Focal Points Blog

“WikiLeaks is a criminal enterprise”

“Let’s be clear: WikiLeaks is not a news organization; it is a criminal enterprise,” writes conservative Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen today. “Its reason for existence is to obtain classified national security information and disseminate it as widely as possible — including to the United States’ enemies. These actions are likely a violation of the Espionage Act, and they arguably constitute material support for terrorism.”

Thiessen adds:

Assange is a non-U.S. person operating outside the territory of the United States. This means the government has a wide range of options for dealing with him. It can employ not only law enforcement, but also intelligence and military assets, to bring Assange to justice and put his criminal syndicate out of business.

In WaPo’s PostPartisan section, Eva Rodriguez is quick with a response.

“Military assests”? Does Thiessen think we’re going to send in Special Ops to pluck Assange from Iceland, Belgium or Sweden, where he’s known to hang out? Or is he thinking that a drone strike might be more effective or efficient?

It figures it wouldn’t be long before conservative forums across the country rang out with calls to “Bring us the head of Julian Assange.”

“Countdown to Zero” Eclipses Those on the Frontlines of Disarmament

The acclaimed new film Countdown to Zero may serve the purpose of alerting neophytes to the full extent of the danger of nuclear weapons. But for others, it’s best viewed while wearing a hazmat suit. Activist and cutting-edge disarmament commentator Darwin BondGraham explains at Monthly Review’s MRZine:

On its surface Countdown to Zero is about nuclear disarmament, but deeper down the film . . . is actually an alarmist portrayal of dark-skinned men, Muslims, “terrorists,” and other racial or ethnic bogeymen who we are told, over the span of 90 minutes, are seeking nuclear weapons to use against the American people. A related theme in the film is the demonization of Iran and North Korea which are portrayed as dangerous rogue states with ties to terrorist organizations . . . against whom military action may be warranted — or else.

If it’s not the likes of filmmaker Lucy Walker or, by implication, the Global Zero project of the World Security Institute, which is behind Countdown to Zero, that (wo)mans the frontlines of disarmament, then who or what is? Is it? How about Ploughshares and its president Joseph Cirincione?

BondGraham’s piece kind of spoiled them for me: “In a promotional video attached to the START ratification effort, Cirincione urges viewers to ‘join this patriotic consensus’ toward zero.” Then, in an op-ed Cirincione wrote, “The statesmanship demonstrated by the Consensus members today could help break the partisan blockade in the Senate and restore America’s leadership on this urgent security challenge.”

Wait, how did “consensus” go from lower-case “c” to capitalized? BondGraham writes: “The capital C Consensus he’s referring to is a newly formed NGO, created to translate the groundswell of public response they expect from” Countdown to Zero, among other things, into policies such as “aggressive military action against would-be nuclear states, much of it in the name of nonproliferation.” Funded by Ploughshares, the Consensus for American Security calls for “‘strengthening and modernizing America’s nuclear security,’ because it ‘is a vital element of protecting the United States and its allies.’”

Modernizing, BondGraham points out, “is not an arbitrary word. [It] means a very specific thing . . . approving the Obama administration’s program to build a pit factory, a uranium processing facility,” rebuilding “warheads and bombs” and “acquiring new, very expensive platforms like subs, bombers, and missiles.”

That’s Darwin BondGraham — never one to shy away from the task of turning the world of nuclear disarmament on its head.

If the frontlines of disarmament be not there, perhaps they’re in Congress, to which the Obama administration is taking the battle for START ratification. In the New York Times Peter Baker reports: “With time running out . . . the White House is trying to reach an understanding with Senate Republicans to approve its new arms control treaty with Russia. … The critical player is Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, the Republican whip [who] has sought to modernize the nuclear force.” An analyst asked if the administration is “willing to pay the price he’s asking in light of what they want to do” in the area of disarmament. “So far, administration officials say they are willing to pay that price because they are also committed to modernization.”

You can be forgiven for wondering where the “dis” in disarmament is here. Perhaps then the frontlines of disarmament look more like the Plowshares Nuclear Resistance? Founded by, among others, the Berrigan brothers, it’s still active (however long in the tooth its members are).

In November of 2009, it approached the Kitsap-Bangor Trident submarine base near Seattle, Washington. Ranging in age from 60 to 83, five members entered through the perimeter fence and cut through two more fences, while splashing around animal blood. They also hammered on the roadways and fences as well as scattered sunflower seeds. Once apprehended, they were handcuffed, hooded, and kept on the ground face-down for four hours. Though eventually released, they were liable to charges of trespass and destruction of government property.

While it’s easy to write them off as throwbacks another time and poke fun at their idea of symbolism, in fact, such acts accomplish little. For starters, the public is notoriously disapproving of anything resembling vandalism.

Thus, even the perimeter fences of a submarine base aren’t the front lines of disarmament. The honor goes to the those groups that act as watchdogs on behalf of the public for U.S. national laboratories such as Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore.

For instance, Livermore watchdog Tri-Valley CAREs (Communities Against a Radioactive Environment) claims that the true plans of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) are significantly at variance with the agency’s public pronouncements, not to mention disarmament. Working with Tri-Valley CAREs, former Livermore official Roger Logan points to the difference it makes when the laboratories are run by a limited liability company (which includes the University of California and the Bechtel Corporation), as they are now, instead of the government, as once they were.

In a Tri-Valley CAREs press release, he said, “The people running the Livermore and Los Alamos management contracts have made careers out of inflating cost estimates, and NNSA either lacks the skill or the will to properly steward the billions of taxpayer dollars it requests each year.”

Meanwhile, Greg Mello of Los Alamos watchdog the Los Alamos Study Group tells us that $3.4 billion of the proposed $16 billion in new warhead spending is to be allotted to the construction of a Chemistry and Metallurgy Research facility. Its purpose is to construct new nuclear “pits” (where the chain reaction begins).

In a Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists piece, Mello writes that, at 270,000-square-feet, the new facility “would add only 22,500-square-feet of additional plutonium processing and lab space to [Los Alamos's] existing 59,600-square-feet of comparable space.” That “works out to $151,000 per square foot, or $1,049 per square inch.” Holy (watch your tax dollars go up in) smoke!

Especially since “there is already a surfeit of backup pits [which] will last for many decades to come.” The new facility “would increase production capacity to an even more absurd level.” In fact, he writes, every aspect of the project, “from the mission itself to the practicality of the building design, should be questioned far more deeply than Congress has done to date.”

To give you an idea of how the Los Alamos Study Group works as a watchdog, BondGraham (also with the Los Alamos Study Group) wrote in a press release, “Earlier this year we finally obtained enough information from [the Department of Energy] and its contractors to confidently determine that the increased cost, greatly expanded construction requirements, and qualitatively new environmental impacts that make the [Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement] different [from what] was originally analyzed.” Thus: “On July 1 we formally notified the U.S. Department of Energy of our intent to seek a new Environmental Impact Statement, and to pursue an injunction against [the] Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement [facility].”

This is what life on the frontlines looks like: poring over the books and seeking injunctions. It’s not an administration merrily conjuring up new concessions for the nuclear-industrial complex, nor is it disarmament groups of dubious provenance. Neither is it op-ed writers nor bloggers like this author. Instead, it’s those who, to cite Tri-Valley CAREs’ slogan, are engaged in “Stopping nuclear weapons where they start.”

Recent Colombian Mass Grave Discovery May Be “False-Positives”

If you want to understand what’s behind the recent tension between Colombia and Venezuela, think “smokescreen,” and then go back several months to some sick children in the Department of Meta, just south of Bogota. The children fell ill after drinking from a local stream, a stream contaminated by the bodies of more than 2,000 people, secretly buried by the Colombian military.

According to the Colombian high command, the mass grave just outside the army base at La Macarena contains the bodies of guerilla fighters killed between 2002 and 2009 in that country’s long-running civil war. But given the army’s involvement in the so-called “false positive” scandal, human rights groups are highly skeptical that the dead are members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the National Liberation Army, the two insurgent groups fighting the central government.

“False positive” is the name given to the Colombian armed forces operation that murdered civilians and then dressed them up in insurgent uniforms in order to demonstrate the success of the army’s counterinsurgency strategy, thus winning more aid from the U.S. According to the human rights organizations Comision de Derechos Homanos del Bajo Ariari and Colectivo Orlando Fals Borda, some 2,000 civilians have been murdered under the program.

The bodies at La Macarena have not been identified yet, but suspicion is that they represent victims of the “false-positive” program, as well as rural activists and trade unionists. The incoming Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, was defense secretary when the murders were talking place. Santos also oversaw a brief invasion of Ecuador in 2008 that reportedly killed a number of insurgents. The invasion was widely condemned throughout Latin America.

Diverting attention is what outgoing Colombian President Alvaro Uribe is all about. While his foreign minister, Luis Alfonso Hoyos, was laying out photos and intelligence claiming that Venezuela was hosting upwards of 1,500 Colombian insurgents, a group of Latin American NGOs were uncovering a vast scheme by Uribe’s Department of Administrative Security (DAS) to sabotage the activities of journalists, judges, NGOs, international organizations and political opponents. Some of these “dirty tricks” included death threats.

Because the U.S.—which has pumped more than $7 billion in military aid to Colombia—supplies the DAS with sophisticated surveillance technology, Washington may end up implicated in the scandal.

The U.S. may also be tarred with the murder of Colombian trade unionists. According to Kelly Nichollas of the U.S. Office on Colombia, testimony at the trial of former DAS director Jorge Noguera indicated that the U.S. trained a special Colombian intelligence unit that tracked trade unionists.

Colombia is currently the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists. According to the International Trade Unionist Confederation’s (ITUC) Annual Survey of Trade Union Rights, out of the 101 unionists murdered in 2009, 48 were in Colombia. So far, 20 more Colombian trade unionists have been murdered in 2010. In the case of Hernan Abdiel Ordonez, treasurer of the prison worker’s union, who had complained about corruption, the government refused to provide him security in spite of receiving numerous death threats. He was gunned down by assassins on a motorcycle.

“Colombia was once again the country where standing up for fundamental rights of workers is more likely than anywhere else to mean a death sentence, despite the Colombian government’s public relations campaign,” said ITCU General Secretary Guy Ryder. “The Colombian authorities must take urgent and effective measures to guarantee the physical integrality of Colombian trade unionists.”

Uribe certainly has reason to shift the attention away from Colombia and toward Venezuela. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is pressing its investigation of the “false-positives” murders, and Uribe’s brother has been accused of working with death squads. Santiago Canton, an Argentinean and former head of the rights commission, said “If you put all this together, the extrajudicial executions, the espionage of human rights defenders, it’s all really consistent over the years.”

And where was the Obama Administration in all this? Firmly supporting Uribe, railing against Venezuela’s suspension of diplomacy with Bogota, and, according to an investigation by the North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA), secretly funneling money to the media operations of Chavez’s right-wing opponents. Right-wingers in Bolivia and Nicaragua are also receiving money.

“Between 2007 and 2009, the State Department’s little known Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor channeled at least $4 million to journalists in Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela through the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF),” says NACLA’s Jeremy Bigwood. In doing this, the State Department violated its own rules requiring that “all publications” receiving money “acknowledge that support.” According to Bigwood, the U.S. waived that requirement for PADF.

Colombia is Washington’s closest ally in the region, so it hardly surprising that Uribe’s right-wing government and Washington’s visceral hatred of Chavez should find common ground. But the attack on Chavez is also a proxy assault on the newly formed, 32-member Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), the first regional organization not to include the U.S., Canada, or European countries.

Meeting in Caracas this past July, CELAC selected Chavez and the newly elected conservative president of Chile, Sabastian Pinera, as co-chairs of the forum that will draft statutes for the organization. While it seems like an odd pairing, the U.S. media’s cartoonish characterization of Chavez is not shared widely in Latin America. “Chavez…has shown himself adaptable to making major compromises in order to further Latin American and regional integration,” says Alexander Main of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C.

And while Pinera is very conservative, according to Main, “his toned down approach to international relations indicates that he too is prepared to act pragmatically.”

The Caracas meeting called for “political, economic, social and cultural integration” and affirmed the right of “each state to constitute its own political system free of threats, aggressions and unilateral coercive measures.” Tellingly, there was no mention of “free trade” or “open markets,” the so-called “Washington consensus” that characterized U.S. economic doctrine in the region over the past several decades.

As Latin America grows in economic strength and political independence, U.S. policy seems locked into a previous century when it was the major power in the region. Rather than retooling its diplomatic approach to fit the new reality in Latin America, Washington is expanding its military footprint.

It is will soon be operating out of seven military bases in Colombia and has reactivated its 4th Fleet, both highly unpopular moves in Latin America. Rather than taking the advice of countries in the region to demilitarize its war on drugs, the U.S. recently announced it is deploying 46 warships and 7,000 soldiers to Costa Rica to “interdict” drug traffic and money laundering. From 2000 to 2009, less than 40 percent of U.S. aid to the region went to Latin America’s militaries and police. The Obama Administration has raised that figure to 47 percent.

Washington and Bogota may try to demonize Venezuela, but they are playing to a very small audience, and one that grows smaller—and more irrelevant—by the day.

Conn Hallinan’s essays can be read at Dispatches from the Edge

Israel Playing With a Fire It Expects the U.S. to Put Out

Reuel Marc Gerecht’s screed justifying an Israeli bombing attack on Iran coincides with the opening of the new Israel lobby campaign marked by the introduction of House resolution 1553 expressing full support for such an Israeli attack.

What is important to understand about this campaign is that the aim of Gerecht and of the right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu is to support an attack by Israel so that the United States can be drawn into direct, full-scale war with Iran.

That has long been the Israeli strategy for Iran, because Israel cannot fight a war with Iran without full U.S. involvement. Israel needs to know that the United States will finish the war that Israel wants to start.

Gerecht openly expresses the hope that any Iranian response to the Israeli attack would trigger full-scale U.S. war against Iran. “If Khamenei has a death-wish, he’ll let the Revolutionary Guards mine the strait, the entrance to the Persian Gulf,” writes Gerecht. “It might be the only thing that would push President Obama to strike Iran militarily….”

Gerecht suggest that the same logic would apply to any Iranian “terrorism against the United States after an Israeli strike,” by which we really means any attack on a U.S. target in the Middle East. Gerecht writes that Obama might be “obliged” to threaten major retaliation “immediately after an Israeli surprise attack.”

That’s the key sentence in this very long Gerecht argument. Obama is not going to be “obliged” to join an Israeli aggression against Iran unless he feels that domestic political pressures to do so are too strong to resist. That’s why the Israelis are determined to line up a strong majority in Congress and public opinion for war to foreclose Obama’s options.

In the absence of confidence that Obama would be ready to come into the war fully behind Israel, there cannot be an Israeli strike.

Gerecht’s argument for war relies on a fanciful nightmare scenario of Iran doling out nuclear weapons to Islamic extremists all over the Middle East. But the real concern of the Israelis and their lobbyists, as Gerecht’s past writing has explicitly stated, is to destroy Iran’s Islamic regime in a paroxysm of U.S. military violence.

Gerecht first revealed this Israeli-neocon fantasy as early as 2000, before the Iranian nuclear program was even taken seriously, in an essay written for a book published by the Project for a New American Century. Gerecht argued that, if Iran could be caught in a “terrorist act,” the U.S. Navy should “retaliate with fury”. The purpose of such a military response, he wrote, should be to “strike with truly devastating effect against the ruling mullahs and the repressive institutions that maintain them.”

And lest anyone fail to understand what he meant by that, Gerecht was more explicit: “That is, no cruise missiles at midnight to minimize the body count. The clerics will almost certainly strike back unless Washington uses overwhelming, paralyzing force.”

In 2006-07, the Israeli war party had reason to believed that it could hijack U.S. policy long enough to get the war it wanted, because it had placed one of its most militant agents, David Wurmser, in a strategic position to influence that policy.

We now know that Wurmser, formerly a close adviser to Benjamin Netanyahu and during that period Vice President Dick Cheney’s main adviser on the Middle East, urged a policy of overwhelming U.S. military force against Iran. After leaving the administration in 2007, Wurmser revealed that he had advocated a U.S. war on Iran, not to set back the nuclear program but to achieve regime change.

“Only if what we do is placed in the framework of a fundamental assault on the survival of the regime will it have a pick-up among ordinary Iranians,” Wurmser told The Telegraph. The U.S. attack was not to be limited to nuclear targets but was to be quite thorough and massively destructive. “If we start shooting, we must be prepared to fire the last shot. Don’t shoot a bear if you’re not going to kill it.”

Of course, that kind of war could not be launched out of the blue. It would have required a casus belli to justify a limited initial attack that would then allow a rapid escalation of U.S. military force. In 2007, Cheney acted on Wurmser’s advice and tried to get Bush to provoke a war with Iran over Iraq, but it was foiled by the Pentagon.

As Wurmser was beginning to whisper that advice in Cheney’s ear in 2006, Gerecht was making the same argument in The Weekly Standard:

“Bombing the nuclear facilities once would mean we were declaring war on the clerical regime. We shouldn’t have any illusions about that. We could not stand idly by and watch the mullahs build other sites. If the ruling mullahs were to go forward with rebuilding what they’d lost–and it would be surprising to discover the clerical regime knuckling after an initial bombing run–we’d have to strike until they stopped. And if we had any doubt about where their new facilities were (and it’s a good bet the clerical regime would try to bury new sites deep under heavily populated areas), and we were reasonably suspicious they were building again, we’d have to consider, at a minimum, using special-operations forces to penetrate suspected sites.”

The idea of waging a U.S. war of destruction against Iran is obvious lunacy, which is why U.S. military leaders have strongly resisted it both during the Bush and Obama administrations. But Gerecht makes it clear that Israel believes it can use its control of Congress to pound Obama into submission. Democrats in Congress, he boasts, “are mentally in a different galaxy than they were under President Bush.” Even though Israel has increasingly been regarded around the world as a rogue state after its Gaza atrocities and the commando killings of unarmed civilians on board the Mavi Marmara, its grip on the U.S. Congress appears as strong as ever.

Moreover, polling data for 2010 show that a majority of Americans have already been manipulated into supporting war against Iran – in large part because more than two-thirds of those polled have gotten the impression that Iran already has nuclear weapons. The Israelis are apparently hoping to exploit that advantage. “If the Israelis bomb now, American public opinion will probably be with them,” writes Gerecht. “Perhaps decisively so.”

Netanyahu must be feeling good about the prospects for pressuring Barack Obama to join an Israeli war of aggression against Iran. It was Netanyahu, after all, who declared in 2001, “I know what America is. America is a thing you can move very easily, move it in the right direction. They won’t get in the way.”

A Solution to Congolese Violence — or Empty Gesture?

As part of the sweeping financial reform bill signed into law this past week by President Barack Obama, a surprising legislative rider took effect seeking an end to the internal conflict plaguing Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The provision, which resulted largely from intensive lobbying efforts by the Enough Project to stop genocide, is designed to prevent destabilizing elements within the DRC from feeding off the country’s lucrative trade in precious metals. The DRC boasts rich deposits of tungsten, tantalum, and tin—metals commonly found in cell phones, laptops, video game consoles and other electronic devices—profits from which have long been seen to fuel the activities of non-state combatants there.

Supporters of the provision applaud its potential to help curb the hideous violence that has ravaged DRC for better part of the last fifteen years. Writing in the Huffington Post on Friday, Representative Howard Berman (D-CA)—Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs—championed the law’s commitment to limiting the profit opportunities that conflict minerals offer to armed groups within the country. The new law requires “that companies doing business in the Congo and adjoining countries disclose both the provenance of the minerals they use and the efforts they have taken to ensure that their dollars do not directly or indirectly support armed groups that employ rape as a tool of war and otherwise perpetuate the conflict…An important step,” Berman argues, “in changing the situation in that beleaguered country.”

But the unfortunate reality is that no matter how well-intentioned, the law will have little positive impact on the ground in Congo.

For starters, it presupposes a Congolese state capable of enforcing the law’s provisions. Under the regulations imposed by the legislation, electronics manufacturers must certify the origin of all minerals used in their products with the Securities and Exchange Commission, and comply with an order to produce yearly reports detailing their efforts to avoid purchase of so-called “conflict minerals.” Yet it is precisely an absence of the state in mineral-rich regions that allows the illegal trade in precious metals to flourish.

The vast majority of mineral wealth in DRC falls under the control of regional militias, directly and indirectly, rendering the state’s ability to regulate the flow of minerals into and out of the country practically nonexistent. According to reports detailing the mineral trade in DRC, rebels mine the metals and sell them to traders who then smuggle them across the border into neighboring countries. From there, the goods make their way along a complex string of exchange largely outside state purview culminating in their sale to transnational corporations. By the time the minerals have been converted into electronic gadgets, any attempts to trace their origin become Sisyphean.

Even if DRC possessed the state capacity to properly monitor the minerals and prevent warring factions from profiting off them, however, it’s far from clear that this would significantly reduce violence throughout the affected provinces. Mineral exploitation is a means of fueling conflict, not an end in itself. Until the broader issues wracking DRC—the continued presence of Hutu interahawame in Kivu, the incessant meddling of Rwanda in Congolese affairs, and land rights disputes, to name but three—are resolved, unabated violence in affected areas should be expected. Unfortunately, the United States has thus far demonstrated little interest in directly addressing these underlying causes of conflict in DRC.

And then there’s the larger problem of unintended consequences. Opponents of the measure argue that the hassles and uncertainty of verification will scare off potential investors, effectively saddling the country with a de facto trade embargo. If businesses do pull out of DRC, warns John Kanyoni—the head of the Association of Mineral Exporters in Congo—“thousands of Congolese will be jobless and might most probably (be) joining the armed groups.” Thus, the law could have the perverse effect of generating the very problems it seeks prevent.

These considerations aside, the new law constitutes a good faith effort to bring violence in the DRC to an end and force transnational corporations to reorient business practices that privilege the bottom line over human rights. It could be that, in the best case scenario, the law economically cripples warring militias in DRC, allowing local Congolese to enjoy a measure of safety that they currently are without.

But DRC needs much more than good intentions if it’s to emerge successfully from the ruins of state collapse. Above all, the country demands security. As we have discovered, unfortunately, assisting countries in this regard proves exceedingly difficult and politically fraught. Yet it’s of the essence. Until DRC is capable of performing the basic function of the Weberian state—monopolization of the use of force for the protection of civilians—the country will continue suffering under the heavy weight of social disorder. And any attempts by Washington in the meantime to bring the conflict in DRC to a close will do more to alleviate troubled consciences on Capitol Hill than actually bring about the meaningful change they purportedly affect.

NorK “Coup-Proofed” From Both Within and Without

Kim Jong il North KoreaThe Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School issued a useful policy brief on North Korea by Daniel Byman and Jennifer Lynd titled Keeping Kim: How North Korea’s Regime Stays in Power. The authors write:

“Predictions of the Kim regime’s demise have been widespread for many years, particularly in the 1990s. … Decisionmakers and analysts, however, often underestimate the power of tyranny. Like other dictatorships, the Kim regime relies on numerous tools of authoritarian control to stay in power.”

Along with cult of personality, juche (an ideology of the state and people relying on themselves), and use of force, the tool box includes Kim Jong-il’s use of . . .

“. . . perks and rewards to co-opt military and political elites. … Kim Jong-il has co-opted the military by bestowing on it policy influence and prestige, as well as a large share—perhaps 25 percent—of the national budget. … Nuclear weapons provide another tool for cultivating the military’s support. They bring prestige to an institution whose morale has been challenged by hunger [Hunger will do that. -- RW] and by its relative inferiority to South Korea’s military forces.”

Meanwhile, coining an alliterative term (see where emphasized), the authors write that . . .

“. . . the Kim regime has coup-proofed North Korean institutions in ways that deter, detect, and thwart anti-regime activity among these elites. North Korean military leaders are chosen for their political loyalty rather than military competence. Key positions are granted to individuals with family or other close ties.”

Anyone familiar with North Korea knows that states like China and South Korea resist destabilizing North Korea out of fear of war and/or an influx of refugees. The timidity, inertia, indecision, or restraint — call it what you will — may be even more paralyzing than with Iran and constitute another form of coup-proofing. Anyway, Kim has his tools. What tools then are available to those who would seek to moderate North Korea’s policies? Byman and Lind:

“Sanctions aimed at weakening North Korea’s broader economy are unlikely to exert much coercive pressure on Pyongyang; Kim Jong-il (like Joseph Stalin, Saddam Hussein, and many other dictators) protects his elite core while shifting the burden of sanctions to the people. A more effective economic lever with which to move the regime would be to directly threaten its access to hard currency and luxury goods, which it needs to bribe elites. Policies such as freezing North Korean assets overseas and embargoing luxury items are thus the most promising options.”

In other words, targeted sanctions, but with pinpoint accuracy. Kim Jong-il is noted for enjoying American movies. Let’s start by canceling his Netflix account and see what shakes out.

At Local Level, Secrecy Industry Puts a Damper on Neighborliness

In an op-ed for the Baltimore Sun, Focal Pointers Bonnie Bricker and Adil Shamoo wrote about the Dana Priest and William Arkin’s Washington Post series on the exponential growth of the U.S. intelligence industry. They approached it from a perspective with which you may not be familiar, especially if there’s no intelligence complex near you (though that would be fewer and fewer of us, it seems).

“Marylanders in Odenton, Annapolis, Frederick and our home town of Columbia had their suspicions answered last week when The Washington Post published a three-part series about our unchecked, out-of-control expansion of the defense and intelligence operations that have grown since 2001. The expansion of this influential sector has been evident to us, as it has to Americans all around the country living near other defense and intelligence contractors and federal intelligence agencies. … How does the presence of almost a million individuals with top-secret clearances shape our society? How will our culture be changed when the possibility of government surveillance of citizens seems commonplace?”

The authors give us some idea.

“Living in an area populated by the workforce for these agencies and contractors, the presence of many people with various levels of security clearances . . . affects how neighbors and friends relate to one another. Talk about work life is virtually eliminated. Neighbors are interviewed about any possible suspicious activities of the intelligence employee on a regular basis. We watch some of the children of the neighborhood, once animated and engaging, grow up into silent adults as they gain coveted employment with these agencies and contractors. They are afraid of interacting with foreign-born neighbors from “target” countries. …

“The millions of Americans with varying levels of security clearances may shy away from a more participatory citizenship because of the need to protect their jobs. How does this affect our democracy? Will the ever-expanding breadth of this intelligence behemoth eventually create a silent citizenry?”

An even more silent citizenry, I might add. More and more, we seem to be living under the thumb of a kind of Stasi Light, with its attendant chilling effects on assembly and interpersonal communication. Read the op-ed in its entirety at the Sun.

The WikiLeaks Documents Are NOT the Pentagon Papers 2.0

Sunday’s WikiLeak deluge and the official response to it have reaffirmed my axiom for the digital age: too much information, not enough knowledge.

After the flood of more than 90,000 low-level classified documents splashed onto the front-pages of the Western world’s three leading newspapers, the U.S. government delivered a tongue-lashing to WikiLeaks, mainstream media wrote ominously of repercussions for Obama’s ability to secure Congressional war funding, and bloggers plunged into the data headfirst in the search for scintillating information.

And while a few morsels have surfaced here and there, what, on balance, have we learned? What has really changed? As it turns out, very little.

It comes as no surprise that the war is going badly, that civilian casualties have been downplayed, or that Pakistani intelligence maintains ties to militants operating in Afghanistan.

Former soldier and Center for a New American Security analyst Andrew Exum writes, “I have seen nothing in the documents that has either surprised me or told me anything of significance,” and calls comparisons to the Pentagon Papers “ridiculous.”

As for the stern lectures about the leak’s potential to cost lives or compromise national security, a Pentagon review of the documents “has so far found no evidence that the disclosure harmed U.S. national security or endangered American troops in the field.”

So much for that.

Glenn Greenwald, one of the sharpest progressive bloggers, linked to what he called “a very perceptive analysis” by the New Yorker’s Amy Davidson that explains “how and why [the leaks] reveal clear official deception about the war.” But I found nothing of the sort in Davidson’s brief post, nor does she herself claim to have offered such an explanation.

One story, had the U.S. media evinced any interest in pursuing it, might have been the suppression of reports on civilian casualties and possible war crimes. But such pedestrian concerns carry little currency here, as blogger Sahar Habib Ghazi pointed out in a post that appeared in Pakistan’s major daily, Dawn:

“[I]nstead of focusing on the many war crimes, cover-ups and evidence of an occupation mentality in Afghanistan, most American news networks and publications have seized the opportunity to either berate WikiLeaks for divulging secret information or to point fingers at Pakistan…”

One reason the leak will not become Pentagon Papers 2.0 is that the contents tend to confirm, rather than contradict, the general trend of the news about the war in Afghanistan for anyone who has been paying attention.

But there is also another reason: we live in America 2.0. We are far removed from the era of social and cultural tumult that accompanied the Vietnam War. We have decided to shift the burden of our war-fighting from conscripted young men to a smaller, leaner, and better-trained all-volunteer force, which we have equipped with deadlier and more automated technology. Most Americans are more connected to their iPads than American soldiers or foreign civilians, the news of whose deaths briefly flash on the gadgets’ screens now and then.

So while we’re ceaselessly drenched in new information—leaks, Rolling Stone features, official reports, policy studies, investigations, blogs, up-to-the-minute news—we (collectively speaking) have no hard incentive to enhance our knowledge.

And as we’ve been repeating the same mistakes for the past ten years, in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Muslim world, it certainly shows.

Conceding Failure of Pentagon Papers Critical to WikiLeaks’ Success Ending War

Almost as soon as the WikiLeaks story broke on Sunday, officials and commentators were making comparisons between these 91,000 documents and the Pentagon Papers, the 4,000 page classified study on Vietnam leaked by Daniel Ellsberg in 1971. The White House and other critics were quick to reject the analogy. Even supporters of WikiLeaks’ decision to release the documents are hesitant to put this event in the same league as the Pentagon Papers, which have come to hold such an important place in progressive history.

There are important differences between WikiLeaks’ potential influence on the war in Afghanistan and the Pentagon Papers’ actual influence on the war in Vietnam. But, contrary to the heroic story of the Pentagon Papers, these differences reveal the actual shortcomings of what happened in 1971. For all of their accomplishments, the Pentagon Papers were in key respects, a failure. Understanding the limits as well as the achievements of the Pentagon Papers is an important step in maximizing the potential influence of the WikiLeaks documents. This is one of those cases where the negative lessons of history are as valuable as the positive ones.

First, there is the claim that the Pentagon Papers actually revealed high-level secrets about the Vietnam War, while WikiLeaks hasn’t revealed anything that wasn’t already known to the public. In truth, however, aside from the details of what officials knew and when they knew it, there was not much in the Pentagon Papers that surprised ardent critics of the war. In many ways, the documents merely confirmed previous revelations of the war made by incisive and intrepid journalists. By 1971, David Halberstam and Seymour Hersh had already written books and articles that opened a window onto virtually every level of the war—from the National Security Council meetings of the Kennedy administration to the massacres at My Lai. These and other heavy-hitting journalists were concerned not only with the specific details of Vietnam, but also with challenging the Cold War consensus that fueled it.

By 1971, while the anti-war movement had severely weakened that consensus, it had not altogether broken it. In fact, in response to Nixon’s curtailment of the draft and initiation of troop withdrawals from Vietnam, opposition to the war actually subsided in the year that Ellsberg photocopied the classified documents and gave them to the New York Times and Washington Post. Contrary to the image of an America galvanized against the war, the Pentagon Papers were released in a time of relative apathy about Vietnam.

In addition to the lull in the antiwar movement, the influence of the Pentagon Papers was paradoxically limited by the scandal that their publication prompted. Almost from the beginning, the story of the war was marginalized by accounts of the government’s injunction against the newspapers. At a press conference on June 21, 1971, just one week after the Pentagon Papers were published, a reporter exclaimed, “We want to emphasize the issue is not the one of the Vietnam War but rather why didn’t management support freedom of the press.”

The landmark judgment on behalf of the newspapers was a major victory for the cause of a free press. However, it did little to further Ellsberg’s original intention—to end the war in Vietnam. Ellsberg himself has lamented this much in The Most Dangerous Man, the recent film in which he tells his story. The central failure of the Pentagon Papers is that they did not end the war in Vietnam, which continued for another four years.

For Nixon, of course, the Pentagon Papers were nothing less than fateful. Despite the fact that the documents covered events in Vietnam only up to 1968, before he took office, Nixon reacted to them as though he had been personally attacked. It was the leak of the Pentagon Papers that prompted the infamous Plumbers Unit whose first task was to break into the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist. This would be good practice for the break-in of the Watergate hotel the following year. As Ellsberg notes, the biggest accomplishment of the Pentagon Papers was indirect. By sparking Watergate, it helped bring about an end to Nixon’s reign.

There are at least two ways to interpret the implications of this story for WikiLeaks. One is to conclude that, like the Pentagon Papers and Vietnam, WikiLeaks will not have a major impact on the war in Afghanistan. The American populace remains largely disconnected from the war, which is being fought by a post-Vietnam volunteer army. It is easy to envision how, in the coming days and weeks, the reporting and commentaries will shift the focus away from the war itself to follow the drama of WikiLeaks and the fate of suspected leaker, Bradley Manning.

But there are some signs that, in reporting on the WikiLeaks story, the press, at least, is breaking with the legacy of the Pentagon Papers. The lead story in the New York Times on Sunday night focused on the Pakistan intelligence agency and not the leak itself.

Subsequent coverage on the paper’s website has continued to highlight the content of the documents, even as it features stories about Assange and Manning.

Those who oppose the war in Afghanistan should keep the momentum going and use this disclosure to continue pressing the points about Pakistan’s cross-purposes, about corruption in the Afghan government and security forces, and about the real extent of civilian casualties. Only in this way can WikiLeaks help end the war, and in so doing, accomplish what Ellsberg could not.

Holding Israel’s Hand While It Attacks Iran

Republicans in the House of Representatives have introduced H. Res. 1553, which states, as the National Iranian American Council explains, “that Congress supports Israel’s use of ‘all means necessary’ against Iran ‘including the use of military force’. … Nearly a third of House Republicans have signed onto the resolution . . . circulated by its lead sponsor, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX).”

As usual with a resolution, once it dispenses with the “whereas’s,” it gets to the “resolved” part.

“That the House of Representatives –
(1) condemns the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran for its threats of ‘annihilating’ the United States and the State of Israel . …
(2) supports using all means of persuading the Government of Iran to stop building and acquiring nuclear weapons;
(3) reaffirms the United States bond with Israel and . . . expresses support for Israel’s right to use all means necessary to confront and eliminate nuclear threats posed by Iran, defend Israeli sovereignty, and protect the lives and safety of the Israeli people, including the use of military force if no other peaceful solution can be found within a reasonable time.”

NIAC adds:

“Hawkish former Bush Administration official John Bolton recently laid out the game plan to prod Israel into attacking Iran . . . by framing it as an issue of Israel’s right to self defense. … Congress can ‘make it clear’ that it supports [preemptive] strikes and that ‘having visible congressional support in place at the outset will reassure the Israeli government, which is legitimately concerned about Mr. Obama’s likely negative reaction to such an attack.’”

Yeah, we don’t want Israel’s feelings hurt if the attack incurs the anger of the Obama administration. In fact, it’s up to the U.S. Congress to hold its hand throughout the attack.

NIAC composed a letter to House Republican leader John Bohener denouncing the resolution and calling on him, as NIAC writes, to “make clear whether a vote for House Republicans” in 2012 “is a vote for another disastrous war in the Middle East.” In the letter, the council addresses points that hawks seem to forget:

“The dangers of war. … would put so much at risk:
The lives of innocent Americans, Israelis, and Iranians
The Pro-Democracy Movement in Iran
U.S. National Security and the stability of Iraq and Afghanistan
The global economy, which relies on oil flowing through the Persian Gulf”

But you know how hawks and neocons think: The deaths of a few Americans and Israelis, not to mention a crashing world economy pale beside a nuclear attack by Iran. Besides, only the wimpy liberal-left worries about that stuff.

Consider taking a moment to sign NIAC’s letter:
Don’t Let Congress Green-Light Attack on Iran

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