Focal Points Blog

Fahrenheit 451, Park 51, and Mainstreaming Hate

America underestimated Terry Jones.

The pastor who planned to set the Qur’an aflame has revealed a razor-sharp political instinct, one that will advance his cause regardless of whether the bonfire takes place.

When the nation’s top military, civilian, and religious leaders descended upon Jones with scorn and fury, the mean-spirited and mustachioed Floridian realized that he was in dire straits. Even the voices of hate—whose opposition to Park 51 serves as cover for a broader anti-Islamic agenda—kept Jones at a safe remove.

But Jones was not to be outdone. Through some impressive acrobatics, he ensnared a well-meaning but credulous local imam into “mediating” between Jones and Park 51’s imam, Feisal Rauf. Jones soon declared that the Qur’an-burning extravaganza was off because he had struck a deal to achieve the unimaginable—relocate Park 51.

That nothing of the sort happened was irrelevant. After letting the fake news percolate long enough to be discredited, Jones bounced back into his media spotlight and insisted that he had been betrayed by the sneaky Muslims. The images on television of Jones occupying one half the screen and an imam on the other subtly elevated Jones from a position of insanity to something approaching credibility.

The anti-Muslim faction took it from there. While feigning disapproval for the pastor’s planned pyrotechnics, the zealots alighted upon their now-enhanced equivalency: burning a Qur’an would be hurtful—just like building Park 51.

“People have a constitutional right to burn a Koran if they want to,” Sarah Palin intoned, “but doing so is insensitive and an unnecessary provocation—much like building a mosque at Ground Zero.”

Palin was echoed by GOP speaker-in-waiting John Boehner, who admonished both Jones and Rauf with a disingenuous lecture that conflated one man’s actions with the other’s.

According to the prevailing calculus, a book-burning is now “much like” a symbol of interfaith dialogue.

How did it come to this?

When a gaggle of Israeli zealots, white supremacists, and professional Islamophobes first manufactured outrage over Park 51, few cared about their backgrounds. The man who has led his flock in New York for 20 years was smeared as a radical and foreign element by radicals who are funded by foreigners—but those whose skin color and “Judeo-Christian” background privilege them above the Other.

Even when attacks on Muslims and mosques nowhere near Ground Zero rendered the “sensitivity to September 11th” line absurd, public opinion did not shift in support of the Muslim center. As it turns out, that’s because a plurality of the public is itself prejudiced against Muslims, proximity to Ground Zero be damned.

Against this backdrop, Terry Jones has served a valuable function: anyone slightly less radical than a man who wants to make a bonfire out of religious books can now appear reasonable in his own eyes and in the eyes of his peers.

And thus, further down the rabbit hole we go.

M. Junaid Levesque-Alam also posts at his website, Crossing the Crescent.

The Worst of Both Worlds: The “Shimano Problem” Underscores Clash of Cultures When Buddhism Spread to West

The “Shimano Problem” and its recent resolution make this an opportune time to briefly explore the subject of Buddhism’s integration into the West. Eido Shimano Roshi had been the abbot of the New York Zen Studies Society, one of the oldest Buddhist institutions in the West, and its 1,400-acre Dai Bosatsu retreat in the Catkills until he resigned from both earlier this week. Even though he’s headed the former since 1965 and is 77 years old, he isn’t retiring. This comment below, posted at the Tricycle Buddhist magazine blog in reaction to the apology that accompanied his announcement, gives you an idea of what transpired.

Take it from someone who has known Eido Shimano for over thirty years, this is anything but a sincere apology. It is the same tired routine he has repeated each time he has been “caught with his robe open” for three decades.

Yes, the Achilles heel of gurus, abbots, and pastors everywhere — sleeping with their students and/or worshippers. Before we explore its prevalence in Buddhist America, let’s take a moment to celebrate “how the swans came to the lake,” to borrow the title of a history of the Zen Buddhism diaspora, if you will, to the United States by Rick Fields (Shambhala, 1992).

Since Buddhism originated in India and moved east to China and then Japan, Korea, and Southeast Asia, it was probably as inevitable a migration across the Pacific as Homo erectus following the game out of Africa and populating Asia and Europe. Also since Eastern teachers were often stuck with students sent to them by their families, they were happy to find students in the West who, stoked in part by American traditions such as Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Transcendentalism, sought out the teachers on their own and were eager to initiate practice.

Of course, the extent to which Buddhism needed to be Westernized became a central issue. American Buddhist centers may appear to have integrated East and West seamlessly, but many obstacles were surmounted during their formative years. Looking back, rituals, practice, and teachings may have been the least of it. Instead, due to mixed signals between the two cultures and, however much a cliché, culture shock on the part of the Easterners, many American students wound up emotionally and spiritually wounded by Buddhist teachers — Eastern and American. Besides, of course, the good names of the most highly regarded forms of Buddhism in America, Tibetan and Zen, were sullied.

Perhaps the most notorious perpetrator of spiritual abuses was Trungpa Rinpoche, who, while still a teenager, headed several large Tibetan monasteries until, like the Dalai Lama, he was forced out by the 1959 Chinese invasion. Once in the West, his gift for teaching facilitated the founding of what has become known as the Vajradhatu (his U.S. meditation centers), Shambhala Meditation Centers around the world, and the Naropa Institute (now University). But his hedonistic lifestyle and provocative “crazy wisdom” both mystified and alienated.

Trungpa died a grisly alcoholic’s death, but his successor was arguably even more dissolute. The claim to fame of Osel Tendzin, an American from New Jersey, was not only seducing students, but becoming infected with HIV and failing to tell those with whom he engaged in sexual behavior. This scenario was paralleled by two American Zen teachers: the womanizing Richard Butler, the abbott of the San Francisco Zen Center, and his successor, Reb Anderson, who gained fame by appropriating the gun from a suicide victim and later wielding it in public.

As for Shimano, his serial philandering was a source of concern for decades to long-time colleague Roshi Robert Aitken, who recently died. At the Zen Site, Vladimir K. and Stuart Lachs illuminated a series of letters from Aitken to Shimano and to others in the Zen community, including two of Japan’s most venerated roshis who had been his teachers. Only much later was one of them inclined to condemn Shimano. Watch how the culture clash played out in this instance. (Emphasis added.)

Aitken excuses this lack of interest by the two Japanese Zen masters to cultural differences between America and Japan, writing “it is important to understand that mental illness and character pathology are viewed tolerantly in Japan.” Aitken infers that he believes that Shimano may be suffering some form of mental illness or pathology, calling him “someone in a different dimension altogether.” Nevertheless, Shimano’s Japanese teachers “felt responsible for him, and were not prepared to disgrace him by recalling him to Japan.”

In a 1990 piece titled Encountering the Shadow in Buddhist America that’s as nuanced as you’ll find on the subject, the culture clash was elucidated by Katy Butler. (If you haven’t yet, read her recent powerful New York Times magazine piece that begins with her mother speaking with her about her father: “Please help me get Jeff’s pacemaker turned off.”) Upon arriving in the United States, Eastern teachers found a nation already predisposed to hero worship and religious hucksterism. Here Ms. Butler writes about what keeps Eastern teachers in line back home until they arrive on these shores and act like a kid in a candy store.

“Pressure from the community is very important in controlling behavior in Tibetan communities,” said Dr. Barbara Aziz, an internationally known social . . . who has spent 20 years doing fieldwork among Tibetans. . . . “In Tibetan society, they expect more of the guy they put on the pedes­tal . . . if such a scandal [as Osel Tendzin's] had happened in Tibet [he] might have been driven from the valley.”

Furthermore, Aziz pointed out, Tibetans may “demonstrate all kinds of reverence to a [teacher], but they won’t necessarily do what he says. I see far more discernment among my Tibetan and Nepali friends,” she concluded, “than among Westerners.” [Emphasis added.]

Alan Roland, a psychoanalyst and author of In Search of Self in India and Japan . . . . believes that Asian students approach the teacher-student relation­ships more subtly than Americans-who often commit rapidly and completely, or not at all. Asian students may display deference, but withhold veneration, until they have studied with a teacher for years. They seem to have a “private self” unknown to many Americans, which is capable of reserving judgement even while scrupulously following the forms. When a teacher fails, Asians may con­tinue to defer to his superior rank but silently withdraw affection and respect.

In America, it’s often the reverse. Some Vajradhatu students could forgive Osel Tendzin as a human being, but could not treat him as a leader. . . . few Americans can show deference to some­one they don’t venerate without feeling hypocritical. Faced with this cognitive dissonance, they either abandon deference and leave, or they deny inner feelings.

Ms. Butler then quotes the current Dalai Lama.

“I recommend never adopting the attitude toward one’s Spiritual teacher of seeing his or her every action as divine or noble. . . . if one has a teacher who is not qualified, who is engaging in unsuitable or wrong behavior, then it is appropriate for the student to criticize that behavior.”

Finally, a couple random observations about the issues teachers in Eastern traditions sometimes have with power and sex:

  1. The sheer immaturity they’re manifesting is breathtaking. Either they’re resisting the transformation that long hours of meditation should be impressing on them or, in the belief that they’re fully realized, or enlightened, they think that they’re beyond the effects of bad karma on their future as souls.
  2. It goes without saying that these problems are all but nonexistent in woman-led sanghas and zendos.

It’s “Groundhog Day” All Over Again in Pyongyang

Kim Jong II PosterIt’s 1994 all over again in North Korea, and that’s not good news for the country. The nuclear crisis continues to burn. There are food shortages and flooding. Jimmy Carter has gone to Pyongyang. Relations between North and South have sunk to new lows. And the country is preparing to pass the reins of power from father to son.

But this time around, Groundhog Day in Pyongyang looks even grimmer. In 1994, the nuclear crisis was averted at the last minute. In 2010, no one is even at the negotiating table (no one even knows where the negotiating table is!). Jimmy Carter visited Pyongyang in 1994 and secured a nuclear deal with long-time leader Kim Il Sung. Just last month, Carter returned to North Korea and won the release of Aijalon Mahli Gomes, an imprisoned U.S. citizen. But he didn’t get a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il (the current leader and son of Kim Il Sung) and couldn’t announce any larger breakthrough. Meanwhile, in South Korea, the new hard-line government of Lee Myung Bak in Seoul has suspended most contact with the North after the sinking of a South Korean ship in March. Seoul is currently sitting on twice the amount of rice that it usually has in storage, partly as a result of not sending the surplus northward. It costs the South hundreds of millions of dollars to store the rice it isn’t sending.

And then there’s the transfer of power, which is attracting the most headlines outside the country. In 1994, Kim Il Sung died rather soon after Jimmy Carter’s visit. But his son Kim Jong Il had been preparing to take over for at least two decades. This time around, Kim Jong Il has chosen his youngest son, Kim Jong Eun, who is reportedly only in his twenties. According to defector reports, there wasn’t a lot of enthusiasm for Kim Jong Il when he took over after his father’s death. This time around, according to The Washington Post, there is even less excitement, perhaps because even North Koreans don’t know much about Kim Jong Eun.

Pyongyang is preparing this week for a party conference to herald the leadership change. Don’t confuse this gathering with a party congress, North Korea watcher Andrei Lankov warns. “In North Korea it has become an established tradition that a party congress should be accompanied by lavish celebrations and expensive gifts to both the elite and the general public,” he writes at Asia Times. And this time around, the state just doesn’t have the money to indulge in such largesse.

And what is the Obama administration doing to take advantage of possible new leadership in Pyongyang? Sending Jimmy Carter was certainly a good idea. Announcing $750,000 in humanitarian assistance in the wake of the floods in North Korea was also a positive step. Dispatching North Korea envoy Stephen Bosworth for consultations next week in Seoul, Beijing, and Tokyo is also wise. But at the same time the administration has announced new sanctions against Pyongyang. “In many respects, what’s happening is the Obama administration is going back to the hard-line Bush approach to North Korea that Democrats had criticized,” says Michael Green, who was once part of the Bush administration.

But the Bush administration turned on a dime back in 2006 and embarked on an engagement policy with North Korea that almost bore fruit. The Obama administration should welcome the new leadership in Pyongyang with a similar offer of engagement. Why leave all the surprises to the North Koreans?

Et Tu, Buddha? Rationalizing Violence in Buddhism

Earlier last month, in a book review at Britain’s Current Intelligence titled The myth of “nonviolent Buddhism” — demolished once again, Vladimir Tikhonov wrote that according to Mahayana Buddhism, when it comes to killing . . .

. . . it is the intention and not the act in itself that is focused upon. . . . As some of the most influential MahÄyÄna sÅ«tras . . . suggest, “killing” is simply a meaningless misconception from an “enlightened” viewpoint (since neither the killer nor the killed have any independent existence) and may be undertaken if intended to prevent a worse misfortune, and done with the best objectives in mind.

That’s some world-class rationalization. Furthermore, writes Tikhonov, “the Buddhist emphasis on ‘good intention’ opened the door for a broad spectrum of violence legitimization, including both war and in criminal justice.”

One then feels compelled to ask: If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, is the road to heaven paved with bad intentions? Consider that your koan for the day.

The subject of the review is Buddhist Warfare (Oxford University Press) edited by American academics Michael K. Jerryson and Mark Juergensmeyer. It follows in the tradition of Zen at War, Brian Daizen Victoria’s 1998 book that explored how closely much of Zen Buddhism aligned itself with Japanese militarism leading up to World War II. According to Tikhonov, the new collection . . .

. . . persuasively argues that even though in theory Buddhism highlights the inescapably insalubrious [! -- RW] karmic consequences of any violence, in practice it functions pretty much like any other religion: From its inception, Buddhism was integrated into a complicated web of power relations; it always attempted to accommodate itself with the pre-existent power hierarchies while preserving a degree of internal autonomy; and it inevitably came to acknowledge, willingly or otherwise, that the powers-that-be use violence to achieve their objectives.

If that’s not disillusioning enough for you, try this:

. . . the passive acknowledgement of the inexorableness of state violence further developed into active collaboration with state war-making or internal pacification — as long as state bloodletting was seen as also serving Buddhist religious interests.

At its most extreme . . .

. . . a very similar logic was also applied to the cruelest forms of criminal justice utilized by secular rulers in Mongolian society after the conversion to Gelug-pa Buddhism in late sixteenth century. Executions by spine-breaking and slicing into pieces [as well as torture, were] justified as long as they were conducted by “Dharma-protecting” authorities with the “compassionate” intention of purifying society. Violence ended up being justified as long as it was seen as the best way of realizing rulers’ good intentions in what was perceived as an inherently violent world.

“Good intentions” rears its now-ugly head again. Have you figured out the koan yet? Meanwhile, you may be surprised to learn that as Islamists take some of their cues from Muhammed leading followers into battle, the responsibility for Buddhist violence can be laid, in part, at the door of the “the historical Buddha and his disciples, since it was exactly their attitude of tacitly acknowledging state violence and accepting sponsorship from ruling-class personages directly or indirectly implicated in all sorts of violence.”

Among the most pernicious effects of “early Buddhism’s dichotomous view of society” is that it “gave Buddhists little reason to take risks by actively promoting antiwar views certain to alienate state rulers.”

Tikhonov’s powerful conclusion resounds. Much as he values Buddhist Warfare, he would still like to see . . .

. . . a broader and stronger contextualization of Buddhist violence as part and parcel of a more general tendency of practically all religions to be violent. Religions are symbolic systems that organize the universe in such a way as to make themselves central and powerful — and closing the distance between “power” and “violence” is only a question of time, however “compassionate” the axiology of a given religion might originally have been.

Why Don’t Iraqis and Afghans Embrace Democracy?

“What’s wrong with those people?” many Americans — and not just those on the right — think about Iraqis. “We got rid of their tyrant and gave them their freedom. But look what they did with it — mowed each other down and blew each other up. Maybe they don’t deserve democracy.” (As I posted yesterday.)

We seldom stop to think that to many in the world democracy is just another political system and since it’s not indigenous to them, one they’re likely to give short shrift. Also, whenever there’s a power vacuum, jockeying for position supersedes establishing a just political system even if an outside force is willing to help them with its institution. Of course, if the outside force is occupying their land, especially with a heavy hand that results in untold numbers of civilian deaths, it’s absolutely no advertisement for democracy whatsoever.

Meanwhile, tailoring democracy to fit Afghanistan is proving even more unlikely. Anatol Lieven explains at Current Intelligence, a remarkable British web publication to which you (like myself) may not yet have been exposed. If you’re looking for a crash course on why Afghanistan is proving intractable to the West, you could do a lot worse than this article, which is, in fact a review of three books. (Thanks to Steve Hynd of Newshoggers for bringing it to our attention.) Lieven writes:

. . . engagement in Afghanistan has been above all one of the largest and most expensive exercises in collective narcissism that the world has ever known, and Afghanistan itself a landscape of the mind, onto which Westerners could project a variety of agendas and fantasies. As Antonio Giustozzi [editor of one of the books reviewed, Decoding the New Taliban: Insights from the Afghan Field] writes, “Every age has its follies; perhaps the folly of our age could be defined as an unmatched ambition to change the world, without even bothering to study it in detail and understand it first.”

It would be nice to pin all the blame for this on Bush, Blair and their supporters, but this tendency spread much more widely and is much more deeply rooted in contemporary Western culture. . . . In the first years after 2001, literally thousands of government departments and contractors, but also high-minded NGOs swarmed around the bloated feast of Western “aid to Afghanistan.” . . . the desire to bring democracy, freedom, “good governance” and an improvement in the status of women to Afghanistan were laudable goals in themselves, but the result has been a ghastly masquerade. . . .

[In fact, the West's] systemic ignorance [about Afghanistan] marks a difference from the era of European empires [when] scholars [were] working in the field. . . . This had at least some effect in modifying the fantasies that they could project onto their subjects. . . .

Intense study of Afghan society, culture and politics are so important because they are so very different from those of the modern West. . . . it takes an enormous leap of knowledge and imagination for Western officials to apprehend those realities at all, or to design strategies to deal with them. [Emphasis added.]

In practice, writes Lieven . . .

. . . the West created the thin façade of an Afghan state in the image of itself, convinced itself that this flimsy object had real being, and then fell into paroxysms of rage and disappointment when our Afghan allies acted according to the traditions and the realities of their own society, and not according to our precepts. . . . [Giustozzi writes that the] West’s approach in Afghanistan has been to try to transfer the structures of fully-developed modern statehood to Afghanistan — and not just that, but . . . modern Western democracy. [But] Giustozzi suggests, Afghanistan is at an early stage of state formation [and] any parallels (however inexact) in European history would have to be sought not in the recent past but many hundreds of years earlier [such as] the period of Charlemagne. [Also Machiavelli is] a pretty good guide to the realities of warlordism, though the setting of contemporary Afghanistan is far poorer and less developed than that of 16th century central Italy. [Think about that. -- RW]

Giustozzi’s basic conclusions concerning the nature and future of the state in Afghanistan are grim but convincing. “In the case of Afghanistan,” he writes, “the problem is still state formation more than state building. Gradually I came to think that the formation of a ‘modern’ . . . state in Afghanistan has little chance of succeeding unless it relies on the establishment of an international protectorate, with all the difficulties that come with that.”

In other words, democracy is either far too advanced for Afghanistan or, if you wish to avoid patronizing it, far too alien.

Bacevich Held Over Another Week!

Foreign Policy in Focus recently posted two articles by Andrew Feldman on Andrew Bacevich, the esteemed international relations professor and author, who argues that, by habitually responding to threats with the military instead of diplomacy, the United States makes itself more vulnerable instead of shoring up its defense. Feldman not only reviewed his book, Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War, but interviewed Bacevich for posts that both appeared on August 26. Despite Bacevich’s status in anti-intervention camps, Feldman doesn’t exactly lob softball questions at him.

For example, the former maintains, “But my argument is, roughly since the 1960s and very much so since 9/11, expansionism has an opposite effect. We’re not enhancing our power; we’re squandering it. We’re not building our prosperity; we’re going bankrupt.” But that’s not enough for Feldman, who replies, “Maybe you just don’t see it as a question of the ethical nature of expansionist policy.”

After President Obama’s Iraq speech, the New Republic posted an opinion piece by Bacevich that enjoyed wide readership. First he wrote:

And before we hasten to turn the page [on Iraq] — something that the great majority of Americans are keen to do — common decency demands that we reflect on all that has occurred in bringing us to this moment.

Decency? Where — I’m convinced many Americans were wondering — was the decency on the part of Sunnis and Shias who showed their gratitude for the freedom we gave them by mowing each other down and blowing each other up? Until the Surge saved Iraq. Sending in reinforcements — what a concept!

In fact, as Gareth Porter points out in a recent Focal Points post . . .

The Sunni decision to cooperate in the suppression of al Qaeda in Iraq had nothing to do with the surge. The main Sunni armed resistance groups had actually turned against al Qaeda in 2005, when they began trying to make a deal with the United States to end the war.

But that hasn’t kept the Obama administration from propagating the myth of the Surge. Porter again.

For the Democratic foreign policy elite, staying ignorant of the real history of the Iraq War allows them to believe that deploying U.S. military forces in Muslim countries can be an effective instrument of U.S. power.

Meanwhile, in his New Republic piece, Bacevich writes:

So the Americans are bowing out, having achieved few of the ambitious goals articulated in the heady aftermath of Baghdad’s fall. The surge, now remembered as an epic feat of arms, functions chiefly as a smokescreen, obscuring a vast panorama of recklessness, miscalculation, and waste that politicians, generals, and sundry warmongers are keen to forget.

The “ethical nature of expansionist policy” may not be as foremost in Bacevich’s mind as whether or not it helps the United States in its relations with the world. But has anyone summed up our Iraq adventure as well?

Israel’s Bacevich

Israel has its own Andrew Bacevich — a former solider who has become a respected spokesperson of his nation’s policies and, as well, a parent who has lost a son in one of his country’s military misadventures. David Grossman spoke to the Guardian on the occasion of the publication of his new novel, To the End of the Land, which it describes as “a memorial to his son who was killed while serving in the army, and why he remains an opponent of his country’s policy towards the Palestinians.” Interviewer Rachel Cooke writes:

Meanwhile, life in Israel grows somehow narrower. Grossman’s Arabic is almost as fluent as his superlative English, but it is harder and harder to maintain links with Palestinian friends, let alone to travel there. “I spoke three weeks ago to a dear friend, the writer Ahmad Harb…” He sighs. “Between us, there is the mutual disappointment of people who had a common dream and who saw it evaporate. But I know he continues to fight in his society exactly as he knows I do in mine. We are like two groups of miners digging from either side of a mountain; we know we will meet in the end.” The settlers? They are distorting an Israeli idealism he still holds dear. “The emotional investment we put into the occupation! As Gershon Sholem said, ‘All the blood goes to the wound.’ We are not taking care of ourselves. We are looking in the wrong direction. The settlement movement might really ruin us.”

By reflexively reaching for the military whenever they feel threatened, the United States and Israel threaten not only wreak havoc on national security and each respective state’s federal budget, but the very moral foundations of their societies.

Biden Embraces Myth That Surge Turned Iraq Into Good War

In an interview on the PBS NewsHour last Wednesday, Joe Biden was unwilling to contradict the official narrative of the Iraq War that Gen. David Petraeus and the Bush surge had turned Iraq into a good war after all. That interview serves as a reminder of just how completely the Democratic Party foreign policy elite has adopted that narrative.

The Iraq War story line crafted by the Petraeus and the new counterinsurgency elite in Washington assures the public that U.S. military power in Iraq brought about the cooperation of the Sunnis in Anbar Province, ended sectarian violence in Baghdad and defeated Iranian-backed Shi’a insurgents.

In reality, of course, that’s not what happened at all. It’s time to review the relevant history and deconstruct the Petraeus narrative which the Obama administration now appears to have adopted.

The Sunni decision to cooperate in the suppression of al Qaeda in Iraq had nothing to do with the surge. The main Sunni armed resistance groups had actually turned against al Qaeda in 2005, when they began trying to make a deal with the United States to end the war.

At an Iraqi reconciliation conference in Cairo, November 19-21, 2005, leaders of the three major Sunni armed groups (one of which was a coalition of several resistance organization) told U.S. and Arab officials they were willing to track down al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and deliver him to Iraqi authorities as part of a negotiated agreement with the United States. The Sunni insurgent leaders were motivated not only by hatred of al Qaeda but by the fear that a Shi’a-dominated government would consolidate power and exclude the Sunnis permanently unless the United States acted to rebalance its policy in Iraq.

Two months later, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad actually entered into secret negotiations with the three major Sunni insurgent groups 2006, as later reported by the Sunday Times and confirmed by Khalilzad. The Sunni leaders even submitted a formal peace proposal to Khalilzad. They insisted on a “timetable for withdrawal” as part of the deal, but it was “linked to the timescale necessary to rebuild Iraq’s armed forces and security services,” according to Sunday Times.

Khalilzad cut off the negotiations in February 2006, because such an agreement would have conflicted with a broader strategy of standing up a Shi’a army to suppress the Sunni insurgency.

The major Shi’a factions, determined to eliminate any possible threat to its power from the Sunnis in Baghdad, unleashed death squads, mostly from the Mahdi Army, in Sunni neighborhoods across the entire city in 2006 and early 2007.

The result was the defeat of the Sunni insurgents’ political-military bases in Baghdad, and the transformation of the capital from a mixed Sunni-Shi’a city into an overwhelmingly Shi’a city, as shown dramatically in this series of maps, based on U.S. military census data.

As a result, by late 2006, the Sunni leaders were feeling much more vulnerable to Shi’a power. Col. Sean McFarland, U.S. Army brigade commander in Al Anbar province throughout 2006, found Sunni sheiks expressing “[a] growing concern that the U.S. would leave Iraq and leave the Sunnis defenseless against Al-Qaeda and Iranian-supported militias….”

It was that fear of the Shi’a power that drove local Sunni decisions to join U.S.-sponsored Sunni neighborhood armed groups in Anbar.

The sectarian violence in Baghdad began to abate by August 2007, but not because of additional U.S. troops as the official narrative of the war suggests. It was because the Shi’a had accomplished their aim of confining the Sunni population to relatively small enclaves in Baghdad. That relationship between the achievement of that aim and the reduced violence was noted by the September 2007 National Intelligence Estimate.

The main Petraeus conceit about his strategy in Iraq is that it defeated a Shi’a insurgency that represented an Iranian “proxy war” in Iraq. But the main premise on which that claim was based — that Iran was backing “rogue elements” of Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army — was simply a psywar ploy by Petraeus and his staff. The objective of the “rogue elements” line was to divide the Mahdi Army, as military and intelligence officials admitted to pro-war blogger Bill Roggio.

The official narrative suggested that Iran exerted political influence in Iraq by supporting armed groups opposing the government. In fact, however, Iran’s key Iraqi allies had always been the two Shi’a factions with which the United States was allied against Sadr — the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Dawa Party. They had both gotten Iranian support and training during the war against Saddam, and the fiercely nationalist Sadr had criticized SCIRI leaders as Iranian stooges.

The al-Maliki government had no problem with Iranian training and financial support of the Mahdi Army in 2006, when the Mahdi Army was eliminating the Sunni threat from Baghdad. But once it was clear that the Sunnis had been defeated, the historical conflict between Sadr and the other Shi’a factions reemerged in spring 2007.

The Iranian interest was to ensure that the Shi’a-dominated government of Iraq consolidated its power. Iran’s “supreme leader” Ali Khamenei told al-Maliki in August 2007 that Iran would support his taking control of Sadr’s strongholds. Later that same month, al-Maliki went to Karbala and gave the local police chief “carte blanche” to attack the Sadrists there. After two days of violence, Sadr declared a six-month “freeze” on Mahdi Army military operations August 27, 2007.

By late 2007, contrary to the official Iraq legend, the al-Maliki government and the Bush administration were both publicly crediting Iran with pressuring Sadr to agree to the unilateral ceasefire – to the chagrin of Petraeus.

Al-Maliki launched the attack on Mahdi Army forces in Basrah in March 2008 in the knowledge that Iran would back him against Sadr. And when it went badly, he turned to Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard official in charge of day-to-day Iraq policy, to force a ceasefire on Sadr. Soleimani told Iraqi President Talibani that Iran supported al-Maliki’s efforts to “dismantle all militias”, and Sadr agreed to a ceasefire within 24 hours of Iran’s intervention.

So it was Iran’s restraint — not Petraeus’s counterinsurgency strategy — that effectively ended the Shi’a insurgent threat.

It was Soleimani who had presided over the secret April 2006 meeting of Shi’a leaders that had chosen al-Maliki as Prime Minister, after having been smuggled into the Green Zone without telling the Americans. And that was only one of a several trips Soleimani made to the Green Zone over a two-year period without U.S. knowledge.

But Biden doesn’t want to know this and other historical facts that contradict the official narrative on Iraq. For the Democratic foreign policy elite, staying ignorant of the real history of the Iraq War allows them to believe that deploying U.S. military forces in Muslim countries can be an effective instrument of U.S. power.

First posted at FireDogLake’s the Seminal.

What if the United States Deployed a Nuclear Drone?

In the early 60s, the United States came close to nuclear-weaponizing a drone. Before we explore that, did you ever notice how boring the quest for nuclear disarmament has become since the 1980s and the Nuclear Freeze?

Dr. Randall Forsberg, the one-time administrative assistant to an arms control organization, was no rock star, but she launched the movement that culminated in a massive demonstration in New York’s Central Park and arguably affected national nuclear policy. Today, instead of broad calls to disarm, arms control organizations focus on the nuts and bolts of nuclear weapons and treaties. But are they more effective than the Freeze, which simply called for a mutual freeze on the development and manufacture of nuclear weapons and the missiles on which they’d be mounted? Unless, that is, you believe it’s disarmament when the Obama administration requests $16 billion in new warhead spending over the next decade to induce Republican senators to sign the new START disarmament.

We found a succinct explanation of how nuclear disarmament became unsexy (except, maybe, when Hollywood stars show up for the premier of Countdown to Zero). Cutting-edge disarmament voice Darwin BondGraham writes at the Monthly Review’s MRZine:

Throughout the 1990s, but especially during the George W. Bush years, Ploughshares and its circle of foundations called the Peace and Security Funders Group increasingly narrowed the range of acceptable anti-nuclear activism, while simultaneously ghettoizing the field so that the work of various NGOs became less and less applicable to social justice and economic development issues, and increasingly focused on abstract global problems and hypotheticals, such as the possible use of nuclear weapons. In the process, discussions of the injustices of the global political economy and how nuclear weapons fit into it were silenced. Anti-nuclear activism became increasingly specialized, boring, and disconnected from issues that affect people’s everyday lives. Arms control eclipsed abolition as the rallying cry. Those NGOs that obeyed the consolidation period survived with funding and access to media, so long as they kissed the ring.

You Mean Drones Can Be Even More Lethal?

In an Air Force Magazine article titled The Weird Nukes of Yesteryear, excerpted from a book, Norman Polmar and Robert S. Norris write about three nuclear weapons of our recent past that Americans are likely to know even less about than they do our current arsenal. The first two, though, are somewhat less unknown than the third. Developed by the Los Alamos laboratory, the enormous Mk 17 hydrogen, or thermonuclear, bomb . . .

. . . had a yield of 13.5 megatons [MT] — almost one thousand times more powerful than the Hiroshima explosion. [Meanwhile the] Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory [proposed] 22,000-pound bombs that would have yields of 45 MT or 60 MT. Neither was developed, as critics claimed they had no realistic military value and could cause widespread nuclear contamination. However, the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s proposed Mk 17 hydrogen bomb with a 15-MT yield was considered a practical weapon.

Practical? Maybe in the sense that launching one of those mothers off could set off a sequence of events that would end practically all life on earth. Where’s the “practical” here — or with any nuke? Meanwhile, “At the other end of the nuclear weapons spectrum was the Davy Crockett. . . . a recoilless rifle. . . . Its warhead produced a yield in the 10- to 20-ton range (.01 to .02 KT).”

You may have seen this one on YouTube. Set on a tripod, it’s more of an artillery piece than a rifle. Lighting off these babies in tests must have been orgas-, er, a peak experience for anyone who loves explosions. Unlike the bomb, it was something that could be set off with some regularity in combat and would kill hundreds instead of millions. It spared the prospective trigger man that messy nuclear hangover that inevitably accompanies detonating a full-grown nuclear bomb — no matter how you slice it, the knowledge that you’ve killed millions is a buzzkill. Meanwhile, talk about weird, all nuclear weapons are weird, but a nuclear cannon?

Now the drone, a helicopter in this case, officially the Drone Anti-Submarine Helicopter (DASH). Polmar and Morris write:

This was the only unmanned vehicle intended to carry a nuclear weapon — in this situation, a [nuclear bomb to be used as a maritime depth charge] with a yield of about five KT.. . . . . For a DASH mission, the drone was “piloted” during takeoff and landing by an officer at a console adjacent to the ship’s flight deck. During the mission, the drone was controlled by [another] officer . . . who would “fly” the helicopter to the target area and release the weapon.

Ultimately, DASH was only equipped with anti-submarine torpedoes, not nuclear depth charges as planned. Thank goodness for small favors. But, hey, it’s never too late to arm them with tactical-nuke warheads of the size used with the Davy Crockett!

Gie Her a Haggis! (Vintage Recipes for the Holiday)

“Her” being Scotland. Labor Day doesn’t have to be about barbecues. Stand out from the crowd and trot this mouth-watering dish out for your Labor Day guests. Just make sure that your haggis bag is perfectly clean!

Haggis

Clean a sheep’s pluck thoroughly. Make incisions in the heart and liver to allow the blood to flow out, and parboil the whole, letting the wind-pipe lie over the side of the pot to permit the phlegm and blood to disgorge from the lungs; the water may be changed after a few minutes’ boiling for fresh water. A half-hour’s boiling will be sufficient; but throw back the half of the liver to boil till it will grate easily; take the heart, the half of the liver, and part of the lights [lungs], trimming away all skins and black-looking parts, and mince them together. Mince also a pound of good beef-suet and four onions. Grate the other half of the liver. Have a dozen of small onions peeled and scalded in two waters to mix with this mince. Toast some oatmeal before the fire for hours, till it is of a light-brown colour and perfectly dry. Less than two tea-cupfuls of meal will do for this quantity of meat. Spread the mince on a board, and strew the meal lightly over it, with a high seasoning of pepper, salt, and a little cayenne, well mixed. Have a haggis-bag perfectly clean, and see that there be no thin part in it, else your whole labour will be lost by its bursting. Some cooks use two bags. Put in the meat with a half-pint of good beef-gravy, or as much strong broth, as will make it a thick stew. Be careful not to fill the bag too full, but allow the meat room to swell; add the juice of a lemon, or a little good vinegar; press out the air, and sew up the bag; prick it with a large needle when it first swells in the pot, to prevent bursting; let it boil slowly for three hours if large.

We’ve saved the best for last. Provenance uncertain — either English or Colonial American. Just remember to “stop the pot close that he lep [leap] not out.”

To Mak a Freshe Lamprey Bake

To bak a freche lamprey tak and put a quyk [live] lamprey in a pot put ther to a porcyon of red wyne then stop the pot close that he lep [leap] not out and when he is dyinge tak him and put hym in skaldinge water then tak hym in your hands with alyn clothe and a handful of hay in the tother hand and strik hym so that the skyn go away and saue him hole then weshe hym and cut hym out whart a straw brod from the naville so that the stringe be lowse, then slitt hym a litill at the throt and tak out the string and kep the blode in a vesselle and it be a femal thrust in your hand from the naville upwards so that the spawn com out there as ye tak out the stringe and ye will boile it slat it a littill in the same place within that ye may cum and lowse the bone with a prik from the fische and brek it a litill from the hed and slit hym a litill from the taille then put the prik between the bone and the fische and drawe the bone from the taille as esly as ye may that it cum out all hole from the taile then wind the bone about thy finger and drawe it out softly for breking and so ye shall tak it out hole then cope the lamprey o thwart the bak eury pece iij fingers brode and let them hold to gedure and toile them welle in the blod, and ye will mak your galentyn of crust of white bred cut it in schyves and toiste it on a gredirne (gridiron) that it be somdelle broun and tak a quart of good red wyne for the baking of the lamprey and put the bred there in and drawe it and mak it not chargaunt and ye may grind a few of raisins and mak it up there with and let the fyft part be venygar put ther to pouder of cannelle a gretdele, pouder galingale pouder Lombard pouder of guinger sugur saffron and salt and let it be tweene braun and yallowe and mak thy colour of sanders then mak a large coffin of pured floure and put thy lamprey ther in and put in the galentyn that it stand as highe as the lamprey and let it haue a good lide and wet the bredes round about and lay it in the coffin and close it round about to the pen for ye must haue a pen between the lidd and coffyne to blow the pen that the lid may rise welle and luck the ovene be hoot and set it in to it.

Let us know in the comments section how your guests liked these dishes!

Peruvian President Fujimori’s Right-Hand Man Was a Gun Runner and Drug Dealer — and Employed by the U.S.

Vladimiro MontesinosA Supreme Court verdict in Peru this week once again shows how the U.S. government has engaged in unholy alliances — often with those involved in the very drug trade it claims to be combating — in order to further its short-term drug policy objectives and to the detriment of broader U.S. foreign policy goals.

After four years of deliberations, a tribunal of the Peruvian Supreme Court finally upheld the 2006 verdict sentencing Peru’s Vladimiro Montesinos to 20 years in prison and a steep monetary reparation for selling weapons to the Colombian Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarios de Colombia, or FARC. At the same time that Montesinos was running guns to the FARC, he was the right-hand man of then-Peruvian president turned dictator Alberto Fujimori, functioning as de facto security adviser and drug czar. He was also a key ally of the U.S. government in the so-called war on drugs. Even more ironic, Montesinos’ arrangements with the FARC coincided with the launching of Plan Colombia.

As in the case of former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega (a paid CIA informant until the 1989 U.S. invasion), the U.S. government’s relationship with Vladimiro Montesinos shows the absurd lengths that U.S. policy makers have been willing to go in attempting to show progress in the “war on drugs.” While in power in Peru, Montesinos organized death squads, orchestrated the undermining of Peruvian democracy with the aim of keeping Fujimori in power indefinitely, and amassed a huge illegal fortune (by some estimates over $250 million) through corruption and blackmail. He was also the U.S. government’s prime interlocutor on drug policy issues.

Before emerging as Fujimori’s trusted aide, Montesinos was widely known as a lawyer for major drug traffickers. Now-declassified 1991 cables from the U.S. Embassy in Lima carried clear warnings; one stated, “There is substantial circumstantial evidence linking Montesinos to past narcotics activity…among the police and military figures recommended by Montesinos are men with possible ties to drug trafficking.” Yet even that did not persuade U.S. intelligence and drug-related agencies from seeking to forge an alliance with him. Montesinos quickly won the support of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which then, with Montesinos’ help, edged out the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as the lead anti-drug agency for the U.S. government in the country.

He was soon courted by State Department officials as well. He became known in U.S. government circles as “Mr. Fix It.” If you wanted to get something done, you went to Montesinos. But the strategy worked both ways. If Montesinos didn’t like what he thought Washington was up to, he would withhold drug-related intelligence and slow down or even cease drug control activities. One U.S. official told me privately that Washington was always quick to give in. It seems that Montesinos, an expert in blackmail, managed to get the upper hand over his U.S. backers.

Montesinos was also quietly running the drug business behind the scenes. During Fujimori’s ten years in power, Peru went from being a coca producer (coca being a primary product in the production of cocaine) to a player in the cocaine business. And if you wanted to do business in Peru, you had to pay off Montesinos. The consequences for not abiding by his rules were steep: “intelligence” would be provided to the DEA and Peruvian anti-drug policy that would result in the arrest of any potential rivals.

Even as evidence mounted of Montesinos’ involvement in the drug trade, the U.S. government provided important political backing to him and it appears that the CIA continued to provide him with a lucrative monthly stipend. That assistance continued until the bitter end. After fraudulent elections and a series of outrageous scandals, Fujimori finally accepted defeat and on Sept. 16, 2000 he announced that he would call new elections, deactivate the notorious national intelligence services (which also got U.S. drug control assistance, despite its involvement in horrific human rights abuses) and fire Montesinos. It was only four days later that then Secretary of State Madeline Albright issued a directive that the U.S. government was to have no further contact with Montesinos. A week later, he fled to Panama. In June 2001 he was arrested in Venezuela and extradited to Peru, where he has remained in prison facing more than 60 separate court cases. Sentences run consecutively in Peru, so this verdict ensures that — barring some sort of political pardon — he will spend 20 years behind bars.

In Peru, justice has been served in this particular case. But what about in Washington? No serious effort to evaluate U.S. drug policy in Peru in the 1990s (or in any other period) has taken place. One 1994 inter-agency working group concluded only that relations with Montesinos should be downgraded slightly (one U.S. official involved at the time told me that despite a majority in favor of more drastic action, the CIA managed to get the upper hand in the internal debate). Later calls for investigations into U.S. support for Montesinos and intelligence agencies in Peru have gone unheeded. Similarly, efforts to obtain declassified documents have been met with resistance.

While allowing the full truth to come out about the U.S. relationship with Montesinos may be embarrassing for the U.S. government, such transparency and an honest reflection is necessary to avoid continuing to repeat the same bad strategies in the future. It is time for Washington to do two things: open up the files on Montesinos and undertake a serious review of how the U.S. government ended up throwing its support behind a corrupt, gun-running, drug-trafficking thug.

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