obama, politics

The future of Libya

Published on: The Canadian Charger, April 14th, 2011
[http://www.thecanadiancharger.com/page.php?id=5&a=868]

The airstrikes on Libya, as authorized by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, has a veneer of “internationalism” about that that needs to be addressed.

Compounded by the calls for a no-fly-zone from the Arab League, the African Union, and the provisional council set up by the Libyan rebels themselves, the air strikes—especially in the usual media corners—seem to be much, much more than an effort anchored by the United States.

This is a myth. The coalition forces of France, the United Kingdom, etc. was led by a U.S. commander—General Carter Ham.

The helm has since then been passed on to a Canadian official, who is supposedly heading up a joint NATO venture.  The U.S. has contributed substantially to a barrage of 110 Tomahawk missiles on Libya’s air defenses on March 19th, 2011. Named by the U.S. as “Operation Odyssey Dawn,” the multi-phased no-fly-zone/airstrikes operation was just beginning—and right off the bat, the Associated Press reported that the United States deployed a slew of B2s, F-15s, F-16s, Navy EA-18G electronic warfare planes and Marine attack jets. In other words—despite the carefully crafted image of “limited military action” from the Obama administration—it is clear that the United States is calling the shots and doing the heavy lifting.

The rebels have since then called for a ceasefire after losing one of their key oil ports, Ras Lanuf, while also being stopped at Brega.

Whether international intervention helped or not is a tough question to answer, given mixed results. Qaddafi’s forces have not been able to fight where they wanted to, but rebel leaders have also come out to criticize the foreign airstrikes. “NATO is not doing their job, the airstrikes are late and never on time. NATO is not helping us. Gadhafi still gets ammunition and supplies to his forces–that’s why he is pushing us back,” says Mohammed Abdullah, a rebel who defected from loyalist ranks. The UK Daily Telegraph has also reported that “strafing runs” have been carried out by NATO helicopters trying to rescue fallen allied pilots. This practise has put civilian lives at risk.

The purpose for Resolution 1973 was, basically, to obtain a ceasefire. Barack Obama, on the other hand, has made it clear that Operation Odyssey Dawn seeks to implement genuine regime change. This lack of overlap in terms of end goals gives some indication of what each party has at stake in Libya. Despite its rhetoric of massacre prevention and international cooperation, the Obama administration’s geopolitical vision extends beyond the conditions of war, and into the conditions of peace. Suffice it to say that if Libya was a land known for carrots, Qaddafi’s troops would not be facing constant airstrikes.

By now, the most likely scenario is a partitioned Libya, and thus a divided Libya. The rebels in Benghazi—aside from asking for a ceasefire—have also rejected an overture from the African Union to broker talks, and for good reason, given that 15% of the AU’s expenses were paid by the Qaddafi regime. Furthermore, the Transitional National Council in Benghazi has agreed to a temporary “trust fund” to help channel assets from “international donations,” according to Al Jazeera English. All this indicates that the situation in Libya is perhaps entering a stage of stalemate. Subsequent planning is not clear, and long-term peace may indeed—like many feared—be subject to the interests of the NATO powers who have so much at stake in Libya.

If the endgame involves the removal of Qaddafi and the dissolution of his regime (it is hard to imagine the coalition forces allowing Qaddafi to stay in power), then an imposition of a no-fly-zone will most likely be protracted into a “long war”. Indeed, according to a report by Reuters, Obama has already signed off on a presidential “finding” (although no admission has been made), that authorizes “covert U.S. government support for rebel forces seeking to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, government…”

The best case scenario of course is for Qaddafi to be eliminated permanently, or to have him remove himself from power. This may be a possibility if the no-fly-zone is kept in place and works fluidly in order to protect places like Benghazi and Tobrouk from reprisals. If this happens, it may be possible to negotiate a political settlement. The talks can be brokered by international coalition forces and will most likely include the removal of Qaddafi—or at least an agreement from him to submit to parliamentary elections (or a trip to the International Criminal Court?). This, however, may be wishful thinking. For now, Libya’s war of liberation is looking more and more like a civil war. Support for Qaddafi is tough to quantify, and estimates have ranged from 10% all the way up to 30%.  Obama may do well to let the pro-Qaddafi towns alone, and focus strictly on protecting civilians. This will prove to be more and more difficult as airstrikes take on new configurations.

One can only hope that Resolution 1973 (1) does more good than harm when it comes to civilian protection, (2) works to facilitate more civilian involvement instead of restricting it, and (3) does not lead to foreign troops on Libyan soil.

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middle east, politics

The Palestine Papers and the End of the “Peace Process”

Al Jazeera English, from January 23rd– 26th, 2011, released the details of over 1,700 leaked confidential documents regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict. The manner in which AJE received this largest-ever leak is undisclosed. The documents include meeting minutes, memos, presentations, strategic papers, etc.  Dubbed “The Palestine Papers”, the documents are supposed to shed light on the following, as presented on the AJE website:

  • the Palestinian Authority’s willingness to concede illegal Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem, and to be “creative” about the status of the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount;
  • the compromises the Palestinian Authority was prepared to make on refugees and the right of return;
  • details of the PA’s security cooperation with Israel;
  • and private exchanges between Palestinian and American negotiators in late 2009, when the Goldstone Report was being discussed at the United Nations.

AJE has perused through these documents, redacted overtly sensitive content, and will not be naming their sources.

Perhaps the most explosive of the revelations that have come out is the fact that, according to the leaked meeting minutes of a [pdf] trilateral meeting in 2008, the Palestinian Authority (PA) was willing to concede illegal settlements in Jerusalem to Israel. Saeb Erekat was the chief Palestinian negotiator at the time, and Ahmed Qurei was prime minister. The meeting also involved Tzipi Livni on the Israeli side, as well as then American Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.

Erekat stated that the PA was willing to give up the illegally occupied Israeli settlements of French Hill, Ramat Alon, Ramat Shlomo, Gilo, and Talpiot, as well as the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem’s old city. Those areas contain around 120,000 Jewish settlers, and it seems that Erekat was willing to prolong the list. The proposed concession was unprecedented, given the deeply contentious nature of East Jerusalem.

The offered concessions were rejected by the Israeli side, mainly because the PA was not willing to give up other significantly sized settlements such as Ma’ale Adumim and Ariel.

Furthermore, in an [pdf] October 2009 meeting with the US Middle East Envoy headed by George Mitchell, Erekat proposed a geographical division of Jerusalem’s Old City, with control of the Jewish Quarter and “part of the Armenian Quarter” going to the Israelis. This would mean that Israeli would control a significant part of East Jerusalem. Furthermore, Erekat was willing to give control of the Haram al-Sharif (Temple Mount) to oversight of an international committee:

Erekat: “It’s solved. You have the Clinton Parameters formula. For the Old City sovereignty for Palestine, except the Jewish quarter and part of the Armenian quarter … the Haram can be left to be discussed – there are creative ways, having a body or a committee, having undertakings for example not to dig [excavations under the Al Aqsa mosque]. The only thing I cannot do is convert to Zionism.”

Schwartz: To confirm to Sen. Mitchell, [this is] your private idea …

Erekat: This conversation is in my private capacity.

Schwartz: We’ve heard the idea from others. So you’re not the first to raise it.

Erekat: Others are not the chief negotiator of the PLO.

Saeb Erekat then went on to sum up nature of the PA’s propositions:

“Israelis want the two-state solution but they don’t trust. They want it more than you think, sometimes more than Palestinians. What is in that paper gives them the biggest Yerushalaim [Jerusalem] in Jewish history, symbolic number of refugees return, demilitarised state…what more can I give?”

Given the highly charged emotions toward the Haram al-Sharif, it is utterly shocking for many to see that the PA, specifically Erekat, was willing to concede its status to non-Palestinian parties. It should not be forgotten that according to UN Resolution 242, the whole of East Jerusalem is to be the capital of a future Palestinian state. In other words, international law and the 1967 borders clearly show that the Haram al-Sharif is within the occupied Palestinian territories.

This is just a sliver of the huge trove of documents that Al Jazeera has publicized regarding the conflict. Key documents have been released subsequently in the last week or so, which have revealed equally explosive facts. The complete archive of documents can be found at the newly launched Al Jazeera Transparency Unit, which seems to be a Wikileaks-inspired web function that allows for the uploading of content by willing sources.

It is now clear that the Israelis have no legitimacy when they say that no Palestinian counterparts can be found in “negotiations for peace”. The Palestine Papers reveal clearly that the Palestinian Authority leadership is absolutely desperate for some sort of settlement, and will offer extreme concessions to achieve “peace”. In return, the PA repeatedly get their offers brushed aside by Israel, with very little objection from the United States.

In other words, the so called “Oslo peace process” needs an official funeral service. The Palestinian people will not accept anything less than a full state with recognition and execution regarding the right of return issue. Israel will not be venturing into that type of territory whatsoever. Furthermore, the United States simply cannot play the role of an honest broker, and will not allow a serious discussion on final status issues (refugees, Jerusalem, borders, settlements).

In short, given the present circumstances in the Middle East, it seems that the American hegemon is losing its footing in the region. The U.S. is mired in a serious quagmire in Afghanistan. Iraq, which is still suffering serious violence (although not at the 2006-2007 levels), will be deferring to Iran for the next few years at least. Iran, on the other hand, is now a regional superpower. Israel, for obvious reasons, is a liability to long-term U.S. goals in the region. Finally, the recent uprisings throughout the Middle East (especially in Tunisia and Egypt) threaten to oust decade-long U.S. supported puppet regimes.

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middle east, politics

Pakistan Drowning, Canada Offers Little

Published on:
http://thecanadiancharger.com/page.php?id=5&a=540

The flooding in Pakistan, the worst in 80 years, has eclipsed the devastation of the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, the Pakistani earthquake of 2005, and the Haitian earthquake earlier this year, says the UN’s Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Around 1,600 Pakistanis have died, and an estimated 13.8 million have been affected, but even after the waters subside, the suffering will continue for some time.

The World Food Program reports that 80% of Pakistan’s food reserves have been wiped out, and 558,000 hectares of farmland have been destroyed. This season’s rice crop in Sindh Province, part of the country’s “food belt,” has been destroyed, and the Punjab Province, which holds 70% of the country’s cotton reserves, has been devastated. It is now estimated that 1/3 of Pakistan is submerged, about the size of the United Kingdom.

A number of villages and towns along the Indus River have simply been washed away or submerged. The Swat Valley is completely closed off, and Mohenjo-daro, widely known as the world’s first planned city (2400 BC), may very well be destroyed.

All this destruction and Pakistan is only halfway through the monsoon season.

The United Nations has announced an appeal for hundreds of millions of dollars to assist in the aid effort, which is being complicated by continuing rain and landslides.

On Aug. 4, Canada announced that it was contributing $2 million in emergency aid. “[This] will help meet the immediate humanitarian needs of over 150,000 families who have been severely affected by the monsoon floods,” said Minister of International Cooperation Beverley Oda.

However, given the magnitude of destruction and the rising numbers of refugees, $2 million is nowhere near enough.

[Addendum: Canada has now pledges another $33 million.]

Despite the dispatching of 300,000 soldiers to help with the relief effort, people in severely affected areas have complained about the government’s lack of response.

For example, President Asif Ali Zardari has refused to cancel a prolonged trip to Europe to tend to the crisis. Facing protestors in Birmingham, U.K., Zardari made the excuse that he was not needed since he empowered other elected officials in Pakistan to deal with the crisis. This “excuse,” along with images of him lounging at his chateau in France, has infuriated Pakistanis.

“President Zardari has a history of leaving the country when the going gets tough,” said Fatima Bhutto, a vocal critic of the current regime and Zardari’s niece by marriage. “A local pundit anecdotally once estimated that Richard Holbrooke has spent more time in Pakistan than the president.”

Like Haiti, Pakistan is both prone to natural disasters and ill equipped to deal with humanitarian crises.

According to Bhutto, ignorance and corruption play a big role in ensuring such incompetence, but world powers like the United States are also culpable. The Obama administration has ordered dozens of drone air strikes in northern Pakistan to “wipe out al-Qa‘ida operatives,” and this complicates Pakistan’s status as a U.S. ally in the global “War on Terror.”  Thus, controversy erupts when Pakistanis see American ground troops trying to help with the relief effort.

The government has also done little to build up a disaster readiness program. “Everyone here has been complaining the government actually does not have the capacity to respond, because when there isn’t a disaster, they do nothing,” notes Qalandar Memon, a member of the Labour Party of Pakistan.

The bottom line is that the disaster has devastated five provinces and displaced upwards of 6 million people.

Relief efforts are only being conducted when circumstances are suitable, and the full scope of the damage is not yet known. Sadly, neither the Pakistani government nor the international community has responded effectively.

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middle east, muslims, obama, politics, war on terror

Israel at a Crossroads: the Iranian Threat

Published on:
http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article26003.htm
http://rebelnews.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=326421
http://mycatbirdseat.com/2010/07/israel-hiding-behind-the-iranian-threat/
http://thecanadiancharger.com/page.php?id=5&a=513

With the recent formation of “The Emergency Committee for Israel”, the neoconservative and Likudnik characters on the American right have yet again stepped up their lobbying efforts. The usual characters from the Christian hard-right like Gary Bauer have again joined forces with neoconservatives Bill Kristol, Noah Pollack, Michael Goldfarb, etc. to stand up for Israel. Among other things, they have yet again brought up the imminent threat of a nuclear Iran, and how such a nation will tear the region apart with its fanaticism.

Israel’s obsession with Iran is real. While some genuinely perceive a nuclear Iran as a major threat, others on Israel’s far right recognize the much more pragmatic, if not cynical reasons for Israel’s rancid rhetoric. With the occupation of Gaza (and blockade) and the West Bank continuing to destabilize the region, Netanyahu’s administration is undoubtedly trying to use the Iranian threat to create a climate of fear. Such a climate will not only pull the world’s attention away from the Occupied Palestinian Territories, but also reiterate Israel’s “scared bond” with the United States in a war against “Islamic Terrorism”.

Considering that Israel’s American-backed arsenal of nuclear weapons do not receive nearly as much attention in the corporate media as compared to Iran’s alleged attempt to acquire nuclear capabilities (still short of actual nuclear weapons), one should look at things form Iran’s perspective. Both Israel and the US have been talking nonstop about containing or attacking Iran. Iran has some rather weak (but still damaging) sanctions implemented on it by the US, and a genuine nuclear power in Israel constantly shouting about attacking it. Recently, the US navy just shipped missiles and over 300 “bunker busters” onto the African island of Diego Garcia, within striking distance of Iran. Furthermore, several of the countries that share borders with Iran have US troops in them (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kuwait, etc.).

Considering these factors, along with the threats from Israel and the United States (Israel is also not a signee of the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty), even hawkish analysts within the Israeli establishment have noted the need for Iran to at least have the option of a nuclear deterrent. Israeli strategist Martin Van Creveld, for example, has noted that Iran’s president is “Not crazy at all,” and that he would essentially do what Ahmedinejad is doing right now if he were in his position. On the other hand, UN Resolution 1887 states that threats of force are illegal when settling nuclear disputes. Also, it goes without saying that a war with Iran would cause the entire region to destabilize.

For the United States, Iran’s Islamic Revolution ushered in regimes that did not conform with its imperial designs in the region. Both Russia and China do business with Iran, which has emerged as the true beneficiary of the Iraq War, and backs both Hizbullah and Hamas. None of this is in the US’s interest, let alone in Israel’s. However, these “threats” are still rather hollow, given the military and economic capacities of both the US and Israel. Although Hizbullah has on occasions embarrassed a stronger Israel, its threats (along with those of Hamas) are far from existential.

Therefore, Israel’s paranoia with Iran mirrors Iran’s rhetorical backlash. By making the Islamic regime look crazy, Israel draws attention away from the Palestinian question. By now, after the Gaza Massacre and the Flotilla incident, it has become clear that Israel is becoming a strategic liability to the United States. The Israel Lobby in the US is trying (with great success) to conceal this fact, but Israel is very much at a crossroads. It seeks to reinvigorate the US-Israeli alliance by exaggerating the Iranian threat, while not answering for its own nuclear arsenal. But Israel has very little choice. Although its only chance of preserving a Jewish state is through a two-state solution with the Palestinians, settlement-building throughout the years have pretty much destroyed that option. It has effectively dug itself a hole too deep to climb out of.

The Israeli-Palestine conflict is so protracted that it inevitably shakes up the whole region, precipitating hatred aimed at both the US and Israel. Given the US’s need for oil in the future, a lack of allies in the Middle East would prove disastrous. But Israel’s unpopular presence in the region is costing the US all kinds of strategic leverage. Confronted with the reality of having no friends in the world, the Israeli regime is desperately trying to use the Iranian threat to illustrate to the US its “strategic worth”.

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politics

Israel the Insane

It is by now unequivocally clear, except for those in the deepest trenches of denial,  that Israel’s “special relationship” with the United States is deadly in its effects and consequences. The latest raid of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla on May 31st, 2010 left one Unite States aid worker dead, along with another eight Turkish activists aboard the Mavi Marmara. His name was Furkan Dogan, and he was only 19 years old (he also loved chess, and wanted to become a doctor in his adulthood). Despite being an American citizen (Furkan was a dual citizen, with Turkish citizenship as well), Barack Obama has not condemned the deadly raid.

Take sometime to think about that. Let it sink in for a little bit: what country, no matter how rotten or out of touch, does not get angry when their own national is executed with a bullet in his chest, and four in his head–all at close range? My God, even Cameron from the UK has condemned Israel’s actions, and asked for a lifting of the brutal, three year seige of Gaza.  If the raid had been carried out by any other country, the coverage would have been different, the reactions would have been outrageous, and FOX or CNN or some other propagandistic outlet would be beating the drums of war against the perpetrators. But not this time. Israel, unlike any other country, enjoys full immunity from the most powerful country in the world, which provides it with all the diplomatic support it needs in the UN to go along with billions in economic and military aid.

Moreover, it is more and more apparent that Israel is becoming a liability for the United States diplomatically and geopolitically. Turkey’s anger at Israel, as expressed by Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogen, may have serious consequences for the United States. The US is still courting Turkey’s support for the new round of sanctions on Iran, while also pressing Turkey (as a NATO member) to increase its troop levels in Afghanistan. Turkey also acts as a facilitator/conduit for around 70% of the US’s weaponry for the war effort in Iraq. [May I also add here that it would not be 100% consistent or wise to give Erdogen or the Turkish government all the praise here, for the reasons I just mentioned. Also, it is Turkish and global civil society that deserves all the praise in this case.]

Despite still dealing arms with Israel, Turkey has pulled out its ambassador, and has cancelled (for now) a joint research program with Israel on issues of energy. Tension is definitely at an all-time-high between the two countries, putting the United States in an awkward position. Not to mention, it is exactly this type of murderousness and blood-thirstiness that induces a high recruitment rate for terrorist organizations around the world.

It is also absolutely unequivocal that Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip is 100% illegal according to the Geneva Conventions, and that Israel systematically blocks aid coming into Gaza and its densely packed 1.5 million residents. What meager aid that Israel does truck into the Strip, according to the UN, is not even enough to feed a quarter of Gaza’s starving residents.

Where will the United States go from here? Some say that “here” is so low that up is the only way possible; I say it’s up to global civil society to decide (advocacy, BDS, education, etc). The US coverage of the flotilla murders is nothing short of atrocious, and the Israel Lobby is still strong.  As a new aids ship, the Rachel Corrie, sails across the ocean for Gaza, Israeli PM Netanyahu has again vowed to stop its delivery.

Israel has not only successfully transformed itself into an apartheid state, but also into a state of insane conduct in the face of the global community. With America’s patronage, it has gotten to the the point where its excuses are laughable to the fifth grader.

But one thing is clear. Whatever reputation Israel loses in the eyes of the world after this raid, the sacrifices made by those who were brutally murdered would have played an incredible part in. It literally took martyrdom for some in the world to notice, but it is of utmost importance and urgency that such martyrdom and sacrifice not pass in vain.

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