The Start Signal for Recession
Yesterday's 3%+ stock market plunge was not due to losses in the China stock market or computer glitches. Instead several data points showed a deteriorating economic climate in the U.S. and probably world wide.
After years of low central bank rates and easy credit availability the U.S. housing market last year went nuts. People could get mortgages of 100% of the inflated house value without down payments and many borrowers took out ARM's, mortgages with adjustable rates. But as rates started to climb through inflationary pressure, the party suddenly, but not unexpectedly, stopped.
New home sales are down and last month they plunged. But builders still had and have lots of new houses in the pipeline and as these are finished those additionally come into the market. More house offered but less customers able to pay the now higher rates results in sinking house prices.
Those borrowers who were barely able to afford the initial payments for their ARMs on 100% of their house value now experience a double crunch. The real value of their houses go down and the amount of their loan may now be at 110% of the house value. At the same time the increased rates increase the monthly payments of the original loan. For many the result is bankruptcy. Their houses go into receivership and will add to the glut of offered homes.
With too many houses in the market and little sales, home builder companies are in trouble. New home sales plunge. Also affected are home improvement markets like Home Depot. Last year the construction industry had been a leading hiring sector. It may become the leading firing sector now.
The lenders who gave the sub-prime mortgages bundled the mortgages they issued, repacked those and sold them to institutions and individuals as Mortgage Backed Securities. Those securities promised a relatively high rate of return for the buyer, if the payments would actually come in. But with borrowers going under, lots of the involved mortgages default, and those who did buy the MBS bonds now will have negative returns, i.e. they are losing money.
Several lending companies have shut down. Some big institutions have already taken losses in the range of several billions. This of course will show in their balance sheets and take a toll on their share prices.
Now lending standards are tightened going back to the regular standards which demand down payments and an appropriate stable income. For those borrowers already in trouble, refinancing to stretch their loans will thereby become impossible. The result is more bankruptcy cases, more houses in the market, lower house prices, more bankruptcy cases... A downward spiral has started that will only stop after house prices, which have been high above historical norms, are well below those.
The side effects on the general economy will take a while to get visible. Manufacturing is already in trouble. Expect higher unemployment, lower stock markets and lack of lenders who, licking their wounds, will only loan for higher rates and to very secure borrowers. A credit crunch that will affect businesses, small and big, too.
All this points to general deteriorating economic conditions beyond isolated sectors that will be reflected in the stock markets. Yesterday's drop may therefore only have been the start signal of a wider recessionary phase that could well take some years to find a bottom.
Fun in the stock markets today ...
and other news & views ...
Hersh - Some Rough Thoughts
Just a few rough thoughts, as I am a bit busy.
1. Seymour Hersh in his latest piece writes:
Iran-Contra was the subject of an informal “lessons learned” discussion two years ago among veterans of the scandal. Abrams led the discussion. One conclusion was that even though the program was eventually exposed, it had been possible to execute it without telling Congress. As to what the experience taught them, in terms of future covert operations, the participants found: “One, you can’t trust our friends. Two, the C.I.A. has got to be totally out of it. Three, you can’t trust the uniformed military, and four, it’s got to be run out of the Vice-President’s office”—a reference to Cheney’s role, the former senior intelligence official said.
If you can't trust your friends, cannot include the CIA and can't trust the uniformed military, who is left to do the action? As money is not a limit could this be something that starts with black and ends with water?
2. Hersh also did interview the Shia leader in Lebanon, Nasrallah. It is interesting how aware he is of the real plans:
Nasrallah said he believed that America also wanted to bring about the partition of Lebanon and of Syria. In Syria, he said, the result would be to push the country “into chaos and internal battles like in Iraq.” In Lebanon, “There will be a Sunni state, an Alawi state, a Christian state, and a Druze state.” But, he said, “I do not know if there will be a Shiite state.” Nasrallah told me that he suspected that one aim of the Israeli bombing of Lebanon last summer was “the destruction of Shiite areas and the displacement of Shiites from Lebanon. The idea was to have the Shiites of Lebanon and Syria flee to southern Iraq,” which is dominated by Shiites. “I am not sure, but I smell this,” he told me.
Partition would leave Israel surrounded by “small tranquil states,” he said. “I can assure you that the Saudi kingdom will also be divided, and the issue will reach to North African states. There will be small ethnic and confessional states,” he said. “In other words, Israel will be the most important and the strongest state in a region that has been partitioned into ethnic and confessional states that are in agreement with each other. This is the new Middle East.”
If Nasrallah sees this, the Saudis and the Turks, who both lose in these plans, should see this too. But do they?
3. Who, what, in the end, is behind all of this? I am not sure, but Bush senior gives his son a likely answer:
One day during that holiday, according to friends of the family, 43 asked his father, "What's a neocon?"
"Do you want names, or a description?" answered 41.
"Well," said the former president of the United States, "I'll give it to you in one word: Israel."
Annals of Press Stupidity
Three Arab states in the Persian Gulf would be willing to allow the Israel Air force to enter their airspace in order to reach Iran in case of an attack on its nuclear facilities, the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Siyasa reported on Sunday.
According to the report, a diplomat from one of the gulf states visiting Washington on Saturday said the three states, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, have told the United States that they would not object to Israel using their airspace, despite their fear of an Iranian response.
Qatar, Oman and UAE? Hmmm, yes, makes total sense, doesn't it? Though I wonder why Polynesia does not join those three ...
Cordesman on the British Defeat
Excerpts of CSIS' strategist Anthony H. Cordesman's latest on Iraq:
[T]he coming British cuts in many ways reflect the political reality that the British "lost" the south more than a year ago.
Iraq’s factions know that the US is involved in a war of attrition where these past [Bush] mistakes have created a political climate where it appears to be steadily more vulnerable to pressures that either will make it leave, or sharply limit how long it can play a major role. One year increasingly seems “long” by American domestic political standards, but the actors in Iraq and the region can play for years. In fact, they have to play for years. They live there and they know the chances of true stability are negligible for years to come.
[The US] has completely failed to set forth a strategy and meaningful operational plan for dealing with Iraq as a country even if it succeeds in Baghdad.
Another key reality is that the US really is no longer in control even of “Plan A;” the Iraqi government is. The British withdrawal plan may simply be yet another warning that the real-world contingency is plan I – one controlled and shaped by Iraq’s internal power struggles.
One of the lessons that both the Bush Administration and its various US opponents and critics may still have to learn is that at a given level of defeat, other actors control events. US discussions of alternative plans and strategies may well be becoming largely irrelevant.
I agree with Cordesman's analysis. What he does not touch is the Neocons' view who see Iraq as only one small battle in the long war. They will argue that Iraq may currently be a stalemate, but a decisive victory in the next battle of their war can and will solve that problem.
Baghdad is for wimps, real men go to Teheran.
The ninth U.S. helicopter in five weeks has been downed in Iraq - quite a surge. There is really no way for the U.S. to change tactics to avoid this, so expect more of these. For the resistance this is effective as it increases the likelihood of a U.S. retreat.
But chlorine could be a usable tool against U.S. forces. Had such a bomb been used against the FOB in Tarmyia, all U.S. troops off the bigger bases would now be ordered to always carry their bulky and heavy ABC protective gear with them. In an Iraqi summer that really would slow things down. That is why I expect this to spread.
While Riverbend believes the rape account that ran over Aljazeerah, Iraqi Konfused Kid has some reasonable doubts, especially regarding the timing and the wording of her statement. This reminds me a bit of nurse Nayirah.
So Maliki may, in principle, be wrong or right, but his reaction of blaming the (possible/likely) victim was dumb. Then again, he may be smart. Maybe his site started the story to increase the Sunni attacks and the following U.S. kinetic reaction on the Sunni population. What do you think?
The situation is confusing. The U.S. is obviously siding with the Iran supported Shia government in Iraq while working on a Sunni coalition against Teheran. Rice's meeting with four chiefs of Arab secret services is very suspect. Is there any precedent for such a conference?
Rice's meeting with the Mukhabarat was reported as a routine affair, even though what is supposed to happen is that a foreign minister meets with her counterparts, or with heads of state, who then formulate policy, and in each country that policy is transmitted to domestic agencies including the Mukhabarat and others, for implementation. Rice's direct meeting with the assembled Mukhabarat is a sign that the security apparatus of the Arab regimes have become an integrated part of the US administration. The point is made by Abdulbari Atwan in Al-Quds al-Arabi this morning.
Moreover, the meeting had nothing to do with Palestine, he says. Rather, it was about turning up the heat on Iran, and he devotes the rest of his column to a consideration of likely coming events with respect to this.
As Olmert is crying for more sanctions on Iran, Rice will work to push for that. But somehow it is hard to see that a pissed off Putin and the Chinese will agree to further UN action. So how will the heat be increased?
How will the U.S. supply line between Baghdad and Kuwait hold without the Brits? One Prince Harry does not replace a complete British regiment. He will only be a juicier target. So who will keep the line open?
If you don't comment, BLOGCOM may win.
News & views ....
Understanding AFRICOM - Part III
A Contextual Reading of Empire's New Combatant Command
(This is the last part of the Understanding AFRICOM series. You may want to start with reading part I and part II. A PDF version of the complete series is available. Your comments on this are welcome here.)
by b real
A New Cold War in Africa
Apart from its role in protecting oil and natural gas supplies, AFRICOM will inherit additional responsibility on a continent that is fast becoming the geopolitical centerpiece in a new Cold War. Aimed toward countering China, this context will cast the new combatant command on a parallel with that of EUCOM in its task containing the Eastern Bloc during the decades following the Second World War.
The most significant challenge to U.S. policy in Africa in the coming years may be China. The immediate topic of most strategic discussions regarding China and Africa is oil competition. "Twenty years ago, China was East Asia's largest oil exporter. Now it is the world's second-largest importer; last year, it alone accounted for 31 percent of global growth in oil demand." Just as the U.S. is recognizing the importance of African oil to its interests, China is actively seeking to expand its own market share. But China's economic (and thus political) engagement of Africa since the turn of the century goes far beyond the hunt for energy. China's overall trade with Africa doubled from 2002 to 2003, and then doubled again between 2003 and 2005. This 400% growth in three years comes atop 700% growth in the decade of the 1990s, and there is no end in sight. China is now Africa's third largest trading partner, behind the U.S. and France, and ahead of former colonial power Britain.
Thus Chinese engagement in Africa threatens to substantially reduce the leverage of the U.S. and its Western allies, and thereby undermine the political and economic reform agendas the West has been pushing in Africa for two decades. More than this, however, successful economic engagement by China could open a huge new market for trade and investment, which it would be in position to dominate. The political implications of an economically emerging Africa in close alliance with China are disconcerting in the U.S. policy circles. China's engagement in Africa may soon challenge the longstanding American perception that 'there is no there there,' and encourage serious, interest-driven U.S. engagement with Africa for the first time in history. 
Africa weighs heavily in China's plans for the future. Government officials have been making regular trips to Africa for the last few years, buying stakes in oil and natural gas fields, dealing for a variety of resources & agricultural products vital to its rapidly growing economy, signing trade agreements with 45 nations, handing out loans to starving governments, canceling debts, and lining up infrastructure projects. A three-year plan revealed at last November's Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in Beijing clearly outlines objectives on multiple fronts to build upon a partnership between China and the majority of African nations.
The plan pledges that China will:
Double aid to Africa by 2009 (to about $1bn) Set up a $5 bn China-Africa development fund to encourage Chinese companies to invest in Africa Provide $3 bn in preferential loans and $2 bn in preferential buyer's credits to African countries Cancel all debt stemming from Chinese interest-free government loans that matured by the end of 2005, for the 31 highly indebted and least developed countries (LDCs) in Africa that have relations with China (an amount estimated at around $1.4 bn) Further open China's markets to exports from African LDCs by increasing from 190 to 440 the number of products receiving zero-tariff treatment Train 15,000 African professionals, double the number of Chinese government scholarships given annually to Africans (to 4,000) and send 100 senior agricultural experts and 300 youth volunteers Build 30 hospitals, 30 malaria treatment centers and 100 rural schools 
Chinese entrepreneurs have also been making inroads into the continent. As one analysis pointed out, "The 800 Chinese companies in Africa are viewed by Beijing as fulfilling both political and economic roles, and as part of a diplomatic effort to project influence."  Africa has become both a necessary market for Chinese goods and a laboratory for new products and market campaigns. The influence is continent-wide and largely received favorably by many nations looking to get out under the claws of the Western neoliberal institutions. And this reality is making the imperialists in Washington see red.
China has secured oil fields and exploration rights in nations ranging from Kenya and Sudan in the East to Congo in Central Africa, and Angola in the West. And Nigeria, holding 70 percent of Africa's oil, has not gone ignored either.
Obasanjo is also shaking up the oil industry in a double maneuver interpreted as a rap on the knuckles for his Western allies and a last ditch effort to secure a legacy as the one Nigerian leader who tamed corruption in that sector.
American, British, and French oil companies enjoyed a virtual monopoly of Nigeria's oil industry. Royal Dutch Shell's joint venture with the government produces half of the country's daily output of 2.5 million barrels. Two U.S. companies, Chevron Texaco and Mobil, are also key players. Obasanjo's new oil policy threatens this dominance.
China made a dramatic entry into the picture last April, when Nigerian officials announced that China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) had bought a 45% stake in a Nigerian oil field for more than $2 billion. That field will pump 225,000 barrels per day when it begins production in 2008. Obasanjo also negotiated a loan of $1 billion from the Chinese government to finance repair of Nigeria's railways and buy new rolling stock.
These deals were brokered at the height of the constitutional drama, when America said it would not support an attempt by the government to extend its stay in office unconstitutionally. In addition to rolling out the welcome mat for energy-hungry China, oil ministry officials say they will tighten financial regulations and impose sanctions on companies seen as defaulting on tax and royalty payments - moves apparently aimed as local subsidiaries in the Niger Delta. 
Two months after the $2.27 billion deal for the offshore oil-mining license, CNOOC paid Nigeria another $60 million USD for a 35 percent stake in one more offshore license. And Nigeria has currently opened another 50-60 oil and gas blocks up for investors, of which China is only one expected taker.  Basically, China has a lot of money to invest in Africa, and securing energy supplies prominently figures into its agenda.
Obviously, this conflicts with the United States' priorities, as do the economic inroads that China has been successfully establishing in the continent, and Africa finds itself the major set piece for the grand game.
In More Than Humanitarianism, the Council on Foreign Relations ... depicts the leading threat as coming from China: "China has altered the strategic context in Africa. All across Africa today, China is acquiring control of natural resource assets, outbidding Western contractors on major infrastructure projects, and providing soft loans and other incentives to bolster its competitive advantage." China imports more than a quarter of its oil from Africa, primarily Angola, Sudan, and Congo. It is Sudan's largest foreign investor. It has provided heavy subsidiaries to Nigeria to increase its influence and has been selling fighter jets there. Most threatening from the standpoint of U.S. grand strategists is China's $2 billion low-interest loan to Angola in 2004, which has allowed Angola to withstand IMF demands to reshape its economy and society along neoliberal lines.
For the Council on Foreign Relations, all of this adds up to nothing less than a threat to Western imperialist control of Africa. Given China's role, the council report says, "the United States and Europe cannot consider Africa their chasse gardé [private hunting ground], as the French once did in francophone Africa. The rules are changing as China seeks not only to gain access to resources, but also to control resource production and distribution, perhaps positioning itself for priority access as these resources become scarcer." The council report on Africa is so concerned with combating China through the expansion of U.S. military operations in the region, that none other than Chester Crocker, former assistant secretary of state for African affairs in the Reagan administration, charges it with sounding "wistfully nostalgic for an era when the United States or the West was the only influence and could pursue its ... objectives with a free hand." 
AFRICOM is a vital centralization of that military expansion into the 21st century scramble for Africa. The U.S. naval buildup along Africa's coasts is part of a new "force projection" that not only serves to monitor and protect strategic waterways, but also to intimidate and deter Empire's enemies. Pentagon and think-tank strategists, responding to perceptions of China's buildup of their own naval powers, are moving their game pieces around the world accordingly, "making sure that strategic waterways are under their control from the Straits of Hormuz to the Malacca Straits."
The United States' desperation to control and patrol one of the world's vital sea lanes - the Malacca Strait - indicates just how advanced the U.S. China geo-political containment policy is. A third of all world trade goes through the Strait, as well as eighty percent of China's oil imports. ... Due to threats of 'terrorism' and 'piracy' America has set up the PSI (Proliferation Security Initiatives) and RMSI - the 'Regional Maritime Security Initiative' - which is designed to 'protect' and 'patrol' this waterway. Discussing the issue in the Jakarta Post in June 2006, Ria Jaslim wrote: "China's fast-paced economic growth and strengthening defense capabilities place them in a position to challenge America's leadership in the Asia-Pacific region. This latent competition will likely prompt the U.S. to adopt a strategy to contain China. This would include controlling the sea-lines of communication and strategic maritime checkpoints, such as the Strait of Malacca, and thus indirectly controlling the movement of raw materials and goods to China.
Thus, the real reason America wants to bolster its presence in the region, and specifically the Strait of Malacca, is to limit China's access to oil, raw materials, technology and industrial equipment, and to contain China's influence in the region. Using the threat of terrorism and piracy to strengthen the Proliferation Security Initiatives is the most likely strategy."
These increases in naval activity and initiatives in and around the Gulf of Guinea can be interpreted in the same manner. The possibility of a large strategic naval base on the island of Sao Tome and Principe  reminds one of an earlier era of U.S. imperial expansion aimed at the East. Efforts underway to sell resistant Gulf nations on the needs for maritime security programs, building maritime interoperability, forge the bottom section of the "ring fencing" of Nigeria. On the ground to the north, the TSCTI is connecting local militaries under U.S. command, fed regularly on a diet of GWOT pabulum and Congressional funding.
In FY 2005, the TSCTI received $16 million; in FY 2006, nearly $31 million. "The big push comes in 2008, when the administration hopes to get $100 million each year for five years." All of this far exceeds the $7.75 million allocated to the earlier Pan-Sahel Initiative. If and when the new African Command is approved by President Bush, funding will be ramped up accordingly. 
The goal of building large regional battalions may very well foreshadow larger proxy wars, as well as attempts at the strategic blocking of resource routes from Sub-Saharan to Northern Africa. Efforts are already under way to block access to deep seaports along the Horn of Africa, limiting seaway lanes to China (and India). Regime changes continue in the objective of gaining accommodating client states in strategic zones across the continent. Increases in arms trade and military hardware to gain stability. Agencies and contractors on the ground, building HUMINT. Money changes hands to arm insurgents and warlords. Election results are overturned to keep useful leaders in power. Intelligence equipment and assistance are offered for neutralizing "terrorists." Already, the U.S. supports unpopular governments in nations such as Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Central African Republican, Somalia, and Algeria.
Perhaps the most worrying of America's new military partners in the [Sahel] region is Algeria. According to [former EUCOM deputy commander General Charles] Wald, European Command is working "heavily" with the Algerian government. When asked about Algeria's contribution to the war on terrorism, Wald has said, "I think they're doing a fantastic job," and that the U.S. military has "a lot to learn from the Algerians." But as Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director of Human Rights Watch, recently told the House of Representatives: "In human rights terms, Algeria, with its documented record of torture and 'disappearances,' is in many ways a model of how not to fight terrorism." During Algeria's long-running struggle with the GSPC and other Islamic insurgents, Malinowski explained, "security forces arrested and tortured thousands of suspects. They engaged in summary executions, often rounding up victims arbitrarily in reprisal for attacks on their own troops. And between 1993 and 1997, they picked up and made 'disappear' an estimated 7,000 Algerians who remain unaccounted for until this day." 
This sort of "support" is only bound to increase as rhetoric of stabilizing Africa makes the dailies, copied directly out of official AFRICOM press releases. Readers of the mainstream media can expect to encounter more frequent usages of terms like "blunder" and "misguided." Already the propagandists decry China's human rights record and support for Sudan and Zimbabwe while ignoring the ongoing violations of Western corporations engaged in the various extraction industries as they plunder natural resources and pollute other peoples homelands, of U.S. gunships mowing down villagers in the Horn, and of SOF-trained armies reportedly committing atrocities across the continent to pacify rebellions over territorial and resource disputes and "shore up" repressive regimes.
In that December Report to Members of the Committee on Foreign Relations, one can read the following example of U.S. priorities in the human and civil rights context.
One Central African country in particular illustrates the need for State Department perspective and guidance to temper Defense Department enthusiasm. The country is unstable, desperately poor, and run by a repressive government that is being challenged by a persistent armed resistance. Desperate for a military strong enough to protect it from the rebels, the government has signed an Article 98 agreement, exempting U.S. military personnel from International Criminal Court procedures and thus enabling it to receive military assistance. It has also signed a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the United States. With extensive "under-governed spaces" as potential terrorist havens and bordering countries with equally uncertain futures, the country was termed "a model country for security assistance" by the regional combatant command. Civilian embassy officials, however, are demonstrably less keen. They question the rate at which military programs are rapidly escalating and the sizable and still growing presence of U.S. military personnel in-country. A U.S.-labeled backpack, observed on a government soldier undergoing U.S. training, underscored for SFRC staff the potential complications of a too-close association with the country's military. It would be a major setback if the United States were to be implicated in support of operations shoring up the repressive regime, regardless of the stated intent of such training. 
A new cold war is underway in Africa, and AFRICOM will be at the dark heart of it.
Africa has been through this before, caught in the middle of a global chessboard during the first Cold War as competing world powers sought to win friends and contain enemies at the expense of those in the way. Militaries were trained and armed to fight proxy battles or overthrow unsympathetic regimes. Rhetorical allusions to notions of human rights and democratic governments lost out to the more pragmatic ends of protecting economic ideologies. For the most part, the blood that spilled was largely that of Africa, again prevented from achieving true independence, self-identity, and prosperity. The old Cold War blew in primarily on the exaggerated vapors of ideology. This one is not so abstract.
Africa is now perceived as the final frontier for the world's energy supplies, crucial for the preservation of hi-tech global civilizations, and this new scramble will be much more serious. This is the context in which the new combatant command enters the history books, at the junction of the early 21st century and the pending flare out of the petroleum age. Expanding the military reach of the most powerful empire the planet has ever known, AFRICOM will be tasked with the responsibility of achieving full-spectrum dominance over mother Africa for fuel. Operating as both energy-protection service and strategic Cold War front, the unified command will concentrate whatever military forces are necessary to keep the furnaces of Empire lit. Whether AFRICOM will succeed in this directive is beside the point, for, while ends may justify the means for the elite in power, their so-called "national interest" payoff, it is regular people who pay the full price at all times. And it does not require a crystal ball or great imagination to realize what the increased militarization of the continent through AFRICOM will bring to the peoples of Africa.
49. Ernest Harsch, "Big leap in China-Africa ties," African Renewal, Vol.20 #4 (January 2007), page 3, [link]
50. Bright B. Simons, Evans Lartey and Franklin Cudjoe, "China On Safari: Emperor Hu's new clothes for Africa," Asia Times Online, February 8, 2007, [link]
51. Ike Okonta, "Obasanjo's Troubling End-Game," Project Syndicate, July 2006, [link]
52. "Nigeria To Launch New Oil and Gas Licensing Round," Alexander's Gas & Oil Connection, January 16, 2007, [link]
54. Maryann Keady, "U.S.-China and a New Cold War," January 14, 2007, [link]
56. Lubeck, Watts and Lipschutz
58. "Embassies As Command Posts in the Anti-Terror Campaign," p.5
Understanding AFRICOM - Part II
A Contextual Reading of Empire's New Combatant Command
(This is part II of Understanding AFRICOM. You may want to start with reading part I. Published now is also part III. A PDF version of the complete series is available. Your comments on this are welcome here.)
by b real
Prior to the announcement of AFRICOM, the remaining portion of Africa fell under the AOR of the U.S. European Command (EUCOM), with the exception being U.S. Pacific Command's responsibility for the island of Madagascar. It is in Western and Sub-Sahara Africa where the most active presence of U.S. forces is taking place. It is also, not surprisingly, where most of Africa's oil and natural gas resources are located. The Cheney report identified the six largest Sub-Saharan oil-producing African nations as the focus for U.S. attention in expanding reliable oil supplies - Nigeria, Angola, Gabon, Congo-Brazzaville, Chad, and Equatorial Guinea. 
As Bellamy noted, the introduction to a 2005 Council on Foreign Relations document, "More Than Humanitarianism: A Strategic U.S. Approach Toward Africa", declared that "By the end of the decade sub-Saharan Africa is likely to become as important as a source of U.S. energy imports as the Middle East." The end of the decade, accordingly, is not very far into the future.
The authors of a recent report for the Center for International Policy, titled "Convergent Interests: U.S. Energy Security and the 'Securing' of Nigerian Democracy," elaborate:
U.S. military involvement in West Africa has only mushroomed since 2001, focusing on three broad goals: (i) getting U.S. forces on the ground in order to advise and upgrade the region's militaries in support of the GWOT; (ii) establishing maritime dominance in the Gulf in order to secure offshore oil installations and, if necessary, unilaterally defending American energy assets; and (iii) building or subcontracting access to new air and naval bases, to provide both forward supplies, surveillance and air cover capacities. As EUCOM's General Jones recently told the Wall Street Journal, "Africa plays an increased strategic role militarily, economically and politically..." for his command, which now spends "70 percent of its time and energy on Africa .. up from nearly none when he took it over three-plus years ago." 
EUCOM's AOR, prior to the AFRICOM announcement, consisted of 93 countries and territories, including all of Europe, most of Africa, Russia, three-quarters of Greenland, and Israel. Using the pretext of fighting terrorism, EUCOM has made significant steps toward planting a large boot print in West Africa. One of their first targets was the southern border of the world's largest desert, the Sahara, which GWOT strategists described as an ungoverned space (i.e. not measuring up to western ideas of governance), replete with smugglers, bandits, and 70 million Muslims who not only possibly harbored transnational terrorists, but were themselves susceptible to becoming "seeds" in the international network of terror, easily persuaded by outsiders into a jihad against the West.
Of course, there is also a capital-intensive oil infrastructure, including pipelines, in this 3,000-mile stretch of land - called the Sahel - that runs through Mauritania, Mali, Niger, and Chad, on into Sudan.
Some Africa specialists complain that since 9-11 the United States has wrongfully collapsed the Sahel's manifold problems into an all-too-simple issue: hunting bad guys. "We are exaggerating the whole terrorism thing," said Robert Pringle, a former ambassador to Mali. ... Similar views can be found in Washington, where a number of people said that the European Command had a bureaucratic imperative to cast militant Islam in the region as an impending danger. A retired CIA specialist in counterterrorism told me that European Command had its "nose out of joint" because the main theaters of the war on terrorism fell under Central Command, the division responsible for American forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. A former U.S. diplomat who worked closely with the Defense Department said, "I mean, for European Command, when they tore down the Berlin Wall, a lot of their missions evaporated -- so it's a matter of having resources [allocated by Congress] and then trying to find missions to justify them." A State Department official familiar with the military's Saharan strategy called it "a hammer looking for a nail." 
Undoubtedly, EUCOM has benefited under a renewed sense of purpose, reversing earlier cuts in both personnel and financing after the crimson specters of the Cold War reanimated in traditional Islamic garb for the GWOT. Actual proof of transnational terrorist networks and international financing in Africa, however, has not been delivered, and specialists have debunked many of the perceptions advanced in the GWOT. In addition to the observation that "[t]here is little evidence of a significant terrorist threat in the West African countries visited," the SFRC team reported to the Senate committee that U.S. embassy officials also downplayed the GWOT dangers.
Section 1206 funding is supporting both the Gulf of Guinea initiative in West Africa and the Trans Sahara Counter-Terrorism Partnership. In neither case did embassy officials in countries visited see Section 1206 funding as addressing an emergency. Rather, it is seen as a new source of money for long-desired components in a military relationship. Old wish lists were dusted off and used to justify submitting a request for Section 1206 funding.
If an organized, non-state international terrorist structure actually even exists, it has little chance, and no luck so far, penetrating and organizing clan and tribal societies in Africa. Much of the "terrorist" rhetoric amply demonstrates the biases and ignorance of the strategists and promoters. 
After 911, the U.S. Special Forces programs operating in a multitude of African nations switched from a narrative centered on building peacekeeping capabilities to that of counterterrorism and counterinsurgency training. Throughout the continent, U.S. forces worked with militaries such as those in Algeria, Angola, Benin, Botswana, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, the Congos, Cote d'Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sao Tome, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. In some cases, SOF has worked alongside the militaries it trains, engaging in battle with "terrorist" outfits, as it did in 2004 in the Sahel helping the Algerian government eliminate opposition forces. 
As Daniel Volman wrote, DoD's focus in these countries is on "efforts to strengthen the security the security forces of oil-producing countries and enhance their ability to ensure that their oil continues to flow to the United States."
It is doing this through three main channels. The first of these is the sale of arms to African governments through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program and the Commercial Sales program. The second is the provision of military training and education programs both in Africa and in the United States for African troops and officers through the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program, the African Contingency Operations Training Assistance (ACOTA) program (the successor to the African Crisis Response Initiative program created by the Clinton Administration in 1997), and the African Regional Peacekeeping Program. Finally, the Pentagon is conducting joint military exercises with military forces throughout the continent in order to train local forces and to enhance the ability of U.S. forces to engage in military operations in Africa. 
Volman also points out that "these programs are intended to bolster the capacity of African military forces to protect oil production and transportation facilities from any conflict that might disrupt oil shipments." Not surprisingly, "In the case of all sub-Saharan recipients, the U.S. government waives the repayment of these loans." 
Overt military funding from the United States for these programs comes mainly through two main channels, the 150 Foreign Affairs accounted, controlled by the State Department, and Section 1206 Security Assistance, under the control of the Defense Department. The former covers the basic programs, like foreign military financing (FMF), IMET, and the Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI). In the past year, as the DoD has taken a leading role in setting U.S. policies, the 2006 National Defense Authorization Act has broadened the powers of the Secretary of Defense to authorize and allocate funds for special security programs, bypassing the oversight of the Secretary of State and the need for Presidential direction. Under the umbrella of the GWOT, these programs focus on training and equipping military and police forces, building up maritime security, securing borders, and countering resistance movements.
The SFRC report states that
Overall in fiscal year 2006, $200 million in funding was appropriated. Only $100 million of that amount has been obligated, an indication that the initially claimed urgency for the funding was questionable. In the 2007 budget, $300 million has been authorized for Section 1206 funding and a request of $750 million is expected for 2008. 
There are multiple objectives going on the various locations, with not all necessarily following the GWOT narrative. Integration of U.S. access into these nations through their military is one aspect, providing channels for influence and gathering intelligence. There is also an attempt to network communication between the militaries of various nations, providing for regional response of armed forces, orchestrated accordingly with U.S. objectives. And some forces receive training for specific purposes, such as guarding pipelines and hydrocarbon production facilities, and for covert missions. As one influential and well-connected lobby group, Securing America's Energy Future, pointed out in a recent publication, "EUCOM soldiers are training locals to guard the Baku-Tbilsi-Ceyhan pipeline and working to curb corruption and improve the security of facilities in West Africa." 
In addition to the military front, advances are being made on the civil side too. That same 2004 CRS Report for Congress stated that "[t]he most frequently deployed SOF assets are civil affairs (CA) units, which provide experts in every area of civil government to help administer civilian affairs in the theater."  Special Forces have also greatly expanded their propaganda operations, which are now considered an integral part of population control. Psyops teams consisting of 3-4 individuals now operate out of at least 18 embassies around the world, with plans for more on the way.
While the motives of the many different individuals involved in the humanitarian and civil capacity-building (nation-building, in this regard) efforts should not be necessarily suspect, from a broader perspective many of these programs can be recognized as a means of altruistic cover, defusing public opposition by masking neo-colonial imperialism with talk of "helping Africans help themselves." But it is the military actions that belie such rhetoric of "democracy-building" and of helping to set Africa on the "path of political and economic freedom."
In West Africa, the U.S. military's European Command has now established forward-operating locations in Senegal, Mali, Ghana, and Gabon -- as well as Namibia, bordering Angola on the south -- involving the upgrading of airfields, the pre-positioning of critical supplies and fuel, and access agreements for swift deployment of U.S. troops. ... [It] is developing a coastal security system in the Gulf of Guinea called the Gulf of Guinea Guard. It has also been planning the construction of a U.S. naval base in Sao Tome and Principe, which the European Command has intimated could rival the U.S. naval base as Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. The Pentagon is thus moving aggressively to establish a military presence in the Gulf of Guinea that will allow it to control the western part of the broad trans-Africa oil strip and the vital oil reserves now being discovered there. 
Nigeria, the Niger Delta, and the Gulf of Guinea
As the authors of the Convergent Interest report warn,
EUCOM's main strategic objective focuses on securing Nigerian and Gulf energy supplies To achieve this strategic goal, American military planners have launched a two-pronged pincher movement whose main objective is "Ring-Fencing Nigeria" from the north and south. To the South, the Navy is rapidly increasing their patrols in the oil fields of the Gulf of Guinea, bolstered by U.S. funding of an $800,000 port and airfield feasibility study of STP [the island state of Sao Tome and Principe]. To the north, American troops funded by the TSCTI [the Trans-Sahara Counter Terrorism Initiative] are being deployed in training and advising missions designed to monitor and, if necessary, seal Nigeria's northern border. An intensive search is on for any evidence linking northern Nigerians with international Islamist terrorism. A Reuter's story describing the TSCTI as a "ring fencing" strategy reports that "privately, some (American) officials acknowledge that the main concern in the region is protecting Nigeria, the continent's biggest oil producer...." 
Nigeria is the most populous African nation with more than 131 million citizens -- one-fifth of the total population. There are perhaps 300 different ethnic groups in Nigeria, distributed across a patchwork of states and territories. The Northern states contain some 50-60 million Muslims, largely members of the Hausa and Fulani, who have become very familiar with the preconceptions of EUCOM and the war on terror. Though Nigeria is officially a secular nation, twelve northern states have adopted the framework of Shari'ah, Islamic law, for their legal and ethical codes. While the northern half of the country is majority Sunni Muslim, the rest of Nigeria is mostly composed of a mixture of Christian Independents and those retaining traditional, indigenous beliefs.
Near the center of the country sits the federal government in the capitol of Abuja. The West and East each share their own differences. And to the south lay a jigsaw pattern of states, carved out of one of the largest deltas on the planet by the Niger River, West Africa's largest, as it empties into the Gulf of Guinea over an area covering nearly 75,000 square miles. Earlier the center of a large colonial palm oil industry, the Niger Delta, containing some 30 million indigenous residents, these days still finds itself occupied by foreigners in a situation little changed from that of the pre-independence era. In fact, it's probably worse.
After gaining independence from British colonialists on New Year's 1960, Nigeria has literally been in turmoil. A civil war lasting from 1967 to 1970 claimed an estimated three million lives. And nine military coups between 1966 and the installation of the notoriously corrupt Sani Abacha in 1993 have forced the citizens to endure seemingly perpetual military rule (over thirty years, post-independence), which overtly ended with Abacha's death five years later. However, before turning over the government to civilian rule, the military wrote a new constitution in 1999, forcing it upon the peoples of this diverse country, and which, to this day, remains widely despised and a source of ongoing conflict. 
The current President, Olusegun Obasanjo, who actually ruled the country from 1976-1979 and was later imprisoned in 1995 for plotting a coup against Abacha, has hardly been a benefit for the nation. Holding the presidency for two terms through blatant election fraud, he has failed to respond in the face of public pressure to change the constitution so as to bring about a more just representation for the numerous states and diverse ethnic groups living within the imposed national boundaries left by the colonizers. Not that changing the constitution was completely out of the question for Obasanjo - he only recently conceded defeat amidst international condemnation for his expressed desires to amend the constitution just enough to extend his presidency for a third term, justified as critical, of course, in order to prevent the government from falling into the hands of the more corrupt.
Yet Obasanjo has resisted calls for moving the country forward toward a true democracy, one that recognizes the self-determination of all its peoples. And shares the wealth. The living standards for most Nigerians are not much better than they were since that New Year's Day nearly fifty years ago. It is estimated that 70 percent of Nigerians - some 90 million people -- live on less than one USD per day despite the wealth and revenues being generated by its petroeconomy (the country has been a member nation of OPEC since the early 1970s). Nigeria appears regularly near the top of international corruption indices. Barrels of oil mysteriously vanish. Funds disappear. Lies are told. Bribes are the norm. 
With elections scheduled for April of this year, the presidency will change and, though it is not guaranteed to be fair or free -- nor blood-free, at that -- it will stand as an important event in determining the immediate fate of Nigeria and her people. Given the current global focus on the West African nation, much is at stake. One of the candidates is the retired General Muhammadu Buhari, who served as head of state from 1983 - 1985 (fifth coup) and, before that, as the Minister of Petroleum, though there has been vocal opposition to his candidacy, including that from the one of Nigeria's most famous sons, Wole Soyinka, who stirred up heated public debate with a speech raking Buhari across the coals for exemplifying the antithesis of democracy and justice.
Buhari, in his earlier authoritarian rule, had centralized much of the power in Nigeria, especially sticking it to the states in the Delta, dropping their share of Nigeria's oil rent revenues over a period of two years from 20 to 1.5 percent. But then Obasanjo himself, during his rule in the 1970s, had laid the ground for Buhari by seizing lands and granting the oil majors rights to exploit the Niger Delta and, hence, its people, further undermining their abilities for representation and retaining control over their own lives. 
Nigeria is a complex country of many different peoples, struggles, and conflict. It is also a country that contains a lot of oil and natural gas.
Few Americans realize the scale and significance of Nigerian oil and gas production centered in the Delta and how this complex impacts American energy security. Since the start of commercial oil production in 1956, oil majors have operated with relative impunity in the Delta. Most oil is lifted onshore, from about 250 fields dotted across the Delta, but Nigeria's total oil sector now represents a much larger domestic industrial infrastructure with more than six hundred oil fields, 5,284 on- and off-shore wells, 7,000 kilometers of pipelines, ten export terminals, 275 flow stations, ten gas plants, four refineries (Warri, Port Harcourt I and II, and Kaduna), and massive LNG [liquefied natural gas] projects (in Bonny and Brass)
Oil from the Gulf of Guinea is especially attractive for American consumers because it has a transport advantage to oil terminals on the east coast of the U.S. and a low-sulfur, lightweight content that fetches a premium for gasoline production.
Currently, [Nigeria's] proven oil reserves are estimated at 40 billion barrels, but new offshore discoveries will raise reserves significantly. Most of this oil derives from onshore fields in the Niger Delta, but offshore discoveries like the Bonga fields are rapidly changing this picture. Depending on the future price of oil, and internal security in Nigeria, annual production could rise from 2.5 million bbl per day in 2005 to as much as 5 million bbl per day in 2020.
Today, Nigeria accounts for over 60 percent of the Gulf of Guinea's oil wealth. Its output makes Nigeria the eleventh largest oil producer in the world. It also contains the largest natural gas reserves in Africa (176 trillion cubic feet) and now possesses a large-scale LNG complex (e.g. five train lines) on Bonny Island with more plants planned. According to the IMF, in 2005 oil revenues accounted for 99 percent of all Nigerian export revenues, 88 percent of government income, and 50 percent of Nigerian GDP, amounting to over $50 billion. Based on an oil price of $50/barrel, between 2006 and 2020 Nigeria alone could pocket more than $750 billion in oil income; the whole of West Africa, more than $1 trillion. For Africa, these are colossal numbers. Tight and volatile markets, coupled with short-term upward price pressures, suggest there is every reason to assume that these estimates of Nigeria's and the region's future oil wealth are quite conservative. 
And the conservatives in the U.S. are very much aware of that.
...President Bush has extended the reach of the Carter Doctrine to West Africa, now one of America's major sources of oil. Particular emphasis is being placed on Nigeria, where unrest in the Delta (which holds most of the country's onshore petroleum fields) has produced a substantial decline in oil output. "Nigeria is the fifth largest source of U.S. oil imports," the State Dept's Fiscal Year 2007 Congressional Budget Justification for Foreign Operations declares, "and disruption of supply from Nigeria would represent a major blow to U.S. oil security strategy." To prevent such a disruption, the Department of Defense is providing Nigerian military and internal security forces with substantial arms and equipment intended to quell unrest in the Delta region; the Pentagon is also collaborating with Nigerian forces in a number of regional patrol and surveillance efforts aimed at improving security in the Gulf of Guinea, where most of West Africa's offshore oil and gas fields are located.
Especially revealing is a November 2006 task force report from the Council on Foreign Relations on "National Security Consequences of U.S. Oil Dependency." Co-chaired by former Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger and former CIA Director John Deutsch, and endorsed by a slew of elite policy wonks from both parties, the report ... struck just the militaristic note first voiced in the 2000 CSIS report (which Schlesinger also co-chaired): "Several standard operations of U.S. regionally deployed forces [presumably CENTCOM and PACOM] have made important contributions to improving energy security, and the continuation of such efforts will be necessary in the future. U.S. naval protection of the sea-lanes that transport oil is of paramount importance." The report also called for stepped up U.S. naval engagement in the Gulf of Guinea off the coast of Nigeria. 
Looking at the Niger Delta on a satellite map , probably the first thing to catch the eye is the spidery plethora of rivers and creeks weaving across the terrain. It's an area of great ecological significance, the kidneys, quite literally, of West Africa. The mangrove forests here are the third largest of its kind on the planet, and the extent of the ecological value is known only to the locals, as the majority of scientific surveys of the Niger Delta have been done strictly for economic reasons. If you zoom in on the Delta area you will soon start seeing gas flares, the most visible sign of the results of that research. The landscape is dotted with oil and natural gas wells and the production facilities required to contain and transport these fossil fuels to foreign lands, and gas flaring here has long been a problem.
In their efforts to get to the oil underneath, the extraction industries have typically burned off the gas reserves that have collected on the top of these deposits, allowing large gas flares to burn for years, adding toxins into the atmosphere which then return to poison the lands and those living there. It is said that "some children have never known a dark night even though they have no electricity."  Despite sitting on top of all these natural oil and natural gas deposits, the ethnic groups living in the Delta region have benefited minimally from its extraction. Actually, considering the environmental damage and pollution that this extraction brings, in addition to the de facto rule of the oil companies that comes with it, the people of the Delta are heavily penalized for it. 
Organized indigenous resistance to federal centralization, the usurpation of their local rights and resources without fair compensation, and the destruction of their landbase has picked up steam in the last two decades. Environmental and human rights activists have, for years, documented atrocities on the part of oil companies and the military in this region. Oil companies have generally been able to operate with impunity, refusing to compensate local residents for the environmental damage and medical ailments resulting from the rush to turn oil into money. Some companies have turned to paying and even arming mercenaries to discourage or eliminate those who oppose their presence. 
New, increasingly militant, movements have evolved out of the decades of fruitless efforts to seek self-determination and compensation from the federal government and the oil companies that it essentially gave free rein to. The information revolution has allowed a new means for sharing ideas, organizing, and drawing attention to their struggles.
An increasing proliferation of arms traffic combined with strong market prices fetched for bunkered oil - that is, tapped from the oil companies without their authorization - and healthy ransoms paid for the release of kidnapped oil workers, has resulted in the increase of productive campaigns of sabotage and acts of armed resistance. With their lives and those of their families being devalued in favor of five-dollar barrels of oil, tactics for many have shifted from petition and protest to more proactive measures. Attacks on pipelines and oil facilities have curtailed the flow of oil leaving the region. As the Convergent Interests report puts it, "Within the first six months of 2006, there were nineteen attacks on foreign oil operations and over $2.187 billion lost in oil revenues; the Department of Petroleum Resources claims this figure represents 32 percent of 'the revenue the country generated this year.'" 
Much has been made of the attempts to link these resistance groups into the GWOT, especially on the part of the oil companies, in order to use the power of the U.S. military to stabilize these areas and secure the energy flows. Perhaps the most visible group in the Western media right now are members of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), largely portrayed as a fierce group of masked, painted warriors either dancing around waving AK-47s in the air, or cruising through the creeks that traverse the delta in their motorboats, again, waving AK-47s in the air. That's when they're not kidnapping someone, taking out a pipeline, or "stealing" oil.
However, as usual, the media tends to omit a lot of context and many facts in their attempts to sensationalize or shape the perceptions of their audiences. Efforts to link MEND and the other attacks against the oil majors to Islamist organizations continue to get perpetuated in the West. Yet solid evidence for these claims is always lacking. Simply put, the situation in the Niger Delta is that of ethnic-nationalist movements fighting by any means necessary for the "political objective of advancing the cause of self-determination and equitable sharing of oil-receipts." It has nothing to do with international terror networks or jihadists. 
The volatility surrounding oil installations in Nigeria, and elsewhere in the continent, is used by the U.S. security establishment to justify foreign (and domestic) military presence in African oil producing states while contributing to the oil industry's windfall profits. Yet the depth of resentments, and the military capabilities of insurgent groups armed in large measure through oil theft suggests that the oil companies' operations - what they call their social license to operate - may be in question. 
Which then becomes a matter of U.S. national security.
Charles Dragonette, a senior maritime analyst at the U.S. Office of Naval Research, revealed to participants at a March  conference in Fort Lauderdale: "Shell led a group of oil companies in an approach to the U.S. military for protection of their facilities in the Delta," and warned that "Nigeria may have lost the ability to control the situation."
Additional evidence confirming the increasing deployment of American naval power to secure Gulf of Guinea energy supplies appeared at a press conference during the May 2006 African Sea Power Conference in Abuja. Responding to Nigerian journalists' questions about reports of American naval patrols at Shell's Bonga oil field, Admiral Harry Ulrich, EUCOM's Commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa, frankly acknowledge that American ships were patrolling Nigerian oil fields within the 200 mile limit. "We are concerned for Nigeria and we want to help her protect the region from the hands of the maritime criminal. In all parts of the world, the U.S. and any good nation want a safe coast for countries who are supplying their energy and that is why we are often there. So there is nothing to fear for Nigeria." Ulrich's reassuring admission that the U.S. Navy is "often there" protecting Shell's Bonga oil field is a revealing confirmation of EUCOM's mission creep: it is an especially interesting admission given Dragonette's reported comments about Shell's security request. Developed by Shell, not only is Bonga Nigeria's largest oil field, costing $3.6 billion to develop and potentially producing 225,000 bbl per day (10 percent of Nigeria's production) and 150 million cubic feet/day of natural gas, it also lies squarely within Nigeria's territorial waters at 75 miles offshore. 
With AFRICOM will come an expansion of military forces into region, and that will have many effects on the people of the Niger Delta and the nations bordering the Gulf of Guinea. The increased naval presence will coordinate frequently with other branches of the armed forces in an attempt to guarantee the flow of oil back to the United States. This will likely include the sponsorship of U.S.-friendly governments, intensified military training programs and arms/hardware packages, and an active engagement in combating insurgents and saboteurs. Among the items that stood out in the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review Report (QDR)  were several mentions of building riverine capabilities to combat asymmetrical warfare.
"Riverine warfare capabilities to improve the ability of U.S. forces to work with the security forces of partner countries to deny terrorist groups the use of waterways" (p.24)
"Provide a Navy riverine capability for river patrol, interdiction and tactical troop movement on inland waterways." (p. 48)
"...specialized naval forces configured for coastal and riverine operations further complement irregular warfare capability." (A-4)
Currently, one of the strengths of indigenous movements in their targeted attacks is a deep knowledge of the terrain and how to use the creeks and cover to their advantage in order to elude military and security forces usually from outside of the area. AFRICOM will be working on multiple ways to close that gap.
As Ike Okonta reported in a working paper on the Delta, "On August 28  Nigerian and American officials in Abuja announced a new Nigeria-United States Gulf of Guinea Energy Security Initiative aimed at 'securing' $600 billion of new investments in oil fields in the region." He also explained that local journalists and activists have "expressed fears that the new ring of steel being put in place in their region by the U.S. navy is an underhand attempt to militarise the region and encourage attacks on oil facilities by armed militias and then use this as a justification for military occupation of the Gulf of Guinea." 
Watching the devastation that the U.S. has laid to Iraq in pursuit of securing, privatizing, and controlling that country's global energy supplies can hardly escape the notice of the peoples living in what has been referred to by some in the West as "the new Persian Gulf".
18. Daniel Volman, "The Bush Administration and African Oil: The Security Implications of U.S. Energy Policy," African Security Research Project, ACAS Bulletin, No. 66, Winter 2003/2004, pp.15-25, available at [link] ; also see Daniel Volman, "The Scramble for African Oil," allAfrica.com, May 25, 2006, [link]
19. Paul M. Lubeck, Michael J. Watts and Ronnie Lipschutz, "Convergent Interests: U.S. Energy Security and the "Securing" of Nigerian Democracy," Center for International Policy Report, February 2007, [link]
21. "Embassies As Command Posts in the Anti-Terror Campaign," p.14
22. On terrorist financing see, for instance, R.T. Naylor, Satanic Purses: Money, Myth, and Misinformation in the War on Terror, McGill-Queen's University Press, 2006. On terrorist threats in Africa see Jessica R. Piombo, "Terrorism and U.S. Counter-Terrorism Programs in Africa: An Overview," Strategic Insights, Volume VI, Issue 1 (January 2007), [link]
24. Volman, "The Bush Administration and African Oil"
25. Volman, "U.S. Military Programs in Sub-Saharan Africa, 2005-2007"; also see William D. Hartung and Frida Berrigan, "Militarization of U.S. Africa Policy, 2000 to 2005," Arms Trade Resource Center, World Policy Institute, [link]
26. "Embassies As Command Posts in the Anti-Terror Campaign," p.8
27. Oil Dependance: A Threat to U.S. Economic and National Security, Securing America's Future Energy,[link]
28. CRS Report for Congress, Sept 28, 2004
29. One will also come across occasional relapses into the Euro-Imperial "White Man's Burden" syndrome, as evidenced in the conclusion to one recent Strategic Insights article: "Over the past years, Africans have been undertaking impressive initiatives to resolve their continent's manifold perils, but without such an increased U.S. commitment these initiatives will fail and so too will many of the U.S. hopes and objectives for the continent." Benedikt Franke, "Enabling a Continent to Help Itself: U.S. Military Capacity Building and Africa's Emerging Security Architecture," Strategic Insights, Volume VI, Issue 1 (January 2007), [link]
31. Lubeck, Watts and Lipschutz
32. For an engaging memoir intertwined in the history of post-colonial Nigeria, see Wole Soyinka's "You Must Set Forth at Dawn," Random House, 2006
33. See, for instance, Halliburton and Nigeria: Bribing Nigeria, Halliburton Watch, [link]
34. See Oronto Douglas, Van Kemedi, Ike Okonta, and Michael Watts, "Alienation and Militancy in the Niger Delta: A Response to CSIS on Petroleum, Politics, and Democracy in Nigeria," Foreign Policy In Focus, July 2003, [link]; Michael J. Watts, "Petro-Violence: Some Thoughts on Community, Extraction, and Political Ecology," Berkeley Workshop on Environmental Politics WP 99-1, September 1998, [link]; Ike Okonta, "Behind The Mask: Explaining the Emergence of the MEND Militia in Nigeria's Oil-Bearing Niger Delta," Niger Delta Economies of Violence Working Paper No. 11, Institute of International Studies, The United States Institute of Peace, Our Niger Delta
35. Lubeck, Watts and Lipschutz
36. Klare, "The Global Energy Race and Its Consequences"
37. For example, [google map link]
38. Watts, "Petro-Violence"
39. See, for instance, "Oil Spill Displaces 10 Ijaw Communities," Emma Arubi, Vanguard (Lagos) February 13th, 2007, [link]
CHEVRON'S Abiteye flow station oil spill of over 1,500 barrels of crude has rendered over 10 Ijaw communities and 500 hundred persons homeless in Gbaramatu kingdom in Warri South West local government area of Delta State.
The incident has led to anger and fresh threats to the peace and security in the areas, as the communities accused Chevron Nigeria Limited (CNL) of employing 'divide-and-rule' tactics in dealing with the problems arising from the spill.
The councilor representing Benikrukru Ward in the council area, Mr. Gbabor Okrika, told Vanguard that the spill devastated over 10 communities and affected sources of drinking water and rendered homes of victims inhabitable.
40. For example, Shell has refused to pay a $1.5 billion judgment awarded to the Ijaw after a court ruling last summer; "Shell to Pay Nigeria $1.5bn to the Ijaw people," African Echo, July 20th, 2006, [link] ; United Ijaw States, [link]
41. For instance, see "Chevron Paid Troops After Alleged Killing," David R. Baker, CorpWatch, August 4th, 2005, [link]
42. Lubeck, Watts and Lipschutz
43. See Okonta, "Behind The Mask"; Michael Watts, "Crisis in Nigeria: Oil Inferno," Counterpunch, January 2, 2007, [link] ; Wole Soyinka, interview with DemocracyNow, April 19, 2006, [link] ; Piombo; Lubeck, Watts and Lipschutz
44. Anna Zalik and Michael Watts, "Imperial Oil: Petroleum Politics in the Nigerian Delta and the New Scramble for Africa," Socialist Review, April 2006, [link]
45. Lubeck, Watts and Lipschutz
46. 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review Report, [link]
47. Okonta, "Behind The Mask"
Understanding AFRICOM - Part I
A Contextual Reading of Empire's New Combatant Command
by b real
In early February 2007 the White House finally announced a presidential directive to establish by September 2008 a new unified combatant command with an area of responsibility (AOR) solely dedicated to the African continent. While there had been chatter and debate over a period of years about the form that such a military command should take, the announcement to proceed with centralizing military resources in Africa should not have surprised anyone paying attention for the past seven years.
The U.S. African Command (AFRICOM) will replace the AOR for each of three other geographic combatant commands (there are now a total of six) currently tasked with portions of the second-largest continent, with the small exception of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) retaining AOR for Egypt. Further details on operations have not been made public apart from the usual basic press briefings and the formation of a transition team, though it not a mystery to identify what role AFRICOM will play in both the U.S. and Africa's future.
In many ways, a context for the pending strategic role of AFRICOM can be gained from an understanding of the origins of CENTCOM and the role that it continues to provide in Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the many "stans" popping up after the implosion of the former U.S.S.R. That context is centered on strategic energy supplies and, explicitly, that of oil. In the petroleum age, these energy stores - along with the territories concealing them -- have taken on great significance in the foreign policies of the industrialized nations, fueled by an insatiable fever for black gold and the seemingly instant wealth and power it delivers to its possessor. The record-breaking quarterly profits reported by the major oil "producers" over the past few years are only one symbol of the power that oil can bring.
Oil is money. But it is also much more, a crucial ingredient in the continuation of modern living as people in the major power centers have come to know it. Oil is the lifeblood of contemporary, militarized western civilization, and at least that much reality has been apparent to its planners for many decades now, especially as the natural deposits in the so-called developed nations dwindle away from over-exploitation and the centers' dependence on the periphery becomes everything.
Since the end of the Second World War and the intensified expansion of the modern industrial superpower, the ruling classes of the United States have strategized to guarantee themselves access to and delivery of hydrocarbons from the Persian Gulf region. Having experienced their own domestic production peak in the early 1970s, and perceiving themselves in battle with an international communist conspiracy determined to cast the western capitalist ideology into the dustbin of history, the increasingly powerful rulers of the U.S. pondered their dependency upon the Middle Eastern reserves -- containing perhaps 60% of all known accessible oil on the planet -- and adjusted their foreign policy programs accordingly. Not only was it imperative to secure the spigots, but in line with the trajectory of their long-worn practice of enforcing the Monroe Doctrine in their own hemisphere, by the beginning of the following decade a new doctrine would be in place to extend the U.S. military directly into the Persian Gulf.
Michael Klare describes the importance of President Jimmy Carter's decision "in response to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the Islamic revolution in Iran"  as
...the transformation of the U.S. military into a global oil-protection service whose primary function is the guarding of overseas energy supplies as well as their global delivery systems (pipelines, tanker ships, and supply routes). This overarching mission was first articulated by President Jimmy Carter in January 1980, when he described the oil flow from the Persian Gulf as a "vital interest" of the United States, and affirmed that this country would employ "any means necessary, including military force" to overcome an attempt by a hostile power to block that flow.
When President Carter issued this edict, quickly dubbed the Carter Doctrine, the United States did not actually possess any forces capable of performing this role in the Gulf. To fill this gap, Carter created a new entity, the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force (RDJTF), an ad hoc assortment of U.S-based forces designated for possible employment in the Middle East. In 1983, President Reagan transformed the RDJTF into the Central Command (CENTCOM), the name it bears today. CENTCOM exercises command authority over all U.S. combat forces deployed in the greater Persian Gulf area including Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa. At present, CENTCOM is largely preoccupied with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it has never given up its original role of guarding the oil flow from the Persian Gulf in accordance with the Carter Doctrine. 
Indeed, as one only need recall the priority assigned to protecting the oil infrastructure in the 2003 invasion of Iraq (reportedly the campaign was to initially be named Operation Iraqi Liberation, or OIL) and the positioning of military bases along oil routes to see how central these energy supplies are to CENTCOM's missions. In fact, as Klare pointed out in an article from 2004, "[i]n the first U.S. combat operation of the war in Iraq, Navy commandos stormed an offshore oil-loading platform." 
Originally covering the Gulf states and the Horn of Africa (Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and Sudan) CENTCOM's AOR expanded in the 1990s to include the newly independent Central Asian republics after President William Clinton extended the Carter Doctrine to qualify the Caspian Sea basin as another "vital interest" for securing oil and natural gas redistribution.
Paradoxically, as the military reach grew, so too did the need for more oil. The Pentagon is currently "the single largest oil consumer in the world."  The modern combatant command is an integral component of U.S. national security strategies regarding energy resources, plain and simple. And that is the role which AFRICOM will take up on the resource-rich continent of Africa as the amount of petroleum available globally continues to diminish. This was made clear through the Bush administration's May 2001 National Energy Policy and ensuing governmental objectives.
In May 2001 the Cheney report warned that the U.S. would grow increasingly dependent upon foreign oil in the years to come and recommended that as a matter of policy the Bush Administration work to increase production and export of oil from regions other than the Middle East, noting that Latin America and West Africa were likely to be the fastest growing sources of future U.S. oil imports. ... Three months later, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Walter Kansteiner declared that African oil "has become a national strategic interest." This statement is particularly noteworthy in that it uses the language of the Carter Doctrine in the Middle East, in which President Carter went on to declare that the U.S. would intervene by any means necessary to protect its national interest in Middle Eastern oil. In April 2002, Donald Norland, former U.S. Ambassador to Chad told a Congressional subcommittee: "It's been reliably reported that, for the first time, the two concepts -- 'Africa' and 'U.S. national security' -- have been used in the same sentence in Pentagon documents." 
The 2002 National Security Strategy> (NSS) outlined a blueprint for military cover enabling increased activity on the continent, positioning the global war on terror (GWOT) as both a key task for military forces and as an amorphous talking point, necessary to justify the stepped up interest in the area. The image of Africa portrayed as a haven of "terrorist cells," "porous borders," "civil wars," "poverty" and "disease", all of which not only makes humanitarian efforts more difficult, but also "threatens .. a core value of the United States -- preserving human dignity." The document also identified "South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, and Ethiopia" as "anchors for regional engagement."
One of the only allusions to the role that the National Energy Policy played in this new NSS was the proclamation that "We will strengthen our own energy security and the shared prosperity of the global economy by working with our allies, trading partners, and energy producers to expand the sources and types of global energy supplied, especially in the Western Hemisphere, Africa, Central Asia, and the Caspian region."  Nigerians' ears perked up especially. To the military, the goose chase was on. All branches set their main focus on 'winning the war on terror,' and before long, as one former Bush administration official told reporter Raffi Khatchadourian, "Rumsfeld had his goons running all over the continent." 
The Horn of Africa
In 2002, CENTCOM's Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) began establishing a permanent forward operating base at Camp Lemonier, an old French Foreign Legion base in Djibouti, using the pretext of the GWOT.
CJTF-HOA, staffed by about 1500 troops, has the mission of "detecting, disrupting and ultimately defeating transnational terrorist groups operating in the region -- denying safe havens, external support and material assistance for transnational terrorism in the region." Initially, it was driven by concerns that terrorists fleeing from Afghanistan would be attracted to the 'vast ungoverned spaces' of the Horn of Africa. When such a mass influx failed to materialize, and the local terrorist threat proved to be relatively limited, CJTF-HOA began giving greater emphasis to its role in preventing terrorism by providing humanitarian assistance and waging a hearts and minds campaign. 
And a foot in the door...
Similar to the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force (RDJTF) that preceded USCENTCOM, these operations have initiated much ground work to gain better insight into the region and increase engagement in Africa. In the majority of cases, interaction within the region meets with less resistance than that experienced by the RDJTF. Specifically with other agencies within the U.S. government, this is best evidenced by the fact that TSCTI and CJTF-HOA have significant interaction with agencies such as the Department of State or USAID. 
A Congressional Research Service (CRS) report in 2004 informed members of Congress that "SOF units operating with Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) are involved in training selected regional armies in counterterror and counterinsurgency tactics as well as assisting in the apprehension of terrorists operating in the region." Another CRS report for Congress, this time in 2006, stated that
Originally, the reported mission of CJTF-HOA was to conduct raids on Al Qaeda targets in the region -- particularly Somalia -- but due to a lack of targets, the mission has instead evolved into gathering intelligence, military training for some of the region's military forces, and building infrastructure and goodwill to create an environment hostile to terrorist organizations.
William Arkin's directory, Code Names, summarizes the role of CJTF-HOA as: "The 1,800 personnel at Camp Lemonier coordinate military operations in Kenya, Somali, Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Yemen."  And a report to the members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) ascribes to it a more enlightened Good Samaritan mission:
Such an expansion of military-provided humanitarian and civic assistance is nowhere more evident than in the Horn of Africa. U.S. Central Command oversees some 1800 troops stationed at Camp Lemonier, Djibouti, who are tasked with building health clinics, wells and schools in remote areas where government influence is weak and terrorists are known to be recruiting. In an effort to provide evidence of alternatives to religious extremism, small military teams train local forces, gain access and gather information, and provide practical assistance in an attempt to improve the lives of local residents in areas that terrorists may be targeting. 
Hearts, minds, and souls aside, there is more going on here, as should be expected when placing CJTF-HOA's role into the global energy protection context. As John Foster Bellamy wrote in June 2006,
At present the main, permanent U.S. military base in Africa is the one established in 2002 in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, giving the United States strategic control of the maritime zone through which a quarter of the world's oil production passes. The Djibouti base is also close in proximity to the Sudanese oil pipeline. ... The Djibouti base allows the United States to dominate the eastern end of the broad oil swath cutting across Africa that it now considers vital to its strategic interests -- a vast strip running southwest from the 994-mile Higleig-Port Sudan oil pipeline in the east to the 640-mile Chad-Cameroon pipeline and the Gulf of Guinea in the West. 
In addition to Djibouti, there are prominent forward-operating bases located in Kenya, Ethiopia (two of the nations identified as regional anchors in the NSS), and Uganda, geographically situated near both the southern edge of Sudan (the part where most of the oil is) and the resource-rich, highly-prized Great Lakes region.
The first country to conclude a formal agreement with Washington for the use of local military facilities was Kenya, which signed an agreement in February 1980. The Kenyan agreement allows U.S. troops to use the port of Mombassa, as well as airfields at Embakasi and Nanyuki. These facilities were used to support the American military intervention in Somalia 1992-1994 and have been used in the past year [written in 2005] to support forces from the United States and other coalition forces involved in counter-terrorism operations in the region. The United States has signed agreements with Ghana, Senegal, Gabon, Namibia, Uganda, and Zambia to allow American aircraft to refuel at local air bases. In its efforts to secure other basing options, the United States has negotiated agreements granting it access to airfields and other facilities in several African nations. These facilities are often referred to as "lily pad" facilities, because American forces can hop in and out of them in times of crisis while avoiding the impression of establishing a permanent - and potentially provocative - presence. They include Entebbe Airport in Uganda, where the United States has built two "K-Span" steel buildings to house troops and equipment; an airfield near Bamako, the capital of Mali; an airfield at Dakar, Senegal; an airfield in Gabon; and airfields and port facilities in Morocco and Tunisia. 
Investigative reporter Keith Harmon Snow, in an article from 2004, wrote of training camps in Ethiopia:
In 2003, the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division (Special Operations Forces) completed a three-month program to train an Ethiopian army division in counter-terrorism tactics. Operations are coordinated through the Combined Joint Task Forces-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) base in Djibouti. In January 2004, Special Operations soldiers from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment replaced the 10th Mountain Division forces at a new Hurso Training Camp, northwest of Dire Dawa near the border with Somalia, to be used for launching local joint missions in "counter-terrorism" with the Ethiopian military. Soldiers will continue to operate missions out of Hurso for several months from a new forward base names "Camp United." From April 12-25, 2003, under the U.S. State Department-sponsored Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance Program, CJTF-HOA provided instruction to nearly 900 Ethiopian soldiers at a base in Legedadi. CJTF-HOA forces from the U.S. Army's 478th Civil Affairs Battalion also operated in Ethiopia in 2003 in and around Dire Dawa, Galadi, and Dolo Odo, among other areas. 
The December 2006 invasion of Somalia was coordinated using these and other bases throughout the region. While efforts to replace the popular Islamic Courts Union in Somalia with the warlord-led Transitional Federal Government (TFG) appear to be failing, the arrival of AFRICOM may bring more boots on the ground into that unstable, geostrategic nation. Especially now that TFG spokesman Abdirahman Dinari has dangled a carrot before foreign investors: "Somalia has a lot of oil, and our ministers have just approved a key exploration law to regulate how concessions are given out.... But what we need now is international support to restore security and build our nation, and we will be noting who helps us and who doesn't when these decisions are taken." 
The persistent Western calls for "humanitarian intervention" into the Darfur region of Sudan also sets up another possibility for military engagement to deliver regime change in another Islamic state in the Horn. However, since the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are grinding down available U.S. resources, for now, any increased involvement in these two areas will likely consist primarily of U.S.-organized and directed regional militaries, private contractors and mercenaries, or potentially African Union and United Nations forces. The training and arming of national militaries is taking place throughout the continent already, although the most visible efforts have been taking place in the European Command's AOR.
1. Michael Klare, "Oil Wars: Transforming the American Military into a Global Oil-Protection Service," TomDispatch, October 7, 2004, [link]
2. Michael Klare, "The Global Energy Race and Its Consequences," TomDispatch, January 14, 2007, [link]
3. Klare, "Oil Wars"
4. Sohbet Karbuz, "US Military Oil Pains," Energy Bulletin, February 17, 2007, [link]
5. Letitia Lawson, "U.S. Africa Policy Since the Cold War", Strategic Insights, Volume VI, Issue 1 (January 2007), [link]
6. The National Security Strategy of the United States, September 2002, [link]
7. Raffi Khatchadourian, "War in the Greatest Desert: The U.S. Military's $500 Million Gamble to Prevent the Next Afghanistan," International Reporting Project, Spring 2005, [part one] [part two]
9. CDR Otto Sieber, "Africa Command: Forecast for the Future", Strategic Insights, Volume VI, Issue 1 (January 2007), [link]
10. U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF): Background and Issues for Congress, CRS Report for Congress, Sept 28, 2004, [link]
11. CRS Report for Congress, "U.S. Military Operations in the Global War on Terrorism: Afghanistan, Africa, the Philippines, and Colombia," January 20, 2006, available at [link]
12. William M. Arkin, "Code Names: Deciphering U.S. Military Plans, Programs, and Operations in the 9/11 World," (Steerforth Press, 2005), p.45
13. "Embassies As Command Posts in the Anti-Terror Campaign," A Report to Members of the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, December 15, 2006, p.9, [link]
14. John Bellamy Foster, "A Warning to Africa: The New U.S. Imperial Grand Strategy," Monthly Review, June 2006, [link]
15. Daniel Volman, "U.S. Military Programs in Sub-Saharan Africa, 2005-2007," African Security Research Project, [link]
16. Keith Harmon Snow, "State Terror in Ethiopia: Another secret war for oil?," Z Magazine Online, May 2004, [link]
17. Daniel Wallis, "Oil profits boost east Africa exploration," Reuters, [link]
More Terrorist Videos
The Tapped blog points to some funny Ahmadinejad videos on YouTube and guesses "it's part of somebody's propaganda war efforts."
Most of the videos that i've host the past 10 months are from the Iranian Resistance Television, Simaye Azadi (INTV - Iranian National Television - www.iranntv.com).
The domain iranntv.com is registered by:
1164 Solano Ave. #120
Albanay, CA 94706
Hamid's email address domain aszimi.net is registered as:
Azimi, Hamid mardom@IRAN-E-AZAD.ORG
PO BOX 7862
BERKELEY, CA 94707-0862
The Congressional Research Service in a 2004 report on Foreign Terrorist Organizations (pdf) says on page 65ff:
The State Department continues to resist pressure to remove the MEK from the FTO list. On August 15, 2003, the State Department added the group’s political wing, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCR)296 to the group’s designation.
296Their website is located at [https://www.iran-e-azad.org/english/ncri.html].
Hamid Azimi, who registered the site where these videos are copied from, is obviously a member of the pseudo-marxist cult MEK. Neocon Michael Rubin has quite a complete account of its history and denies any neocon support for its action. But the White House lauds it as a source of intelligence:
At a March 16 press conference, Bush said Iran's hidden nuclear program had been discovered not because of international inspections but "because a dissident group pointed it out to the world." White House aides acknowledged later that the dissident group cited by the president is the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), one of the MEK front groups added to the State Department list two years ago.
Nasrin Saifi, under whose company the iranntv.com site is registered, was at one point the president of the Association of Iranian Women in northern California.
The Hill reported in 2004:
The MEK has often created fictional philanthropic and social organizations to convey legitimacy. In a 1994 dossier on the group, the State Department noted that “many of these member groups are actually shell organizations, established by the [MEK] in order to make [it] appear representative and … popular.
“Likewise,” the report continued, “the [MEK] has formed associated groups with benign names, such as the ‘Association of Iranian Scholars and Professionals’ and the ‘Association of Iranian Women.’”
A website for US for Democracy and Human Rights in Iran, yet another program sponsor, is www.defend-maryam-rajavi.org. Maryam Rajavi, president-elect of the MEK, was arrested in Paris last year on terrorism charges. The group’s site was registered to Hamid Azimi, once president of the Southern California Society of Iranian Scholars and Professors, another MEK front group.
So most of the videos posted, according to the poster himself, are provided by a TV station that is run by an organization designated as terrorist.
As some are valuing the MEK service as intelligence source, I wonder who pays the organization for distributing those videos ...
Gaydamak Buys Another Government
The billionaire has previously said that he is not personally interested in an active political life, but he wants to be the man who determines who becomes prime minister.
Gaydamak will start a new party in Israel promising "market economy, increased taxation for high earners and a significantly stronger welfare state." He later wants to join it with Likud.
As his ally Netanyahu is a proven arch neoliberal, the political program is of course a scam. But it helps to buy the needed votes of the hawkish but poor Russian immigrants - a sixth part of the Israeli population.
Gaydamak is wanted for illegal arms-for-oil deals with Angola which fueled the civil war there. He had bought the Angolan government by providing old Russian weapons and bribing it to give him very lucrative oil deals.
The story of that resource war in Angola and Gaydamak's role is told in All The Presidents Men (this is not the Bernstein/Woodward Watergate book) which I recommend. There are also connections to Cheney's old company Halliburton, Bush and the GOP.
Politics and policy in Israel are already in bad shape. With a crook like Gaydamak buying himself the Israeli democracy, they will certainly get worse.
Middle East - U.S. Fails Again
U.S. diplomacy under Rice: Mideast talks end with little progress
The first set of three-way talks among Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Israeli and Palestinian leaders, initially billed as a new U.S. push to restart peace efforts, ended Monday with little progress other than a commitment to meet again.
In a 90-second statement following the two-hour meeting, Rice said the three discussed the changed political circumstances arising from a Palestinian power-sharing deal that includes Hamas militants.
Neither Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas nor Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert joined Rice as she delivered her statement, and she left the room without taking questions from reporters.
Rice said she would return soon, although she was not precise, and Olmert and Abbas said they would meet separately. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said there is no date for another three-way meeting.
Think about that. The Secretary of State of the sole superpower convenes a meeting with two minor parties and gets snubbed by both of them. Not even the usual decorum of a joint press conference - nothing, nada, nil.
The influence of the U.S. in the Middle East under the current administration is now zero or below - except for the capacity to bomb anything or anyone to dust.
Thinking about it - that's a real danger ...
When will an Israeli government recognize Palestine, accept previous peace deals and renounce violence?
Obviously only when the U.S. puts up some pressure and stops paying billions of subsidies to Israel to make it do so.
"Be very afraid," officials say ...
... according to American intelligence and counterterrorism officials ... American officials said ... The United States has also identified ... including one that officials said ... American analysts said recent intelligence showed ... the analysts said ... Officials said ... different from those made in recent months by intelligence officials and terrorism experts ... American officials say that the new intelligence is focused ... intelligence and counterterrorism officials ... classified intelligence ... the condition of anonymity ... not provide some of the evidence that led them to their assessments, ... revealing the information ... sources and methods of intelligence collection ... the officials said ... an administration official said. Officials from several different American intelligence and counterterrorism agencies presented ... But debates within the administration ... officials in Washington said. One counterterrorism official said ... And State Department officials say ... Some of the interviews with officials were granted after ... As recently as 2005, American intelligence assessments ... But more recent intelligence describes ... said one American government official, who said ... American officials and analysts said ... has led counterterrorism officials to what they say are “clear linkages” ... American analysts point out ... Other experts questioned the seriousness ... They argued that ... according to American analysts ... The analysts said ... but officials in Washington and Islamabad conceded ... Officials said that both American and foreign intelligence services had collected evidence leading them to conclude ... Officials said ... Among the indicators that American officials cited ... one official said ... American intelligence and counterterrorism officials said ... They said ... Pakistani officials say ... Officials said ... Officials in Washington say they believe
Al Qaeda Chiefs Are Seen to Regain Powerthe New York Times Offers Stenography Service
We Need To Dance
I remember past Saturday evenings that the Barflies would at least turn off from the horrors for a reprieve, but things have been so bad for so long that it has totally affected the mood here at Moon of Alabama. I guess just like with the Iraqi's, you think it can't get any worse - but it does and it does, again and again.
Stop! Stop! Stop! The world, as a community, needs to dance, just a little. Pretty soon, we will forget how.
Yes Rick, you are right, very right in this and I promise to post some uplifting stuff the next weeks. There is a lot of good development in this world and I tend to lose the focus on that.
Also, I certainly need to dance again and did so today. This is one of the pieces I chose to dance to. The music is better in the studio version, but the video is quite good on its own. It's too industrialized to become a long term favorite, but the original idea is recognizable.
What music are you dancing to?
A Campaign Against War On Iran
Today the three major U.S. papers carry stories or op-eds that explain why Iran takes the position it takes and why it is "meddling" in Iraq.
The pieces are not generally positive on Iran, but they paint it as a rational actor that defends its legitimate interests in a neighboring country.
Additionally, even the rightwing Washington Post editors are coming out against an attack on Iran. For the wrong reason of course, but they do.
This is definitely a coordinated campaign.
- Who launched this?
- Why does someone feel the need to launch it now?
- Will this deter Bush/Cheney?
Some excerpts below the fold:
NYT News Analysis: Iran’s Chance: U.S. Troubles in Iraq Create Opening for Regional Shift
In economic terms, Iran has an interest in a stable, Tehran-friendly Iraq. For decades, while Mr. Hussein was in power, Iraq was an economic obstacle for Iran, a wall blocking trading routes and diplomatic ties with its Arab neighbors.
The chaos in Iraq still means that Iran’s trade with Syria has to be routed through Turkey. But Iranian officials say they hope someday to link the railroads of Iran and Syria with Iraq’s, redrawing the economics of the region.
But Tehran’s interests in Iraq cut much deeper than the economic. They range from its ideological desire to spread its influence throughout the Arab world — part of the so-called Shiite revival — to its connection to the people and holy sites of Iraq.
“Iran and Iraq’s national interests are intertwined,” said Farzaneh Roostaee, foreign editor of Shargh, a popular reformist daily in Iran that the government shut down late last year. “Both geographically and religiously, the two countries have many common interests. No matter how much Americans try, they can not separate these two countries from one another. It won’t work.”
WaPo OpEd by Brookings Institution's Daniel L. Byman: What Tehran Is Really Up To
Iran perceives itself as surrounded. The United States has repeatedly made threats against the Iranian regime, has refused to surrender anti-regime Iranian terrorists found in Iraq, organized international economic pressure on the country, led a diplomatic effort to deny Iran the right to develop nuclear energy and nuclear weapons, and pointedly included military force against Iran as an option after dispatching two aircraft carriers to the Persian Gulf region-- hostile steps, in Iranian eyes, that reinforce paranoia.
Tehran does not want the secular and pro-Western Iraq that America dreams of, and it wants to ensure that the U.S. doctrine of preventive regime change is dead. So far, developments in Iraq have worked out in Iran's favor -- indeed, Iran appears to be the one state that is winning this war. Iraq is too weak to pose a military threat to Iran for years and perhaps decades to come. The democratic procedures that the United States imposed on Iraq put in power Shiite leaders who are far friendlier to Tehran than to Washington.
But Iran could easily be even more aggressive in Iraq. Tehran could provide sophisticated weapons to a wider range of Iraqi groups than it reportedly has so far. Iran's Shiite proxies do at times attack American forces, but their principal targets are Sunni militias. They could kill a lot more Americans than they have. Iran could be encouraging them to convert relatively peaceful parts of Iraq into battlefields similar to the wildest parts of Anbar province.
LAT OpEd by The Nation's Adam Shatz: Why Iran 'meddles' in Iraq
Could it be that Iran's stake in Iraq is solidly grounded in the same realist principles that drive the behavior of most nations, rather than in "malign intentions" or a desire to export the Islamic revolution?
If Iran wants to see a friendly government established in Iraq, it hardly lacks for reasons. Unlike the United States, Iran was attacked by Iraq, back when Hussein's regime enjoyed American support as a bulwark against Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's revolution. Hundreds of thousands of Iranians died during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88). When Iraq used poison gas against Iranian troops, the United States uttered not a single protest.
The future Iraqi government, frankly, is likely to bear a stronger resemblance to the Islamic republic than to the liberal democracy the Bush administration publicly championed — or to the "Saddamism without Saddam" scenario that many advocates of the invasion privately preferred. That Iran has acted to bolster the power of its Shiite allies in Iraq — and to arm Shiite militias avenging Sunni attacks on their people and their shrines — may not be to Washington's liking, but "meddling" doesn't seem the right word for it.
The WaPo editorial: The Iran Options
Given the debacle of postwar planning in Iraq, there is no reason to trust Mr. Bush with the execution of another war of choice. Someday a future president may decide, in consultation with a future Congress, that the risks of seeking to contain a nuclear-armed Iran are greater than the risks of seeking to degrade or destroy its nuclear capability by force. Most intelligence estimates suggest that such a decision need not be faced in the next two years.
News & views ...
The US Embassy criticised ...
In a strongly worded statement on Friday, the US embassy [...] criticised "the suspension - even partial - of civilian rule, the use of lethal force against the civilian population, the abrogation of basic freedoms, and the roll-back of the democratic process.
Envoys hold [...] crisis talks
Good, yes, but it was not in response to this:
The Iraqi government on Tuesday ordered tens of thousands of Baghdad residents to leave homes they are occupying illegally, in a surprising and highly challenging effort to reverse the tide of sectarian cleansing that has left the capital bloodied and Balkanized.
Addressing the nation on behalf of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Lt. Gen. Abboud Gambar, the Iraqi commander of the Baghdad security crackdown, also announced the closing of Iraq's borders with Iran and Syria, an extension of the curfew in Baghdad by an hour, and the setup of new checkpoints run by the Defense and Interior Ministries, both of which Gambar said he now controlled.
He said the government would break into homes and cars it deemed dangerous, open mail and eavesdrop on phone calls.
Iraq lays down stiff new rules
Lancet Iraq Study Update
The second study (pdf) on mortality in Iraq after the U.S. led invasion was published last October in the venerable medical journal Lancet.
The authors' major conclusion was this:
We estimate that as of July, 2006, there have been 654.965 (392.979–942.636) excess Iraqi deaths as a consequence of the war, which corresponds to 2-5% of the population in the study area.
Wikipedia discusses criticisms and defenses of the study.
The study calculated excess death, by comparing mortality in Iraq before the invasion and in various periods after the invasion.
- Pre-invasion: 5.5 deaths/1,000/year
- March 2003-April 2004: 7.5 deaths/1,000/year
- May 2004-May 2005: 10.9 deaths/1,000/year
- June 2005-June 2006: 19.8 deaths/1,000/year
As we have not seen a significant decrease of violence in Iraq since the last period covered in the study, it should be valid to extrapolate the numbers.
The excess death in the last study period are 14.3/1,000/year or 1.192/1,000/month. The total calculations are based on a pre-war population of 26 million. As some 1.5 million Iraqis have fled the country, (with another 1 million expected to be displaced this year,) the lower base leads to some 29,200 per month dying in Iraq of war-related causes. Additionally to the study's number of 650,000 by now another 220,000 have died. By end of June 2007 the estimated number of war-related dead will have exceeded 1,000,000.
In my professional life I have seen similar planning lunacy in business plans of U.S. companies expanding their models into Europe. Highly educated managers believing that their solutions would be welcome because they were unique American solutions.
This is not a unique U.S. attitude. The Daimler-Chrysler drama shows similar defects. But on the level of businesses the consequences of such behavior are not catastrophic and correctable. On the level of war they are not and in a democracy, such mismanagement can not be solely attributed to the CEOs or board members. Especially not when it is repetitive behaviour.
In Foreign Policy Pat Lang explains:
We, the American people—not the Bush administration, nor the hapless Iraqis, nor the meddlesome Iranians (the new scapegoat) - are the root of the problem.
It’s woven into our cultural DNA. Most Americans mistakenly believe that when we say that “all men are created equal,” it means that all people are the same. Behind the “cute” and “charming” native clothing, the “weird” marriage customs, and the “odd” food of other cultures, all humans are yearning for lifestyles and futures that will be increasingly unified as time and globalization progress.
Americans invaded an imaginary Iraq that fit into our vision of the world. We invaded Iraq in the sure belief that inside every Iraqi there was an American trying to get out. In our dream version of Iraq, we would be greeted as not only liberators from the tyrant, but more importantly, from the old ways.
Through our refusal to deal with alien peoples on their own terms, and within their own traditions, we have killed any real hope of a positive outcome in Iraq. Our mission there will be over some day, but there will be other fields for our missionary work, other dreams to dream about: Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran ...
The Daimler mismanaging of its acquisition is a question of manager incompetence. But as Pat implicitly recognizes, the war on Iraq is a question of collective guilt.
Unity Government or Not
Palestine is ready to have a unity government as was demanded by the US and Israel. There are still some doubts that this will succeed, as the U.S. and Israel are again threatening not to recognize it.
They are betting on inciting a Palestinian civil war.
By helping to forge this government in Mecca, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia put some serious personal credibility on the solution.
Now Israel's prime minister Olmert and Sec State Rice are dragging their feet and keep asking for unaccomplishable Palestinian concessions. On Monday a three-way meeting between Olmert, Rice and the Palestinian president Abu Abbas is supposed to take place.
Some say nothing will result from this hot-air summit:
Olmert is the great successor of Sharon, and he is even more successful than his predecessor at presenting inflexible positions behind a mask of moderation and openness. He is sensitive to the nuances of the international community, woos its leaders and enlists them in imposing his conditions on the Palestinians. The Jerusalem summit will go down as another tactical victory for Olmert's "yes, but" policy, but will in no way bring us closer to a solution to the conflict.
King Abdullah needs some success on the issue or he will lose face and lots of it. He is in a bind but cannot pressure Israel directly. He has to pressure Washington and demand that the administration put the thumbscrews to Olmert.
By negotiating with Putin over nuclear energy and weapons, Abdullah has already shown Washington and the management of GE and GM some of the instruments available to him. The classic first stage of torture. But so far, I have not seen any U.S. reaction to this.
If there is none and the talks on Monday fail, Abdullah will have to use the only real weapon he has and temporarily shut down some oil wells.
At $80 a barrel the administration and congress may be more likely to ignore AIPAC and be a bit more caring for Palestinian interests.
Musing on Iranq
The fogs of war leave me lost on the current situation in Iraq. That is their purpose so let us try to wade through them and to keep some things straight. Please add to this in the comments.
Three issues came up these days. First the new plan for Baghdad. Then the "Sadr is in Iran" story and of course the war on Iran preparations.
A Navy General, put in charge by Maliki for the current (third) crackdown in Baghdad, announced martial law:
The plan includes a tightening of the few remaining liberties left for Iraqis in the jittery capital, including an earlier nighttime curfew and closer scrutiny of packages, mail and electronic communications. It imposes unspecified restrictions on gatherings in public places, clubs, companies and organizations "in order to protect citizens and those working in these places."
Under the plan, Qanbar said, his commanders will be authorized to interrogate and arrest all individuals, inspect private property and seize any weapons, presumably without seeking the approval of courts or political leaders.
The plan calls for restrictions on the movements of vehicles and individuals as well as for surprise sweeps of roadways, Qanbar said. It includes tougher laws for those who commit violence or harbor alleged terrorists and special court sessions to speed up trials.
The plan also addresses the explosive issue of displaced Iraqis, demanding that squatters in the homes of families who fled their neighborhoods out of fear of sectarian violence vacate the properties within 15 days.
I have yet to find any U.S. press account that reflects on the legality of such martial law measures. Did the parliament have a say in this? How and when? What is this silence after hyping blue thumbs just a year ago?
The last point of the plan also bears one simple question. Where are the people leaving sqatter homes supposed to go?
Most did not take houses because they had no place of their own. They were forced by sectarian-based cleansing to leave their home and found new ones where other had also been forced to leave. It is impossible to turn that clock back. One cannot repair shattered glas by just putting the pieces back into place.
The "Sadr fled to Tehran" story needs some scrutiny too. Some anonymous U.S. officials say he is in Tehran. His people disagree. I regard this as merging the two propaganda campaigns against Teheran and against Sadr.
It does not make any sense to see Iran and Sadr in the same fold. While Sadr, his father and his grandfather stayed in Iraq during Saddam's rule, the leaders of the other Iraqi Shia parties SCIRI and Dawa did flee to Iran. They lived there for 20 years and their militia were trained by Iranian revolutionary guards. These militia are the core of the Iraqi Army and police force and the major force in the civil war and sectarian cleansing.
SCIRI and Dawa are definitely under Iranian influence and anti-Sunni while Sadr's movement is reaching out to Sunnis and does not have much love for Tehran.
But in Iraq the U.S. for now has settled to support Iranian-supported sectarian Shia SCIRI and Dawa forces which tend to prefer a partitioning of Iraq. At the same time it is spoiling for a fight against the more nationalistic Sadr movement which negotiates with the Sunnis and wants to keep Iraq together.
In the bigger context of the Middle East the U.S. also tries to set up a Sunni-Shia split by pushing the Sunni dictatorships in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and various Emirates against a half-way democratic Shia Iran.
While it seems to make no sense to promote pro-Iranian forces in Iraq and anti-Iranian forces elsewhere, this may make sense when squeezed through the propaganda filters of good and evil.
The idea is obviously to put Sadr and Iran into one and the same box labeled "Bad". That these are quite unlikely partners does not matter as long as people do not care to look into it.
The above is too complicated to be digested by the average U.S.
talking head and her/his viewers. They by now certainly believe Sadr to
be the source of all trouble in Iraq and Tehran being the evil force
I still see all signs pointing in the direction of an attack on Iran. On the likelihood of this happening there are some interesting thoughts here and here.
Rove admits Bin Laden is Fiction
Karl Rove finally admits Bin Laden and/or his ideas are phantasies. Things that do not even exist. More precise: to read writings attributed to Osama is like reading words, thoughts and pages that do not exist even while you read them. Quite a trip ...
To make the world a safe place for future generations, victory can be the only goal for the United States in the war in Iraq, presidential adviser Karl Rove said Monday in Springfield.
Creation of a radical Islamic empire from "Spain to Indonesia" and beyond, the destruction of Israel "by whatever means are available" and creation of Iraq as a "sanctuary from which to operate" are among goals that bin Laden has spelled out in writings compiled in a book, "Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama bin Laden," Rove said.
"It's like reading 'Mein Kampf' in 1922," he said, referring to Adolph Hitler's book.
Rove: U.S. must win in Iraq
Mein Kampf (English translation: My Struggle or My Fight) is the signature work of Adolf Hitler, combining elements of autobiography with an exposition of Hitler's political ideology of Nazism. Volume 1 of Mein Kampf was published in 1925, with volume 2 in 1926.
Wikipedia: Mein Kampf
The Years of Lead
adopted from a comment
A meditation on the release this month of a member of the Red Army Fraction in Germany. She is only one of four people left in German prisons for actions taken during the 'années de plomb' - the years of lead.
What our own slothrop fails to see - is how deeply implicated the U.S. intelligence & military intelligence services were in the strategies of tension - that allowed the putschists to arrive in power in Greece, for Andreotti - prince Bhorghesi, the fascists in Portugal & in Spain - in fact the whole anti democratic movement in Europe was completely organised through the United States - whether it was operation 'gladio', the strategy of tension - or the compromising of almost a generation of European parliamentarians of their respective countries, created in the 50's by James Jesus Angleton, bore its fascist fruits in the 60's, 70's & 80's.
The U.S. made of European politics a rubbish bin of their own sordid habitude.
The left was doomed to its own destruction at just the point where it was most integrated with the masses - this was especially true in Italy & France. & an organised left was something Germany had through its shame created. In France - it is impossible to look at the so called leadership struggles in the parti communiste français without seeing the hands of the CIA - a political left could not have been led by a more compromised leadership, in Italy the left was destroyed by the infiltration of fascist agents within their organisation. In Germany what gave birth to an armed opposition (the propaganda of facts) was immediately compromised with connections to the Turkish grey wolves, the Italian new order - all under the instructions of the CIA - all comprimised & corrupted by American agencies.
In 2007, it is horrifying to look at the damage done to the left - by their enemy & finally by themselves & all the major players of this U.S. led fascism like Andreotti - alive & well.
I remember this moment very clearly, very precisely & I remember it in more detail today than perhaps then. I rememember & remember categorically that even the armed opposition to U.S. politics was borne in the horror to what was being done in Vietnam - that time's illegal & immoral war. Good people, a generation of the best were swallowed up in politics that were conceived somewhere at Langley & the bureaus of 'intelligence' services in every country you can name.
It was in that moment of history that I understood deeply the profound immorality of the politics that dominates those United States, it was in that particular history that I would witness exactly how far those pathological policies would go.
Only someone who is completely blind to what has happened in the history of the last fifty years of the 20th century would be capable of defending that national entity, those United States.
In those days the fascist were glad to call themselves exactly that - they were proud of their heritage - the elites were lost in their own venality (as they caricaturally are in Latin America or Asia for example) that they could not see they had already won their battle when the bitch Thatcher - who was a symbiosis of the stupidity & criminality of both Andreotti & Reagan - herded her people behind the barriers of fear from where they can view the world that passes them by - it is no wonder they neeed that antiquated service - the BBC to tell them of their own heroism, their own humour & their own intelligence because - we the world have forgotten them. We forgot them when they sacrificed their miners, when they sacrificed their rail & ship workers, when they destroyed the printers & any movement of workers that could produce a menace to their power.
& we were not so stupid to not see their criminalisation of politics in Ireland & within their own borders as a testimony of their failure to conduct real politics. They, with criminal disposition - destroyed the social fabric of that nation - they lied about their underclass, their homeless, their drug & drug addled public who are wound around the fingers of state through the subvention of needs.
They might have won & yes Sarkozy might win here - what was collaboration then - is called atlantism today - the collaboration of an elite against the interests of their people manipulating the fear of those people - which was in the last analysis the reason for the 'strategy of tension' - to create the conditions where the elites could rule without fear of a real opposition.
It is Bush & the U.S. elites deepest desire that we return to that moment - to the moment where Europe follows fearfully in the U.S./Israel worldview & not seeing the natural & organic relation that the European people have with the people of the Middle East.
So in the month when they will release a member of the Red Army Fraction - I do not salute her but I do salute the movement that gave birth to her & I taken notice that the enemy then is the same enemy today.
Sorry for being so brutal but that is exactly how I feel.
News & views ...
Russia Is Back!
With Putin's speech at the Munich Security Policy conference, Russia is back.
One wonders what took it so long. Yes, the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the catastrophic neoliberal privatization of the Yeltzin years had taken their toll. But under Putin the oligarchs were finally told to behave and rule of law was restored. Increasing commodity prices allowed paying off Russia's international debt.
Still during the recent years little could be seen of Russia's international aura. Western financed NGOs stage managed one color revolution after the other. The EU swallowed the economic realm and in its steps, and against all past promises, NATO followed.
Now Russia said "'nuff". The last drop in the bucket were the U.S. plans to install parts of its missile defense system in eastern Europe. This neither makes sense to protect Europe, nor is it geographically relevant against (nonexistent) missiles from Iran or North Korea. The only plausible reason for these new weapons is to break the Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) balance that protected against a nuclear exchange during the cold war.
This and the accusations of human rights violations and autocratic behavior, of the U.S. imperialists and Abu Ghraib torturers, brought Russia back to the international scene.
Putin made clear that from now on, the rules are different and further unilateral behavior of the U.S. will not be condoned:
[W]hat is a unipolar world? However one might embellish this term, at the end of the day it refers to one type of situation, namely one centre of authority, one centre of force, one centre of decision-making.
It is world in which there is one master, one sovereign. And at the end of the day this is pernicious not only for all those within this system, but also for the sovereign itself because it destroys itself from within.
And this certainly has nothing in common with democracy. Because, as you know, democracy is the power of the majority in light of the interests and opinions of the minority.
Incidentally, Russia – we – are constantly being taught about democracy. But for some reason those who teach us do not want to learn themselves.
I consider that the unipolar model is not only unacceptable but also impossible in today’s world. And this is not only because if there was individual leadership in today’s – and precisely in today’s – world, then the military, political and economic resources would not suffice. What is even more important is that the model itself is flawed because at its basis there is and can be no moral foundations for modern civilisation.
In conclusion I would like to note the following. We very often – and personally, I very often – hear appeals by our partners, including our European partners, to the effect that Russia should play an increasingly active role in world affairs.
In connection with this I would allow myself to make one small remark. It is hardly necessary to incite us to do so. Russia is a country with a history that spans more than a thousand years and has practically always used the privilege to carry out an independent foreign policy.
We are not going to change this tradition today. At the same time, we are well aware of how the world has changed and we have a realistic sense of our own opportunities and potential. And of course we would like to interact with responsible and independent partners with whom we could work together in constructing a fair and democratic world order that would ensure security and prosperity not only for a select few, but for all.
This new assertiveness has immediate influence on possible Kosovo solutions, on the war on Iran and any roadmap non-steps in Palestine.
I for one welcome this development and hope especially that European countries will again recognize where their real interests are.
PS: I recommend to read the speech in full. It's good.
You Want Us to Live Like Cavemen?
lifted from a comment
Remember the good old days when you could get state and federal level kickbacks under the table or through the quiet anonymity of your own shell company? A few tiny little Enrons and Savings & Loans later, and people want to put American entrepreneurs under a microscope as if they were common... well... commoners.
Yes, there have been a few bad apples, but is that really grounds to do away with the entire system of entitlement? John McCain still believes in American Exceptionalism, and that should be good enough for all of us! Do we really want to live in a world in which Karl Rove's children have to do menial work like... well... like common potential terrorists? It seems to me that we've turned the spirit of the domestic surveillance program on its ear when the aristocracy is forced to sacrifice their civil liberties alongside the riff raff. This is madness! MADNESS!
Sustainability? Equality? What, do you want us to live like cavemen or something? Are we committed to progress and worshipping the forces of Mammon or aren't we here? Honestly, I can get behind thinking outside the box and everything, but I think people are starting to take their eyes off the prize. The War on Terror™ is supposed to entrench the Privileged... not break down boundaries.
I'm sorry. I'm very, very disappointed that some folk have allowed themselves to get carried away with things and want to apply the New Rules with such a broad brush. The temerity of treating American nobility like this staggers the imagination!
And speaking of that, is it my imagination or are there more zetas in my sky these days?
Weapon Smuggling: Intelligence vs. Evidence
The U.S. officer said Iran was working through surrogates — mainly "rogue elements" of the Shiite Mahdi Army — to smuggle the EFPs into Iraq. He said most of the components are entering Iraq near Amarah, the Iranian border city of Meran, and the Basra area of southern Iraq.
U.S. officer: Iran sends Iraq bomb parts, Feb. 11, 2007
"I suspect there's nothing out there," the commander, Lt. Col. David Labouchere, said last month, speaking at an overnight camp near the border. "And I intend to prove it."
Other senior British military leaders spoke as explicitly in interviews over the previous two months. Britain, whose forces have had responsibility for security in southeastern Iraq since the war began, has found nothing to support the Americans' contention that Iran is providing weapons and training in Iraq, several senior military officials said.
"I have not myself seen any evidence -- and I don't think any evidence exists -- of government-supported or instigated" armed support on Iran's part in Iraq, British Defense Secretary Des Browne said in an interview in Baghdad in late August.
"It's a question of intelligence versus evidence," Labouchere's commander, Brig. James Everard of Britain's 20th Armored Brigade, said last month at his base in the southern region's capital, Basra. "One hears word of mouth, but one has to see it with one's own eyes. These are serious consequences, aren't they?"
British Find No Evidence Of Arms Traffic From Iran, Oct. 4, 2006
Update: The AFP story is a bit more detailed and cautious than the AP story linked above: Iranian bombs have killed 170 Iraq coalition troops: US
The accusers are anonymous and the evidence was NOT shown to the reporters but handed out as pictures on a CD. Why do this and not show the real stuff? Photoshop anyone?
Three coalition officials met reporters to point the finger at the Al-Qods Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, part of Tehran's elite forces accused of links with foreign militants.
The men spoke on condition of anonymity for their security and cameras and recording devices were barred from the briefing, where an array of mortar shells and booby traps were laid out for inspection.
Reporters were issued with a disc containing photographs of alleged Iranian weapons seized in Iraq -- a Misagh-1 ground-to-air missile, EFPs and mortar shells -- showing manufacturing dates in late 2006.
New Anti-Iranq Propaganda
At least three new pieces of U.S. distributed anti-Iran propaganda came out today. The new push of false accusation goes into two directions or meme.
- Iran is providing weapons to Iraqi insurgents
- Iran is aligning with Al-Qaeda and the Taliban
We can be sure that more stuff feeding these meme will follow tomorrow to fill the echo-chambers of Sunday news shows and to burn them into the US public mind.
The first direction is following a proven path. The New York Times has Michael A Gordon writing: Deadliest Bomb in Iraq Is Made by Iran, U.S. Says
The most lethal weapon directed against American troops in Iraq is an explosive-packed cylinder that United States intelligence asserts is being supplied by Iran.
As you will see, this is of course pure bullshit.
In general, what is the most lethal stuff? In any normal frame one would suggest it's the stuff that kills the most people. In this case the described infrared triggered, chained, shaped charges have been used very seldom.
But the report, based only on anonymous US officials is written by the same Michael Gordon who presented us with headlines like: BAGHDAD'S ARSENAL; White House Lists Iraq Steps To Build Banned Weapons and THE IRAQIS; U.S. SAYS HUSSEIN INTENSIFIES QUEST FOR A-BOMB PARTS. Both pieces were written by Gordon together with Judith Miller.
It is "aluminum tubes" all over again. When Gordon writes stuff like this, he is just repeating but never questioning the ridiculous assumptions whispered to him:
According to American intelligence, Iran has excelled in developing this type of bomb, and has provided similar technology to Hezbollah militants in southern Lebanon. The manufacture of the key metal components required sophisticated machinery, raw material and expertise that American intelligence agencies do not believe can be found in Iraq. In addition, some components of the bombs have been found with Iranian factory markings from 2006.
There is nothing sophisticated with shaped charges. These are known and used since world war one. To convert, let's say a regular 155mm artillery grenade into a shaped charge, one needs a piece of solid copper and a lathe or a hydraulic metal press. If those are not there hammer and anvil will do too. These materials and the tools are well available in Iraq. Any half competent mechanic can produce these things.
Gordon also writes:
American military officers say that attacks using the weapon reached a high point in December, when it accounted for a significant portion of Americans killed and wounded in Iraq.
Indeed iCasualties.org, which is based on Pentagon reports, does count 71 soldiers killed by IEDs during last December.
But 41 of those died in or near Baghdad and north-east thereof, another 21 died in the western Sunni Anbar province. Gordon's sources say the shaped charge weapon is mostly used by Shia in the south and was very deadly during December. How does this fit the facts?
It does not, but stenographer Gordon does not care to do those 10 minutes of research that it took me to debunk the claim.
The second meme is announced in a piece in the Washington Post which has some saner reporting than the NYT and debunks the administration take at least in part. But the implementation of meme is still supported by this as it is by an article in the British Guardian.
Last week, the CIA sent an urgent report to President Bush's National Security Council: Iranian authorities had arrested two al-Qaeda operatives traveling through Iran on their way from Pakistan to Iraq. The suspects were caught along a well-worn, if little-noticed, route for militants determined to fight U.S. troops on Iraqi soil, according to a senior intelligence official.
The arrests were presented to Bush's senior policy advisers as evidence that Iran appears committed to stopping al-Qaeda foot traffic across its borders, the intelligence official said. That assessment comes at a time when the Bush administration, in an effort to push for further U.N. sanctions on the Islamic republic, is preparing to publicly accuse Tehran of cooperating with and harboring al-Qaeda suspects.
The new strategy, a senior administration official said, aims to portray Iran as a "terror-producing country, instead of an oil-producing country," with links to al-Qaeda, Hezbollah and death squads in Iraq.
That turns out be a bit difficult as Iran has been quite helpful and arrested several AlQaeda members. Still the administration presses on. There is also again a fight between the CIA and the Pentagon and there are old UN resolutions threatening everybody who "houses terrorists" which, in the mind-boggling interpretation of the administration, Iran is doing when it detains purported AlQaeda members.
Since al-Qaeda fighters began streaming into Iran from Afghanistan in the winter of 2001, Tehran had turned over hundreds of people to U.S. allies and provided U.S. intelligence with the names, photographs and fingerprints of those it held in custody, according to senior U.S. intelligence and administration officials.
One official said the CIA and the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency have disagreed over how effectively the Iranians are controlling al-Qaeda members and whether the Tehran government is aware of the extent of al-Qaeda movements through the country.
Nevertheless, administration officials said they are determined to press Iran on the matter.
"We are not convinced that the Iranians have been honest or open about the level or degree of al-Qaeda presence in their midst," said one Bush adviser who was instrumental in coming up with a more confrontational U.S. approach to Iran. "They have not made proper accounting with respect to U.N. resolutions, have not been clear about who is in detention and have not been clear as to what is happening to individuals who might be in custody."
Bush administration officials pointed to U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1267 and 1373, which state that harboring al-Qaeda members constitutes a threat to international peace and security, and authorize force to combat that threat.
Now on to The Guardian: Surprising partners among Tehran's layer of alliances
In the wake of anecdotal accounts of would-be Iranian jihadists turning up in Afghanistan, western intelligence sources believe official contacts have been made between the erstwhile enemies. Iranian intelligence is thought to be providing some money and training to the Taliban and giving safe passage for jihadists travelling from the Iraqi to the Afghan front.
Seth Jones, a terrorism expert at the Rand Corporation thinktank, who has just returned from Afghanistan, said: "There are indications the Iranians have opened contacts with insurgent groups, including the Quetta Shura (the Taliban command council for southern Afghanistan)"
Meanwhile, the long-standing relationship with Hizbullah offers Iran the potential to threaten US interests much further afield. Tehran helped set up the Shia militia after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, and it has since developed a global presence stretching as far as Lebanese communities in Latin America. In the event of an attack on Iran, it could offer Tehran a potent network for reprisals.
The logic of Iran supporting the Taliban after they helped to oust them in 2001/2002 seems a bit far fetched. As is the assertion that Iran allows Sunni jihadists to travel into Iraq to blow up fellow Shias.
While the NYT piece is a straight copy from the campaign on Iraq, the WaPo and the Guardian piece do a bit of balance. Will this help to stop the efficiency of the propaganda campaign?
I do not believe so. Like with the campaign against Iraq the details will be lost as soon as the meme are transferred to 30 second soundbites on cable TV.
But it probably does not matter anyhow. Laura Rozen has an excerpt from a National Journal piece behind subscription walls:
"Even if this PowerPoint presentation eventually gets made public ... what does this show us as to where Iran is really coming from?" [former National Intelligence Council Middle East analyst Paul] Pillar asked. "What is the larger significance? Even if Iranian assistance to an Iraqi group is proven to everyone's satisfaction, the [administration's] policy never rested on that. The policy [is being driven by a] much larger sense of Iran as the prime bete noire in the region, and that is why the administration is trying to put together these coalitions with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, the Sunni states, that we've been reading about. None of this hinges [on the Iran dossier]. We are not going to call this off if we can't prove that Iran is furnishing munitions to Iraqi groups...."
Saudis in a Bind
Some thoughts on the wider circumstances of the Palestinian agreement between Hamas and Fatah as brokered by the Saudis.
The background is a new Middle East in which, thanks to the U.S. war on Iraq, Iran has gained a relative better position than before. But the big winner in this war is not Iran at all.
Iraq with Saddam ruling was a serious impediment to Saudi Arabia. They were the ones who feared him when he tried to stop Kuwaiti horizontal drilling into Iraqi oil reservoirs by reincluding them into Iraq.
A neighboring country with a secular and modern atmosphere would have been a dangerous example for the people under the archaic Wahhabi rule of the Saud dynasty. Iraq united with Kuwait as a potent oil producer had enough capacity to threaten the Saudi role of swing producer within OPEC. That menace is gone and with it the threat to Saudi hegemony.
Unlike the relative win of Iran, the Saudi win, by now unrivaled oil price control, is absolute.
The first time the Saudis put their new power to a test was a few months ago when a partial U.S. retreat from Iraq looked possible. Through a consultant's OpEd in the Washington Post they offered carrots and sticks to Washington.
"Either you stay in Iraq and clean up the mess you have made or we will really step into that game. We can finance the Sunni resistance to kick you and your Shia puppets out. Additionally we may cut some oil production and squeeze your economy. But if you stay in Iraq we might produce enough oil to lower the prices and squeeze Tehran's balls instead."
Bush/Cheney promptly dumped the Baker/Hamilton paper and took the Saudi offer. An additional Saudi demand was for some freedom to act on behalf of the Palestinians.
At the Beirut Summit
in 2002 the Saudis led a coalition of Arab countries that offered
Israel official recognition in a deal for a Palestinian state. That
initiative went nowhere.
But now the Saudis have a better hand and they gave it another try.
To prevent a civil war in Palestine, induced and financed by the U.S. and Israel, they brokered a peace deal between Hamas and Abbas' Fatah. In parallel to the negotiations Israel started meddling near the Al'Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. A proven way to induce violence and to derail unwanted peace deals. But this time it was not enough to stop the process.
Though Hamas did not cave in to the mystic point of "Israel's right to exist", the Palestine "unity government" the U.S. demanded is now in place. The Saudis, guardians of the Islamic holy sites, brokered and blessed the deal and invested a lot of political capital into it.
Abbas and Khaled Meshaal, the exiled leader of Hamas, signed the deal in a palace overlooking the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine.
Signing in sight of the Kaaba is certainly a very important symbol in the Islamic parts of the world. The Saudis now will have to see this through or lose a lot of their Islamic street cred.
Palestinan tax revenue which Israel withholds, as well as European aid to Palestine, will now have to be paid to the unity government. If the Saudi's do not get this done, their current leading role in the Sunni Arab world and the Islamic role of the House of Saud as the protectors of the holy places of Islam will be seriously damaged.
Helena Cobban and Badger also have some thoughts on this. Helena says the U.S. is hardly in a position to counter the Saudi initiative while Badger cites Arab media doubting Saudi independence from the U.S. in enacting this.
Like Crevald I think the U.S. is seriously damaged. It has hardly any power left to negotiate anything in the Middle East. Besides a lunatic attack on Iran it can do nothing to forestall a total and devastating retreat from Iraq.
The Saudis will share that perspective. But now they really have to prove their new role. Badger cites an Arab columnist:
[M]easure of success or failure for the Saudis in this initiative isn't going to be the lack of any preference or taking of sides between this Palestinian faction or that. Rather the test will be whether they do in fact show preference and take sides on the side of the Palestinians in their enormous efforts to free themselves from the occupation.
The Saudis know that the real test for their new position is still out. Now they are in a bind. If the U.S. and Israel do not respect the brokered deal by lifting the economic sanctions on Palestine and by taking real steps towards a Palestinian state, the Saudi oil weapon will have to come into play again.
Some market volatility is thereby guaranteed.
News & views ... another open thread ...
The Crucial Point on Iran According to Rice
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was pressed yesterday on whether the Bush administration missed an opportunity to improve relations with Iran in 2003, when Tehran issued a proposal calling for a broad dialogue with the United States, on matters including cooperation on nuclear safeguards, action against terrorists and possible recognition of Israel.
We interrupt the quote here to give readers a chance to guess why that opportunity was missed and to let you guess what the crucial point of U.S. foreign policy is.
a. cooperation with Iran on nuclear safeguards
b. action against terrorists
c. recognition of Israel
d. something else
Thanks for your vote and here the report continues:
"I have read about this so-called proposal from Iran," Rice told the House Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday, referring to reports in The Washington Post and other publications last year. "We had people who said, 'The Iranians want to talk to you,' lots of people who said, 'The Iranians want to talk to you.' But I think I would have noticed if the Iranians had said, 'We're ready to recognize Israel.' . . . I just don't remember ever seeing any such thing."
Oh, you had chosen d. something else. That is smart, but what exactly were you thinking of?
Overdose in Iraq
During the Vietnam War drug abuse by GIs was rampant. There are no reports of marijuana or heroin consumption in Iraq, but the drugs of this war may just be different ones.
A German magazine reports today about a suicide by overdose of Sergeant Worster in Iraq. Additionally the magazine reports of frequent drug parties within Woster's medical unit.
Alcohol is officially not available and off limits for soldiers in Iraq. As most troops are working in enclosed bases, the usual illegal stuff may be hard to come by.
But pharmaceutical drugs seem to be everywhere. Speed and downers are officially used by U.S. pilots and special forces despite well known side effects. Psychotropics are officially prescribed in PTSD cases and used in self medication.
Sgt. Georg Anderas Pogany told Salon that after he broke down in Iraq, his team sergeant told him “to pull himself together, gave him two Ambien, a prescription sleep aid, and ordered him to sleep.”
Other soldiers self-medicate. “We were so junked out on Valium, we had no emotions anymore,” Iraq vet John Crawford told “Fresh Air” host Terry Gross. He and others in his unit in Iraq became addicted to Valium.
But Better living through chemistry did not work for Sergeant Worster. According to Stern, his comrades found him with the needle still sticking in his arm.
The Pentagon announced Worster's death as a "non-combat related incident" on September 19, 2006. It said, "the incident is under investigation."
The Stern reporter interviewed seven of the Sergeant's comrades, his mother, siblings and his wife.
Worster was on his second tour in Iraq, had marriage problems and suffered from his depressing job as shift supervisor in a busy Army emergency room unit near Baghdad.
According to the magazine's sources there were frequent drug parties throughout the unit. Alcohol was sent from the U.S. disguised as mouthwash and bought from Iraqi suppliers. The soldiers, including noncommissioned officers and junior officers, additionally consumed large amounts of Ambien, Percocet and other opiate derivatives. Doctors are said to have sold drugs from the unit's pharmacy.
Stern reports that there was an investigation of Worster's death by Military Police, and a Colonel of the unit was prematurely retired. But the overdose and suicide of Sergeant Worster was never officially acknowledged. Officials answered the reporters' questions with "No comment."
Edwards Is Out
Strike Edwards from the list of possible Democratic presidential candidates.
If he does not stand up for his staff against bullshit from wingnuts like Malkin, Donohue and Lopez, how can one expect him to stand up for people who vote for him? One cannot.
The right-wing blogosphere has gotten its scalps -- John Edwards has fired the two controversial bloggers he recently hired to do liberal blogger outreach, Salon has learned. The bloggers, Amanda Marcotte, formerly of Pandagon, and Melissa McEwan, of Shakespeare's Sister, had come under fire from right-wing bloggers for statements they had previously made on their respective blogs. A statement by the Catholic League's Bill Donohue, which called Marcotte and McEwan "anti-Catholic vulgar trash-talking bigots," and an accompanying article on the controversy in the New York Times this morning, put extra pressure on the campaign.
But then - after his disgusting sliming to the Likud lobby, such behavior was not much of a surprise.
The New Anti-Air War
In Iraq the U.S. today lost its fifth helicopter in just 18 days.
In December, a spokesman for Saddam Hussein's ousted Baath party, Khudair al-Murshidi, told The Associated Press in Damascus, Syria, that Sunni insurgents had received shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles and "we are going to surprise them," meaning U.S. forces.
In their war in Afghanistan the then surprised Sowjets lost hundreds of helicopters after the U.S. equipped the Taliban with such weapons.
Over the years, the U.S. tried to minimize using roads to transport personnal in Iraq and switched to more air transport. The roads became too dangerous.
Expensive new devices were developed and deployed against IEDs. Bush's new budget requests another $2.4 billion for anti-IED technology.
But while the U.S. upgrades its equipment, the resistance downgrades to cheaper and less complicate technology. Instead of radio or infrared controlled bombs, they now use simple pressure switches, baking tray mines and they doubled the numbers of deployed IEDs.
With both means of transport now equally endangered and a surge plan that emphasizes more and smaller bases, the U.S. casualty rate will jump upwards.
Next to transport, another major use of helicopters is direct fire support for ground troops. If helicopters are not able to provide that anymore, the alternative is less precise bombing from fixed wing aircraft or heavy artillery. Both are less precise. The result will be more collateral Iraqi casualties.
As the Sunni (and Al-Qaida in Iraq) claim to have received these weapons, and the helos downed over Anbar support that claim, it is unlikely that their Iranian arch-enemies have supplied these. More likely are Egyptian and Saudi origin and supply lines through Jordan. But those are moderate countries while Syria and Iran are extremist and U.S. propaganda will therefore claim the weapons came from there.
But if the resistance is can acquire a warehouse full of U.S. uniforms and equipment, "enough to supply a whole army battalion," their real supplier might still be somewhere else.
Trust the Cockpit Video?
Two U.S. pilots shot up a British patrol in Iraq, even though that patrol was clearly marked as friendly. A cockpit video of the incident, including the radio traffic, existed.
The video was used for an internal U.S. investigation. The result: "the pilots followed procedures." The U.K. did use the video for its internal military investigation but denied having it.
Then the U.K. claimed it had the tape but it could not give it to the investigating coroner because it was U.S. government property. Copyrights, you know ...
Yesterday the video was leaked to The Sun and it runs on its website.
Now, after The Sun got a million hits on the video, the U.S. government has the grace to release the video.
The United States has agreed to release a classified cockpit video showing the dismayed reaction of two American pilots after they killed a British soldier during a friendly fire incident in Iraq, a spokesman for the coroner said Tuesday.
Bliar will certainly thank the U.S. administration for their bounteousness.
But is this the real video? There is little to actually see in it and the sound is at times garbled.
Can we trust the journalistic integrity of Rupert Murdoch's Sun, the U.K. government that leaked the video to the Sun and the U.S. military chain of custody?
In Defense of Soldiers
There is quite a discussion around my last post on Lt. Watada. Let me try to explain my position on several of the points made therein by looking back at my time in the military.
It was 1979 in West Germany and the cold war was still a war. Millions of soldiers were positioned on both sides of the east-west border. Germany had (and still has) a draft, though it was easy to claim conscience objection and do civil service instead of military duty.
A lot of my friends did so even though their objections were mostly not genuine. I decided not to object. I shot rabbits to eat them. Given a defensive need, I was sure to be able to shoot a person too.
I ended up drafted into a tank company and after four months decided to voluntarily sign up for two years (instead of the 15 month draft) and an officer career. It was for better pay, a less boring time and a small advantage in getting a university place later on.
After those two years my reserve position was in a tank battalion east of Hamburg about five miles from the eastern border. In case of a hot east-west war the survival time for that battalion was estimated to be some 20 minutes. I had no reason to question the defensiveness of that position.
I did not and do not regard such voluntary soldiering as immoral. There was a contract I signed, but the contract was not about selling my soul to the devil. It included my right and my duty to stick to the law.
During my time I was given several unlawful orders. In two cases I rejected them.
The first one was during some infantry training at a tank shooting range a few yards away from live shooting battle tanks. The commanding sergeant ordered us to do away with our ear plugs so he would not have to scream too loud. I rejected his order to disregard safety regulations and to unnecessarily endanger my health. When he tried to punish me, I wrote a formal complaint. He was reprimanded and his promotion was put on hold.
The second rejection was to my Captain when I was a platoon leader. He ordered me to order my platoon to attend a field church service. His order was obviously illegal. If I had followed it, I would have given an illegal order myself. So I rejected it and together with most of my platoon skipped the service. There were no formal consequences on either side.
The military is not necessarily an aggressive instrument. There are lots of historic situations where nations are in danger of being attacked by outer forces. A credible defense force is certainly a basic necessity for most states.
It is not the primary task of soldiers to kill. Soldiers are to achieve a nation's political objectives by military means. Those means can include killing.
There are political objectives that are definitely legal. Article 51 of the UN charter guarantees states an "inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs." To compare for example the Swiss soldiers who manned these bunkers to mafia members is to me out of bounds.
There are also illegal political objectives. In the international realm wars-of-aggression are illegal. This is acknowledged by the U.S. and through its signing of the UN charter part of U.S. law. The Bush doctrine of preemptive war is regarded as illegal, though David Addington will argue differently. In view of international law the war on Iraq is certainly illegal.
Knowingly taking part in an illegal land robbery is against the law. To have been ordered to do so does not matter. The Nuremberg Defense does not hold. The order must not been followed.
In the case of Lt. Watada the judge denied to hear about his motive, the illegality of the war:
“The accused’s motive not to deploy and his belief about the lawfulness of the Iraq war are not elements of the offense. Motive is, therefore, irrelevant on the merit. Even had the defense been granted the full hearing they requested, the decision would be no different.”
To disregard motive is quite an evasive and wrong ruling.
Imagine breaking the door to your neighbor's flat because there is smoke and screams coming from it. Would the motive be irrelevant in a judgment on your offense of breaking and entering? Certainly not as there are even legal obligations to do so in cases of emergency.
So in my view, Watada is not to be morally judged for signing up to the military. There are legitimate motives to do so and he is neither a complete idiot nor a psychopath. He made a difficult, long and informed decision to disobey what he regards as an illegal order.
To deny him a hearing and judgment on his motive is bending the law. I hope this will be corrected.
Laud to Lt. Watada
From an LA Times report on Lt. Watada we are told in the first paragraph:
The Army had treated him with the utmost respect until the moment it decided to court-martial him. It was nothing personal. The Army does what it has to do.
Later in the same piece:
The Army does what it must to function. Military culture has always presumed that individuals lose certain kinds of freedom when joining the armed forces.
All hail to the Army - it can do no wrong, it does what it has to do.
But then, near the end of the piece, the such lauded Army shows another, ahem - more personal, face:
During what was supposed to be a casual football scrimmage among officers late last year, two majors "accidentally" broke Watada's nose. One major shoved, the other smacked. Watada for weeks walked around with two black eyes, a crooked beak and a sneaking hunch it was no accident.
As Paul Craig Roberts writes:
A state that cannot tolerate moral conscience in its soldiers is a failed state. The failure of the American state can be seen it its prosecution of Lt. Ehren Watada.
Let me add:
The failure of the American Army can be seen in the handling of Lt. Watada. The failure of the American press can be seen in its propaganda reporting on the case without even touching the basic question involved - the legality of the war on Iraq and the duty of soldiers to refuse taking part in illegal wars.
Number VI of Principles of the Nuremberg Tribunals states:
The crimes hereinafter set out are punishable as crimes under international law:
- Crimes against peace:
- Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances;
- Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the acts mentioned under (i).
Lt. Watada is to be lauded for his courage to stand up for the law by refusing to take part in a War of Aggression.
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Wishlist for Changing MoA
The Moon of Alabama blog will move away from the current hosting provider and its Typepad system.
The new MoA version will include a complete archive of Billmon's Whiskey Bar (minus a few missing pics.)
While moving to a new blogging software, most likely Wordpress, a new implementation of the design and functionalities has to be coded. A good time to add or change one thing or another.
What can be done will largely depend on the basic functionalities of Wordpress, its add-ons and the time I need to invest. What should be done depends on your input.
So here is your chance to add to the wishlist.
Last summer British troops had been under siege and took fatalities in the small Afghan city of Musa Qala. Musa Qala is also the name of the river next to the city as well as the name of the province (map - pdf).
Taliban did regularly attack the Brits and the city was coming apart. The provincial governor cut a deal with the Talibs and the city elders. The Brits approved as did the Afghan president Karzai.
The elders took over, a local police force was set up and in October the British left the area. Everybody was satisfied except the U.S., which criticized the deal.
Yesterday the Taliban came back.
Under the command of one Mullah Abdul Ghafoor, they rammed a tractor into the local police station, took weapons away and put up their flag. It is currently not clear if they are still there or have left the city. Families have fled in fear of a NATO/ISAF reprisal and ISAF is indeed preparing to go in again.
Mullah Abdul Ghafoor is a renowned local figure. In April 2000 a man was executed for killing him. In August 2003 he was captured north of Kandahar. On May 15 2004 two of his brothers were detained. In August 2006 Afghan police killed him again.
The Taliban say the original deal about Musa Qala was broken when US forces bombed the house and killed the brother of Mullah Abdul Ghafoor near Yatimchay (also transrcibed as Yateemcha), some 6 miles south of the city of Musa Qala and also on the banks of the river Musa Qala.
The US Air Force reported that raid:
In Afghanistan Jan. 25, an Air Force B-1B Lancer conducted a strike on Taliban extremists near Musa Qal'eh. The bomber expended guided bomb unit-38s on enemy targets.
A GBU-38 is a 500lb bomb. They released several.
Other sources confirm the strike:
At least eight Taliban fighters, including the brother of a local commander, were killed in bombing by NATO forces in Helmand. Police chief of the province Nabi Jan Mullahkhel said the militants were killed in an operation in the Yateemcha area of Musa Qala district. Mullahkhel added the dead also included the brother of Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Ghafoor and his other colleagues. They were holding a meeting at a secret place in the Yateemcha area. A NATO statement said the area, where the air strike was carried out, was outside the limits where they were observing a peace deal. The statement said the action was part of efforts to restore peace to the district.
In a comment in The Guardian defense journalist Robert Fox seems not to be happy about such action as "part of efforts to restore peace to the district."
The ISAF commander General Richards, a Brit, is just leaving the job and the successor is U.S. General Dan McNeil. McNeil had been U.S. commander in Afghanistan in 2002 and at that time did get some criticism for aggressive bombing.
It seems obvious that the British supported deal in Musa Qala did hold the peace for a few months but unraveled last week because the U.S. bombed an alleged Taliban (or family?) meeting nearby. Did General Richards agree to that raid?
This may have been intended or it may not have been. The U.S. may have believed that the peace deal did not include the nearby town of Yatimchay. The Musa Qala elders, the Taliban, provincial governor and the Brits may have a different view on that. What did each participant understand to be included with "Musa Qala" when the deal was made?
We do not know. But what this definitly demonstrates is that any kinetic approach in the tribal and deeply conservative Pashtun provinces will result in a kinetic answer.
There is no way to bomb the way to peace. Peace is restored across negotiating tables, not by GBUs.
The public key findings (pdf) of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq are now out.
A very short version:
- Iraq is a total brutal mess.
- The situation there will get worse.
- Keeping or removing the U.S. troops does not make any difference to Iraq.
- If certain things happen, Iraq will go down the drain even faster and end up partitioned, in a genocidal war or total anarchy.
The points in the NIE are arranged in a bit confusing or, one might say, obfuscating way. I have rearranged them for clarity here without (I hope) manipulating their meaning
(direct quotes from the NIE are in italic.)
It starts off with three points:
- Iraq is a serious mess. The state is weak and everybody is willing to kill everybody.
- Unless efforts to reverse these conditions show measurable progress during the term of this Estimate, the coming 12 to 18 months, we assess that the overall security situation will continue to deteriorate at rates comparable to the latter part of 2006.
- If the Iraqi Security Forces were better, there could be a chance
for a political process. But even then that process would be very difficult.
In detail the NIA then assesses:
- The Shia do not want to give up their new won power and do not trust the U.S.
- The Sunnis do not accept their loss of power.
- The Kurds want Kirkuk which means more trouble between them and the Arabs.
- Forget the Iraq Security Forces - they are sectarian, undertrained and unequipped.
- Al-Qa’ida in Iraq and Jaysh al-Mahdi (Sadrists) are accelerators in the deterioration.
- The refugees are a real problem.
- It is not a "Civil war" but:
[T]he term “civil war” accurately describes key elements of the Iraqi conflict, including the hardening of ethno-sectarian identities, a sea change in the character of the violence, ethno-sectarian mobilization, and population displacements.
- Iran supports some Shia groups
- Syria houses Baathists and lets insurgents enter Iraq
- Sunni Arab states are not helping a bit but consider support for Sunnis in Iraq
- Turkey wants to eliminate the PKK in northern Iraq
- but the involvement of these outside actors is not likely to be a major driver of violence or the prospects for stability
There is nothing mentioning or arguing for a "surge". But, says the NIE, the coalition (i.e. the U.S troops) is stabilizing the situation. Removing those troops would make things worse, they say, because:
- massive casualties and displacement might occur
- Al-Qa’ida in Iraq would reside in Anbar
- there would be more violence and more political strife
- Kirkuk would be fought over and
- neighbors might intervene
The situation could be solved, says the NIE, if:
- the Shia would give up some power,
- the Sunnis would accept their power loss,
- the Kurds stopped insisting on Kirkuk and
- the Iraqi Security Forces were getting better
A number of things could happen that would the mess worse very quickly:
- sustained mass sectarian killings
- the killing of a religious figure
- the Sunnis leaving the government
If such happens there are three possible outcomes:
- de facto partition
- a Shia strongman takes over
- total anarchy
In total, this sounds realistic to me. Iraq will get worse and there is not much anyone can do.
But certainly I would like to know more about the assessment of the role of U.S. troops today and how a "surge" or a removal of the troops would make a difference. General Casey and Abizaid were against a surge as were the Chief of Staffs.
What do they know?
I believe the real, secret NIE supports their standpoint by assessing that the surge will make things worse.
And who inserted that Shia strongman into the NIE?
Let the leaks start ...
There has been massive industry intervention to stop or modify the global warming report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It will be out today and will report that global warming indeed has human causes and will lead to significant higher temperatures and sea levels.
This will necessitate massive migration of people from desertificating and flooding areas into other places. Poorly managed, as it will likely be, such migration will result in further conflicts like the one in Darfur - only bigger.
The Guardian reports that ExxonMobil, through the American Enterprise Institute, has offered scientists $10,000 plus expenses for writings that attack the report:
The letters, sent to scientists in Britain, the US and elsewhere, attack the UN's panel as "resistant to reasonable criticism and dissent and prone to summary conclusions that are poorly supported by the analytical work" and ask for essays that "thoughtfully explore the limitations of climate model outputs".
The letters were sent by Kenneth Green, a visiting scholar at AEI, who confirmed that the organisation had approached scientists, economists and policy analysts to write articles for an independent review that would highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the IPCC report.
(The Guardian is very late in reporting this. The AEI letter was written in July and has been public at least since early November.)
The attempt to deny global warming has failed, but it is already visible what the new strategy of former global warming deniers will be.
In September Kenneth Green came up with this:
If the president simply acknowledges that humans are probably causing some climate change, that warming will likely continue, and that warming might pose serious challenges for human societies and ecosystems, his epiphany will be a bit late, but at least reasonable.
The main reason focusing on greenhouse gas reduction is bad policy is that intractable economic dynamics make preventing greenhouse gas emissions in the near future virtually impossible and guarantee the waste of most resources invested in the attempt.
There are no facts that support Green's assumption of bad policy. Of course the intractable economic dynamics can be changed - that is exactly what Kyoto, higher gas taxes and stricter mileage limits would do.
The base of the new fudge Green is mixing is the unfounded "virtually impossible" attribute. If global warming is happening, and he now admits that, there is nothing we can do about it. It is "unstoppable" so why should we care, he says.
The Associated Press has already jumped onto that propaganda wagon. The headline of their current piece on the UN report is: Warming 'likely' man-made, unstoppable. The LA Times titles the same way: U.N. says there's no stopping global warming.
This is an attempt to depict global warming as a pure yes or no binary decision that has now been decided on. Earlier they said there is no global warming, so why care about it. Now they admit there is global warming and tell us that there is nothing we can do about it.
But like most things in life, global warming is a gradual. The newest (conservative) estimates given by the IPCC predict a temperature rise of 2-11.5 degrees Fahrenheit by the year 2100 and a sea level rise of 7-23 inches by the end of the century.
The ranges given are partly related to uncertainties in the prediction models. But they also express the uncertainty in estimating the outcome on the political side. How much human will and money will be invested to slow down global warming? How effective will the economic and technical measures be?
Global warming will be with us for our lifetime, but we can affect the size of the consequences it brings with it. Will 20 million in Bangladesh have to flee from rising sea levels or 80 million? Will this happen through 30 years, allowing a smoother adoption, or within a shorter, more chaotic time frame? In case you don't care about Bangladesh, will all of Manhatten or New Orleans be flooded, or only parts of it?
We can slow down global warming by lowering our energy footprint in this world and by using renewable energies for the footprint we believe we need to have. But Mr. Green and his donors from ExxonMobile only care about the profits they make through fossil fuels. By painting global warming as an on/off issue they try to avoid any of the needed attempts to reduce their use.
Describing global warming as unstoppable is semantically correct. But it is also their trick to make people believe nothing can be done to make it less severe. Instead they want money to develop technical solutions to soften the effects of the catastrophe.
We are sitting in a fast driving bus and we see that we will crash the wall in front of us. Sensible passengers ask the driver to push the brakes for a slower, less severe impact. But Mr. Green urges the driver to speed up. He turns to the passengers and offers to sell them pillows so the crash will not hurt them so much.
For the passengers, there is nothing unstoppable about this.
Some News & Links on Iranq
Some loosely connected news and links on Iranq:
Who is fighting the U.S. in Iraq?
Nobody really knows I guess - the recent fight near Najaf is at least open to interpretation. According to the Boston Globe the U.S. has identified some 28 militia groups of various motives and background.
Is the group that fought in Najaf one of them? We do not know and it may be a save assumption that the list is incomplete.
As background Pat Lang's primer on Islam helps to understand how easy such groups form within the wide range of Islamic beliefs.
Ed Herriman says US troops will stay in Iraq, and the war will get worse. That sounds like a safe assumption. Patrick Cockburn reports how Iraqis abandon their homes in Middle East's new refugee exodus. If you have a donation list you may want to add the UNHCR to it to help a bit.
LAT takes a look at Kirkuk. There is supposed to be a referendum at the end of the year about Kirkuk being part of the Kurdish province or not. Either that referendum takes place and the city explodes over it, or the referendum will not be held and the city will explode - nice choice.
Ex-neocon Francis Fukayama looks at his former friends and doesn't like what he sees: The neocons have learned nothing from five years of catastrophe. But to them it is not a catastrophy. They have learned that they are capable of stiring the cauldron and they want to stir it more. The U.S. staying in Iraq is a precondition for that and the current fights in Washington are all about that.
We have no doubt about Iran’s malign intent ...
Of course they had no doubt about WMD in Iraq either ...
There are usually three accusations towards Iran: The nuclear ambitions, general meddling in Iraq and material support for the insurgent groups.
But Nuclear plans in chaos as Iran leader flounders and Fears of Iran Meddling in Southern Iraq Appear Overblown show that both accusations are simply hot air. As for insurgence group support USA Today this yesterday: U.S. blames Iran for new bombs in Iraq
A sophisticated type of roadside bomb that U.S. officials have linked to Iran has been used increasingly against U.S. troops in Iraq. The device is called an explosively formed projectile (EFP).
They cite three cases of EFP use against U.S. troops. Two in Baghdad and one in Baqubah. Now that is a problem. In Baghdad the U.S. is fighting Sunnis in Haifa Street and Baqubah is a Sunni city. Why would Iran support a Sunni insurgency?
And if you want to know how to build a shaped-charge EFP, why not check out hundreds of new ideas in the U.S. patents database instead of relying on third grade Iranian know-how. But dear insurgent - no patent infringements please.
All explanations for Iran evilness are terribly overblown and nobody would trust any U.S. government report about them anyhow. That is why the U.S. delays report on Iranian role in Iraq
U.S. military and embassy officials in Baghdad have been trying to build a case with a variety of evidence, according to officials.
But officials involved in interagency meetings on the issue in Washington, including some in the State Department and intelligence agencies, believe that some of the material overstates murky evidence and casts a negative light on Iranians who may not be guilty.
But it is budget time in the Pentagon and everybody wants to bomb and to prove their usefulness. So LAT says the Air Force's role in Iraq could grow, but the piece is more marketing than serious reporting. Unfortunately for the Air Force and its suppliers, jets are inefficient against insurgencies. But some find better uses:
Thomas G. McInerney, a retired Air Force lieutenant general who advocates military strikes in Iran, said U.S. planes along the border could be better used to keep bomb-making materials out of Iraq.
"We know they are doing this. Why do we accept it?" McInerney said. "For every [improvised explosive device] that goes off in Iraq, a bomb should go off in Iran."
General McInerney is a member of the Board of Directors of Alloy Surfaces Company, Kilgore Flares Co, Nortel Government Solutions Inc. Pan American International Academy (Flight Simulators), Agusta Westland NA, and Crescent Partnerships.
McInerney simply profits from war and more war. LAT interviewed a pusher about the dangers of Heroin consumption. No danger at all he says. He said it before:
[T]his will be the most massive precision air campaign in history, achieving rapid dominance in the first 72 hours of combat. . . . [A]ll the Iraqi military forces will be told through the opposition forces in our information operations campaign that they have two choices: either help us change regime leadership and build the democracy, or be destroyed.
Rapid dominance - indeed ...
War preparations with Iran appear to be progressing in a hurry. The article says "end of February" at the earliest, while Tony Blair's departure later in the spring would appear to be a deadline. Four years ago, those opposed to the war had nothing but an idyllic remembrance of the 60's and contained peaceful marches attempting to change Bush's mind as a strategy.
It didn't work. Turns out chanting at Bush to not do it from 500 yards away is ineffective.
Now we have an impending war. The propaganda has been working on and off for a good two years. Iran's leader has been demonized, their role in Iraq accented, and Bush topped it off with what amounted to a causus belli a week ago. So what can we do? I'm tossing this out for the experienced activists. What are methods, other than peaceful demonstrations or writing representatives, that could conceivable stop or at least slow the rush to war?
News & views ...