at the summer camp and that their presence was (of course) related to the youth organization’s “anti-Semitic” and “pro-Palestinian” agenda?

The statement was probably removed, though, because it could be taken to suggest that a non-Caucasian life (especially one mixed in with Muslim blood) is somehow “worth less” than a non-Caucasian (or part-Caucasian) one. While Geller did not come out and say that, the notion is far from the fringes of respectability in “journalistic” debate.

Geller also approvingly quotes an argument for moral relativism vis a vis Palestinians and Israelis in relation to the shootings:

For them it is unacceptable for Breivik to murder Norwegian children, because his ideology is wrong. But it is acceptable for Palestinians to murder Israeli children, because their ideology is right.

Given the intensely pro-Zionist feelings among the anti-Islamic right, it is sadly inevitable that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be used to “contextualize” a terrorist attack on “socialist” “pro-Islamic” “aristocrats” (all terms she uses to describe the camp attendees). The spleen is practically audible.

Is the anti-Islamic right suggesting that the Islamocommunist children of Norway’s ruling party were asking for trouble by engaging in behavior such as displaying signs that say “Opphev Blokkaden Av Gaza” (Oppose the Blockade of Gaza) and signing onto the BDS Movement? Geller and her cohorts suggested, soon after the identity of the shooter became known, that “If anyone incited him to violence, it was Islamic supremacists. If anything incited him to violence, it was the Euro-Med policy.”

Such statements now even more eerily echo Breivik’s own manifesto in that he lumped together his specific targets with the larger anti-Semitic Islamocommunist alliance that, according to the anti-Islamic right, holds Norway (and the EU in general) in its grip. Such sentiments have long been present in the discourse, but to hear such assertions articulated more forcefully now after what has happened is even more disturbing. “We are witnesssing the complete breakdown of rational society,” Geller opined in response to hate mail she has received since the attacks.

Geller has no idea how right she is!

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

Afghanistan: U.S. and Pakistan Seek to Reinforce a Border That Was Arbitrary to Begin With

Kabul, Afghanistan-American and allied forces in Afghanistan are strengthening a layered defense along the border with Pakistan to seize Haqqani network militants as they try to make their way to Kabul to carry out spectacular attacks, according to senior military officers.

— New York Times, 8/1/11

Okay, New York Times, time for a little geography lesson, with a few bits of history thrown in.

Let’s start with that old Rand McNally three-dimensional map of the world that formerly graced the walls of grammar schools across the country (I happen to have one in my closet). It has low spots to demonstrate deep-sea trenches and bumps for mountain ranges. Among the biggest set of bumps are the Hindu Kush (the western extension of the Himalayas) that corresponds to the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The highest of those bumps is Mt. Noshaq (24,580 ft).

This is also a very long border, 1,510 miles more or less (more on that later). Think of the distance between Portland, ME and Miami, FL, New York City and Dallas/Fort Worth, or London and Moscow. It is mostly really big bumps (except some lower ones on the western edge of the border), so it is not only long, it contains some of the most formidable terrain on the planet.

In fact the “official” border is marked from Sikaram Peak to Laman Peak. It is always a bad idea to fight a war where you measure the battlefield by the distance between peaks. If there are general rules of war, certainly one of them is: “Do not fight in places that the Rand McNally three-dimensional map puts lots of bumps.”

This is also not a border, in the normal sense of word, with the striped guardhouses and border checks. For one thing, the Afghans and the Pakistanis had nothing to do with establishing it. That was done—with considerable mischief in mind—in 1893 by Sir Mortimer Durand, then England’s lead colonial officer in India (Pakistan did not yet exist).

His plan was to split up the Pashtuns—who have populated the region since at least the fifth century BC—so that they would not constitute a majority in either region. Pashtuns make up about 42 percent of Afghanistan and about 15 percent of Pakistan. The Pashtuns have never recognized the Durand Line, and neither has the government in Kabul. This makes Pakistan nervous, because aside from India, one of the things Islamabad fears most is ethnic dismemberment: the establishment of an independent Pashtunistan.

Pashtuns are among the most hospitable people in the world, but they don’t like being invaded or occupied, which no one has successfully managed to do, although many have tried. A 19th century British general remarked that when one gets ready to invade the area, the first thing to do is plan a line of retreat, the inevitable course followed by all militaries.

So now, let’s look at “layered defense along the border,” as well as American pressure on the Pakistani military “to cleanse their border of militants.”

First, from the Pashtuns’ point of view, Pakistan’s military is just as much a foreign intruder as were the Greeks, Buddhists, Mongols, Muslims, and British, and Islamabad’s army would have just about the same level of success as all those other invaders. Second, any attempt to “cleanse” the border would stir up major hostilities among the tribes and clans in both countries and feed Pashtun nationalism, which is exactly what Islamabad does not want to do.

But even if Pakistan was to decide to actually try to “cleanse” the border, Islamabad has neither the manpower nor the money to do so (even if it were possible, which history argues it is not). Pakistan has some 1.4 million men under arms, but only a little over 600,000 of those are regular troops. The rest are reserves or border police and local paramilitaries. And most of those troops have to be kept on the border with India, with which Pakistan has fought three wars.

Pakistan’s military is currently engaged both in fighting its own domestic Taliban in South Waziristan and maintaining troops in North Waziristan, but the North West Frontier and Federally Administered Tribal Areas—the part of the world we are talking about—are vast tracts of terrain, and “pacifying” them is quite beyond the capabilities of any army in the world, let alone Pakistan’s.

The situation is not much different on the Afghan side of the border. The combined NATO forces are about 132,000, of which 100,000 are Americans (although 4,000 are headed home in the next few months). However, with the exception of the British, Canadians and Australians, most of the allied troops are not involved in active combat, so the actual number of troops available is closer 110,000. And not all of those troops fight. Some drive trucks, some handle supplies and logistics, some man bases. The final number of fighters? Maybe 60,000.

The Afghan Army is somewhere between 150,000 and 171,000—the exact number is hard to pin down because so many desert within the first few months—of which only several thousand—two brigades— are capable of fighting on their own. There are also 134,000 Afghan police, but they don’t fight. In fact, according to most Afghans, they mostly extort.

You can’t put all those U.S., allied, and Afghan troops on the Pakistan border, particularly since the Taliban have spread their attacks to formally “pacified” areas of the country, in the north, east and west. And. in any case, the Afghan Army is still training (although it is curious that while the Taliban soldiers receive virtually no training, they are able to hold their own in battle with the most sophisticated and well-trained military force in the world).

For arguments sake, let’s say you could put a mix of 40,000 troops on the border, a border of massive mountains and deep valleys, a border filled with passes, trade routes and goat trails, a border that stretches 1,510 miles. With 20,000 troops, the British Army could not seal the 224-mile border between southern and Northern Ireland.

Since the Haqqanis are Pashtun, they can cross this border virtually anyplace, and, as the last few weeks have illustrated, the Taliban and their allies can strike almost anywhere. The problem with all this nonsense about “thickening the Afghan border” is not the “senior military officials”— generals lie, it’s part of their job description—but that the New York Times would print this blather.

It is not only silly, it feeds dangerous illusions at a time when clear thinking is called for. As Gareth Porter of IPS News reports, “The Taliban leadership is ready to negotiate peace with the United States right now if Washington indicates its willingness to provide a timetable for a complete withdrawal.” According to Porter, the Taliban are willing to break any ties with al-Qaeda and won’t even demand a withdrawal date. The only thing they will insist upon are no U.S. bases.

So why isn’t the Times reporting this breakthrough instead of peddling foolishness?

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

Iran Eats Nuclear Scientist Rezaie’s Assassination as the Cost of Doing Business

The killing of the third Iranian scientist thought to be part of Iran’s nuclear program since 2009, in this case Darioush Rezaie, is most likely the work of either the CIA and Mossad. (Another suspicious incident occurred not long ago when a civilian aircraft crashed in Russia killing everyone on board, including several Russian nuclear scientists who worked in Iran for a time.)

While it’s true that U.S. forces recently struck deep into Pakistan to attack bin Laden’s compound, in Rezaie’s case a Western security agency probably used a proxy. Likely candidates are Iranian opposition groups – and terrorists in their own right — the Mujahedin-e Khalk (MEK) or Jundallah.

What’s especially intriguing, though, is how Iran responds to these events. At Reuters, Andrew Hammond reports:

When news of the shooting first came out, semi-official news agency Mehr published information on Rezaie’s background which indicated involvement in Iranian nuclear activities. … But the report was then immediately withdrawn by Mehr and Iran’s intelligence minister Heydar Moslehi … denied Rezaie had any links to the nuclear energy program.

Then when parliament speaker Ali Larijani blamed the United States and Israel in a speech broadcast live on state television Sunday, Moslehi said it was too early to tell. “We have not found any trace of foreign spy services involvement in Rezaie’s assassination case yet,” … Analysts believe that Iran might wish to play down … the incident [as it is] embarrassing for its security agencies and could become an issue in domestic politics.

Afshon Ostovar, an Iran analyst based in Washington, accepts that

“…Rezaie was assassinated because of his relationship to Iran’s nuclear program…” [But after] the initial confusion, Ostovar said he detected “a PR campaign to both downplay the impact of his death on Iran’s nuclear program and to discredit any sense of legitimacy of the assassination.”

How different from the United States, which, if a foreign nation engineered an attack on its soil, would be reeling around as if mortally wounded. Besides figuring out yet more domestic security restrictions, the United States might take the attack as license to finally bomb one, some or all of Iran’s nuclear facilities. A smaller power just tries to save some face, roll with the punches, and soldier on. In Iran’s case, presumably it expects to have the last laugh anyway when it develops nuclear capabilities.

Islamophobes Insinuate Their Way Into U.S. Intelligence

A barely legible 2009 FBI PowerPoint on “Islam” has come down the FOIA line at a very unfortunate time following the July 2011 right-wing terrorist attacks in Norway. But it is very much part of that tragedy. The 62-slide PowerPoint presentation, which the FBI states that it is no longer in use, is for training interrogators to interview Muslim suspects. A few slides in, and one shudders what to think it has been replaced by, though – an email sent to intelligence officials linking to the anti-Islamic blogs Jihad Watch, Atlas Shrugs and The Gates of Vienna (which asks if there is to be “Surrender, Genocide . . . or What?” regarding Islam in Europe)?

It wouldn’t be much of a leap, given the content of the “intelligence” in the presentation – and the way that such outlets, and other opportunistic “Islam” experts, have ingratiated themselves in the U.S. political establishment and our ostensibly objective intelligence agencies, from the FBI to the U.S. Army.

Intelligence is what this report lacks most. “Muslims,” the report notes midway through, after dispensing with a great deal of basic statistics, “are fundamentally and inalienably spiritual while the West is purely materialistic” (not that this stops politicians or right-wing terrorists from depicting an Islamic-Marxist alliance as a major threat to Western civilization).

Surely, when attempting to understand a real, but specific, threat, American officials should be trained to view over a billion people as inscrutable and medieval time bombs just waiting to overrun the West. (The Gates of Vienna, for instance, actively evokes this scenario – it proclaims that its struggle against “Islamization” is a continuation of an age-old war for civilization.)

But yet, it does just that. A slide titled “Islam 101” presents – as fact – that Islam “transforms country’s culture into 7th century Arabian ways.”

The same slide also acknowledges, without even a hint of irony, that Islam is “hard for Westerners to understand.”

Hard to understand, perhaps, but not hard to make money and fame from by bashing it. The Great Fear, Max Blumenthal notes, geared up during the lead-in to the 2003 Iraq War. The neoconservatives in the White House and Department of Defense had their grand hope of not only settling the score with Saddam and doing good by oil (“60% of the earth’s oil reserves [are] in or near [the] Arabian Peninsula,” notes the PowerPoint) but also bringing a Pax Americana to the Middle East. What better what to achieve consensus on such a controversial project than by demonizing the enemy’s civilization? We’re not at war with Islam, then-President George W. Bush noted, but Islamophobes seemed to either miss or ignore that message. And so the anti-Muslim machine – a very diverse machine – took the jitters and anti-Islamic sentiments resulting from 9/11 and turned them into politically potent forces.

In such a climate, nonprofit groups and former intelligence analysts – most of whom have zero to no training in Islamic matters – have been raking in millions of dollars from their work outlining the supposed “Islamic” threat to America. Other outlets have noted that these “experts” have even been hired by the federal government to do training and consultative work.

The Washington Monthly has outlined how “counterterrorism trainers for hire” have ingratiated themselves with state and local law enforcement across the U.S. – offering helpful advice to police on how to deal with Muslim suspects by employing “legal harassment, ” a profiling tactic that assumes Muslims are guilty until proven innocent – one trainer suggested that police raid convenience stores owned by Muslims (which, according to the trainer, invariably launder money for terrorists) under the cover of health code violations.

Even less “intelligence” is needed to be a politician with a similar opinion on the Islamic Question – though most are careful to present “the fight against Islam” in non-violent terms (“war” and “fight” are metaphors, they shouldn’t be taken literally – a clarification that, as in other debates, often only becomes clear following a literal bloodbath). “Anti-Islamization” Dutch MP Geert Wilders, for instance, affirms that “the global anti-Islamic movement” has always been a campaign to be won through “the power of the ballot box and the wisdom of the voter. Not bombs and guns.” In the U.S., the specter of “Sovietization” has been superseded (but not replaced) by the specter of “Sharia Law” replacing the Constitution. Bills have come up through multiple state legislatures to “preempt” the “Islamization of America.” Thankfully, America’s awakened bloggers and legislators won’t let that happen here. (There is still no consensus on what century the bill’s sponsors would like to return us to, though.)

It’s perfectly acceptable to draw broad conclusions like these in the mainstream media, too. The Washington Post ran an op-ed that immediately placed blame for the Oslo attacks on Islamists – and went on to reiterate the need to boost defense spending in light of the “jihadist” threat. When it became apparent that Muslims were not behind the attack, the Post did not apologize for the inaccuracies – and the editorialist in question, Jennifer Rubin, simply reiterated her original (neocon) argument by stating that while she was wrong on the particulars, “There is no shortage of threats. There is no shortage of evil. Democratic governments have many demands on tax dollars, but none is more important than defending the lives and security of our citizenry.” (She also distinguished Breivik as a “lone-wolf” in contrast to “organized jihadists,” implying that the latter is the greater, omnipresent threat).

Not very subtle, but Islamophobia and neoconservativism rarely are.

In the blogosphere, sites like Atlas Shrugs, Jihad Watch and The Gates of Vienna (which is an EU site; the first two are U.S.-based) are just some of the better-known outlets pandering Islamophobia as breaking news and informed commentary. The U.S. commentators are increasingly linking up with their European counterparts (who for years have been encroaching on the margins of respectability – electorally and rhetorically – in the EU over Muslim immigration).

Speaking of imagined conspiracies (like Hezbollah laundering money through the local 7-11) and polemicists, Robert Spencer, now infamous because of Anders Breivik’s liberal citations of Jihad Watch posts in his manifesto, gets 2 nods in the “Recommended Reading” slide of the FBI presentation – 2 of his books, out of only 8 books in total, the FBI thought necessary to include here on this list are his.

Given the focus these sites give to culture in the Muslim world, it is not surprising that so much of the “jihadist” discussion in the PowerPoint is juxtaposed with (unrelated) aspects of Islamic culture. A photo of a Muslim circumcision ceremony is presented following a slide that reads “Things to use/consider for successful interviews/interrogations with individuals from the M.E.” [Middle East] Presumably, knowing that Muslims practice circumcision is a crucial component of U.S. security. Also: that they have prayer beads.

One can only guess at how many terror plots have been foiled now that we are armed with this knowledge.

It also helps to portray entire nations – millions of people – as targets who are as much front-line combatants in “the struggle” as soldiers are. But, of course, this kind of total war-mass civilian casualty conceptualization is only a metaphor when Westerners use it.

This PowerPoint offers much insight into the sort of thinking that has made Islamophobia an acceptable aspect of Western political “discourse.” Throughout history, Americans have castigated particular groups as subhuman. Blacks = apes, Japanese = spies, Jews = swindlers, Latinos = illegals. Now, the boogeyman is “the Muslim” (and/or “the Arab”). The “Arabic mind,” reads one slide, is “swayed more by words than ideas and more by ideas than facts.” Of course, the “Arabic mind” is presumably exceptional in this regard. As we all know, Westerners only believe in facts, unimpeachable facts such as those presented in these slides.

For instance, that the Muslim inclination to terrorism can be determined by a sliding scale. Phrenologists rejoice. There is a helpful scale of tolerance on one slide to help determine whether one’s interrogation subject is a mild-mannered “Shaffii” (rated as most tolerant) or a sinister, suicide-bombing “Salafi Jihadi” (rated as least tolerant, with a helpful snapshot of a bearded man wearing a skullcap for profiling purposes!).

The irony is that in casting hundreds of millions of people as potential oppressors and villains, the Islamophobes are aping the “Islamists” they claim to be the vanguard against. Ayman Al-Zawahiri and Anders Breivik have much in common, as the American right is arguing, though for very different reasons than they suggest – they make an operational link; I’m making a philosophical one.

Actual advocates of Islamist terrorism and the Islamophobic commentators that Breivik latched on to also have a lot in common. Bigotry, incitement to violence and fear mongering are nonsectarian.

On the “Recommended Reading” slide, the Quran is also included, as is Islamist godfather Sayyid Qutb’s seminal anti-Western screed, Milestones – which is basically like saying an FBI agent could get a good understanding of Christianity just from reading the Bible and former KKK leader David Duke’s Jewish Supremacisim (or that Judaism can be boiled down to a reading of the Torah and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion).

Of course, that is the general formula one sees by the detractors of any ideology: pick a main text, and then take an extreme “derivative” of it and paint that extremism as the norm. It’s very effective – for one thing, it’s not mentally taxing – and it makes someone who is appreciably (or not appreciably) different easier to hate. Islamophobia plays on conformation biases and self-pity – as Antiwar Radio’s Justin Raimondo suggests, just go look at the Book of “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” from the neoconservative bible Project for a New American Century, for a relevant example – one especially relevant because of the imagining of the West against the rest (but specifically the Muslim rest). Blending together a visibly outsider (Muslims) with a populist fervor (anti-elitism) into a political package is a surefire way to win at the polls – or at least make a statement people won’t soon forget.

One can only hope that the FBI is getting better intelligence these days from its PowerPoints. But hope (or fact) is often sadly overrated in the face of fear.

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

U.S. Arms Sales to Repressive Regimes Overlooked in Domestic Gun Control Debate

Arms control is an oxymoron in the U.S. Recognizing this, successive governments have managed to pursue foreign policies that export billions of dollars in weapons abroad while also debating fiercely over domestic firearms ownership.

Sometimes, these debates intersect, and the UN Arms Trade Treaty is one such occasion for intersection.

For the U.S. government, whose arms exports are largest in the world in both volume of sales and profits, to support an international arms control treaty is a bit disingenuous (that we are now bombing at least four other countries on a daily basis suggests that if anyone’s arms needs controlling, it’s our own military’s). Arms control by governments is always a bit disingenuous in any case, especially given that the other four permanent members of the Security Council are also the world’s top defense spenders and arms exporters. The U.S., the PRC, the UK, France and Russia are, in that order, the world’s top defense spenders while in arms sales, the order is as follows: the U.S., Russia, France, the UK and the PRC (Germany is actually the world’s third largest arms exporter, below Russia and above France, but is not a permanent member).

U.S. support for the treaty, presumably, has more to do with potential gains in better regulating arms sales to states like Iran, Venezuela or North Korea – or governments with suspect sympathies towards al Qaeda (Pakistan, for instance, although Pakistan remains a major recipient of U.S. weaponry).

The treaty has already been watered down by the permanent members of Security Council to remove any chance for a “supranational” regulatory authority in place of “a more general statement of obligations related to arms trade which are to be fulfilled nationally, not globally.”

According to the permanent members, “the treaty is not a disarmament treaty nor should it affect the legitimate arms trade or a state’s legitimate right to self-defense. The decision to transfer arms is an exercise in national sovereignty.”

Self-control, apparently, isn’t “an issue” for the Big Five.

The treaty, though is still garnering major opposition in the U.S. A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators is warning the Obama administration not to bargain away the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment, which gives U.S. citizens the right to bear arms. UN statements that the treaty will not undermine gun control in the U.S. have failed to placate anyone (the statements are derided as being “apologist”).

55 U.S. Senators have publically expressed reservations about the treaty – 67 yes votes are needed in the Senate to ratify the treaty. Of that number, 10 are Democrats, which presents the Obama administration with a real problem if the treaty is going to become a law the U.S. would adhere to.

Democrat John Tester of Montana, the latest Senator to express reservations over the treaty, said that he was encouraged by the fact that “countries will maintain the exclusive authority to regulate arms within their own borders” but that a lot more needed to be done to make the treaty acceptable. Specifically, Senator Tester wants to see no that there is neither regulation of “small arms, light weapons, ammunition or related materials” nor an “international gun registry.” The provisions for small arms would make the treaty “unenforceable,” according to Senator Tester, while the international gun registry “could impede on the privacy rights of law-abiding gun owners.”

The result? An utterly toothless arms treaty that would satisfy everyone involved – well, everyone but human rights organizations who support the treaty, which, despite being watered down, could still have a major impact on the international arms trade (to the detriment of arms dealers and defense ministries).

I guess I should say that an amended treaty would satisfy everyone who has a vested interest in keeping the well-oiled international arms trade running smoothly.

The NRA, a powerful U.S. firearms lobby, states that “Neither the United Nations, nor any other foreign influence, has the authority to meddle with the freedoms guaranteed by our Bill of Rights, endowed by our Creator, and due to all humankind.” The NRA is determined to kill the treaty altogether: “The latest attempt by the U.N. and global gun banners to eliminate our Second Amendment freedoms is to include civilian arms in the current Arms Trade Treaty.”

This particular debate is (unfortunately) being juxtaposed with a renewed debate over gun control in the U.S. because of two high-profile shootings (both by right-wing “homegrown” terrorists) in the U.S. and Norway this year. Arms control in a U.S. context tends to evoke more discussion about domestic gun ownership than, say, arms sales to repressive regimes, gun running by the U.S. government to Mexican drug cartels – or our own nuclear arsenal.

Not that the above issue aren’t being discussed – though American conservatives insist that the treaty is simply further evidence of the UN’s world governance aspirations and anti-democratic naïveté. According to the Heritage Foundation, a conservative U.S. think tank:

The treaty is still based on two fundamental and irremediable errors. First, it explicitly accepts that all states – dictatorships and democracies – have an equal right to arm themselves, and it proposes to embody this pretended right in international law.

This moralizing conveniently ignoring that the U.S. seems to recognize the right of non-democracies, such as Saudi Arabia, and, until recently, Egypt and Libya, to arm themselves, and has historically had few scruples about whether arms recipients are democratic or not, so long as they were ostensibly pro-U.S. (Iran before 1979, for instance, as well as the Nicaraguan contras, Musharraf’s Pakistan or Iraq when it was our ally of convenience in the 1980s).

The Heritage Foundation goes on to say that:

Second, it tacitly presumes that all the world’s states are well intentioned and will actually implement the treaty’s controls. But if all the world’s states were well intentioned, the treaty would not be necessary. Thus, while the treaty would do nothing to prevent states like Iran from supplying terrorists – and would actually legitimate arms sales to and from dictatorships – its ambiguous criteria would weigh heavily on the U.S. and other democracies, where activists would stigmatize any arms sale as a violation of the treaty.

Great James Madison’s ghost! Governments aren’t angels?

Once again, a lack of historical memory is present in this moralizing. The U.S. has only cared about “arms sales to and from dictatorships” when it is a matter of convenience: case and point, the “Safari Club” formed in the 1970s by the intelligence agencies of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to help bankroll anti-communist movements in Africa (Morocco, France, Egypt and Iran also contributed) that the U.S. wished not to dirty is hands with direct assistance to.

The main rhetorical (and electoral) opposition is presented on Second Amendment grounds – it is rather better to argue from that position than, say, theories of mutually assured destruction, or to openly discuss one’s relationship with defense companies.

In a short, but rather telling analysis, OpenSecrets, a watchdog group of lobbyist spending in American politics, states that defense companies have “split evenly between Democrats and Republicans” in election years. Given the allergic reaction to defense spending most politicians’ exhibit when in office, it is not hard to see why they butter both sides of the bread.

But no one wants to admit that they are making policy based on the significance of particular campaign contributions. In its commentary on the Norway terror attacks, The National Review lambastes the allegedly illiberal Norwegians: “Licenses are tied to interests – farming, hunting, sports – rather than to rights.”

Of course, the only interest here is freedom, which is why the NRA rather grandly asserts that “the cornerstone of our freedom is the Second Amendment” (rather nicely sanitizes Mao Zedong’s dictum that power grows out of the barrel of a gun, doesn’t it?).

So it is not surprising that gun ownership is (ostensibly) the main bone of contention among U.S. politicians vis a vis arms control, given the history of gun ownership in the U.S. It always has been so. The Colonial Era, in which most male individuals (and some women) owned firearms for defense and hunting – both being imperatives in the westward expansion of the country – is the context in which the Second Amendment was proposed. The Founding Fathers believed an armed public was a public that would not be easily dominated by its elected officials – after all the militias played a pivotal role in the American Revolution (ironically, so did licit and illicit arms sales from the French and the Spanish, but that is rarely acknowledged).

This era is so idealized by the American right (the Minutemen and the Tea Party, to give just two examples) that gun ownership is almost always presented in the terms of the American Revolution. The Second Amendment is non-negotiable in U.S. politics.

But given the U.S.’s domestic extremists (heavily armed anti-government militias, for instance), one would see why this administration is looking favorably at a treaty that might give the government reason to exercise more arms control at home. But since the American right, from talk radio to Senators, is riding high on a wave of vitriolic extremism to all things internationalist and federalist, so this treaty is dead in the water in their view.

Although the right does have a point: the U.S. ought to practice what it preaches at home about arms control abroad. Take Mexico, for example: the U.S. Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms had been secretly supplying weapons – weapons purchased with American tax dollars – to Mexican drug cartels in a misguided attempt to track their distribution and gain inside sources in the cartels. Other U.S. arms sales to Mexico have also turned up in the hands of cartels, and private sales, not being very carefully regulated, are booming as well.

The programs have since been revealed and been heavily criticized in the U.S. (by the same people who oppose the UN Treaty). The Senators’ indictment of the treaty, though, is likely to further undermine arms interdiction and gun control efforts in that region. Contradictions hardly matter when one is talking about the Second Amendment (or how the Iranians can’t be trusted to be left to their own devices – though other countries can).

The Second Amendment advocates are noticeably silent on a global Second Amendment (as that would undermine U.S. security), and for an American right so insistent about transparency (even demanding the President’s birth certificate), the possibility for greater transparency in the international arms trade is not even being mentioned.

“We’re told that in order to control the illegal trade, all states must control the legal firearms trade,” an NRA official fumed, clearly missing the fact that the two are indeed related by the way the defense industry (and defense ministries) work. The American right is quick to jump on the Founding Fathers’ statements on gun control, but equally quick to ignore Republican President Eisenhower’s warning about the military-industrial complex’s destruction of U.S. liberties.

But Eisenhower is old hat. Anti-internationalism (and anti-federalism) are the norm for the American right’s arguments against arms control of any kind, at home or abroad. The American right actually takes mutually assured destruction (which, ironically, was a term coined during the Eisenhower administration) as the rationale for blocking arms controls, from guns to nukes. A typical example of this logic comes from an anti-gun control article in The National Review. The piece, written in response to the July 2011 terror attacks in Norway, argues that things could have been different there if the victims had also been carrying around shotguns and assault rifles.

“Better a shoot-out than a massacre!” wrote one commenter on the article.

That seems to be the logic driving opposition to regulating the international arms trade. It’s hard to say who is more hypocritical here, the Obama administration, Congress, the American right, or the permanent members of the UN Security Council. The confluence of hypocrisy here will probably kill any chance this treaty has of limiting the trillion-dollar global arms trade most often paid for by those who don’t have access to arms not because of the laws conservatives rail against, but because the buyers are so often agents of greater powers.

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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