Focal Points Blog

Time for the Cut-Off: A Global Day of Action Against Military Spending

GDAMS in India.

GDAMS in India.

“Over the next 10 years, the growth in the defense budget will slow, but the fact of the matter is this: It will still grow, because we have global responsibilities that demand our leadership. In fact, the defense budget will still be larger than it was toward the end of the Bush administration.”
President Obama, speaking at the Pentagon, Jan. 5, 2012

Despite our profound indebtedness, the state of the U.S. economy, and the outcries of the Occupiers, Obama’s statement confirms fears that military spending will continue to grow over the next 10 years. In real terms, the base military budget is going to remain at levels higher than at any point during the Bush administration.

While most Americans have grown weary of our lengthy wars, influential profiteers have lobbied hard for their persistence. Although President Obama has been hailed for his diplomatic efforts by the Norwegian Nobel Committee, the themes (and consequences) of U.S. military strategy have not differed greatly from the Bush era.

This election year has been particularly telling. Employment has undoubtedly been on the forefront of American minds, and according to IPS scholar Janet Redman, “the idea of spending money overseas is entirely unpalatable to the many people who feel economically squeezed right now.” As a result, the Pentagon has scrambled to convince the public that a cut in defense would equate to enormous job loss. In October, a controversial job study by the Aerospace Industries Association was repeatedly quoted by officials concerned by the purported “million” layoffs that could occur from a decrease in the defense budget.

On the contrary, Miriam Pemberton and William Hartung have argued that “maintaining Pentagon spending at current high levels while pushing the burden of budget cuts on domestic programs would result in a net loss of jobs nationwide.” To be fair, military spending does create a lot of jobs, but more jobs are created by other sectors. Put simply, other sectors of the economy can create more jobs than the military industrial complex—and for less. cites construction, education, and even home weatherization as more sustainable and stimulative industries.

President Obama has explicitly embraced national security as one of his campaign issues. For example, he has opened a joint military base with Australia in order to “play a larger and long-term role in shaping [the East Asian] region and its future.” Because this is essentially the equivalent of Russia opening up a base in Cuba during the Cold War, it’s no surprise that China has reacted negatively to the decision. It appears that the U.S. government will continue to leverage its military in order to maintain control over resources. Moves like this prove that pre-emption is still a prevailing theme of U.S. foreign policy. Unfortunately, preemption not only produces backlash but is also inordinately expensive.

From Australia to AFRICOM, the Pentagon continues to extend its global reach. The costs of war already far outweigh the benefits, but the way our spending looks, war will be an enduring staple of our economy. According to military researcher Nick Turse, “recently, the Army sought bids from contractors willing to supply power plants and supporting fuel systems at forward operating bases in Afghanistan for up to five years.” Withdrawal of troops seems to be a subjective term. Where is the drawdown we have been told about?

In a roundtable with young graduates, Janet Redman advised our future leaders that “it is time to realize that the world outside of the U.S. is not just a threat — it is our global community. Our global economy desperately needs an alternative to militarization. If you are frustrated that your government is spending money on violence instead of job creation, if you are tired of elite defense contractors from the 1 percent sucking tax dollar coffers dry, if you see our “defense” system as offensive, check out, and connect with activists and advocates in your area to protest.

Already, more than 130 groups in at least 39 countries are involved in the second annual Global Day of Action against Military Spending, which is set for Tuesday, April 17 — Tax Day in the United States. From street theater in Dhaka, demonstrations in Istanbul, a parliamentary debate in Yaoundé, protests against military bases in Okinawa, a peace village in Oslo, a high-level seminar at the UN in Geneva, a flash mob in Oakland, Tax Day leafleting in Bethlehem, PA, and a “walk of shame” in Washington DC, we will be occupying the global military industrial complex and advocating investments in people. Join us!

Emily Norton is an intern at the Institute of Policy Studies.

Annan’s Syria Plan Another Olive Branch Assad Will Crush?

Annan and Assad.

Annan and Assad.

Cross-posted from the United to End Genocide Blog.

UN-Arab League Envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan for Syria has not failed. No, Syrian troops and heavy weapons have not been withdrawn from cities as called for, but as of April 12 in Syria, there have been no reports of significant government attacks. For at least the time being, a ceasefire seems to be in place. Of course, President Assad in a letter said he reserved the right to respond to “terrorist” attacks and large protests expected tomorrow will put him to the test. In all likelihood, the plan as set out by Annan will not be realized, but any failure will not be his, but that of Assad.

For all the criticism of Annan and his plan in recent days, his efforts have made unified action by the international community, led by the UN Security Council, more likely. No longer can Russia and China, the countries that have blocked past efforts at strong resolutions and action, hide behind the argument that strong diplomatic efforts have not been exhausted. The next step should be what Bruce Jones of the Brookings Institution calls “diplomatic overtime”. UN monitors should be rushed in as soon as possible. Perhaps the plan can be salvaged or the halt in killing be extended.

If as has happened in the past, the Assad regime fails to live up to its promises the next step should be a strong, unanimous UN Security Council resolution that clearly condemns Assad, implements an arms embargo, refers the leaders of the Syrian regime to the International Criminal Court and sets a clear deadline before, as they say in UN-speak, “all necessary measures” are taken to protect civilians in Syria. This is the spirit of the Responsibility to Protect — a graduated escalation of options before force may be used as a last resort.

Now is not the time for force. The likelihood of even more bloodshed and deaths of civilians is too great, the disunity of the opposition groups too strong and the will of the international community too weak. It is not possible to establish “safe zones” without boots on the ground, air strikes and a willingness or at least preparedness to escalate. But the time for such intervention may be nearing and the will of the international community to carry it out is growing with each olive branch that Assad chooses to crush, not to mention each civilian life that is taken (over 1,000 Syrians have been reportedly killed since Assad said he accepted Annan’s peace plan).

The international community should continue to support Annan’s plan and use the next days to pursue “diplomatic overtime” but it should also prepare for the next steps that may need to be taken. If an intervention is to take place to protect civilians it should be multilateral (see Bruce Jones’ suggestion for a stabilization force in Foreign Policy) and come with the endorsement of the UN Security Council. That will be largely up to Russia and China. However, the lead of regional powers can make a difference. Qatar and Saudi Arabia are already arming the opposition. Turkey has warned that further attacks across its border (two people were killed in a Turkish refugee camp when Syrian forces opened fire across the Turkish border) could lead it to invoke NATO help protect its borders.

For now Annan’s plan is the least worst option in a sea of bad to horrible ones. It may very well fail to be implemented as designed but it has already succeeded in pausing the most intense period of fighting since the crackdown began 13 months ago. Moving forward, Annan’s plan will not be a failure if this latest legitimate effort at peace unifies the UN Security Council for real pressure on Syria, mobilizes regional support for further action and demonstrates to the world that this is not about an interventionist western policy but about a regime thumbing its nose at the world, even as civilians continue to die in large numbers.

Daniel P. Sullivan is the Director of Policy and Government Relations for United to End Genocide.

NORK Rocket Failure Affords West an Opportunity to Dial Down Condemnation

North Korea's Unha-3 rocket.

North Korea’s Unha-3 rocket.

Nearly a month after North Korea announced it would launch a rocket carrying an earth-observation satellite in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions and, at least by western accounts, in violation of the recently struck “Leap Day Deal,” the North Korean rocket, a three-stage Unha-3, reportedly failed due to a separation malfunction after about a minute into its flight, scattering debris into the Yellow Sea.

This is probably the best outcome short of it exploding on the launch pad.

Meant to kick off the 100th anniversary celebrations of the birth of North Korea’s late founder, Kim Il-sung, and demonstrate that the impoverished North had achieved his vision of becoming a “strong and prosperous nation,” the rocket’s failure is a monumental embarrassment. Fortunately for the regime, control of the domestic media means that most North Koreans will never be aware of this failure. Rather, they will likely cheer the resounding success of the satellite launch in the name of the Great Leader and his progeny. It makes you wonder why they even bothered to launch a real rocket at all when they could’ve just bought a model rocket kit, launched that, and “reported,” on their latest great achievement. Most North Koreans wouldn’t know the difference so long as the camera angles were right…

However, this abysmal failure is certainly good news for the west. Over the past several years (heightened further over the last several weeks) there have been dire warnings about the emergence of a credible North Korean ballistic missile threat to the American mainland. While there certainly is a threat, it would seem that it is much further off than many may have thought even several hours ago. Failure to make it past the first boost stage should not inspire the fear that Kim Jong-un will shortly be raining down nukes on the west coast. This latest failure demonstrates that North Korea is still a ways off from developing a reliable delivery system capable of carrying a nuclear warhead over great distances.

(Indulge me briefly – What if the rocket’s failure is, in fact, an elaborate – and expensive – ruse, designed to lull us into a false sense of security before they strike!? What if they really have an operational ICBM and this one was an intentional dud!!?? On second thought, this seems unlikely, even for a movie plot – although any word on whether Kim Jong-un is as great a cinephile as his papa?)

More importantly, the failure allows the U.S. some wiggle room in choosing its response. While domestic politics and common sense demand condemnation of this provocative act, the Obama administration would be wise not to go overboard. The administration should seek a tempered response, recognizing that any harsh reaction will likely precipitate further provocative action from the North, such as a third nuclear test and a complete deterioration of relations for the foreseeable future. Such an outcome is undesirable for all parties.

Rather, the Obama administration should, after an appropriate freeze period, and with the consent of our regional allies, pursue further the positive steps made in negotiating the Leap Day Deal. The United States should make it clear to North Korea that it is still willing to dispatch food aid, provided that the North first allow the return of IAEA inspectors to monitor North Korean nuclear facilities and ensure the cessation of all nuclear activities. Such an outcome would be eminently more desirable than a return to the provocative and acrimonious pattern of past relations.

Finally, the U.S. negotiators must avoid further miscommunication with their North Korean counterparts. Jeffrey Lewis over at Arms Control Wonk wrote a great piece on the subject. As he, and others have noted, there are still some discrepancies between the statements regarding the LDD offered by the United States and North Korea. Most notably, the North Korean statement only refers to a moratorium on “uranium enrichment at Yongbyon,” while the moratorium in the American statement applies to “nuclear activities at Yongbyon, including uranium enrichment.” As Mr. Lewis says, when dealing with North Korea, “the details matter.” Otherwise you might just leave a loophole big enough to launch a rocket through.

UPDATE: Korean Central News Agency announced that the rocket launch had failed to place a satellite into orbit. Unusual candor from the North Korean state media…

Greg Chaffin is a research assistant for the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at the University of London.

Grand Poobah of R2P Goes All Travis Bickle on FPIF’s Zunes

Gareth Evans, the former foreign minister of Australia, has carved a formidable post-government service career as, for instance, the head of the International Crisis Group and co-chair of the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament. Perhaps most notably, as Foreign Policy in Focus’s own Stephen Zunes writes at Alternet:

Gareth Evans is perhaps best known internationally as the world’s principal intellectual architect and proponent of the doctrine of the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P), which calls for Western military intervention in crisis areas to prevent massacres of civilians. He was particularly outspoken in his support for what he referred to as “the overwhelming moral case” for the controversial NATO military intervention in Libya, which went well beyond the original mandate to protect civilians to effectively become the air force of the rebel coalition.

Whatever controversy — if practice, if not in theory — affixes itself to R2P is dwarfed by a blot on Evans’s record while foreign minister. Professor Zunes’s explanation begins:

In early 1991, despite reports by Amnesty International and other human rights groups documenting the contrary, Evans had stated that East Timor’s “human rights situation has, in our judgment, conspicuously improved, particularly under the current military arrangements.” When Indonesian forces massacred 430 civilians at a funeral in the capital of Dili nine months later, Evans falsely described the mass killings as simply “an aberration, not an act of state policy.” In the face of international outrage at an Indonesian “investigation” of the tragedy which blamed the massacres on the nonviolent protesters, Evans claimed there was “no case to be supremely critical” of the regime. He insisted that the Indonesian dictatorship had “responded in a reasonable and credible way” and argued that “essentially punitive responses from the international community are not appropriate” (a very different perspective than he would later take toward non-ally Libya).

None too savory and it only gets worse. Professor Zunes brought his record up to Evans at a recent conference in Australia.

I thought it appropriate to ask an Egyptian speaker – who had expressed his disappointment at continued Western support for the military junta in Egypt – about perceptions in his country of Western double-standards. I prefaced my question by noting how the American and British governments were opposing the repressive regime in Syria while supporting the repressive regime in Bahrain, how Washington had called for greater democracy in Egypt while arming its autocratic military rulers, and how the principal advocate for Western intervention against the Libyan regime to stop repression under the doctrine of the “responsibility to protect” had, as foreign minister of Australia, supported far greater repression by the Indonesian regime against the East Timorese.

Before I could get to the actual question, Evans shouted out, “Are you referring to me?” I answered, “Yes, actually.” “That’s crap!” he yelled.

Echoes of Robert De Niro as Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver (“You talkin’ to me?”). Read Professor Zunes’s AlterNet article in its entirety to see how the drama played out. I guess Evans saw a need for the Responsibility to Protect … his own reputation, not to mention his fragile ego.

U.S. Only Lightening Grip on Reins of Afghan Night Raids

In light of the Afghan War’s protracted wind-down, questions have arisen about who has the responsibility to carry out certain operations, particularly the controversial night raids. Since the war’s inception, the United States has taken pains to emphasize Afghan sovereignty even as it violates this sovereignty. With a timeline in place for withdrawal, U.S. policy has been to encourage the Afghan government to take on more leadership.

A recent memorandum — signed by Gen. John R. Allen, commander of the U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, and Abdul Rahim Wardak, Afghan minister of defense — points to the impending transition of responsibility to “Afghan-led operations.” According to American Forces Press Services,

The agreement “codifies what has been happening for some time — that is Afghan-led operations,” George Little, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs and Pentagon Press Secretary said. The night raids have been an effective tool for U.S. and Afghan special operations forces, he added, and the vast majority of the raids are planned and led by Afghans. Afghans are responsible for entering private residences.

The most important component of Sunday’s memorandum is the agreement that transfers leadership of night raids to Afghan security forces. Afghan forces are currently responsible for leading 40% percent of the raids, which primarily occur in the southern Pashtun regions. Historically, raids conducted by U.S. forces have been a major point of contention in U.S.-Afghan relations. Emma Graham- Harrison at the Guardian writes,

The night raids, often in insurgent-dominated territory, have generated huge resentment among Afghans, both because of civilian deaths in operations that have gone wrong and through more general anger over intrusions into homes and on families…. Although the deal may constrain them, it allows raids to continue and will also mean responsibility for any civilian deaths or allegations of mistreatment will be shared by an Afghan partner.

The new deal stipulates the U.S. and Afghan forces get special permission from an inter-ministry council called the Afghan Operational Coordination Group, which will be responsible for approving all Afghan-led raids. U.S. forces may still be called upon to assist in raids. New York Times journalist Alissa Rubin spoke with a U.S. official who “emphasized that the relationship between Afghan and American troops was ‘not an adversarial one,’ and United States officials did not appear to be worried that Americans would be denied access to detainees.”

Exceptions made for special programs and the continuation of U.S. support for night raids emphasize the U.S. commitment to continuing influence in Afghanistan. The deal allows for some special forces not under the auspices of the Afghan government, like the CIA- trained units, to continue to conduct night raids without the permission of the government-led council. Capt. Kirby informed reporters that, “It’s not about the U.S. ceding responsibilities to Afghanistan.” Under these conditions the United States would still be consulted before any decision about operations had been made. Kirby refused to answer as to whether the new rules would be applied to independent special U.S. operations like JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command). Similarly, journalist Spencer Ackerman reports that restrictions may only apply to cases where there is a “reasonable chance of taking Afghan prisoners” or what Kirby describes as “search[ing] a residential house or compound.” These restrictions serve to further limit Afghan control over raids.

Similarly loopholes in the Afghan constitution, specifically under Articles 38, allow for warrantless detention. Kirby said that “theoretically, these operations can still go forward without a warrant in advance. But it does have to be pursued as soon as practical afterward.”

U.S. financial support for night raids, moreover, confirms ongoing US involvement in promoting raids. “The Americans are not giving up a huge amount,” one Western official told The New York Times. “And if they are paying $4.1 billion a year for the Afghan military, if they want permission to question someone, I think they’ll get it.”

In the end, then, the memorandum’s ambiguity regarding when and where the United States can conduct raids without approval from the Afghan government seems to undermine the shift in paradigm being called for by Washington.

Melissa Moskowitz is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.

Our Iran Policy on the Couch

While war may seem like an instrument of foreign policy to the world of international relations, to many of us, except when our soil is threatened, it’s simply evidence of deep-seated pathology.

Any international affairs authority who acknowledges that would likely be to the left of center. Michael Brenner, Professor of International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh, fits that bill. The National Journal National Security Experts Blog often poses questions to its panel, to which Brenner belongs. On April 9, Sara Sorcher asked What Do You Expect from Negotiations With Iran? Titling his response Immaturity, Brenner wrote that it:

… expresses itself in various psychological strategies to cope with a reality that challenges self-image – e.g. a recalcitrant Islamic Republic of Iran that threatens the ingrained belief of American leaders that they can coerce weaker states to bend to their will and thereby fulfill the United States’ self-defined needs. Such an ego defense mechanism becomes pathological when [it tries to] construct a refuge for a threatened ego.

What strategies, he asks, does it employ?

Denial that anything fundamental has changed – in oneself and out there. Denial entails unconscious attempts to find resolution of emotional conflict and reduction of anxiety by refusing to perceive or consciously acknowledge the more unpleasant aspects of external reality. So, excuses and rationalizations are avidly seized upon to explain failure to achieve objectives. Reiteration of established behavior such [as] intimidation, coercion, bluster – e.g. repeated futile efforts at “nation-building” in uncongenial settings. Parsimonious changes at the pragmatic margins of one’s outlook and worldview – changing the packaging but not the content of terms for unconditional surrender that we extend to Iran. Cultivated ignorance – taking liberties to pronounce on matters of which one knows next to nothing [which] creates space for dogma. When these mechanisms fail, there arises the danger of delusional projection, i.e. grossly frank delusions about external reality. Eventually, there is the even greater risk of regression, i.e. reversion of the ego to an earlier stage of development.

Brenner concludes:

If the United States is not ready for all-out war and its aftermath, then it should make the necessary intellectual, emotional, political and diplomatic adjustments.

Whenever subconscious motives breach the perimeter of international relations, it’s cause for celebration.

The Right’s Curious Nostalgia for Military Rule

Cross-posted from Foreign Policy Special Project Right Web’s Militarist Monitor.

Egypt’s path toward democracy has been neither steady nor assured since its uprising last year. However, as the country prepares for a presidential election campaign—which follows on the heels of its Islamist-dominated parliamentary elections several months ago—it finally appears set to install its first-ever fully democratically elected government.

But the neoconservatives, purportedly champions of democracy and human rights, are finding this turn of events hard to swallow. For example, Jonathan Tobin, editor of the “Contentions” blog at Commentary magazine, is incensed about the Muslim Brotherhood’s decision to nominate a candidate despite its earlier pledge abstain from the race—and he finds the Obama administration somehow at fault. Noting that the administration has quietly backed the Brotherhood’s candidate over a more extreme Salafist nominee (who now appears to have eligibility issues), Tobin writes that “this U.S. tilt toward the Brotherhood is just the latest of a series of inept moves that has destroyed American influence in Egypt.”

He adds, “Should the Brotherhood candidate for president succeed, it would create a dangerous situation in which this Islamist party would control both the executive and the parliament. This would place intolerable pressure on the army—which remains the sole force in the country that could act as a check on the Islamists—to back down and allow the Brotherhood untrammeled power.”

Echoing the charges of former GOP candidate Michele Bachmann and the previously marginal Rick Santorum, Tobin flatly declares, “Obama abandoned Hosni Mubarak last year. With our embassy now backing the Brotherhood, secularists and the army must assume the president means to ditch them, too.”

In a subsequent post, Tobin sums up his critiques of the Obama administration’s Egypt policy in a rambling series of accusations: “It refused to promote democracy or human rights while Hosni Mubarak still ruled,” he writes, “but then compounded that error by quickly dumping Mubarak. It repeated that pattern by seeking to attack the military government that succeeded Mubarak and then appeased them by continuing the aid in the face of provocations. Now, it has put its chips on the Brotherhood even though there is still a chance it can be stopped.”

Tobin doesn’t explain how a more U.S.-friendly democracy would have emerged under the aegis of a U.S.-backed dictatorship, nor does he see the apparent contradiction in knocking the Obama administration for “dumping” Mubarak even as his own publication frequently complains about Russia’s continued support for the autocratic Bashar al-Assad in Syria. One could be forgiven, moreover, for suspecting that Tobin is advocating the subjugation of a nation of 80 million people for the sake of Israel’s subjective sense of security.

The substance of Tobin’s critique ultimately has less to do with the Obama administration’s choice of candidate, which is clearly a bid for what must seem to Washington as the safest bet, but rather with the administration’s apparent acquiescence to the likely choice of Egyptian voters. What Tobin calls the Brotherhood’s bid for “untrammeled power” is really just its decision to field a candidate for a democratic election—something that less interventionist commentators would concede is any party’s right in an emerging democracy—and he laments that the country’s unelected military leaders should be constrained to share power with an elected civilian faction he finds distasteful.

Tobin’s dirge for military rule illuminates the ongoing confusion on the neoconservative right about how best to respond to democratic uprisings in a region governed for decades by U.S.-backed autocrats—a divide that dates back to Jeanne Kirkpatrick’s 1970s-era thesis that right-wing “authoritarian” governments are more amenable to democratic reform than left-wing “totalitarian” states. While the likes of Tobin, Frank Gaffney, and Caroline Glick have made pleas for the region’s anciens regimes (and while FDD‘s Andrew McCarthy has accused the Obama administration of “rain[ing] down a billion-and-a-half more American taxpayer dollars” on the Brotherhood in the form of aid to Egypt) , former Bush administration neocons like Elliott Abrams and Zalmay Khalilzad have imprudently suggested that the uprisings somehow vindicate the Bush administration’s “freedom agenda” of democratization by force.

If Tobin is so concerned about U.S. “influence” in Egypt, he might do well to reconsider whether turning its back on Egypt’s broadly backed political forces and advocating a return to a loathed military dictatorship is the best way forward.

Peter Certo is an editorial assistant at the Institute of Policy Studies as well as IPS Special Project Right Web.

Dam and Ethnic Disputes Threaten to Undermine Credibility of Burma’s President

Representatives of Burma's government and the KNU meet.

Representatives of Burma’s government and the KNU meet.

In order to open up trade with Burma, the West would love to think that the reforms of Burma’s President Thein Sein are for real and won’t be rolled back. As do, of course, the citizens of his own country. After all, as recently as 2011, Burma scored 1.5 out of 10 in the Corruption Perceptions Index run by Transparency International (10 is cleanest). The State Peace and Development Council — the ruling junta — was only dissolved in 2011 to provide it with a democratic (or less tyrannical) front, the Union Solidarity and Development Party. Nevertheless, they took a hit in the recent elections, which were comparably honest, in itself an achievement for Burma.

At Asia Times Online, Brian McCartan reports that on April 3 Aung San Suu Kyi’s

… National League for Democracy (NLD) had won 43 of the 44 seats it contested, including [Suu Kyi's] constituency. … The result was a clear defeat for the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), and. … sent the signal that the NLD will be a force to reckon with in the 2015 general elections.

However “Thein Sein and his reform-minded allies can afford to allow Suu Kyi and the NLD the victory. The 43 seats won by the NLD amount to less than 7% of the 644 seats in parliament.” His “reformist credentials have been further burnished through the legitimization provided by Suu Kyi and the NLD’s participation in the polls. The real prize is the elections due in 2015, when the NLD will be able to challenge the USDP for control of parliament. … The military and the government are surely aware of their own unpopularity. They know that to win the 2015 elections they will either have to resort to vote-rigging and intimidation, which would draw the ire of the international community, or find a way to undermine support for the NLD. The alternative is to resort to military power, through a coup or other intervention in the name of national security, to secure their hold on executive and legislative power.

Or Thein Sein could take a kinder, gentler (or less ruthless) approach:

… co-opt Suu Kyi and the NLD without giving them significant powers. There has been speculation that Suu Kyi may be offered a cabinet position, though she has said that she will decline any such offer. Even if rejected, the offer will still make the former generals appear reformist.

As for another sticking point for the Thein Sein government, McCartan writes:

Successful peace deals with ethnic insurgents negotiated with government representatives would also go some way to gaining the support of ethnic minority voters in 2015. At the least, the deals would see former insurgent groups transform into mainstream ethnic-based political parties, which could dilute the vote for the NLD in ethnic areas.

Still, of course …

… Suu Kyi said that her party’s priorities after the election would be to push for peace in ethnic minority areas. … poverty alleviation through job creation and improving education and public health services.

In fact …

Thein Sein’s government has already gone some way on the first point by starting a peace process with most of the armed ethnic movements.

David Tharckabaw, vice president of the Karen National Union (KNUS), reports on the government’s groundbreaking meeting with the KNU as representatives of the long-oppressed and brutal Karen ethnic group by the Thai border, who have been engaged in the world’s longest-running insurgency since 1998. From his April 7 press release:

…7 members of the KNU Delegation, led by … General Secretary Naw Zipporah Sein, left for [Burma's capital cigty] Naypyidaw … on April 7, to meet with President U Thein Sein.

…The following 6 points were focused on in discussions at the meeting.

1. To establish … ceasefire especially in the ethnic nationality regions.

2. To guarantee life security and freedom from fear of the people.

3. To establish a state among the people to acquire confidence.

4. To stop the practice of forced labor and cash collection by various means, including demand of cash as donation and by other means.

5. To release political prisoners and resolve rehabilitation and land problems of the people.

6. To start arrangement for monitoring, analyzing and rectifying the peace process.

Agreement was reached at the meeting regarding the code of conduct for ceasefire [with] a monitoring team

Still, Tharckabaw is understandably suspicious.

The KNU delegation was taken to Nay Pyi Daw to meet with U Thein Sein. Going there was not on the agenda. The regime is openly and cunningly using the delegation for its own benefit.

Why the objection to meeting in the capital? It’s Thein Sein’s turf. Tharckabaw:

All the talks should have been in neutral venue up to the stage of achieving a durable ceasefire. Some defeatists and self-seeking opportunists among us are manipulating the agenda with the help of Egress [a Burmese civil society group], the peace brokers for business, to please their German masters.

As should be apparent from point number one, Tharckabaw and the KNU are also concerned with their brethren, the other ethnic minorities. He writes:

The next development should be ceasefire in Kachin State. Without ceasefire in Kachin State, it would be difficult for us to continue building trust with the regime.

At ATimes, McCartan points out further cause for suspicion.

… already questions are being raised about the government’s most visible reformist move, the suspension of work on the Myitsone dam in Kachin State. There are growing indications that the Chinese company responsible for constructing the dam, China Power International, has quietly resumed work on the project following talks between the Myanmar and Chinese governments in early March.

The dam is controversial because of its environmental impact. Not to mention that the power is flowing from congenitally power-starved Burma to china. As if that would slip under the radar of the minorities and Suu Kyi, as well as the rest of Burma.

A Bromance Made in Hell: When Mitt Met Bibi

“We can almost speak in shorthand. … We share common experiences and have a perspective and underpinning which is similar.”

Thus does Michael Barbaro quote Mitt Romney in a New York Times article titled A Friendship Dating to 1976 Resonates in 2012. Of whom does Romney speak? Another Mormon deacon? Bain & Company founder Bill Bain? Barbaro explains.

… in 1976, the lives of Mitt Romney and Benjamin Netanyahu intersected, briefly but indelibly, in the 16th-floor offices of the Boston Consulting Group [headed by Bill Bain before he founded Bain & Company], where both had been recruited as corporate advisers. … That shared experience decades ago led to a warm friendship, little known to outsiders, that is now rich with political intrigue.

Not to mention controversy (emphasis added).

Mr. Romney has suggested that he would not make any significant policy decisions about Israel without consulting Mr. Netanyahu. … In a telling exchange during a debate in December, Mr. Romney criticized Mr. Gingrich for making a disparaging remark about Palestinians, declaring: “Before I made a statement of that nature, I’d get on the phone to my friend Bibi Netanyahu and say: ‘Would it help if I say this? What would you like me to do?’”

That even gives pause to Martin Indyk (one-time U.S. ambassador to Israel), no shrinking violet on Israel, who said “Mr. Romney’s statement implied that he would ‘subcontract Middle East policy to Israel.’”

Barbaro on the bromance’s blossoming:

Mr. Romney, never known for his lack of self-confidence, still recalls the sense of envy he felt watching Mr. Netanyahu effortlessly hold court during the firm’s Monday morning meetings, when consultants presented their work and fielded questions from their colleagues. The sessions were renowned for their sometimes grueling interrogations.

“He was a strong personality with a distinct point of view,” Mr. Romney said. “I aspired to the same kind of perspective.”

Once they both switched to politics:

The men reconnected shortly after 2003 when Mr. Romney became the governor of Massachusetts. Mr. Netanyahu paid him a visit, eager to swap tales of government life [and] regaled Mr. Romney with stories of how, in the tradition of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, he had challenged unionized workers over control of their pensions, reduced taxes and privatized formerly government-run industries, reducing the role of government in private enterprise.

That both men are products of the same rapacious business environment is telling. On the other hand, that two such odd ducks — Romney wrapped as tight as a drum; Netanyahu in the grips of his obsession with attacking Iran — were able to find each other and become fast friends would be called heartwarming were the source of the heat anywhere but hell.

Salafists Could Roll Arab Spring Back to Arab Winter

Salafist bookshop in Tunis.

Salafist bookshop in Tunis.

In March 2004 , one of us submitted an op-ed to the Denver Post titled “Wahhabism is a threat to World Peace.” The article posited that it was of no wonder that Wahhabism, the official religion of Saudi Arabia, has become the philosophical guide for terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda and Taliban. It fits the terrorist mentality well. Its pseudo-philosophy dictates dogmatic, outward acts of worship and rigid intolerance to others; its opposition to any refinement of Islamic culture, philosophy, theology, and the arts freezes cultural innovation. Its austere and regressive world view, with its inflexible doctrine, sows intolerance, discord, sedition, violence and hatred in the Muslim world and elsewhere.

Still, we are not surprised that a piece like this never saw the light of day in the American mainstream media. It might be difficult to openly criticize Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians; it is even more difficult to challenge the Saudi regime. The critical question that bewilders everyone is the total support of the successive US administrations provide to Wahhabism and its enigmatic and more palatable sister Salafism. Salafism is the older literal interpretation of Islam out of which Wahhabism emerged in the 18th century. Wahhabism is the official religion of Saudi Arabia. Wahhabism and Salafism, while slightly different, remain closely related. The Saudis and the Gulf States support Salafism, seeing it as a step towards creating a Wahhabist-dominated Middle East.

Wahhabism: anathema to U.S. policy … or strategic ally?

On the surface it would appear that Wahhabism – a form of extremely radical Islamic “fundamentalism” – would be an anathema to U.S. and European ‘values’ and in fact, it is against precisely this form of Islam that the war on terrorism is being fought. History tells another story. Closer, more careful analysis of U.S. (and earlier British) Middle-East policy suggests quite a different picture: that for nearly a century both American and British policy makers not only made their peace with Wahhabism (and Salafism) but have been in close cooperation with these movements throughout, and even more so today.

Granted that some of the U.S. support for Wahhabism is linked to oil politics and arrangements arrived at as early as the 1940s when President Roosevelt met with Saud bin ‘Abdol-’Aziz on the former’s visit to Egypt on his way home from the Teheran Conference. The deal struck between the two was simple and enduring: in exchange for Saudi Arabia providing a steady flow of oil to the U.S. dominated world economy (at that time), the United States would not interfere with Saudi internal politics.

Nearly seventy years on, both sides have maintained this arrangement. While the pundits are content to attribute this support for oil and the role it plays in the US regional and global strategy, it appears that there are more sinister reasons behind this convenient relationship. It is part of the divide and rule strategy designed to divide and control; the Middle East.

Over one year after the Arab Awakening, better known in the vernacular as Arab Spring, and as we observe political developments in both West and North Africa as well as in the Middle East, it has become clear that Wahhabi and Salafist organizations and political parties are playing an increasingly active and menacing role throughout not only the MENA region but globally.

The Saudi and Qatari Wahhabi/Salafist organizations are very active domestically and internationally. They support other Wahhabi/Salafist groups around the world, in West and North Africa as well as across the Middle East (particularly Egypt, Tunisia, Libya) and Asia, as well as European and American countries. The dogmatic Wahhabi/Salafist approach is gaining ground in these countries particularly among the young Sunni Muslims as it promotes a simple black-and-white licit/illicit, understanding of Islam.

Wahhabism’s binary vision

This binary vision of the world (Muslims versus Kafirs, the good versus the bad, protected religious purity versus corrupting political involvement) has over the years shaped a religious mindset that has led to isolation and a doctrine that sows intolerance, discord, sedition, violence and hatred locally. Muslims, they argued, must isolate themselves from the corrupt surrounding societies, and avoid involvement in politics.

But in recent years and months we have seen a change in Wahhabi/Salafist political involvement. Having for decades refused political participation — equating democracy with kufr (rejection of Islam) and opting for seclusion — they are now slowly emerging out of the woodwork and engaging in politics, financed with Saudi petrodollars. Now we see, especially in Egypt and Tunisia, the rise of active and quite efficient Wahhabi/Salafist organizations and political parties which are playing a substantial role in structuring debates and reshaping the political balance within the respective countries.

The US administration and other European countries are fully aware that Wahhabi/Salafist organizations, based in Saudi Arabia, in Qatar and elsewhere in the Middle East, are pouring millions into countries that have witnessed the uprising, especially recently in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. Why, one wonders, do the western countries, especially the US, lend support to this most austere ideology that is so obviously at odds with their own? Well, it is much more sinister than oil.

Basis of the “marriage of convenience”

Here is our take: This marriage of convenience has a number of benefits for the West:

1. Economic gain

The Wahhabi/Salafist ideology may be concerned with political and religious legitimacy, and may be pushing for a rigid and literal interpretation of Islamic Law, but economically they are in collusion with the WB and IMF and their neo-liberal capitalist policies, and as such, care less about Islamic ethics. A cursory look at the extravagant wealth and lavish life style of Wahhabi leaders in Saudi Arabia and the Salafis elsewhere is enough to clarify this point.

2. Divide and conquer

The promotion of the Wahhabi/Salafist ideology within Muslim majority societies helps both to create divisions from within these societies and to prevent the reformist trends and movements, critical of western policies, from gaining ground as well as religious credibility. The West is following an old colonial strategy in using the Wahhabi/Salafists to divide the Muslims on religious grounds: in other words Wahhabi/Salafists become the agents of transforming what is natural diversity among Muslims into an effective and useful tool for division and colonial control. Nowhere is this more visible than when played by the Saudi Wahhabi leaders in inciting sectarian division in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and lately in diverting the Arab spring from attaining its goals.

3. Wahhabi/Salafis and the Palestinian issue

The Salafist resurgence is creating trouble and tension not only between Sunni and Shiite Muslims but within the Sunni communities as well. The Sunni-Shiite fracture in the Middle East is a critical factor in the region especially in light of western and Israeli threats against Iran and the ongoing repression in Bahrain, Yemen and Syria. The divide is deep even with regard to the Palestinian resistance, which for years had been a unifying legitimate struggle among Muslims. Now division is the rule, within and without, as Wahhabist/Salafist activism (which cares less about the Palestinian cause) deepens among the Sunnis as well as between Sunnis and the Shiites.

This strategic alliance with the Salafist, on both religious and political grounds, is critical for the West as it is the most efficient way to keep the Middle East under control. Protecting some oil-rich states, as well as their religious ideology while dividing any potential unifying political forces (such as alliances between secular and reformist Islamists or a popular front against Israeli policy), necessitates undermining the Muslim majority countries from within.

The Middle East, as well as North and West Africa countries, are facing serious dangers. The religious factor is becoming a critical one and if the Muslims, the scholars, the religious and political leaders do not work for more mutual respect, unity and accepted diversity, and if this unholy alliance of Wahhabist/Salafist ideological onslaught is not stopped soon, we will have Arab Winter and no Arab Spring.

The US and the Europeans are intent on exploiting disunity in the Arab world to protect Israel, to use the Salafists as a pawn in the global chess game between the West, China and India. If Muslims desire to reject their servitude and to free themselves from the shackle of western colonialism, Wahhabi/Salafist must be stopped from gaining footholds anywhere and everywhere.

Heading towards regional civil war?

Unfortunately, this U.S. policy of supporting a Salafist Middle East revival takes on a more ominous hue. It is likely a key element of a more broad based regional strategy being put in motion for a coming conflict pitting the Moslem countries of the Middle East against each other along religious (Sunni-Sh’ite) lines. If this is the case – and we believe it is shaping up in this direction – it helps to explain why, in part, the US probably does not want Israel to do anything that might spoil the planning by unilaterally attacking Iran. An Islamic civil war could result if the Wahhabi/Salafists are permitted to take control in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere with the US ‘managing’ the conflict and the Wahhabi/Salafists doing the dirty work, like it did by encouraging Iraq to attack Iran in the 1980.

In Part Two, we will look at the roles of the Wahhabi/Salafist movement in Egypt and Tunisia.

Ibrahim Kazerooni is finishing a joint Ph.D. program at the Iliff School of Theology and the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies in Denver. More of his work can be found at the Imam Ibrahim Kazerooni Blog. Rob Prince is a Lecturer of International Studies at the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies and publisher of the Colorado Progressive Jewish News.

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