Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Ask not on whom the bombs fall..

Letting nuclear powers get their way
It's nonsensical for the US to sell arms to both India and Pakistan - two nuclear foes - while cancelling a deal with Taiwan

Ian Williams
guardian.co.uk, Monday July 28 2008

It's been a long time since anyone expected consistency in foreign policy from Washington, but last week saw a cluster of developments that tax belief, even in these years of incredulity that followed the declaration of the war on terror.

The US is allowing Pakistan to use aid earmarked for counterterrorism to upgrade the F-16 fighter jets that the US has sold them, reversing the earlier freeze on the sales because of Pakistan's overt nuclear weapons programme.

And we should remember that this was the fast breeder of nuclear programmes. Earlier this month, the brain behind the scientific part of it, Abdul Qadeer Khan, claimed that he was acting under the orders of Bush's pet president, Pervez Musharaff, in providing technology to North Korea's successful bomb project, and to the subsequently abandoned Iranian and Libyan efforts.

The F-16 sales went ahead despite reports that the Pakistani military had been reconfiguring the planes to carry nuclear payloads. Military analysts all agree that the F-16 is no use for the close-up ground support that could have lent a spurious plausibility to disguising jet sales as counterterrorism instruments. Could have, that is, if the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies were not, for many years, the main sponsors of the Taliban and even now seem somewhat under-committed to spending the $10bn in aid that Bush has given them on rooting out the fundamentalist threat.

While there is a complete lack of ethics in the sale, there is, nonetheless, a certain chilling Bushian logic to it. The Pakistan F-16 sales kept the production line going in the Lockheed plant in Fort Worth,Texas. In that vein, with equally callous logic, the only plausible target for the Pakistani weaponry is India, which the Lockheed/department of defence salesmen are targeting for even bigger sales. India also has nuclear weapons, so the stakes in this macabre manoeuvre are even higher than merely cynical arms peddling.

The Bush administration has of course already agreed to overlook the Indian nukes and has been preparing to roll a diplomatic juggernaut through the nuclear non-proliferation treaty by allowing Indian access to nuclear technology. To add the Through the Looking Glass ambience, part of the Indian pay-off for the US overlooking its triumphant nuclear bomb production was to gang up in the IAEA on Iran by referring to the UN security council the allegations of Teheran's nuclear programme that the US National Intelligence Estimate has since dismissed.

But no one can accuse the US of absolutely unbridled arms sales. The F-16s so blithely dangled before India and delivered to Pakistan will not, it seems, be sold to Taiwan, despite the Taiwan Relations Act and the threats to the island from Beijing, which has over a thousand missiles pointing at it from across the Straits, and which has not withdrawn its threat of military invasion of the democratic state. By openly kowtowing to Beijing and abandoning its commitments, the White House is sending signals to the PLA – and other powers in the region like Japan and South Korea, and indeed Taiwan, that they might want to consider their own nuclear programme since the US was only kidding with its defence promises.

So there we have it. Under the rubric of the war on terror, you renege on your legal and moral commitments to defend a democratically elected government against overt threats from a totalitarian regime, you arm two nuclear powers that have been to war with each other three times since they were created and you encourage Israel, the only nuclear power in the Middle East, to attack a country your own intelligence agencies have determined has stopped using the equipment it got from your Pakistani ally to make bombs.

It does seem a lot of confusion to keep voters employed in Lockheed's plant in the Texas heartland, not least since Taiwan's order could do that as well. If there is an ethical dimension here, it seems to be tangled up somewhere in string theory. And if it is just realpolitik, it really is an inept form of it, even by Bush administration standards.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Dogs That Didn't Bark

Turning a blind eye to murder

Radovan Karadzic's arrest raises questions about the failure of the US and UN to prevent violence during the Bosnian war

* Ian Williams
o Ian Williams
o guardian.co.uk,
o Tuesday July 22, 2008

As Radovan Karadzic prepares to take his bow in the dock of the Hague, doubtless backed by a choir of deranged leftist apologists with time on their hands since defending Slobodan Milosevic lost its urgency, we should perhaps also remember all those other people without whom the Bosnian Serb president could not have made such a murderous mark on history.

Karadzic, a poet and psychiatrist, was also a Sherlock Holmes fan, and the key story here is all the dogs that didn't bark, a whole pack of them. For the early part of his career overseeing an orgy of rape, murder and bayonet point deportations across Bosnia, the British and French attitude was very much that "If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done quickly."

In a bizarre replay of the 1930s, Moscow and sundry leftists in Europe and the US made their excuses for Milosevic and his puppet Karadzic, putting their telescopes to their left eye patches: "Murders? I see no murders."

To her credit, Madeleine Albright wanted something to be done, but Bill Clinton's administration did not want to risk any political capital. Other nations' troops had to risk being shot so Clinton could avoid being targeted at home. Colin Powell told Albright that US forces did deserts, not mountains.

The UN security council put peacekeepers in there more as a substitute for real intervention, an excuse for effective inaction, than as a remedy. French troops stood by as Serbs murdered the Bosnian deputy prime minister in their armoured vehicle. Peacekeepers "monitored" how many shells the Serb army put into besieged Sarajevo. Third-world contingents were besieged and fired on by the Serb forces, confident in their impunity.

Everyone pretended to believe that the Serb Republic was not connected to Belgrade, although its arms and even the payroll of its officers came from Belgrade. The butcher of Srebrenica, Ratko Mladic, was on the payroll of the Yugoslav army for the duration, and intercepts show that he took orders from Belgrade as much (if not more) as from Karadzic in his "capital" Pale.

However, his subordinate position does not excuse Karadzic. Milosevic was a cynical politician who used Serb nationalism to build his power base. Karadzic showed all the signs of being a true racist believer.

In the end, US envoy Richard Holbrooke dealt with the ventriloquist rather than the dummy and made the deal directly with Milosevic that left Karadzic's successors with title to the half of Bosnia that they had ethnically cleansed, and where it seems that he was probably hiding out for much of the last decade.

Many in the region think that that agreement involved abandoning the so-called safe areas of Srebrenica, although with the optimistic myopia of diplomats in sight of a deal, they did not reckon on the recidivist bloodlust of the commanders who had raped and massacred their way across the Balkans. Repeated calls for air support for the Dutch contingent in Srebrenica were spurned as they wended their way through the bureaucracies of the UN and Nato.

Now that Karadzic is on his way to the Hague, his arrest raises fascinating questions. He can throw light on many of these issues – so will he make it alive? Obviously, the new government in Belgrade intends the sanguinary poet to be the key to the gates of Europe. Karadzic's arrest vindicates the fortitude of the Dutch and others who resisted the appeasers who wanted to speed Serbian accession to the EU regardless. But what about Mladic, who was much more connected to the military and security establishment that remains unabashed and unashamed since Milosevic appointed them in Belgrade?

Arresting Mladic would be a real test of the strength of Serb president Boris Tadic's reformers. Barack Obama's foreign policy team includes some of the officials who did the deals. He may well want to shuffle them to the back of the pack before the man who ordered and supervised the murder, burial, exhumation and reburial of up to 8,000 people in Srebrenica starts calling them as defence witnesses.

However, perhaps the most important question it may raise is in the minds of Omar al-Bashir and his accomplices in Khartoum. It may be slow, and in its early days, but there is some international justice in this imperfect world.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Barbarians are no kind of solution

Boycotting big business

Private equity firms have become rich at the expense of workers everywhere. It's time to recognise their sins
All comments ()

* Ian Williams

The sea of faith in the magical efficacy of the market seems to be receding in practice, even if Republicans and New Labour seem to hold the faith with the kind of fervency that only failure can foment.

Today, in cities across the world from New York to London to Bangalore, unionists and others will be demonstrating against Kohlberg, Kravis and Roberts, once the eponymous villains of the best-selling book Barbarians at the Gate.

Spawned at the height of Reaganomics, KKR is to financial engineering what Tamburlaine was to city planning. Most famously with RJR Nabisco, their buyout tactics took companies and squeezed them and their employees dry to pay off the interest on the loans they used to buy up their victims. It was a bit like the old custom of charging witches burnt at the stake for the firewood.

No matter that George Bush Sr rightly called this "voodoo economics" in the media and the chattering classes. Mammon, in his avatar of the market, ruled supreme. Greed was good. Trickle-down worked.

Epitomising the goodness of greed, Other People's Money played to packed houses of yuppie philistines night after night in the Minetta Lane theatre when I first moved to New York. It dramatised the conflict between Larry the Liquidator, the ur-yuppie predator, and Jorgy, the patrician CEO of New England Cable and Wireless, who could stand in for most of Detroit at the moment. Jerry Sterner, the jovial playwright, explained the concept of short selling over drinks. Shorting, now under fire from the US securities and exchange commission, was his metier.

Now, with the world's financial system on the edge of collapse, only kept afloat with massive infusions of government money and fire fighting regulations, there are some serious, if belated, signs of doubt. The real wonder is that it has taken so long. The savings and loan scandal, which brought John McCain to the momentary attention of a docile media, should have been a warning, but it wasn't. I remember asking NBC News' Tom Brokaw at a BBC seminar why the US media did not raise the issue. He admitted their failure and blithely said, "The problem was that no one raised it on the hill." Of course they didn't, I riposted, they all had their hands in the till!

Since then, we have had Long Term Capital Management, Enron, Goldman Sachs and now Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac all going down as a chorus of CEOs sang on the poop deck about how shocking it was that Sarbanes-Oxley mandated them to tell the truth about their operations. In the UK, Northern Rock, Equitable Life, Severn Water and Railtrack all showed what untrammelled greed can do if allowed.

So, what is so pernicious about private equity funds? How shall we count the ways? The investors are the very people who have spent the last few decades getting very, very rich and amassing tax breaks to ensure they get richer, while the income of most Americans has stagnated for those same decades.

They have looted shareholders and employees and pensioners, while at the same time mismanaging American industry into the ground. American CEOs can ignore their shareholders to a degree unthinkable in Europe, which is one reason they have been able to increase their pay even as their companies floundered. By going private, companies are removed almost entirely from the already inadequate scrutiny of regulators and free from disclosure requirements to their shareholders. The funds managers, in the US, can rake off huge profits free of income tax. The finance houses can make fortunes in fees arranging the acquisitions and by inventing increasingly dubious financial instruments.

Adam Smith's "invisible hand" is much quoted. However, he also knew what happened when businesspeople meet behind closed doors.

People of the same trade seldom meet together even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public or some contrivance to raise prices.

They have done so confident that they own the politicians on both sides of Congress, so that except for brief moments they will get what they want in avoiding taxation and regulation. The barbarians are not at the gate. They are inside and running the city.

The demonstrators are right. It is time to call the barbarians to account.

This article was first published on guardian.co.uk on Thursday July 17 2008. It was last updated at 18:33 on July 19 2008.

* guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2008

Williams on radio about Darfur

ICC Charges Sudan President with Genocide

click on the link to hear me on the radio program

Uprising Radio

Published on 18 Jul 2008 at 9:43 am

Listen to this segment | the entire program

ICCThe International Criminal Court (ICC) this week indicted the President of Sudan, Omar Al Bashir with 10 counts of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide for the violence against civilians in Darfur. The move comes after two other leaders in Sudan were charged with similar crimes. Many analysts have said that the ICC actions will undermine diplomatic efforts, and the Khartoum regime has responded by threatening more reprisals in retaliation. But groups like Africa Action here in the United States, have applauded the ICC, saying that it could provide the U.N. Security Council with much-needed leverage to stop the on-going violence. Just last week, seven peacekeepers with the UN and African Union were killed in the most severe attack on the joint force since it began operating in Darfur in January. Meanwhile Human Rights Watch released a report last week assessing the first five years of the ICC. According to the report, despite mistakes in policy and practice, the ICC deserved greater international support. Over his tenure, President Bush has repeatedly criticized the ICC and attempted to weaken it.

GUESTS: Elizabeth Ross, Africa Program Director at Relief International, Ian Williams, journalist and writer, UN correspondent for the Nation and Tribune, Senior Analyst for Foreign Policy in Focus, has written for the Guardian, Financial Times, Village Voice, Salon.com, Alternet, and MaximNews. Read Ian’s blog at deadlinepundit.blogspot.com.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Bashir Bashing

The age of impunity is over

The ICC's indictment of Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir should remind world leaders that they aren't above the law
All comments (13)

o guardian.co.uk,
o Tuesday July 15, 2008

There have been pre-emptive complaints that the indictment of Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir and his governmental accomplices for crimes against humanity would make diplomacy more difficult. People said the same thing about Slobodan Milosevic and Liberia's amputator-in-chief Charles Taylor. In all three cases, the argument does not hold water. Diplomacy, without the big stick, without the hint of handcuffs, is having little or no success at all in stopping Bashir's murderous recidivism. In fact, the years of envoys queuing up for audiences with Milosevic simply persuaded him that he was so indispensable that he could carry on killing with no personal consequences.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) had already indicted Bashir's surrogates in Darfur. It would certainly be a travesty of justice not to follow up the chain of command and indict the man without whom none of these massacres would have been possible.

We still have judgement here, that we but teach
Bloody instructions which, being taught, return
To plague th'inventor.

Macbeth mused these words while contemplating ordering the death of Duncan. At least, in the end, he and the missus had the courage to do the deed themselves and paid for it.

But no one ever saw any of our latter-day genocidaires walking the balconies of their presidential homes wrestling with their consciences. At least in part, that was because they thought they had impunity. Killing a king may have consequences, but what are a few million peasants, trade unionists or scribblers to a sovereign statesman?

Ban Ki-moon's statement recognised the independence of the ICC prosecutor – a concept that may be a shock to many of the regimes he has had to deal with. And the secretary-general will persist in trying to talk to Bashir in an attempt to get him do the right thing, but the talking will be done by phone. Bashir's travels to many parts of the world will be circumscribed until a one way ticket to the Hague can be arranged by the next coup in Khartoum. Sadly, however, if he can get a non-stop flight to New York he will be fine, since, for increasingly obvious reasons, the Bush administration does not accept the ICC's jurisdiction.

While the White House's handpicked attorneys have provided legal opinions to authorise torture, rendition and similarly Cheneyesque deeds, most lawyers in the Pentagon and the US state department are well aware that those idiosyncratic opinions have little or no currency in the rest of the democratic world. US top brass have been warned to be careful where they travel.

Over indiscreet drinks at an international conference a few years ago, a US official explained Washington's resistance to the ICC by recounting that French police detained Henry Kissinger at the airport in Paris on a warrant issued over his responsibility for the Chilean coup and subsequent killings. It took top-level calls from Washington to get him out, he complained. One of the few positive auguries as the 20th century came to its sanguinary end was the ending of impunity, so that the Pinochets, Sharons, Kissingers and their ilk had to consult their lawyers as well as their travel agents before they set off on journeys.

In fact, Kissinger should have been arraigned for much more, from East Timor to Central America. The time has passed that so-called statesmen could wash their hands of the crimes they ordered. As that Scottish coup practitioner, Macbeth, recognised:

Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red.

It may make sovereign torturers, kidnappers and murderers see red, but they deserve no more immunity or impunity than any other criminal conspirators.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Never? Well Hardly Ever?

Deja-vu in Darfur

Thirteen years after the Srebrenica massacre, history is repeating itself for the UN's peacekeepers in Sudan
All comments (24)

* Ian Williams, Guardian Comment is Free
o Friday July 11, 2008

It's déjà vu all over again. On the eve of the 13th anniversary of the massacres of some 8,000 Bosnians in Srebrenica, with the tacit connivance of the under-supported and demoralized Dutch peacekeepers, the Janjaweed, Khartoum's surrogate militia in Darfur killed seven African UN peacekeepers and wounded 19 more. The militia outgunned the peacekeepers – and escaped with impunity.

No one, except the several hundred thousand victims in Darfur has paid any price. We can take it for granted that any group that thinks it has the impunity to attack peacekeepers, assumes that it has a license to kill civilians too. While the seven dead UN soldiers hit the news, the continuing attrition of civilians has become so habitual that it would take another Srebrenica, and probably one recorded with cameras, to get any news recognition.

After Srebrenica, the phrase "Never Again" was again on everyone's lips. In international Diplo-Speak, maybe that phrase misses punctuation. Maybe it should be written "Never! Again?", meaning something like "Whoops."

Certainly, the UN's own reports on Srebrenica and Rwanda have a lot of
relevance to what is happening now in Sudan.

Touted as 26,000 strong with robust capacity, the UNAMID peacekeeping force is still at 10,000, under-equipped, underpaid, demoralized and deep into an action replay of the ineffectuality of Unprofor in Bosnia.

I doubt whether the Janjaweed militiamen who attacked the convoy had studied the Balkan wars, but certainly their masters in the Sudanese government have. They have emulated every trick that Slobodan Milosevic tried so successfully with the peacekeepers, including getting their international allies to invoke sovereignty to cover crimes against humanity.

Until the end when the international worm finally turned, the peacekeepers in Bosnia served the same function as those now in Sudan. They were there to send a message to the concerned electorates back home that governments were deeply concerned and doing their best. In Bosnia, confident of their governments' backing, the Scandinavian contingents took robust action when confronted with murderous militias, as later on did the French and British, but most of the force was there to protect itself and "monitor" crimes, not to prevent them.

So in Bosnia, Bangladeshi peacekeepers in summer kit were besieged in Bihac over the winter, fired upon and starved. The Serb militia knew that the Bangladeshi Air Force was not going to come over the hills to punish their persecutors, let alone NATO, whose planes stayed resolutely grounded later when the Dutch in Srebrenica came under attack.

The Dutch peacekeepers in Srebrenica were culpably weak and ineffectual – but the message they had from headquarters was that they were on their own. They were almost as much victims of cynical real politik and diplomatic persiflage as the eight-thousand dead – except of course that they were alive.

So who are the guilty in Darfur? As in the Balkans, there is plenty of blame to go round. Firstly of course, the Khartoum government and the Janjaweed it arms, pays and directs; the Chinese government, who have provided diplomatic cover for them; then the British and Americans who diplomatically disarmed themselves with their attack on Iraq. Of course, it does not help that Washington wasted a decade fighting a rearguard battle against the International Criminal Court, whose indictments are so far the nearest thing to tangible multilateral action against the perpetrators.

But collectively, the West while fending off their domestic do-gooders with the enhanced UN-African Union force, failed to provide money, logistics or weapons for the African contingents that were already there, let alone any reinforcements. The US Congress is full of grandstanders seizing the opportunity to berate yet another Arab, Islamist government for its human rights violations in Darfur, while bilking the peacekeepers there of hundreds of millions in assessed contributions. The US debt to the UN is around $2bn largely because of legislative action by self-professed Darfur savers.

As a result, the force lacks aircraft, both planes and helicopters which means that the Janjaweed's horses are almost high tech compared with UNAMID's equipment.

There are huge complexities in Darfur, and no easy feasible solutions. But one "never again" the UN might adopt is that they will never again put peacekeepers into a conflict without cash, equipment and military and diplomatic backup. And they should have a primary mandate to protect civilians from attack.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Working Families Party gets out the vote

Comment is free
Cif America
Winning the Working Families vote
In New York, the Working Families party lends crucial support to Democrats who support progressive economic policies

Ian Williams
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday July 9, 2008

Hidden from view by the fossilised Democratic and Republican juggernauts, smaller political parties in the US are often ignored. Ralph Nader's Green party candidacy made a mark in 2000, but not necessarily a good one in the eyes of those who blame his 100,000 votes in Florida for handing the presidency to George Bush.

In New York, the Working Families party (WFP) is different. It offers progressives the chance to voice their opinions without risking disastrously reactionary results. The Green party has, in fact, lost its spot on the ballot in New York for failing to hit the 50,000-vote mark, almost certainly because many of its previous supporters transitioned to the WFP. Founded by unions, consumer groups and community activists in line with the Empire State's tradition of fusion voting, in which multiple political parties nominate the same candidate for office, the WFP has focused on the all-too-often-overlooked economic issues in American politics, leaving the cultural issues to others. The party offers critical support to Democrats who advocate progressive economic policies and is prepared to do battle with those that do not.

New York has traditions other than fusion voting. Corruption, boss-politics and electoral laws designed to stop third parties from getting on the ballot have given rise to the perennial political sport of challenging the signatures on opponents' nomination papers. To make the ballot line, candidates therefore need to get three or four times as many signatures as are nominally required. The WFP's activists, union money and members have risen to the challenge, ensuring that the party makes the cut-off and gets its endorsed candidates on the ballot.

In contrast to the Democratic party, in which anyone with a chequebook can run, the WFP questionnaire demands that all of its endorsees espouse progressive standards. Across the state, the WFP's renowned oligarchic party bosses have been instrumental in forcing candidates to declare their support for issues affecting working people. Its endorsement can be crucial in small, local primaries with a slew of little-known candidates.

The party worried its larger rivals enough to trigger a unsuccessful lawsuit against the WFP for "interfering" in its primaries. Two years ago, the WFP put up a successful candidate for District Attorney in Albany County to challenge the incumbent, a nominal Democrat supporting New York's Draconian Rockefeller drug laws. David Soares, the WFP candidate, was black, but he won the majority of an overwhelmingly white electorate by accusing his rival of being too tough on crime. The party then also elected a New York City councillor, Letitia James, on a straight WFP ticket against an incumbent, conservative Democrat.

As an activist organisation, the WFP membership chooses which candidates to support and can then deliver the type of grassroots canvassers and organisers that the Democratic Leadership Council long replaced with big-donor-driven advertising.

This year the WFP registered thousands of young black voters that will vote for Obama in November in accordance with the party line – and presumably for other progressive Democrats as well. Politics is a messy business, and most members understand that compromise is sometimes necessary to achieve the desired effect. The party endorsed Hillary Clinton for the Senate, even though many of its activists felt that the former Wal-Mart director had a less than stellar record on labour issues. "We did allow people who objected to Hillary's corporate policies to vote realistically, since she was a shoo-in," commented one activist, "but tried to send her a message, and she had to come to our state committee interrogations in person, as do other candidates for re-election."

The WFP model only really works in states that allow fusion voting, so the party has sister organisations springing up in Connecticut and some other states - even South Carolina. It has also mounted campaigns in other states to bring back the fusion voting common a century ago but killed as the two major parties consolidated their grip.

Any party attacked by Giuliani and the Murdoch media has to have something going for it. With all the media attention focused on the big two parties, it will be worth watching this grassroots organisation as it helps overthrow Republican control of the gerrymandered state Senate and further reduce the GOP congressional delegation from New York.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

It does make a difference

Tribune Column
Ian Williams

Almost three decades ago, many traditional Labour supporters were so disenchanted with James Callaghan that they decided that there was not enough difference to support the Labour Party. They got Margaret Thatcher, who proved them wrong, in a big way.

In the USA, many on the left felt the same way about Gore and then Kerry, and voted for Nader. George W Bush proved twice over that, yes, indeed it did make a difference. A couple of hundred thousand dead Iraqis will bear eloquent testimony to that abroad, while at home the effective abrogation of significant portions of the constitution should also suggest some differences.

As George Orwell said about wars, there are few elections in which one side is not more progressive – or as the case may be, reactionary – than the other.

Needless to say, there are the usual suspects on the American left who see Obama as reactionary running under false colours, and they will, if they vote at all, vote for Ralph Nader.

It will make a difference, even if exercising their vote scars their tender ideological consciences. One does not have to join those so enthralled by Obama that they have hopelessly optimistic expectations to see why it is important for him to win.

For a start, consider Obama’s opponent. McCain’s positions on almost every issue are bad and getting worse as he heads rightwards to pander to the palaeoconservatives and the conservative Christian evangelicals. Much has been made of McCain being a maverick – but since that includes singing “Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran”, to a Beach Boys’ Barbara Ann, maverickhood should not be that reassuring. Being a victim of Bush’s dirty tricks is not enough to canonize McCain, not least since he has kissed and made up.

Just the prospect of another Republican president tightening the reactionary grip on the Supreme Court should worry any American who does not want a police state. It should even give some pause to the embittered so-called feminist supporters of Hillary Clinton who have declared that they would vote for McCain rather than Obama.

Pundits discuss how Obama is moving towards the centre (which is of course to the right) in order to be electable. And it certainly helps to get funding. Obama and his aides see his gross pandering to the Israel Lobby after he had secured the nomination as part of the price for election.

Obama will be far from perfection – but for almost anyone in the world, a halt, let alone a reversal, of the Republican project to make the planet safe for billionaires at the expense of everybody else is worth working for. Pundits discuss how he is moving towards the centre (which is of course to the right) in order to be electable. And it certainly helps to get funding.

Despite some last minute triangulations on Obama’s part, anyone prepared to talk to the Cubans, Iranians and others instead of boycotting and bombing the imaginary Axis of Evil, has got to be a major advance for humanity.

So any American voters mentally present on the planet’s surface should be supporting Obama, who is so far doing well in the polls, despite slimy racist attacks from Fox and the like. Indeed, one would like to think that it is in reaction to such tasteless smears that Fox News’ viewership is slipping compared with CNN’s and other more subtle channels.

Despite Murdoch, for a country steeped in the ghosts of slavery, Obama’s ratings are little short of miraculous. In fact, insofar as they represent revulsion with Bush and Republicans, they may be one of the few positive achievements of this presidency.

So what are Obama’s chances? First the good news. Barack Obama has raised so much money that he is dispensing with the public funding that would have set limits to his spending. Second, the bad news. Obama has so much money – and he is getting much of it from people who have lots of it and, shall we say, may not have the best interests of working people at heart. On the other hand, cleared of their residual obligations to corporate lawyer and ex-Walmart director Hillary Clinton, the unions have rushed to offer their considerable financial and organizational support to Obama.

Which brings us back to Clintons. Bill is unrepentantly hostile to the winner, and Hillary herself is much more reconciled in public than in private. She has to show support to maintain any standing in the Democratic Party, whose leaders were getting increasingly restive at the damage she was causing.

But sources from inside the campaign suggest that she has not given up hope of a miracle that would remove Obama with a leap and a bound and leave her as the anointed candidate. Her comment on the assassination of front-runner Robert Kennedy was a revealing hint at her thought processes. Without going so far as to accuse her of planning an assassination, some of her team do not discount the probability that one of the crazed racist gunlovers who abound in the USA may open up possibilities.

Tasteless jokes about the “White” House being renamed and the Rose Garden becoming a watermelon patch are the revealing tips of an ugly resentment from a significant minority who see Obama’s election as the end of civilization as they know it. That alone should prove that there is indeed a difference.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Waiving the Flag

Waiving the flag

In the United States, the definition of patriotism has been complicated since the days of the Revolution

* Ian Williams
o Ian Williams
o guardian.co.uk,
o Friday July 4, 2008

Now that Barack Obama has stuck a flag pin in his lapel and is simply waiting for the swiftboaters' insistence to stick a feather in his cap and call it macaroni, July 4 seems an exceptionally apt time to consider patriotism.

As Obama said in his flag-bedecked but nonetheless thoughtful speech, the "question of who is - or is not - a patriot all too often poisons our political debates". Newly invented national communities need to create common myths around which to solidify, and the Boston Tea Party is a great one, if you overlook that it was a bunch of smugglers throwing duty-free tea overboard in case their fellow citizens actually bought it in preferences to their warehouses of smuggled brew. Looking under symbols does lend perspective, but most people understandably don't want to see what's crawling there.

What passes for patriotic display in Britain is November 5, when we light bonfires and let off fireworks to celebrate the gruesome hanging, drawing and quartering of Guy Fawkes, who, it is often said, was the last man to enter parliament with honourable intentions.

However, trying to blow up the members of the parliament and the King on behalf of Rome did not make him popular. Since he was a terrorist, exercising a "Papist plot" to overthrow the protestant regime in London, his messy demise was for a long time celebrated in Boston as Pope's Day, in an orgy of violent anti-Catholicism.

In colonial New England, one of the grudges that led to July 4 was that King George had viciously allowed the Catholic Church to remain in power in Quebec when it was taken from the French, which is why the Quebecois were distinctly cool toward the Pope's Day celebrants when the latter ventured north into Canada with evangelical zeal.

Prominent among the "patriot" officers trying to rouse the Canadians was one Benedict Arnold, who was also a veteran of the campaigns that had led to the French threat being removed from the American colonies. The rebels could resist British power now confident that the French would no longer attack them, which led crusty old Samuel Johnson, who anticipated Mark Twain by averring that "patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel", to suggest his own quick cure for the American Revolution: "Let us restore to the French what we have taken from them. We shall see our colonists at our feet, when they have an enemy so near them."

Apart from personal peeve at being overlooked for promotion, it has been suggested that the colonists' invitation to his Most Catholic Majesty of France to join them in the war was what tipped Arnold over to the British side. He was bitterly anti-French and cursed with a memory of how big a threat they had been.

Indeed, the warm reception Arnold had from the British, despite his part in several crucial revolutionary victories over the Loyalists and British, suggests that even at this late stage there could have been a negotiated and satisfactory settlement, with the colonies accepting what would later be called Dominion status on the lines of Canada and Australia. The British overlooked his earlier "treachery". The Patriots could not bring themselves to do so with the one-third of their fellow colonials who were Loyalists throughout. Indeed, one of the last Pope's Days to be celebrated burned an effigy of Arnold, along with one of the Pope.

However one of the issues that tended to irreconcilability was the anger of southern slaveholders whose chattels had deserted and obtained their freedom by joining the tyrannical King's cause. "How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?" Samuel Johnson asked, and has never been adequately answered. Indeed, it has been argued that, while the New England colonies were revolting for the right not to pay taxes (with or without representation), what got the south upset was Lord Mansfield's judgment in 1773 that slavery was illegal in Britain itself.

The Virginians were deeply concerned when, in order to get the colonists to help pay off the debt incurred in war to free the colonies from the French, London asserted that English law applied everywhere in the empire. The Declaratory Act of 1767 declared that British law was supreme throughout the colonies. The Mansfield judgment was the last thing on Parliament's mind. It was on the top of the minds of all those colonial gentlemen who shouted "Liberty or death" and were quite prepared to kill any slave who tried to take it.

Truly, we should remember as the flags wave and rockets glare, that if the fundamentalist original intention crowd in the US supreme court had their way, they would declare the election, indeed the candidacy, of Barack Obama unconstitutional. It certainly was not the original intent of the Founding Fathers to have a black president – nor indeed a woman. Indeed, their supporters out there, not so deep in their hearts, really feel that it is so even if they do not come outright to say so. Some would even call it patriotism.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Iran and Nukes

Cif America
Pride before a fall
With the US beating the war drums, Iran should carefully consider if its nuclear energy programme is worth the effort

Ian Williams
guardian.co.uk, Monday June 30, 2008

Seymour Hersh's latest revelations, that the US has stepped up covert operations, show that Iran is playing a very high stakes game for its nuclear ambitions. National pride is one thing but, given the risk of an attack from the US or even Israel, Iran's civil nuclear programme doesn't make a lot of sense.

True, until the US took the issue to the UN Security Council, there was nothing "illegal" about Iran's uranium refinement programme. We have the IAEA, and indeed the US government's own National Intelligence Estimate, agreeing that whatever Iranians are up to, it is not a weapons production programme. They are compliant members of the IAEA and have disavowed any interest in weapons.

But as I told an Iranian pundit on Press TV last week, just because I may have the legal right to burn my house down, does not mean it is a very clever thing to do.

Sadly the people who are telling the Iranians that, the British, French and US governments, have somewhat diminished credibility since they are all pushing for their own civil nuclear power stations under the guise of green technology. The greenest nuclear power gets is that there may be a green glow from all that untreated nuclear waste, which none of them have successfully shown how they will cope with it.

To substantiate their activities, the Iranians claim that they need the nuclear power stations for energy self-sufficiency and to ensure that their scientific expertise is world class. Britain and the US went for a nuclear programme despite being lands of coal surrounded by a sea of oil and gas, so they are hardly in a position to object to that claim.

But in fact Iranian technology, science, and indeed conservation, is badly mistargetted with its nuclear project. Iran subsidises domestic petrol supplies and – despite being the world's fourth largest exporter of crude - is desperately short of refinery capacity and has to import petrol.

One would have thought that a better use of Iranian capital and brainpower would be to develop refinery capacity now and research conservation methods, maybe even charging an economic price for gasoline, rather than pour resources into building future Chernobyls a few decades down the line. The Russians are, very slowly, building the reactor at Bushehr, which they quite correctly point out, is entirely within the NPT and IAEA safeguards. The original reactor, planned under President Eisenhower's Atoms for Peace programme, was to have been built by the Germans in the 1970s for the Shah – with no protest from the USA or indeed Israel.

Somewhat contradicting their environmental green-ness, Iranians argue that since their only major export, aside from pistachio nuts, is oil, it is better to use nuclear power for domestic energy and save the natural gas and oil for export. In economic terms, this is a really bad strategy, which traps them in commodity dependence. Once again, there are better things they could do with their scientists and capital, and the Gulf States just across the water could show them.

In fact, I suspect the Iranian point about national prestige (shared across the political spectrum) is really the most important factor. Tehran can truly claim victimization. The US has echoed Israel, the only non-signatory to the Non Proliferation Treaty, and the only nuclear power in the region, by threatening direct military action against Iran. To get the vote needed to refer Iran to the Security Council, the US stroked India, another NPT hold out, and maintained the flow of weaponry and subsidies to Pakistan, another nuclear power.

The hawks in Israel and the USA are publicly chomping at the bit for an attack against Iran, which has solidified domestic support for Iran's government, which could probably get a big majority of the population in support of an actual weapons programme. After all, John McCain - who could conceivably be president - mimicked the Beach Boys, singing "Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran", while his opponent Barack Obama promised Aipac that no option was ruled out against Iran.

If Bush and Israel can be restrained from starting Armageddon before Inauguration Day, and if Obama keeps up to his earlier promise, there is maladroit diplomacy on all sides to untangle. Above all, the Iranians want a little respect. When the Security Council was imposing punitive damages on Saddam Hussein for invading Kuwait, the UN released its report branding Iraq the aggressor in the war against Iran. I went to the Iranian ambassador to the UN and asked why they were not asking for damages since, after all, as Saddam's first victim they had a fair claim. He replied that all Iran wanted was vindication. Morality or madness, they have been consistent about it since.

Some stroking is called for. The US and the Europe should recognise that Iran has the right to the full fuel cycle, but ask what it is worth not to exercise that right, or ask nicely if the Iranians would sign on for the additional protocols for the IAEA and accept additional inspections.

In return, the US could agree a non-aggression pact with Iran, and promise to hold off any unprovoked Israeli attack, not to mention open up trading and financial relations.

Of course this would be pandering to a dogmatic and religiose government with authoritarian tendencies that executes and imprisons far too many of its own citizens. But most countries managed to maintain relations with the Bush administration despite all that. The last war Iran was involved in was when Saddam Hussein was encouraged by the West to attack. Who is the real threat to peace around there?

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2008