Focal Points Blog

Nuclear Disarmament: First Line of Defense Against the Destruction of the Environment

Nuclear wasteland(Pictured: The proverbial nuclear wasteland)

In recent years, when applied to the United States, the term “exceptionalism” has escalated from its usual first meaning — uncommon — to its second — extraordinary. Meanwhile, when it comes to the planet on which we live, Americans and the rest of its inhabitants may not exactly be earth exceptionalists, but we are earth-centric. Since the earth is our only frame of reference, we’re alternately resigned to how its history repeats itself or we’re wracking our brains, trying to figure out how to navigate the next millennium as if nothing like it had ever been done before — by anyone, anywhere in the universe.

As one disposed, by nature, to believe in alien life forms, I often ask myself about the various obstacles with which we’re confronted or those of our own making: How do they do they surmount them on other planets? For example, does anyone really believe that a civilization elsewhere that may be a millennium — or a million of them — older than ours bases its economy on capitalism and free markets? It doesn’t take much imagination to see that dwindling resources require a managed economy, at the least, to parcel out what’s left.

Recently, however, the pendulum of my perspective has begun to swing back to earth-centric. Recent thinking places planets that just might host human life forms at the far reaches of the universe. In other words, prospects for a community of planets inhabited with humanoids, in our corner of the universe anyway, may be slim and none. In fact, it may be a millennium before such planets are even visible via telescopes. Last spring, at Astrobiology Magazine, Dan Choi wrote:

Although our telescopes will likely become good enough to detect signs of life on exoplanets [planets revolving around another sun besides ours. — RW] within the next 100 years, it would probably take many centuries before we could ever get a good look at the aliens.

Signs of life may be all we see because what’s required is not the most powerful telescope of all time, but a series of telescopes.

To begin imaging even giant organisms 30 feet long and wide on the closest putative exoplanet [which is] 4.37 light years away, the elements making up a telescope array would have to cover a distance roughly 400,000 miles wide. . . . The area required to collect even one photon [the basic unit of light — RW] a year in light reflected off such a planet is some 60 miles wide.

In other words, it’s likely that we’re more alone than I had thought. The logical response then is to value the planet for its uniqueness as if it were a priceless museum piece which we pledge to keep out of harm’s way.

It’s difficult to believe that many still view the earth as a raw resource to be developed, when, in fact, such a pursuit comes perilously close to rifling the pockets of a corpse. Unless, that is, they’re convinced that once the earth is used up, they can colonize another planets. (Mining aside, some scientists maintain that Mars and other planets may be arable.)

More likely, environmental concerns are tuned out because of an inability to stomach the messengers — whether progressives in general or scientists who hold no truck with creationism. But it’s folly to believe that when the earth finally keels over and expires, colonization and migration can be ramped up on demand.

In the end, when it comes to planets conducive to the care and feeding of advanced life forms, earth is likely a space oasis. Which should serve to firm up one’s commitment to nuclear disarmament. For when it comes to ravaging the earth, a nuclear attack accelerates the entropy of global warming many times over. The number of dead may result in a suddenly sustainable population, but that’s a poor consolation prize for the physical and psychic trauma inflicted on the survivors. Complete with a radioactive landscape and nuclear winter as well, nuclear war can send the planet on a fast track to hell.

Cynical Maneuvering by Democratic Leaders Quashes Recognition of a Palestinian State

Though outgoing Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has insisted that there just isn’t enough time for the lame duck Democratic-controlled Congress to consider much of the progressive legislation on the dock prior to the Republican takeover early next month, she and other Democratic leaders did find time last Wednesday to pass a resolution condemning efforts by Palestinian moderates to seek recognition of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

The Oslo accords were signed in 1993 with the vision of Israel’s eventual withdrawal from the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip and the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. This was an enormous compromise on the Palestinian side, given that such a state would leave them with only 22% of their historic homeland, the rest of which became the state of Israel in 1948. Right-wing Israeli politician Benyamin Netanyahu, then in opposition, denounced the agreement and promised to derail it. As prime minister in the late 1990s and again since his coming to office again in last year’s election, he has been doing his best to accomplish this by colonizing large swathes of the West Bank with illegal settlements for Israeli Jews which he insists must be annexed into an expanded Israel. The moderate Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, by contrast, has been working toward the implementation of the Oslo Accords, offering strict security guarantees for Israel in return for an end to the occupation.

Nevertheless, the Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives has insisted that it is the Palestinians, not the Israelis, who are responsible for the breakdown in the peace talks. Recognizing that talks are pointless while Israel’s colonization drive continues and noting the Obama administration’s ongoing refusal to exercise its extensive leverage to force Israel to stop building new settlements, the Palestinians have understandably refused to return to direct negotiations until Israel suspends its colonization drive, which has been condemned as illegal by the UN Security Council, the International Court of Justice, and virtually the entire international community. However, Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY), whom the Democrats put in charge of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Middle East , insisted during last Wednesday’s debate, that “Israel has shown time and again that it is ready” to make peace and that Palestinians’ objections to Israelis colonizing their land were “overwrought.”

To help put pressure on Israel and the United States to move the peace process forward, the Palestine Authority has been soliciting international recognition of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. During the past couple of weeks, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, and Norway have done just that. This is what prompted the House resolution, introduced by House Foreign Affairs committee chairman Howard Berman (D-CA), who serves as the House Democrats’ chief foreign policy spokesman.

The Democratic leadership in the House has long argued that Israel’s attacks on civilian population centers in Gaza Strip and elsewhere are legitimate self-defense and that it is the Palestinians, not the Israelis, who are making peace impossible. Pelosi, for example, insists that the conflict is about “the fundamental right of Israel to exist” and that it is “absolute nonsense” to claim it has anything do to with the Israeli occupation. One would think, then, that this Palestinian effort to achieve recognition for a state which explicitly defines the borders as exclusively those occupied by Israel in the June 1967 war and not any part of Israel itself would be welcomed. But, to the Democrats, Palestinians asking for even just 22% of Palestine is too much. Rising in support of last Wednesday’s resolution, Rep. Elliot Engel (D-NY) called it “preposterous” that a Palestinian state should be created based on the requirements of UN Security Council Resolution 242, which from Presidents Lyndon Johnson through George H.W. Bush had been recognized as the basis of Middle East peace, which called for Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories in return for security guarantees. Similarly, Rep. Berman threatened the Palestine Authority by saying, “If they persist in pursuing a unilateralist path . . . there will be consequences.”

Congress has correctly condemned violence by extremist Palestinian extremist groups like Hamas, yet when the Palestine Authority tries to advance their freedom through nonviolent means, such as these diplomatic initiatives, the Democrats are just as quick to condemn them as well. Indeed, earlier in their careers, Berman, Ackerman, Engel, Pelosi and other Democratic leaders were on record opposing any kind of Palestinian statehood, changing their view reluctantly only years later. However, they insist that whatever kind of Palestinian “state” can only be on what the Israeli occupiers are willing to allow them to have, even if all that is left is a series of small non-contiguous cantons surrounded by annexed Israeli settlement blocs. Taking any initiative to advance their independence separate from what the rightist Israeli government can agree to, according to the Democratic leadership, is completely unacceptable.

One can only think of how Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” noted that the greatest obstacle to the advance of freedom is one who “paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom.”

Recognizing that most ordinary Democrats oppose the Israeli occupation and would likely put pressure on their representatives to vote against the resolution, Berman and Pelosi put the vote on last Wednesday’s agenda before the text was even made available to other House members. This made it impossible to have any hearings, give any time for constituents to express their opposition, or even allow the Obama administration to offer an opinion. Also fearing opposition from Democratic House members who might be concerned at rousing the anger of their liberal constituents, Berman and Pelosi refused to have roll call vote and instead brought it up under a procedure known as “suspension of the rules,” a procedure normally used for non-controversial measure like honoring a recently-deceased eminent figure. Doing it this way not only limits debate and makes it impossible to attach amendments, it allows a resolution to pass by a non-recorded voice vote and to automatically be recorded as “unanimous.” Only ten representatives were on the floor when the resolution was passed by “unanimous consent.”

This kind of cynical maneuvering by the Democratic Party leadership is unfortunately quite typical of how they have handled resolutions dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during their four years in the majority. It raises the question as to whether the Republicans can do any worse.

Unfortunately, the answer is probably yes. While a growing minority of Democratic House members are finally listening to their liberal constituents’ concerns about U.S. backing for Israeli occupation, colonization and repression, the Republicans – outside of Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) and a few others of a more libertarian orientation – are solidly aligned with the rightist Israeli government. We can only expect more such resolutions in the coming Congress.

WikiLeaks XXIII: Torture Cables Undermine India’s Efforts to Inhabit Higher Ethical Ground Than China

Kashmir lake(Pictured: Kashmir in simpler times.)

We’re honored to have Michael Busch dissecting the latest WikiLeaks document dump for Focal Points. This is the twenty-third in the series.

As the balance of world power shifts east, and the battle for regional supremacy begins to take shape between India and China, New Delhi has positioned itself against the Eastphalian realpolitik of Beijing by promoting its commitment to liberal values as the world’s largest democracy.

But as a new cable released by WikiLeaks demonstrates, its liberal bona fides aren’t quite as impeccable as India may wish the world to believe. As an embassy dispatch dating from April 2005 makes clear, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) concluded that the Indian government condoned torture in its efforts to gain control of Kashmir.

According to ICRC officials briefing American diplomats, the organization had

made 177 visits to detention centers in J&K [Jammu and Kashmir] and elsewhere (primarily the Northeast) between 2002-2004, meeting with 1491 detainees, 1296 of which were private interviews. XXXXXXXXXXXX considered this group a representative sample of detainees in Kashmir, but stressed that they had not been allowed access to all detainees. In 852 cases, detainees reported what ICRC refers to as “IT” (ill-treatment): 171 persons were beaten, the remaining 681 subjected to one or more of six forms of torture: electricity (498 cases), suspension from ceiling (381), “roller” (a round metal object put on the thighs of sitting person, which prison personnel then sit on, crushing muscles — 294); stretching (legs split 180 degrees — 181), water (various forms — 234), or sexual (302). Numbers add up to more than 681, as many detainees were subjected to more than one form of IT. ICRC stressed that all the branches of the security forces used these forms of IT and torture.

Strangely, New Delhi did not respond to the allegations with denials of wrongdoing, but argued that this dismal state of affairs amounted to progress. The unidentified source told embassy staff that government representatives answered the charges by noting

that the human rights situation in Kashmir is “much better than it was in the 1990s,” a view he also agreed with. Security forces no longer roused entire villages in the middle of the night and detained inhabitants indiscriminately, as they had as recently as the late 1990s. There is “more openness from medical doctors and the police,” who have conceded that 95 percent of the information on particular cases is accurate. Ten years ago, there were some 300 detention centers; now there are “a lot fewer,” he stated.

Whether this particular rubric for measuring human rights progress in India should be accepted or not, the cable notes that persistent problems remain. Among other things,

There is a regular and widespread use of IT and torture by the security forces during interrogation; — This always takes place in the presence of officers; — ICRC has raised these issues with the GOI for more than 10 years; — Because practice continues, ICRC is forced to conclude that GOI condones torture; — Dialogue on prison conditions is OK, dialogue on treatment of detainees is not; — Security forces were rougher on detainees in the past; — Detainees were rarely militants (they are routinely killed), but persons connected to or believed to have information about the insurgency; — ICRC has never obtained access to the “Cargo Building,” the most notorious detention center in Srinagar; and — Current practices continue because “security forces need promotions,” while for militants, “the insurgency has become a business.”

At the same time, the cable reports that New Delhi had made important advancements in cleaning up their spotty record on torture in recent years. In particular, the ICRC had

conducted more than 300 sessions with SF on IHL in Kashmir and elsewhere, which have touched an estimated 20,000 junior grade officers in one way or another. Discussions are underway for further sessions with officers at the headquarters of the Southern Command in Pune (Maharashtra) and Northern Command in Udhampur (J&K).

And perhaps more importantly, the issue of military discipline had taken center stage in the minds of senior policy makers, prompting the convening of at least one conference on the subject

following reports that Defense Minister Mukherjee was disturbed by continued reports of human rights violations by the security forces. Addressing the conference, Mukherkee observed that “we must realize that while dealing with insurgents, we are operating within our own territory and allegations of human rights violations will not only sully the image of the army, but also reduce our effectiveness in tackling militancy.” As part of his “velvet glove, iron fist” approach, Singh has repeatedly stipulated that his officers should use “minimum force” and avoid “collateral damage” in their units in order to reverse declining standards in discipline.

Nevertheless, as another cable demonstrates two years later, the torture issue continued to surface as a key roadblock to closer, more effective bilateral relations between Washington and New Delhi. Lamenting the various issues hampering US-Indian cooperation and coordination on issues of counter-terrorism, the dispatch focuses on

India’s lack of capacity to manage these issues bureaucratically…[The country’s] police and security forces are overworked and hampered by bad police practices, including the wide-spread use of torture in interrogations, rampant corruption, poor training, and a general inability to conduct solid forensic investigations. India’s most elite security forces also regularly cut corners to avoid working through India’s lagging justice system, which has approximately 13 judges per million people. Thus Indian police officials often do not respond to our requests for information about attacks or our offers of support because they are covering up poor practices, rather than rejecting our help outright.

These cables appear at an inconvenient moment for the Indian government, which this week dispatched a high-profile group to Kashmir on the final leg of its fact-finding mission designed to help resolve the decades-old conflict in the region. While the latest WikiLeaks revelations will likely have no effect on the group’s ten-day trip to Kashmir, they certainly will complicate New Delhi’s hopes at being seen as a positive force for peace in the region. More so if even its strongest backer, the United States, is perceived to be uncomfortable with India’s approach to handling “terrorist” sympathizers.

It’s True: Sweden Was Too Good to Be True

The news of two explosions in the heart of Stockholm – according to Yahoo!News the first suicide bombing in Sweden’s history – shook not only Sweden, but the whole Nordic region. Already fingers are pointing at Islamic radicals as the culprits, and this might very well be the case, although it helps not to jump to conclusions. Remember how the rush to judgment in Oklahoma City played out.

Even before all the facts are in, the right-center Swedish government has tried to use the event in a somewhat cynical fashion. Before the bombing, in November, Sweden had announced it would start pulling some of its 530 troops in Afghanistan out of the country, a process to be completed by 2014. Immediately after the bombing, the Swedish government changed tactics and instead is now trying to increase its military presence there.

News of the bombing triggered a flow of personal memories of the country. I never lived there, but in the late 1980s traveled through Sweden repeatedly and got to know the different strands of its peace movement as they existed in those days rather well.

Was deeply impressed with the place; so was Mikhail Gorbachev, who openly admitted that the goal of his failed effort of reforming Soviet Communism was to render the USSR ‘more like Sweden’. And then there were the fair number of Vietnam era draft dodgers from the U.S. who made Sweden their permanent home, many of whom never looked back or returned stateside.

Communism – both as an ideology and as ‘really existing socialism’ – might have been collapsing as any kind of viable alternative model to capitalism, but at least there was Swedish social democracy – never really the ‘socialism’ that rightwing idiots in the USA claimed it was – but a state administered market economy with a strong social component. Yes, there was social distance between the rich and poor in Sweden, but more at the 10:1 rather than the 500:1 levels it was already approaching in the USA shortly thereafter. Probably not a model for the USA in some ways – it’s hard to compare a culturally diversified country of 270 million with a largely culturally homogeneous nation of 9 or so million – but that said, we here could learn a lot from the Swedes and how they set up their society.

I have fond memories of the place… among them

  • Attending the first open rally in Europe of a recently freed Nelson Mandela in Stockholm in March of 1990. Mandela chose Sweden for his European ‘entrée’ in gratitude for what was an extremely potent solidarity movement, not only in Sweden but throughout the Nordic countries, to end apartheid. Watching what I understood as the pure joy on the faces of so many blond and blue eyed Swedes at Mandela’s presence in their midst and the obvious love they felt for this black former guerilla fighter, is the last time I can remember tears coming to my eyes.
  • There was also the city of Orebro, in central Sweden, where I had a long talk with the mayor about the city’s program to integrate immigrants from Africa – as I recall they were from Somalia and Ethiopia – into the life of the city. There were programs like this all over the country – two years language training in Swedish, job training, and ‘cultural training’ (how to get on a bus, what to expect at the social services offices, etc., some of the not-so-obvious cultural rules and taboos of the Swedes). I wondered why other countries did not offer such thoughtful programs in cultural adaptation (or assimilation).
  • Then there was my friend Thorstein, who was arrested for hunting and killing a deer in ‘the Kings Forest’, the private preserve of Sweden’s King. It’s a country where virtually all forest land is public. I think Thorstein did a few months in jail for that; but he could not abide by the idea that a forest in Sweden was private property and thus Thorstein was willing to pay the price. In earlier times he would have been executed.

All that is more than 20 years ago. Haven’t been back since. But the memories linger.

A more sober view…

But even then, I suspected that the picture was too good to be true. This was after all a capitalist country with all the wonders and slime that entails. There had to be some rot, some decadence, somewhere hidden beneath those great social programs, its fine educational system, excellent public transportation and comprehensive healthcare system, although I was never there long enough to probe it.

During the Cold War, Sweden was often viewed as a neutral country. This was a bit exaggerated. Economically it was integrated first into what was called EFTA – the European Free Trade Association and then after the collapse of Communism, entered the European Union in 1995.

While it never had the same kind of security agreements with the USSR as did its neighbor (and for 750+ years, former colony, Finland) the fact that Sweden did not join NATO opened up opportunities for trade with Eastern Europe and the USSR that kept the country somewhat recession-proof during the 1970s when the Western European economies were floundering. If the country genuinely welcomed immigrants from Third World countries (much more receptive than neighboring Finland), it was not without some typical resentment and, as the decades wore on, increasing xenophobia.

And while Sweden undoubtedly played a calming alternative role to U.S. Cold War rhetoric, it should not be forgotten that throughout that period, arms manufacturing (Saab, Bofors) was among the country’s most successful industries and Sweden was selling arms up the kazoo to whoever would buy them, especially Third World dictatorships. More or less along the same right-wing militarist lines, while Sweden was ‘neutral’ during World War 2, and was able to avoid combat to its great credit, it was forced to strike a deal with the devil and deliver – on the threat of possible Nazi invasion – all the iron ore that Hitler wanted.

Furthermore, while ‘neutral’ it is well known that there were many, many Nazi sympathizers in the country, some who volunteered to take up arms for the Third Reich; others who, after Hitler’s defeat, never really changed their allegiance, but simply hid their collection of Nazi swastikas in a closet or basement to view on special occasions when other wacko fascists tend to come out of the word work, like Hitler’s birthday.

Steig Larsson: He Hated Nazis

Even in the best of times, corporate fraud, hidden Nazi connections, ties between intelligence agencies, extreme rightwing racist hate groups and Eastern European drug rings were all there in Sweden lurking not that far beneath the surface waiting for the moment when they could take their pictures of Hitler out of the drawer. After the Soviet Union and Eastern European Communism had the nerve to collapse, leaving the West, for a moment anyway, without an enemy, the rightwing crazies in Sweden (and other Nordic countries) gained confidence and became bolder.

Two Swedish writers, Stieg Larsson (of the now famous ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo’ series) and Henning Mankell, scratched below the surface of Sweden’s social democratic calm exterior, put the dots together, suggesting the rightwing forces so long and so patiently lurking in the shadows were about to have a coming-out party.

It is likely that Larsson, who died of a heart attack just before his trilogy was published, would have had a field day with recent revelations of Sweden’s Queen Silvia’s Nazi family connections. The whole of Larsson’s professional life was dedicated to exposing and condemning the country’s hidden ultra right tendencies.

For years, Sweden’s Queen Silvia, of German origin, had repeatedly denied any connection between her family and the Nazis. Then earlier this month the lid blew off that particular fantasy. It turns out that her father, Walter Sommerlath, had joined the Nazi party in early 1934, and worked for a time for a company, Acos-Burderus-Do-Brasil,Ltda that used slave labor. Then in 1939, Sommerlath moved to Berlin and took over a company called Wechsler and Hennig, which he bought from a Jewish manufacturer, one Efim Wechsler, for a pittance of its value, which was typical of the times.

Signs have long been in the making.

With the shift in the strategic balance of power at the end of the Cold War, Sweden moved closer to the E.U. and the United States both economically and politically. Although not yet formally integrated into NATO, it participates in what is called NATO’s ‘Partners For Peace’ program, which has included a series of joint maneuvers in the Baltic Sea and more recently, the sending of 500 Swedish combat troops to Afghanistan, a gesture which would have been unheard of two decades ago

While Sweden has long had an anti-immigrant ultra right party, it is gaining in strength. Just three months ago, the misnamed ‘Swedish Democracy’ gained an unprecedented 20 seats in the Sweden’s single assembly. Party members used to openly wear swastikas on their jackets, but have changed the party symbol to Sweden’s purple anemone to put a bit of make up on the corpse that is their political legacy in the country.

Larsson, Assange and WikiLeaks

Had he lived, there is little doubt that Stieg Larsson would be on the front lines defending Julian Assage’s commitment to releasing US State Department communiques to the general public through WikiLeaks. For Larsson and Assange shared many qualities. Larsson understood that ‘the need for secrecy’ essentially provided a veil for corporate and state crimes and that the kind of shallow jingo-istic hysteria which seems to be permeating the U.S. body politic at this moment is merely an excuse to take censorship here to yet another level.

Larsson would have smiled at the corruption, hypocrisy, and deviousness in the extreme which the WikiLeaks cables reveal and understood that the attempt to villify whistleblowers is perhaps the greatest threat to democracy we now face. Secrecy is, after all, the greatest enemy of democracy, after ignorance — to which secrecy is the greatest weapon available to the plutocracy, even greater than propaganda. That’s why the US and other states are working so hard to shut down WikiLeaks, Assange, and other whistleblowers.

Larsson would have had a very cynical view of the Swedish government’s little pathetic maneuvers to have Assange arrested on sexual misconduct charges for failure to use a condom in his sexual relations with two Swedish women who related with some excitement, their encounters with Assange to friends on Twitter.

And he, Larsson would have understood that Swedish government acquiescence to Obama Administration pressure by pressing charges against Assange is nothing more than an admission to the degree to which Sweden has drifted into the U.S. foreign policy orbit these last years and that the famous ‘Swedish neutrality’ has long been a dead letter.

Richard Holbrooke: A Statesman’s Statesman — if You Take Your Diplomacy Straight up Without Principles as a Chaser

Richard HolbrookeNow that he’s dead, Richard Holbrooke takes up the halo that is the natural prerogative of deceased American public figures. However, there have been few less qualified than he for canonization. His most memorable achievement, the Dayton Agreement was an unprincipled surrender to confessional apartheid, which pandered to war criminals to whom it gave a veto over the future of a viable Bosnian state. It has been suggested that one its prices was an implicit pledge for NATO forces to be less than rigorous in their search for Ratko Mladic and other wanted war criminals.

That remains to be proven, but it is indisputable that in the cause of a quick exit for President Bill Clinton from the Balkan imbroglio, Dayton granted the ethnic cleansers of the Republika Srpska territory they had soaked in other people’s blood. It enshrined an unworkable, confessionally based, almost Apartheid-motivated Rube Goldberg state whose institutions made the Holy Roman Empire seem like a lean mean governmental machine.

Technically Holbrooke was indeed a superbly effective diplomat. There is a fuzzy sort of do-gooding diplomacy, especially prevalent around the UN, that thinks that as long as people are talking, all is well. Netanyahu and Milosevic are just outstanding examples of conjuror-style diplomacy in which, as long as you keep talking, no one notices what mayhem your hands commit.

Richard Holbrooke knew that. He was neither fuzzy, nor much in the way of a do-gooder. Nor was he one of those whose machinations would be exposed in WikiLeaks, since his deals were based on a firm handshake — accompanied by a firmer grip around his opponent’s scrotum. He leaked to the press in a way that makes Julian Assange look like an bumbling amateur — but was of course selective and self-glorifying in his selection of information.

He was a most undiplomatic diplomat, as shown with his relations with Afghan President Ahmed Karzai. It is not usually effective to treat heads of state whom your government is trying to boost as independent national leaders as if they were underlings to be bullied. We can be sure that whatever failings he ascribed to Karzai’s administration, it was no sense of abstract moral outrage that motivated him, rather the effect of such behavior on American war aims.

Former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, who tempered idealism with reality, famously said that foreign policy should have a “moral dimension.” He resigned over the Iraq War. Holbrooke showed an amoral enthusiasm for doing his government’s bidding.

The classic definition of a diplomat is someone who goes abroad to lie for his country and Holbrooke spent a vigorous career living down to the quip. He cut his teeth on the Vietnam War, and as State Department desk officer did Washington’s bidding in Indonesia during the the invasion and mass murders in East Timor. On the realpolitik front he could make Henry Kissinger seem like a hand-wringing Liberal.

To be fair, he was genuinely appalled by the ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, but he unsentimentally never lost sight of the main aim — which was to extricate his President, Bill Clinton, from a predicament in which he had promised Americans not to involve US troops but needed force to get a settlement.

In those days before the Internet took off, it is unlikely that even WikiLeaks would ever extract and publicize whatever deal Holbrooke cooked up with Milosevic, nor even unravel the choreography of Operation Storm in which with the Serbian President’s tacit complicity Bosnian and Croatian forces rolled over the Krajina and Bosnian Serbs.

When they were too successful — and went past the agreed 51/49% division of spoils, reportedly NATO stopped enforcing the no-fly zone that had kept Serbia’s superior air force and helicopters out of play.

Milosevic was keen for Holbrooke to testify in his defense that many of these events were choreographed, but his lawyers would not have been able to find any paper trail to back up events. Certainly, some in the Balkans, like former Bosnian FM Muhamed Sacirbey, suspects that Holbrooke had winked at the fall of the enclaves, such as Srebrenica, although even Sacirbey does not think the subsequent massacre was part of the deal.

Later, when Sacirbey was held awaiting extradition under charges inspired and perpetuated by the US State Department and embassy in Sarajevo, I asked Holbrooke if he could help. It was somewhat tongue-in-cheek since there was more than a suspicion that his influence was behind the spurious charges, but he was adamant, “You‘ve heard what he said about me?” he said defensively. “Yes,” I said, “but what does that have to do with his innocence and imprisonment?” In fact, Sacirbey was also one of the most cogent critics of the Dayton deal that has now come back to haunt the Balkans.

Some people occasionally wondered what would happen if Hobrooke’s rebarbative talents were unleashed on the great prevaricators in the Middle East. In fact, Netanyahu would have been safe — in a speech in Jerusalem Holbrooke made it plain that he considered UNSC resolution 242 as firstly, non-binding, despite most legal opinion that consequent resolution 338 made it so, and that it essentially allowed Israel to keep hold of territory.

Looking back, what is striking about Holbrooke’s career is how it illustrates the essential continuity of American foreign policy over every administration during his lifetime. He was more vigorous and unalloyed in his espousal of perceived American interests than most, and he certainly chafed at Bill Clinton’s refusal to let him wave a big stick — and at European reluctance to be deployed as Sepoys to do the work the White House did not dare do itself for fear of GOP attacks.

His deathbed words on Afghanistan will be subject to exegesis for some time to come, but an invocation to get out of Afghanistan is certainly in line with his realistic assessment of American interests. Looking back, what is striking about Holbrooke’s career is how it illustrates the essential continuity of American foreign policy over every administration during his lifetime.

WikiLeaks XXII: Once a Beacon of Freedom to Africa, Ghana Now Corrupted by Drug Trafficking

We’re honored to have Michael Busch dissecting the latest WikiLeaks document dump for Focal Points. This is the twenty-second in the series.

It’s no secret that West Africa has become a major transport hub for Latin American cocaine in recent years as American authorities choke off trafficking routes in the Caribbean. Most frequently, attention is focused on the weak states in the region, particularly Guinea-Bissau, where law gets sold out to the highest bidder, and order is nowhere to be found. Yet it’s become increasingly clear that traffickers are enjoying a healthy presence in the region’s stronger states as well, a fact that friends and contacts hammered home to me on a recent trip to Senegal. But new cables released by WikiLeaks this week add new depth to just how problematic the situation has become. In a series of embassy dispatches from Accra, American officials report that drug traffickers have so thoroughly corrupted the state in Ghana that the country’s president himself suspects his inner circle of advisors to be in on the act. A cable from late 2007 sets the scene:

Ghana is increasingly becoming a significant transshipment point for cocaine from South America and heroin from Southwest Asia. The majority of the narcotics flow is to Europe, although seizures have occurred on flights to the U.S. The GOG [government of Ghana] does not have a handle on the issue and lacks an overarching strategy to deal with the problem.

Worse still,

The GOG seems to focus more on small time dealers and couriers and it does not typically carry out long term investigations that result in the arrest of major drug traffickers. For example, GOG contacts in both the police Service and the President’s office have said they know the identities of the major barons, but they have not said why they have not chosen to arrest them. A Police Service contact told us the GOG does not have the political will to go after the barons. This official and other others close to the President have also told us that they cannot trust anyone when it comes to narcotics. Corruption is endemic in Ghana and pervades all aspects of society. Although difficult to measure, corruption almost certainly impacts the law enforcement organizations charged with counternarcotics efforts.

As part of an internationally coordinated effort to stem the flow of drugs through Ghana to points West, Great Britain established the Westbridge interdiction program. A cable from 2008 notes that while the program had experienced a measure of success, it also revealed the extent to which drug traffickers had penetrated Ghana’s security forces to help lubricate the flow of drugs through the country. One British anti-narcotics agent

observed NACOB [Ghana’s narcotics control board] agents at the airport (particularly Ghana Police Service officers on loan to NACOB) directing passengers away from flights receiving extra interdiction scrutiny. On one occasion, he returned unexpectedly to the airport at 4 a.m. to screen a flight. An arrested trafficker told the UK official that the trafficker had been told that Westbridge was not operating that night. A test by Westbridge officials of the cell phone SIM card of a trafficker found the phone numbers of senior NACOB officials.

For the embassy’s Charges d’Affaires, Sue Brown, this was old news. The Project Westbridge team’s concerns over the integrity of NACOB personnel at the airport are neither new nor surprising,” she comments at the end of the cable. But what follows in a report from a year later must have raised her eyebrows a bit more. Ghana’s president, John Atta Mills, seemingly intent on taking charge of the fight against drug trafficking in the country,

had expressed interest in acquiring itemizers for the Presidential suite at the airport in order to screen his entourage for drugs before boarding any departing flight. According to O’Hagan, Mills wants these officials to be checked in the privacy of his suite to avoid any surprises if they are caught carrying drugs. The itemizers, similar to those provided several years ago by the U.S. Embassy through INL funding, would be sensitive, portable screening devices that can detect the drug content in minuscule drops of human sweat after recent external contact or for up to three weeks after ingestion.

Mills also asked that screeners be assigned to airport government VIP lounges to search first- and business-class travelers leaving the country. According to the cable,

NACOB believes that the VVIP lounge at the airport has been a source of drugs leaving the country. Passengers leaving the lounge are driven directly to the plane and are not searched before departure. NACOB placed two officers in the lounge to screen departing passengers, and the number of passengers using the VVIP lounge has decreased.

The only trouble seems to be that the itemizers in question are in continual need of very expensive maintenance and protection against sabotage. Nevertheless, the cable concludes that help could come from the airlines themselves which

might be willing to pay for the itemizers to be repaired, and specifically mentioned KLM and Delta…the cost of maintenance on the itemizers is less than the cost of diverting flights on which passengers suffer drug overdoses. Within the last few months…KLM has diverted to Spain two flights from Accra to Amsterdam because passengers started vomiting drugs. In both cases, the passenger died.

Once again, the timing of the cables release by WikiLeaks couldn’t be better. Just over a week ago, Ghana’s minister of the interior released a detailed statement celebrating the country’s recent success in fighting the drug trade, noting that “drug trafficking is efficiently and effectively being controlled” by authorities in Accra. And to the country’s credit, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime has ceased its practice of officially labeling Ghana the “Cocaine Coast,” which must surely be a good sign.

But then again, as the Guardian’s coverage of Ghana’s unfolding WikiLeaks embarrassment highlights, taking a government’s word for things doesn’t always lead one to an accurate sense of reality. While British officials were complaining in private about Ghana’s out-of-control drug trafficking problems and their own inability to stop it, in public they were all smiles. The British Home Office, responsible for overseeing UK interdiction efforts in Ghana, publicly lauded its efforts as “‘a very good example’ of how to tackle the cocaine trade, while in a written statement, the Home Office said ‘these operations meet our drugs strategy commitment to intercept drugs and drugs couriers before they reach the UK.’”

Q. So What Are You Fighting For? A. Ah’m Fightin’ Cause Yore Here

How and why the United States assures an endless supply of “terrorists” to fight and “enemies” to destroy.

Civil War historian Shelby Foote tells an insightful story about a young Confederate soldier captured by Union troops in the deep South. The man is hungry, weary and threadbare, and it’s obvious from his poverty that he’s not a ‘gentleman’ or a slave owner. ‘So what’re you fighting for?’ the Union soldiers taunt him.

‘Ah’m fightin’,’ the young Rebel explains simply, ‘cause yore down here.’

David Kilcullen expresses this same reality in The Accidental Guerilla. ‘The presence of intervening outsiders causes local groups to coalesce in a fusion response, closing ranks against the external threat. . . Such an intervention also creates grievances, alienation, and a desire for revenge when local people are killed or dishonored by the intervening outsiders’ presence.’

Robert Pape, author of Dying to Win: the Logic of Suicide Terrorism, offers a similar insight. ‘The central fact is that overwhelmingly suicide-terrorist attacks are not driven by religion as much as they are by a clear strategic objective: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland. From Lebanon to Sri Lanka to Chechnya to Kashmir to the West Bank, every major suicide-terrorist campaign – over 95 percent of all the incidents – has had as its central objective to compel a democratic state to withdraw. . . Since suicide terrorism is mainly a response to foreign occupation and not Islamic fundamentalism, the use of heavy military force to transform Muslim societies over there, if you would, is only likely to increase the number of suicide terrorists coming at us.’

What part of this do American policy makers not get? It is absolutely clear that if the US really wanted to end terrorism, it would first stop terrorizing others – militarily, economically and culturally.

But the sad fact is, an honest observer would have to conclude that US policymakers do get this. That they continue and, in fact, expand these actions, because the generated outcomes are precisely what they intend.

If we apply the ‘Martian Test’ (What would a visitor from outer space conclude if he were unable to understand any of the written and spoken explanations and justifications offered, but only to observe the behaviors?), it seems clear that the goal of the United States since the end of World War II has been to destroy the democratic hopes of people around the world. Through invasions, embargoes, coups, bribes, threats, assassinations and rigged elections, the US has thwarted national aspirations and democratic movements on every continent except Antarctica.

(And if the penguins ever start to squeak of ‘justice’ or think about nationalizing the fishing industry, expect a new US ‘Polar Command’ to gear up to take them out.)

One way to better understand the behavior of Complex Adaptive Systems (which include all human beings and all human institutions, whether companies, countries, baseball teams or marching bands) is through Stafford Beer’s POSIWID Hypothesis – the Purpose Of a System Is What It Does.

Never mind the mission statements, press releases, flag waving or hand wringing. Watch its behavior over time. And when you see a consistency in that behavior – when patterns emerge – you’ll know what the system is designed to do.

Observing the behavior of the US over the last 60 years, an objective observer might well conclude that its goal is to impose a US dictatorship over the entire planet, and to capture its resources for American multinational corporations. It has, after all, repeatedly demonstrated that it is willing to kill, disable or discredit anyone who has the courage to stand opposed, and to trample liberty, crush democracy and extinguish freedom, while proclaiming its undying support for those very things.

In the course of pursuing this end, the US has squandered tens of trillions of dollars – stolen from education, health care, infrastructure, innovation, secure retirements and social development. These tax dollars have been applied to killing people and destroying nations, and to subverting the very ideals upon which America was founded. When tea partiers rail against the deficit and debt, this is where those dollars have gone – under democratic and republican ‘leadership’ – and are going still.

What should keep Americans awake at night is not that communists terrorists are lurking under their bed, but that such monumentally illegal and immoral acts are so regularly committed in America’s name, with Americans’ tax dollars, and with the willful ignorance, tacit complicity or enthusiastic support of America’s citizens.

The corollary of the POSIWID Hypothesis is this: if you want to change a system’s behavior, change its goal.

Imagine what the world might look like if the goal of US foreign policy actually were to support the emergence of peace, justice, equity and liberty.

U.S. Agrees to Transfer Nuclear Material to Yet Another Outlaw Nuke Regime

This past July, a nuclear-armed nation, in violation of an international treaty, clandestinely agreed to supply uranium to a known proliferator of nuclear weapons. China and North Korea? No, the United States and Israel.

In a July 8 article entitled “Report: Secret Document Affirms U.S. Israeli Nuclear Partnership,” the Israeli daily Haaretz revealed that the Obama Administration will begin transferring nuclear fuel to Israel in order to build up Tel Aviv’s nuclear stockpile.

There is profound irony in the fact that while the U.S. and some of its allies are threatening military action against Iran for enriching uranium, Washington is bypassing the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) while aiding Israel’s nuclear weapons program, the only country in the world that has actually helped another nation construct and test a nuclear device.

The saga starts with a box of tea that arrived in South Africa in 1975.

This past May, researcher Sasha Polakow-Suransky uncovered declassified South African documents indicating that in 1975 the Israeli government offered to sell nuclear warheads to the apartheid regime. Israeli officials apparently tried to block the declassification of the documents, but failed.

According to the British Guardian, then Israeli Defense Minister Shimon Peres—currently president—negotiated with Pretoria to supply South Africa with nuclear warheads for Israel’s Jericho missile. Peres dismissed Polakow-Suransky’s book—“The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Relationship With Apartheid South Africa”—as having “no basis in reality for the claims.”

But according to Allister Sparks in Business Day (South Africa), the Israeli offer “to sell nuclear warheads to SA during apartheid is almost certainly correct—despite denials by key figures in both countries.” Sparks should know, because he was told what was in that box of tea by the Rand Mail’s lead investigative reporter, Marvyn Rees.

“I can state this because the disclosures closely corroborate information I was given 32 years ago when the late Echel Rhoodie, then secretary of information, told the Rand Daily, of which I was then editor, how he and Gen. Hendrik van den Bergh, head of the South African Bureau of State Security, had brought what he called ‘the trigger’ for a nuclear bomb from Israel,” Sparks writes.

Sparks has remained silent all these years because he made a promise to Rhoodie not to reveal the conversation, and because he was afraid of the “draconian Defense Act” that would have subjected him to prosecution. But since Rhoodie and the general are dead, the Act repealed, and the story revealed, he felt it was time to come in from the cold.

According to Polakow-Suransky the warhead offer fell through because the parties were worried that Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin would not go along. But Sparks argues that the “more likely explanation” was that Israel offered a “trigger,” which was cheaper, and ultimately more useful to Pretoria because it would allow the South Africans to produce their own nuclear weapons.

Apparently the Israelis also supplied South Africa with tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen that enhances the explosive power of nuclear weapons.

According to Sparks, the South African general and Rhoodie packed the trigger into a tea box and put it on a South African Airways plane as hand luggage.

Jump ahead four years to Sept. 22, 1979, when an American Vela 6911 satellite, designed to detect atmospheric nuclear tests, is streaking over the South Atlantic. At 53 minutes after midnight Greenwich Mean Time, near South Africa’s Prince Edward Island, it picked up the telltale double flash of a nuclear weapon detonation. Compared to the 15 kiloton Hiroshima bomb the explosion was small, about 3 kilotons. It was also “clean”—that is, it produced very little radiation, although enough for radioactive Iodine-131 to turn up in the teeth of Australian and Tasmanian sheep several months later.

The Vela and the sheep were not the only confirmations. The U.S. Navy also picked up an acoustic signal indicating a large explosion at or under the sea at the same time and place as the Vela had detected.

The Carter Administration tried to cover up the test, but, according to investigative journalist Seymour Hersh in “The Samson Option,” the explosion was a joint Israeli-South African low-yield “neutron” bomb.

The key to the test was the trigger in the tea box. According to Sparks, South Africa knew how to make a nuclear weapon, but only of the “gun” variety, the same design as the Hiroshima bomb. The “gun” uses an explosive to fire a uranium bullet at a uranium target. When the two converge, the fuel goes critical and the weapon explodes. But while the “gun” design is simple and largely error-proof, it is too big and clumsy to be mounted on a missile.

For a small warhead or a neutron bomb, you need a “trigger,” a finely engineered explosive device that wraps around a uranium core. However, triggers are devilishly tricky and a tiny miscalculation in timing results in a dud. In the 1998 round of testing by India and Pakistan, both countries produced some misfires, as did North Korea.

The Israelis were willing to exchange a trigger for something they needed: uranium yellowcake, the raw material for making weapons-grade nuclear fuel.

According to declassified documents uncovered by Polakow-Suransky, Israel also saw South Africa as an ally. In a Nov. 22, 1974 letter to the South African defense ministry, Peres wrote about the importance of co-operation between Tel Aviv and Pretoria. “This co-operation is based not only on common interests and on the determination to resist equally our enemies, but also on the unshakable foundations of our common hatred of injustice and our refusal to submit to it.”

At the time, South Africa was widely reviled for racist policies that denied full citizenship to the vast bulk of its population.

While Peres denies that Israel ever negotiated with South Africa, the Nov. 22 letter concludes by saying that he looks forward to meeting Rhoodie when the latter visits Israel. It was during a meeting four months later that Peres made the warhead offer. Peres—with significant help from France—was a key figure in the establishment of the Israel’s nuclear weapons industry.

The U.S. media has focused on the warhead charge, while ignoring the far more destabilizing proliferation issue. The warheads were never sent, but the box of tea was, and the result was a nuclear explosion by a renegade regime. Since the fall of the apartheid government, South Africa has foresworn its nuclear weapons program.

Israel refuses to sign the NPT—indeed, refuses to admit it has nuclear weapons at all—thus making it ineligible to buy uranium on the world market. Article I of the Treaty explicitly forbids supplying nuclear material to a non-signatory country, which in the case of Israel makes the U.S. in violation of the NPT.

But in Washington’s efforts to line up allies against China, the U.S. has agreed to supply fuel for India’s nuclear power industry, even though India also refuses to sign the NPT. In theory, the U.S. uranium is only supposed to fuel India’s civilian sector, but in practice it will allow India to redirect all of its modest domestic uranium supplies to weapons systems. Pakistan’s request for a similar deal was rebuffed. Thus the U.S. has put aside its treaty obligations in the interests of pursuing allies in the Middle East and Asia.

Sparks argues that, “mutual collaboration” between Israel and South Africa “enabled both countries to develop nuclear weapons.” Now the U.S. has replaced South Africa in aiding Israel’s nuclear weapons arsenal—thought to be around 100 warheads—and in the process has undermined the NPT.

Not only is the U.S. in clear violation of Article 1, the Treaty’s Article VI requires member states to end the nuclear arms race, but the Obama Administration has just committed $85.4 billion to “modernizing” its nuclear arsenal. This is not what the Treaty’s designers had in mind, and, while it may not violate the letter of the NPT, it certainly runs against its spirit.

U.S. actions around Israel and India not only weaken the NPT, they make a mockery of Washington’s concern about “proliferation” and bring into question President Obama’s pledge to seek “peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” Diplomatic chess moves are checkmating a noble sentiment.

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

WikiLeaks XXI: So Much for the Media’s Mandate to Mediate Secrets

Assange ChinaWe’re honored to have Michael Busch dissecting the latest WikiLeaks document dump for Focal Points. This is the twenty-first in the series.

In many respects, Julian Assange rep­re­sents lit­tle more than the lat­est iter­a­tion of the clas­sic “one man’s ter­ror­ist is another man’s free­dom fighter” para­dox. As the lat­est doc­u­ment dump from Wik­iLeaks drips into the pub­lic arena, polar­ized foot sol­diers have mate­ri­al­ized from out of nowhere to do bat­tle in what is being mar­keted as a war for America’s future. On one side, crit­ics of Wik­iLeaks make Assange out to be a car­toon­ish super-vil­lain intent on destroy­ing the United States, while on the other, defend­ers of the orga­ni­za­tion argue that Assange hero­ically rips the mask from the face of power, expos­ing the hor­rors of hegemony.

But focus­ing on the Wik­iLeaks fig­ure­head achieves noth­ing from what I can tell aside from feed­ing Assange’s seem­ingly inex­haustible appetite for atten­tion, and pro­vid­ing a plat­form for con­ser­v­a­tive blowhards like Long Island con­gress­man Peter King to score stu­pidly cheap points in what has evolved into a full-scale Repub­li­can siege on Barack Obama’s White House. And while these debates have suc­ceeded in fuel­ing a polit­i­cal envi­ron­ment that has increas­ingly taken on the feel of a Hol­ly­wood spy thriller, they have simul­ta­ne­ously excused Amer­i­cans from hav­ing to thought­fully con­sider the state of our nation dur­ing a period of mul­ti­ple crises. Instead, we are being encour­aged to retreat behind the bat­tle­ments of grossly over­sim­pli­fied ide­o­log­i­cal stances and told to watch the show.

Beyond the sen­sa­tion­al­ism, how­ever, seri­ous issues about Amer­i­can polit­i­cal life do exist at the heart of the Wik­iLeaks scan­dal. Among them can be found crit­i­cal ques­tions con­cern­ing the role and ethics of secrecy in an open democracy.

On the issue of state secrets, the dri­ving nar­ra­tives of debate can be roughly plot­ted along a spec­trum: the left­most point argues that the leaked cables expose the impro­pri­eties of empire and there­fore all clas­si­fied infor­ma­tion should be brought to light by what­ever means pos­si­ble; the oppo­site point on the right asserts that gov­ern­ment action in the name of the national inter­est should nec­es­sar­ily be hid­den and pro­tected; and then there’s the cen­ter, which shrugs the whole thing off by not­ing that there’s really noth­ing much in the cables — aside from petty gos­sip — that mer­its all this fuss.

All three miss the point. To begin with, it’s sim­ply not the case that the busi­ness of Amer­i­can gov­er­nance neces­si­tates secrecy in order to be effec­tive. The Free­dom of Infor­ma­tion Act (FoIA) belies this myth. To be sure, our demo­c­ra­tic laws rec­og­nize that cer­tain infor­ma­tion — that which con­sti­tutes a clear and present dan­ger to the most sen­si­tive national inter­ests or threat­ens indi­vid­ual pri­vacy, civil, and human rights, for exam­ple — should not be issued into the pub­lic domain. And for this rea­son, claims that all infor­ma­tion should be entirely free and unreg­u­lated ought to be han­dled with cau­tion, deriv­ing as they do from an out­look that demands the priv­i­leges of trans­parency with­out accept­ing the respon­si­bil­i­ties that attend it.

Still, the argu­ment that gov­ern­ment wrong­do­ing, when shielded by the cloak of secrecy, con­sti­tutes a fla­grant abuse of admin­is­tra­tive power enjoys the pow­er­ful wind of demo­c­ra­tic prin­ci­ples at its back. Not only that, but like Glenn Green­wald, I’d push it a bit fur­ther and argue that the second-hand gos­sip and banal­ity that fills the vast major­ity of leaked cables thus far is pre­cisely at issue in this dis­cus­sion, inso­far as it also rep­re­sents the mis­use of gov­ern­ment secrecy pow­ers. If the var­i­ous cat­e­gories of con­fi­den­tial­ity that the State Depart­ment uses to clas­sify dif­fer­ent lev­els of sen­si­tive infor­ma­tion are to have any mean­ing at all, they must be rig­or­ously respected and adhered to. Oth­er­wise, civil ser­vants risk under­min­ing good-faith claims — whether right or wrong — to gov­ern­ment secrecy in truly extra­or­di­nary sit­u­a­tions that may war­rant it. The WikiLeaks cables demon­strate that they do not, and that even harm­less infor­ma­tion is highly restricted, which is deeply troubling.

Beyond these con­sid­er­a­tions, how­ever, the Wik­iLeaks phe­nom­e­non has also defrocked the media of its claim to guardian­ship over the pub­lic good. The argu­ment can be made — and it should — that tools such as the FoIA offer insti­tu­tional chan­nels through which the pub­lic can respon­si­bly access exactly the sorts of doc­u­ments Wik­iLeaks has brought to light. The trou­ble with this argu­ment, of course, is that the media — which has tra­di­tion­ally pos­sessed the resources to max­i­mize these tools to great­est profit — has shirked its respon­si­bil­ity as a mech­a­nism by which the pub­lic can hold its gov­ern­ment to account. As the media ter­rain itself rapidly shifts, and eco­nomic incen­tives fol­low, fewer and fewer resources are devoted to the deep inves­tiga­tive report­ing that has helped police gov­ern­ment behav­ior in the past but — with the excep­tion of a notable few hold­outs — has largely van­ished today.

In many respects, the dis­ap­pear­ance of inves­tiga­tive report­ing is as much a prod­uct of what jour­nal­ists them­selves see as their pub­lic func­tion as it is of tech­no­log­i­cal shifts or the public’s wan­ing inter­est in any morsel of infor­ma­tion that exceeds 140 char­ac­ters. The new model of polit­i­cal report­ing has come to priv­i­lege the arm­chair over shoe leather as its pri­mary accou­trement, as exem­pli­fied by the atti­tude of media elites such as The New Repub­lic’s Jonathan Chait, who asks “What’s so bad about sit­ting around?” To be cer­tain, Chait is right that “You can learn a lot sit­ting behind a desk, min­ing the papers for inter­est­ing fac­tual nuggets, read­ing polit­i­cal com­men­tary from every per­spec­tive, por­ing through books and reports, and using the Nexis data­base to com­pile enor­mous stacks of news­pa­per stories.”

But Chait’s larger point is dis­cour­ag­ing. “Part of the prob­lem is that jour­nal­ism ter­mi­nol­ogy glo­ri­fies “shoe-leather report­ing,” whereby you pound the pave­ment so often you wear out the soles of your shoes. I’m not say­ing that every news story could be reported with­out leav­ing one’s desk. (Bern­stein: “Wood­ward, look! I found a clip from 1971 in which Pres­i­dent Nixon tells the Omaha World-Herald he plans to order his goons to break into Demo­c­ra­tic head­quar­ters in the Water­gate Hotel!” Wood­ward: “I’ll can­cel that meet­ing with Deep Throat.”) I’m sim­ply say­ing that, some­times, lazi­ness can be the bet­ter part of valor.”

I’m not so sure, sim­ply because it seems to have devel­oped into a news­room pathol­ogy. Iron­i­cally, the Wik­iLeaks doc­u­ments have done almost noth­ing to shock reporters back into action, but instead have rein­forced their very reluc­tance to leave the news desk, chained as they are to their chairs in expec­ta­tion of the next batch of cables. Indeed, most of the “report­ing” on the Wik­ileaks doc­u­ment dump has come to con­sti­tute a sort of Cliff’s Notes guide to the embassy cables rather than seri­ous reportage or analysis.

And this is pre­cisely it. The lion’s share of dis­dain swirling around the Wik­iLeaks scan­dal has been directed at the gov­ern­ment and Julian Assange. But amidst this comic book-worthy show­down, the media has largely given itself a free pass, which in many respects strikes me as the crux of the mat­ter. If pow­er­ful media out­lets were doing a bet­ter job at mon­i­tor­ing gov­ern­ment action at home and abroad, there would likely be no Wik­iLeaks (or at least not the Wik­iLeaks that we’ve grown to love/hate), nor would gov­ern­ments enjoy carte blanche to get in the lazy habit of clas­si­fy­ing every­thing they do as con­fi­den­tial or using the shield of “state secrets” to obscure gov­ern­ment malfeasance.

So it makes sense that as the unpar­al­leled tra­di­tion of Amer­i­can inves­tiga­tive report­ing gives way to the relent­less waves of new infor­ma­tion pour­ing into the Amer­i­can psy­che with each new tweet, Wik­iLeaks has appeared on the scene to fill the gap. Whether Assange and com­pany see them­selves as heirs to this tra­di­tion is doubt­ful. As the Van­cou­ver Sun, in an excel­lent analy­sis of blog­ger Aaron Bady’s work on Assange’s polit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy, notes, the Wik­iLeaks leader “is not try­ing to pro­duce a jour­nal­is­tic scan­dal which will then pro­voke red-faced gov­ern­ment reforms,” but instead is seek­ing to dis­rupt modes by which gov­ern­ment secrecy oper­ates in order to change the very nature of gov­er­nance itself.

Still, it seems as if Wik­iLeaks itself has come under the power of a strangely market-driven demand for demo­c­ra­tic trans­parency in the absence of healthy media and in the face of increas­ingly secret gov­ern­ment behav­ior. Despite the hacker ethic sup­pos­edly dri­ving the Wik­iLeaks phe­nom­e­non — that all infor­ma­tion must flow unfet­tered into the pub­lic domain — there is evi­dence that Wik­iLeak­ers are mak­ing efforts at vet­ting the flow of infor­ma­tion to meet clas­sic report­ing stan­dards that avoid vio­lat­ing the harm prin­ci­ple out­lined in the FoIA. Indeed, as a recent piece in the Washington Post points out,

Well before publishing the cables, [Assange] wrote a letter to the U.S. government, delivered to our ambassador in London, inviting suggestions for redactions. The State Department refused. Assange then wrote another letter to State, reiterating that “WikiLeaks has absolutely no desire to put individual persons at significant risk of harm, nor do we wish to harm the national security of the United States.”

In that second letter, Assange stated that the department’s refusal to discuss redactions “leads me to conclude that the supposed risks are entirely fanciful.” He then indicated that WikiLeaks was undertaking redactions on its own.

This sort of thing strikes me as both encour­ag­ing and to be encouraged.

And it’s for this rea­son that the government’s ham-fisted response to the Wik­iLeaks phe­nom­e­non is so shock­ing. Of course the polit­i­cal estab­lish­ment is lick­ing its wounds at hav­ing had its sense of enti­tle­ment to secrecy stripped away with each new batch of cables leaked to the pub­lic. I don’t find this sur­pris­ing in the least. The aston­ish­ing part to my mind is that the gov­ern­ment, con­fronted with an Amer­i­can pub­lic that has grown increas­ingly dis­trust­ful of it by the year, con­tin­ues to adhere to the very prac­tices that fur­ther pull the car­pet of pos­i­tive pub­lic opin­ion out from beneath its own feet. In an age in which polit­i­cal power clearly resides with those seek­ing to pull the cur­tains away to dis­pel the gloom of secrecy, polit­i­cal elites in the United States would pre­fer to keep us all in the dark.

New START: Once Again, Where Is the Disarmament in This Picture?

You might think that a new arms control treaty might be anything but a cause of celebration to the director of the National Nuclear Security Administration, the agency that maintains America’s nuclear weapons. A decrease in nuclear weapons makes inroads into his turf, right? But Thomas D’Agostino’s exuberance about New START positively spills off the pages of an op-ed he wrote for the Washington Times, Unprecedented commitment to modernize.

Over the next decade, the Obama administration has proposed investing more than $85 billion to modernize the nuclear stockpile, recapitalize the infrastructure that supports it and reinvigorate the science and technology at the core of our stockpile stewardship efforts.

Having worked on NNSA budget issues through the administrations of three presidents representing both parties, I can say with confidence that this is the most robust, sustained commitment to modernizing our nuclear deterrent since the end of the Cold War. . . .

My predecessor, former NNSA Administrator Linton Brooks, put it best, saying he “would have killed” for budgets like this and for the top-level support we have gotten from the White House.

D’Agostino barely nods at the disarmament component to the treaty.

When President Obama released his Nuclear Posture Review earlier this year, he outlined the need to move toward a smaller stockpile. . .

You’d think D’Agostino would be more discreet about extolling New START as a means of ensuring the future of the nuclear weapons industry rather than as a disarmament treaty. The degree to which he isn’t is a measure of the extent to which the Obama administration has given away the nuclear farm — to the tune of that $85 million mentioned above — to secure passage of New START and achieve another Health-Care Reform-like Pyrrhic victory.

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