By Keane Bhatt | NACLA | June 19th 2012
The presidential candidate of Venezuela’s coalition of opposition parties, Henrique Capriles, hosted a rally on June 10 to formally initiate his campaign against President Hugo Chávez. “Hundreds of thousands” of Venezuelans—according to Reuters, the Associated Press, and The Miami Herald—flooded the streets of downtown Caracas to support his candidacy.
The “good looks of the bachelor candidate” helped attract a huge crowd to the event in which Capriles walked or jogged six miles to register with electoral authorities, “burnishing his image of physical fitness,” per Reuters’s account. He “exuded youthful energy,” said the AP, and had won praise for being an “energetic and dedicated leader” as the governor of Miranda State, according to The Miami Herald.
All three news outlets contrasted Capriles’s vigor with Chávez’s frailty (he is recovering from an undisclosed form of cancer), while conveying Venezuelans’ disgruntlement. Even some Chávez supporters “have grown tired of a murder rate that rivals some war zones, sputtering public services such as electricity and periodic shortages of staple goods,” asserted Reuters. It was only natural, then, that a marcher was quoted stressing, “It’s time for a change.”
The AP, for its part, quoted a housewife who would vote for Capriles “because of his reputation as an efficient administrator and out of fear that Chávez will ruin the economy and drive millions of Venezuelans to emigrate if he is re-elected.” The AP used the housewife’s ominous prediction as the final sentence for its report: “If Chávez emerges as the winner in October, he’s going to destroy this country.”
Censure for Chávez has so thoroughly permeated Venezuela’s body politic, apparently, that even communists oppose him: “Chávez was the great hope for our cause, but we’ve given up on him because he has turned his back on the people even as he claims to be the voice of the people,” The Miami Herald quoted the secretary general of the Bandera Roja (Red Flag) Party as saying.
So it came as no surprise that just one day later, the U.S. press reported that Chávez’s own rally to officially inaugurate his presidential campaign attracted a crowd an entire order of magnitude smaller than that of Capriles. The AP’s headline, “Chavez rallies thousands launching re-election bid”—a figure also used by NPR and the Los Angeles Times—implied that the number of pro-Chávez participants could have been anywhere between 20 to 500 times smaller than the number present at the previous day’s pro-Capriles rally. The AP’s Fabiola Sanchez cited a higher estimate of “tens of thousands” in the body of her piece, but even this number (also used by The Miami Herald) amounts to just a fraction of Capriles’s “hundreds of thousands” of supporters.
Reuters went further in minimizing Chávez’s support. Correspondent Brian Ellsworth provided a sinister explanation for a 66-year-old pro-Chávez retiree’s observations, as she danced in the city square during the rally. “Look at this sea of people; look at the happiness,” she urged. “For every person that came out yesterday, we’ve brought out 10, 20, 30 more. And that’s going to be reflected in the election.” But Ellsworth countered this with circumstantial evidence that the event was little more than a Potemkin spectacle:
Hundreds of buses that ferried his followers to Caracas stood parked in side streets. . . . Critics accuse Chavez allies of using state resources to swell demonstrations and forcing government employees to attend. Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez said the ruling Socialist Party had ordered ministries to help bring 120,000 people to the march, citing what he called an internal party document.
Reuters provided no follow-up on the veracity of the unnamed critics’ accusations, nor did it verify the existence of the internal party document that Leopoldo López cited. This lapse in journalistic ethics is even more remarkable considering that in relying upon López’s hearsay for the final word on Chávez’s mobilization, Reuters displayed exactly the same flaw as Fox News’ coverage of Venezuela in 2005. (López, as I will mention in further detail below, is a long-time collaborator of Capriles, and played a crucial role in the short-lived coup government that overthrew Chávez in 2002.)
Ellsworth’s article also failed to include any estimate of the number of participants at Chávez’s rally, despite a widely-distributed Spanish-language dispatch by Reuters itself, which stated in its first paragraph that Chávez was “accompanied by hundreds of thousands of sympathizers.” Although the Spanish news website Público.es and Britain’s The Guardian corroborated this estimate, no major U.S.-based news source used it to describe the number of participants in Chávez’s rally.
Far more troubling than partial reporting on the popularity of the two candidates is the U.S. media’s superficial portrayalof Capriles as simply a “a polite, non-confrontational politician,” above the fray of Chávez’s insults and negativity. “I want to be everybody’s president, not the president of a single group,” the AP quoted Capriles as saying. “I am not anybody’s enemy,” he continued. “I’m the enemy of problems.”
At times, Capriles deviates from this persona, as when he referred to poll numbers—many of which consistently show Chávez leading by double-digit margins—as the work of “immoral mafiosos,” according to Reuters. More importantly, his political record betrays far-right tendencies that contradict his inclusive, conciliatory image. As the BBC notes, Capriles “was involved with a group of other young politicians in setting up in 2000 a new opposition party Primero Justicia.” In the lead-up to the 2002 coup d’etat against Chávez, which killed dozens, Primero Justicia indirectly received hundreds of thousands of dollars and training from a foreign government—in this case, the United States, through the National Endowment for Democracy, an agency largely financed by Congress. Leopoldo López and Leopoldo Martinez, two of Primero Justicia’s other top leaders, went on to play key roles in the 2002 coup government of Venezuelan business magnate Pedro Carmona. López—who Reuters deemed fit to comment on the supposedly authoritarian nature of last week’s pro-Chávez rally—himself signed on to Carmona’s 2002 decree to abolish the General Assembly, the Supreme Court, and the Constitution.
During this U.S.-backed two-day coup, hundreds of anti-Chávez demonstrators destroyed cars outside the Cuban embassy in the Caracas municipality of Baruta. They also cut off water and electricity to the building. Capriles, then the mayor of Baruta, was filmed approaching the Cuban ambassador and reportedly asking for proof that there were no Chávez administration officials who had sought refuge inside the embassy. The Cuban embassy later released a statement condemning Capriles’s behavior: “The immediate responsibility of Mr. Capriles Radonsky and other Venezuelan state authorities was demonstrated when they failed to act diligently in order to prevent an increase in the aggression to which our embassy was subjected, causing serious damage and endangering the lives of officials and their families in clear violation of national and international law.”
It is in this light that Chávez’s public broadsides against Capriles become more understandable. The Miami Herald quoted Chávez at his June 11 rally as saying, “We have made the vital strategic decision that every time there’s aggression from the imperialists and the bourgeoisie . . . we will respond by deepening the socialist revolution.” But the Herald leaves out any background information about the 2002 coup d’etat, in which the military reportedly threatened to bomb the presidential palace. Only within this context does the Herald’s quotation of Chávez make sense: “‘Their plan is the imperialist project from Washington,’ he said. ‘They are the puppets of imperialism…and now they hope to trick the people to take back the Miraflores [presidential palace]. But they’ll never get it back.’”
The truly remarkable aspect about Capriles’s candidacy is that more than a decade of aggressive poverty reduction and social spending has created a political climate that has forced an otherwise reactionary opposition to fully endorse Chávez’s social programs in order to be viable with the Venezuelan public. Ten years after the Cuban embassy fiasco, Capriles says he would be “mad” to end Chávez’s Barrio Adentro program, which dispatches Cuban doctors to poor neighborhoods in Venezuela to provide residents with free healthcare. Capriles reassured Venezuelans by saying “the missions belong to the people,” and on a separate occasion announced, “I want to expand them.” In a fairly stunning transformation, the opposition—rather than plotting coups and carrying out debilitating oil strikes—has rallied around Capriles, who has publicly modeled his platform after that of former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who the AP said “financ[ed] expansive social programs . . . that made him popular among the poor.”
As all of the press coverage duly notes, Capriles has an uphill battle, and the poll numbers are not in his favor. It’s hard not to see why. As journalist Stephanie Kennedy notes in the Huffington Post, Venezuela was ranked the “happiest” country in South America by Columbia University, which she attributes, in large part, to serious improvements in Venezuelans’ material conditions under the Chávez administration:
The country currently boasts the highest minimum wage in Latin America and its latest bill for workers rights hails in a new era of legal protection and social security to a large part of the population who had up until recently been labouring within informal and vulnerable frameworks. Domestic workers, voluntary full time carers of family relatives and housekeepers now too have rights and a state pension, whilst peasants, fisherman and others practicing the more traditional trades, who have always been omitted from formal registers, will now enjoy the same rights as their urban peers. There are local clinics where people had never seen a doctor before, new brick-layered houses for people who had been living in cardboard slums, and subsidized food products and medicines.
A leader seeking reelection with a track record of spearheading the policies listed above can surely afford some bravado on the campaign trail.
- Henrique Capriles, Chavez Challenger, Leads Massive March In Venezuela (huffingtonpost.com)
- With song and dance, Venezuela’s Chávez launches reelection bid (miamiherald.com)
Deep-Sixing the China Option
Since talks with Iran over its nuclear development started up again in April, U.S. officials have repeatedly warned that Tehran will not be allowed to “play for time” in the negotiations. In fact, it is the Obama administration that is playing for time.
Some suggest that President Obama is trying to use diplomacy to manage the nuclear issue and forestall an Israeli strike against Iranian nuclear targets through the U.S. presidential election. In reality, his administration is “buying time” for a more pernicious agenda: time for covert action to sabotage Tehran’s nuclear program; time for sanctions to set the stage for regime change in Iran; and time for the United States, its European and Sunni Arab partners, and Turkey to weaken the Islamic Republic by overthrowing the Assad government in Syria.
Vice President Biden’s national security adviser, Antony J. Blinken, hinted at this in February, explaining that the administration’s Iran policy is aimed at “buying time and continuing to move this problem into the future, and if you can do that — strange things can happen in the interim.” Former Pentagon official Michèle Flournoy — now out of government and advising Obama’s reelection campaign — told an Israeli audience this month that, in the administration’s view, it is also important to go through the diplomatic motions before attacking Iran so as not to “undermine the legitimacy of the action.”
New York Times’ journalist David Sanger recently reported that, “from his first months in office, President Obama secretly ordered increasingly sophisticated attacks on the computer systems that run Iran’s main nuclear enrichment facilities, significantly expanding America’s first sustained use of cyberweapons” — even though he knew this “could enable other countries, terrorists, or hackers to justify” cyberattacks against the United States. Israel — which U.S. intelligence officials say is sponsoring assassinations of Iranian scientists and other terrorist attacks in Iran — has been intimately involved in the program.
Classified State Department cables published by WikiLeaks show that, from the beginning of the Obama presidency, he and his team saw diplomacy primarily as a tool to build international support for tougher sanctions, including severe restrictions on Iranian oil exports. And what is the aim of such sanctions? Earlier this year, administration officials told the Washington Post that their purpose was to turn the Iranian people against their government. If this persuades Tehran to accept U.S. demands to curtail its nuclear activities, fine; if the anger were to result in the Islamic Republic’s overthrow, many in the administration would welcome that.
Since shortly after unrest broke out in Syria, the Obama team has been calling for President Bashar al-Assad’s ouster, expressing outrage over what they routinely describe as the deaths of thousands of innocent people at the hands of Syrian security forces. But, for morethana year, they have been focused on another aspect of the Syrian situation, calculating that Assad’s fall or removal would be a sharp blow to Tehran’s regional position — and might even spark the Islamic Republic’s demise. That’s the real impetus behind Washington’s decision to provide “non-lethal” support to Syrian rebels attacking government forces, while refusing to back proposals for mediating the country’s internal conflicts which might save lives, but do not stipulate Assad’s departure upfront.
Meeting with Iranian oppositionists last month, State Department officials aptly summarized Obama’s Iran policy priorities this way: the “nuclear program, its impact on the security of Israel, and avenues for regime change.” With such goals, how could his team do anything but play for time in the nuclear talks? Two former State Department officials who worked on Iran in the early months of Obama’s presidency are onrecord confirming that the administration “never believed that diplomacy could succeed” — and was “never serious” about it either.
How Not to Talk to Iran
Simply demanding that Iran halt its nuclear activities and ratcheting up pressure when it does not comply will not, however, achieve anything for America’s position in the Middle East. Western powers have been trying to talk Iran out of its civil nuclear program for nearly 10 years. At no point has Tehran been willing to surrender its sovereign right to indigenous fuel cycle capabilities, including uranium enrichment.
Sanctions and military threats have only reinforced its determination. Despite all the pressure exerted by Washington and Tel Aviv, the number of centrifuges operating in Iran has risen over the past five years from less than 1,000 to more than 9,000. Yet Tehran has repeatedly offered, in return for recognition of its right to enrich, to accept more intrusive monitoring of — and, perhaps, negotiated limits on — its nuclear activities.
Greater transparency for recognition of rights: this is the only possible basis for a deal between Washington and Tehran. It is precisely the approach that Iran has advanced in the current series of talks. Rejecting it only guarantees diplomatic failure — and the further erosion of America’s standing, regionally and globally.
George W. Bush’s administration refused to accept safeguarded enrichment in Iran. Indeed, it refused to talk at all until Tehran stopped its enrichment program altogether. This only encouraged Iran’s nuclear development, while pollsshow that, by defying American diktats, Tehran has actually won support among regional publics for its nuclear stance.
Some highly partisan analysts claim that, in contrast to Bush, Obama was indeed ready from early in his presidency to accept the principle and reality of safeguarded enrichment in Iran. And when his administration failed at every turn to act in a manner consistent with a willingness to accept safeguarded enrichment, the same analysts attributed this to congressional and Israeli pressure.
In truth, Obama and his team have never seriously considered enrichment acceptable. Instead, the president himself decided, early in his tenure, to launch unprecedented cyberattacks against Iran’s main, internationally monitored enrichment facility. His team has resisted a more realistic approach not because a deal incorporating safeguarded enrichment would be bad for American security (it wouldn’t), but because accepting it would compel a more thoroughgoing reappraisal of the U.S. posture toward the Islamic Republic and, more broadly, of America’s faltering strategy of dominating the Middle East.
The China Option
Acknowledging Iran’s right to enrich would require acknowledging the Islamic Republic as a legitimate entity with legitimate national interests, a rising regional power not likely to subordinate its foreign policy to Washington (as, for example, U.S. administrations regularly expected of Egypt under Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak). It would mean coming to terms with the Islamic Republic in much the same way that the United States came to terms with the People’s Republic of China — another rising, independent power — in the early 1970s.
America’s Iran policy remains stuck in a delusion similar to the one that warped its China policy for two decades after China’s revolutionaries took power in 1949 — that Washington could somehow isolate, strangle, and ultimately bring down a political order created through mass mobilization and dedicated to restoring national independence after a long period of Western domination. It didn’t work in the Chinese case and it’s not likely to in Iran either.
In one of the most consequential initiatives in American diplomatic history, President Nixon and Henry Kissinger finally accepted this reality and aligned Washington’s China policy with reality. Unfortunately, Washington’s Iran policy has not had its Nixonian moment yet, and so successive U.S. administrations — including Obama’s — persist in folly.
The fact is: Obama could have had a nuclear deal in May 2010, when Brazil and Turkey brokered an agreement for Iran to send most of its low-enriched uranium abroad in return for new fuel for a research reactor in Tehran. The accord met all the conditions spelled out in letters from Obama to then-Brazilian President Lula and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan — but Obama rejected it, because it recognized Iran’s right to enrich. (That this was the main reason was affirmed by Dennis Ross, the architect of Obama’s Iran policy, earlier this year.) The Obama team has declined to reconsider its position since 2010 and, as a result, it is on its way to another diplomatic failure.
As Middle Eastern governments become somewhat more representative of their peoples’ concerns and preferences, they are also — as in Egypt and Iraq — becoming less inclined toward strategic deference to the United States. This challenges Washington to do something at which it is badly out of practice: pursue genuine diplomacy with important regional states, based on real give and take and mutual accommodation of core interests. Above all, reversing America’s decline requires rapprochement with the Islamic Republic (just as reviving its position in the early 1970s required rapprochement with the People’s Republic of China).
Instead, three and a half years after George W. Bush left office, his successor continues to insist that Iran surrender to Washington’s diktats or face attack. By doing so, Obama is locking America into a path that is increasingly likely to result in yet another U.S.-initiated war in the Middle East during the first years of the next presidential term. And the damage that war against Iran will inflict on America’s strategic position could make the Iraq debacle look trivial by comparison.
Flynt Leverett is professor of international affairs at Penn State. Hillary Mann Leverett is senior professorial lecturer at American University. Together, they write the Race for Iran blog. Their new book, Going to Tehran: Why the United States Needs to Come to Terms With the Islamic Republic of Iran (Metropolitan Books), will be published in January 2013.
Copyright 2012 Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett
A US Senate report indicates that the United States has now nearly 15,000 troops in three bases across Kuwait- – triple the average number of American forces in the Middle Eastern country before the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee released the report on Tuesday, considering how to promote the US interests in the Persian Gulf region after the American forces left Iraq last year.
According to the report, having the military bases throughout the region is a “lily pad” model to allow for a rapid escalation of military forces.
The Kuwaiti bases “offer the United States major staging hubs, training ranges, and logistical support for regional operations,” the report said, adding, the “US forces also operate Patriot missile batteries in Kuwait, which are vital to theater missile defense.”
US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has recently said there are roughly 40,000 American troops in the area to respond to the region’s possible conflicts.
The American forces have also been stationed in Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
Pentagon spokesman Capt. John Kirby had said, “The secretary (of defense) has been very clear that while we do this shift in focus to the Asia-Pacific, that the Central Command area of responsibility will still remain a high priority.”
Black America’s median household wealth, compared to that of whites, has sharply declined under Barack Obama. That’s a change. Just not a good one.
This is a consequence of the foreclosure epidemic which began in 2007 and 2008 and has always been concentrated in black and poor neighborhoods. But the Obama administration has allowed the foreclosure wave to continue without any letup during its first three and a half years, rejecting demands for foreclosure moratoriums or other measures which would make it easier for large numbers of families to remain in their homes. Where the ratio of white to black household wealth four years ago was around 11 to one, today it is greater than 20 to 1.
African Americans still make up 12 or 13% of the nation’s population, remain more than 40% of its locked down and locked up, No change there at all…
Latinos, who make up another 13%, are about 30% of the nation’s prisoners and rising, a slight change, but distinctly for the worse. So seven of every ten US prisoners are from the one quarter of the nation that is black or brown, and that percentage is rising.
The fifty-year war on drugs continues. No change for the better at all there.
Like every president since Nixon, Barack Obama has thwarted states that wanted to decriminalize small amounts of drugs, refuses to treat drug use as a medical problem rather than a police one. Like its predecessors, the Obama administration has expanded the frontiers of the drug war into places like Mexico and Colombia, where the US demand for illegal drugs has given birth to vast industries which may be among the largest and most lucrative, and certainly the most deadly, in those countries.
“Too big to fail” banksters and other financial criminals are still above the law. No change here either.
Not a single person responsible for crashing the economy in 2007 has seen the inside of a prison. It’s just not going to happen. Wall Street insiders give as much, and often more to Democrats than they do to Republicans. So the Obama administration has protected banks and lenders and their co-conspirators from prosecution, and shoveled more than ten trillion more at banksters, including those based outside the US, than the Bush-Cheney gang ever did.
It’s worth remembering that when Bush could not pass his own bailout bill six weeks before the 2008 election, he called Barack Obama into town to spend the week on the phone with Congressional Democrats getting them to switch their votes. So the only change here has been the party in charge.
Although governments will create trillions of new dollars to give to banksters and borrow it back from them at interest in the name of “fixing the economy”, it still won’t create millions of jobs for the unemployed. No change:
In the 1930s, the federal government addressed the Depression by creating hundreds of thousands of jobs out of thin air. They built roads and subways, parks, recreational facilities, dams and bridges. They did theater and historical research like tracking down and interviewing the last living survivors of slavery. It was called the WPA, or Works Progress Administration, under the administration of Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The White House could do the same today, creating millions of new jobs, repairing and rebuilding infrastructure, building high speed rail, refitting millions of homes for energy efficiency. But Barack Obama disdains the heritage of his own Democratic party. He sounds more like Hoover than FDR today when he says that it’s the exclusive role of the private sector to create jobs.
It’s still almost impossible to organize a union and fight for your own rights on the job anywhere in the US. No change:
There are laws against firing workers who try, but employers are unafraid to break those laws, while working people are very much afraid to lose their jobs. Candidate Obama did promise to put on his comfortable shoes and walk a picket line. Maybe he just lied. President Obama has frozen the wages and pensions of government workers, and endorsed the traditionally Republican idea that public employee and private pensions and health plans cause economic distress to employes and the economy.
The bipartisan corporate-funded drive to “reform” education by breaking teachers unions, turning teachers into Wal-Mart style temps, hi-stakes testing, dissolving public schools and replacing them by privately owned charter schools, exempt from public accountability continues apace. No change there at all.
Bush’s Secretary of Education called teachers unions “terrorist organizations.” Obama’s Secretary of Education declared that Katrina was the best thing that could have happened to public education in New Orleans.
If anything, the Obama administration’s Race To The Top program pushed the envelope further than Republicans would have been able to without sustained resistance. It required states to compete for available federal education funds based upon how many teachers they can fire, how many public schools they can close, how many so-called “merit pay” schemes and similar atrocities they can inflict. Just as only a vicious warmonger like Nixon could have made the first presidential trip to China, only a black Democrat could have successfully pushed the education policy envelope this far in the anti-democratic directions of charters and educational privatization. If anything, Obama’s heinous education policies provide an even further rightward step-off point for Republicans like Mitt Romney. It didn’t have to be that way.
US troops are in more than 140 countries worldwide, and the US, with under 5% of the world’s people, spends more on the military than the other 95% of humanity combined. Not much change there.
On the other hand, in the first weeks of his administration, President Obama received a Nobel Peace Prize. So the pan-European elite, which feared and despised George Bush, loves Obama. That’s a kind of change they call a distinction without a difference.
The Afghan war drags on, apparently indefinitely. A hundred thousand US-paid mercenaries remain in Iraq, and the war there too is far from over. On the other hand, Barack Obama has been able to use cruise missiles and drones to kill black and brown civilians including children in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan, among other places. US military forces took part in the invasion and overthrow of the African nation of Libya, and the White House has openly rather than covertly sent unknown numbers of US special forces into nobody knows how many countries of Central Africa. A Bush administration doing this would have been greeted with nationwide street demonstrations. But a black Democrat gets a near automatic pass. Is this what the real “race card” looks like?
A US president is still orders torture, murder, indefinite imprisonment without trial, and lets corporations that commit crimes abetting those of government employees completely off the hook. But there has been a change here.
When the Bush-Cheney gang did all this stuff, they did it as scofflaws. The Obama Administration has rammed through legislation in Congress and asked for court decisions to cloak most of the previously illegal torture, murder, kidnapping, warrantless spying and similar crimes with thin veneers of legality. This is the all-important difference between having an MBA as president as opposed to a professor of constitutional law.
Black politics, at one time heavily influenced by what Martin Luther King called opposition to the triple evils of racism, militarism, and economic injustice, has shrunken and shriveled under the influence of a new class of corporate funded black political leaders like Corey Booker and Barack Obama. Deep, real and significant change here.
Black politics ain’t about fighting for decent housing or jobs any more. It’s not about diverting resources from the war machine to uplifting the downtrodden. It’s not about funding education or working for the end of the prison state. It’s certainly not about defying unjust laws in the pursuit of just ends, as the Freedom Movement once routinely did.
People forget that King was murdered in Memphis in the middle of a sanitation workers strike in which the National Guard had been called out to patrol the city, and students had stayed home from high school for days to participate in illegal mass actions.
21st century black politics is about electing black politicians, no more and no less. That, and observing Black History Month.
This is far from an exhaustive list, of course.
We could have mentioned the fact that big oil, big agribusiness, big insurance, and big pharma all continue to get whatever they ask for. We might have pointed out that local and state fiscal crises are constantly being provoked, to which the solutions are always “public private partnerships” a standard euphemism for privatizations of public assets like roads, waterworks, generation facilities and public services like payroll, parking and fleet management. We could have pointed out that medical costs are still factors in a majority of personal bankruptcies, and the FCC has essentially abandoned any pretense of regulating the cable and broadcast industries, preferring to simply lease out or auction off the electromagnetic spectrum and leave it all to the “free market”.
Some things have changed over the last four years, and some haven’t. One thing that seems never to change, as long as our choices are restricted to the two corporate parties, is that while you can squint hard enough to make distinctions between Republicans and Democrats, there are few important differences.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report. He lives and works in Marietta GA, and is a state committee member of the Georgia Green Party. Contact him at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.
Against all odds the Muslim Brotherhood’s (MB) candidate, Dr. Muhammad Mursi won Egypt’s first presidential election since the ouster of dictator Hosni Mubarak… but barely. Although the official results will not be announced until Thursday, the final tally shows that Mursi received 13.3 million votes (52 percent) while Mubarak’s last prime minister and the candidate of the military and the regime remnants, Gen. Ahmad Shafiq, garnered 12.4 million votes (48 percent).
It should never have been that close. Countless people wonder how a popular revolution that united millions of Egyptians against a corrupt regime and earned the world’s admiration, could have resulted in that same loathed regime on the brink of reclaiming power after little more than a year. Of course, the direct answer to this question is the ominous role played by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which took control of the country after Mubarak’s downfall, as well as the institutions of Egypt’s deep security state.
Their tactics included the direct manipulations of the elections process, the inexplicably favorable decisions by the Mubarak-era Presidential Elections Commission, the use of state media as well as private media outlets controlled by Mubarak-era corrupt businessmen to frighten the public about the specter of an impending theocracy, the clever ability to play the pro-revolution groups against each other, and the SCAF-appointed government’s deliberate disruption of the daily lives of ordinary Egyptians through the constriction of key staples and a lack of security in the street. Soon the public associated the revolution with instability, shortages and chaos. Dejected, many wished for the days of the old regime.
Throughout last year and aided by the Muslim Brotherhood’s missteps and behind-the-scenes dalliances with the generals, SCAF was able to create acute alienation and sow real mistrust between the MB, the country’s largest organized movement, and the rest of the pro-revolution and youth groups. By the end of March 2012, SCAF felt so emboldened by the success of its plan that it began to openly challenge and threaten the now alienated MB, despite the fact that the group was by that time firmly in charge of both chambers of parliament.
By the end of the first round of the presidential elections, SCAF succeeded in propelling its preferred candidate to second place behind the MB candidate. Ironically, both sides calculated that their chances of capturing the presidency would be greatly enhanced if they faced each other. The military’s candidate believed that he would then reinvent the old regime by presenting to the confused and frightened public with the stark choices between the civil state represented by himself and a menacing religious state epitomized by his opponent. On the other hand, the MB believed that its best chance would be to face a candidate from the loathed Mubarak era so as to force the pro-revolution groups to support its candidate despite the ill feelings generated towards the Islamic group (especially when it abandoned the youth groups during their confrontations with SCAF during much of last year).
After the first round of the presidential elections, the pro-revolution groups garnered almost 15 million votes (with Mursi receiving 5.8 million). On the other hand, Mubarak-era affiliated candidates received 8 million votes (led by Shafiq’s 5.5 million votes.) But the two major (though defeated) candidates supported by the pro-revolution groups in the first round were Hamdein Sabahi and Dr. Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, receiving 4.8M and 4.1M votes respectively.
Although Abol Fotouh promptly threw his support behind Mursi, citing the threat to the revolution if the military man won, Sabahi asked his supporters to invalidate their votes or boycott the elections, hoping to create a dynamic where both candidates could somehow lose in the court of public opinion. This would set the stage for his comeback as the pro-revolution and pro-civil state candidate. Quietly, SCAF’s candidate hoped that enough of Sabahi’s supporters would boycott the elections or invalidate their votes so that the numerical advantage of the pro-revolution groups would be neutralized.
As the military’s scheme was in full force relying on media offensive, bribes, and scare tactics, several polls conducted by state-sponsored institutions confirmed to SCAF that Shafiq had the momentum. The support of the military and the institutions of the deep state became even bolder, so much so that many political analysts thought the elections were practically over. To push this sentiment of inevitability, SCAF threw caution to the wind and committed a major error in judgment. In fact, it might have actually cost Shafiq the election.
Since the standoff between SCAF and the MB in March, it was widely known that SCAF could push for the dissolution of the elected parliament at any time in order to check the MB’s rise to power. The argument advanced by many pro-revolution groups that had reservations in supporting Mursi was that they did not want the MB to have unchecked control over both branches of government, the legislative and the executive. So when the High Constitutional Court dissolved the parliament two days before the elections, this brazen act of disregard for the electoral will of the Egyptian people actually backfired. A major segment of the Egyptian electorate, who intended to boycott or invalidate their votes, were so infuriated that they decided to vote for Mursi even if they initially did not intend to cast a vote at all (in the final count, less than 1 percent of the electorate invalidated their votes by checking both names on the ballot). Had a half million people out of over 25 million votes cast flipped their votes, the military’s candidate would have won.)
Last winter, in a moment of candor President Jimmy Carter said after meeting with SCAF’s leaders that the military had no intention of relinquishing power. In recent weeks it became quite clear what that observation meant. First, SCAF would utilize the instruments of power of the deep state to install its candidate. If such a scheme did not materialize, SCAF had a back-up plan. In such a case, it would not only take several actions that strip the real powers of the elected president (if he comes from the revolutionary camp), but also usurp all the legislative and executive powers from the newly empowered groups.
Many political figures including former presidential candidate Abol Fotouh called SCAF’s blatant acts “a soft military coup d’état.” Here are a few examples of the power grab measures taken by SCAF in a matter of days:
1) On June 14, SCAF sent the army to occupy the parliamentary building in anticipation of the dissolution of parliament by the High Court. Within days it issued its own decree to dissolve the parliament and reclaimed all legislative powers to itself. Typically when the parliament is dissolved, the president would be granted temporary legislative powers, to be reviewed later by the parliament when it is reconstituted.
2) On the same day the Justice Minister made a mockery of the repealed martial laws by effectively restoring the emergency laws and empowering the military and security agencies to arrest and detain anyone indefinitely, as well as to try in military courts any person deemed a threat to public order.
3) Within two hours of the closing of the polls on June 17, SCAF unilaterally issued a sweeping amended constitutional declaration that effectively transferred much of the presidential powers to itself. For example, it stripped the president of his role as commander-in-chief of the armed forces and gave it to SCAF’s top general, Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi. It prevented the president from promoting or dismissing any military personnel. It also granted itself veto power over any decision by the president related to any military matter including the declaration of war or any domestic use of the armed forces.
Now instead of the military working under the country’s president, the new declaration places the democratically elected president under the thumb of the military. It must be noted that such incredible measures are not dissimilar to the infamous and disastrous 1997 Turkish military coup d’état against the late Prime Minister Necmttin Erbakan.
4) SCAF stripped the president and the executive branch from any matters related to the state budget. It even declared its own budget secret and not subject to any accountability while providing itself total immunity.
5) Further, SCAF imposed its will on the new president by effectively retaining for itself the appointment of the most senior cabinet positions such as defense, foreign, and interior ministries, police, finance, justice, and intelligence.
6) SCAF also started the process of dissolving the one-hundred member constitution-writing committee, appointed delicately by the parliament last week from across all the spectrum of Egyptian political and civil society. In the new constitutional declaration, SCAF gave itself the right to reappoint the one-hundred committee members in a direct violation of the constitutional amendments passed by the people in the March 2011 referendum.
Moreover, if that committee refused to give the military its coveted special status in the new constitution, SCAF claimed a veto power over any articles written in the draft. If the committee then overrides SCAF’s veto, the declaration empowers Mubarak’s appointed judges in the High Court to decide the dispute between the two parties, in an incredible attempt to impose the military’s dictates on the country.
7) One day after the elections, as it became apparent that SCAF’s candidate was defeated, SCAF issued another decree that revived the National Defense Council (NDC), a body that has been dormant since the late 1980s. The function of this council is to make decisions on all strategic, defense, and national security matters. In another affront to the first-ever civilian (not to mention democratically elected) president, the NDC’s members comprise eleven generals (all from SCAF) and only five civilians, including the president. It decides all matters by a majority vote, thus tying the hands of the president regardless of where he stands on a particular issue.
8) Not content with its sweeping power grab, SCAF’s head, Tantawi, then issued another decree appointing one of his assistants, another military general, as the chief of staff of the new elected president to act as the eyes and ears of SCAF over the new president before he even took office. In the eyes of the military the new (read puppet) president would not even be allowed to appoint his own chief of staff.
As expected this wholesale usurpation of power by the military was universally condemned not only by the new elected president, the MB, and the rest of the revolutionary groups, but also by most civil society groups and public figures. Meanwhile, counting on a business as usual with the MB, SCAF has quietly started another tactic to pressure the MB into submission. It revived a court case seeking the dissolution of the MB, declaring it an illegal group and confiscating its assets. A decision on the matter is expected soon.
One of the reasons that SCAF hopes to get its way this time is because it relies on its experience during the last year of making behind-the-scenes deals with the MB. In fact, just a week before the elections, MB deputy leader and strongman Khairat El-Shater met with senior SCAF leaders, offering them a deal that would have granted the military generals many (but not all) of their requests in return for an accommodation of the MB candidate. SCAF’s response was cold and aloof, believing that their candidate was a shoe-in in the elections without the need to compromise. Little did El-Shater know, they were in fact preparing not only to defeat the Islamic candidate but also to dissolve the Muslim Brotherhood-led parliament.
But after the dissolution of parliament and the anticipated disbanding of the constitution-writing committee, as well as the usurpation of legislative and executive powers by SCAF, the MB decided to re-join the other pro-revolution and civil society groups in challenging the military’s suffocating control over the country, taking to the streets in massive numbers in all of this week.
This showdown between SCAF and the deep state on one hand, and the pro-revolution forces (newly empowered by the defeat of the military’s candidate) promises to engulf the country for the days and weeks ahead. If the Islamic parties led by the MB and the other pro-revolution supporters led by the youth groups, as well as many respected judges across the country such as Judge Husam El-Gheryani (head of the Supreme Judiciary Council as well as the chairman of the constitution-writing committee) join together and take a firm stand against the military, then it might be very difficult for SCAF to have its way.
The demands of the revolutionary groups should be clear: the return of the military to its barracks without any interference of the political or civilian affairs of the state. SCAF must immediately rescind its unconstitutional declaration usurping the legislative and executive powers from the democratically elected parliament and president. It should also cease all efforts to dissolve the constitution-writing committee and allow the political process as negotiated by all various political parties to take place. It should finally halt its behind-the-scenes manipulation of the judiciary to interfere in political matters.
The pro-revolution forces have fortunately dodged a bullet by defeating the military’s candidate. But the struggle to reclaim their revolution must continue to persist. This time all pro-revolution and pro-democracy groups must realize that they will have to swim or drown together as they face the last battle to dismantle the military and security state. No more making behind-closed-doors deals or giving the benefit of the doubt in a tacit understanding between the military and some political groups. The MB must realize that it gained more than 7.5M votes (for a total of 13.3M) from the pro-revolution forces in the second round, after reaching its peak in the first round with 5.8M votes. It must show respect and offer real partnership to these groups.
Hall of fame baseball player Yogi Berra once said, “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. But in practice there is.” In theory, pro-revolution supporters should put all their disagreements aside and unite until their remarkable revolution prevails as all counter-revolutionary elements within the state are purged and all the obstacles to its ultimate success are eradicated. It is indeed prudent to think that all such groups could set aside their differences (whether perceived or real) once they realize how hard and to what extent their opponents are determined to break their spirit for real change.
Revolutions are ultimately about the simultaneous act of a great number of people who decide to stand up for the greater good of society over self-interest. Such selfless conduct is often accompanied with the willingness to sacrifice whatever it takes to fulfill the genuine desire for public good and human progress.
Esam Al-Amin can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
- The True Face of Egypt’s Military (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Earlier this year, I was in Tehran for a conference on Hollywood’s power and impact. It was called “Hollywoodism,” featuring many scholars and critics of the values and political ideologies featured in many major movies with a focus on the way Israel (a.k.a., “the Zionists”) are continually portrayed as if they do no wrong.
What we didn’t know then while we were debating these issues was that some of Hollywood’s biggest stars were at that very moment making a movie that will certainly be perceived as hostile to Iran, if not part of the undeclared war that Israel and the United States are waging with crippling economic sanctions and malicious cyber viruses.
The movie is “Argo,” and the hype for it has already begun. In a business driven by formula, a “hostage thriller” must have been irresistible to an industry always more consumed by itself and its own frames of reference than anything happening in the real world.
An NBC entertainment site explains:
“Superstar Ben Affleck directed ‘Argo,’ a film being produced by George Clooney, about former CIA Master of Disguise Tony Mendez and his most daring operation. … Mendez smuggled six American’s out of Tehran in 1979 by concocting a fake movie production, called ‘Argo.’”
Predictably, the background and context of these events is conspicuous by its absence, as are the reasons for the Iranian revolution and the role played by the United States in working with the British in the overthrow of the Mossadegh government and support for the despotic Shah.
“It’s not political,” a movie industry insider told me. A film set in the Iranian revolution, that most political of events of an era, “not political?” That’s Hollywood for you!
Hollywood movies want to be seen only as exercises in dramatic storytelling, so their focus is always on characters and action. As Wired Magazine described what happened in a 2007 story based on the book that led to the film:
“November 4, 1979, began like any other day at the US embassy in Tehran. The staff filtered in under gray skies, the marines manned their posts, and the daily crush of anti-American protestors massed outside the gate chanting, ‘Allahu akbar! Marg bar Amrika!’
“Mark and Cora Lijek, a young couple serving in their first foreign service post, knew the slogans — ‘God is great! Death to America!’ — and had learned to ignore the din as they went about their duties. But today, the protest sounded louder than usual. And when some of the local employees came in and said there was ‘a problem at the gate,’ they knew this morning would be different… ”
The larger confrontation also served as the basis for a long-running TV news series, ABC’s “America Held Hostage,” treating those Americans as victims of a crime, but never Iran as the scene of a larger crime, a country held hostage for years by a U.S.-backed secret police and military that crushed freedom of expression, repressed religion, and enabled the CIA to manipulate Iran’s politics while U.S. companies plundered Iran’s resources [the Shah, though an oil price hawk within OPEC, recycled petrodollars for U.S. weapons].
One-sided news programming was far more effective than Hollywood movie making as a tool for mobilizing Americans against Iran. The coverage was always unbalanced. I called it “A.A.U.” — All About Us!
Now, this new movie will likely add to the propaganda even as many Americans are speaking out against a war on Iran while Washington is clearly planning one. It will bring back all the old anti-Iranian feelings and stereotypes while progressive U.S. actors glamorize a CIA agent, even though the actual movie makes the events seem absurd and at times reportedly even makes fun of the U.S. government in 1970s’ movie-making style.
I haven’t seen the film but judging from the slick trailer I saw in my neighborhood theater, it’s about clever Americans outsmarting Iranians who look robotic.
Here’s the context as Wired reports:
“The Iran hostage crisis, which would go on for 444 days, shaking America’s confidence and sinking President Jimmy Carter’s reelection campaign, had begun. … Everyone remembers the 52 Americans trapped at the embassy and the failed rescue attempt a few months later that ended with a disastrous Army helicopter crash in the Iranian desert. But not many know the long- classified details of the CIA’s involvement in the escape of the other group — thrust into a hostile city in the throes of revolution.”
In the “not many know” department, there is no reference here either about how the Reagan campaign secretly negotiated to hold back the hostages until Carter was out of office, or the illegal Iran-Contra arms deals that followed.
This tale of escape also is not a “new” story – it was told years ago in books and magazines – but “Argo” is retelling as if it is new. It is, as you would expect, all about our brilliance and their stupidity, our good guys against their bad guys – all classic “Made in the USA” commercial movie formula.
Will this thriller contribute to a deeper understanding between our two countries? Will it help us find a way of resolving our differences? I doubt it.
As it happens, when I was in Tehran, I visited the former U.S. Embassy and wrote about my impressions in a new book, Blogothon (Cosimo). The embassy is now a museum with a well-preserved group of offices, safeguarding the equipment used by the CIA for surveillance and espionage.
The Iranians had denounced the building as a “spy nest” well before the students took it over but even they didn’t know how right they were or its real covert action focus until they saw it for themselves.
U.S. Embassy security tried to destroy all its secret documents by shredding them, but the students, over months, patiently sewed the bits and pieces together and published them, exposing their nefarious tactics in books that U.S. Customs would not allow Americans to see. (Friends of mine had their copies seized when they returned from a reporting trip to Iran in that period.)
There is a reference to the recovery of some of this information in “Argo,” but not much about what was in those documents. … Full article
* Dr. Danny Schechter is listed on the 8,000 ’Self-Hating, Israel-Threatening Jews’ – S.H.I.T. list.
- Senators urge Obama to stop talks with Iran, reveal Zionist influence (alethonews.wordpress.com)
The MV Alead. The ship supposedly filled with “attack helicopters”.
This ship originated in Kaliningrad, Russia was purported to have been reportedly stopped dead in it’s tracks, unable to provide Syria with helicopters because the ships insurance was cancelled and the ship is heading home to Russia.
Do you notice the words “purported” “reportedly” and “allegedly”?
Nothing concrete. Why?
Here is my take on this story.
The whole sorry tale has been promoted to bolster Hilary’s claim of “Russia sending attack helicopters.” She made the claim last week , I covered that here. The State department admitted she had ‘put a spin’ on the story.
“She put a little spin on it to put the Russians in a difficult position”
And the boat from Kaliningrad bolstered the narrative for the main stream media audience.
The Guardian makes clear that this narrative bolstered the bogus claims that spewed forth from Hilary Clinton’s vile mouth.
“British officials were aghast last week when Clinton first revealed news of the delivery.. But failed to mention they were refurbished.”
Refurbished? Or non-existent?
Look at the language in the stories! Even from William Hague and I quote.
“I am pleased that the ship that was reported to be carrying arms to Syria has turned back apparently towards Russia,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague told the House of Commons
Reported and apparently? Come on. With all the surveillance ongoing? Not credible.
William Hague should know this with certainty. He doesn’t. Because the story is bogus.
The warship was taking part in the Kiel Week festival in Germany and was not heading to the Mediterranean sea, the Russian Defense Ministry said, adding that the vessel would return to its base after the German voyage, with no plan to visit Tartous.
Reports on the alleged visit were full of loopholes, and the only correct element in the reports is that “the Kaliningrad really belongs to the Baltic Fleet,” a ministry spokesman said.
“As regards helicopters, planned repairs of (helicopters) delivered to Syria many years ago were conducted earlier”
I would take this to mean, repairs were done previously and helicopters returned as was likely contracted at the time. The sole benefactor of the drama on the high seas was the NATO war machine in their demonization campaign of Syria and Russia.
The new Executive Director of Amnesty International USA – Suzanne Nossel – is a recent U.S. government insider. So it’s a safe bet that AI’s decision to seize upon a topic that dovetailed with American foreign policy interests, “women’s rights in Afghanistan,” at the NATO Conference last month in Chicago came directly from her.
Nossel was hired by AI in January 2012. In her early career, Nossel worked for Ambassador Richard Holbrooke under the Clinton Administration at the United Nations. Most recently, she served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Organizations at the U.S. Department of State, where she was responsible for multilateral human rights, humanitarian affairs, women’s issues, public diplomacy, press and congressional relations.
Amnesty International’s “NATO: Keep the Progress Going” poster at a Chicago bus stop.
She also played a leading role in U.S. engagement at the U.N. Human Rights Council (where her views about the original Goldstone Report on behalf of Palestinian women did not quite rise to the same level of concerns for the women in countries that U.S.-NATO has attacked militarily).
Nossel would have worked for and with Hillary Clinton, Madeleine Albright, Samantha Power and Susan Rice, and undoubtedly helped them successfully implement their “Right to Protect (R2P)” – otherwise known as “humanitarian intervention” – as well as the newly created “Atrocity Prevention Board.”
This cornerstone of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy (which has served mainly to rationalize the launching of war on Libya) is now being hauled out to call for U.S.-NATO military intervention in Syria.
“Smart Power” = smart wars?
In fact, Nossel is herself credited as having coined the term “Smart Power,” which embraces the United States ’ use of military power as well as other forms of “soft power,” an approach which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced at her confirmation as the new basis of State Department policy.
An excerpt from Nossel’s 2004 paper on “Smart Power” published in the Council on Foreign Relations’ Foreign Affairs magazine sounds a lot like Samantha Power’s (and also traces back to Madeleine Albright’s) theories:
“To advance from a nuanced dissent to a compelling vision, progressive policymakers should turn to the great mainstay of twentieth-century U.S. foreign policy: liberal internationalism, which posits that a global system of stable liberal democracies would be less prone to war.
“Washington, the theory goes, should thus offer assertive leadership — diplomatic, economic, and not least, military [our emphasis] — to advance a broad array of goals: self-determination, human rights, free trade, the rule of law, economic development, and the quarantine and elimination of dictators and weapons of mass destruction (WMD).”
Perhaps the AI’s hiring of a State Department shill as executive director of its U.S. affiliate was merely coincidental to how/why its “NATO Shadow Summit ” so closely mimicked the CIA’s latest propaganda assault, but….
The “CIA Red Cell,” a group of analysts assigned to think “outside the box” to anticipate emerging challenges, was right to worry in March 2010 when the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) found that 80 percent of French and German citizens were opposed to continued deployment of their countries’ militaries in the U.S.-NATO war in Afghanistan.
Even though public apathy had, up to that point, enabled French and German politicians to “ignore their voters” and steadily increase their governments’ troop contributions to Afghanistan, the CIA’s newly-created think tank was concerned that a forecast increase in NATO casualties in the upcoming “bloody summer … could become a tipping point in converting passive opposition into active calls for immediate withdrawal.”
In a “confidential” memo, the “Red Cell” wrote: “The Afghanistan mission’s low public salience has allowed French and German leaders to disregard popular opposition and steadily increase their troop contributions to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Berlin and Paris currently maintain the third and fourth highest ISAF troop levels, despite the opposition of 80 percent of German and French respondents to increased ISAF deployments, according to INR polling in fall 2009.
“Public Apathy Enables Leaders To Ignore Voters …
“Only a fraction (0.1-1.3 percent) of French and German respondents identified ‘Afghanistan’ as the most urgent issue facing their nation in an open-ended question, according to the same polling. These publics ranked ‘stabilizing Afghanistan’ as among the lowest priorities for US and European leaders, according to polls by the German Marshall Fund (GMF) over the past two years.
“According to INR polling in the fall of 2009, the view that the Afghanistan mission is a waste of resources and ‘not our problem’ was cited as the most common reason for opposing ISAF by German respondents and was the second most common reason by French respondents. But the ‘not our problem’ sentiment also suggests that, so for, sending troops to Afghanistan is not yet on most voters’ radar.
“But Casualties Could Precipitate Backlash
“If some forecasts of a bloody summer in Afghanistan come to pass, passive French and German dislike of their troop presence could turn into active and politically potent hostility. The tone of previous debate suggests that a spike in French or German casualties or in Afghan civilian casualties could become a tipping point in converting passive opposition into active calls for immediate withdrawal.”
The CIA “Special Memorandum” went a step further, inviting “a CIA expert on strategic communication and analysts following public opinion” to suggest “information campaigns” that State Department polls showed likely to sway Western Europeans.
The “Red Cell” memo was quickly leaked, however, furnishing a remarkable window into how U.S. government propaganda is designed to work upon NATO citizenry to maintain public support for the euphemistically titled “International Security Assistance Force” (ISAF) waging war on Afghans. Here are some of the CIA propaganda expert’s suggestions:
“Messaging that dramatizes the potential adverse consequences of an ISAF defeat for Afghan civilians could leverage French (and other European) guilt for abandoning them. The prospect of the Taliban rolling back hard-won progress on girls’ education could provoke French indignation, become a rallying point for France’s largely secular public, and give voters a reason to support a good and necessary cause despite casualties. …
“Outreach initiatives that create media opportunities for Afghan women to share their stories with French, German, and other European women could help to overcome pervasive skepticism among women in Western Europe toward the ISAF mission. … Media events that feature testimonials by Afghan women would probably be most effective if broadcast on programs that have large and disproportionately female audiences.”
‘NATO: Keep the Progress Going!’
Amnesty International struck similar themes in announcements posted online as well as billboard advertisements on Chicago bus stops, telling “NATO: Keep the Progress Going!” beckoned us to find out more on Sunday, May 20, 2012, the day thousands of activists marched in Chicago in protest of NATO’s wars.
The billboard seemed to answer a recent Huffington Post article, “Afghanistan: The First Feminist War?”
“The feminist victory may be complete in America, but on the international stage it’s not doing so well with three quarters of the world’s women still under often-severe male domination. Afghanistan is an extreme case in point in what might be termed the first feminist war … a war that now may not be won even if Hillary Clinton dons a flack jacket and shoulders an M16 on the front lines. Still, since the Bush Administration to the present America‘s top foreign policy office has been held by women … women who have promised not to desert their Afghan sisters.”
Our curiosity was further piqued because we consider ourselves to be women’s rights and human rights proponents and also due to our own prior federal careers in intelligence and military. (Colonel Wright is retired from the State Department/US military and Rowley is from the FBI.)
So along with a few other anti-war activists, we packed into a taxi to head to the Chicago hotel where Amnesty International’s “Shadow Summit” featuring former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and other female foreign relations officials was being held. We happened to carry our “NATO bombs are not humanitarian”; “NATO Kills Girls” and anti-drone bombing posters that we had with us for the march later that day.
As we arrived, an official-looking black car dropped off Melanne Verveer, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, who was to be a main speaker (on the first panel, along with former Secretary Albright; U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Illinois; and Afifa Azim, General Director and Co-Founder, Afghan Women’s Network; along with Moderator Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, Deputy Director of the Council on Foreign Relations’ Women and Foreign Policy Program).
Verveer cast a cold glance at us and would not answer Ann Wright’s questions as she scurried into the hotel with her aides surrounding her and us following behind. At first the hotel security guards tried to turn us away but we reminded the registration desk the Summit was advertised as “Free Admissions” and that some of us were members of Amnesty International.
So they let us register and attend as long as we promised to leave our signs outside and not disrupt the speakers. The hotel conference room was about half full. We stayed long enough to hear the opening remarks and the moderator’s first questions of Albright and the other speakers on the first panel.
All generally linked the protection and participation of Afghan women in government as well as the progress made in educating Afghan women to the eventual peace and security of the country as envisioned by the new strategic “partnership” agreement that Obama had just signed with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Ms. Verveer said Afghan women do not want to be seen as “victims” but are now rightfully nervous about their future. When we saw that audience participation was going to be limited to questions selected from the small note cards being collected, we departed, missing the second panel as well as kite-flying for women’s rights.
We noted, even in that short time, however, how easy it was for these U.S. government officials to use the “good and necessary cause” of women’s rights to get the audience into the palm of their collective hand — just as the CIA’s “strategic communication” expert predicted!
Not everyone was hoodwinked however. Even before the “Summit” was held, Amnesty realized it had a PR problem as a result of its billboard advertisement touting progress in Afghanistan. An Amnesty official tried to put forth a rather lame defense blaming an accidental poor choice of wording.
But many readers (and AI members) posted critical comments and questions, including concerns about Albright’s involvement given her infamous defense of Iraqi sanctions in the 1990s, which were estimated to have caused the deaths of a half million Iraqi children, with the comment “we think the price is worth it.”
“Could someone from AI please explain why Madeleine Albright was invited to participate in this event? We (and especially those of us who are familiar with AI) should all be able to understand that the wording on the poster was a genuine, albeit damaging, mistake. But why Ms. Albright?”
“The posters are pro-NATO and play into prevailing tropes about so called ‘humanitarian intervention’ via ‘think of the women & children’ imagery. The posters & the forum that includes Albright are neither slight slips nor without context. AI is copping heat because they have miss-stepped dramatically. There is NOTHING subtle about either the imagery nor the message!
“It is not a case of ‘oh sorry we didn’t realize it it could be interpreted that way!’ They used pro Nato imagery & slogans ahead of & during a controversial summit that has thousands protesting in the streets. Tell me again how that is not taking sides?
“They asked a notorious apologist for mass murder of children to speak on the right of women and children… tell me again: how is that not taking sides. So it is absolutely reasonable for past supporters (and board members like myself) to be asking how it is that Amnesty USA so lost its bearings they could make a critical SERIES of errors like this?”
Of course the defensive AI blog author never answered the numerous questions asking why Amnesty had chosen Madeleine Albright as their main speaker. So we will venture an answer that probably lies in the fact that all of the powerful feminist-war hawks who have risen to become Secretary of State (or are waiting in the wings) are now taking their lead from the ruthless Grand Dame who paved the way for them, Madeleine Albright — (see Coleen Rowley’s recent articles: “Obama’s New ‘Atrocity Prevention Board’: Reasons for Skepticism” and “Militarization of the Mothers: You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby, from Mother’s Day for Peace”).
It’s also possible the highest ranks of the feminist wing of military interventionism (i.e. Madeleine Albright, Condi Rice, Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice, Samantha Power, et al) are so passionate and hubristic about the nobility of their goal and “Amercan exceptionalism” that some have simply succumbed to a kind of almost religious (blind faith) type fervor.
The Road to Hell
Nossel’s and Albright’s theories are flawed in many ways but suffice it to say that democracies are actually not less prone to war. A long list of “democracies” – including Nazi Germany, the Roman Empire, the United Kingdom, France and the United States itself – disprove this assertion.
In any event, the U.S. has been terribly hypocritical in its support of “democracies” in foreign countries, often toppling or attempting to topple them (i.e. Iran’s Mossadeqh, Guatemala’s Arbenz, Chile’s Allende) in order to gain easier control of a foreign country through an allied dictatorship.
No one is going to argue that the goals of humanitarianism, preventing atrocities and furthering women’s rights around the world are not “good and necessary” (in the words of the CIA strategic communications expert). We would go so far as to say these ARE truly noble causes!
Testimonials about human rights’ abuse are often true and fundamentalist regimes’ treatment of women seems to vary only in degrees of horrible. But while it’s true that many women lack rights in Afghanistan, some would argue that it’s conveniently true. And that the best lies are always based on a certain amount of truth.
The devil, however, lies in the details of promoting equality and accomplishing humanitarianism. Most importantly the ends, even noble ends, never justify wrongful means. In fact, when people such as Samantha Power decide to bomb the village Libya, to save it, it will backfire on a pragmatic level.
It must be realized that it is the nobility of the U.S.-NATO’s motivation that – as CIA propaganda department has advised – should be relied upon to convince otherwise good-hearted people (especially women) to support (or at least tolerate) war and military occupation (now known to encompass the worst of war crimes, massacres of women and children, torture, cutting off body parts of those killed, as well as increasing mental illness, self-destructive behavior and suicides among U.S. soldiers and the corresponding cover-ups of all such horrible means).
In the decades after Vietnam, a number of military scholars identified declining American public support for that war as the main factor responsible for the U.S. “losing” Vietnam. One lesson learned and quickly implemented was to get rid of the military draft and put the wars on a credit card so fewer citizens would pay attention.
Some control also had to be gained over the type of free media (that led to trusted TV anchor Walter Cronkite broadcasting his public souring on the Vietnam War). A whole series of war propaganda systems, from planting retired generals as “talking heads” on TV to the assistant to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld deciding to “embed the media,” have worked pretty well to maintain the necessary level of war momentum in mainstream media and amongst public opinion.
But now, with American polls approaching the same problematic levels as those in Europe cited by the “CIA Red Cell,” we suddenly see major human rights organizations like Amnesty International (as well as others) applauding Obama’s (and the feminist war-hawks’) “Atrocity Prevention Board.”
Such sleight of hand seems to work to work even better amongst political partisans. By the way, it should be noted that Congress may allow these Pentagon propagandists to target American citizens through the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013. Should we connect the dots?
There are some clear lines where the laudable need to further human rights should not be twisted into justifying harsh economic sanctions that kill hundreds of thousands of children or, even worse, “shock and awe” aerial bombing that takes the lives of the women and children the “humanitarian” propagandists say they want to help.
Madeleine Albright’s response about the deaths of a half million children on 60 Minutes, that “the price was worth it,” illustrates the quintessential falsity of what ethicists call “act utilitarianism” or concocting fictional happy outcomes to justify the terrible wrongful means.
It also seems that a human rights NGO, in this case Amnesty International, which had gained a solid reputation and hence the trust of those it has helped through the years, will be jeopardized in aligning itself with the U.S. Secretary of State and NATO.
This is exactly how the Nobel Peace Prize got corrupted, aligning itself with the U.S. Secretary of State and NATO, which is why Nobel laureate Mairead Maguire withdrew from the Nobel Peace forum held in Chicago during NATO.
Good NGOs and non-profits that want to maintain the trust in their humanitarian work tend to be very careful to maintain their independence from any government, let alone any war-making government. When NGOs, even good ones, become entwined with the U.S./NATO war machine, don’t they risk losing their independent credibility?
Ann Wright is a 29-year U.S. Army/Army Reserve Colonel and a 16-year U.S. diplomat who served in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia. She resigned in 2003 in opposition to the Iraq war. She returned to Afghanistan in 2007 and 2010 on fact-finding missions.
Coleen Rowley, a FBI special agent for almost 24 years, was legal counsel to the FBI Field Office in Minneapolis from 1990 to 2003. She wrote a “whistleblower” memo in May 2002 and testified to the Senate Judiciary on some of the FBI’s pre-9/11 failures. She retired at the end of 2004, and now writes and speaks on ethical decision-making and balancing civil liberties with the need for effective investigation.