Focal Points Blog

Finally — Pride of Place for Drug Policy at the OAS General Assembly Meeting

Cross-posted from the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). Originally posted by the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC).

OAS drug reformThis year’s annual General Assembly meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS), which brings together the hemisphere’s foreign ministers, marked a milestone in the Latin American drug policy debate. For the first time, the drug policy issue was the primary theme of a hemispheric meeting and, in a closed-door meeting of the foreign ministers, a process was laid out for continuing the discussion, culminating in a Special Session of the General Assembly to be held in 2014. The significance of this meeting should not be underestimated. Drug policy has long been a taboo topic in official Latin American circles, given the traditional U.S. dominance in defining drug policies in the region. As one official noted, “Even two years ago I would not have imagined that we would be having this discussion today.” The General Assembly meeting in Antigua, Guatemala, from June 4 to 6 illustrated that there is growing recognition across the region that present drug control policies are failing and that some countries in particular have paid a very high social, economic and political cost for implementing those policies, hence the need to consider alternative approaches. However, the Antigua meeting also showed a lack of consensus on the way forward.

The declaration agreed to at the end of the meeting, “For a Comprehensive Policy Against the World Drug Problem in the Americas,” calls for countries to initiate a multi-layered process of consultation in a variety of national and regional forums, taking into account the recently-released OAS drug policy studies and the outcomes of this General Assembly meeting and concludes by entrusting the Permanent Council to call for a Special Session to be held no later than 2014. From the declaration’s first draft, the United States, among other countries, opposed the Special Session. U.S. officials, while apparently agreeing to the Special Session in the closed-door meeting of foreign ministers, sought until the bitter end to water down the language (allowing for the Permanent Council to decide whether or not to convene a Special Session, among other caveats), ultimately allowing for the declaration to go forward with a footnote laying out U.S. concerns. (As in the case of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna, the OAS operates by consensus.) The process laid out in Antigua ensures that drug policy will remain at the top of the hemispheric agenda and provides greater opportunity for Latin American countries to influence the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs to be held in 2016.

The Guatemalan government—and in particular Foreign Minister Fernando Carrera—played a crucial role in ensuring the outcome of the Antigua meeting. However, it is important to note that the next two major hemispheric meetings will be in places with governments less inclined to put drug policy alternatives on the agenda: The next meeting of the General Assembly will take place in Paraguay in 2014 and the next Summit of the Americas will be in Panama in 2015; both countries have remained firm U.S. allies on drug policy issues.

Another positive outcome of the General Assembly meeting was growing recognition of the importance of the May 2013 OAS report on “The Drug Problem in the Americas” and the complementary scenarios study. In contrast to the tepid if not outright hostile reaction to the reports in the bi-annual CICAD meeting last May, in Antigua numerous government delegations highlighted that these reports provide an important tool for the regional drug policy debate. The OAS report lays out various alternative drug policies that could be considered by member states, including decriminalization of consumption and legal, regulated markets for cannabis. Of particular significance, it calls for giving countries greater flexibility in implementing drug policy and the need for drug law reforms at both the national and international levels. In other words, the OAS report points to the possibility of reform of the international drug control conventions—an issue some countries would like to see on the agenda of the 2016 UNGASS.

However, in Antigua few governments endorsed any of the alternative policies suggested by the OAS report and how many countries will actually promote the national-level debates mandated in Antigua remains to be seen. It was clear from the individual country speeches on the topic that the “reformist” countries are far out-numbered by those which appear wedded to present policy. And support for or against an alternative approach does not break down on ideological lines. The hardest-line speech supporting a “war on drugs” approach came from Venezuela. Nicaragua, Panama, and El Salvador, among other countries, also spoke out in favor of the status quo. Neither Brazil nor Argentina articulated a reform agenda. Colombia’s foreign minister gave a very diplomatic statement that supported the OAS reports but for the most part focused on Colombia’s “achievements” in coca eradication and cocaine interdiction and what the country is doing to export its security-oriented model to the rest of the region. The Mexican government supported the Special Session, but continued to play its cards very close to its chest.

In terms of countries advocating reform, in the opening ceremony Guatemalan President Pérez Molina gave an impassioned speech on the need for drug policy reform. Ecuador’s foreign minister also criticized the U.S. “war on drugs.” And as was to be expected, the Uruguayan government gave the most articulate speech advocating a public health and human rights-based approach to drug control. It also pointed to the need to discuss the international conventions so as to improve effectiveness and ensure respect for individual and collective rights. In another welcome development, gender issues were highlighted by several delegates and Secretary General José Miguel Insulza and one of the two roundtable discussions organized by the OAS was on “Women and Drugs in the Americas: A diagnosis in the making.”

Given these continued divisions between countries, what can be expected from the drug policy debate in Latin America? While press headlines prior to and during the Antigua meeting speculated about legalization, if one thing is clear it is that any regional consensus in favor of moving toward legal, regulated markets for all drugs is a long way off. More realistically, three possible advances are most likely to emerge from this debate. First, more emphasis on treating drug dependency as a public health issue and growing support for decriminalization of carrying small amounts of drug for personal consumption. Already, numerous countries in the region do not criminalize possession for personal consumption (though the United States remains a major exception) and it is not mandated by the drug control conventions. Second, more emphasis on reducing violence rather than the scale of the drug market, a point highlighted in the OAS report. And third, growing regional tolerance that allows for more flexibility at the local and national level to experiment with policies that are appropriate for individual countries, states and cities. Ultimately, reaching consensus on drug convention reform will be a long and difficult process. In the meantime, reforms will come from below—from the local and national experimentation with alternative drug control policies—and should help guide the regional and international drug policy debate. Allowing such experimentation to flourish is a necessary step forward in developing and implementing more humane and effective drug control policies.

Coletta A. Youngers is an Associate with the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) and a Senior Fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).

The Empire’s New Clothes: “Humanitarian Intervention” Stripped Bare

Cross-posted from the Black Agenda Report.

Assad-Syria-humanitarian intervention-president obamaSome critics from the left and the right characterized my recent article “Syria and the Sham of Humanitarian Intervention” as an unnecessarily harsh indictment of a policy that provides a necessary tool for the international community to protect human rights and save innocent lives.

But the recent decision by the Obama Administration to “up the ante” in Syria with more direct military involvement only confirmed my original thesis that humanitarian intervention has nothing to do with humanitarian concern, and instead is a propaganda tool that affords “the U.S. State the perfect ideological cover and internal rationalization to continue as the global ‘gendarme’ of the capitalist order.”

Look at the stage-managed drama leading up to the announcement on U.S. policy toward Syria that took place last week in Washington. In a surreal replay of the process leading to the illegal war on Iraq, it became clear that while everyone had been waiting to learn the results of meetings among high level officials of the Obama administration, who, we were told would be debating the next phase of U.S. policy on Syria, we learned instead that the decision to increase its open involvement with the civil war it fomented in Syria had been made weeks earlier. So the meetings last week were just political theater providing the Administration the stage to announce its’ “findings” on the use of chemical weapons by the government in Syria. As an official said the chemical weapons findings offered “fresh justification to act.”

Revising the “weapons of mass destruction” deception, the government “confirmed” that Syrian forces used chemical weapons that caused the deaths of over a hundred people out of the over 90,000 estimated to have died in the conflict. With no evidence or independent confirmation, the Administration announced that it is now compelled to involve itself more directly in the conflict to save the Syrian people from their murderous government.

However, in a telling and hopefully positive sign of the times, significant segments of the U.S. public are not falling for this ploy, at least not for now. And perhaps because of the recent revelations of governmental attacks on the press, some U.S. media outlets are not serving as aggressively as mouthpieces for the government in the obsequious manner they did in the run-up to and subsequent attack on Iraq.

This might also explain why some mainstream media outlets in the U.S. are finally allowing some minimal information and analysis of the conflict in Syria to be presented to the U.S. public from a more critical perspective. This includes information that has been regularly covered throughout the world but barely receives a mention in the U.S. press, like, for example, the fact that the Syrian government still receives majority support, including from significant numbers of Sunni Muslims, who are terrified of the religious fanatics who have poured into their country to “liberate” them. Instead of the continuing framing of the ballooning numbers of people killed in the conflict as the result of genocidal government actions, some outlets have actually presented evidence indicating that Syrian soldiers and pro-government militias make up 43.2% of the deaths.

Another small but significant example of the slight change in the slant of information is a recent opinion piece that was allowed to run in the New York Times that was highly critical of Administration policy in Syria. In that piece, it was argued that President Obama, lacking a grand strategy for Syria and the Middle East, has become a victim of rhetorical entrapment “from calling on foreign leaders to leave (with no plan to forcibly remove them) to publicly drawing red lines on the use of chemical weapons, and then being obliged to fulfill the threat.”

However, as important as it is to have a more critical perspective in a major publication, it would be wrong to believe that the Administration lacks a specific strategy for Syria with concrete objectives. The implication that the Administration does not have an agenda in Syria and that misguided but benevolent rhetoric has trapped it into making the decisions it is making is a familiar claim of innocence that liberals often evoke.

More than rhetorical entrapment, the Obama Administration has consciously and consistently maneuvered from the very beginning of the Syrian crisis to reconfigure the reality on the ground to the advantage of its strategic objective. That objective is to alter the balance of forces in the region against Iran by either subordinating or destroying the Syrian state.

When the opportunity presented itself, it was this strategic objective, informed by the U.S. National Security strategy position for the Middle East region, that was embraced and executed with devastating effect by the Obama Administration in the form of the manufactured civil war in Syria. What the New York Times opinion piece confused and conflated is “absence of a strategy” with tactical decisions based on shifting conditions, like the decision to openly supply the “rebels.”

The U.S. saw a strategic opportunity to execute its plan for regime change in Syria using the fictions of the so-called Arab Spring, the “successful” Western war on Libya, and the ideological fig leaf of humanitarian intervention.

Unfortunately, anti-war, anti-imperialist and people-centered human rights activists have not developed effective strategies to counter the push for war. So today we confront a situation in which the Obama Administration has not only blown the dust off of what should be a completely discredited playbook from Iraq on how to manipulate the public into supporting war, it has also added the new play of humanitarian intervention to confuse opposition. Instead of the imminent threat argument, used to make the absurd charge that Saddam Hussein might turn over WMDs to Al-Qaeda, with Syria the need for intervention is strictly “altruistic.”

That is why the immediate priority for anti-war, anti-imperialist, human rights activists in the U.S., for countering the government’s effort to normalize war is to strip away the moral pretext of humanitarian intervention and expose its ugly, imperialist reality. No other group has the power and the responsibility other than us to do this. We must boldly point out that while strutting around the globe clothed in the fiction of humanitarian concern, imperialism is actually naked, and the sight is offensive.

Ajamu Baraka was the founding Director of the US Human Rights Network. Baraka is currently an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and is editing a new book on human rights in the U.S. entitled “The Struggle for a People-Centered Human Rights: Voices from the Field.” He can be reached at Ajamubaraka.com.

Finding a Normal Path in Serbia

Many ethnic Serbs fled — or were expelled from — Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo during those conflicts of the 1990s.

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com. John is currently traveling in Eastern Europe and observing its transformations since 1989.

Angelina Jolie and Serbian refugee

Angelina Jolie and Serbian refugee

Even today, the country in Europe with the largest population of internally displaced persons (IDP) is Serbia. More than a decade after the end of the wars in former Yugoslavia, more than 200,000 people remain in limbo in Serbia. Many ethnic Serbs fled – or were expelled from — Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo during those conflicts of the 1990s. All of the IDPs are from the Kosovo conflict, a significant minority of them Roma. The vast majority will not likely return to where they once lived. Since 1999, according to one estimate, only 3 percent of the IDPs from Kosovo have achieved what’s been called “sustainable return.”

For her book With their Backs to the World, Norwegian journalist Asne Seierstad visited the refugee camps that house the IDPs and reported on the squalid conditions where so many of them live: the substandard housing, the health problems, the lack of employment opportunities. And rather than being treated with compassion, most of the IDP community continues to be viewed as second-class citizens.

“‘They’re more like Albanians than Serbs,’ is a commonly held sentiment,” Seierstad relates. “‘They speak Serbian worse than Albanians do,’ people say of the Kosovo-Serbian dialect, ‘They act like Albanians, speak too loud, park wherever they feel like it. They sell their humanitarian aid at the market, they’ve got money that they hide so they can beg for more, they have as many kids as the Albanians, their kids are noisy and vandalise the schools.’”

A major challenge for Serbia is “refugee fatigue.” The society already worked to integrate the earlier wave of refugees from Croatia and Bosnia, and that was not an easy process. And the Serbian government still harbors the hope of sending many of today’s IDPs back to Kosovo, even if most of them don’t want to return.

Daria Gajic’s family was relatively lucky. They arrived from Croatia before the huge influx of refugees later in the decade, and they had family connections in Serbia. But it was still a culture shock for her. “It was difficult because I didn’t know Cyrillic,” she told me in an interview at her workplace, a radio station for the Orthodox Church in the Serbian city of Nis. “It was also difficult psychologically, I guess. We didn’t have any place to live. We lived with relatives who really didn’t want us there. I think I also had problems in school. I was shut down.”

The ethnic Serbs coming from Croatia encountered fear and hostility. “When a number of people came to Serbia in 1990 when the crisis started, people here were thinking, ‘They will take our jobs and we will have even less than what we have,’” she told me. “I remember in 1995 during Operation Storm, my relatives came from Krajina to Serbia. A friend of mine said, ‘Can you imagine, in those trailers, I saw that they have some things from their households. When did they have the time to pack those things? And why did they pack an umbrella?’ Those people, two days before, lost everything they owned in their lives. They had only two hours to pack everything in their lives into a car or a trailer or to hide it on the train.”

Daria Gajic does not dwell on her time as a new arrival in Serbia, and our conversation did not focus exclusively on this issue. Having worked at a radio station in the Serbian enclaves in Kosovo and now working with the radio station of the Orthodox Church, she has a unique perspective on the role of religion in Serbian society and the importance of Kosovo for Serbian identity. We also talked about the Serbian nationalist organization Dveri Srpske, the image of Europe, and the Gay Pride march.

The Interview

Tell me about how you first got involved in this work at the radio station of the Orthodox Church here in Nis.

In 2005, I married a priest. A year before that, I finished university. I’m a journalist. But I never believed that as the wife of a priest I would be a journalist. Also, I have some problems with my character. I’m not aggressive sometimes. I don’t know if I can be objective enough. But it was natural when this radio station opened that they offered me this position.

What kind of work do you do here?

I’m a journalist here. I’m a radio host of certain programs.

And the topic is connected to the Church?

We have a morning program here. It’s very rarely connected to the Church except when it’s a holiday or an important saint day, and then the program is about that. Usually it’s about the weather or traffic. When something really important happens with the Church, then we’ll cover that. But the Church is not the kind of organization where something new and big is happening all the time.

You mentioned that in 1991 your family came here from Zagreb. I know that this was a difficult time. Was the decision to leave Croatia voluntary?

It was not voluntary. There was pressure in our neighborhood from the community and at the workplace on my parents. We didn’t feel that we were safe. It’s better to sleep peacefully at night then to stay in your house.

Did you feel any pressure in school as a child?

Yes. For example, we had geography in fifth grade, in 1990, when Yugoslavia was still a country. The teacher said we had to write down the names of the republics. Everyone in the class said, “We’re going to write Serbia last.” Me as a Serbian, and everyone knew that I was Serbian, I couldn’t do that. At the same time I couldn’t write Serbia first. So I started from the beginning: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, then Serbia.

I felt pressure also in September 1991. That was the month when we came to Belgrade. In my neighborhood, the children didn’t want to play with me any more.

Were you the only Serbian child in your school?

In my class, yes, I was.

That must have been very difficult.

It wasn’t too bad. Class was only for two weeks that September and then we went to Belgrade. For the kids who stayed longer, it would have been more difficult. It would have been more difficult for me if we had stayed.

Did you keep in touch with anyone from that period in your life?

I was in Zagreb in 2001 and I saw many friends from my neighborhood. And they asked, “Why did you leave? You didn’t have to leave! Nobody would have touched you or hurt you.”

What did you say to them?

I pretended that it wasn’t my decision, that it was the decision of my parents. I didn’t talk about how it felt in 1991, about what was really going on.

When you arrived in Belgrade was it difficult to adjust?

Yes, maybe for the first four months or more. It was difficult because I didn’t know Cyrillic. It was also difficult psychologically, I guess. We didn’t have any place to live. We lived with relatives who really didn’t want us there. I think I also had problems in school. I was shut down. From that period to now, I have exhibited certain behaviors. So, for instance, it’s really important for me to feel accepted. When we arrived in Serbia, I changed school maybe three times in six months. Every time it was a stretch for me. Finally, in the third school, when I felt accepted, I said to my parents, “I don’t want to leave any more. I want to stay here.” Before that, I pretended I was sick so I didn’t have to go to school.

At what point did you decide you wanted to be a journalist?

When I finished high school. It was not really a big wish for me. I just knew that mathematics or physics was not for me, and I thought journalism could be for me. I like to talk. I’m good with words sometimes. The problem was, when I enrolled I realized that maybe it’s not really for me. You have to be a certain type of personality, which I wasn’t.

Not aggressive enough?

For example.

Before you married the priest, what was your relationship with the Church?

It didn’t exist, almost. I was in fifth grade, in 1990, when my father gave me a bible for young people. That was my first encounter with God. That’s when I realized that I need to believe in something. But I was still afraid to come to the church and talk to the priest. In my family, we were not even baptized, nobody: not my parents or my brother or me.

I wanted to come to church. But I was thinking that if I come to church, I wouldn’t know anything, not even the right questions to ask. I wouldn’t even know how big my ignorance is!

In 1998, I met my husband. He was studying theology. He was still in high school. And maybe a year later, he asked if I would come to church. And I said I would, but I was afraid. And that’s when it started.

What would you say the role of the Church in Serbia is?

I’m not sure that it is as huge as maybe some people think it is. I think that it should be more than it is. The Church is not doing enough when it comes to certain questions that are important to the Church. And maybe it is interfering in some things that maybe it shouldn’t waste its time with.

For example?

For example, I think that the Church has many problems within itself. And the Church is not paying enough attention to what people are saying. Anyone from the Church can go out and say whatever they want, and it’s considered the opinion of the whole church even when it isn’t. The Church has lots of problems with certain organizations that are active within it. Those people are believers, but I don’t think that everyone shares their point of view on every single topic.

When you say “organizations inside the church”…?

They’re not organizations inside the church. They represent themselves as such. I think the Church is not doing enough to distance itself from those people. The Church is a community, and everyone in this community can have different opinions on different matters that are not religious. But some people are louder than others, and some in society consider these people to be the true representatives of the Church.

Can you give an example?

Dveri, for example.

I had hoped to interview a representative from Dveri today, but they cancelled the interview.

This is something very personal for me. I don’t agree with everything they say. And It bothers me when they say something in public and then it seems to people as if I also have their opinion. People think that everyone in the Church is extremist and narrow-minded.

In many religious traditions, there’s a tension between the more conservative branch and the more reformist branch. Is that the case here as well?

Yes, I think so.

Where does the struggle take place? Publicly? In the media?

I’m not sure. Because I think I’m not objective enough. Because my husband is a priest and I know more about what’s happening inside. Sometimes the Church is a closed structure. I’m not sure how people who are not religious perceive this.

The reformers in Catholicism originally pushed for the mass to be conducted in English and not in Latin. They continue to push for a more liberal interpretation of birth control. But I don’t really know what it means to be reform-oriented inside the Orthodox church. Can you explain that to

Those who call themselves reformists or are considered that way do not try to reform attitudes of the Church toward certain social questions like contraception. It’s more inside questions like how many times should people take Holy Communion, for example. Half the Church is obsessed with the idea that the Catholics are all trying to convert us to Catholicism and that they have spies on the inside. And the other half think that this is not a threat any more. It was, but it’s not any more.

I understand that the number of people who come to church has increased in Serbia over the last 20 years.

Yes. The statistics are that 97 percent of people in Serbia say they are religious and are Orthodox. And only 3 percent come to church.

Wow, that’s quite a dramatic gap! When you say only 3 percent come to church, is that regularly or at all?

Regularly. Some people come in the afternoon just to be in a peaceful place. I wouldn’t put them in the 3 percent.

What is your sense of nationalism here in Serbia today?

In Serbia, everyone goes to extremes. It’s very hard for us, in reacting to what happens, to find a normal path. You have extreme nationalists and then you have the other side who thinks that “nation” is totally unimportant. Neither of these positions is particularly healthy. There are not many people in Serbia who have a normal sense or understanding of what nationalism really is. For me personally, I love the fact that I am a Serb. I’m proud. At the same time, my religion for me is more important than my nationality. The first thing in my life is that I’m an Orthodox Christian, and then I’m a Serb.

Do you think the majority of Serbs would reverse that?

Yes. I think even people who come to church, very often it is more important to them that they are Serbs. And especially the 97 percent that declare themselves Orthodox, it’s not a sign of religion but an equation of “I’m Serbian and I’m Orthodox.” People here don’t understand that you don’t have to be Serbian to be Orthodox.

Do you think that there has been an increase in extreme nationalism in Serbia?

No, it’s been the same since the war. I think that there are more people since the war ended who are on the other side. They are fed up with everything: with war and questions that are important for the Serbian nation. They don’t want to deal with any of it any more.

For instance, they’re just focusing on joining the European Union.

Yes.

And what’s your attitude about joining the EU?

I wouldn’t have anything against that. But from what I know, the EU also has problems, especially economic problems. I’m not really totally excited about becoming a part of the EU. There will be many benefits, but I think there will be some downsides. I would like if we could preserve the lifestyle we have here and at the same time to have the living standard of the people in Europe.

When you say preserve the lifestyle you have, do you have a feeling that other members of the EU have not been able to preserve their lifestyle when they became members, like Bulgaria or Romania?

I don’t think that Bulgaria and Romania have achieved the standards of the EU. I don’t think that the minute that Bulgaria and Romania became members of the EU, many things changed there. I also think that the decision to become a member is mostly a political decision — and not just about achieving certain EU standards.

When you said to preserve the lifestyle, what were you thinking about?

Working only six hours a day!

That’s an excellent lifestyle! I would like to join any place that allowed me to work only six hours a day.

I was never outside of Serbia, so it’s an opinion based on what I’ve seen on TV and maybe what some people told me about life outside Serbia. I feel that Serbia is in some ways safe. I feel like I can let my kid, who is only six, go out and play. I have friends in Canada where it’s against the law.

…to let their kids go out and play?

Yes, if the parent is not present to supervise the child.

I have relatives in Germany — we don’t see each other often but we are friends on Facebook so that I can see what they are doing — and when I see the Love Parade in Germany…

I don’t know what that is.

It’s in Berlin.

I can imagine what it is, given the name.

I wouldn’t like to see that in Serbia. I think that I would like us to be sometimes more conservative. I think weare conservative. But I wouldn’t like us to be so open to everything as people are in Europe, especially young people.

One of the things planned for tomorrow in Belgrade is the Gay Pride march, unless it’s been cancelled.

It’s been cancelled.

Ah. So, what’s your opinion about the march?

I’m against the march. It has to do with the fact that I’m Orthodox and I’m part of the Church. I’m not sure how objective I can be because there are so many people around me who are against it. So I listen to what they tell me. I’m not against gay people or a society in which they have all the rights that other people have. And I think that maybe tomorrow my child will come to me and tell me that he’s gay, and I wouldn’t like my child raised in a society that treats him in a wrong way because of his orientation. At the same time I pray that my child is not gay.

I have a problem with how it affects children. I think there are some psychologists who also agree. When you are very young, certain images that you see can affect you very much. I’m not sure that all gay people are born like that. Maybe some are, I don’t know. Sometimes it has to be the environment where you grow up and what happened to you in certain parts of your life. If you grow up in a society where your parents are two fathers or two mothers, I don’t know how that will affect you as a child. That’s one of the reasons why I’m against the march.

You said that most people around you who are against the march. Is there anyone around you who is for the march?

Maybe my friends from high school. But we haven’t talked about that. I’m guessing because they’re all in Belgrade and they’re all liberal.

Is Belgrade considered more liberal than Nis?

Yes, I think it is.

Because it’s the cosmopolitan center of Serbia?

Yes.

The big issue in terms of European integration is, of course, Kosovo. The Serbian government refuses to recognize Kosovo, and the EU says that there has to be negotiations, and Kosovo says that it won’t agree to partition. It seems to be a deadlock. What do you think about this?

I think the situation is political, and it makes no sense to me. Why should not recognizing Kosovo stop Serbia from entering the EU?

I don’t have a clear stand on this. One thing is the reality in Kosovo. The majority of the people there are Albanians. So if Kosovo were part of Serbia, then we would have even more Albanians in Serbia and it would be an even bigger problem. The other thing is that there are still Serbs in Kosovo and their lives are hard enough as it is. If Serbia recognizes Kosovo and there is a clear border, their lives would be even harder.

As a Serb, I cannot be objective. I can’t forget that the majority of Serbian monasteries were in Kosovo. I can’t forget that the first state that Serbians had was actually in Kosovo. So history does play an important role. And I think that the EU has a double standard. I think it’s just a game for them that they’re playing. I heard a few years ago that Turkey has to fulfill certain standards to become a member of the EU. But basically Turkey will never fulfill those standards. Because Turkey is a Muslim country and if Turkey becomes a member they’ll have even more Turks inside Europe. Even if Turkey becomes a great state to live in with great standards and all that, it will still not become a member of the EU.

I think it’s the same with Serbia. I don’t think that Serbia fulfills the standards right now. But I don’t think the biggest problem is Kosovo. Why wouldn’t they allow Serbia to enter the EU and then recognize the decision of the Serbians not to recognize Kosovo? But with or without Kosovo, we still have a long way to go.

Have you been to Kosovo?

Yes. I worked there. For maybe a year in KFOR at a radio station in the northern part, the Serbian part. I was a radio host and a translator.

Which towns?

ZveÄan and Leposavić.

What was your experience there like? Did you have any contacts with ethnic Albanians?

I didn’t have any contacts with ethnic Albanians. I didn’t want to have any contact. I was afraid. I was too afraid to go in my car to the Albanian part of Kosovo.

What were your fears exactly?

That they would kill me. That I would become a slave. I also know that people go and nothing happens to them, of course.

But it’s not just that. I was in Croatia in 2001, and it happened to me also that I was afraid: not that people would kill me in the street but that when they realize that I am Serbian, because now they can hear I’m from Serbia, they would say something bad to me or yell at me. I think that there are people in Croatia who still remember the war and are very passionate about those times.

Do you think the relationship between Serbia and Croatia has become normal more or less?

In some aspects, yes. I don’t know how many years will have to pass before it becomes truly normal. There’s a lot of history. The war between Croatia and Serbia didn’t start in 1991. My mother was born in Croatia, and her ancestors who were also Serbs were also born in Croatia. And they remember in 1941 the problems they had with their Croat neighbors, not with the Germans. In the First World War, also. After the wars they became friends, but it stays in the collective memory, and it’s not easy to erase those memories.

There are people in Serbia who now go on holiday in Croatia. Personally I would never go. But some people go. And there are Serbs who live and work normally there. There are mixed marriages again. And singers from Serbia go there and vice versa. I do think we should have normal relations, but I don’t think that everything is normal.

To go back to Kosovo for a moment, Kosovo is often referred to as the cradle of Serbia. I know that there were a lot of monasteries and churches there that were destroyed. I’m wondering what Kosovo represents for the Church. Is it just the history, going back to the battle of Kosovo, as well as the monasteries and churches there? Or is there something else that is important about Kosovo?

I’m not sure I understand what you mean.

Let me give you an example. I was reading a memoir from 1913 by an English woman who came here to Serbia and wrote about the oral poems. I didn’t realize that these poems were so much about Kosovo. They were so much part of the culture.

I’m not sure how it is for each and every individual in the Church. I don’t think that for young people in Serbia Kosovo is a big issue. Most of them have never been there or imagine that they will ever be there. But for me personally, I would say that we only have ourselves to blame for the situation in Kosovo. Yes, I know that the Kosovo Albanians were having seven or eight children while we were only having one or two. And they were buying the land from Serbian people and most of the land was sold for quite a sum of money. So I can’t go there and defend something that is actually not mine any more.

But at the same time, there is the problem of the people who are still there, and they are not safe. The people living in the Serbian enclave together with their children are living their lives like caged animals. I don’t think it’s normal. I don’t think that they should live like that. I don’t think that they are the ones to “save” Kosovo. I don’t think that they have the responsibility for that, especially kids. For the Church, the question of the people who are there and who are Orthodox Serbs is number one, followed by the question of the monasteries and churches.

What do you think the ultimate solution will be?

I don’t think about that. It’s beyond me!

I’ve read accounts of the large number of Kosovo Serbs who came to Serbia as refugees. I’ve read that there is often a prejudice against Serbs from Kosovo, that many of the prejudices against Kosovo Albanians are applied to Kosovo Serbs. That they don’t speak Serbian well. That they are more like Kosovo Albanians than Serbs. That they are second-class Serbs. Have you encountered those stereotypes about Kosovo Serbs?

Yes, I have. Like they all stick together. Or that they all have now a lot of money because they sold their land. Some of them did, but some of them didn’t and they’re just refugees. Yes, there are stereotypes and not just about people from Kosovo. There are stereotypes about people from Nis, probably! And for those living in Belgrade also.

Did you encounter any stereotypes when you came to Serbia from Croatia?

Yes, but I also encountered stereotypes from people who came from Croatia about people in Serbia.

What were those?

They thought Slovenia and Croatia were always closer to Europe and with higher standards than Serbia. They thought that people here didn’t have the same standard. They thought that Zagreb would be cleaner than Belgrade, which has Gypsies and is filthy. They didn’t understand how they could make sarma without potatoes.

When you arrived in Belgrade, how many of those stereotypes turned out to be true?

Those stereotypes were created when we arrived not before. Before that, we didn’t think about those things. It was a way for those people to defend themselves from what they encountered here. Most of them were not welcomed. It was normal but they couldn’t understand that. When a number of people came to Serbia in 1990 when the crisis started, people here were thinking, “They will take our jobs and we will have even less than what we have.”

I remember in 1995 during Operation Storm, my relatives came from Krajina to Serbia. A friend of mine said, “Can you imagine, in those trailers, I saw that they have some things from their households. When did they have the time to pack those things? And why did they pack an umbrella?” Those people, two days before, lost everything they owned in their lives. They had only two hours to pack everything in their lives into a car or a trailer or to hide it on the train.

Or I remember when people from Croatia came to Belgrade and the women were wearing fur coats. And people said, “They have fur coats and they are refugees?” Yes, that’s what they had, but they didn’t have places to live! They had their coats. At least they were warm. But they couldn’t bring furniture.

You’re right: you can’t wear a couch or a chair. On another topic, it’s very popular in Europe and the United States to have ecumenical dialogues between churches. Is there something similar here?

Yes. The Orthodox Church has a discussion with the Catholic Church. We had a schism 1,000 years ago. And there are efforts in both churches to overcome the differences. There are also some people in both churches — but I only know about people in the Orthodox Church — who are against this dialogue. They think that we have nothing in common with them or that if we talk with them they’ll try to convert us to Catholicism. Or that it’s okay to have a dialogue with them if they change everything and we don’t change anything and they admit that they are wrong.

Those who participate in this dialogue are also aware of the many differences and opinions on both sides. So it will take maybe another 1,000 years to overcome the schism! But it’s very important to have the dialogue to have a friendly relationship and respect each other. Because I think we have more in common than the differences that we have.

On the topic of big differences, is there any discussion with Islam, perhaps in the Sandzak region?

I think not. The Church participates in certain meetings, like the World Council of Churches, and that includes all churches and Catholics and Muslims.

What’s your feeling about Islam in general? Do you see it as a threat? Or do you see it as another monotheism?

I have a problem with Islam in Serbia because there are Islamists in Serbia who are actually politicians.

In Belgrade?

In Sandjak. I don’t believe that people running the Church should be politicians, whether Orthodox or Catholic or Muslim.

Do they want an independent Sandjak or do they want to join Bosnia?

I’m not sure. I think they’re just using Islam to win people over to their own idea and that idea is an independent Sandjak. I’m not sure that Serbia has the standards that it should have for Muslims, for example. I’m not sure how fair we are as a country. I don’t think about those things.

Do you support a strict division between church and state?

I don’t know if it can be strict. For example, I am part of the Church. I have a job here at the Church radio station. But I can also do other things. I am part of this society. And I do want Serbia also to value my opinion. And since 97 percent of the people in Serbia are Orthodox…

It’s difficult to have a strict separation when 97 percent of the population is Orthodox.

Yes. The prime minister and the president of this government and the last one visited the patriarch in Belgrade and had a conversation with him. It seems to the public that they are getting his blessing. I’m not sure for someone in the church whether this is necessary.

I guess now the prime minister was criticized because people think he banned the march in Belgrade because the Church is against it. I don’t think he did it because of the Church. I think he did it because he believes that the majority of people in Serbia are against it, and those people are voters. When the Church stands for something that the majority believes in, then the government can hide behind the Church.

Finally, some quantitative questions. When you think back to 1989 and everything that has changed or not changed since that time, how would you evaluate that on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being least satisfied and 10 being most satisfied.

5

Same period of time and same scale, but your personal life.

8

And how would you evaluate the near future, on a scale with one being most pessimistic and 10 being most optimistic?

Today it’s 3.

And yesterday?

Well, each day is different.

Did something happen between yesterday and today?

A lot of people in Nis over the last year went abroad. And there are people in my family who think that I should do the same. And maybe until a few days ago I was saying it was good here and it will be good. Sometimes when I think about pressure and work and home, I feel that nothing will change here and things will just get worse and worse. If something nice happens today, then maybe I’ll feel differently and tomorrow it will be 5.

Republicans Perpetuate Myths About Missile Defense to Keep Cold War Alive

Wishful thinking

Wishful thinking

In a Reuters blog post titled Why Russia won’t deal on NATO missile defense, Yousaf Butt of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies writes that, to “allay Moscow’s concerns, Washington has invited Russia to participate in [a missile defense] system, helping NATO guard against Iran.”

But, reported the Associated Press in May:

“Republicans … trying to block Obama administration overtures to Russia on missile defense [are] proposing a measure that would bar the administration from sharing classified missile defense data with Russia.

“That would undercut a path that arms control advocates have urged to restart nuclear talks, which have been set back by a missile defense dispute.”

Dr. Butt elaborates.

Representative Michael Turner (R-Ohio), former chairman of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, and other House Republican leaders have said that if the Obama administration hands over to Moscow technical data on the missile defense interceptors — as the White House has proposed — then this could persuade Moscow that the system is not targeting Russian missiles.

So while the administration has insisted it doesn’t intend to target Russia, the House Armed Services Committee leadership appears nostalgic for the Cold War — and wants to use the system against the Russians. Is it any wonder Moscow remains skeptical?

Let’s backtrack. Missile defense systems, such as the NATO system in which the United States is inviting Russia to take part, are, writes Dr. Butt

… known to have serious technological flaws. … Why would Russia want to cooperate on an expensive system that does not work — especially against a threat from Iran and North Korea, which Russia discounts?

Russia may reject two-thirds of the equation – that Iran and North Korea are threats and that missile defense would even be effective against them – but still finds it convenient to act as if missile defense is directed at Russian ICBMs. Never mind that Russia would become privy to the truth of NATO’s motives if it cooperated.

Please don’t misconstrue this as my approval of missile defense in any way, shape or form. The recent news that an East Coast installation was proposed for Fort Drum – 300 miles from where we live in New York State — brought it home to me. But it seems as if we survived a near-miss.

[A] letter from the leader of the Missile Defense Agency to the Senate Armed Services Committee could be a big roadblock. In it, Vice Admiral James D. Syring writes, “There is no validated military requirement to deploy an East Coast missile defense site.”

Dr. Butt then asks:

If Iran or North Korea could so easily circumvent this vaunted missile defense system, why are the Russians (and Chinese) so up in arms against it?

The answer is simple: Russian and Chinese military planners — like those at the Pentagon — are paid to be paranoid. They must assume the worst-case scenario. Which, in this case, means they must treat a missile system as being highly effective — even when it isn’t.

Or they treat missile defense as if it might be effective in the future.

Russian and Chinese analysts might also be worried about the potential for a major expansion in defensive missile arsenals; technical changes in the systems (such as nuclear-tipped interceptors); and the diversity and scale of sensor systems that are being brought online to support the system.

Republicans seek to turn Russian paranoia to their advantage by shamelessly perpetuating the myth that missile defense is directed against Russian ICBMs. To refresh your memories, remember, too, that missile defense is notorious for destabilizing nuclear deterrence. (Another disclaimer: optimizing nuclear deterrence is of no concern to me personally.)

By theoretically being able to halt an enemy’s first strike in its tracks, it makes the attacker’s remaining nukes vulnerable to a retaliatory strike by the state that was attacked. In other words, missile defense encourages other nuclear states to build more nuclear weapons and delivery systems. They would compensate for both those that would be shot down by missile defense and those destroyed in a retaliatory attack by the state that was attacked.

Missile defense continues to serve a useful purpose. No, not protecting the United States and Europe. But as the gift that never stops giving to keep the Cold War alive and money flowing into a white elephant as destructive to the economy as it is to our national defense.

Iran’s Election Nuclear, But Not Nuked

Hassan RohaniIran’s new President Hassan Rohani/Rowhani/Rouhani was Iran’s nuclear negotiator with Britain, France, and Germany between 2003 and 2005. One of his opponents and Supreme Leader Khameini’s candidate of choice, was Saeed Jalili, the current chief nuclear negotiator. In what other state, would you find two nuclear negotiators running against each other for president? Presumably it’s a sign of Iran’s priorities. (No, not nuclear weapons, but nuclear energy.)

As far as the election itself, the first piece of good news is that there may not have been any “jiggery-pokery.” Say what? Reuters reports.

British former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who dealt with Rohani during nuclear negotiations between 2003 and 2005, called him a “very experienced diplomat and politician”.

“This is a remarkable and welcome result so far and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that there will be no jiggery-pokery with the final result,” Straw told Reuters, alluding to accusations of widespread rigging in the 2009 election.

Regarding Straw’s kind words about him, at al-Sharq al-Awsat on Thursday (linked to by Juan Cole) Rohani extends olive branch.

“The Iran–US relationship is a complex and difficult issue. A bitter history, filled with mistrust and animosity, marks this relationship. It has become a chronic wound whose healing is difficult but possible, provided that good faith and mutual respect prevail. … As a moderate, I have a phased plan to deescalate hostility to a manageable state of tension and then engage in promotion of interactions and dialogue between the two peoples to achieve détente, and finally reach to the point of mutual respect that both peoples deserve.”

As for ye olde 800-pound gorilla …

Nuclear weapons have no role in Iran’s national security doctrine, and therefore Iran has nothing to conceal. But in order to move towards the resolution of Iran’s nuclear dossier, we need to build both domestic consensus and global convergence and understanding through dialogue.

He actually declares that

Iran should articulate its positions and policies in a more coherent and appreciable manner

What about the disclaimer you always hear that Iranian presidents have little impact on foreign policy, ostensibly Supreme Leader Khameini’s turf? Rohani was national security ddvisor for sixteen years during the administrations of Rafsanjani and Khatami (Ahmadinejad’s predecessors) and continued as one of Khameini’s two representative at the Supreme National Security Council. He maintains:

If elected, I expect to receive the same support and trust from the supreme leader on initiatives and measures I adopt to advance our foreign policy agenda.

Meanwhile, the ball, once again, is in the court of the United States and the West. I have no illusions about Rojani: he is, after all, an Iranian politician – or a politician, period. But it’s tough to disagree with him when he says:

Obama’s policy on Iran should be judged by his deeds, not by his words. His tactic, as he himself has indicated, is to speak softly but to act harshly. Sanctions adopted and implemented against Iran during the Obama administration are unprecedented in the history of bilateral relations between Iran and the US. … In my view, Obama’s policy toward Iran cannot lead to the improvement of the troubled bilateral relations as long as the US’s mischievous treatment of Iran continues to dictate the course. [Emphasis added.]

No need to pull punches, Hassan. A more fitting adjective than mischievous might be malevolent.

Has Intervention by the United States Become, by Definition, a Mistake?

Syrian rebelsAs you’ve no doubt heard by now, using as a justification its conclusion that the Assad regime had killed 150 or more people with sarin gas – technically a weapon of mass destruction – the Obama administration has made decision to supply Syrian rebels with small arms and ammunition.

Besides, the New York Times reports:

Formally designating the Assad government as a user of chemical weapons, [an] official said, will make it easier for Mr. Obama to rally support from Britain, France and other allies for further measures.

What’s more, the administration is considering instituting a no-fly zone over Syria,. Towards that end, reports Reuters:

Washington has moved Patriot surface-to-air missiles, war planes and more than 4,000 troops into Jordan in the past week, officially as part of an annual exercise but making clear that the forces deployed could stay on when the war games are over.

Guess the administration finally took pity on the Syrian rebels after reading Wednesday’s (June 12) report by New York Times weapon expert C.J. Chivers about their efforts to manufacture their own weapons.

The workers arrive by darkness, taking their stations at the vise and the lathe. Soon metal filings and sparks fly, and the stack of their creations grows at their feet: makeshift mortar shells to be fired through barrels salvaged from disabled Syrian Army tanks.

Across northern Syria, rebel workshops like these are part of a clandestine network of primitive arms-making plants, a signature element of a militarily lopsided war. … “Everybody knows we do not have the weapons we need to defend ourselves,” said Abu Trad, a commander of the Saraqib Rebels Front.

In fact

The value of workshop-grade weapons, while once crucial to the rebels’ success in claiming territory in northern Syria, may have substantially declined.

Last spring, when Mr. Assad was struggling to confront the armed opposition that his crackdown had fueled, shops like these forced Syria’s military to change tactics. … But the government has spent a year refitting its troops, Hezbollah has sent in reinforcements, and Iran and Russia have kept Mr. Assad’s forces resupplied. … And most of the shops’ other weapons systems lack … accuracy, range or explosive punch.

Chivers quotes Khaled Muhammed Addibis, a rebel commander, who said, “All we need is effective weapons. … Nothing else.”

I’m as wary as the next guy of a proxy war — with the United States, et al, on one side, and Iran and Russia on the other – of such obviousness that it stands a higher chance than usual of pitting the principals against each other face to face. But, my personal portal into the world of foreign affairs was via the study of genocide. In fact, guilt over failing to halt the Rwandan atrocities may be the reason that former President Clinton has come down, however cautiously, on the side of Syria intervention.

Most progressives reflexively resist intervention because it’s usually – okay, always – an excuse to further U.S. political and energy interests. But, speaking personally, however much I may personally suffer from delusions of heroism about rescuing those being bullied, I’ve always had to force myself to resist calling for intervention in international affairs.

In a perfect world, we could separate the rebel forces worthy of aid from those on a fast track to war-crimes trials, as well as defer our not-so-hidden agenda in the Middle East while we provide emergency military aid to the Syrian people. But neither is likely to happen, and, because we live in an age marked by the absence of a long-overdue, muscular international body, I can’t help but wonder (speaking for myself and not FPIF, of course), if there’s merit to incremental intervention. (Ducks head to avoid incoming barrage from other progressives.)

A Voter’s Guide to Iran’s Presidential Race

Will the next president actually make us miss Ahmadinejad?

Will the next president actually make us miss Ahmadinejad?

Four years after a contested presidential election that sent thousands of Iranians into the streets, sparked a harsh government crackdown, and ended with the house arrest of two opposition candidates, Iranians are again going to the polls to elect a president. The controversial Mahmoud Ahmadenijad, who has long since fallen from favor with the country’s clerical elite, is prevented by term limits from seeking reelection.

Six hopefuls are vying for the highest elected position and second most powerful position in Iran: three affiliated with the ruling conservative party, one from a reformist party, one centrist and one independent. Reformist Hassan Rowhani and conservative Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf are considered the two front-runners in the first-round June 14 election.

Rowhani, a member of the Association of Combatant Clerics, recently received endorsements from ex-presidents Mohammad Khatami and Akbar Hasemi Rafsanjani, with the latter describing Rowhani as a “more suitable” candidate to steer the country’s executive branch. As a former chief nuclear negotiator and secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Rowhani calls for a better relationship with the west and greater scrutiny of the nation’s nuclear program. He is an ardent critic of Iran’s current trajectory in global politics and has expressed support for freedom of speech. With his pledge to support and protect women and ethnic minorities, Rowhani has garnered support from the moderates, liberals, and young people, in addition to reformists. Rowhani is running with the slogan “Government of Prudence and Hope” and current polls show him with 27.2 percent of the vote.

Rowhani’s biggest threat comes from Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, who unlike Rowhani has significant political experience, serving as the mayor of Tehran since 2005. He represents the conservative party and the Islamic Society of Engineers and has called for greater unity between currently divided political actors, namely Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and President Ahmadenijad but also within his own party. Prior to being elected mayor, Qalibaf served as the chief of national police from 1999 to 2005 under the appointment of Khamenei. Qalibaf is running with the slogan “Love and Sacrifice” and according to current polls has 20.1 percent of the vote.

Saeed Jalili, also a member of the conservative party, is affiliated with the Front of Islamic Revolution Stability. He supports greater privatization and pledges to crack down on corruption in the government. Jalili is the current chief nuclear negotiator and has been the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council since 2007. He lost a leg during the Iran-Iraq war. Although he is thought to be Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s preferred candidate, polls give him just 5.1 percent of the vote.

The candidate representing centrist views, Mohsen Rezaee, is a member of the Moderation and Development Party. Rezaee calls for subsidies for farmers and is an outspoken critic of current president Ahmadinejad’s handling of Iran’s oil revenue. He has presented plans to reduce the country’s inflation and pledges to select cabinet members from different ethnic groups throughout Iran. Rezaee is the former commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and ran for president in 2009, coming in third. His slogan is “Say hello to life” and he currently has 10.7 percent of the vote.

Ali-Akbar Velayati, the third conservative candidate, is a member of the Islamic Coalition Party. He campaigns for better inter-governmental relations between the parliament and judiciary and economical overhaul, also pledging to address inflation, rising prices, and unemployment. Velayati was Iran’s minister of foreign affairs for more than 16 years and was the first person to hold that position for longer than 10 years. He serves as an advisor to the Supreme Leader and holds beliefs that, ideologically, are very similar to Khamenei’s. Velayati is running with the slogan “Complete government” and currently has 9.1 percent of the vote.

The sixth candidate, independent Mohammad Gharazi, pledges to run an anti-inflation administration. Gharazi has a long history in politics, serving as minister of petroleum from 1981 to 1985, minster of post, telegraph, and telephone from 1985 to 1997, and as a member of parliament from 1980 to 1984. He is campaigning with the slogan “Government against Inflation” and currently only has 1 percent of the vote.

Lizzie Rajasingh is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.

Emphasis Added: The Foreign Policy Week in Pieces (6/13)

“Failure is not an option”

Nuclear deterrence has to be perfect, or close to perfect. A cata­strophic all-out nuclear war could result from any failure of nuclear deterrence, so there is little margin for error. One could say for nuclear deterrence, failure is not an option.

Rethinking the Utility of Nuclear Weapons, Ward Wilson, Parameters

The Day the World Dismantles its Last Nuclear Weapon, Unicorns Come Out of Hiding

[Air Force Assistant Chief of Staff for Strategic Deterrence and Nuclear Integration Garrett Harencak] also poked fun at the idea that nuclear weapons could be eliminated anytime soon, despite President Obama’s iconic 2009 speech in Prague. At that time, the president promised “America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons,” albeit “perhaps not in my lifetime.”

“I hope that day comes. I hope that day comes soon. And when it does, I want to invite you all over to my house for a party,” Harencak said of eliminating nuclear arms worldwide. “I’d just ask that you don’t feed any of the hors d’oeuvres to my unicorn.”

U.S. General: Nuclear-Capable Bomber Cameo Quieted North Korea, Elaine Grossman, Global Security Newswire

A War Crime as a Robot Might See It

Brandon Bryant says he was sitting in a chair at a Nevada Air Force base operating the camera when his team fired two missiles from their drone at three men walking down a road halfway around the world in Afghanistan. The missiles hit all three targets, and Bryant says he could see the aftermath on his computer screen – including thermal images of a growing puddle of hot blood.

“The guy that was running forward, he’s missing his right leg,” he recalled. “And I watch this guy bleed out and, I mean, the blood is hot.” As the man died his body grew cold, said Bryant, and his thermal image changed until he became the same color as the ground.

Former drone operator says he’s haunted by his part in more than 1,600 deaths, Richard Engel, Open Channel: NBC News

For Erdogan, Short Trip From Micro-manager to Iron Fist

And there’s the hitch. The prime minister has emerged as the strongest leader Turkey has had since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk founded the republic — but he remains not much of an architect or urban planner. Like other longtime rulers, he has assumed the mantle of designer in chief, fiddling over details for giant mosques, planning a massive bridge and canal, devising gated communities in the name of civic renewal and economic development. The goal is a scripted public realm. Taksim, the lively heart of modern Istanbul, has become Mr. Erdogan’s obsession, and perhaps his Achilles’ heel.

In Istanbul’s Heart, Leader’s Obsession, Perhaps Achilles’ Heel, Michael Kimmelman, the New York Times

Assad or Islamist Militants: a Choice Made in Hell

Just as [the death of Hamza Ali al-Khateeb at the hands of government forces] crystallized the rage against President Bashar al-Assad, [14-year-old Muhammad al-Qatta’s] killing stoked similar feelings against a new power that has emerged during the war. It focused anger on hard-line Islamists, including foreigners, some of whom have seized on the conflict in Syria as an opportunity to impose their mores. For Muhammad’s mother and some her neighbors, the tyrannies were indistinguishable, trapping many Syrians in a vise.

Syrian Teenager’s Public Death Reveals Growing Anger as Civil War Continues, Kareen Fahim and Hania Mourtada, the New York Times

From the Spanish Civil War to Syria: Parceling Out Truth Subverts Justice

OrwellThe New Statesman recently reminisced about its former editor Kingsley Martin’s feud with Tribune’s former literary editor George Orwell about the latter’s attempt to tell the whole truth about the Spanish War. Martin preferred the commodity doled out sparingly, for which Orwell never forgave him.

Like many people who would otherwise swear by the truth as an abstract principle, Martin made it a partisan issue for the “cause.” Orwell, of course, often defied such criticism: that to tell the truth would harm the war effort, or harm unity with the part of the so-called left that had tried to kill him in Spain and was busily executing Socialists across Eastern Europe. Interestingly, twenty years after the fall of the Soviet Union, its ghosts haunt Orwell’s reputation yet, with vitriolic detractors whose ad-hominem hatred has almost forgotten its original roots in the purges and now uncontested mass murders of the era.

Veracity as a sacred principle has lots of small-print exceptions for so many people. It would be “bad for Israel,” or bad for the Palestinians. Over years of writing, I’ve been told I couldn’t say “that” about Militant in Liverpool, New Labour, UN corruption, and many other causes. In an eerie echo of Martin in the Statesman, I was told that the Nation in the US had a line, so we could not write anything about intervention in Kosovo that was not outright condemnation. It would “aid imperialism” to say that Slobodan Milosevic built his power on unleashing genocidal impulses.

The Hapsburg lip allegedly led generations of sycophantic dons into emulatory lisps — which is a minor lapse — the compared to all those who joined committees to “defend” Rwandan and Balkan mass murderers against “imperialist” justice.

All of us practice a partial vision some extent. Someone might indeed be very ugly, but it behooves us not to point that out. But like the emperor with his new clothes, if such a political figure poses publicly, then it is indeed a writer’s duty to mention their absence of raiment.

Recent weeks have seen some outstanding examples of reckless candour that deserve applause and support. Bradley Manning revealed clear examples of crimes by the Pentagon, notably the murder of a Reuters camera team in Baghdad and the gunning down of innocent civilians coming to help the wounded. It is worth recalling that the Pentagon lied to Reuter’s legal Freedom of Information request by claiming the video was lost.

He deserves all-out support from journalists, not the mumbling diffidence of the New York Times that published his revelations while abandoning their source. Similarly, one hopes that revelations that Edward Snowden supported deranged libertarian right-winger Ron Paul will not detract from support for his deed revealing, dare one say, Orwellian, government surveillance that would have Big Brother green with envy!

One other, almost unrecognised act of non-partisan balance, has come from the UN, in its reports on Syria, which suggest that people on both sides have used chemical weapons and violated human rights. It has resisted attempts to provide the smoking chemical canisters that neocon hawks would like, even though it has indeed made plain that the balance of crimes weighs heavily down on the regime side.

The parallels with Spain are painful. Most atrocities from the rebel side in Syria seem to be associated with their version of the International Brigades, which include fundamentalists coming in to “help.” This week, Russia Today quite correctly reported on their execution of a young Syrian for “heresy.” Somewhat less correctly, RT maintains complete silence on the regime’s mass killings of civilians and opponents.

Orwell’s commitment to the defeat of fascism was unimpeachable. And apart from being one of nature’s awkward squad, he appreciated that publicly ignoring obvious horrors for expediency’s sake does not help the cause of justice and progress in the slightest.

Orwell supported the Republicans in Spain, even though the KGB operating under their aegis tried to kill him — and actually did execute many others. He certainly did not collectively condemn his comrades in arms who went to fight in the Brigades.

The reason that many of us oppose Assad’s regime is because it is ruthless and murderous, so there is absolutely no reason not to denounce such behaviour when committed by some of “our” side. Indeed, there is even more reason to do so, since to be silent implies complicity.

The truth is not only an effective principle, it is also an expedient weapon in the war of public opinion. We should pillory all who betray it.

Ian Williams has written for newspapers and magazines around the world. He is currently writing a book on the Americans who blame the United Nations for all the ills of the United States. For more by Ian Williams visit Deadline Pundit.

For Bradley Manning, Solitary Confinement a Cruel, But All Too Usual, Punishment

The effects of solitary confinement are insidious.

Bradley ManningThe military court martial for Bradley Manning, the army private accused of leaking thousands of classified diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks, has at last begun. Although he could face life in prison for a crime of conscience, Manning must feel at least some relief that his pre-trial confinement has come to an end.

While awaiting trial, Manning was for long stretches subjected to 23 hours of solitary confinement a day, denied clothing, sheets, or a pillow, and prevented from exercising in his barren white cell. Manning is not an accused terrorist, murderer, or mastermind. In 2010, he was charged with revealing to WikiLeaks classified government records, dating back to the mid-2000s, about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Manning’s admirers have ascribed his actions to his legal and national sense of duty to expose war crimes, as some of the released documents expose American military personnel violating international humanitarian law.

Yet despite this—and the fact that Manning is to be presumed innocent until proven otherwise—the army private was jailed in debilitating solitary confinement, perhaps as retribution for his political beliefs or as an attempt at behavior modification, or for whatever other reason the court may have decided.

Solitary confinement cells were first experimented with by a group of Quakers hoping to reduce the corruption present in overpopulated jails and promote reflection and mental rehabilitation among prisoners. But the Quakers quickly did away with the practice due to the deteriorating mental state of prisoners. Since then, endless testimonies, papers, and accounts have argued what was clear to these 19th-century pioneers: Solitary confinement is cruel, inhumane, and mentally torturous. Charles Dickens, who had developed an interested in the prison system, visited this early attempt at solitary confinement and concluded it to be “immeasurably worse than any torture of the body… because its wounds are not upon the surface, and it extorts few cries that human ears can hear; therefore I the more denounce it, as a secret punishment which slumbering humanity is not roused up to stay.”

It is not just the religious or the literary who oppose such prison conditions. Senator John McCain, a former POW and on many issues an unrepentant hawk, has been an outspoken opponent of solitary confinement. And the U.S. Supreme Court has come close to following in the footsteps of the Geneva Convention and United Nations in declaring the practice unconstitutional.

Yet presently, the United States continues to condemn nearly 80,000 citizens to solitary confinement, many of whom are like Bradley Manning and have not yet been convicted of any crime. In fact, even those who are serving out an actual sentence often are not guilty of any prison offense, such as drug dealing or fighting, that could theoretically justify their separation from other prisoners.

Many solitary prisoners exhibit model behavior during their incarceration and participate in higher education courses and religious services. Yet despite their obedience, for many there is no escaping solitary confinement, which accounts for 39 percent of suicides among inmates. Manning has admitted that following a bout of suicidal thoughts, when he fashioned a noose out of bed sheets, he was reduced to sleeping naked without any bedding, long after these thoughts had passed. Medical personnel now administer anti-depressants to Manning on a regular basis to prevent the mental deterioration that is characteristic of inmates in solitary confinement. Military officials have defended Manning’s treatment, claiming that he is considered a maximum-security prisoner and both a threat to himself and others.

Unfortunately, this is not a new trend in American prisons. Wen Ho Lee, the Taiwanese-American nuclear scientist accused of selling U.S. nuclear secrets to China, was held in solitary confinement when charged with violation of the Atomic Energy Act among 59 other charges, 58 of which were later dropped. The Justice Department so strongly believed that it had correctly identified the guilty party that it presented false information to the judge at the initial bail hearing, causing Lee to be sent to solitary confinement, despite the judge’s request for a less severe alternative. The presiding judge eventually extended an apology to Lee.

Ultimately, whether one is truly innocent or just innocent until proven guilty, the United States must treat its inmates and convicts with at least a bare minimum amount of respect and humanity. This must extend from accused Americans like Manning to detained foreigners such as those held in Guantanamo Bay if the United States hopes for its citizens and soldiers abroad to receive the same.

Lizzie Rajasingh is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.

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