Sunday, December 31, 2006
What's Good for Saddam May Be Good for Mubarak or the Saudi Royals, Saddam at the End of a Rope By TARIQ ALI
CounterPuch Weekend Edition
December 30 / 31, 2006
It was symbolic that 2006 ended with a colonial hanging--- most of it (bar the last moments) shown on state television in occupied Iraq. It has been that sort of year in the Arab world. After a trial so blatantly rigged that even Human Rights Watch---the largest single unit of the US Human Rights industry--- had to condemn it as a total travesty. Judges were changed on Washington's orders; defense lawyers were killed and the whole procedure resembled a well-orchestrated lynch mob. Where Nuremberg was a more dignified application of victor's justice, Saddam's trial has, till now, been the crudest and most grotesque. The Great Thinker President's reference to it 'as a milestone on the road to Iraqi democracy' as clear an indication as any that Washington pressed the trigger.
The contemptible leaders of the European Union, supposedly hostile to capital punishment, were silent, as usual. And while some Shia factions celebrated in Baghdad, the figures published by a fairly independent establishment outfit, the Iraq Centre for Research and Strategic Studies (its self-description: "which attempts to spread the conscious necessity of realizing basic freedoms, consolidating democratic values and foundations of civil society") reveal that just under 90 per cent of Iraqis feel the situation in the country was better before it was occupied.
The ICRSC research is based on detailed house-to-house interviewing carried out during the third week of November 2006.
Only five per cent of those questioned said Iraq is better today than in 2003; 89 per cent of the people said the political situation had deteriorated; 79 per cent saw a decline in the economic situation; 12 per cent felt things had improved and 9 per cent said there was no change. Unsurprisingly, 95 per cent felt the security situation was worse than before. Interestingly, about 50 per cent of those questioned identified themselves only as "Muslims"; 34 per cent as Shiites and 14 per cent as Sunnis. Add to this the figures supplied by the UNHCR: 1.6 million Iraqis (7 per cent of the population) have fled the country since March 2003 and 100,000 Iraqis leave every month, Christians, doctors, engineers, women, etc. There are one million in Syria, 750,000 in Jordan, 150,000 in Cairo. These are refugees that do not excite the sympathy of Western public opinion, since the US (and EU backed) occupation is the cause. These are not compared (as was the case in Kosovo) to the atrocities of the Third Reich. Perhaps it was these statistics (and the estimates of a million Iraqi dead) that necessitated the execution of Saddam Hussein?
That Saddam was a tyrant is beyond dispute, but what is conveniently forgotten is that most of his crimes were committed when he was a staunch ally of those who now occupy the country. It was, as he admitted in one of his trial outbursts, the approval of Washington (and the poison gas supplied by West Germany) that gave him the confidence to douse Halabja with chemicals in the midst of the Iran-Iraq war. He deserved a proper trial and punishment in an independent Iraq. Not this. The double standards applied by the West never cease to astonish. Indonesia's Suharto who presided over a mountain of corpses (At least a million to accept the lowest figure) was protected by Washington. He never annoyed them as much as Saddam.
And what of those who have created the mess in Iraq today? The torturers of Abu Ghraib; the pitiless butchers of Fallujah; the ethnic cleansers of Baghdad, the Kurdish prison boss who boasts that his model is Guantanamo. Will Bush and Blair ever be tried for war crimes? Doubtful. And Aznar, currently employed as a lecturer at Georgetown University in Washington, DC , where the language of instruction is English of which he doesn't speak a word. His reward is a punishment for the students.
Saddam's hanging might send a shiver through the collective, if artificial, spine of the Arab ruling elites. If Saddam can be hanged, so can Mubarak, or the Hashemite joker in Amman or the Saudi royals, as long as those who topple them are happy to play ball with Washington.
Tariq Ali's new book, Pirates of the Caribbean: Axis of Hope, is published by Verso. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Donald Rumsfeld and Saddam Hussein
Los Angles Times
Among the many ironies of Saddam Hussein's execution is that, although his death seems certain to boost sectarian bloodletting between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq, he always posed as an Iraqi and Arab nationalist who could unite the rivalrous sects in his country — an attribute that initially recommended him to Washington.
Other qualities of the Iraqi dictator that appealed to U.S. policymakers included his sterling record in eliminating communists and his readiness to confront the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the militant Shiite leader of Iran.
Today of all days, the administration has no desire to be reminded of the era when the U.S. actively intervened on Iraq's side in the Iran-Iraq war, supplying credit, intelligence, helicopters and, finally, active combat assistance from the U.S. Navy.
But that is indeed what happened. Something of the flavor of the relationship is summed up in a March 1984 cable from Secretary of State George Shultz to Donald Rumsfeld, who was about to visit Baghdad for the second time as President Reagan's Middle East envoy. Although the U.S. had just publicly condemned Iraq's use of chemical weapons, Shultz told Rumsfeld that the condemnation had been more or less pro forma and that "our interests in 1) preventing an Iranian victory and 2) continuing to improve bilateral relations with Iraq, at a pace of Iraq's choosing, remain undiminished…. This message bears reinforcing during your discussions."
The key to the relationship between the U.S. and Hussein over the years was that they shared the same enemies. Hussein's early political career was as a hit man for the Baath party. In 1961, he fled into exile in Egypt after botching an assassination attempt against the then-leader of Iraq, Abdul Karim Qassim. Qassim, a leftist general who ruled with the support of the Communist Party, was regarded with extreme disfavor in Washington.
In fact, Hussein's exile ended in 1963, when his Baathist colleagues seized power with covert U.S. assistance. "We rode to power on a CIA train," the party's secretary general, Ali Saleh Saadi, admitted later.
Once in power, Hussein and his party pursued a nationalist agenda that sometimes irked Washington — as when he masterminded the full nationalization of Iraq's oil assets. In the mid-1970s, the U.S. got so irritated with him that it briefly gave covert assistance to Kurdish insurgents. But the triumph of militant Shiism in Iran a few years later guaranteed Hussein a place among Washington's allies once again.
Initially, it wasn't clear that Hussein would have to go to war against Khomeini's Iran. That's because the Shiite religious leadership in Iraq posed little threat to Hussein's rule. But that began to change when the communists — who had commanded the allegiance of the Shiite masses — were crushed and liquidated. The Shiite religious hierarchy, encouraged by the success of the Islamic Revolution next door, then began asserting itself politically.
Panicked by this internal threat, Hussein decided on a preemptive attack against Iran in 1980, a move that came with covert U.S. encouragement.
Apart from the eccentric deviation of the Iran-Contra affair, Washington's support for Iraq against the militant Iranian Shiite regime remained firm during the eight-year Iran-Iraq war, despite Hussein's well-publicized use of poison gas against, as President Bush likes to remind us, his own people.
That consistent support, in fact, appears to have deluded Hussein into thinking that the U.S. would grant him concessions in return for withdrawing from Kuwait after his 1990 invasion of that country. Had he any experience of the outside world beyond his exile in Egypt and brief arms-shopping trips to Moscow and Paris — or had his advisors not been too frightened to tell him the truth — he might have understood that, with the Soviet Union's defeat in the Cold War, Third World dictators could no longer defy the U.S. and escape unpunished.
Though he was expelled from Kuwait and his economy wrecked by sanctions, Hussein was allowed to survive because Washington for a time continued to believe that he was useful as a bulwark against Iran abroad and militant Shiism at home in Iraq. When that policy was discarded by the neoconservatives after the 9/11 attacks, the dictator's days were numbered.
Hussein was for a period the prime example of the traditional U.S. means of control in the Middle East: quiet support for a repressive leader respectful of U.S. interests. That approach has now apparently been replaced by one that induces civil discord and breakdown (deliberately or otherwise), as evidenced by recent events in Iraq, Lebanon and Afghanistan.
In his final hours, Saddam Hussein may have derived some satisfaction from the unpleasant surprises this change has produced for his former friends in Washington.
Andrew Cockburn is the author of "Rumsfeld, His Rise, Fall, and Catastrophic Legacy," to be published by Simon & Schuster in February.
Published on Thursday, December 28,
WASHINGTON - President George W. Bush and his top advisers made a "big mistake" in their justification for invading Iraq, Gerald Ford told journalist Bob Woodward in an interview embargoed until after the former president's death.
BUSH, ADVISERS MADE A "BIG MISTAKE"; CHENEY "PUGNACIOUS"
Former U.S. President Gerald R. Ford talks with his Chief of Staff Donald Rumsfeld (L) and Rumsfeld's assistant Richard Cheney (R) in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington in this April 28, 1975 file photo. Ford, who took office from an embattled Richard M. Nixon, has died, according to a statement from his widow on December 26, 2006. Courtesy Gerald R. Ford Library/David Hume Kennerly/White House Photograph/Handout
Ford, who died on Tuesday at his home in California at age 93, said he would not have gone to war, based on what was known publicly at the time, said the report on The Washington Post Web site on Wednesday.
"I don't think, if I had been president, on the basis of the facts as I saw them publicly," Ford said, "I don't think I would have ordered the Iraq war. I would have maximized our effort through sanctions, through restrictions, whatever, to find another answer."
In a four-hour tape-recorded interview in July 2004, Ford "very strongly" disagreed with the justification for the 2003 invasion of Iraq advocated and carried out by key Bush advisers and veterans of his own administration -- Vice President Dick Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld -- reported Woodward.
"Rumsfeld and Cheney and the president made a big mistake in justifying going into the war in Iraq. They put the emphasis on weapons of mass destruction," Ford said.
"And now, I've never publicly said I thought they made a mistake, but I felt very strongly it was an error in how they should justify what they were going to do."
The Bush administration's initial justification for the war was that Iraq posed a threat because it had stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. None were found.
The interview and a subsequent conversation in 2005 were done for a future book project, although Ford, who became president in 1974 after Richard Nixon resigned over the Watergate scandal, said his comments could be published any time after his death, Woodward wrote.
Woodward's reporting with fellow Washington Post journalist Carl Bernstein played a key role in uncovering the Watergate scandal.
Ford was quoted as saying he understood the theory of "wanting to free people." But the former president said he was skeptical "whether you can detach that from the obligation number one, of what's in our national interest."
He added, "And I just don't think we should go hellfire damnation around the globe freeing people, unless it is directly related to our own national security."
Woodward said Ford fondly recalled his close working relationship with Cheney and Rumsfeld, while expressing concern about the policies they pursued in more recent years.
"He (Cheney) was an excellent chief of staff. First class," Ford said. "But I think Cheney has become much more pugnacious" as vice president.
According to the article, Ford said he agreed with former Secretary of State Colin Powell's assertion that Cheney developed a "fever" about the threat of terrorism and Iraq. "I think that's probably true."
Saturday, December 30, 2006
Published: 30 December 2006
Saddam to the gallows. It was an easy equation. Who could be more deserving of that last walk to the scaffold - that crack of the neck at the end of a rope - than the Beast of Baghdad, the Hitler of the Tigris, the man who murdered untold hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis while spraying chemical weapons over his enemies? Our masters will tell us in a few hours that it is a "great day" for Iraqis and will hope that the Muslim world will forget that his death sentence was signed - by the Iraqi "government", but on behalf of the Americans - on the very eve of the Eid al-Adha, the Feast of the Sacrifice, the moment of greatest forgiveness in the Arab world.
But history will record that the Arabs and other Muslims and, indeed, many millions in the West, will ask another question this weekend, a question that will not be posed in other Western newspapers because it is not the narrative laid down for us by our presidents and prime ministers - what about the other guilty men?
No, Tony Blair is not Saddam. We don't gas our enemies. George W Bush is not Saddam. He didn't invade Iran or Kuwait. He only invaded Iraq. But hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians are dead - and thousands of Western troops are dead - because Messrs Bush and Blair and the Spanish Prime Minister and the Italian Prime Minister and the Australian Prime Minister went to war in 2003 on a potage of lies and mendacity and, given the weapons we used, with great brutality.
In the aftermath of the international crimes against humanity of 2001 we have tortured, we have murdered, we have brutalised and killed the innocent - we have even added our shame at Abu Ghraib to Saddam's shame at Abu Ghraib - and yet we are supposed to forget these terrible crimes as we applaud the swinging corpse of the dictator we created.
Who encouraged Saddam to invade Iran in 1980, which was the greatest war crime he has committed for it led to the deaths of a million and a half souls? And who sold him the components for the chemical weapons with which he drenched Iran and the Kurds? We did. No wonder the Americans, who controlled Saddam's weird trial, forbad any mention of this, his most obscene atrocity, in the charges against him. Could he not have been handed over to the Iranians for sentencing for this massive war crime? Of course not. Because that would also expose our culpability.
And the mass killings we perpetrated in 2003 with our depleted uranium shells and our "bunker buster" bombs and our phosphorous, the murderous post-invasion sieges of Fallujah and Najaf, the hell-disaster of anarchy we unleashed on the Iraqi population in the aftermath of our "victory" - our "mission accomplished" - who will be found guilty of this? Such expiation as we might expect will come, no doubt, in the self-serving memoirs of Blair and Bush, written in comfortable and wealthy retirement.
Hours before Saddam's death sentence, his family - his first wife, Sajida, and Saddam's daughter and their other relatives - had given up hope.
"Whatever could be done has been done - we can only wait for time to take its course," one of them said last night. But Saddam knew, and had already announced his own "martyrdom": he was still the president of Iraq and he would die for Iraq. All condemned men face a decision: to die with a last, grovelling plea for mercy or to die with whatever dignity they can wrap around themselves in their last hours on earth. His last trial appearance - that wan smile that spread over the mass-murderer's face - showed us which path Saddam intended to walk to the noose.
I have catalogued his monstrous crimes over the years. I have talked to the Kurdish survivors of Halabja and the Shia who rose up against the dictator at our request in 1991 and who were betrayed by us - and whose comrades, in their tens of thousands, along with their wives, were hanged like thrushes by Saddam's executioners.
I have walked round the execution chamber of Abu Ghraib - only months, it later transpired, after we had been using the same prison for a few tortures and killings of our own - and I have watched Iraqis pull thousands of their dead relatives from the mass graves of Hilla. One of them has a newly-inserted artificial hip and a medical identification number on his arm. He had been taken directly from hospital to his place of execution. Like Donald Rumsfeld, I have even shaken the dictator's soft, damp hand. Yet the old war criminal finished his days in power writing romantic novels.
It was my colleague, Tom Friedman - now a messianic columnist for The New York Times - who perfectly caught Saddam's character just before the 2003 invasion: Saddam was, he wrote, "part Don Corleone, part Donald Duck". And, in this unique definition, Friedman caught the horror of all dictators; their sadistic attraction and the grotesque, unbelievable nature of their barbarity.
But that is not how the Arab world will see him. At first, those who suffered from Saddam's cruelty will welcome his execution. Hundreds wanted to pull the hangman's lever. So will many other Kurds and Shia outside Iraq welcome his end. But they - and millions of other Muslims - will remember how he was informed of his death sentence at the dawn of the Eid al-Adha feast, which recalls the would-be sacrifice by Abraham, of his son, a commemoration which even the ghastly Saddam cynically used to celebrate by releasing prisoners from his jails. "Handed over to the Iraqi authorities," he may have been before his death. But his execution will go down - correctly - as an American affair and time will add its false but lasting gloss to all this - that the West destroyed an Arab leader who no longer obeyed his orders from Washington, that, for all his wrongdoing (and this will be the terrible get-out for Arab historians, this shaving away of his crimes) Saddam died a "martyr" to the will of the new "Crusaders".
When he was captured in November of 2003, the insurgency against American troops increased in ferocity. After his death, it will redouble in intensity again. Freed from the remotest possibility of Saddam's return by his execution, the West's enemies in Iraq have no reason to fear the return of his Baathist regime. Osama bin Laden will certainly rejoice, along with Bush and Blair. And there's a thought. So many crimes avenged.
But we will have got away with it.
December 29, 2006
Inter Press Service
BAGHDAD, Dec. 29 (IPS) - Former dictator Saddam Hussein is due to be executed next month in a move that could bring more instability in an increasingly violent and chaotic occupation.
The execution is to follow a decision by a court of appeal Dec. 26 to uphold the death sentence for Saddam. Under present Iraqi law, execution must be carried out within 30 days of confirmation of the order.
Chief judge Aref Shahin said following confirmation of the death sentence: "From tomorrow, any day could be the day of implementation."
Saddam is also in the midst of another trial over charges of genocide and other crimes during a 1987-1988 military crackdown on Kurds in northern Iraq. An estimated 180,000 Kurds died during the operation.
That trial has been adjourned until Jan. 8. Saddam's co-defendants in that case are likely to face trial if he is executed.
Saddam was convicted last month for ordering the killing of 148 Shias in Dujail town in 1982 in revenge for an assassination attempt against him. He was sentenced to death by hanging.
The completion of the nine-month trial that saw 39 court sessions, through which three defence lawyers and a witness were murdered, will most likely inflame Iraq's political divide further.
Hashim al-Ubaydi's son was sentenced to death by a 'revolution court' of the Saddam regime. But he is not pleased to see that Saddam Hussein will be executed in the present circumstances.
"I was an opponent of Saddam and his policies, but I support putting him through a real national court away from occupation influence. I cannot forgive or forget that my son was executed, but as an Iraqi nationalist I cannot accept to see the president of my country put to trial in such a ridiculous way by invaders and their tails."
Many Iraqi leaders say the timing of the trial and execution will enlarge the cracks between already divided Iraqis.
The Association of Muslim Scholars (AMS), the leading Sunni group, whose members were listed on Saddam's most wanted list prior to the U.S.-led invasion and occupation, has expressed deep concern about the consequences of an execution.
AMS secretary-general Dr. Harith al-Dhari rejects suggestions that Saddam was a leader of Sunnis. He says 35 of the 55 most wanted persons by U.S. occupation authorities following the invasion were Shias.
Confirmation of the verdict has given rise to celebrations as well.
Some say the execution should be made a festive occasion. "Saddam must be executed at the first day of Eid (the Muslim Holiday)," a leader of the Shia Sadr Movement told reporters. "We demand live broadcast of the execution."
Others will not be celebrating even within Kurdistan. "I hate Saddam and always wished him the death he deserved for his attitude against my Kurdish nation," Sardar Herki from Sulaymaniya in northern Iraq told IPS on phone. "I still wish him death -- but together with his successors who killed half the population of Iraq and arrested the other half."
Compared with the present scenario, many Iraqis have begun to see the Saddam days as a "golden time", a political science teacher told IPS. A report in the medical journal Lancet says more than 655,000 Iraqis have died unnaturally as a result of the occupation.
"Iraqis would have not objected so much if the situation had been improved by Saddam's executors," the teacher said. "His time was certainly not a golden time, but Iraqis felt proud of his policies against Iranian and American arrogance and greed. He managed to feed his people and provide them with security and basic services despite all the wars they fought, and the UN sanctions against Iraq."
The defence team has objected to the verdict, and continues to campaign against it.
"The whole court procedures were illegal right from the beginning," Khalil al-Dulaimy, chief of Saddam's defence team told reporters in Baghdad. "Mr. President Saddam Hussein is a prisoner of war and he should not be handed over to his opponents by international law, and the international community must press the U.S. authorities not to do so."
International human rights organisations are asking for suspension of the death sentence, while arguing that Saddam was denied a fair trial. Human Rights Watch has reported that the trail was marred by political interference.
In a statement that seems to warn of impending violence and increasing political divide, the Ba'ath Party, formerly led by Saddam, has threatened it would target U.S. interests anywhere if he was executed.
"Our party warns again of the consequences of executing Mr. President and his comrades," said a statement that appeared on a website known to represent the party. "The Ba'ath and the resistance are determined to retaliate, with all means and everywhere, to harm America and its interests if it commits this crime."
CounterPunch December 29, 2006
Lately, relations between Kabul and Islamabad have taken a dramatic turn for the worse. Hamid Karzai has accused Pakistan of spurring the Taliban to carry out attacks against his fledgling government and the NATO troops that defend it. He is not alone in holding Pakistan responsible for the re-emergence of the Taliban. NATO commanders, the New York Times and the International Crisis Group (ISG) have all pointed the finger at Pakistan for fomenting the Pushtoon resistance that shows no sign of abating.
On its part, the Musharraf government vehemently denies such accusations and continues to blame Karzai's government for its failure to include the Taliban and other militants as part of the national reconciliation drive. It must be stressed here"Pakistan is almost isolated on its present stance"evidence to the contrary shows that Islamabad has actively nurtured Taliban fighters to reassert their authority on towns and villages ceded to US led forces in the aftermath Taliban's collapse during the winter of 2001.
Oddly enough, the Whitehouse instead of holding Islamabad to account has thrown its weight behind the Pakistani government and has suggested that a more collaborative approach between Islamabad and Kabul would stymie the rising militancy in Afghanistan. Washington's ambivalent attitude raises the question; is America encouraging the emergence of Taliban as a way of extricating itself from Afghanistan?
The answer lies in the Afghan coalition America cobbled together to ouster Taliban. Back then, the Bush administration believed that the Northern Alliance (NA) could be used as an instrument to remove the Taliban from power, subdue the Pushtoon resistance, and bring stability to Afghanistan. But just the opposite occurred on all three fronts. From the outset of the Bonn Conference it became plainly clear that the NA was rife with internal rancour and prone to outside influences of Russia and Europe. America, having spent millions of dollars buying the fickle loyalty of warlords was left with no option, but to counter the Pushtoon resistance on her own. If this was not bad enough"America's association with the NA enraged the Pushtoons further who felt politically isolated and indignant towards the Tajik-Uzbek dominated government in Kabul. As a result, a violent rebellion erupted against Karzai and his US masters. The epicentre of the rebellion quickly became the strip of land known as the Pakistani tribal belt that abuts Afghanistan. Fighters from all over Afghanistan opposed to the occupation sought refuge here and mingled freely with the remnants of Taliban and other Pashtoons disillusioned with American promises of a better Afghanistan.
Unable to quell the resistance, America had to change tack. In 2003 acting under the tutelage of US Ambassador to Afghanistan Khalilzad, Karzai adopted a two prong approach to suppress the resistance. He offered an olive branch to moderate Taliban fighters and declared an all out assault against hardened Pashtoon militants and their backers. The intention was to shore up Karzai's beleaguered government with moderate elements of the resistance movement and to win the support of tribal elders on both sides of the Afghan-Pak border. The longevity of any government in Kabul is dependant upon the support of the Pashtoons. In Karzai's case, his constituency was diminishing and support base dwindling.
America was fully aware that the Pushtoon uprising could not be defeated unless the support structures for waging guerrilla warfare against US forces were destroyed, especially those located in Pakistan's tribal belt region or Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). After all, it was with American money and know-how that the military infrastructure was meticulously assembled by Pakistan's ISI. Training camps strewn across the region were established to arm and train Afghans to wage asymmetric war against the Soviets. Not surprisingly then, America turned to enlist Pakistan to deploy its army to the restless tribal areas. Musharraf promptly obliged, and in 2004 under the pretext of fighting foreign fighters linked to al-Qaeda, military operations commenced in South and North Waziristan agencies.
However, the Pakistani military forays into the tribal region yielded very little success for the Americans. Instead, the Pakistan army suffered high causalities"some ranks even experienced mutiny; Musharraf, America's stalwart in region lost credibility; the Pashtoon resistance increased in ferocity, the government in Kabul looked ever shakier and for the first time the prospect of defeat in Afghanistan troubled American officials. Confronted with these realities America decided to resurrect the Taliban. Pakistan swiftly abandoned military force and hurriedly concluded peace pacts with pro-Taliban tribal elders in the agencies.
Taliban buoyed by Pakistan's apparent turn around, extended their reach further into Pakistan and made Quetta, the capital city of Balochistan an additional mainstay for their activities. Here they began to rearm and recruit young men from religious seminaries, replenish their front lines with valuable supplies for the planned spring offensive next year. Some of the new recruits were given senior positions in preference to old Taliban warriors whose loyalty could no longer be guaranteed by Pakistan's ISI. Thus the Taliban were swiftly transformed from a rag-tag band of men into a force to be reckoned with. This boosted their capability to lead the Pushtoon resistance in many parts of Afghanistan. NATO was the first international organisation to borne the full brunt of a rejuvenated Taliban movement. Some members of NATO were surprised by the intensity and the magnitude of the resistance. UK's Defence Secretary Des Brown said," We do have to accept that it's been even harder than we expected."
America deftly exploited the upsurge in attacks against NATO troops to press home to alliance members at the NATO summit in Riga, the need to permanently redefine the organisation's mission, approve proposed amendments to its charter, establish a 25,000 strong rapid reaction force, and to increase troop levels to buttress NATO operations in Afghanistan. At the Riga summit Bush said,"The Taliban radicals who are trying to pull down Afghanistan's democracy and regain power saw the transfer from American to NATO control as a window of opportunity to test the will of the AllianceToday Afghanistan is NATO's most important military operation, and by standing together in Afghanistan, we'll protect our people, defend our freedom, and send a clear message to the extremists the forces of freedom and decency will prevail."
Nonetheless, the NATO mission in Afghanistan exposed deep fissures"over political and operational issues" amongst some of the older members of the alliance. France was unequivocal in its condemnation to make NATO duplicate functions of the UN, while Britain, America's closet alley expressed dismay at Pakistan's endeavours to revive the Taliban. UKs Ministry of Defence intentionally leaked a report that revealed the extent to which Pakistan's ISI was providing assistance to the Taliban thereby contributing to the death of British soldiers in southern Afghanistan. The disclosure was supposed to embarrass Musharraf on his visit to London who promptly proceeded to reject the allegation that ISI was a rogue institution acting separately from the army. He said, "ISI is a disciplined force, breaking the back of al-Qaida."
To redress the short-sightedness of Britain's NATO policy in Afghanistan, Blair visited Pakistan in November, and again urged Musharraf to put a halt to the rise of the Taliban. The gravity of the deteriorating situation facing Britain's armed forces was summed up in a speech given by Blair at Camp Bastion in Helmand province. Blair said, "Here in this extraordinary piece of desert is where the future of world security in the early twenty-first century is going to be played out." Earlier, Bush had described Iraq and not Afghanistan"central to the ideological struggle of the 21st century. The difference in Anglo-American perspectives underscores America's belief that General Musharraf will stabilise Afghanistan for them.
On the battle front, acute differences have surfaced between American and British commanders. Britain ignored American sensibilities and urged her ally Mohammed Daud the governor of Helmand to and secure the retreat of British forces from the town of Musa Qala via a peace deal with the Taliban. But the Americans publicly criticised the truce in Musa Qala and other Helmand towns, saying they effectively gave in to the Taliban. Exasperated by British tactics, the Americans instructed Karzai to remove Daud from power. "The Americans knew Daud was a main British ally," one official told The Independent on Sunday, "yet they deliberately undermined him and told Karzai to sack him." Americans have also been irked by the British commander of the NATO force in Afghanistan, Lieutenant-General David Richards. On 10/12/06 the British paper Independent on Sunday reported that the American supreme commander of NATO, General Jim Jones, has let it be known, according to sources, that General Richards "would have been sacked if he had been an American officer".
Away from the battle field, the Pakistani political establishment confident of a Taliban victory come next spring, has begun to instil momentum in the idea that NATO must consult the Taliban prior to any political settlement. On 30/11/06 Mushahid Hussain Sayed, chairman of the Pakistan's foreign affairs committee, told a visiting delegation of British Parliamentarians: "There has to be negotiations, a dialogue with all elements of Afghan society"ethnic or political, including, frankly, members of the resistance." Latif Khosa, of the opposition Pakistan People's Party said,"You have to open avenues for talking with the Taliban." Speaking before the press, Foreign Office Spokesperson Tasnim Aslam said, "The international community must encourage national reconciliation and undertake an extensive reconstruction programme for South and Southeast Afghanistan."
It appears that America's plan is to exploit the Taliban to take the helm of the indigenous Afghan resistance, invest the battle field gains made by the resistance into a political process, which recognises the Pushtoon's popular base, but is cognisant of other ethnic groups' concerns; then convene an international conference to forge a comprehensive settlement pertaining to Afghanistan and the interference from its neighbours. The pertinent issues will be the composition of the new government in Kabul, the continuation of US bases, the resolution of the border disputes between Afghanistan and Pakistan, resettlement of Afghan refugees and the successful integration of FATA into mainstream Pakistani life.
In this way, US policy makers hope to stabilise Afghanistan and use as a conduit for transporting the rich energy reserves of the Caspian region, conducting military incursion into the former Soviet Republics, thwarting Russian and Chinese expansions into Central Asia and foiling the re-establishment of the Caliphate. However, the success of this plan depends upon factors which may no longer be in Washington's control such as can the Pashtoons be trusted, will the Europeans tolerate a Taliban dominated government in Kabul, and will the Russian and Chinese remain quiet as they did after 9-11.
As far as the people of Pakistan are concerned they have been duped by General Musharraf into believing that Pakistan had no choice, but to disown the Taliban and join America's war on terror. Five years on, Pakistan has again embraced the Taliban at the America's behest. This time it is to help the US extricate itself from Afghanistan and preserve her plan for the region. General Musharraf is right when he said that without Pakistan's help the West would have been brought to its knees. But under his leadership it is Pakistan that has been brought to its knees in a senseless quest to preserve American interests.
Abid Mustafa is a political commentator who specialises in Muslim affairs. He can be reached at: email@example.com
Friday, December 29, 2006
Reason December 28, 2006
In 1968 the poet and critic Amiri Baraka declared James Brown "our number one black poet." He wasn't the only writer who felt that way. Larry Neal, one of Baraka's confederates in the radical Black Arts Movement, recalled later that Brown was a hero to Neal's circle of literary intellectuals. "If the poets could do that," he remembered, "we could just take over America. Suppose James Brown had consciousness. We used to have big arguments like that. It was like saying, 'Suppose James Brown read Fanon.'"
If Brown ever did read Frantz Fanon, an Algerian leftist revered by revolutionaries in the '60s, he kept quiet about it. But the singer did have a place in the Black Power pantheon, one far more interesting and inspiring than anything Fanon ever wrote. At once rural and urban, iconoclastic and conservative, sacred and profane, both the man and his music evoked a radically transformed world while staying rooted in black American traditions.
After an early stint in prison for armed robbery, Brown turned to music, getting his professional start with a group called the Gospel Starlighters. It didn't take long for them to drop their religious repertoire and redub themselves the Famous Flames. Their first hits were recorded in the late '50s, as a style called southern soul was starting to coalesce.
This was a secular sound rooted in the music of the black church. You can divide it into two broad categories: slow and fast. On the slow side were the ballads, some of which were simply gospel without the references to the Lord, and some of which were ably described by the British critic Barney Hoskyns, in Say it One Time for the Brokenhearted, as "a black gospel foreground, with all the vocal improvisation and intensity that implies, superimposed on a white country background." The uptempo records were gritty, earthy, and sharply syncopated, with piercing, percussive horns; they felt a bit like the old jump blues of the '40s and a bit like another sort of church music -- the kind where everybody stomps their feet and the Holy Ghost starts to manifest Itself in the pews.
James Brown sang in both styles. If you don't think you hear anything country in his ballads, listen harder: He reportedly recorded but never released an entire album of country covers, and in 1979 he played the Grand Ole Opry. The keyboardist in Opry host Porter Wagoner's band had spent two years playing with Brown, and after Wagoner saw Brown in concert he invited the godfather of soul to come on his show. According to Hoskyns, Brown "performed a medley of 'Your Cheatin' Heart', 'Georgia on My Mind' and 'Tennessee Waltz', then followed with some funk." Some Opry stars protested his presence, but Wagoner later declared that the set "went over real big" with the audience. Brown less enthusiastically said that he "got as much praise as a white man who goes into a black church and puts $100 in the collection plate."
Good as his ballads were, as the '60s wore on Brown was increasingly identified with the uptempo side of soul. As every instrument in his ensemble, from the guitar to the human voice, became part of the rhythm section, Brown and his band created a whole new form of music, called funk. The melodies faded, the increasingly complex rhythms moved to the foreground, and the songs grew longer, as the rhythms became a launching pad for rich improvisations rooted in jazz (and, as other artists adopted Brown's innovations, in Latin rock and Hendrix-style psychedelia). The lyrics, befitting the genre's gospel origins, were ecstatic chants and screams; they carried echoes of both sex and sermons.
In the '60s and '70s Brown spoke out for black entrepreneurship and for strong black communities, for "the need for Afro-Americans to own things if we were ever going to have any real equality." His views soon crept into his music as well. After a decade of crossing over from the R&B world to the pop charts, he lost a large chunk of his white audience in 1968, with "Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud." Over a bare-boned rhythm, Brown shouted:
I worked on a job with my feet and my hands
But all the work I did was for the other man
Now we demand a chance to do things for ourself
We're tired of beatin' our head against the wall and workin' for someone else
It was incendiary stuff, and it attracted black rebels even as white radio programmers backed away. It isn't hard to imagine why Neal and Baraka would project themselves onto the pop star, fantasizing about a Brown with more "consciousness."
It was harder to imagine Brown reading Fanon four year later, when the musician called for the reelection of Richard Nixon. But the same year Brown sang "Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud," the future president had pointed out that "much of black militant talk these days is actually in terms far closer to the doctrines of free enterprise than to those of the welfarist thirties." Nixon went on to endorse "black power, in the best, the constructive sense of that often misapplied term....It's no longer enough that white-owned enterprises employ greater number of Negroes, whether as laborers or as middle-management personnel. This is needed, yes -- but it has to be accompanied by an expansion of black ownership, of black capitalism."
That might sound like a plan to loosen the strings that held back black businesses, for slashing at the licensing laws and other restraints that kept ghetto enterprises underground. Instead the president announced a black capitalism initiative that amounted to yet more goodies from the government: new contracts, new loans, new red tape. Nixon's black capitalism, like Nixon's white capitalism, had more to do with patronage than with free enterprise. The point wasn't black power; it was quelling unrest and buying votes.
Still, when Robert J. Brown, a special assistant to the president, visited a radio station owned by James Brown in 1971, the singer was drawn to what the White House's envoy had to say. He liked the fact that federal funds were flowing to black businesses and black colleges (though he never took any government grants himself, and in fact was hassled regularly by the IRS). He also managed to convince himself that the president would make Martin Luther King's birthday a holiday, a change that wouldn't actually come until the Reagan years. And since Nixon was sure to win in a landslide anyway, he thought an endorsement might earn him some influence in the administration. "A situation like that puts somebody who's sort of a spokesman in a dilemma," Brown recalled in his 1986 memoir The Godfather of Soul, written with Bruce Tucker. "You can either try to get inside and have some influence, or you can stay outside and be pure and powerless. Either way you're going to get criticized, especially if you're a black spokesman." In the last month of the campaign, Brown announced his support for Nixon.
That didn't go over well with his fans, and protests dogged his concerts for a while. In his memoir, Brown suggested his decision "cost me a lot of my black audience, just like 'Black and Proud' had cost me a lot of my white audience." Black power is a two-edged sword.
Brown had some more hits on the R&B charts after that, some of them pretty big. But by the end of the decade, he was struggling to stay relevant, adapting to trends rather than setting them; one album billed him as The Original Disco Man, which is a bit like Duke Ellington passing himself off as the father of smooth jazz. He charted occasionally in the '80s, but by then he was basically an oldies act.
But at the same time, he was something more. As his own creative energies started to slide, young producers and rappers started slicing, dicing, and remixing his records into new pieces of music. In the mash-up era, this happens to virtually every pop star, but James Brown has been sampled more than any other artist. He didn't just influence hip hop. He became a basic building block of the genre. Some rappers borrowed entire Brown songs, adding little to the mix but some uninspired rhymes; others used little shards of his music to build larger groove collages.
In his 1985 novel Schismatrix, the science-fiction writer Bruce Sterling described people who didn't die -- not officially, anyway -- but "faded" instead, their corporal existence replaced by a ghostly "programmed web of speeches, announcements, taped appearances, and random telephone calls." James Brown certainly seemed to be fading for the last three decades of his life. Besides the decline in his output, his personal life fell apart. He was credibly accused of beating one of his wives. After a high-speed car chase he was sentenced to six years in prison, in what the critic Dave Marsh called "perhaps the longest sentence ever given in the United States for a traffic charge." He served two years before being paroled.
But like the faded characters in Sterling's novel, his programmed web of rhythms and shouts is all around us. If you want to fuse Brown's music to the words of Frantz Fanon -- or Richard Nixon, or anyone else -- it's there, just waiting to be deployed. James Brown died on Christmas day, 2006, but he didn't just leave us a great body of work. He left us the tools to make more music long after he's gone.
Jesse Walker is managing editor of reason.
President Gerald Ford Dies at 93; Supported Indonesian Invasion of East Timor that Killed 1/3 of Population by Amy Goodman
Wednesday, December 27th, 2006
Former President Gerald Ford died last night at the age of 93. We begin our coverage of Ford’s time in office with a look at his support for the Indonesian invasion of East Timor that killed one-third of the Timorese population. We’re joined by Brad Simpson of the National Security Archives and journalist Alan Nairn. [rush transcript included]
Former President Gerald Ford died last night at the age of 93. He became president in 1974 following the resignation of Richard Nixon. Ford is the only person to become president that was never elected president or vice president. Some described him as the Accidental President. At his inauguration he famously declared “the long national nightmare is over." But a month later Ford granted Richard Nixon a full and absolute pardon for all federal crimes that he committed when he was in the White House – including for crimes connected to the Watergate scandal. The decision stunned the country.
Gerald Ford served as president until he lost to Jimmy Carter in the 1976 election. In 1975 He ordered the final pullout of U.S. troops from Vietnam. He later offered amnesty to Vietman era draft resisters. Gerald Ford surrounded himself by advisers who would later play key roles in the current Bush administration and in shaping Bush’s Iraq war policy. Donald Rumsfeld served first as his chief of staff and then as Secretary of Defense. Dick Cheney also served as Ford’s chief of staff. Paul Wolfowitz served in the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.
Less well known is President Ford involvement in East Timor. Both the New York Times and Washington Post failed to mention in their obituaries today that Ford and Henry Kissinger, his Secretary of State, offered advance approval of Indonesia’s brutal invasion of East Timor.
This is clip of the documentary "Massacre: the Story of East Timor" that I produced with journalist Alan Nairn.
• Excerpt of "Massacre: the Story of East Timor.”
• Brad Simpson. Research Fellow at the National Security Archives.
• Alan Nairn. Investigative Journalist.
AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt of the documentary Massacre: The Story of East Timor which I produced with journalist Alan Nairn who’ll be joining us in a minute. But first to talk more about President Ford's legacy and his role in East Timor, we are joined by Brad Simpson. Brad Simpson works for the National Security Archives and is a Professor at the University of Maryland. Brad, welcome to Democracy Now!.
BRAD SIMPSON: Thank you, very much, for having me on.
AMY GOODMAN: Brad, you recently got documents declassified about President Ford and his role in 1975, in meeting with the long reigning dictator of Indonesia, Suharto. Can you explain what you learned?
BRAD SIMPSON: Yes. Gerald Ford actually met twice with Suharto, first in July of 1975 when Suharto came to the United States. And later in December of 1975, of course, on the eve of his invasion of East Timor. And we now know that for more than a year Indonesia had been planning its armed takeover of East Timor, and the United States had of course been aware of Indonesian military plans. In July of 1975, the National Security Council first informed Henry Kissinger and Gerald Ford of Indonesia’s plans to take over East Timor by force. And Suharto of course raised this with Gerald Ford in July when he met with Gerald Ford at Camp David on a trip to the United States. And then in December of 1975 on a trip through Southeast Asia, Gerald Ford met again with Suharto on the eve of the invasion, more than two weeks after the National Security Council, CIA, other intelligence agencies had concluded that an Indonesian invasion was eminent. And that the only thing delaying the invasion was the fear that US disapproval might lead to a cut-off of weapons and military supplies to the regime.
AMY GOODMAN: How knowledgeable was President Ford at the time of the situation?
BRAD SIMPSON: Well, Ford was very much aware. He was receiving hourly briefings, as was Henry Kissinger, as his plane lifted off from Indonesia, as the invasion indeed commenced. And immediately afterwards Gerald Ford flew to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, or to Guam—excuse me, where he gave a speech saying that never again should the United States allow another nation to strike in the middle of the night, to attack another defenseless nation. This was on Pearl Harbor Day, of course. Realizing full well that another day of infamy was unfolding in Dili, East Timor. As thousands of Indonesian paratroopers, trained by the United States, using US supplied weapons, indeed jumping from United States supplied airplanes, were descending upon the capital city of Dili and massacring literally thousands of people in the hours and days after December 7, 1975.
AMY GOODMAN: Brad, how difficult was it to get this declassified? The memos that you got? And how long were these memos about Ford and Kissinger's meeting with the long reigning Suharto? How long were they kept classified?
BRAD SIMPSON: Well, they are kept classified until the fall of 2002. We now know, actually, that a Congressman from Minnesota, Donald Fraser, had actually attempted to declassify the memo, the so-called Smoking Gun Memo, the transcript of General Suharto’s conversation with Gerald Ford, in December of 1975. Congressman Fraser actually tried to declassify this in document in 1978 during the Suharto adm--or during the Carter years and Carter's National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, realizing full well the explosive nature of this cable would show that the United States had been an accomplice in an international act of aggression, recommended that the State Department refuse to declassify the memo, a mere three years after the invasion.
And it took another 25 years after this episode before the cables were finally declassified and of course much more has come out. And I think it's incontrovertible that the United States played the crucial role in enabling the Indonesian invasion of East Timor. And I think it's wrong to say that Gerald Ford was completely unconcerned with the aftermath of the invasion. We now know that just a few days after the invasion Gerald Ford sent a telegram to the State Department asking that an emergency diplomatic cable be sent to General Suharto, in response to his recent visit. And inside the cable, which was sent by diplomatic pouch from the US Embassy, was a set of golf balls from Gerald Ford.
AMY GOODMAN: As we wrap up, the--you have a large body of declassified documents surrounding Indonesia and East Timor, of which this is a part, at the National Security Archive. If people want to look, where do they go online, Brad Simpson?
BRAD SIMPSON: They can go to www.nsarchive.org. And there is a link to the Indonesia and East Timor document case and project on that website.
AMY GOODMAN: Brad Simpson, I want to thank you for being with us. Of the National Security Archive and Professor of History at the University of Maryland, College Park.
AMY GOODMAN: : To talk more about President Ford’s legacy and his role in Indonesia and East Timor, joined by colleague and Independent Journalist Allen Nairn, who Co-produced the Documentary Massacre: The Story Of East Timor. Alan, welcome to Democracy Now!
ALLAN NAIRN: : Thanks.
AMY GOODMAN: : We just talked to Professor Brad Simpson who got the document declassified on the National Security Archive website, of President Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's role in giving the green light for the invasion of Timor, December 7, 1975. Can you talk about your interview with President Ford, and the significance of the information that has come out since?
ALLAN NAIRN: : Well, I interviewed Ford by phone, and beforehand had told his assistant that I wanted to discuss his meeting with General Suharto, the Indonesian Dictator, on December 5th. So coming into the interview Ford knew the topic. And when I asked Ford whether he did in fact authorize the invasion of East Timor, he said, “Frankly, I don't recall.” He didn't remember. And I believed him.
What Ford said was that there were many topics on the agenda that day with Suharto. Timor was not very high on the agenda. It was one of the lesser topics, and he just couldn't remember whether he had authorized this invasion, which ended up killing 1/3 of the Timorese population. And it's kind of an illustration of the fact that when, like the United States, you're a global power with regimes everywhere dependant on your weapons, you can start wars, authorize wars, take actions that result in mass deaths in a fairly casual way.
In this case, the US didn't have a great interest in East Timor. All the evidence suggests that they didn’t particularly care one way or the other whether Timor became independent. But as a favor to Suharto, who was close to Washington, who was their protégée, they decided to let him go ahead with the invasion. So, for just a marginal, fleeting gain – or, out of doing a favor for a buddy -- they ended up causing a mass murder that proportionally was the most intensive killing since the Nazis, a third of the population killed.
AMY GOODMAN: : Now documents, Allan Nairn that you did get declassified were a memo that involved Henry Kissinger, again, it was Kissinger and Ford that gave the go ahead for the invasion when they visited Suharto, the long-reigning dictator. And that was information they were getting as they flew out of Indonesia through to Guam and Pearl Harbor, as Brad Simpson described. But what about those documents and Kissinger's reaction?
ALLAN NAIRN: : Well, Kissinger, and Ford, they, one of the points they made to Suharto, was that you have to try to get this invasion over with quickly. And Kissinger when he-- they wanted them to go in intensively, presumably kill as many Timorese as they could quickly. So that it wouldn't get international attention, and also, apparently they were worried that it could get attention in Congress. Because Ford and Kissinger knew that by authorizing this invasion, they were technically violating US law. Because the US weapons laws at the time stated US weapons given to foreign clients could not be used for purposes of aggression. And this was in the judgment of the State Department's own legal analysts, this looked like it would be an act of aggression if Indonesia were to invade East Timor, and that could, technically, if Congress got wind of it and started to pay attention to it, be grounds for stopping, cutting off US weapons supply to Indonesia.
That would have been devastating for the invasion of Timor because about 90% of the Indonesian weapons were coming from the US and they needed spare parts, they needed ammunition, they needed a re-supply. And it also would have been dangerous for the regime of Suharto which was based on repression within Indonesia and needed those weapons to keep their own population down. So Kissinger, in his internal discussions within the state department, was pressing his people to make sure that all information about Timor be kept under wraps. They didn’t want the US Congress paying too much attention to it. As it turned out, I think Kissinger was giving Congress a little too much credit because there was not much evidence at the time that apart from a few members like then-Congressman Tom Harkin, that there was much interest in probing what the US was doing. But Kissinger knew this was an illegal operation so he was trying to keep it quiet.
AMY GOODMAN: : And the information about Suharto's role in general, in Indonesia at the time, as you mentioned both the invasion of East Timor, but Suharto--what happened, how he came to power? The man that eventually Ford and Kissinger would meet with in the capital of Indonesia, Jakarta?
ALLAN NAIRN: : Well, Suharto came to power on the back of essentially a military coup which overthrew Sukarno who was the founding President of Indonesia. And from the period of 1965 to 67, when General Suharto was consolidating his power, his army and groups working with the army carried out a mass slaughter of Indonesian civilians. It's not clear exactly how many were killed, but anywhere from 400,000 to perhaps more than a million Indonesians were massacred as the Suharto regime gained power. And they did this, the military did this with US weaponry. And in fact, the US CIA station even gave a list of 5,000 names of people who they had identified as communists and potential opponents of the army, and they turned this list over to Suharto and his military intelligence people and many of those people were subsequently assassinated.
AMY GOODMAN: : Well, Allan Nairn, I want to thank you, very much for being with us. Allan Nairn, a journalist who interviewed President Ford roughly a decade and a half ago about Ford's involvement in the invasion of East Timor. That was December 7th, 1975 that the invasion occurred.
Ford and Rumsfeld
Wednesday, December 27th, 2006
Investigative Journalist Robert Parry on Gerald Ford's Legacy and the Bush Administration's Roots in the Ford White House
Journalist Robert Parry talks about Gerald Ford’s role in ending the Watergate era, his moves to limit Congressional and media oversight on executive power, and the roots of Bush administration in the Ford White House. [rush transcript included]
Gerald Ford granted Richard Nixon a full and absolute pardon for all federal crimes that he committed when he was in the White House – including for crimes connected to the Watergate scandal. The decision stunned the country. Ford surrounded himself by advisers who would later play key roles in the current Bush administration and in shaping Bush’s Iraq war policy. Donald Rumsfeld served first as his chief of staff and then as Secretary of Defense. Dick Cheney also served as Ford’s chief of staff. Paul Wolfowitz served in the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.
• Robert Parry. Veteran Investigative Journalist; author,"Secrecy & Privilege".
This transcript is available free of charge. However, donations help us provide closed captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing on our TV broadcast. Thank you for your generous contribution.
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AMY GOODMAN: : As we turn now to the issue of Vietnam and Watergate. Yes, President Ford is dead at the age of 93. And President Ford died last night. He became president in 1974 following the resignation of Richard Nixon. The only person to become president who was never elected president or vice president. Some described him as the accidental president. We are--many people are talking about President Ford, the statement of President Bush is “President Ford was a great American who gave many years of dedicated service to our country on August 9, 1974, after a long career in the House of Representatives and service as Vice President, he assumed the Presidency in an hour of national turmoil and division.” President Bush went on to say “with his quiet integrity, common sense, and kind instincts, President Ford helped heal our land and restore public confidence in the presidency. The American people will always admire Gerald Ford's devotion to duty, his personal character and the honorable conduct of his administration. We mourn the loss of such a leader, and our 38th president will always have a special place in our nation's memory. On behalf of all Americans, Laura and I offer our deepest sympathies to Betty Ford and all President Ford’s family. Our thoughts and prayers will be with them in the hours and days ahead”. That, again, the statement of President Bush upon the death of President Ford.
We turn now to Robert Parry, who is a veteran investigative journalist, author of Secrecy and Privilege. Robert Parry, can you talk about the significance of the role of President Ford in history?
ROBERT PARRY: : Well, I think Gerald Ford gets a lot of credit because of when he became President and the extraordinary circumstances, in which he became President. He was, of course, the person who followed Richard Nixon, and brought, in a sense, the end to the national nightmare of Watergate. In another sense however, he also marks the beginning of the counter-attack, if you will, against the efforts by Congress, the Press and other Americans to reign in the Imperial Presidency.
You start seeing already, in the early days of the Ford Administration, an effort to strike back against those efforts to limit the Executive Power. We have efforts in the CIA, when he brings in George H.W. Bush, to push back against Congressional oversight. To allow more space for the CIA to operate, to fight against efforts to expose some of the more corrupt CIA actions. And oddly, because of the timing of Ford’s Presidency, that it sort of came after the period, the Church Commission looked at, in terms of CIA abuses, and it came before the beginning of the formal congressional oversight process, the CIA operated during that year with a great deal of freedom. And we know -- we don't know enough about some of the things that were done during that period.
So I think while Ford gets a great deal of credit, because he helped mend the nation's wounds over Watergate, it wasn't entirely this pleasant experience that some people are making it out to be. It was, in a sense, the incubator for the resurgence of the Imperial Presidency. People like Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney were in the Ford White House, and many of their feelings about re-establishing that Imperial Presidency have lived to this day.
AMY GOODMAN: : Talk more about this critical period, and the coming together of Cheney and Rumsfeld, when they came together for the first time with Ford. And also about what the pardon meant. Those who said that the country just had to move on. Many feel it's the reason why Ford lost to Carter. It would have been the only time he was elected to federal office, if he had actually become president as a result of an election as opposed to being chosen by the president as vice-president then taking over as president when Nixon left.
ROBERT PARRY: : Well, clearly the pardon of Richard Nixon was a politically understandable step. But again, it cut off some of the investigative efforts to really fully understand what happened during that period of Nixon’s presidency. There's always been this balance in Washington where there seems to be this obsession with moving on, and sometimes that leaves the American people without the full understanding of the facts of the situation. And therefore, some of the problems can re-emerge years down the road, as we've seen in this resurrection of the Imperial Presidency in the past 6 years. So I would think that was, some of the lessons learned by Cheney and Rumsfeld in the Ford White House were the need to fight for those executive powers in ways that were sometimes surreptitious as well as more open.
We saw at the CIA, for instance, during that period, the CIA Director, George H.W. Bush attempt to conduct a number of CIA operations with the same kind of arrogance and secrecy that had covered previous ones. The main point during that period was to get the CIA off the front pages, as Bush once put it. So when you had events like the Argentine military coup which set in motion the so-called Dirty War and led to some 30,000 deaths, that occurred during that period. And we still don't know the full involvement of the U.S. government in that.
The assassination of Orlando Letelier, the Chilean foreign minister, and his American co-worker, Ronni Moffitt occurred in September of 1976. And again, the impetus was not to find the truth, but to protect both the Pinochet government and the CIA from any fallout that might have occurred. Again, the timing of those things that are important because Ford was trying to win that election in November. So if one overlays the political calendar to the effort to misdirect investigators on the Letelier assassination, one sees the effort to keep the CIA from having negative press and therefore hurting Ford's chances. So again you see this idea of protecting the presidency from negative information. And that whole approach of keeping the American people in the dark is something that the Ford White House, in a sense, put back in motion after Watergate. And I think the pardon was part of that.
AMY GOODMAN: : Bob Parry, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Bob Parry is an investigative journalist. He's written the book Secrecy and Privilege. His website is: consortiumnews.com. When we come back from break we will be joined by the publisher of The Nation magazine, Victor Navasky, about a very interesting court case that involved The Nation, and yes, former President Ford. Again, the latest news, President Ford is dead at the age of 93. This is Democracy Now! democracynow.org. We’ll be back in a minute.
Carter's Real Sin is Cutting to the Heart of the Problem, The Ludicrous Attacks on Jimmy Carter's Book By NORMAN FINKELSTEIN
CounterPunch December 28, 2006
As Jimmy Carter's new book Palestine Peace Not Apartheid climbs the bestseller list, the reaction of Israel's apologists scales new peaks of lunacy. I will examine a pair of typical examples and then look at the latest weapon to silence Carter.
No aspect of Carter's book has evoked more outrage than its identification of Israeli policy in the Occupied Palestinian Territory with apartheid. Michael Kinsley in the Washington Post called it "foolish and unfair," the Boston Globe editorialized that it was "irresponsibly provocative," while the New York Times reported that Jewish groups condemned it as "dangerous and anti-Semitic." (1)
In fact the comparison is a commonplace among informed commentators.
From its initial encounter with Palestine the Zionist movement confronted a seemingly intractable dilemma: How to create a Jewish state in a territory that was overwhelmingly non-Jewish? Israeli historian Benny Morris observes that Zionists could choose from only two options: "the way of South Africa"--i.e., "the establishment of an apartheid state, with a settler minority lording it over a large, exploited native majority"--or "the way of transfer"--i.e., "you could create a homogeneous Jewish state or at least a state with an overwhelming Jewish majority by moving or transferring all or most of the Arabs out." (2)
During the British Mandate period (1917-1947) Zionist settlers labored on both fronts, laying the foundations of an apartheid-like regime in Palestine while exploring the prospect of expelling the indigenous population. Norman Bentwich, a Jewish officer in the Mandatory government who later taught at the Hebrew University, recalled in his memoir that, "One of the causes of resentment between Arabs and Jews was the determined policy of the Jewish public bodies to employ only Jewish workers.This policy of 'economic apartheid' was bound to strengthen the resistance of Arabs to Jewish immigration." (3)
Ultimately, however, the Zionist movement resolved the dilemma in 1948 by way of transfer: under the cover of war with neighboring Arab states, Zionist armies proceeded to "ethnically cleanse" (Morris) the bulk of the indigenous population, creating a state that didn't need to rely on anachronistic structures of Western supremacy. (4)
After Israel conquered the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 the same demographic dilemma resurfaced and alongside it the same pair of options. Once again Zionists simultaneously laid the foundations for apartheid in the Occupied Palestinian Territory while never quite abandoning hope that an expulsion could be carried off in the event of war. (5)
After four decades of Israeli occupation, the infrastructure and superstructure of apartheid have been put in place. Outside the never-never land of mainstream American Jewry and U.S. media this reality is barely disputed. Indeed, already more than a decade ago while the world was celebrating the Oslo Accords, seasoned Israeli analyst and former deputy mayor of Jerusalem Meron Benvenisti observed, "It goes without saying that 'cooperation' based on the current power relationship is no more than permanent Israeli domination in disguise, and that Palestinian self-rule is merely a euphemism for Bantustanization." (6)
If it's "foolish and unfair," "irresponsibly provocative" and "dangerous and anti-Semitic" to make the apartheid comparison, then the roster of commentators who have gone awry is rather puzzling. For example, a major 2002 study of Israeli settlement practices by the respected Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem concluded: "Israel has created in the Occupied Territories a regime of separation based on discrimination, applying two separate systems of law in the same area and basing the rights of individuals on their nationality. This regime is the only one of its kind in the world, and is reminiscent of distasteful regimes from the past, such as the apartheid regime in South Africa." A more recent B'Tselem publication on the road system Israel has established in the West Bank again concluded that it "bears striking similarities to the racist Apartheid regime," and even "entails a greater degree of arbitrariness than was the case with the regime that existed in South Africa." (7)
Those sharing Carter's iniquitous belief also include the editorial board of Israel's leading newspaper Haaretz, which observed in September 2006 that "the apartheid regime in the territories remains intact; millions of Palestinians are living without rights, freedom of movement or a livelihood, under the yoke of ongoing Israeli occupation," as well as former Israeli Knesset member Shulamit Aloni, former Israeli Ambassador to South Africa Alon Liel, South African Archbishop and Nobel Laureate for Peace Desmond Tutu and "father" of human rights law in South Africa John Dugard. (8)
Indeed, the list apparently also includes former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon. Pointing to his "fixation with Bantustans," Israeli researcher Gershom Gorenberg concluded that it is "no accident" that Sharon's plan for the West Bank "bears a striking resemblance to the 'grand apartheid' promoted by the old South African regime." Sharon himself reportedly stated that "the Bantustan model was the most appropriate solution to the conflict." (9)
The denial of Carter's critics recalls the glory days of the Daily Worker. Kinsley asserts that "no one has yet thought to accuse Israel of creating a phony country in finally acquiescing to the creation of a Palestinian state." In the real world what he claims "no one has yet thought" couldn't be more commonplace. The Economist typically reports that Palestinians have been asked to choose between "a Swiss-cheese state, comprising most of the West Bank but riddled with settlements, in which travel is severely hampered," and Israel "pulling out from up to 40 percent or 50 percent of the West Bank's territory unilaterally, while keeping most of its settlements." (10)
The shrill reaction to Carter's mention of apartheid is probably due not only to the term's emotive resonances but its legal-political implications as well. According to Additional Protocol I to the 1949 Geneva Conventions as well as the Statute of the International Criminal Court, "practices of apartheid" constitute war crimes. Small wonder, then, that despite--or, rather, because of--its aptness, Carter is being bullied into repudiating the term. (11)
Partial or full withdrawal?
In order to discredit Carter the media keep citing the inflammatory rhetoric of his former collaborator at the Carter Center, Kenneth Stein. On inspection, however, Stein's claims prove to be devoid of content. Consider the main one of Carter's "egregious and inexcusable errors" that Stein enumerates. (12)
According to Stein, Carter erroneously infers on the basis of U.N. Resolution 242 that Israel "must" withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza. It is true that whereas media pundits often allege that the extent of Israel's withdrawal is subject to negotiations, Carter forthrightly asserts that Israel's "borders must coincide with those prevailing from 1949 until 1967 (unless modified by mutually agreeable land swaps), specified in the unanimously adopted U.N. Resolution 242, which mandates Israel's withdrawal from occupied territories." (13)
In fact and to his credit Carter is right on the mark.
Shortly after the June 1967 war the U.N General Assembly met in emergency session.
There was "near unanimity" on "the withdrawal of the armed forces from the territory of neighboring Arab states," Secretary-General U Thant subsequently observed, because "everyone agrees that there should be no territorial gains by military conquest." (14)
When the General Assembly couldn't reach consensus on a comprehensive resolution, deliberations moved to the Security Council. In November 1967 the Security Council unanimously approved Resolution 242, the preambular paragraph of which emphasized "the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war." The main framer of 242, Lord Caradon of the United Kingdom, later recalled that without this preambular statement "there could have been no unanimous vote" in the Security Council. (15) Fully 10 of the 15 Security Council members stressed in their interventions the "inadmissibility" principle and Israel's obligation to fully withdraw while none of the five other members registered any disagreement. (16)
For its part the United States repeatedly made clear that it contemplated at most minor and mutual border adjustments (hence Carter's caveat of "mutually agreeable land swaps"). Jordanian leaders were told in early November 1967 that "some territorial adjustment will be required" on the West Bank but "there must be mutuality in adjustments" and, on a second occasion, that the U.S. supported "minor border rectifications" but Jordan would "obtain compensationfor any territory it is required to give up." (17)
When Israel first proposed annexation of West Bank territory, the U.S. vehemently replied that 242 "never meant that Israel could extend its territory to [the] West Bank," and that "there will be no peace if Israel tries to hold onto large chunks of territory." (18)
In private Israeli leaders themselves suffered no illusions on the actual meaning of 242. During a closed session of the Labor Party in 1968 Moshe Dayan counseled against endorsing 242 because "it means withdrawal to the 4 June  boundaries, and because we are in conflict with the SC [Security Council] on that resolution." (19)
In its landmark 2004 advisory opinion, "Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall In the Occupied Palestinian Territory," the International Court of Justice repeatedly affirmed the preambular paragraph of Resolution 242 emphasizing the inadmissibility of territorial conquest as well as a 1970 General Assembly resolution emphasizing that "No territorial acquisition resulting from the threat or use of force shall be recognized as legal." The World Court denoted this principle a "corollary" of the U.N. Charter and as such "customary international law" and a "customary rule" binding on all member States of the United Nations. It merits notice that on this crucial point none of the Court's 15 justices registered any dissent. (20)
Carter's real sin is that he cut to the heart of the problem: "Peace will come to Israel and the Middle East only when the Israeli government is willing to comply with international law."
Tomorrow: The Dershowitz Slime Machine
Norman Finkelstein's most recent book is Beyond Chutzpah: On the misuse of anti-Semitism and the abuse of history (University of California Press). His web site is www.NormanFinkelstein.com.
(1) Michael Kinsley, "It's Not Apartheid," Washington Post (12 December 2006); "Jimmy Carter vs. Jimmy Carter," editorial, Boston Globe (16 December 2006); Julie Bosman, "Carter Book Stirs Furor With Its View of Israelis' 'Apartheid'," New York Times (14 December 2006).
(2) Benny Morris, "Revisiting the Palestinian exodus of 1948," in Eugene L. Rogan and Avi Shlaim (eds), The War for Palestine (Cambridge: 2001), pp. 39-40.
(3) Norman and Helen Bentwich, Mandate Memories, 1918-1948 (New York: 1965), p. 53.
(4) Ari Shavit, "Survival of the Fittest," interview with Benny Morris, Haaretz
(9 January 2004).
(5) Norman Finkelstein, Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict, second edition (New York: 2003), pp. xxvii-xxxi.
(6) Meron Benvenisti, Intimate Enemies (New York: 1995), p. 232.
(7) B'Tselem (Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories), Land Grab: Israel's settlement policy in the West Bank (May 2002), p. 104. B'Tselem (Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories), Forbidden Roads: Israel's discriminatory road regime in the West Bank (August 2004), p. 3.
(8) "The Problem That Disappeared," editorial, Haaretz (11 September 2006), Roee Nahmias, "'Israeli Terror is Worse,'" Yediot Ahronot (29 July 2005) (Aloni), Chris McGreal, "Worlds Apart: Israel, Palestine and Apartheid" and "Brothers In Arms: Israel's secret pact with Pretoria," Guardian (6 February 2006, 7 February 2006) (Tutu, Liel), John Dugard, "Apartheid: Israelis Adopt What South Africa Dropped," Atlanta Journal -Constitution (29 November 2006).
(9) Gershom Gorenberg, "Road Map to Grand Apartheid? Ariel Sharon's South African inspiration," American Prospect (3 July 2003). Akiva Eldar, "Sharon's Bantustans Are Far from Copenhagen's Hope," Haaretz (13 May 2003).
(10) "Ever More Separate," Economist (20 October 2005).
(11) Jean-Marie Henckaerts and Louise Doswald-Beck, Customary International Humanitarian Law, Vol. I: Rules (Cambridge: 2005), pp. 310-11, 586, 588-9. The quoted phrase comes from Additional Protocol I; the wording in the ICC statute slightly differs.
(12) Rachel Zelkowitz, "Professor Describes Carter 'Inaccuracies'," The Emory Wheel (12 December 2006).
(13) Carter, Palestine, p. 208.
(14) "Introduction to the Annual Report of the Secretary-General on the Work of the Organization, 16 June 1966--15 June 1967," in General Assembly, Official Records: Twenty-Second Session, Supplement No. 1A. United Nations (15 September 1967), para. 47.
(15) Lord Caradon et al., U.N. Security Council Resolution 242: A Case Study in Diplomatic Ambiguity (Washington, D.C.: 1981), p. 13.
(16) John McHugo, "Resolution 242: A Legal Reappraisal of the Right-Wing Israeli Interpretation of the Withdrawal Phrase With Reference to the Conflict Between Israel and the Palestinians," in International and Comparative Law Quarterly (October 2002), pp. 866-872.
(17) Norman G. Finkelstein, Beyond Chutzpah: On the misuse of anti-Semitism and the abuse of history (Berkeley: 2005), p. 289.
(19)Daniel Dishon (ed.), Middle East Record, v. 4, 1968 (Jerusalem: 1973), p. 247.
(20) Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Advisory Opinion (Int'l Ct. of Justice July 9, 2004), 43 IL M 1009 (2004), paras. 74, 87,117.
CounterPunch December 28, 2006
After a tumultuous year in which the red and black flags of civil insurrection unfurled on the barricades and the rancor of "los de abajo" ("those from below") took fire, newly sworn-in president Felipe Calderon and his transnational backers are banking on fading the color scheme to a ubiquitous gray in 2007. Their success will be measured by the fight back of a popular resistance that has surged from the bottom
ich the military had to be called out to protect the congress of the country while Lopez Obrador's supporters scuffled with rightwing legislators on the floor of the Chamber of Deputies.
2007 will have a hard time topping its predecessor.
The first months of Felipe Calderon's governance are a crucial test for the right-winger who at least a third of the electorate does not accept as the legitimate president of Mexico. To establish a modicum of credibility, he has embarked on a calculated strategy that combines the Hard Hand ("mano dura") of the military with the high gloss of the media.
At the top of the embattled president's agenda was the deployment of 7000 troops and police to his home state of Michoacan in which hundreds of victims have been slaughtered in recent years as narco gangs battle for turf in the vast hot lands south of Uruapan where marijuana plantations flourish on remote hillsides and tons of cocaine pour in through the port of Lazaro Cardenas.
True to the Calderon formula for taking control of a country that has been bordering on ingovernability, the troops were followed into the dope fields by embedded reporters from the national and international big press. Mexico's two-headed television monopoly ran the raids as top story night after night reinforcing the new president's authority although the operation netted meager bounty - the relatives of a few mid-level narco lords were arrested and a handful of gunsills killed in firefights. Michoacan is far from the U.S. border, control of which is the real source of narco violence in Mexico.
Such ballyhooed offensives in the narco wars are often counter indicative. The industry is destabilized and the cartels stirred up. When a capo goes down, another pops up to claim the turf. Every Mexican president wears a narco lord around his neck - for Calderon's predecessor Vicente Fox, the "capo de sexenio" was "El Chapo" Guzman, boss of the Sinaloa cartel, who escaped from a maximum-security prison in the first months of his presidency.
Whichever capo the new president gets attached to could determine which way Calderon's head might roll - much like the now-legendary five bloody heads that narcos rolled out on the dance floor of a popular Uruapan night club on the eve of the July election.
The new president has duplicitously hidden his hard hand behind his back while preaching reconciliation in Oaxaca, withdrawing Federal Preventative Police (PFP) from that troubled state and redeploying them to Michoacan. The move turned policing Oaxaca back to Ruiz's Ministerial Police which is held responsible for widespread violence and the killing of at least 20 supporters of striking teachers and the Oaxaca Peoples Popular Assembly (APPO) since last May, including U.S. Indymedia reporter Brad Will. Not 24 hours after Calderon had removed the PFP, Ruiz's goons kidnapped APPO spokesperson Florentino Lopez.
The Federal Preventative Police is now commanded by General Ardelio Vargas, a close confederate of new Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora when he headed up the CISEN or national security intelligence service - General Vargas also commands the Federal Investigative Agency (AFI), the Mexican FBI, an unprecedented concentration of police powers in the hands of one man.
While Calderon's Interior Secretary Francisco Ramirez Acuna, whose human rights record as governor of Jalisco was tarnished with torture, begins to release some of the 200 prisoners taken in PFP repression last November 25th in Oaxaca city, others are hustled into custody. Flavio Sosa, former director of Lopez Obrador's Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) in Oaxaca, and a prominent leader of the APPO, has been locked down in the nation's most fearsome penitentiary and loaded up with sedition charges by Attorney General Medina Mora, the first political prisoner of the Calderon regime. The PRD and Lopez Obrador have not been active in his defense.
In order to govern Mexico, Felipe Calderon must split the PRD and neutralize Lopez Obrador. The new president launched a revived get-AMLO putsch when his finance minister, former World Bank heavy, 300-pound Augustin Carstens submitted a 2007 budget that slashed funding for universities and government support for culture, two sectors in which the left leader has widespread support. The budget cuts will advance Calderon's neo-liberal strategy of privatizing both areas.
The new president also sliced 10% from his own salary but increased the military budget by 30%. Social budget allocations are just 10% of foreign and domestic debt service, a recipe for disaster.
Felipe Calderon is poised to retaliate directly against his old nemesis Lopez Obrador who was anointed the "legitimate president" of Mexico before hundreds of thousands of true believers in Mexico City's Zocalo plaza this past November 20th. Reforma, a PAN-oriented national daily, recently published a deliberately leaked memo indicating that 34 arrest warrants are currently pending against the leftist, most filed during his years as Mexico City mayor but several stretching back to 1996 when Lopez Obrador led Chontal Indian farmers in shutting down oil drilling platforms in his native Tabasco. Should the left leader, who is currently trekking the nation shoring up his bases, become too much of a thorn in the side of Calderon's rule, Interior Secretary Ramirez Acuna has the discretion to activate the arrest warrants.
Despite the new president's veiled threats to remove AMLO from circulation, Calderon is not adverse to co-opting the leftist's social programs, proposing pensions for elderly Mexicans and universal health care for poor children, two basic planks in Lopez Obrador's campaign platform, even while failing to insure an adequate social budget.
The new president is deeply indebted to the two-headed television monopoly for crafting the illusion of his still-disputed victory in the fraud-marred July 2nd elections and he has sought to reward their support. One of the first acts of Calderon's new Secretary of Communication and Transportation was to veto a bid by General Electric, Telemundo, and Mexican pharmaceutical tycoon Moises Sada for a license to launch a third national network. Curiously, soon after the license request was drawn up, both TV Azteca and Televisa aired investigative reports on how the Sada family was price-gouging consumers, the details of which the Calderon government has promised to probe.
Calderon's rightist PAN party won the TV moguls' hearts when just weeks before the presidential election, the PANistas pushed through a law - the so-called "Ley Televisa" - that gave Azteca and Televisa exclusive concessions over the entire electro-magnetic spectrum for the next 40 years.
Much as when he ran for president, Calderon is once again flooding the TV screens with slickly produced "info-mericals" trumpeting his early "accomplishments" in office.
As the designated business agent for the transnationals who put him in Los Pinos, the Mexican White House, the new president has to deliver the goods. During the campaign, Calderon repeatedly pledged to the business "community" that he would open PEMEX, the nationalized oil corporation, to private investment. Such an initiative would require a constitutional amendment that can only be achieved by an alliance with the once-ruling PRI, now a minority party in the new congress. Calderon's support for Oaxaca tyrant Ulisis Ruiz, a PRI honcho, seems to be the quid pro quo that could cement the deal in 2007.
The new president inherits an economy in serious stagnation and prospects for improvement in the next 12 months are not bright. Growth averaged out to less than 3% per annum during Fox's six years in office, the lowest among major Latin American economies.
Felipe Calderon campaigned as the "Jobs President" but there are not enough McDonalds' and Wal-Marts littering the landscape to provide new jobs for the more than a million young job seekers who enter the labor market each year. Annual wage hikes proclaimed by Calderon's economic cabinet total out to 19 cents USD a day which will not much increase workers' buying powers in 2007 - the price of tortillas, a staple of the brown underclass, has doubled in six years of PAN governance.
Meanwhile, the agricultural sector - roughly 27 million Mexicans, a quarter of the population - is collapsing under NAFTA pressures. Over a million farm families (6,000,000 Mexicans) have been forced off the land, primarily by the dumping of cheap NAFTA corn on this side of the border, and jumped into the immigration stream during the Fox years - 2.4 million citizens took refuge in the U.S. during his "sexenio." For Felipe Calderon, the devastation of the agriculture sector will only get darker - all tariffs on corn and beans will be completely eliminated as of January 1st 2008, greatly aggravating the conditions of the campesinos.
Out migration is a traditional safety valve for frustrated young Mexicans but that option is fast being extinguished by draconian U.S. immigration enforcement including the construction of 700 miles of border wall. Threatened massive deportations of Mexican workers from El Norte, who now send $16 billion USD home annually in remissions, would effectively shut down the Mexican economy.
With such dour prospects just down the pike, Felipe Calderon is dependent upon a lame duck U.S. president's diminishing clout in his congress to pass a guest worker program to absorb the pressure building on the border.
Mexico annexed its economic and political future to Washington when it inked NAFTA 15 years ago as George Bush's intelligence czar John Negroponte once predicted when he was ambassador to this distant neighbor nation. Now when Washington sneezes, Mexico comes down with Ebola fever. Any instability up north in 2007 - a new terror attack, a presidential impeachment or assassination, a devastating defeat in Iraq or the eruption of a new war in Iran, all not unlikely scenarios for the coming year - will send seismic shock waves south and set bilateral relations on a shaky footing in Calderon's first year as Mexican president - much as 9/11 wrecked relations with Washington during Fox's initial months in office.
As the pendulum swings left in Latin America, Felipe Calderon is Bush's last gasp hope for the triumph of neo-liberalism south of the border but the new president is already perceived as the White House's water boy in Latin America and among a majority of his own citizens and establishing credibility requires that he put some distance between his person and Washington.
Whereas Vicente Fox managed to alienate all of the new left leadership on the continent, particularly Hugo Chavez who dubbed him "an imperialist puppy", Calderon is moving to tamp down the tone - his attendance at Daniel Ortega's inauguration in Managua and the 15th anniversary of peace accords in Salvador in January, the Mexican president's first foreign foray, seems designed to soften the disaffection of the Latin left. But Calderon's testy accusations that Chavez was financing Lopez Obrador's campaign so disaffected the Venezuelan strongman that diplomatic relations between Latin America's two largest oil producers will probably not be revived very soon.
As the neo-liberal impositions dig in in 2007 and objective conditions grow more onerous for the 73,000,000 Mexicans - three quarters of the population - living in and around the poverty line (a quarter of them in extreme poverty), the strength of the popular resistance that surged in 2006 is suddenly a question mark in 2007. In Oaxaca, the APPO appears exhausted and at odds with allies in the teachers movement, on the defensive and reduced to rescuing its political prisoners.
Lopez Obrador is broke and continues to ply the provinces playing to an ever-shrinking audience to promote the legitimacy of his shadow presidency and government which are just that - shadows of what might have been.
The Zapatistas' Other Campaign is on hold as Subcomandante Marcos tries to recover from the bruising he took when he balked at joining the post-electoral struggle. The armed movement - five tiny Marxist-Leninist "focos" - calls press conferences to challenge Calderon's credentials but are a perfect demonstration target for the new president's hard hand.
Will peoples' resistance recover the initiative in the new year? For the popular movements, 2007 will be all about "ni modo" i.e. there is no way to change Calderon's hold on power so we might as well allow ourselves to be co-opted by his handouts, and "si se puede" ("yes, we can"), a skew which views 2006 as a gateway to the next revolution. The outcome of this debate down at the broad base of the Mexican pyramid will determine the shape of the year to come.
John Ross will be on the road in the southwest, south, midwest, and Atlantic coast from February through April with his latest opus ZAPATISTAS! Making Another World Possible--Chronicles of Resistance 2000-2006
Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org for suggestions of possible venues and dates.