Focal Points Blog

Despite Funneling Money to the Corporations That Run the Nuclear Labs, the Administration Finds Itself in Their Debt

Dienekes was a Spartan soldier noted for his bravery. Herodotus wrote of him in The Histories (via Wikipedia).

It is said that on the eve of battle, he was told by a native of Trachis that the Persian archers were so numerous that, their arrows would block out the sun. Dienekes, however, undaunted by this prospect, remarked with a laugh, ‘Good. Then we will fight in the shade.’

A reporter using the name Dienekes produced a paper in February titled Broken Promises: The White House, Special Interests, and New START that the Los Alamos Study Group featured on its website. Perhaps, he identifies with Dienekes because he feels vastly dwarfed by the forces of the Iron Triangle (his description: “the relationship between congressional committees, federal agencies, and special interest groups seeking to benefit from public policy”) against which he pits himself. Meanwhile, this reader can’t help but observe that in the event of a nuclear war, the survivors will be living in the shade of nuclear winter.

Here’s the central question that Dienekes invokes.

Why did the Department of Defense (DoD), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) approve an under-the-radar process for transferring money each year to the nuclear weapons labs of the Department of Energy (DOE)? Why did the DoD do this when it has its own labs and [it] partners with the nuclear labs as needed, already funding [the latter] with about $900 million annually? Normally fiercely protective of their budgets, why did the heads of these agencies move so swiftly in June 2009 to implement what was a mere proposal made only three months earlier by a DOE-sponsored think tank? … Why, given the considerable negatives, was the new funding stream created?

The seeds of the answer can be found in another question he asks.

Was it just a coincidence that these agencies signed a formal charter setting up the funding scheme nine days before the nuclear lab directors appeared on Capitol Hill to give their expert testimony on the administration’s New START treaty?

Dienekes created a timeline to exhibit “evidence that the private contractors running the DOE nuclear weapons labs (Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore, and Sandia) got the coveted interagency charter by helping the president win a major foreign policy victory.” He elaborates.

The administration needed support from the CEO lab directors of Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore, and Sandia to win ratification of New START. The public record shows the labs got $357 million in stimulus dollars. In addition, the White House hiked investment to a level, in constant dollars, nearly 70% more than the Cold War average, causing a former NNSA administrator to say he would have, “killed for that budget and that much high-level attention in the administration.” And DoD agreed to kick in nearly $6 billion over a five-year period to modernize nuclear weapons infrastructure. But this was not enough to satisfy the CEO lab directors. They wanted more.

The corporations (Bechtel, Babcock & Wilcox, URS, Battelle and Lockheed Martin) that run the nuclear labs coveted non-nuclear missions with binding long-term financial commitments from multiple federal agencies. Why? Because they foresaw a smaller nuclear stockpile as a result of the administration’s arms control initiatives, and without new projects to replace old warheads, this meant less workload, greater excess capacity, and higher overhead costs – all of which would spark more calls for downsizing. [They] will lobby for greater commitments to expand missions, increase workloads, build new facilities, and move more public money into the pockets of private firms. Unfortunately, such commitments will likely be made off-the-radar within the Interagency Council on the Strategic Capability of the National Laboratories, basically a top-level pressure group designed to serve the interests of the Iron Triangle.

But, “expert testimony” aside, why else did the administration feel it needed to accede to the demands of the CEO slash lab directors of Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore, and Sandia? Aren’t the labs subordinate to the federal government and dependent on it for funds? Dienekes reminds us of what happens “when the Oval Office embraces the Iron Triangle.” In the White House, “a gathering of administration officials and corporate contractors indulged their sizeable appetites for political gain, commercial profit, and personal advancement.”

Though he doesn’t spell it out, what I think Dienekes means is that corporate contractors contribute money to Democratic campaigns. If they’re not kept happy, they’ll cut off funding. It’s a pity that when ownership of the national laboratories was privatized (Los Alamos in 2006, Lawrence Livermore in 2007), the Department of Energy couldn’t foresee — or wasn’t concerned with — how much influence the corporate contractors would exercise over not only their own funding, but national nuclear-weapons policy.

Syria: Chess Match Turned Free-for-All

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey

In some ways the Syrian civil war resembles a proxy chess match between supporters of the Bashar al-Assad regime—Iran, Iraq, Russia and China—and its opponents—Turkey, the oil monarchies, the U.S., Britain and France. But the current conflict only resembles chess if the game is played with multiple sides, backstabbing allies, and conflicting agendas.

Take the past few weeks of rollercoaster politics.

The blockbuster was the U.S.-engineered rapprochement between Israel and Turkey, two Washington allies that have been at loggerheads since Israeli commandos attacked a humanitarian flotilla bound for Gaza and killed eight Turks and one Turkish-American. When Tel Aviv refused to apologize for the 2010 assault, or pay compensation to families of the slain, Ankara froze relations and blocked efforts at any NATO-Israeli cooperation.

Under the prodding of President Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu phoned his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and buried the hatchet. The apology “was offered the way we wanted,” Erdogan said, and added “We are at the beginning of a process of elevating Turkey to a position so that it will again have a say, initiative and power, as it did in the past.”

The détente will align both countries with much of Washington’s agenda in the region, which includes overthrowing the Assad government and isolating Iran. Coupled with a Turkish push to resolve the long simmering war between Ankara and its Kurdish minority, it was a “Fantastic week for Erdogan,” remarked former European Union policy chief Javier Solana.

It was also a slam dunk moment for the Israelis, whose intransigence over the 2010 incident and continued occupation of Palestinian and Syrian lands has left the country more internationally isolated than it has been in its 65 year history.

Israel’s apology might lay the groundwork for direct intervention in Syria by NATO and Israel. In recent testimony before Congress, Admiral James Stavridis, the head of U.S. European Command and NATO’s top commander, said that a more aggressive posture by the Obama administration vis-à-vis Syria “would be helpful in breaking the deadlock and bringing down the regime.”

According to the Guardian (UK), Netanyahu raised the possibility of joint U.S.-Israeli air strikes against Syria, which Israel accuses of shifting weapons to its ally Hezbollah in Lebanon. There is no evidence that Syria has actually done that, and logic would suggest that the Assad regime is unlikely to export weapons when it is fighting for its life and struggling to overcome an arms embargo imposed on it by the EU and the UN. But Tel Aviv is spoiling for a re-match with Hezbollah, the organization that fought it to a standstill in 2006. “What I hear over and over again from Israeli generals is that another war with Hezbollah is inevitable,” a former U.S. diplomat told the Guardian.

There is some talk among Israelis about establishing a “buffer zone” inside Syria to prevent Islamic groups becoming a presence on the border. A similar buffer zone established after Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon turned into a strategic disaster for Tel Aviv.

Admiral Stavridis suggested that a more aggressive posture would almost certainly not include using U.S. ground troops. According to former Indian diplomat M. K. Bhadrakumar, a more likely scenario would be for NATO air power to smash Assad’s air force and armor—as it did Mummer Khadafy’s in Libya—and “if ground forces need to be deployed inside Syria at some stage, Turkey can undertake that mission, being a Muslim country belonging to NATO.”

The Gulf monarchies—specifically Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Jordan—have increased arms shipments to the anti-Assad insurgents, and France and Britain are considering breaking the embargo and arming the Free Syrian Army. If this were a normal chess game, it would look like checkmate for Assad, Hezbollah, and Iran. But this game is three-dimensional, with multiple players sometimes pursuing different goals.

Qatar and Saudi Arabia are pouring what one American official called “a cataract of weaponry” into Syria, but the former apparently double-crossed the latter in a recent leadership fight in the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), the umbrella organization for the various groups fighting against the Damascus government. Qatar derailed Saudi Arabia’s candidate for the SNC’s prime minister and slipped its own man into the post, causing the organization’s president, Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, to resign. While most the western media reported Khatib resigned because SNC was not getting enough outside help, according to As-Safir, the leading Arabic language newspaper in Lebanon, it was over the two big oil monarchies trying to impose their candidates on the Syrians.

Qatar ally Ghassan Hitto, a Syrian-American, was anointed prime minister, causing a dozen SNC members to resign. The Free Syrian Army, too, says it will not recognize Hitto.

Khatib also objected to the Qatari move to form a Syrian government because it torpedoed last June’s Geneva agreement that would allow Assad to stay on until a transitional government is formed. The Qatari move was essentially a statement that the Gulf monarchy would accept nothing less than an outright military victory.

Qatar is close to the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, while Saudi Arabia favors the more extremist Islamic groups, some with close links to al-Qaida, that the U.S. and the European Union have designated as “terrorist.” Tension between extremist and more moderate insurgents broke into an open firefight Mar. 24 in the northern border city of Tal Abyad. The secular Farouq Battalions, which favor elections and a civil government, were attacked by the Jabhat al-Nusra, or Nusra Front, that wants to impose Sharia Law and establish an Islamic emirate. Four people were killed, and the leader of the Farouq Battalions was severely wounded.

The Nusra Front has also tangled with Kurdish groups in Syria’s northwest, and its militias currently control much of the southern border with Iraq, Jordan, and the Golan Heights that borders Israel. It was the Nusra Front that recently kidnapped UN peacekeepers for several days and attacked Iraqi soldiers escorting members of the Syrian military who had fled across the border. There have also been clashes between secular and Islamic forces in the Syrian cities of Shadadeh and Deir el Zour.

The Turkish government backing of the Syrian insurgency is not popular among most Turks, and that has to concern Erdogan, because he is trying to alter the Turkey’s constitution to make it more executive-centered and to himself become the next president. Although he is currently riding a wave of popularity over the Kurdish ceasefire, that could erode if the Syria war drags on.

And without direct NATO-Israeli intervention there does not appear to be any quick end to the civil war in sight. Assad still has support from his minority ethnic group, the Alawites, as well as among Christian denominations and many business groups. All fear an Islamic takeover. “If the rebels come to this city,” one wealthy Damascus businessman told Der Spiegel, “they’ll eat us alive.”

The longer the war goes on, the more the region destabilizes.

Fighting has broken out between Shiites and Sunnis in northern Lebanon, a Sunni-extremist fueled bombing campaign is polarizing Iraq, and Jordan is rent by an internal opposition that poses a serious threat to the Hashemite monarchy. Even Saudi Arabia has problems. A low-level but persistent movement for democracy in the country’s eastern provinces is resisting a brutal crackdown by Saudi authorities. As National Public Radio and GlobalPost reporter Reese Erlich discovered, some of those regime opponents are being given a choice between prison and fighting the Assad government, a strategy that the Saudi government may come to regret. It was jihadists sent to oppose the Soviets in Afghanistan who eventually returned to destabilize countries in the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa, and who currently form the backbone of al-Qaida-associated groups like the Nusra Front.

Aaron Zelin, Middle East expert and Fellow at the Washington Institute told Erlich that fighters from Saudi Arabia, Libya, Tunisia, and Jordan are being funneled into Syria.

Chess with multiple players can get tricky.

Turkey wants regional influence and Assad out, but it does not want a neighbor dominated by the Gulf monarchies. It may also find that talking about Turkish “power” doesn’t go down well in the Middle East. Arab countries had quite enough of that during the Ottoman Empire.

The Gulf monarchies want to overthrow the secular Assad regime, isolate regional rival Iran, and insure Sunni supremacy over Shites in the region. But they don’t agree on what variety of Islam they want, nor are they the slightest bit interested in democracy and freedom, concepts that they have done their best to suppress at home.

The French and British want a replay of Libya, but Syria is not a marginal country on the periphery of the Middle East, but a dauntingly complex nation in the heart of the region that might well atomize into ethnic-religious enclaves run by warlords. That is not an outcome that sits well with other European nations and explains their hesitation about joining the jihad against Assad.

Even the Israeli goal of breaking out of its isolation, destroying Hezbollah, and strangling Iran may be a pipe dream. Regardless of Turkish-Israeli detente, the barriers that keep Palestinians out of Israel also wall off Tel Aviv off from the rest of the Middle East, and that will not change until there is an Israeli government willing to remove most of the settlements and share Jerusalem.

As for Hezbollah, contrary to its portrayal in the Western media as a cat’s paw for Teheran, the Shite group is a grassroots organization based in Lebanon’s largest ethnic group. It is also being careful not to give the Israelis an excuse to attack it. In any case, any Israeli invasion of Lebanon would automatically rally international sentiment and Arab public opinion—Shite, Sunni, Alawite, etc.—against it.

If Assad falls, Iran would lose an ally, but Teheran’s closest friend in the Middle East is Baghdad, not Damascus. And despite strong American objections, Teheran recently scored a major coup by inking an agreement with Pakistan’s government to build a $7.5 billion gas pipeline to tap Iran’s South Pars field. The pact will not only blow a hole in western sanctions against Iran, it will play well in the May 11 Pakistani elections. “The Pakistani government wants to show it is willing to take foreign policy decisions that defy the U.S.,” says Anthony Skinner of the British-based Maplecroft risk consultants. “The pipeline not only caters to Pakistan’s energy needs but also logged brownie points with the many critics of the U.S. among the electorate.”

In the end, the effort to knock Syria off the board may succeed, although the butcher bill will be considerably higher than the current body count of 70,000. But establishing a pro-western government in Damascus and inflicting damage on Iran is mostly illusion. “Victory”—particularly a military one—is more likely to end in chaos and instability, and a whole lot more dead chess pieces.

For more of Conn Hallinan’s essays visit Dispatches From the Edge. Meanwhile, his novels about the ancient Romans can be found at The Middle Empire Series.

Emphasis Added: The Foreign Policy Week in Pieces (4/1)

War: Not Just Hell, But the Tenth Circle Thereof

War is obscene. I mean that in every sense of the word. Some veterans will tell you that you can’t know war if you haven’t served in one, if you haven’t seen combat. These are often the same guys who won’t tell you the truths that they know about war and who never think to blame themselves in any way for our collective ignorance.

Who Did You Rape in the War, Daddy?, Nick Turse, The Nation

Thank Goodness for Small Favors

The very fact that our policy of regime change is aimed at the same rulers our principal enemy wishes to overthrow should give logical pause. … Yet for all the clarity of this logical fallacy in the American democracy project, it has not stopped President Obama from helping to overthrow Muammar al-Qaddafi in Libya, or from calling for the ouster of Bashar al-Assad in Syria — even though the fall of the former and the uprising against the latter have given al Qaeda new “active fronts” (to use the jihadis’ own term) in which to operate. … So far, it hasn’t. But at least there are some limits to the American pursuit of folly; there is no call in Washington for overthrow of the regime in Riyadh. For this we should at least be thankful.

The Illogic of Iraq, John Arquilla, Foreign Policy

Transparency About Drones May Only Serve to Legitimate Them

So, moving [drone] operations to the Pentagon may modestly improve transparency and compliance with the law but — ironically for drone critics — it may also entrench targeted-killing policy for the long term.

For one thing, the U.S. government will now be better able to defend publicly its practices at home and abroad. The CIA is institutionally oriented toward extreme secrecy rather than public relations, and the covert status of CIA strikes makes it difficult for officials to explain and justify them. The more secretive the U.S. government is about its targeting policies, the less effectively it can participate in the broader debates about the law, ethics, and strategy of counterterrorism. … Under a military-only policy, the United States would also be better positioned to correct lingering misperceptions about targeted killings and to take remedial action when it makes a mistake.

Moreover, clearer legal limits and the perception of stricter oversight will make drone policy more legitimate in the public’s eyes.

Going Clear, Matthew Waxman, Foreign Policy

Two-Score Years Hence

Furthermore, since launching an ICBM from Iran towards the United States or Europe requires going somewhat against the rotation of Earth the challenge is greater. As pointed out by missile and space security expert Dr. David Wright, an ICBM capable of reaching targets in the United States would need to have a range longer than 11,000 km. Drawing upon the experience of France in making solid-fuel ICBMs, Dr. Wright estimates it may take 40 years for Iran to develop a similar ICBM – assuming it has the intention to kick off such an effort. [Author's emphasis.] A liquid fueled rocket could be developed sooner, but there is little evidence in terms of rocket testing that Iran has kicked off such an effort.

… The central conundrum of midcourse missile defense remains that while it creates incentives for adversaries and competitors of the United States to increase their missile stockpiles, it offers no credible combat capability to protect the United States or its allies from this increased weaponry.

Q&A Session on Recent Developments in U.S. and NATO Missile Defense with Dr. Yousaf Butt and Dr. George Lewis, Charles Blair, FAS Strategic Security Blog

At This Point, the Only Defense Against Missile Defense May Be Black Humor

Now for the really fun part: Let’s say one of these interceptors does manage to hit an incoming North Korean missile. While the folks at Greely are celebrating with a little Harlem Shake, what’s happening with the other interceptors we shot off? If you said “They are lighting up the early-warning radars as they streak into the heart of Mother Russia,” you win a prize! I am sure there is no chance that will spark an accidental nuclear war, the firing-missiles-into-Russia-on-purpose thing. There is no way the Russians could miss a North Korean missile launch or get an itchy trigger finger when they see missiles converging on their country. [Double emphasis -- bold and italic -- added.]

Billion Dollar Baby, Jeffrey Lewis, Foreign Policy

Key Fact Suppressed in the Israel-Turkey Reconciliation Story

Mavi MarmaraCertain facts simply do not find purchase in the Western corporate press. A seemingly minor example is furnished in the latest round of reporting on the 2010 Israeli naval assault on the Mavi Marmara vessel. The basic facts are circulating as background for the just announced reconciliation between Ankara and Tel Aviv. (As a side note, the significance of this development is that ruling class solidarity between two important regional allies of Washington is restored, increasing pressure on Iran and others outside the U.S.-led framework). The common boilerplate language states that nine Turkish activists were killed by the Israeli commandos. This is simply false.

To give a sense of how widespread this rendering of the facts is, I have reproduced a series of screen grabs from my news alert on the topic. In the UK, the left-leaning Guardian:

FakeUK1

A German publication similar to the BBC World News and France 24 (citing AFP and the AP):

FakeGermany

In Canada (citing the AP):

FakeCanada

In UK again (citing the major European news outfit, Sky News):

FakeUK2

In Israel, Haaretz, which more than any leading newspaper, should really know better:

FakeIsrael

Not to be outdone by AP, Reuters also included the falsehood:

FakeReuters

In reality, one of those nine civilians executed was a US citizen. Furkan DoÄŸan was of Turkish ancestry but did not have Turkish citizenship. Flubbing this detail in the initial round of reporting just after the incident in 2010 would have been understandable. However, by now nearly three years have passed since the attack and there has been plenty of time to absorb the correct set of facts.

The discrepancy is significant because it reduces the Israeli violence to an exclusively Turkish grievance. Reporting the detail accurately casts Washington’s behavior in an odd light. Why has the Obama administration not joined Turkey in expressing opprobrium towards Tel Aviv? Does Turkey care for the safety of its citizens but not the U.S.?

The fact does not serve (indeed undercuts) geopolitical aims and thus it does not do to mention it in press accounts. It is frequently therefore simply filtered out, per the propaganda model of the media. Though the media do not always misstate the fact (e.g. the NYT piece on the reconciliation did not repeat the falsehood), the false version is pervasive. (I have not attempted to quantify the error rate using a database like LexisNexis but I suspect the majority of Western press articles regurgitate the error; and few indeed explicitly mention the U.S. fatality.)

Perhaps, it may be said, the error is not deliberate but born of ignorance and lazy reporting. Nonetheless, it is because the error conforms to propaganda needs that it is allowed to stand uncorrected after all this time. That one of the victims was American is hardly a secret. Even Wikipedia gets the nationalities right. All a journalist would have to do to get the story straight is consult the most accessible reference in the Western world.

Incidentally, it is worth noting that, though many passengers on the Mavi were injured, one man, UÄŸur Süleyman Söylemez, was shot in the head and remains in a coma to this day. I have seen no indication that he is expected to ever regain consciousness. His fate is virtually never mentioned in press accounts.

Along with Kevin Funk, Steven Fake is the author of “Scramble for Africa: Darfur – Intervention and the USA” (Black Rose Books). They maintain a website with their commentary at scrambleforafrica.org.

Is a Desperate Assad Lashing Out With Chemical Weapons?

The alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria last week garnered international attention and prompted the UN—after receiving requests from both Syria’s government and opposition—to initiate an official investigation into the incident.

The attack, launched via a rocket allegedly containing “chemical materials,” was reported in Khan al-Assal—a village in Aleppo province—where 16 people were killed instantly. The death toll has since risen to 31. The Syrian National Coalition (SNC), the leading umbrella organization for the opposition, reported a second chemical attack in rural suburbs outside Damascus, though the number affected is still unknown.

Whether chemical weapons were actually used—and which party would be responsible—remains unverified. Both the Syrian government and the opposition accuse the other of using chemical weapons and propagandizing the attacks.

Syria’s UN ambassador Bashar Jaafari implored UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to form a “specialized, independent and neutral technical mission” to investigate the opposition’s involvement in the Aleppo incident, which was first reported by the state-run news agency SANA as an attack by “terrorists,” the term the regime uses to refer to rebels. Jaafari also claimed that the government was “not aware of a second attack” in Damascus and insinuated that the SNC was using the Damascus attack to distract the UN from Aleppo.

The opposition denies the regime’s claims. A Free Syrian Army spokesman was quoted by Middle East Online as saying that, “We have neither long-range missiles nor chemical weapons. And if we did, we wouldn’t use them against a rebel target.” The opposition also requested that the UN investigate the attack, a view that Western countries such as the United States, France, and Britain support.

During a debate in the UN Security Council, France insisted that both incidents in Aleppo and Damascus should be investigated as part of the official inquiry and that the UN should also investigate whether or not the Syrian regime possesses chemical weapons. However, Russia—who backs the regime and claims to have evidence that rebels are behind the chemical attack—responded that such an inquiry echoed Iraq’s inspection a decade ago and that the United States, France, and others were “launching propaganda balloons” and engaging in “delaying tactics.”

Crossing Red Lines

The attacks—coming after an unverified chemical attack in Homs last December—could be significant because their use, if confirmed, would mark a new stage in the Syrian war and could spur the United States to intervene.

U.S. President Barack Obama has previously stated that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would be “totally and completely unacceptable” and would constitute a “red line,” which if crossed would be a “tragic mistake” with “consequences.” Though Obama has yet to specify what these consequences entail, many have interpreted his speech to indicate some form of military intervention, whether putting troops on the ground or arming the opposition. At a news conference with Benjamin Netanyahu, Obama reiterated this stance, saying, “Once we establish the facts, I have made clear that the use of chemical weapons is a game changer.”

However, other U.S. officials have expressed skepticism that chemical weapons were deployed. U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford told the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee that, “So far, we have no evidence to substantiate the reports that chemical weapons were used … But I want to underline that we are looking very carefully at these reports.”

In addition to the official UN inquiry, U.S. intelligence agencies are also investigating the attacks. The conflict in Syria, however, compounds the difficulties of conducting any investigation in the country. In an interview with NBC, Ralf Trapp—a specialist on chemical and biological weapons—noted that it could take “weeks” for the UN to pull together a team to investigate and “each day lost will influence the speed with which the investigation can be concluded… because as more time elapses before biological sampling occurs, more sophisticated DNA and other toxicological testing is required.”

Not to mention, the investigation team would need to be able to get to—and operate within—Aleppo safely, which would largely depend upon cooperation from both state and rebel agents.

UPDATE

Al Arabiya reports:

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has appointed a Swedish professor who was a U.N. chemical weapons inspector in Iraq and now works at a research institute that deals with chemical incidents to head the U.N. fact-finding mission that will investigate allegations of the reported use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Leslie Garvey is a contributor to Foreign Policy in Focus and Focal Points.

King Abdullah of Jordan Learns How Loaded His Gestures, Words, and Facial Expressions Are

King AbdullahWhen the April issue of Atlantic Magazine published an article by its national correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg about his interview and impressions of King Abdullah of Jordan, Jordan was swept in a political storm that has yet to quiet down. The problem isn’t with what the King actually said in the interview, rather with the perception it created for him at home. In fact, and at least from the perspective of an American reader, he did not say anything wrong or even controversial. Conversely, however, the King appeared to be more of a modernizing force with progressive views about transforming Jordan into a democracy with constitutional monarchy as a unifying symbol of all Jordanians.

But, at the heart of the controversy is the word “dinosaurs” the King used to describe the old guard Jordanian politicians. Another one is, as trivial as it may sound, a facial impression of the King opening his eyes wide when an important tribal chief suggested hiring the local young men as neighborhood watch as in the old days. Other statements that were troublesome for the King was his anecdotal stories about other Arab leaders, mainly Bashaar al Assad and Egyptian President Mohammad Mursi, whom, according to Goldberg’s phrasing, were portrayed negatively by the King.

From an American or western perspective, where media is much more open and aggressive, and where politicians and the public are always engaging in some kind of debate or even at war with each other, this hardly qualifies as a “ scandal” or even hard news.

But in Jordan or any other Arab country for that matter where the media is not really free and where the society is not as open or as free as the American or Western ones, gestures, words, and facial expressions can have dangerous consequences.

After all, the manner in which the King conducted this free-style interview with the Atlantic was a disaster that could have been easily prevented.

Although Goldberg did not commit any unethical conduct as far his article goes and in describing the King’s reactions and statements as he observed them during the stay and travels with the King in Jordan. It was however, a grave mistake to let Goldberg use his own words and impressions to create a psychological profile of the king. If this were war time, or in a different setting, this interview and others like it that the King gave in the past could be considered a treasure trove of intelligence about the King, his own family, his likes and dislikes, his vacation spots, and how he governs his kingdom and who his enemies and friends are. The King was too open, too trusting and did not take into the account the unintended consequences that can result from failure to know how Western media or Western journalists operate. Normally, professional journalists are out to write a story; they are not your friends.

It is unthinkable for example, for a sitting president of the United States to allow this kind of free and unlimited access to journalists unless it is for a book or a biography and even at that presidents rarely veer from their prepared scripts and official remarks.

In fact Goldberg did what any crafty journalist would do when speaking to his subject by providing a scope and a context for the subject’s statements, facial impressions, and demeanor.

One incident that set off the tribal sensitivities was Goldberg’s recounting of what took place inside a meeting between the King and tribal elders in the southern town of Kerak. The story as described by Goldberg was about a simple yet a brilliant idea made by one of the tribal leaders in Kerak to ease unemployment in the town. His idea was to have the young and unemployed men perform something like a neighborhood watch, just like the old days, and without arming them with firearms, except for batons. In Goldberg’s account, he described the King’s “wide-eyed look” in reaction to the proposal which reflect, most likely, the King’s surprise at the simplicity of suggestion. Obviously the King was more interested in long-term solutions to the woes of the Jordanian economy. The King’s “wide-eyed look” was perceived as if the King was looking down on the tribal leaders who represent the traditional backbone of the Jordanian monarchy.

It was, however, the fault of the royal court in allowing such easy and free access to the head of the state and a sovereign king whose words and utterance and even his facial expressions do in fact matter and might even cause problems.

The King also made a strategic plunder by letting his guard down in the presence of foreign journalists who by instinct are human tape-recorders and can unravel Jordan’s relations with other Arab states or even damage the economy.

There is also the element of cultural differences between the political terminology the King used in English, such as the word “dinosaurs,” which would sound normal, and the impressions he made in a Western setting. But in a traditional and tribal society such as Jordan, titles, status and prestige do matter more than reality sometimes.

This does not mean, of course, that the Jordanian society should all of the sudden become Western in order to understand what its king means when he speaks. Rather, it is the other way around. The King’s advisors should have advised him about the pitfalls of letting his guard down with foreign journalists, which is akin to stepping into a minefield.

In addition, his remarks about the Jordanian “Muslim brotherhood” being a “Masonic cult” were taken literally, when in fact he most likely was referring to their proclivity to secrecy. Still, using the term “Masonic cult” to describe an Islamic group is considered very offensive. The same goes for his remarks about the Egyptian and Turkish leaders which can have dire political ramifications for Jordan, which needs friends and allies more than it needs enemies.

But the King also spoke about other important issues, such as the need to reform the Jordanian intelligence Department, the Mukhabarat, which has injected itself in the Jordanian political and economical life and is mainly responsible for sowing the seeds of divisions within the Jordanian society along the Jordanian-Palestinian lines. Outside the wrong impressions the interview created for him, the reality is that King Abdullah is trying to be a liberal and progressive reformer while many in his inner circle are working against him, as he put it in the interview. But the sad reality, for the King, however, is that many in the Jordanian society and its political elite were more in interested in gossip and wild conspiracy theories about facial gestures or this or that word than the important issues.

Ali Younes is a writer and analyst based in Washington D.C. He can be reached at: [email protected] and on Twitter at @clearali.

What Does Italy Hope to Gain by Re-trying Amanda Knox?

As you’ve no doubt heard by now an Italian appellate has court overturned a lower court decision that acquitted Amanda Knox in the Perugia murder of her housemate Meredith Kercher. Two questions immediately present themselves: 1. If she’s found guilty, would the United States extradite her at Italy’s request? 2. Why won’t Italy let this go?

By way of addressing the first question, in response to a New York magazine article, a commenter named Soma writes:

Extradition treaties work both ways. The US recently extradited Al Qaeda terrorism suspects from Italy … would they want to jeopardise future extradition requests to Italy & the larger EU? I doubt it.

At Slate, Justin Peters writes:

More likely is that, if Knox is convicted again, Italy won’t even bother requesting her extradition. Doing so would cause a small but real international incident, something that both nations would prefer to avoid. The two countries will reach some sort of agreement, and Knox will never spend another day in an Italian jail.

In the same vein, MSN reports that it

…spoke with English and Italian legal consultant and attorney Alessandro Canali from Rome [who said that] extraditing Knox would run up against an insurmountable legal hurdle: It would be unconstitutional. … “The United States will never grant extradition to Italy because the conviction of Amanda would be in conflict with the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.…

Indeed, the Fifth Amendment’s “double jeopardy clause” states, “[N]or shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb,” … Italy may have different constitutional principles when it comes to double jeopardy, but Knox isn’t in Italy anymore, and she can rest assured that she won’t be forced to go there.

But, reports Gary J. Remal for the Boston Herald, “if anyone believes they know how Knox’s case will be resolved, [Paulo Barrozo, a Boston College international criminal law expert] believes they are likely mistaken.” If Ms. Knox were found guilty again

American officials would then have to decide whether to honor an extradition request that violates a constitutional protection against double jeopardy. In Italian law, based on Roman and Athenian law, double jeopardy protections only kick in after all prosecution appeals in an original case are exhausted.

… “So maybe this will become the setting for double jeopardy to be decided” between Italy and the U.S., said. “But both countries are likely to want to make that move carefully since it could affect legal relations between the two for years or decades to come. They have extraditions all the time. They may not want this case to set a precedent.”

“The one certainty I have,” Barrozo told Remal, “is it will take a long time.”

He expects legal wrangling in Italy and in the U.S., if the conviction is restored, will last for as long as six years.

Returning to the New York magazine article, commenter Bradley writes that extradition treaty between the United States and Italy is (emphasis added — assuming he’s correct)

… a little less permissive than you sometimes find. Many countries negotiate provisions giving them the explicit discretion to refuse extradition of one of their own nationals. This treaty doesn’t say that, and it contains a provision suggesting the opposite.

Still, Bradley

…can think of a few reasons why the U.S. Justice Department, for practical and political reasons, might not consent to her re-trial in this case in which she was already acquitted. And relations with Italy on justice issues are a little frosty right now over that CIA hit or kidnapping or whatever it was we did over there. Doesn’t seem to me as though we owe the Italians any favors at the moment.

Bradley may be referring to Italy’s conviction of 23 Americans for CIA renditions in 2009. Peters at Slate reinforces his view:

I predict that, even if she is convicted in absentia, there’s no way that Knox will be extradited back to Italy to serve her sentence. Knox is a cause célèbre in the U.S., and her partisans will exert significant pressure on the government to deny any extradition request.

Whether or not Barrozo is correct and the United States does consent to extradite (from MSN again):

As to whether Italian prosecutors know that the U.S. Constitution gives them no chance of getting Knox back into prison, Canali says “I don’t think they’ve realized that yet.”

That’s as poor a reflection on Italy as reopening this farce of a case. One can’t help but think it’s just a last-ditch effort to save face. Along with the emotional wear and tear on Ms. Knox and her family, as well as the central tragedy of Ms. Kercher’s murder, we shouldn’t forget Ms. Knox’s then-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, who was also convicted, cleared, and re-charged. As MSN reports:

Sollecito, an Italian, isn’t in the same boat and could find himself behind bars if he’s reconvicted.

Nixon’s “Madman Theory” Was Not the Vietnam War’s Only Nuclear Weapons Test Case

You’ve probably heard that, as Jeremi Suri reported in Wired five years ago, after the Paris Vietnam peace talks broke down in 1969…

Frustrated, Nixon decided to try something new: threaten the Soviet Union with a massive nuclear strike and make its leaders think he was crazy enough to go through with it. His hope was that the Soviets would be so frightened of events spinning out of control that they would strong-arm Hanoi, telling the North Vietnamese to start making concessions at the negotiating table or risk losing Soviet military support.

Codenamed Giant Lance, Nixon’s plan was the culmination of a strategy of premeditated madness he had developed with national security adviser Henry Kissinger. … Giant Lance was the leading example of what historians came to call the “madman theory”: Nixon’s notion that faked, finger-on-the-button rage could bring the Soviets to heel.

Nixon and Kissinger put the plan in motion on October 10 … They wanted the most powerful thermonuclear weapons in the US arsenal readied for immediate use against the Soviet Union. … After their launch, [B-52s armed with nuclear weapons] pressed against Soviet airspace for three days. They skirted enemy territory, challenging defenses and taunting Soviet aircraft. [The strategy] appeared to be a direct application of … game theory. H. R. Haldeman, Nixon’s chief of staff, wrote in his diary that Kissinger believed evidence of US irrationality would “jar the Soviets and North Vietnam.” Nixon encouraged Kissinger to expand this approach. “If the Vietnam thing is raised” in conversations with Moscow, Nixon advised, Kissinger should “shake his head and say, ‘I am sorry, Mr. Ambassador, but [the president] is out of control.” Nixon told Haldeman: “I want the North Vietnamese to believe that I’ve reached the point that I might do anything to stop the war. We’ll just slip the word to them that for God’s sake, you know Nixon is obsessed about Communism. We can’t restrain him when he is angry — and he has his hand on the nuclear button’ — and Ho Chi Minh himself will be in Paris in two days begging for peace.”

Whether it helped end the war, but the U.S.S.R. bought Nixon’s act. Suri again:

Brezhnev’s ambassador to the US, Anatoly Dobrynin, urgently set up a meeting with Nixon and Kissinger. … Dobrynin warned Soviet leaders that “Nixon is unable to control himself even in a conversation with a foreign ambassador.” He also commented on the president’s “growing emotionalism” and “lack of balance.”… On October 30, Nixon and Kissinger ordered an end to Giant Lance, and the B-52s turned and headed back home. The sudden conclusion reinforced the madman pose.

Hmm, one would have thought the Soviets already knew Nixon was crazy. Anyway, the Vietnam War was a test case for yet another element of U.S. nuclear-weapons policy. I’m currently reading Francis J. Gavin’s illuminating Nuclear Statecraft: History and Strategy in America’s Atomic Age by (Cornell University Press, 1912). He writes (emphasis added):

The dilemmas associated with nuclear proliferation influenced US military strategy throughout the world, most obviously in Europe. But a linkage also existed between a more active nonproliferation policy and the US military presence in Southeast Asia. The Gilpatric committee discussions [which led to the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty] took place when the Johnson administration was debating whether to escalate US military involvement in Vietnam. China’s atomic test was bound to influence these discussions. President Kennedy had considered a nuclear-armed China a grave threat that would “so upset the world political scene [that] it would be intolerable.” Convinced that China was “bound to get nuclear weapons, in time, and from that moment they will dominate South East Asia,” Kennedy feared that even a minimal Chinese nuclear force could prevent US military intervention. As Kennedy had once noted, just a few missiles in Cuba had “had a deterrent effect on us.”

President Kennedy’s analysis implied that once China acquired a nuclear capability, the United States would likely withdraw from Vietnam.… But government officials, as well as members of the committee, wanted to make clear that the United States would not break its commitments in the face of a nuclear threat. If the United States acquiesced to a nuclear-armed adversary, the incentives for small powers to develop nuclear weapons would increase exponentially. Vietnam would be the test case of this new commitment. In a paper for the Gilpatric committee, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs Henry Rowen wrote, “A U.S. defeat in Southeast Asia may come to be attributed in part to the unwillingness of the U.S. to take on North Vietnam supported by a China that now has the bomb. Such a defeat is now much more significant to countries near China than it was before October 16.”

How Do Buddhist Attacks on Muslims Help Burma’s Government?

Global Post reports on another outbreak of sectarian violence in Burma this week that left “thousands homeless and more than 50 people confirmed dead. Video footage and photos taken at the scene by the local media and wire agencies showed that three days of rioting has transformed the town of Meiktila south of Mandalay in central Myanmar into a war zone scattered with burnt houses, mosques and unrecognizable human dead bodies.”

What was the immediate catalyst for the violence? Radio Free Asia:

Some believe intense business rivalry between Muslims and Buddhists in the city had contributed to the violence.

More specifically…

…a quarrel between the Muslim owner of a goldsmith shop and a Buddhist villager and his wife who had gone there to sell a gold hair pin, a police source said.

An argument broke out when the item was purportedly damaged as it was being authenticated by the goldsmith.

Tension grew as the two sides began to haggle over the price to be offered for the item and people in the shop beat the customers, causing an uproar in the bazaar, the source said.

When the villager was wounded, his sympathizers burned the goldsmith shop and ignited a mass riot, according to the source.…

“This problem erupted because business issues were mixed with religion,” said Pinnyasiha, a prominent Burmese Buddhist monk popularly known as Shwe Nya Wa Sayadaw. … Adding fuel to fire was a report that a Buddhist monk had been killed by Muslims.

The emotions of Muslims in Burma are still rubbed raw over “the plight of the Rohingya Muslims, who rights groups say bore the brunt of the Rakhine violence in June and October last year which had left at least 180 dead and tens of thousands homeless.”

In the aftermath of this latest incident, the government called for a state of emergency. But security forces did little or nothing to stop the attacks. The Global Post again.

… some Buddhist monks publicly called for a boycott of Muslim businesses — against which [the call, that is -- RW] the authorities took no actions at all.

Worse…

Myint Than, an eyewitness who saw the charred human bodies in the town yesterday, said that police have merely stood by while the arson attacks and the killings occurred over the past few days.

“The police said they had no order to shoot.…,” he added.

Min Ko Naing, a leader of influential 88 Generation Students Group, who visited the conflict area on Thursday, also blamed the security forces’ idleness for the deadly violence. “It is totally unacceptable that the security forces did not take any actions just because they were not ordered to.”

Furthermore…

Some observers suspect that the former generals ruling the government and the army which remains as powerful [even though Burma is no longer officially ruled by a junta -- RW] as ever are trying to divert the public attention with sectarian violence and hatred [from] the growing public protests stemming from old grievances against the abuses by the army such as land grabs.

In fact

Myat Ko, an official from Yangon School of Political Science, accused the high-ranking military generals of having a hand in the latest clashes.

“We don’t have the evidence to prove it. But this is happening in our country,” he said. According to Dr.Maung Zarni, a visiting fellow at London School of Economics, the army is creating chaos which will continue to strengthen its centrality in politics.

Finally, this is fairly damning.

Writing on his Facebook page today, Zarni said, “There is a consistent and recognizable pattern of violence: the plan is hatched elsewhere. Out-of-town armed mobs are bused in to a targeted locality. All hell broke loose. The police and military stand by until the job is done. Local authorities would say they are waiting for orders from above, which never come.”

Emphasis Added: The Foreign Policy Week in Pieces (3/22)

Emphasis, as always, added.

Worst Fatwa Ever

Another clergy member offered biblical justification for the military’s death flights, according to an account by one of the pilots anguished about dumping drugged prisoners out of aircraft and into the sea.

Starting a Papacy, Amid Echoes of a ‘Dirty War’, William Romeiro and Simon Neumann, The New York Times

Taking Saddam Hussein at Face Value

… the deception measures that the Iraqis were discovered to be making. Both deception and denial measures. … all of the camouflage, the obstruction of UN weapons inspectors, signals deception that was clearly related to the WMD sites.

But there was a single presumption about what that meant. And at a very fundamental level deception is conducted for one of two purposes. You either hide strength, or you hide weakness. It does not seem anybody explored the idea that they were hiding the fact that they had no WMD at all. [Or wanted it known. -- RW] Of course, the target audience for that was the Iranians, and we were the unintended audience for the deception.

Ends and Means, Kalev Sepp, Foreign Policy

Sound Familiar, Americans?

“Economically, culturally, and socially, London has now left Britain behind, blasting off from the rest of the nation like some vast U.F.O.,” says Neil O’Brien, director of the think tank Policy Exchange. “The politicians, civil servants, and journalists who make up Britain’s governing class run one country, but effectively live in another.” As Abrahmsohn sees it, London could “easily declare independence. A lot of these wealthy people don’t even know these outlying regions exist. They don’t care.”

A Tale of Two Londons, Nicholas Shaxson, Vanity Fair

Iraq War: Carrying Collective Punishment to Absurd Proportions

But he never understood the call to invade Iraq. “When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor we didn’t invade China just because they looked the same,” [Tomas Young] said.

The Crucifixion of Tomas Young, Chris Hedges, TruthDig

Depleted Uranium’s Legacy Not That Different From a Nuclear Bomb’s

In July 2010 … a study … showed a 12-fold increase in childhood cancer in Fallujah since the 2004 attacks. The report also showed the sex ratio had become skewed to 86 boys born to every 100 girls, together with a spread of diseases indicative of genetic damage — similar to, but of far greater incidence than Hiroshima. … a log of cases of birth defects amounts to a rate of 14.7 per cent of all babies born in Fallujah, more than 14 times the rate in the effected [sic] areas of Japan.

Iraq: War’s Legacy of Cancer, Dahr Jamail, Truthout

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