Focal Points Blog

Like It or Not, World Government May Be Inevitable

All at once, human-rights crises in Libya, Bahrain and Syria have brought into focus the world’s inability to arrive at a consensus on a course of action. In fact, they cry out for an authority higher than states, not to mention the United Nations, to adjudicate them and prescribe a course of unified action.

To at least as great an extent this is also true of environmental crises. As Al Gore writes in Rolling Stone:

All over the world, the grassroots movement in favor of changing public policies to confront the climate crisis and build a more prosperous, sustainable future is growing rapidly. But most governments remain paralyzed, unable to take action — even after [among other things, a] seemingly endless stream of unprecedented and lethal weather disasters.

The seas, especially, at the mercy of both climate change and foreign policy, embody the need for action by a higher authority than sovereign states. Regarding climate change, by now you may have read of a report, writes the Independent, by “a panel of leading marine scientists brought together in Oxford earlier this year by the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).”

The seas are degenerating far faster than anyone has predicted, the report says, because of the cumulative impact of a number of severe individual stresses, ranging from climate warming and sea-water acidification, to widespread chemical pollution and gross overfishing. . . . The report says: “Increasing hypoxia [low oxygen levels] and anoxia [absence of oxygen, known as ocean dead zones], combined with warming of the ocean and acidification, are the three factors which have been present in every mass extinction event in Earth’s history.”

Those include such earth-shaking events as the Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction 65.5 million years ago, the Triassic–Jurassic extinction 205 million years ago, and the Permian–Triassic extinction 251 million years ago. Sobering, to say the least, to our current crisis compared to those.

Regarding foreign policy and the high seas, does anything spell global apathy, impotence, and inertia as precisely as the return — with a vengeance — of pirating, a scourge we thought that, except for outliers, had gone the way of small pox? The ransoms demanded today — and paid — beggar credulity. At Moon of Alabama, Bernhard reports on a recent case, the seizure of the MV Suez, which exemplifies in a nutshell the inability or lack of will on the part of states to deal with an international crisis.

The MV Suez was captured by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden on August 2 2010. It was freed a week ago after a quite dramatic story. . . . As month after month went by the cases of the MV Suez sailors and their families grew — via the local media — into interior political issues in India as well as in Pakistan. The Indian government tried to apply pressure on the owner via the Egyptian government. . . . But the Indian government . . . showed no urgency to solve the problem. . . . Late in February the Pakistani human rights advocate Ansar Barney made phone contact with the pirates and started his own negotiations. . . . When the ransom deadline had passed without the ship owner paying, [the] Ansar Barney Welfare Trust, a humanitarian NGO, started to collect the demanded $1.1 million to free the sailors. . . . Somewhere along the Egyptian owners of the ship became furious about the court cases by the families of the Egyptian crew members on board of the MV Suez. The owners backtracked on a promise to pay some share of the ransom they had earlier agreed to [which subsequently] increased to $2.1 million.

One World Government: The Most Loaded Phrase on Earth

No matter how utopian sounding to some or dystopian to others, who fear the United States surrendering its sovereignty to George Soros and the Bilderbergers, none of these issues — from humanitarian intervention to saving the seas — may truly be resolved until or unless states finally reconcile themselves to world government.

True, serious consideration may yet take two or three generations — and an exponential increase in the degradation of the quality of life on earth. But a model exists. In an April post spurred by the Libyan intervention, I wrote that, in a 2008 column for the Financial Times, Gideon Rachman acknowledged that world government represents “the kind of ideas that get people reaching for their rifles in America’s talk-radio heartland.” But, he wrote of the European Union:

So could the European model go global? . . . a change in the political atmosphere suggests that “global governance” could come much sooner than that. The financial crisis and climate change are pushing national governments towards global solutions, even in countries such as China and the US that are traditionally fierce guardians of national sovereignty.

Once states see the benefits that other states that have cast their lot together are reaping, state sovereignty suddenly loses its luster. Ian Williams explains in a 2009 World Policy Journal article.

Ironically, Albanians, Kosovars, and Serbs — along with all their neighbors in the Balkan cockpit of nationalities — unite in sharing the same overriding ambition. They all desperately want to join the European Union, which would entail them giving up much of the sovereignty that they have been so zealously squabbling over. . . . European Union citizens can live and work anywhere they want within the EU, claim education, healthcare, and welfare benefits — and even vote in many elections. For all those nations, whose working definition of sovereignty seems to include the right, indeed the duty, to harass foreigners at the borders and inside them, this is serious self-denial in the interest of a broader human or economic security.

True, job openings for those who seek to rule countries may become scarce. But it’s a small price to pay to ensure the continuation of life on earth.

Has Iran’s President Ahmadinejad Become a Sympathetic Figure?

Since becoming president of Iran in 2005, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been demonized on a regular basis. His messianic religious view and comments about Zionism have many in Israel, as well in the United States, convinced he’s a religious fanatic who would sacrifice Iran to bring down Israel. Compared to the forces mounting against him, though, he would seem to be, though far from the soul of reform, a voice of moderation.

Ahmadinejad provides subsidies to his people, has worked to roll back religious influence, and, to some extent, seeks international engagement, including signaling a willingness to talk about Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. For example, after Iran’s nuclear energy chief, Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, met with International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Yukiya Amano, he said that “he had held ‘very good’ and ‘transparent’ talks with [Amano] and had invited him to visit the Islamic state’s nuclear facilities.”

Meanwhile, writes, the editor of insideIRAN, Geneive Abdo, at Foreign Policy:

A long-brewing power struggle. . . . between Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. . . . recently burst into public view over . . . Ahmadinejad’s decision last month to dismiss Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi. [It] has left the Iranian president deeply weakened and revealed many useful lessons about the closed and convoluted political workings of the Islamic Republic. . . . The real fight was not about cabinet ministers. It was part of a test of wills between the Ahmadinejad loyalists, especially those in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), and the ruling clerical establishment. . . . Khamenei appeared to believe that the cocky, alarmist Ahmadinejad, who in recent months had been boldly advancing an Iran with minimal clerical influence run by the IRCG and inspired by Iranian nationalism, not Iranian revolutionary Islamism, had to be slapped down. . . . When Khamenei gave the president an ultimatum to reinstate the minister or resign, the Supreme Leader was not only preserving his own power . . . but that of the entire clerical establishment.

The rats, it seems, are leaving the sinking ship. For example, in another article at insideIRAN, Reza Akbari writes

The intensity of threats toward Ahmadinejad have continued to build during the past months, as his previous supporters have turned against him. Ruhollah Hosseinian, a powerful hardliner and head of the Islamic Revolution Fraction of the Iranian Parliament [said of] the political infighting . . . that “efforts continue, but we are not hopeful, and finally, we are working toward a final ultimatum.” In the past, Hosseinian has been one of Ahmadinejad’s most ardent defenders in the parliament. [Emphasis added.]

Still, even though, according to Abdo, Ahmadinejad represents a threats to a medieval, insular Islamic Republic ruled by clerics, such a regime might actually be preferable to Ahmadinejad. Abdo again.

It might seem counter-intuitive, but Khamenei’s survival and that of the clerical system is in the West’s interest. The alternative — a highly militarized state run by the Revolutionary Guards — would be much worse.

Since When Haven’t the Democrats Been a War Party?

Democrats still reflexively respond to the charge that they’re soft on defense by overcompensating with support for wars and extravagant defense spending. Yet before that charge was routinely leveled at them, Democrats were at least as hawkish as Repubicans.

This was never more apparent than during the Eisenhower presidency. In his 1983 book on the early strategists of the nuclear age, The Wizards of Armageddon (Touchstone), Fred Kaplan explains what happened in the aftermath of the Gaither Report, dedicated to the concept that the Soviet Union would soon outnumber the United States in nuke-bearing missiles by a wide margin. When the Washington Post ran a story hyping the Gaither Report, President Eisenhower, whose intelligence told him that it was grossly exaggerated

. . . was furious. . . . And he knew there would be political heat to take, as well. The Democrats were already making successful capital of the Sputnik affair, claiming that the Republican Administration was behaving too complacently, was endangering the nation by not spending enough money on more bombers and missiles. Now the Gaither Report was turning into another cause for political jubilation among the opposition. Almost at once, after the Washington Post story appeared, dozens of Democratic senators and congressmen took the floor to request or demand that President Eisenhower release the report to the public, which had a right to know the facts on which their lives as Americans were hanging. Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Henry Jackson, Mike Mansfield, John Sparkman, William Proxmire, Stuart Symington and others all eagerly boarded the Gaither bandwagon.

All these demands and all the panic, over Sputnik and over the Gaither Report, conveniently fed into another phenomenon that the Democrats were simultaneously doing their best to exploit — a sharp turn inside the American intelligence community that produced what came to be known as the “missile gap.”

As militarist as the Democrats have been since the Cold War until the present day, they still backpedal and allow themselves to be placed on the defensive about their alleged softness of defense. Obviously it serves some kind of purpose for them. Oh, to continue to feel justified in overcompensating and coming down on the side of war.

India “Soft”? Not After It Launches Its Own Kill-bin-Laden Attacks on Pakistan

India has always been considered a soft state and it is time we shed this image.

Writing at Truthout, J. Sri Raman is quoting senior BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party –sort of India’s Likkud) leader Yashwant Sinha, who also says (emphasis added), “India should reserve the right of surgical strikes and hot pursuit against Pakistan irrespective of the consequences.”

Sinha is speaking about the U.S. attack on the bin Laden compound. (Never mind the consequences, such as, shortly afterwards, the twin bomb attacks on the Frontier Constabulary in Shabqadar, Charsadda, Pakistan that killed 80.) As Raman writes:

One of the very first questions raised in India by the [SEAL attack] was whether this was or was not an example for this country to emulate. “Yes,” said India’s extreme right and the security “experts” that give its rhetoric some respectability. They continue their campaign for a similar operation or series of operations from New Delhi to eliminate sources of anti-India terrorism seen to be harbored on Pakistani soil.

Of course

The demand is not entirely new. [For example, the] question that the Bush-ordered aggression on Iraq . . . provoked was: should not India, too, support “pre-emptive” strikes against terrorist targets in Pakistan and the Pakistan-controlled part of Kashmir?

Raman also cites

. . . a pro-covert-action propagandist as saying, “If a Pakistan-based terrorist group carries out strikes against civilians in Mumbai … India must be able to assassinate its leaders and their financiers.”

For his part, Raman adds

Don’t the words sound eerily like someone speaking from the White House in early May?

But no one throws down the gauntlet with as much of a vengeance as Indian national security advisor Bharat Karnad, who Raman quotes.

Does the … government, encouraged by the successful action to finish off Osama, have the guts, gumption, but mostly the will, to rethink its … attitude, when it comes to doing what any self-respecting country would do when under terrorist threat – bump off those responsible in a major way for terrorist strikes within India?

After a grievous wound like the Mumbai attack, India would be better advised to concentrate more on making sure it never happens again than worrying about vengeance. Especially because, to terrorists, punishment is of zero value as a deterrent.

Meanwhile, as India pumps up the volume on calls for revenge and as the TTP (Pakistan’s Tehrik-i-Taliban) demonstrate more stealth and skill in its attacks within Pakistan, what’s to stop Pakistan from claiming that India is responsible?

“Blasted and Blasted and Blasted”: The Military Traumatic Brain Injury Epidemic

We are facing a massive mental health problem as a result of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a country we have not responded adequately to the problem. Unless we act urgently and wisely, we will be dealing with an epidemic of service related psychological wounds for years to come.
— Bobby Muller, President Veterans for America

The multiple nature of it [multiple tours and longer deployments] is unprecedented. People just get blasted and blasted and blasted.
— Maj. Connie Johnmeyer, 332nd Medical Group

According to official Defense Department (DOD) figures, 332,000 soldiers have suffered brain injuries since 2000, although most independent experts estimate that the number is over 400,000. Many of these are mild traumatic brain injuries (mTBI), a term that is profoundly misleading.

As David Hovda, director of the Brain Injury Research Center at the University of California at Los Angeles, points out, “I don’t know what makes it ‘mild,’ because it can evolve into anxiety disorders, personality changes, and depression.” It can also set off a constellation of physical disabilities from chronic pain to sexual dysfunction and insomnia.

MTBI is defined as any incident that produces unconsciousness lasting for up to a half hour or creates an altered state consciousness. It is the signature wound for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where roadside bombs are the principal weapon for insurgents.

Most soldiers recover from mTBI, but between five and 15 percent do not. According to Dr. Elaine Peskind of the University of Washington Medical School, “The estimate of the number who returned with symptomatic mild traumatic brain injury due to blast exposure has varied from the official VA [Veterans Administration] number of 9 percent officially diagnosed with mTBI to over 20 percent, and, I think, ultimately it will be higher than that.”

Serious consequences from mTBI are increased when troops are subjected to multiple explosions and “just get blasted and blasted and blasted,” in the words of Maj. Connie Johnmeyer. Out of two million troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, over 800,000 have had multiple deployments, many up to five times or more.

But mTBI is difficult to diagnose because it does not show up on standard CAT scans and MRIs. “Our scans show nothing,” says Dr. Michael Weiner, professor of radiology, psychiatry and neurology at the University of California at San Francisco and director of the Center for Imaging Neurodegenerative Disease at the Veteran’s Administration Medical Center.

They do now.

An MRI set to track the flow of water through the brain’s neurons has turned up anomalies that indicate the presence of mTBI. However, the military has blocked informing patients of results of the research, and if history is any guide, the Pentagon will do its best to shelve or ignore the results.

The DOD has long resisted the diagnosis of mTBI, as it has avoided paying for a successful—but expensive—way to treat it. The price of that resistance is escalating suicide rates and domestic violence incidents among returning soldiers. In 2010, almost as many soldiers committed suicide as fell in battle.

MTBI is hardly new. Some 5.3 million people in the U.S. are currently hospitalized or in residential facilities because of it, and its social consequences are severe.

A Mt. Sinai Hospital study of 100 homeless men in New York found that 80 percent of them had suffered brain trauma, much of it from child abuse. A study of 5,000 homeless people in New Haven discovered that those who had suffered a blow that knocked them unconscious or into an altered state were twice as likely to have alcohol and drug problems and to be depressed. It also found mTBI injuries were correlated with suicide attempts, panic attacks, and obsessive-compulsive disorders. And a recent study by Dr. Elaine Peskind of the University of Washington School of Medicine found that mTBI is a risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s disease.

In spite of the documented consequences of mTBI, the military has been extremely tardy in dealing with it. Part of the problem is military culture itself. The Pentagon found that 60 percent of the soldiers who suffered from the symptoms of mTBI refused help because they feared their unit leaders would treat them differently. Many were also afraid that if they reported their condition it would prevent them from getting jobs as police and fire fighters after they got out of the service.

Even if soldiers wanted treatment, there are few resources available to them. “There are two things going on regarding vets,” says Col. (ret) Will Wilson, chair of the American Psychological Association’s Division 19 (Military Psychology). “One, there are not enough care providers available, and, two, there are not enough people focusing on the problem outside the military.”

Indeed, there are not enough military psychologists to treat the problem, and since the military pays below-market rates for civilian psychologists, up to 30 percent of private psychologists are unwilling to take on soldiers as patients. The cheapest and easiest solution is to shoot up the vets with drugs. A study by Veterans for America found that some soldiers were taking up to 20 different medications, many of which canceled out the effect of others.

The situation appears to be even worse for National Guard and Reserve units, who make up almost 50 percent of the troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Veterans for America found that such troops “are experiencing rates of mental health problems 44 percent higher than their active duty counterparts” and that their health care is generally inferior.

A Harvard study found that 1.8 million vets under 65 have no health care or access to the Veterans Administration. “Most uninsured veterans are low-to-middle income workers who are too poor to afford private coverage but are not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid or free VA care,” the study found.

Treating mTBI injuries is difficult, but by no means impossible. Dr. Alisa Gean, chief of Neuroradiology at San Francisco General Hospital, who has worked with wounded soldiers at U.S. Army’s Regional Medical Center at Landstuhl, Germany says the old conventional wisdom that brain damage was untreatable is wrong. “We now know that the brain can heal. It has an intrinsic plasticity that allows it to recover, and this is particularly true for the young brain.”

A recent study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that “neurons in the adult brain can remodel their connections,” thus “overturning a century of prevailing thought.”

One method that has worked effectively is cognitive rehabilitation therapy (CRT) that retrains patients for tasks like counting, cooking, and memory. But CRT takes time and it can be expensive, ranging from $15,000 to $50,000 per patient. However, the DOD’s health program—Tricare—refuses to endorse CRT, because it says there is no scientific evidence that justifies the expense involved.

However, an investigation by T. Christian Miller of ProPublica and Daniel Zwerdling of National Public Radio found that the vast majority of researchers, even those associated with the DOD, sharply disagreed with Tricare’s evaluation of CRT. According to the two reporters, “A panel of 50 civilian and military brain specialists convened by the Pentagon unanimously concluded that cognitive therapy was an effective treatment and would help many brain damaged troops.”

The therapy is also endorsed by the National Institutes of Health, the National Academy of Neurophysiology and the British Society of Rehabilitative Medicine.

Instead of accepting the advice of its own researchers, however, Tricare hired ECRI—a company which had already done a study concluding that CRT was ineffective—to examine the therapy. But critics charge that the study was so narrow, and the assumptions behind it so loaded, that it was almost a given that the study would conclude the benefits of cognitive therapy were “inconclusive.” Outside researchers blasted the ECRI study, one of them describing it as “hooey” and “baloney.”

In spite of the criticism, then Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England concluded, “The rigor of the research…has not met the required standard.”

However, Miller and Zwerdling concluded that Tricare’s resistance to CRT was not about science, but the bottom dollar. According to the reporters, a Tricare-sponsored study found “that comprehensive rehabilitative therapy could cost as much as $51,480 per patient. By contrast, sending patients home from the hospital to get a weekly phone call from a therapist amounted to only $504 a patient.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has already made it clear that he intends to cut the military’s $50 billion annual health budget. No matter how effective CRT is, it’s not likely to get past the brass, who would rather spend the money on weapon systems than on healing the men and women who they so casually put in harm’s way.

So far, the military has put the clamps on the new MRI technique. Dr. David L. Brody, an author of the study, told the New York Times that researchers were blocked from giving the MRI results to patients. “We were specifically directed by the Department of Defense not to so,” adding, “It was anguishing for us, because as a doctor I would like to be able to help them in any way. But that was not the protocol we agreed to.”

Given that mTBI is so difficult to diagnose, and sufferers are many times told there is nothing wrong with them, that seems an especially cruel protocol. “Many of them [the doctors] were hoping we could give results to their care providers to document or validate their concerns.”

In the end it will come down to treatment, and whether the wounded vets will get the care they need, or sit by a phone and wait for their once a week call from a therapist.

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

Even Their Beloved Nukes Don’t Escape Republican Infatuation With Cost-Cutting

Republicans never met a nuclear weapon they didn’t like, right? Generally, that’s true, but neither are they immune to infatuation with another program that happens to be at odds with nuclear weapons as the national-security policy of last defense. All of a sudden Republicans’ mania for cost-cutting might override the special place they hold in their hearts for “our nuclear deterrent,” as they euphemize nuclear weapons.

On June 15, at the Washington Post, Walter Pincus provided as good an introduction as any to what transpired.

. . . lawmakers are cutting into the funds that the Obama administration had pledged for [nuclear] upgrades and modernization. The House Appropriations subcommittee that approves funding of the weapons complex, run by the National Nuclear Security Agency (NNSA), just whacked almost $500 million from the weapons program. A slice of $100 million came out of a $200 million pot that is supposed to finance early steps in the coming year to build a new facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

What’s strange about the $100 million is that

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) had pushed for funding for [the above-mentioned facility, known as] the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement facility [CMRR-NF] — expected to cost $5 billion or more — as one of his demands of the Obama administration.

As a condition, that is, of he and the Republican members of the Senate voting to ratify New START. Pincus again:

Problem is, members of the House weren’t involved in the discussions. [The] House Republican-led subcommittee that cut the funds says NNSA is not ready to support spending for early construction [of the CMRR-NF] because seismic issues are not resolved in the design. Plus, the subcommittee says, there is a need to revalidate what capabilities are to be needed in the plutonium area.

The function of the CMRR-NF, you may recall from earlier posts of mine, is to perform scientific work for the nearby construction of nuclear pits – the living, breathing hearts of a nuclear weapon where the chain reaction occurs. As for the need for new nuclear pits, Frank von Hippel, physicist and nuclear policy authority, recently testified

The need for large-scale pit production has vanished. In 2003, the [NNSA] was arguing that the [United States] needed the capability to produce 125 to 450 pits per year by 2020 to replace the pits in the US weapon stockpile that would be 30 to 40 years old by then. . . .But, in 2006, we learned that US pits were so well made that, according to a Congressionally-mandated review of Los Alamos and Livermore studies on pit aging, “Most primary types have credible minimum lifetimes in excess of 100 years as regards aging of plutonium.”

Greg Mello of the Los Alamos Study Group, which has dedicated itself to halting construction of the CMRR-NF, said in a recent newsletter that at the Los Alamos “these proposed increases were to be unprecedented since the Manhattan Project.”

Regarding the CMRR-NF, the bill’s report reads “The Committee recommends $200,000,000, $100,000,000 below the budget request.” Although it “fully supports the Administration’s plans to modernize the infrastructure,” the Committee

. . . intends to closely review the funding requests for new investments to ensure those plans adhere to good project management practices. The latest funding profile provided to the Committee indicates that over half the funding requested for the Nuclear Facility would be used to start early construction activities. [But the] NNSA is not prepared to award that project milestone since [the project must, among other things] first resolve major seismic issues with its design.

In other words

Modernization will take several years and the considerable number of variables still at play argues against an excessively aggressive funding curve. The construction of the new major facilities must not force out available modernization funding for the rest of the nuclear security enterprise.

More on the “excessively aggressive funding curve” from Mello (emphasis added):

This $100 million . . . cut is 90% of all the Committee’s proposed cuts in NNSA construction, meaning that the House Appropriations is almost uniquely targeting CMRR-NF, among all proposed NNSA construction, for cuts.

Meanwhile, at Arms Control Now, the blog of the Arms Control Association, Daryl Kimball writes (emphasis added):

Early news accounts have overlooked the fact that the House Energy and Water Appropriations bill would increase—not decrease—the NNSA weapons activities budget above the previous year’s level, and has allocated more than enough money to keep programs on track but not so much as to be fiscally irresponsible in this fiscally-constrained time.

The . . . appropriations committee would increase funding for . . . weapons activities by 3% to $7.13 billion for fiscal 2012 from $6.99 for fiscal 2011. The fiscal 2010 appropriation for NNSA weapons activities was $6.36 billion.

But, according to Mello:

Overall, the Committee would slash $498 M from the Obama request for NNSA nuclear Weapons Activities, adding only 3% [over last year], a 6.6% cut from Obama’s warhead request. Considering inflation, nuclear warhead spending would not rise.

Still, there’s no denying, as Mello says, that, “Relatively speaking, the Committee protected the nuclear weapons establishment.” In fact, aside from the CMRR, most everything else was rubber-stamped. For example (emphasis added):

Project 10–D–501, Nuclear Facilities Risk Reduction, Y–12 National Security Complex, Oak Ridge, TN.The Committee recommends $35,387,000 as requested.

Project 08–D–802, High Explosive Pressing Facility, Pantex Plant, Amarillo, TX.—The Committee recommends $66,960,000 as requested.

Project 06–D–141, Project Engineering & Design, Uranium Processing Facility, Y–12 National Security Complex, Oak Ridge, TN.—The Committee recommends $160,194,000 as requested.

Meanwhile, the response to these developments of a less-than-totally-informed observer such as myself might run something like this:

Slashing CMRR-NF funding is like Republicans are saying to the Obama administration: We got you to commit outrageous amounts of money to the CMRR-NF and other nuclear-weapons project by holding passage of New START hostage. But this time we weren’t in our default more-money-for-defense posture. Nor was it about pork. This time, inducing you to commit to these extravagant sums for the CMRR-NF and other nuclear projects was a ploy to make you look like you were playing fast and loose with taxpayers’ money. This year’s model of Republican is less about defense or pork than cutting spending (or looking like we are).

Who knew that you can actually be too cynical about Republicans? Turns out, I was informed, that, while Senator Kyl is an old-fashioned defense-first Republican, some Republicans in the House Appropriations Committee are respectful of that particular committee’s traditional view that nuclear weapons are over-funded. As well, of course, the Tea Party strain currently infecting the Republican party seems to be emphasizing deficits over defense at the moment.

We’ll allow Kimball to put it all in perspective:

The Obama administration’s $88 billion, 10-year plan to operate the nuclear complex represents a 20 percent increase above funding levels proposed during the Bush administration.

The Only Cargo on the Next Gaza Flotilla Is Our Letters

Freedom FlotillaThe U.S.-backed blockade of the Gaza Strip is “collective punishment” – a war crime under international law, as established in the Fourth Geneva Convention. It must end. That is why I will shortly be setting sail in the Freedom Flotilla II — Stay Human.

We will be departing on our trip very soon. I will be in New York for a press conference with other passengers on Monday morning, and flying to Athens in the afternoon.

Last Day to Send Letters to Gaza!

If you have not done so already please write a letter to the people of Gaza for carriage on The Audacity of Hope. This is our only cargo on the boat. Writing a letter is no simple thing – it requires time and thought – which is why we often don’t do it. Please take 20 minutes and compose your own. They must be received today (Friday) – therefore they will have to be emailed. Send them to If you prefer to handwrite them, or include illustrations, scan it as an attachment to your email. And when you send your letter, please let me know! I’d like to tally how many people have participated. There is a very real chance that we will not reach Gaza. However, if nothing else gets through, the letters will!

If you have any doubts, Tarak Kauff explains briefly why the letter writing campaign is such an important part of our mission and includes his letter as an example. For background on the campaign and ideas for your letter, visit UstoGaza. They will eventually be collated into an exhibit and perhaps also a book. Exhibition of Letters to Gaza Being Prepared.

“We have sent copies of some of the Letters to Gaza via email to the Qattan Centre for the Children in Gaza City. They are using those to prepare a display that will be put together once they have the letters being brought on The Audacity of Hope.”

One idea for your letter is to tell the people of Gaza what you are doing to challenge U.S. complicity. One such letter was recently posted on Facebook:

Dear Friends in Gaza,

I follow with great sadness the news of Israel’s continuing siege of the Gaza community. I visited Gaza twice between 1988-1992, and saw what a beautiful land it could be IF you were allowed the freedom to make it so. Freedom to fish, tend your citrus groves, build up your economy, rebuild the damaged homes and infrastructure.

I participate in a small Friday afternoon vigil on a busy street. We have several signs, including END THE SIEGE OF GAZA and HONK FOR JUSTICE IN PALESTINE – this is mine; the honks are heartening.

I greatly admire your resilience and steadfastness. Know that you are remembered in my prayers.

Sister F.S.

As another example, here is my letter:

To the people of Gaza,

As a taxpaying U.S. citizen, I have been deeply troubled by the role my government plays in oppressing the people of Gaza for many years. In that time I have been vexed by how best to oppose the policies of Washington. How to make an impact? Strange to say of what people call a ‘democracy,’ but it is a challenging thing to change government behavior – even when most people are on our side.

Many in my country feel totally powerless towards such things. Not to mention isolated and surrounded by the mundane pressures of a consumerist society that effectively discourages substantive political involvement of any kind. I am, therefore, grateful to be able to participate in the Freedom Flotilla 2 as a passenger on The Audacity of Hope.

I mention these things by way of attempting to explain how it is that the U.S. has gone on enabling Israeli crimes year after year. It is not that the American people agree with what is being done to Gaza – though the corporate press does what it can to shape opinions, and not without effect – but rather, it is that our society strongly discourages manifestations of solidarity between peoples. People do not know, or if they know, they feel powerless.

However, it is not hopeless. In recent years, slowly but surely, I have seen Palestine solidarity movements in the U.S. grow stronger and inspire ever more people. When I first became active in organizing awareness-raising events at my university in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the Israeli assault on the Jenin refugee camp had just occurred. We formed a Students for Justice in Palestine chapter. In the years since, greater coordination and hopes for change have snowballed with groups like U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation and Jewish Voice for Peace. And the Arab Spring has given us all a new sense of possibility.

I speak for many of my fellow Americans when I write: we do not consent to what the U.S. government is doing to the Palestinian people. Our hearts are with you!

Sincerely yours,
Steve Fake


Video statements from individual passengers on why they are participating are being posted daily, here. Keep checking back for more, including one from me, in the coming days.

Follow breaking news updates on the boat at Facebook and Twitter.

It is quite likely that there will be periods of time when I am unable to communicate. The boat is equipped with satellite communications; however, the Israelis have in the past used electronic jamming equipment. It is also more probable than not that our ship will be boarded, and that we will be detained in an Israeli port. Organizers will be working with land teams in New York, Athens, Israel, and Gaza. They will have the most up-to-the-minute information on what is happening to us. The above links to the Facebook and Twitter accounts of the U.S. Boat to Gaza are thus the best resource. You do not need to have accounts with these sites to follow the updates at the links.

I will post my own updates as I am able at Scramble for Africa.

Tell President Obama to support our safe passage!

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.


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]
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