Friday, March 31, 2006

Road Map Has to Hit the Wall

Some clips for your amusement before thoughts on the Israeli elections

From the Ybor City International Rum and Cane Spirits festival, where we judges had to taste statistically different samples of over a 100 rums local TV clip

And for something completely different, a Weekend America radio segment on peace and quiet in the UN in the Meditation Room

The Road Map Has to Go Through the Wall.

The Israeli Elections offer a mixed message. There is a clear majority of Israelis prepared to accept withdrawal of settlements. However, Olmert is a peacemaker the same way Sharon was. He does not want to deal with the Palestinians, and his unilateralism of his planned pullout is not based on the absence of a "partner" prepared to negotiate, but on the absence of a partner prepared to capitulate totally.

Somehow, he draws world applause for speaking of painful sacrifices, giving up "dear parts of the land of Israel." In case you missed the point, the "dear parts of Israel" he is giving up are, by near-unanimous opinion of the rest of the world, stolen properties: territory conquered by military force, whose inhabitants have been displaced.

Because of heavy demographic pressure, and mild diplomatic pressure, Olmert is in effect saying that we will hand back the pieces of stolen land that it is inconvenient to hold, but in return we will keep the best parts. For the Palestinians, it is the equivalent of someone squatting in a house and offering to let the owners live in the outhouse-under close supervision- if they give clear title to the main residence.

Even so, the election offers some hope. The application of pragmatism and realism about abandoning even some settlements has to be an improvement over an atavistic claim based a promise from a desert sky god to a mythical prophet. If there is no insuperable principle involved in giving up some settlements, then the road is open to pull out completely, in accordance with international law, back to the green line.

However, it is interesting to contrast the treatment of Ehud Olmert with that accorded to the new Palestinian government. For example, Secretary-General Kofi Annan emphasized before Hamas won the Palestinian elections, "It is the view of the Quartet that all members of a future Palestinian Government must be committed to non-violence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the Road Map."

Have you heard anyone recently demand that all members of the present, let alone any future Israeli government must be committed to non-violence, recognition of a completely independent Palestinian State, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the Road Map?

As far as I am aware, no members of the Likud government had declared unequivocal acceptance of a Palestinian State, let alone committed themselves to resolution 242, and other UN resolutions on the issue.

It is possible that someone may have expressed regret for terrorist acts such as the assassinations of UN Envoy Count Folke Bernadotte, or the objectively pro-Nazi assassination of Lord Moyne during World War two, let alone for Deir Yasin. But if they did, it was not very loud or widely broadcast. (Ironically, since Moyne was the heir of the Guinness brewing empire, Hamas may even have approved of that one.)

In complete defiance of international law, let alone the Road Map, they have been busily changing the situation on the ground, expanding settlements at a breakneck speed and building the Wall in defiance of a ruling by the world's highest legal authority, the International Court of Justice. Olmert now confirms exactly the suspicions expressed by the ICJ, and wants this to be the future unilaterally decided border of Israel.

On a more contemporary note, the Israeli government continues incursions into the PA areas, with targeted killings and extensive collateral damage to ordinary civilians. Olmert proposes a pull out of civilian control, but leaving military control. In Vietnam, they had something similar. They called it a free fire zone.

The US government demanded that the PNA hand back $50 million in aid to stop it falling into the hands of a government that does not respect the Road Map. I would advise that no one hold their breath waiting for a demand from Washington for repayment by Israel of the $3 billion plus annual checks sent to an Israeli government that has effectively been ripping up the Road Map and laughing in the face of Washington's repeated, albeit progressively weakening, stipulations on settlement building.

If anyone would listen carefully, Hamas has been offering wiggle room. Both its theology and its populist politics in the refugee camps inhibit it from recognizing the 1948 boundaries as final, anymore than a theologically motivated Zionist would be prepared to abandon all claims, no matter how residual, to the whole of the Land of Israel. However Hamas is offering a long-term indefinite hudna, truce or ceasefire that in practical terms is close to recognition. The way to solidify that trend is not by refusing to talk to the new government, let alone by starving out the Palestinian electorate.

There is a firm basis of a settlement, which the Arab League has asked Hamas to subscribe to, and that is the Beirut declaration, which effectively enjoins both sides to accept the UN resolutions, the Green Line and mutual co-existence. By all means, pressure Hamas to accept it, but we have to be aware that the Israel right does not want a Palestinian negotiating partner. And its lobbying has the US back in the good old days when no one was allowed to talk to any of the Palestinians – in case they make a reasonable offer.

Olmert wants a capitulation, but the good news from the Israeli election is that a clear majority of Israelis have voted for a solution that involves abandoning settlements. Labor's Amir Peretz would rather see the poor looked after in Israel than care in the community for psychologically challenged ex-Brooklynites in the settlements. He knows that a genuine peace takes two sides, and that an imposed solution is a resented one.

If the rest of the Quartet applies some serious pressure to both governments, there is a serious prospect of removing the roadblock and the diversions that have been on the Road Map all this time.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Let's Lose Another War

There have been protests this week about the War in Iraq, including Danny Schechter and Media Channel's Ides of March attempt to protest the media.( )
I preserve my memory and sanity by avoiding looking at television, having long ago decided that uniquely among the media, television actually drains information from viewers' brains, leaving fuzzy subliminal impressions in their place.

In September 2003 it was reported that some 70% of Americans thought that Saddam Hussein was behind the September 11 attacks, and this month, the Zogby poll confirmed my suspicions about the motivation of the GI's in Iraq. Some 85% of them believed that they were in Iraq to pay back Saddam Hussein and the Iraqis for the World Trade Center. One suspects that rises to 100% among the sundry low-level dog-handlers, tormentors and torturers facing trial for events at Abu Ghraib, and even among those not facing trial in Guantanamo.

Their belief is an amazing testimony to the power of oblique suggestion. If you parse the administration's speeches, you will not find an explicit accusation, but you will find plenty of hints. They were told they were in Iraq fighting the "War on Terror," so what else were they supposed to believe. Like everybody else relying on American TV for their news, the GI's would have seen daily on their screens a backdrop with the title "The War on Terror" over a triptych of Bin Laden and Saddam flanking a picture of the burning twin towers. Before Bin Laden unaccountably dropped off the wanted posters, that is.

Of course the decision makers in Washington and in the media knew that there was no connection between Iraq and Al-Qaeda. But whether through incompetence, misguided patriotism, or complicity, the American media pretty much failed to dispel the smoke, letting the administration have its way.

Now, watch out for Iran, and you can see the same process beating the drums for war. "Iran is accused of supporting un-named terrorists. Bin Laden is a terrorist. So Iran supports Bin Laden, therefore Teheran has to pay for the World Trade Center." It's an easy game of joining the conspiratorial dots highlighted for you by the administration and endorsed by sloppy commentary that uses words like "terrorist" without thought. (John Brown and the Boston Tea Party-goers would all be in Guantanamo quick as a flash if the administration's flexible definitions had their way.)

This week George Bush announced that action was necessary against Iran to protect Israel. presumably in an attempt to woo a key constituency in the run up to the mid-term elections, as well as marshal support for his latest military idiocy. In doing so, he incidentally boosted the thesis of Professors John Mearsheimer & Stephen Walt, who in the London Review of Books ( ) elaborate the case, widely taken as axiomatic by friends and foe alike across the world, that in the Middle East the tail has been wagging the American dog.

Regardless of the motives, Iran is definitely in the bomb-sights of those wonderful people who gave you the Iraqi debacle. As the Russians' UN Ambassador, on the receiving end of American pressure to ratchet up the diplomatic threats to Iran said, "At this rate we'll be bombing Iran by June."

Even more frightening, my old friend Dan Plesch ( gave a paper in London in which he claims to have the details of the replay of shock and awe against Iran.
The US military is poised to destroy 10,000 targets in Iran in a surprise attack using Stealth and B52 bombers, backed by tactical aircraft and special forces that can reach the whole of Iran in an hour from Iraq, the Gulf and Central Asia."

Personally, I think Dan may give a little too much credence to the Pentagon's competence. The seductions of casualty-free reliance on air force and bombs always seems to manage to induce amnesia about its failures. From the time the British used it in Iraq after World War One, through strategic bombing in World War II, and on to Vietnam, and indeed Clinton's misguided reliance on it in Kosovo, it has never been as effective as its proponents claim.

More to the point, is the strategic political incompetence of such plans which seem to blithely discount the dangers of Iranian retaliation against Israel, of Shi'a uprisings in Iraq, and mayhem in Afghanistan, not to mention the dangers to the precarious US economy of the huge exponential oil prices, when no oil can leave from the region as Iran closes the Gulf.

Many people seem to assume that the lunacy of the project is a barrier to its attempted execution. Recent history suggests that it wouldn't be wise to put too much faith in the Sanity Clause in the White House. This week the British, who despite Blair's poodlish propensities still have a handle on reality, proposed to the Security Council team negotiating with the Iranians that they make some serious concessions to Teheran on the civil nuclear issue and that the Americans should be on the team. The response of the American hawks was to leak the proposal, and mop it up publicly.

As a matter of principle, the White House will not talk to the Iranians, unless of course it is about Iraq, where desperation drives all principles, real or feigned out of the window.
The aim is not a settlement, it is the Roman strategy, to create a desert and call it peace.

The State of Dubiety

It's very long I know, but the Washington Spectator asked for it! An elaboration of my thoughts on the Dubai deal - and why don't you subscribe to it? why

The Dubai Ports Deal and Our American Ship of State
By Ian Williams | March 15, 2006
After the outpouring of enthusiasm we received for his stinging sendup of George W. Bush's monarchical presidency by Ian Williams, we knew it was only a matter of time until we asked our friend Williams to pen another essay. When a controversy erupted over the plan to offer management of several U.S. ports to a company from Dubai, it seemed just the right topic.
With mordant wit, a decidedly internationalist perspective, and an approach that likely will challenge the views of many—if not most—of our readers, Williams skewers the conventional wisdom on this debate. In doing so, he shows us what the Dubai affair says about politics here at home and America's place in the world.
The British-born Williams is a regular contributor to many of the U.K.'s major newspapers and is The Nation's U.N. correspondent. Last summer he published his latest book, Rum: A Social and Sociable History of the Real Spirit of 1776.
hen Bush is on the side of the angels, you know that we live in strange times. Even though the Dubai deal was not nearly as important as all the cavortings in Congress implied, it is nevertheless deeply significant.
It is the perfect storm—in a teacup. Peering into it gives a gloomy prognosis for the American political process and the U.S.'s unique unsuitability for imperial power. As Tip O'Neill famously said, "All politics is local." But it need not be parochial. Forging foreign policy in a crucible of xenophobia is dangerous, not least when the raw material is fed in by domestic lobbyists.
The Dubai affair reveals how insouciantly Washington deals with globalization, free trade, foreign policy and the "global war on terror." It revives questions about the callousness of the administration's response to Hurricane Katrina, and, equally disturbingly, it reveals that leading Democrats, having no "decent respect for the opinions of mankind," are quite happy to stir up a chauvinistic domestic firestorm for short-term expedient gains.
To begin at the beginning, George W. Bush, by the earnestly professed free-trade principles of both his and the Clinton administration, is entirely correct that there was little to worry about in practice, or in principle, concerning the Dubai Ports World (DPW) takeover of the British port operator Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Co. (P&O), even if it did mean that operations at twenty U.S. ports would go to an Arab-owned company.
Even if Bush did the right thing in approving the deal, he almost certainly did it in the wrong way, secretively and insensitively, to do a favor for his chums in the Gulf. His close ties to Dubai and the Emirates' political establishment will give comfort for the conspiracy-minded, who will also note that Halliburton has a major subsidiary in Dubai and that the now deceased ruler of Dubai had made a substantial donation to the senior Bush's presidential library in Texas.
The unprecedented lack of Republican support for Bush suggests that the ineptitude of the administration in its response to Katrina has dissolved whatever protective aura the presidency once gave him. That was epitomized by Jerry Lewis (R-CA), the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, who on March 8 defied a threatened Bush veto by introducing an amendment to stop the deal. Bemused at the waves of isolationism, paranoia and Arabophobia now swamping his political levee, Bush has no one but himself to blame if his opponents have exploited the ugly and irrational feelings that his phony war on terror has raised.
Bush's almost subliminal messages, since September 11, 2001, equating Arabs with terror have made his opponents' work in this case much easier. Perhaps the least surprising, but still horrifying, recent news was the Zogby poll on the views of U.S. forces serving in Iraq, which showed that 85 percent of G.I.s think that Saddam Hussein was behind the World Trade Center attack. New York's Democratic senators Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer can congratulate themselves that 70 percent of U.S. voters share their opposition to the Dubai deal. This is the same percentage that, in the year of the Iraq invasion, mistakenly believed that Saddam was responsible for 9/11. On the other hand, although it takes a lot to make the president look principled, sadly, the Clinton family and Senator Schumer succeeded. Last week came the revelation that Bill Clinton, who had been freshened up already with $300,000 for a previous speaking engagement in Dubai, has been advising the Dubai government on how to steer DPW's takeover of P&O through Washington—the very issue on which Hillary Clinton and her Senate stablemate Schumer have been running wild.

The issue is not security. As someone who lived in downtown Manhattan on September 11, I would think that a more understandable, if equally irrational, cause for hysteria would be that the United Arab Emirates' (UAE) airline flies two large planes a day from what is being portrayed as Terrorist Central directly into JFK Airport, within diving distance of midtown Manhattan. There has been no agitation yet, although one almost hesitates to mention this in case some tub-thumper leaps on it.
There is a form of political algebra well worth practicing in times of chauvinistic panic. Put the shoe on the other foot by substituting the names of countries and see if a statement still makes sense. From such a detached global viewpoint, what is more to be feared, a company like DPW, or one like the Seattle-based Stevedoring Services of America (SSA), which has practiced union-busting around the globe with its 150 facilities worldwide?
Dubai has never invaded any other country, let alone the United States. In contrast, the U.S. has a somewhat outstanding record on the invasion front. To cite but one example, during the Iraq invasion, in 2003, the Bush administration awarded the contract for the port of Basra to GOP-connected SSA—even though the British forces that had actually taken Basra wanted the locals to run it.
In practical terms it is clear that the ports deal offered no significant threat to U.S. security. The P&O management in London, who have been running the ports unchallenged for some years, would remain unchanged. Homeland Security, the customs, Coast Guard and all the usual suspects remain in charge of the terminals, whose staff are American, and unionized. Even the latest compromise that the grateful Emirates have forced on Dubai is an ironic rebuke to the Know-Nothings in Congress. As we went to press they offered to transfer control of American operations to an U.S. "entity." So if an American company runs the ports, and all its equity is owned by P&O in London or DPW in Dubai, what difference does it make in real terms?
But this is not about foreign ownership or port security. It is about Arabs. If it were about ports: Japan (remember Pearl Harbor?); Britain (burned the White House in 1814); and, most interesting of all, a Chinese state-owned company are among the many foreigners who have been running port terminals in the country. Last year the Chinese General Zhu Chenghu threatened the U.S. with a nuclear attack over Taiwan, and remains unreprimanded for his belligerency.
As even Bush realized, if you preach globalization to the world, you cannot without some danger parenthesize your sermon with small print saying "(except for Arabs)." It is not as if Israel has a dog in this fight, but Senators Clinton, Schumer, Barbara Boxer (D-CA), et al. are pandering to those domestic supporters of Israel who recoil in reflex at the mere thought of Arabs. For them, the only good Arab is one in the pillory, at least. They are of course now joined by the many who have absorbed the messages emanating from the White House about the threat of terror from Arab lands.
The recent addition to the bill of charges against DPW, that it enforces the Arab League boycott in Dubai, is on a similar Claude Rains level of "shocked, shocked." In Arab countries, it's the law. Similarly, we can assume that the company will apply Washington's embargo on Cuba and Iran in the U.S., even if it does not at home.
While most defense and security agencies saw little difficulty with the Dubai deal, many of them are deeply concerned about the suggested Israeli takeover of Sourcefire, an American company that makes electronic defense software, not least because of its proven record both of Israeli spying and of selling U.S. technology to China.
If there is a form of licensed racism in America, it is indeed anti-Arabism. For example, the Clinton campaign, back in 2000, returned donations from Arab-American groups rather than allow acceptance of the funds to ruin its pro-Israel reputation. Last week a New York theater cancelled, or "postponed" as it shamefacedly rationalized, a play about the young American volunteer Rachel Corrie, who was killed by an Israeli bulldozer as she protested Palestinian house demolitions in the Gaza Strip.


Almost all the media discussion of Dubai has been in the abstract. "Arabs, oil, anti-Israel" is the litany, with the inevitable subtext of "terrorism." With customary parochialism those leading the charge against Dubai Ports World do not seem to have paid any attention to the real Dubai, the UAE and their role in the region.
The rulers of Dubai have been investing heavily in the knowledge economy, and they actually have a quite comprehensive website telling all about them. Yet I do not remember seeing anywhere in the media that the previous monarch, Sheik Maktoum Al Maktoum, died this past January, not even as a footnote; and I have read several current articles referring to his successor, Mohammed, as Crown Prince.
If the media sources had just checked his website, they would have found that the new sheik said in Davos two years ago, "If the cart is politics and the horse is the economy, then we have to put the horse before the cart and not the other way around," which in its gnomic way applies with knobs on to the American political classes. If they had paid attention to the fundamentals of the American economy, then Dubai would not be in a position to recycle its petrodollars into buying up American assets.
The rulers of Dubai have been quite farsighted. Instead of spending their short-lived oil income on conspicuous consumption, they have tried to invest it in, among other things, other people's conspicuous consumption. While trying hard to be a world financial center, they are developing a tourist industry, whose sybaritic splendors, namely the shopping festivals, horse races and sporting fixtures, are unlikely to endear them to either the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia or the Ayatollahs of Iran.
It is simplistic to call DPW a "state-owned" company, since the state itself pretty much belongs to the ruling Al-Maktoum family. One can't help thinking that DPW is state-owned in the way that Halliburton is, with its connections to Vice President Cheney.
Dubai and the Emirates are the major supply base for the U.S. forces in Iraq, and, outside of Kuwait, they are the nearest thing to an Arab ally in that venture. The Emirates are not exactly eager to advertise their quasi-allied status; they can probably only get away with it because they haven't bought into Bush's democratization campaign. As the Palestinian elections show, when Arabs vote, they tend to show strong feelings about the U.S.'s role in supporting Israel.
In the privacy of their palaces, the feudal sheiks of the Gulf do not applaud U.S. support of Israel, and are probably less than ecstatic about events in Iraq, but they are stuck between two hard places, Saudi Arabia and Iran. Cultivating the U.S. administration is a sensible move. Neither Senator Clinton nor Schumer has yet declared the war in Iraq to be the disastrous mistake that most of their New York constituents think it to be. So it is even more unprincipled of them to attack one of the key components of the "success" of the war effort. It would be nice to see Teamsters demonstrating against allowing in a company from a country that supports the war—but unlikely.
As part of that kiss-up to Uncle Sam's policies, and doubtless also for charitable reasons, the United Arab Emirates made a $100 million donation for relief after Hurricane Katrina last October. We should applaud Bush for not emulating Rudolf Giuliani's refusal of a $10 million donation from Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, for differing publicly from the mayor's Likudnik views on the Middle East. But Bush did not exactly shout about it from the rooftops either.
It is an interesting comment on the standing of the administration that the donation went into the general federal Treasury, with two-thirds of it earmarked for FEMA, and the rest for housing reconstruction. Third-world governments may need budgetary support in the wake of a catastrophe—but the United States? If, as seems likely, the cash was simply put into the budget, it did not augment the aid that actually reached the victims. It just gave a hundred million more for the administration to enact tax cuts for their friends, whose idea of a disaster is an IRS bill.

This brings us to what the Dubai affair says about America's place in the world economy. When the sun never set on the British Empire, the City of London exported capital on a huge scale—and indeed, largely financed American industrial expansion. As recently explained in these pages, 21st-century America is a huge importer of capital, much of it recycled from the balance-of-payments deficit the country runs with the rest of the world. Dubai has sensibly been investing in its own future, but has more petrodollars than its own relatively small economy can absorb.
American consumers need to ask themselves where they would prefer those foreign dollars to go. If they are invested in other countries, it accelerates America's relative economic decline. If they are invested here, it will continue to cover the deficit, but in the end those pesky foreigners will end up owning the whole show. If the U.S. continues to run a negative savings balance, and a negative balance of payments and trade, with the rest of the world, it's unavoidable.
Of course, one factor in the adverse balance of payments has been the rush of U.S. corporations to offshore their operations, whether to Mexico, India or China. Politicians complaining about the Dubai deal seem less concerned about their corporate donors offshoring, and at least DPW is not proposing to send the terminals elsewhere.
So, is there a point to all of this? Well, the senators of Rome in most circumstances ignored what other nations felt. The cash that flowed in was tribute, and the provinces had no option but to pay up and to do what they were told.
But the U.S., despite a ruthlessly Roman tendency to send in the legions, does not get tribute. The honorable senators from New York should consider that because of the free trade and open markets they have preached to the rest of the world, the U.S. has made itself uniquely vulnerable. If the U.S. is going to live off the rest of the world, it should at least occasionally check what is happening out there.
If American leaders want to worry about security, and to ensure a free flow of capital and oil, they might think twice before expediently insulting the people who provide it. That is particularly true of the Arabs, but it is also true of the rest of the world, the Asians and the others, who may be tempted to think that the money from their trade surpluses would be better invested elsewhere.

Monday, March 20, 2006

The Pseudo Martyrdom of St. Slobbo Milosevic

I once debated some would-be Marxists at the Brecht Forum in New York. One of my opponents started with the unforgettable phrase, "I don't know much about the Balkans, but the line is..." If you want to see his comrades at their keyboards, read the responses to this on Alternet, where many of them cannot spell their martyr St. Slobodan's name, and others seem vague about the difference between International Tribunals and the Criminal Court. Most seem united that I am "nothing but a right wing pundit." Well, to paraphrase Marx, (Groucho) I don't really want to be in club that has defenders of mass murderers in it. But I am stuck for choice, since Milosevic's Serb Nationalist project was also supported by so many outright right wing fascists, motley white supremacists and Islamophobes. Can we sane people have a wing all of our own?
(I reinserted in bold a section that I liked which was lost in editing)

Ian Williams, AlterNet. Posted March 18, 2006.

Justice After Milosevic
Among the few signs of human progress in the 21st century is Gen. Pinochet's prosecution in Chile, the fact that Henry Kissinger has to check with his lawyers as well as his travel agent before flying outside the United States, and that Ariel Sharon had to worry about being arrested if he went to Belgium.
Above all, the fact that Slobodan Milosevic was on trial rather than residing in the presidential residence in Belgrade is a major achievement of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and a major step forward for humanity. Even in his going, Slobodan Milosevic has proven that he has the power to polarize the public. Was he poisoned, or was he dosing himself into ill health to boost his case for a one-way trip to Moscow? One thing is certain: Most of the people who supported his prosecution feel cheated that he did not face a verdict and long imprisonment in The Hague.
The length of his trial, which killed much public interest as well as the accused, has raised questions about the efficacy of the Tribunal. Milosevic's supporters claim vindication, and even supporters of the Tribunal as a concept have questioned its bureaucratic nature, and the wisdom of the prosecutors in going for American DA-style overkill on the charges against him. The court tried, arguably to a fault, to be fair in its accommodation of the eccentricities of the accused, not least his refusal of defense lawyers.
Those who want to consider Milosevic as a martyr for his four-year trial should pause to consider how glad those 7,000 or 8,000 people slaughtered like sheep after the fall of Srebrenica would have been even for a summary Guantanamo-style hearing. As some complain about the medical treatment of Milosevic, who was able to summon friendly doctors from around the world, they may wish to recall the 260 patients from the hospital in Vukovar that Milosevic's army summarily shot.
The story goes that Slobodan Milosevic was once asked why he allowed an opposition press in Belgrade. "Only fifteen percent of Serbs read newspapers, and none of them vote for me. The rest watch television–and I control that," he replied.

It explains why, even if there was not always as much active support as one would expect-after all draft dodging was common–he was able to wage the bloodiest war in Europe since World War II, which at times looked like an action replay of the worst scenes on the Eastern front.

When we see that television has persuaded 85% of the US troops in Iraq to think that they are flattening Fallujah to defend lower Manhattan, it puts in perspective the Serb misconception that pouring shells into a besieged Sarajevo was defense against Turkish invasion of Orthodox Serbs.
At the trial of Adolf Eichmann, Hannah Arendt caused ripples by referring to "banality of evil." Slobodan Milosevic was as banal as they come. Personally, he was no racist, nor even a Serb nationalist. He was an ambitious and ruthless communist party apparatchik who was not even particularly socialist in his beliefs or his practices.
However, he realized what a potent weapon Serb nationalism was in his prolonged putsch to take personal control over the ramshackle Yugoslav Federation. History teaches that there are few more dangerous forces than heavily armed groups afflicted with a sense of victimhood, no matter how irrational that sense may be.
For the best part of ten years, Milosevic brilliantly played the U.N., the Europeans and the Americans for suckers. Whenever his barbarities were on the verge of provoking action, he would go into deep negotiating mode, and immediately break whatever promises were being made (providing a model for Sudan's rulers in their procrastination over Darfur). Cynically, when they were no longer useful, he abandoned his Serb brothers in the Croatian Krajina, sold out his colleagues in the Bosnian Republika Srpska as soon they had become too much of an embarrassment, after Srebrenica.
In the end, he miscalculated over Kosovo. He had not realized that all across Europe new governments had taken office, who seemed to think that "never again" meant just that. Once Milosevic had set the game afoot, there were plenty of bad people to go round. The Hague Tribunal has Croats, Albanians and Bosnians in its cells, all charged with crimes against humanity. This is the victory of justice, not "victors' justice." In Milosevic's trial, witness after witness showed his direct command and control of the bloody events of an evil decade, even if, like Eichmann, his own hands had only ink stains, not blood stains.
With Milosevic gone, the court can no longer reach a verdict. There are retrospective arguments that the prosecution went for overkill with the charges. But the evidence that was uncovered left no doubt that overkill, in a most morbid sense, was what Milosevic practiced. If it can avoid the same mistakes of procedure and procrastination, if and when Milosevic's sidekicks, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic are in the dock, then the Tribunal can regain much of the ground it has lost.
In the wake of Milosevic's death, we would do well not to discount the number of verdicts already reached against a variety of perpetrators. As with Milosevic's arrest and imprisonment, the Tribunal has decisively signaled an end to what President Mary Robinson of Ireland once called the "cycle of impunity," for war criminals.
In the future, despite the Bush administration's dogged resistance to the International Criminal Court, emulators of the Serb strongman should not have to wait so long for justice to be served. The new court is up and running, and already looking into the case of the Sudanese regime. The criminals in Khartoum, despite the soft shoe treatment from the rest of the world, stand a good chance of ending up in court and in prison for their misdeeds.
Alternet 18 March 2006

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Bolton Archipelago

Ian Williams
(The Nation 15 March 2006)

A complete American isolationist may congratulate the Bush Administration and United Nations Ambassador John Bolton on his grandstanding vote Wednesday against the establishment of the UN Human Rights Council. Nobody else would.
It was a clear case of prejudice masquerading as policy, with Bolton playing to his usual gallery of Know-Nothings on one side, while also relishing briefly being on the side of Human Rights NGOs and what he considers to be the liberal New York Times in criticizing the failings of the negotiated outcome. But taken as a poll on the Bolton-Bush stand, 170 votes to 4 epitomizes America's waning global prestige.
The three states that the United States led into the "nay" camp were Israel, Palau and the Marshall Islands, which are among the highest per capita recipients of US cash in the world, along with the Federated States of Micronesia, which even Bolton couldn't bully enough. The two Pacific micro-states depend on the US Congress for almost their entire budget. There is an additional irony: For decades the United States stalled on allowing the former Trustee territory of Palau independence until it dropped clauses in its constitution that barred the United States from bringing in nuclear weapons to defend it.
Nor could one be sure that Venezuela, Belarus and Iran, the states that abstained, were necessarily part of the Administration's dream team.
In fact, for all the many compromises, UN General Assembly President Jan Eliasson and Secretary General Kofi Annan have pulled together what could be an effective and workable Human Rights Council--despite the Bolton blusterings, which did much to aid the opponents.
For example, although Bolton later jumped on Annan's proposal for a two-thirds majority vote for future members, after it had disappeared in the course of negotiations, he was almost certainly quite pleased. The United States has lost elections to the old Human Rights Commission before, and that was before the Bush Administration added Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib and "renditions" to the world's human rights vocabulary. Many diplomats at the UN feel that if the US delegation had actively and constructively participated in negotiations instead of posturing for domestic constituencies, the electoral requirement for a two-thirds majority would have been passed.
Similarly, Bolton was very reserved on the term limits for members, and showed initially that he would have preferred a permanent seat for the United States, even if it entailed one for China, hardly a paragon of human rights.
While Bolton is particularly tin-eared in how he listens to other countries, we should remember that it was the Clinton Administration that worked assiduously and steadily to attenuate the International Criminal Court, and then only signed the much-weakened instrument at the very end of his presidency. It was this attitude that cost the United States the seat in times past. There are far more substantial grounds on which states of goodwill, in a secret ballot, may have scruples about voting for this US Administration to have a seat on the council, although many may support Washington in LBJ's eminently pragmatic argument that it is better to have opponents inside the tent urinating outward rather than vice versa.
The American diplomatic approach to human rights is, in its own way, every bit as partisan and partial as some of the notorious human rights offenders who have conspired to emasculate the Human Rights Commission over the years.
Indeed, the best weapon of the Axis of Offenders in the old commission has been the US attitude, which has, for example, condoned, trained and financed some of the worst human rights offenders of the era in Central America, while fulminating against Cuba's much less serious offenses. Disagreement with the United States should not necessarily put a country in the dock for human rights offenses--although neither should opposing the United States allow an exemption.
It did not help that one of the last reports of the Human Rights Commission was on Guantánamo, in which the experts roundly condemned the US breaches of international law. Even though the commission's conclusions were not that different from the US Supreme Court, that internees have legal rights and should have access to the Courts, the Bush Administration and its supporters attacked the report in terms that could have been borrowed from a riposte by Cuba, Uzbekistan or Syria.
The council has addressed the genuine concerns of many members by adopting the principle of "universality" in a constructive way instead of its usual blocking context at the UN. All members' human rights records will come under scrutiny. The Axis of Offenders' main purpose in getting on the former commission was to block consideration of their cases, so this removes much of the incentive for them to be on the Council.
Countries that are genuinely concerned about human rights need to eschew their usual regional voting pacts, but we can be sure that the NGOs will keep their feet to the fire. And as for the United States, it would be good if it voted on the basis the State Department's own annual Human Rights Report, which has managed to be critical even of allies.
Along with the "Responsibility to Protect" resolution adopted last year, the Human Rights Council is a step forward for the United Nations. But far from being rewarded by Congress, watch out for attacks on the world's temerity for disagreeing with Ambassador Bolton.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Iran Here we go again

Publlished in the Asia Times 14 March 2006

Security Council presidential statements are non-binding. But despite the toothless nature of the one under consideration at United Nations headquarters this week, it's a slippery slope. The current US administration has a record of seeing a mandate where no one else can, and the gnomic comments of its members, refusing to exclude any possibilities and hinting atunilateral action if the UN fails to satisfy, should send chills down anyone's spine.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov put his finger on it last week when he talked about a sense of deja vu, referring to his time as ambassador when the US was trying to push the other members of the Security Council into authorizing an attack on Iraq for allegedly having weapons of mass destruction. Now the UN is being invited to another Snark hunt, this time to authorize action against the future possibility of nuclear weapons, since not even the US Central Intelligence Agency has been elbow-twisted into manufacturing evidence of a proximate threat.

There is no doubt that the United States is trying to enlist the world into a crusade of sorts against Iran, which is all the more worrying since the outcome of this diplomatic campaign is so vague. Both the US and Israel are hinting at military strikes, and then burst into indignation when an Iranian delegate of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) threatened "harm and pain" if they try. It is worrying that the administration of US President George W Bush has browbeaten the IAEA council as far as it has, including the reference of Iran to the Security Council. Far from adding leverage to the IAEA's efforts, it is provoking more nationalist stubbornness from Iran.

In fact, while China and Russia are currently saying no to sanctions and to military attacks, one cannot be sure they will hold to their principles on the issue. Who would have thought six months ago that China and Russia, or even the European Union, would have gone so far to accommodate Washington on Iran? It has not helped Iran that almost every statement President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has made since he took office has given excuse for desertion of the few friends Iran had. In the end, regardless of the legal niceties, no one really wants atomic ayatollahs, or certainly not enough to tangle with the US over it. In the end, I suppose none of them wanted to get into a fight with a 900-pound gorilla on behalf of a cheeky monkey.

If it approves military action when it next considers the IAEA report, possibly in less than month, then the Security Council may as well dissolve itself and hand a rubber stamp to the White House. If it does not, then, in the end, the US may well take action and claim it was acting to enforce UN and IAEA decisions anyway, as it did only three years ago in Iraq. Nobody is saying what he actually wants or means, although one would have to be deaf and blind not see and hear the subtext in the US statements. For example, to believe that this is about stopping nuclear proliferation in abstract is close to believing in the tooth fairy and Santa Claus.

This is not about nukes. It is a grudge fight against Iran. US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton and the US government succeeded in sabotaging attempts to strengthen the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2004. The NPT review conference, for example, was considering making the voluntary additional inspections compulsory, and also locking up the door through which North Korea bolted by renouncing the treaty. This weekend, Iranian leaders started threatening to withdraw from the treaty, which, like the North Koreans, they are perfectly entitled to do. This month Bolton announced firmly that the Indians had acquired their nuclear weapons legally because they had done so outside the NPT regime. "The only completely consistent people are the dead," Aldous Huxley once said, and on that basis Bolton is very much alive.

One can feel sure that if Iran were to quit the treaty, Bolton would not give it the same indulgence, no matter how legal. To compound the double standards, to ensure that India voted the right way on Iran in the IAEA council, the US has ridden a juggernaut through the NPT by signing a nuclear-cooperation deal with India. It would almost be churlish to mention Israel's nukes. John Bolton certainly won't, because if he did, it would imply sanctions against his best friends in the region. We should remember that the Iranians have consistently denied that they actually want to build nuclear weapons. Officially, they claim they want to enrich fuel for a civil nuclear program.

Strangely enough, both the current British and US governments have been pushing for nuclear solutions to energy shortages and emissions. Personally, I think they and the Iranians are guilty of serious miscalculations about the long-term risks and costs of radioactive waste, but it is observable that proximity to nuclear power has strange mental effects on rulers, who all start behaving as if central casting has sent them to audition for a remake of Doctor Strangelove. French President Jacques Chirac, part of the team currently beating up on Iran, has been threatening to use nukes in retaliation for terrorism. Last year, Chinese General Zhu Chengdu was threatening to nuke the United States if it protected Taiwan. And of course it would be churlish not to mention the plans in the basement of the Pentagon for new nuclear weapons.

I suspect that Iran began by using the nuclear issue as a bargaining point, but in the long negotiations with the Europeans it found they were not living up to their promises and, more to the point, they were not bringing the Americans to the table. Iran's previous reformist administration, in particular, wanted some tokens of appreciation from Washington. Iran had cooperated in the removal of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and could, at the very least, have made things much, much worse in Iraq for the US , difficult although that is to imagine. In return, of course, the Iranians discovered that, apart from Bush's acknowledgement that they were the first victims of Saddam Hussein's aggression, they were still a member of the "axis of evil" as far as Washington was concerned.

Like the Palestinians, the Iranian electorate seems to have decided that if the price for accommodation is a kick in the teeth, let's go with the straight shooters. By now, the whole issue of nuclear enrichment has become an intense symbol of national pride, which it would be difficult for the Ahmadinejad government to relinquish without some large concession. And that concession has to be larger than what the Russians are offering. Mired in their demonization of Iran, it is difficult to see what the Americans could offer without falling foul of the domestic indignation that the administration has already fired up. Apart from the hostage incident 30 years ago, there is an irrational element about the US obsession with Iran, as indeed there was about Bush's dynastic feud with Saddam Hussein. It probably does not help that Israeli politicians and their supporters in the US have been pushing hard for action. They have been saying that air strikes will do the job, and anti-missile defenses in Israel will cope with Iranian retaliations.

One would like to think that this White House would be too sane to launch a ground war on Iran while still mired in Iraq, but no gambler has made money recently betting on Washington's rationality. There was an intriguing hint in a Bolton interview with the British Broadcasting Corp, about the so-called Proliferation Security Initiative, an alliance of the bullied that he much prefers to the UN anyway. Could it mean that the US would do some Cuban-missile-crisis-type interdiction of ships heading to and from Iranian ports? And could it be that they do not anticipate Iranian reaction?It is clear that any action against Iran will have serious blowback throughout the region, beginning with the Shi'ites in Iraq, who have so far functioned as expedient allies of the US occupation. Seeing the disruption caused by a minority in a small part of Iraq, it is chilling to think of the consequences if the majority gets involved. As usual, a collateral casualty is likely to be the United Nations.

The Security Council has already allowed itself to be dragged into an intensely political and partisan issue, but it can expect no more gratitude than the Iranians received from the Americans. While there is a certain irony seeing two conservative, nationalistic and religiously fundamentalist presidents confront each other, it is really the job of the Security Council members to avoid giving any encouragement or cover to the slide to war. It is supposed to be protecting the world's peace and security, not providing a fig leaf to US attempts to rock the globe.

It would not be an anti-American thing. On the contrary, looking at what is happening in Iraq, the real friends were not Britain and Australia, but Germany and France. If they had been listened to, 2,300 young Americans would be alive and the US would not be ranking below China in most international popularity polls.

Ian Williams
is author of Deserter: Bush's War on Military Families, Veterans and His Past, Nation Books, New York.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

America's Most Unwanted

It did not take the war on terror to drive rationality from American politics. The firing of Andy Young as UN Ambassador for meeting Terzi showed that it has been missing all along. This obit for the unwitting excuse for his downfall appeared in the Independent, which is always worth looking. It had been held over for a day because the newspaper had carried huge transcripts of the Gitmo hearings, which show that three decades later, irrationality still rules in Washington.

Zehdi Terzi:
First PLO representative to the UN
By Ian Williams
Published: 07 March 2006 Independent
Zehdi Labib Terzi, diplomat: born Jerusalem 20 February 1924; PLO Permanent Observer to the UN 1974-91; married 1960 Widad Awad (died 1987; one son, one daughter); died Amman 1 March 2006.
The many journalists and diplomats who consulted with him over the years remember Zehdi Terzi fondly. It would be difficult to demonise as a fundamentalist terrorist someone whom the Patriarch of Jerusalem had dubbed a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre, or whom his daughter Karimah remembers as a feminist who admonished her, "BSc, MSc, PhD - and only then Mrs." None the less, for 16 straight years, he was America's most unwanted if you judged him by the New York tabloids and the Congressional Register.
Terzi was an almost archetypal Palestinian figure. Born in an ancient Greek Orthodox family in Jerusalem under the British Mandate, he had hoped to end his days in the city, but, he wistfully pointed out to a radio interviewer in 1988, "I can't go back home." Friendly, courteous and dignified, he was firm in his nationalist principles. When after long and discreet negotiations Israel finally offered to let him back to join his brothers and sisters in East Jerusalem, he could not bring himself to apply to those he considered illegal occupiers for a visa, so he died, as he had lived for three decades, in exile.
Under the British Mandate he had studied at Terra Sancta College and graduated from law school in 1948, the year of the partition of Jerusalem and Palestine. In Beirut in late 1959 he met Widad Awad, a Chilean descendant of an earlier generation of Arab refugees, from the Ottomans. They married within months, on his birthday in 1960. She died in his arms, in New York, in 1987.
An early associate of Yasser Arafat, within months of the foundation of the Palestine Liberation Organisation in 1964 Terzi became its emissary to Brazil. He was part of the delegation that in November 1974 accompanied Arafat to the United Nations in New York and secured recognition there, of sorts, for the PLO. The General Assembly affirmed the Palestinians' right to self-determination and independence, and the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and property, and recognised the PLO as their representative. The resolution gave the PLO almost all the attributes of statehood except a vote.
When Terzi arrived as the first Palestinian "Permanent Observer" to the UN in 1975, he was soon reminded that the US had vigorously opposed the resolution. For the US and Israel, the PLO was a terrorist organisation. Although the mission was covered by the UN Headquarters agreement, grandstanding American politicians kept trying to close it down.
The pressure was continuous throughout his time at the UN. In 1986, for example, the State Department refused him permission to travel to Harvard Law School to debate with Professor Alan Dershowitz, provoking a lawsuit that went all the way to the US Court of Appeals. Perhaps the strangest of the court battles that put Terzi in the headlines was in 1982, when a New York judge overturned the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Fred Sparks's bequest of $30,000 to the PLO. That Sparks was himself Jewish added an extra piquancy to the case.
However the most notorious collateral damage of these cases was a former Congressman who had, in his own words, "a 100 per cent voting record in support of Israel". Andrew Young, the former civil rights leader, Congressman and then US Ambassador to the UN, met Terzi "accidentally on purpose" at a lunch at the Kuwaiti Ambassador's residence in 1979. Young claims that the State Department and the Israeli foreign ministry both knew in advance about the meeting, but, once it was leaked, President Jimmy Carter fired him. The New York Daily Post headline had been "Jews Demand Firing Young", and the incident did much to damage relations between the black and Jewish communities.
Towards the end of Terzi's UN career, as the intifada raged on, he helped formulate the strategy that may annoy Israel even more: the use of UN resolutions and international law to establish Palestinian rights. It was a strategy he encouraged when he left New York in the hands of his deputy, Nasser el-Kidwa, currently Palestinian Foreign Minister, to become special adviser on international and UN affairs to Arafat in Tunis, where he was to spend the remainder of his days, until going to Jordan for (unsuccessful) medical treatment.
Travel to New York is only marginally less difficult for dead than living Palestinian diplomats. Terzi's children are struggling to get clearance to take his remains to the plot in New Jersey where he can join his wife.