Tuesday, September 18, 2007

"U.S. Is Paying Off Iraq's Worst War Criminals in Attempt to Ward Off Attacks"

OK, I didn't come up with this title on my own, but I honestly can't think of a more appropiate name for this post. I find myself wasting too much time trying to come up with witty titles for my posts which contain cheesy puns such as the ones the front page editors at the New York Post are able to churn out every damn day.

I read this article by Katie Halper published over at Alternet, and I have to say it connected a lot of important dots together regarding the ongoing occupation of Iraq - and it saved me a lot of work, as I was in the process of doing research for a long post that would have ended up simply covering the same ground as this excellent article.

Also, her article is much better than whatever I would have ended up writing because 1) it contains a powerful video and 2) it benefits from her deftly interviewing independent journalist and filmaker Rick Rowley.

Here are some of what I consider to be some of the most important excerpts from the interview.
Rick Rowley, a journalist and independent filmmaker of Big Noise Films, was one of the last people to videotape and interview the Sunni sheikh, and his video report Uncovering the Truth Behind the Anbar Success Story, presents a very different picture of the Anbar Awakening.

Embedded with the U.S. Army and Iraqi militias, Rowley shows us that the Sunni "freedom fighters" with whom the United States is now allied are not just insurgents who had been killing Americans but war criminals responsible for sectarian cleansing.

Rowley's report, which includes interviews with candid U.S. soldiers and footage of a military commander handing a Sunni leader a wad of cash, suggests the role of bribery and coercion in building alliances that serve short-term goals in Anbar province, but in the long run deepen a multisided civil war.

and
KH: Bush and Petraeus are hailing our alliance with Sunni tribes in Anbar. Can you tell us about these "freedom fighters" the U.S. is now allied with?

RR: There have been a lot of reports about the fact that the people who the U.S. is working with, the supposed "freedom fighters," the "counter-insurgents" are former insurgents. They were Iraqi al Qaeda before they started working with the Americans. That is troubling because if they were fighting the Americans once, they'll fight Americans again. And more troubling for the future of Iraq is the fact that many of the tribes that the U.S. is working with are war criminals who are directly responsible for ethnic cleansing and who are using American support to prepare for sectarian civil war. The U.S. is funding Sunni militias. They already funded the Shia militias. They're now funding all sides of this sectarian war.

and
KH: And how, exactly, is the U.S. supporting the militias?

RR: The soldiers on the ground aren't hiding anything. They were amazingly open and honest about the whole process with us. Through a combination of threats and enticements like money and releasing their kids from prison, the U.S. military has gotten groups to join a coalition. They're paid money for small construction projects, and they're eventually incorporated into the Iraqi police force, where they're armed and paid, given a gun, a badge and the power to arrest.

There have been reports that some American army units are directly giving them weapons. I didn't see anyone give an M16 to anyone. But I did see a U.S. captain hand wads of cash to militiamen who were guarding checkpoints. Petraeus says they're not supplying guns. That might be true. But saying the U.S. military is just applauding from the sidelines and not providing material support to these militias is a lie.

KH: Why would the U.S. want to support these militias?

RR: It's an easy way to produce immediate statistical successes on the ground, a decrease in attacks on American soldiers. And this is a long-term strategy. Petraeus came in with Negroponte with the so-called "Salvador Option" for Iraq, arming death squads to kill insurgents as the Reagan administration did in the 1980s in El Salvador. In 2004 he incorporated all of the Shia militias into the Iraqi security forces and basically created Shia death squads and secret torture prisons we've all heard stories of. Now they're funding Sunni militias and Sunni death squads

Again, copy and pasting a few paragraphs from this piece simply cannot do it justice, so real the whole thing and watch the video and then ask why US taxpayers are not only funding an illegal and immoral occupation of a Middle East country for geopolitical (i.e. oil) considerations, but are also funding bribe money for the US military and CIA to dole out to people the media would be calling "terrorists" or "insurgents" if they chose not to cooperate with us.

Update: On a tangentally-related topic, the New York Times reports that "The US maintained its role as the leading supplier of weapons to the developing world in 2006."

Iraq and the Bush "Democracy Agenda"

As this article by Bill Fisher notes, Thomas Carothers of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (bio) has a new report out (34 pages, .pdf) entitled "Democracy Promotion During and After Bush", and it is absolutely a must-read. Carothers is, bar none, the leading expert on just how far removed the Bush administration's lip service to "spreading freedom and democracy" throughout the world (and especially in the Middle East!) is from its real-world track record.

For just one example of Carothers' history of providing spot-on critiques of the Bushies' failure to fulfill its "Democracy Agenda", (but stopping short of offering readers with some much-needed critical assessment of just how hypocritical and intellectually bankrupt formulating such a agenda is for these clowns), see this article in the CFR-published journal Foreign Affairs from January/February 2003, "Promoting Democracy and Fighting Terror."

In his new report, which I've printed out in order to be able to read it closely, Carothers argues that the "future of democracy promotion as part of US foreign policy" is uncertain because under the current administration, democracy promotion has been widely discredited through its close association with the Iraq war. Specifically, he points out that "only a minority of the US public now supports democracy promotion as a US policy goal," while both political parties remain "internally divided on the subject."

He argues:
The actual extent of the Bush commitment to democracy promotion is much less than the president’s sweeping rhetoric would suggest. Although the administration insists that the Iraq intervention was a democratizing mission from day one, this proposition remains intensely debated at home and abroad. Bush policy in the rest of the Middle East temporarily diverted from the traditional line of supporting autocratic Arab allies but has returned to it during the past year.

Beyond the Middle East, Bush policy is semi-realist. It includes some low-key, pro-democracy diplomacy and assistance but is primarily driven by economic and security interests that often clash with support for democracy, such as in China, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, and many other places.

The positive effects of Bush policy on global democracy have been sparse. Despite hope in 2004–5 that the Middle East was experiencing a “Baghdad Spring,” the region remains stuck in authoritarian rule. The spread of democracy has stagnated in the rest of the world, with democratic reversals or backsliding outweighing gains. The Bush combination of idealism in words and semi-realism in deeds is not in itself a significant departure from recent predecessors. The foreign policies of Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and Bill Clinton all combined in various proportions an emphasis on democracy with substantial realist elements.

Yet to the extent the Bush approach to democracy promotion is distinctive, its distinguishing features—the centrality of military intervention, the focus on the Middle East, and the tie-in with the war on terrorism—have all been highly problematic.


According to Carothers, the next administration will have a "significant opportunity" to put U.S. democracy promotion on a better track, which translated into layman's terms means that hopefully the next president will be more willing to take a serious, principled stand in foreign affairs than the Bush administration has. According to Carothers, there are three core requirements for the successful transition a workable approach. First, he argues "democracy promotion must be decontaminated from the negative taint it acquired under Bush." He thinks this can be accomplished by little thinks like "improving US compliance with the rule of law in the war on terrorism, ending the close association of democracy promotion with military intervention and regime change, and reducing the inconsistency of U.S. democracy policy by exerting real pressure for change on some key autocratic partners, such as Pakistan and Egypt." Because in life, small adjustments can often yield a disproportionately large impact.

Second, "democracy promotion must be repositioned in the war on terrorism. The idea that democratization will undercut the roots of terrorism is appealing but easily overstated. Promoting democratic change may in some countries help encourage moderates over radicals, but it is far from an antiterrorist elixir." He argues that the next administration should strive to "deescalate rhetorical emphasis on democracy promotion as the centerpiece of the war on terrorism" and instead "escalate actual commitment to the issue" in high-profile situations where supporting democratic change can in fact help diminish growing radicalization. This will require our next president to hire competent foreign policy advisors who understand how democracy promotion works - and doesn't work - and aren't hellbent on using democracy promition as a reed-thin justification for invading and occupying nations in the volatile Middle East to further US geopolitical interests.

Finally, "US democracy promotion must be recalibrated to account for larger changes in the international context. A host of ongoing developments, such as the rise of alternative political models, new trends in globalization, and the high price of oil and gas, have eroded the validity of a whole set of assumptions on which U.S. democracy promotion was built in the 1980s and 1990s. The next administration will need to respond in large and small ways, such as by drawing an explicit tie between energy policy and democracy policy, reengaging internationally at the level of basic political ideas, reducing the America-centrism of U.S. democracy building efforts, and strengthening the core institutional sources of democracy assistance. " In other words, the US ought to seperate out its agenda for controlling access to the world's largest sources of oil with its committment to foreign economic/military/political aid so as to be a beacon of light and a shining example to Third World countries throughout the world. Because Bush has been particularly bad at disguising his military operations and continued military occupation of Iraq on humanitarian grounds.

Here are the key conclusions and recommendations:

• Democracy promotion must be decontaminated from the negative taint it has acquired under President Bush by improving U.S. compliance with the rule of law in the war on terrorism, ending the close association of democracy promotion with military intervention and regime change, and reducing the inconsistency of U.S. democracy policy by exerting real pressure for change on some key autocratic partners, such as Pakistan and Egypt.

• Democracy promotion must be repositioned in the war on terrorism. The idea that democratization will undercut the roots of terrorism is appealing but easily overstated. The next administration should deescalate rhetorical emphasis on democracy promotion as the centerpiece of the war on terrorism while escalating actual commitment to the issue in pivotal cases where supporting democratic change can help diminish growing radicalization.

• U.S. democracy promotion must be recalibrated to account for larger changes in the international context. A host of ongoing developments, such as the rise of authoritarian capitalism, new trends in globalization, and the high price of oil and gas, have eroded the validity of a whole set of assumptions on which U.S. democracy promotion was built in the 1980s and 1990s. The next administration will need to respond in large and small ways, such as by drawing an explicit tie between energy policy and democracy policy, re-engaging internationally at the level of basic political ideas, reducing the America-centrism of U.S. democracy building efforts, and strengthening the core institutional sources of democracy assistance.

According to Carothers: "US democracy promotion must square a daunting circle—it must embody strong elements of modesty, subtlety, and the awareness of limitations without losing the vitality, decisiveness, and creativity necessary for success."

Saturday, September 08, 2007

How the Brookings Institution and other "liberal" Beltway think tanks offer us a Hobson's Choice on Iraq

Matt Yglesias at the Atlantic Online has a short writeup on how some of the most esteemed "liberal" think tanks in Washington DC are once again bending over backwards in order to narrow the debate over the Iraq War so that it doesn't include . . . you know . . . the opinion of the majority of Americans and the majority of Iraqis who want an end to the occupation yesterday.

The key to all of this is, of course, the fact that what passes for "liberal" in Washington, or at least those pundits, politicians and organizations that choose to self-identify themselves as "liberal", are often pretty hawkish cheerleaders for US military and economic hegemony over the Middle East, notwithstanding the fact that they don't believe in the reality of American empire.

In his post, Yglesias describes an invitation he received to attend a panel discussion hosted by the Brookings Institution - the epitomy of what I just described as a think tank perceived by insiders to be a "liberal" organization that for the most part advocates for maintaining the status quo in US "national defense" policy (i.e. offensive US military operations).

According to Yglesias, the invite included the following two paragraphs of background:
The nation is now readying itself to assess America’s Iraq policy against the progress report General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker present to Congress. On September 13, leading Brookings experts representing a uniquely broad spectrum of views will examine the implications of a pivotal Iraq progress report. Specifically, they will review the details of the surge report card; assess if President Bush’s “surge” strategy is working; should be modified or abandoned; and provide an assessment of the way ahead in Iraq.

Participants will include Philip H. Gordon, senior fellow; Michael O’Hanlon, senior fellow; Kenneth M. Pollack, senior fellow and director of research, Saban Center for Middle East Policy; Bruce Riedel, senior fellow; and Peter Rodman, senior fellow. Brookings President Strobe Talbott will provide introductory remarks. Carlos Pascual, vice president and director of Foreign Policy Studies, will moderate the panel. After the program, panelists will take audience questions.

He then notes, with a wholly-warranted level of sarcasm, that the participants don't represent a wide range of opinion or insight into how to deal with the occupation; they are basically just different shades of foreign policy hawks whose respective ideologies probably did nothing short of reinforcing and legitimizing each other.

So even if our "liberal" pundits are wildly out-of-touch with the American people the look down on with sneering condescention, the echo-chamber effect created at an event like this might just give a visiting journalist the impression that there is a consensus expert opinion that favors staying in Iraq forever . . .

*h/t SirotaBlog.

**For an explanation of what the term "Hobson's Choice" means, see here.

Update: More on this phenomenon from Matt Stoller at the new Open Left site in a post entitled "Brookings: Where the Very Serious People Pushing Petraeus's PR Rollout Live".


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