Left out is also is the disaster in our relations with the American Indians with who we broke treaties with, stole their land and subjected them to live in impoverished conditions within a concentration camp without locks.
~Russell Means, Chief Facilitator, Republic of Lakotah
19 March 2010
On March 13, China’s Information Office of the State Council published a report titled, “The Human Rights Record of the United States in 2009.”
This document was clearly intended as a rebuttal to the annual US State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2009, released two days earlier.
The Chinese report quite legitimately notes that the US government “releases Country Reports on Human Rights Practices year after year to accuse other countries, and takes human rights as a political instrument to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs, defame other nations’ image and seek its own strategic interests. This fully exposes its double standards on the human rights issue…”
Delivering the US government a well-deserved dose of its own medicine does not, of course, absolve the Chinese regime of its own gross violations of human rights. It rules autocratically over 1.3 billion people, most of them desperately poor peasants and super-exploited workers.
That being said, the Chinese report is an eye-opening document—factual, sober, even understated, drawn entirely from public government and media sources in the United States, with each item carefully documented. It presents a picture of 21st century America as much of the world sees it, one which is in sharp contrast to the official mythology and American media propaganda.
Not surprisingly, the report went unmentioned in the US mass media.
The 14-page report is divided into six major sections: Life, Property and Personal Security; Civil and Political Rights; Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; Racial Discrimination; Rights of Women and Children; US Violations of Human Rights Against Other Nations. The cumulative picture is one of a society in deep and worsening social crisis.
A few of the facts and figures cited on violence and police repression in the United States:
• Each year, 30,000 people die in gun-related incidents.
• There were 14,180 murders last year.
• In the first ten months of 2009, 45 people were killed by police use of tasers, bringing the total for the decade to 389.
• Last year, 315 police officers in New York City were subject to internal supervision due to “unrestrained use of violence.”
• 7.3 million Americans were under the authority of the correctional system, more than in any other country.
• An estimated 60,000 prisoners were raped while in custody last year.
On democratic rights, the report notes the pervasive government spying on citizens, authorized under the 2001 Patriot Act, extensive surveillance of the Internet by the National Security Agency, and police harassment of anti-globalization demonstrators in Pittsburgh during last year’s G-20 summit. Pointing to the hypocrisy of US government “human rights” rhetoric, the authors observe, “the same conduct in other countries would be called human rights violations, whereas in the United States it was called necessary crime control.”
The report only skims the surface on the socioeconomic crisis in the United States, noting record levels of unemployment, poverty, hunger and homelessness, as well as 46.3 million people without health insurance. It does offer a few facts rarely discussed in the US media:
• 712 bodies were cremated at public expense in the city of Los Angeles last year, because the families were too poor to pay for a burial.
• There were 5,657 workplace deaths recorded in 2007, the last year for which a tally is available, a rate of 17 deaths per day (not a single employer was criminally charged for any of these deaths).
• Some 2,266 veterans died as a consequence of lack of health insurance in 2008, 14 times the military death toll in Afghanistan that year.
The report presents evidence of pervasive racial discrimination against blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans, the most oppressed sections of the US working class, including a record number of racial discrimination claims over hiring practices, more than 32,000. It also notes the rising number of incidents of discrimination or violence against Muslims, and the detention of 300,000 “illegal” immigrants each year, with more than 30,000 immigrants in US detention facilities every day of the year.
It notes that the state of California imposed life sentences on 18 times more black defendants than white, and that in 2008, when New York City police fired their weapons, 75 percent of the targets were black, 22 percent Hispanic and only 3 percent white.
The report refers to the well-known reality of unequal pay for women, with median female income only 77 percent that of male income in 2008, down from 78 percent in 2007. According to the report, 70 percent of working-age women have no health insurance, or inadequate coverage, high medical bills or high health-related debt.
Children bear a disproportionate burden of economic hardship, with 16.7 million children not having enough food at some time during 2008, and 3.5 million children under five facing hunger or malnutrition, 17 percent of the total. Child hunger is combined with the malignant phenomenon of rampant child labor in agriculture: some 400,000 child farm workers pick America’s crops. The US also leads the world in imprisoning children and juveniles, and is the only country that does not offer parole to juvenile offenders.
US foreign policy comes in for justifiable criticism as well. A country with so many poor and hungry people accounts for 42 percent of the world’s total military spending, a colossal $607 billion, as well as the world’s largest foreign arms sales, $37.8 billion in 2008, up nearly 50 percent from the previous year.
The Chinese report notes the documented torture of prisoners in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, the worldwide US network of military bases, the US blockade of Cuba (opposed by the UN General Assembly by a vote of 187 to 3), and the systematic US spying around the world, utilizing the NSA’s “ECHELON” interception system, as well as the US monopoly control over Internet route servers.
The report also points out the deliberate US flouting of international human rights covenants. Washington has either signed but not ratified or refused to sign four major UN covenants: on economic, social and cultural rights; on the rights of women; on the rights of people with disabilities; and on the rights of indigenous peoples.
The report does not discuss the source of the malignant social conditions in the United States—nor should that be expected, since that would require an explanation of the causal connection between poverty, repression and discrimination and the operations of the capitalist profit system, something that Beijing is hardly likely to undertake.
The Median Empire (Cyxares), The Persians (Cyrus the Great), Alexander the Great, the Seleucids (Nicator), the Indo-Greeks (Menand), the Ottomans (Constantine XI), the Mongols (Ghangis Khan), the British & the Soviet Union all met the end of their ambitions in Afghanistan.
by: Dahr Jamail, t r u t h o u t | News Analysis
On September 7 the Swedish aid agency Swedish Committee for Afghanistan reported that the previous week US soldiers raided one of its hospitals. According to the director of the aid agency, Anders Fange, troops stormed through both the men’s and women’s wards, where they frantically searched for wounded Taliban fighters.
Soldiers demanded that hospital administrators inform the military of any incoming patients who might be insurgents, after which the military would then decide if said patients would be admitted or not. Fange called the incident “not only a clear violation of globally recognized humanitarian principles about the sanctity of health facilities and staff in areas of conflict, but also a clear breach of the civil-military agreement” between nongovernmental organizations and international forces.
Fange said that US troops broke down doors and tied up visitors and hospital staff.
Impeding operations at medical facilities in Afghanistan directly violate the Fourth Geneva Convention, which strictly forbids attacks on emergency vehicles and the obstruction of medical operations during wartime.
Lt. Cmdr. Christine Sidenstricker, a public affairs officer for the US Navy, confirmed the raid, and told The Associated Press, “Complaints like this are rare.”
Despite Sidenstricker’s claim that “complaints like this” are rare in Afghanistan, they are, in fact, common. Just as they are in Iraq, the other occupation. A desperate conventional military, when losing a guerilla war, tends to toss international law out the window. Yet even more so when the entire occupation itself is a violation of international law.
Marjorie Cohn, president of the National Lawyers Guild and also a Truthout contributor, is very clear about the overall illegality of the invasion and ongoing occupation of Afghanistan by the United States.
Hospital in Afghanistan, where frequent raids against the injured take place.
“The UN Charter is a treaty ratified by the United States and thus part of US law,” Cohn, who is also a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and recently co-authored the book “Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent” said, “Under the charter, a country can use armed force against another country only in self-defense or when the Security Council approves. Neither of those conditions was met before the United States invaded Afghanistan. The Taliban did not attack us on 9/11. Nineteen men – 15 from Saudi Arabia – did, and there was no imminent threat that Afghanistan would attack the US or another UN member country. The council did not authorize the United States or any other country to use military force against Afghanistan. The US war in Afghanistan is illegal.”
Thus, the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, along with the ongoing slaughter of Afghan civilians and raiding hospitals, are in violation of international law as well as the US Constitution.
And of course the same applies for Iraq.
Let us recall November 8, 2004, when the US military launched its siege of Fallujah. The first thing done by the US military was to invade and occupy Fallujah General Hospital. Then, too, like this recent incident in Afghanistan, doctors, patients and visitors alike had their hands tied and they were laid on the ground, oftentimes face down, and held at gunpoint.
During my first four trips to Iraq, I commonly encountered hospital staff who reported US military raids on their facilities. US soldiers regularly entered hospitals to search for wounded resistance fighters.
Doctors from Fallujah General Hospital, as well as others who worked in clinics throughout the city during both US sieges of Fallujah in 2004, reported that US Marines obstructed their services and that US snipers intentionally targeted their clinics and ambulances.
“The Marines have said they didn’t close the hospital, but essentially they did,” Dr. Abdulla, an orthopedic surgeon at Fallujah General Hospital who spoke on condition of using a different name, told Truthout in May 2004 of his experiences in the hospital. “They closed the bridge which connects us to the city [and] closed our road … the area in front of our hospital was full of their soldiers and vehicles.”
He added that this prevented countless patients who desperately needed medical care from receiving medical care. “Who knows how many of them died that we could have saved,” said Dr. Abdulla. He also blamed the military for shooting at civilian ambulances, as well as shooting near the clinic at which he worked. “Some days we couldn’t leave, or even go near the door because of the snipers,” he said, “They were shooting at the front door of the clinic!”
Dr. Abdulla also said that US snipers shot and killed one of the ambulance drivers of the clinic where he worked during the fighting.
Dr. Ahmed, who also asked that only his first name be used because he feared US military reprisals, said, “The Americans shot out the lights in the front of our hospital. They prevented doctors from reaching the emergency unit at the hospital, and we quickly began to run out of supplies and much-needed medications.” He also stated that several times Marines kept the physicians in the residence building, thereby intentionally prohibiting them from entering the hospital to treat patients.
“All the time they came in, searched rooms and wandered around,” said Dr. Ahmed, while explaining how US troops often entered the hospital in order to search for resistance fighters. Both he and Dr. Abdulla said the US troops never offered any medicine or supplies to assist the hospital when they carried out their incursions. Describing a situation that has occurred in other hospitals, he added, “Most of our patients left the hospital because they were afraid.”
Dr. Abdulla said that one of their ambulance drivers was shot and killed by US snipers while he was attempting to collect the wounded near another clinic inside the city.
“The major problem we found were the American snipers,” said Dr. Rashid, who worked at another clinic in the Jumaria Quarter of Falluja. “We saw them on top of the buildings near the mayor’s office.”
Dr. Rashid told of another incident in which a US sniper shot an ambulance driver in the leg. The ambulance driver survived, but a man who came to his rescue was shot by a US sniper and died on the operating table after Dr. Rashid and others had worked to save him. “He was a volunteer working on the ambulance to help collect the wounded,” Dr. Rashid said sadly.
During Truthout’s visit to the hospital in May 2004, two ambulances in the parking lot sat with bullet holes in their windshields, while others had bullet holes in their back doors and sides.
“I remember once we sent an ambulance to evacuate a family that was bombed by an aircraft,” said Dr. Abdulla while continuing to speak about the US snipers, “The ambulance was sniped – one of the family died, and three were injured by the firing.”
Neither Dr. Abdulla nor Dr. Rashid said they knew of any medical aid being provided to their hospital or clinics by the US military. On this topic, Dr. Rashid said flatly, “They send only bombs, not medicine.”
Chuwader General Hospital in Sadr City also reported similar findings to Truthout, as did other hospitals throughout Baghdad.
Dr. Abdul Ali, the ex-chief surgeon at Al-Noman Hospital, admitted that US soldiers had come to the hospital asking for information about resistance fighters. To this he said, “My policy is not to give my patients to the Americans. I deny information for the sake of the patient.”
During an interview in April 2004, he admitted this intrusion occurred fairly regularly and interfered with patients receiving medical treatment. He noted, “Ten days ago this happened – this occurred after people began to come in from Fallujah, even though most of them were children, women and elderly.”
A doctor at Al-Kerkh Hospital, speaking on condition of anonymity, shared a similar experience of the problem that appears to be rampant throughout much of the country: “We hear of Americans removing wounded Iraqis from hospitals. They are always coming here and asking us if we have injured fighters.”
Speaking about the US military raid of the hospital in Afghanistan, UN spokesman Aleem Siddique said he was not aware of the details of the particular incident, but that international law requires the military to avoid operations in medical facilities.
“The rules are that medical facilities are not combat areas. It’s unacceptable for a medical facility to become an area of active combat operations,” he said. “The only exception to that under the Geneva Conventions is if a risk is being posed to people.”
“There is the Hippocratic oath,” Fange added, “If anyone is wounded, sick or in need of treatment … if they are a human being, then they are received and treated as they should be by international law.”
These are all indications of a US Empire in decline. Another recent sign of US desperation in Afghanistan was the bombing of two fuel tanker trucks that the Taliban had captured from NATO. US warplanes bombed the vehicles, from which impoverished local villagers were taking free gas, incinerating as many as 150 civilians, according to reports from villagers.
The United States Empire is following a long line of empires and conquerors that have met their end in Afghanistan. The Median and Persian Empires, Alexander the Great, the Seleucids, the Indo-Greeks, Turks, Mongols, British and Soviets all met the end of their ambitions in Afghanistan.
And today, the US Empire is on the fast track of its demise. A recent article by Tom Englehardt provides us more key indicators of this:
In 2002 there were 5,200 US soldiers in Afghanistan. By December of this year, there will be 68,000.
Compared to the same period in 2008, Taliban attacks on coalition forces using Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) has risen 114 percent.
Compared to the same period in 2008, coalition deaths from IED attacks have increased sixfold.
Overall Taliban attacks on coalition forces in the first five months of 2009, compared to the same period last year, have increased 59 percent.
Genghis Khan could not hold onto Afghanistan.
Neither will the United States, particularly when in its desperation to continue its illegal occupation, it tosses aside international law, along with its own Constitution.
Russell Means discusses how the lens through which America views its Indigenous people, shows how America views the world. From English-only laws and Christian righteousness to the perpetual state of war since its creation, the United States citizens continue to show a lack of respect for their relatives visions. Russell Means offers advice to the people of America in this edition of Weekend Update.
One of the earliest metaphors President George W. Bush and some of his top officials wielded in their post-invasion salad days in Iraq involved bicycles. The question was: Should we take the “training wheels” off the Iraqi bike (of democracy)? Then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, for example,commented smugly on the way getting Iraq “straightened out” was like teaching your kid to ride a bike:
“They’re learning, and you’re running down the street holding on to the back of the seat. You know that if you take your hand off they could fall, so you take a finger off and then two fingers, and pretty soon you’re just barely touching it. You can’t know when you’re running down the street how many steps you’re going to have to take. We can’t know that, but we’re off to a good start.”
That image (about as patronizingly colonial as they come) of the little pedaling Iraqi child with an American parent running close behind, was abandoned when around the first corner, as it turned out, was an insurgent with an rocket-propelled grenade. Many years and many disasters later, though, Americans, whether in the Obama administration, the Washington punditocracy, or the media are still almost incapable of not being patronizing when it comes to Iraq. Take a typical recent piece of “news analysis” in the New York Times by a perfectly sharp journalist, Alissa J. Rubin. It was headlined in print “America’s New Role in Iraq Prompts a Search for Means of Influence” and focused, in part, on Vice President Joe Biden’s recent trip there supposedly to “assuage” Iraqi feelings that they are being “moved to the bottom shelf.”
Rubin writes (and this sort of thing has been written countless times before) that the Americans are now in search of a “new tone” for their dealings in that country. (In the Bush years, this was often called — in another strange imperial metaphor — “putting an Iraqi face” on things.) “They have,” she comments, “a reputation for being heavy-handed, for telling Iraqis what to do rather than asking what they want.” But of course, as the piece makes clear, whatever his tone, Biden arrived in Iraq to tell Iraqis what they should do — or as she puts it, to try to “solve” the “troubles… that stymied three previous ambassadors and President George W. Bush”: continuing sectarian animosities, the passage of an Iraqi oil law, and the Kurdish problem.
These, it seems, are still our burden and we really can’t imagine it any other way. As the Iraqis quoted in Rubin’s piece make clear, the dominant role played by the U.S. is resented by the occupied — especially the elite — who have contempt for the occupiers, even if they find it hard to imagine life without them.
I mention this only because the tone of American writing and thought on Iraq has always been tinged with what Michael Schwartz, TomDispatch regular and author of a superb study, War Without End: The Iraq War in Context, says is a deeper colonial urge, one that unfortunately may not be fading, even as discussion of a U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq grows. (Catch a TomDispatch audio interview with Schwartz by clicking here.) Tom
The Obama Doctrine?
By Michael Schwartz
Here’s how reporters Steven Lee Myers and Marc Santora of the New York Timesdescribed the highly touted American withdrawal from Iraq’s cities last week:
“Much of the complicated work of dismantling and removing millions of dollars of equipment from the combat outposts in the city has been done during the dark of night. Gen. Ray Odierno, the overall American commander in Iraq, has ordered that an increasing number of basic operations — transport and re-supply convoys, for example — take place at night, when fewer Iraqis are likely to see that the American withdrawal is not total.”
Acting in the dark of night, in fact, seems to catch the nature of American plans for Iraq in a particularly striking way. Last week, despite the death of Michael Jackson, Iraq made it back into the TV news as Iraqis celebrated a highly publicized American military withdrawal from their cities. Fireworks went off; some Iraqis gathered to dance and cheer; the first military parade since Saddam Hussein’s day took place (in the fortified Green Zone, the country’s ordinary streets still being too dangerous for such things); the U.S. handed back many small bases and outposts; and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki proclaimed a national holiday — “sovereignty day,” he called it.
All of this fit with a script promisingly laid out by President Barack Obama in his 2008 presidential campaign. More recently, in his much praised speech to the students of Egypt’s Cairo University, he promised that the U.S. would keep no bases in Iraq, and would indeed withdraw its military forces from the country by the end of 2011.
Unfortunately, not just for the Iraqis, but for the American public, it’s what’s happening in “the dark” — beyond the glare of lights and TV cameras — that counts. While many critics of the Iraq War have been willing to cut the Obama administration some slack as its foreign policy team and the U.S. military gear up for that definitive withdrawal, something else — something more unsettling — appears to be going on.
And it wasn’t just the president’s hedging over withdrawing American “combat” troops from Iraq – which, in any case, make up as few as one-third of the 130,000 U.S. forces still in the country — now extended from 16 to 19 months. Nor was it the re-labeling of some of them as “advisors” so they could, in fact, stay in the vacated cities, or the redrawing of the boundary lines of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, to exclude a couple of key bases the Americans weren’t about to give up.
After all, there can be no question that the Obama administration’s policy is indeed to reduce what the Pentagon might call the U.S. military “footprint” in Iraq. To put it another way, Obama’s key officials seem to be opting not for blunt-edged, Bush-style militarism, but for what might be thought of as an administrative push in Iraq, what Vice President Joe Biden has called “a much more aggressive program vis-à-vis the Iraqi government to push it to political reconciliation.”
An anonymous senior State Department official described this new “dark of night” policy recently to Christian Science Monitor reporter Jane Arraf this way: “One of the challenges of that new relationship is how the U.S. can continue to wield influence on key decisions without being seen to do so.”
Without being seen to do so. On this General Odierno and the unnamed official are in agreement. And so, it seems, is Washington. As a result, the crucial thing you can say about the Obama administration’s military and civilian planning so far is this: ignore the headlines, the fireworks, and the briefly cheering crowds of Iraqis on your TV screen. Put all that talk of withdrawal aside for a moment and — if you take a closer look, letting your eyes adjust to the darkness — what is vaguely visible is the silhouette of a new American posture in Iraq. Think of it as the Obama Doctrine. And what it doesn’t look like is the posture of an occupying power preparing to close up shop and head for home.
As your eyes grow accustomed to the darkness, you begin to identify a deepening effort to ensure that Iraq remains a U.S. client state, or, as General Odierno described it to the press on June 30th, “a long-term partner with the United States in the Middle East.” Whether Obama’s national security team can succeed in this is certainly an open question, but, on a first hard look, what seems to be coming into focus shouldn’t be too unfamiliar to students of history. Once upon a time, it used to have a name: colonialism.
Colonialism in Iraq
Traditional colonialism was characterized by three features: ultimate decision-making rested with the occupying power instead of the indigenous client government; the personnel of the colonial administration were governed by different laws and institutions than the colonial population; and the local political economy was shaped to serve the interests of the occupying power. All the features of classic colonialism took shape in the Bush years in Iraq and are now, as far as we can tell, being continued, in some cases even strengthened, in the early months of the Obama era.
The U.S. embassy in Iraq, built by the Bush administration to the tune of $740 million, is by far the largest in the world. It is now populated by more than 1,000 administrators, technicians, and professionals — diplomatic, military, intelligence, and otherwise — though all are regularly, if euphemistically, referred to as “diplomats” in official statements and in the media. This level of staffing — 1,000 administrators for a country of perhaps 30 million — is well above the classic norm for imperial control. Back in the early twentieth century, for instance, Great Britain utilized fewer officials to rule a population of 300 million in its Indian Raj.
Such a concentration of foreign officialdom in such a gigantic regional command center — and no downsizing or withdrawals are yet apparent there — certainly signals Washington’s larger imperial design: to have sufficient administrative labor power on hand to ensure that American advisors remain significantly embedded in Iraqi political decision-making, in its military, and in the key ministries of its (oil-dominated) economy.
From the first moments of the occupation of Iraq, U.S. officials have been sitting in the offices of Iraqi politicians and bureaucrats, providing guidelines, training decision-makers, and brokering domestic disputes. As a consequence, Americans have been involved, directly or indirectly, in virtually all significant government decision-making.
In a recent article, for example, the New York Times reported that U.S. officials are “quietly lobbying” to cancel a mandated nationwide referendum on the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) negotiated between the United States and Iraq — a referendum that, if defeated, would at least theoretically force the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops from the country. In another article, the Times reported that embassy officialshave “sometimes stepped in to broker peace between warring blocs” in the Iraqi Parliament. In yet another, the military newspaper Stars and Stripesmentioned in passing that an embassy official “advises Iraqis running the $100 million airport” just completed in Najaf. And so it goes.
Most colonial regimes erect systems in which foreigners involved in occupation duties are served (and disciplined) by an institutional structure separate from the one that governs the indigenous population. In Iraq, the U.S. has been building such a structure since 2003, and the Obama administration shows every sign of extending it.
As in all embassies around the world, U.S. embassy officials are not subject to the laws of the host country. The difference is that, in Iraq, they are not simply stamping visas and the like, but engaged in crucial projects involving them in myriad aspects of daily life and governance, although as an essentially separate caste within Iraqi society. Military personnel are part of this segregated structure: the recently signed SOFA insures that American soldiers will remain virtually untouchable by Iraqi law, even if they kill innocent civilians.
Versions of this immunity extend to everyone associated with the occupation. Private security, construction, and commercial contractors employed by occupation forces are not protected by the SOFA agreement, but are nonetheless shielded from the laws and regulations that apply to normal Iraqi residents. As an Iraq-based FBI official told the New York Times, the obligations of contractors are defined by “new arrangements between Iraq and the United States governing contractors’ legal status.” In a recent case in which five employees of one U.S. contractor were charged with killing another contractor, the case was jointly investigated by Iraqi police and “local representatives of the FBI,” with ultimate jurisdiction negotiated by Iraqi and U.S. embassy officials. The FBI has established a substantial presence in Iraq to carry out these “new arrangements.”
This special handling extends to enterprises servicing the billions of dollars spent every month in Iraq on U.S. contracts. A contractor’s prime responsibility is to follow “guidelines the U.S. military handed down in 2006.” In all this, Iraqi law has a distinctly secondary role. In one apparently typical case, a Kuwaiti contractor hired to feed U.S. soldiers was accused of imprisoning its foreign workers and then, when they protested, sending them home without pay. This case was handled by U.S. officials, not the Iraqi government.
Beyond this legal segregation, the U.S. has also been erecting a segregated infrastructure within Iraq. Most embassies and military bases around the world rely on the host country for food, electricity, water, communications, and daily supplies. Not the U.S. embassyor the five major bases that are at the heart of the American military presence in that country. They all have their own electrical generating and water purification systems, their own dedicated communications, and imported food from outside the country. None, naturally, offer indigenous Iraqi cuisine; the embassy imports ingredients suitable for reasonably upscale American restaurants, and the military bases feature American fast food and chain restaurant fare.
The United States has even created the rudiments of its own transportation system. Iraqis often are delayed when traveling within or between cities, thanks to an occupation-created (and now often Iraqi-manned) maze of checkpoints, cement barriers, and bombed-out streets and roads; on the other hand, U.S. soldiers and officials in certain areas can move around more quickly, thanks to special privileges and segregated facilities.
In the early years of the occupation, large military convoys transporting supplies or soldiers simply took temporary possession of Iraqi highways and streets. Iraqis who didn’t quickly get out of the way were threatened with lethal firepower. To negotiate sometimes hours-long lines at checkpoints, Americans were given special ID cards that “guaranteed swift passage… in a separate lane past waiting Iraqis.” Though the guaranteed “swift passage” was supposed to end with the signing of the SOFA, the system is still operating at many checkpoints, and convoys continue to roar through Iraqi communities with “Iraqi drivers still pulling over en masse.”
Recently, the occupation has also been appropriating various streets and roads for its exclusive use (an idea that may have been borrowed from Israel’s 40-year-old occupation of the West Bank). This innovation has made unconvoyed transportation safer for embassy officials, contractors, and military personnel, while degrading further the Iraqi road system, already in a state of disrepair, by closing useable thoroughfares. Paradoxically, it has also allowed insurgents to plant roadside bombs with the assurance of targeting only foreigners. Such an incident outside Falluja illustrates what have now become Obama-era policies in Iraq:
“The Americans were driving along a road used exclusively by the American military and reconstruction teams when a bomb, which local Iraqi security officials described as an improvised explosive device, went off. No Iraqi vehicles, even those of the army and the police, are allowed to use the road where the attack occurred, according to residents. There is a checkpoint only 200 yards from the site of the attack to prevent unauthorized vehicles, the residents said.”
It is unclear whether this road will be handed back to the Iraqis, if and when the base it services is shuttered. Either way, the larger policy appears to be well established — the designation of segregated roads to accommodate the 1,000 diplomats and tens of thousands of soldiers and contractors who implement their policies. And this is only one aspect of a dedicated infrastructure designed to facilitate ongoing U.S. involvement in developing, implementing, and administering political-economic policies in Iraq.
Whose Military Is It?
One way to “free up” the American military for withdrawal would, of course, be if the Iraqi military could manage the pacification mission alone. But don’t expect that any time soon. According to media reports, if all goes well, this isn’t likely to occur for at least a decade. One telltale sign of this is the pervasive presence of American military advisors still embedded in Iraqi combat units. First Lt. Matthew Liebal, for example, “sits every day beside Lt. Col Mohammed Hadi,” the commander of the Iraqi 43rd Army Brigade that patrols eastern Baghdad.
When it comes to the Iraqi military, this sort of supervision won’t be temporary. After all,the military the U.S. helped create in Iraq still lacks, among other things, significant logistical capability, heavy artillery, and an air force. Consequently, U.S. forces transport and re-supply Iraqi troops, position and fire high-caliber ordnance, and supply air support when needed. Since the U.S. military is unwilling to allow Iraqi officers to command American soldiers, they obviously can’t make decisions about firing artillery, launching and directing U.S. Air Force planes, or sending U.S. logistical personnel into war zones. All major Iraqi missions are, then, fated to be accompanied by U.S. advisors and support personnel for an unknown period to come.
The Iraqi military is not expected to get a wing of modern jet fighters (or have the trained pilots to fly them) until at least 2015. This means that, wherever U.S. air power might be stationed, including the massive air base at Balad north of Baghdad, it will, in effect, be the Iraqi air force for the foreseeable future.
Even the simplest policing functions of the military might prove problematic without the American presence. Typically, when an Iraqi battalion commander was asked by New York Times reporter Steven Lee Myers “whether he needed American backup for a criminal arrest, he replied simply, ‘Of course.’” John Snell, an Australian advisor to the U.S. military, was just as blunt, telling an Agence France Presse reporter that, if the United States withdrew its troops, the Iraqi military “would rapidly disintegrate.”
In a World Policy Journal article last winter, John A. Nagl, a military expert and former advisor to General David Petraeus, expressed a commonly held opinion that an independent Iraqi military is likely to be at least a decade away.
Whose Economy Is It?
Terry Barnich, a victim of the previously discussed Falluja roadside bombing,personified the economic embeddedness of the occupation. As the U.S. State Department’s Deputy Director of the Iraq Transition Assistance Office and the top adviser to Iraq’s Electricity Minister, when he died he was “returning from an inspection of a wastewater treatment plant being built in Falluja.”
His dual role as a high official in the policy-making process and the “top advisor” to one of Iraq’s major infrastructural ministries catches the continuing U.S. posture toward Iraq in the early months of the Obama era. Iraq remains, however reluctantly, a client government; significant aspects of ultimate decision-making power still reside with the occupation forces. Note, by the way, that Barnich was evidently not even traveling with Iraqi officials.
The intrusive presence of the Baghdad embassy extends to the all-important oil industry, which today provides 95% of the government’s funds. When it comes to energy, the occupation has long sought to shape policy and transfer operational responsibility from Iraqi state-owned enterprises of the Saddam Hussein years to major international oil companies. In one of its most successful efforts, in 2004, the U.S. delivered an exclusive $1.2 billion contract to reconstruct Iraq’s decrepit southern oil transport facilities (which handle 80% of its oil flow) to KBR, the notorious former subsidiary of Halliburton. Supervision of that famously mismanaged contract, still uncompleted five years later, wasallocated to the U.S. Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction.
The Iraqi government, in fact, still exerts remarkably little control over “Iraqi” oil revenues. The Development Fund for Iraq (whose revenues are deposited in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York) was established under U.N. auspices just after the invasion and receives 95% of the proceeds from Iraq’s oil sales. All government withdrawals are then overseen by the U.N.-sanctioned International Advisory and Monitoring Board, a U.S.-appointed panel of experts drawn mainly from the global oil and financial industries. The transfer of this oversight function to an Iraqi-appointed body, which was supposed to take place in this January, has been delayed by the Obama administration, which claims that the Iraqi government is not yet ready to take on such a responsibility.
If enacted, these PSAs would, without transferring permanent ownership, grant oil companies effective control over Iraq’s oil fields, giving them full discretion to exploit the country’s oil reserves from exploration to sales. U.S. pressure has ranged from ongoing “advice” delivered by American officials stationed in relevant Iraqi ministries to threats to confiscate some or all of the oil monies deposited in the Development Fund.
At the moment, the Iraqi government is attempting to take a more limited step: auctioning management contracts to international oil companies in an effort to increase production at eight existing oil and natural gas fields. While the winning companies would not gain the full discretion to explore, produce, and sell in some of the world’s potentially richest fields, they would at least gain some administrative control over upgrading equipment and extracting oil, possibly for as long as 20 years.
If the auction proves ultimately successful (not at all a certainty, since the first round produced only one as-yet-unsigned agreement), the Iraqi oil industry would become more deeply embedded in the occupation apparatus, no matter what officially happens to American forces in that country. Among other things, the American embassy would almost certainly be responsible for inspecting and guiding the work of the contract-winners, while the U.S. military and private contractors would become guarantors of their on-the-ground security. Fayed al-Nema, the CEO of the South Oil Company, spoke for most of the opponents of such deals when he told Reuters reporter Ahmed Rasheed that the contracts, if approved, would “put the Iraqi economy in chains and shackle its independence for the next 20 years.”
Who Owns Iraq?
In 2007, Alan Greenspan, former head of the Federal Reserve, toldWashington Postreporter Bob Woodward that “taking Saddam out was essential” — a point he made in his book The Age of Turbulence — because the United States could not afford to be “beholden to potentially unfriendly sources of oil and gas” in Iraq. It’s exactly that sort of thinking that’s still operating in U.S. policy circles: the 2008 National Defense Strategy, for example, calls for the use of American military power to maintain “access to and flow of energy resources vital to the world economy.”
After only five months in office, the Obama administration has already provided significant evidence that, like its predecessor, it remains committed to maintaining that “access to and flow of energy resources” in Iraq, even as it places its major military bet on winning the expanding war in Afghanistan and Pakistan. There can be no question that Washington is now engaged in an effort to significantly reduce its military footprint in Iraq, but without, if all goes well for Washington, reducing its influence.
What this looks like is an attempted twenty-first-century version of colonial domination, possibly on the cheap, as resources are transferred to the Eastern wing of the Greater Middle East. There is, of course, no more a guarantee that this new strategy — perhaps best thought of as colonialism lite or the Obama Doctrine — will succeed than there was for the many failed military-first offensives undertaken by the Bush administration. After all, in the unsettled, still violent atmosphere of Iraq, even the major oil companies have hesitated to rush in and the auctioning of oil contracts has begun to look uncertain, even as other “civilian” initiatives remain, at best, incomplete.
As the Obama administration comes face-to-face with the reality of trying fulfill General Odierno’s ambition of making Iraq into “a long-term partner with the United States in the Middle East” while fighting a major counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan, it may also encounter a familiar dilemma faced by nineteenth-century colonial powers: that without the application of overwhelming military force, the intended colony may drift away toward sovereign independence. If so, then the dreary prediction of Pulitzer Prize-winning military correspondent Thomas Ricks — that the United States is only “halfway through this war” — may prove all too accurate.
A professor of sociology at Stony Brook State University, Michael Schwartz is the author of War Without End: The Iraq War in Context (Haymarket Books), which explains how the militarized geopolitics of oil led the U.S. to dismantle the Iraqi state and economy while fueling a sectarian civil war. Schwartz’s work on Iraq has appeared in numerous academic and popular outlets. He is a regular at TomDispatch.com. (An audio interview with him on the situation in Iraq is available by clicking here.) His email address is m…@optonline.net.
[Michael Schwartz's Note on Further Reading: For daily regular and reliable information about the now hard-to-keep-track-of situation in Iraq, you should go to Juan Cole's indispensable Informed Comment, Antiwar.com, and Truthout. They all get you the news of the day and much more. For more focused and often in-depth information on specific topics, keep track of what is posted on Dahr Jamail's website, on Ben Lando's ever useful Iraq Oil Report, and read anything by Patrick Cockburn at the (London) Independent. Two of my favorite, though only occasional, commentators on things Iraqi are Badger at Missing Link and Reider Visser at Historiae. Both seem to have information and offer analyses that don't appear elsewhere.]
George Monbiot talks about the history of Great Britian and the frequent blood and wreckage they have left in their wake. Now the crash has begun, with the bottom a long, long way down.
For 300 years Britain has outsourced mayhem. Finally it’s coming home
Opium, famine and banks all played their part in this country’s plundering of the globe. Now it’s over, we find it hard to accept.
Why now? It’s not as if this is the first time Britain’s representatives have been caught out. The history of governments in all countries is the history of scandal, as those who rise to the top are generally the most ambitious, ruthless and unscrupulous people politics can produce. Pushing their own interests to the limit, they teeter perennially on the brink of disgrace, except when they fly clean over the edge. So why does the current ballyhoo threaten to destroy not only the government but also our antediluvian political system?
The past 15 years have produced the cash-for-questions racket, the Hinduja and Ecclestone affairs, the lies and fabrications that led to the invasion of Iraq, the forced abandonment of the BAE corruption probe, the cash-for-honours caper and the cash-for-amendments scandal. By comparison to the outright subversion of the functions of government in some of these cases, the is small beer. Any one of them should have prompted the sweeping political reforms we are now debating. But they didn’t.
The expenses scandal, by contrast, could kill the Labour party. It might also force politicians of all parties to address our unjust voting system, the unelected Lords, the excessive power of the executive, the legalised blackmail used by the whips, and a score of further anachronisms and injustices. Why is it different?
I believe that the current political crisis has little to do with the expenses scandal, still less with Gordon Brown’s leadership. It arises because our economic system can no longer extract wealth from other nations. For the past 300 years, the revolutions and reforms experienced by almost all other developed countries have been averted in Britain by foreign remittances.
The social unrest that might have transformed our politics was instead outsourced to our colonies and unwilling trading partners. The rebellions in Ireland, India, China, the Caribbean, Egypt, South Africa, Malaya, Kenya, Iran and other places we subjugated were the price of political peace in Britain. After decolonisation, our plunder of other nations was sustained by the banks. Now, for the first time in three centuries, they can no longer deliver, and we must at last confront our problems.
There will probably never be a full account of the robbery this country organised, but there are a few snapshots. In his book Capitalism and Colonial Production, Hamza Alavi estimates that the resource flow from India to Britain between 1793 and 1803 was in the order of £2m a year, the equivalent of many billions today. The economic drain from India, he notes, “has not only been a major factor in India’s impoverishment … it has also been a very significant factor in the industrial revolution in Britain”. As Ralph Davis observes in The Industrial Revolution and British Overseas Trade, from the 1760s onwards India’s wealth “bought the national debt back from the Dutch and others … leaving Britain nearly free from overseas indebtedness when it came to face the great French wars from 1793″.
In France by contrast, as Eric Hobsbawm notes in The Age of Revolution, “the financial troubles of the monarchy brought matters to a head”. In 1788 half of France’s national expenditure was used to service its debt: the “American War and its debt broke the back of the monarchy”.
Even as the French were overthrowing the ancien regime, Britain’s landed classes were able to strengthen their economic power, seizing common property from the country’s poor by means of enclosure. Partly as a result of remittances from India and the Caribbean, the economy was booming and the state had the funds to ride out political crises. Later, after smashing India’s own industrial capacity, Britain forced that country to become a major export market for our manufactured goods, sustaining industrial employment here (and avoiding social unrest) long after our products and processes became uncompetitive.
Colonial plunder permitted the British state to balance its resource deficits as well. For some 200 years a river of food flowed into this country from such places as Ireland, India and the Caribbean. In The Blood Never Dried, John Newsinger reveals that in 1748 Jamaica alone sent 17,400 tons of sugar to Britain; by 1815 this had risen to 73,800. It was all produced by stolen labour.
Just as grain was sucked out of Ireland at the height of its great famine, so Britain continued to drain India of food during its catastrophic hungers. In Late Victorian Holocausts, Mike Davis shows that between 1876 and 1877 wheat exports to the UK from India doubled as subsistence there collapsed, and several million died of starvation. In the North-Western provinces famine was wholly engineered by British policy, as good harvests were exported to offset poor English production in 1876 and 1877.
Britain, in other words, outsourced famine as well as social unrest. There was terrible poverty in this country in the second half of the 19th century, but not mass starvation. The bad harvest of 1788 helped precipitate the French revolution, but the British state avoided such hazards. Others died on our behalf.
In the late 19th century, Davis shows, Britain’s vast deficits with the United States, Germany and its white dominions were balanced by huge annual surpluses with India and (as a result of the opium trade) China. For a generation “the starving Indian and Chinese peasantries … braced the entire system of international settlements, allowing England’s continued financial supremacy to temporarily co-exist with its relative industrial decline”. Britain’s trade surpluses with India allowed the City to become the world’s financial capital.
Its role in British colonisation was not a passive one. The bankruptcy, and subsequent British takeover, of Egypt in 1882 was hastened by a loan from Rothschild’s bank whose execution, Newsinger records, amounted to “fraud on a massive scale”. Jardine Matheson, once the biggest narco-trafficking outfit in history (it dominated the Chinese opium trade), later formed a major investment bank, Jardine Fleming. It was taken over by JP Morgan Chase in 2000.
We lost our colonies, but the plunder has continued by other means. As Joseph Stiglitz shows in Globalisation and its Discontents, the capital liberalisation forced on Asian economies by the IMF permitted northern traders to loot hundreds of billions of dollars, precipitating the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98. Poorer nations have also been strong-armed into a series of amazingly one-sided treaties and commitments, such as trade-related investment measures, bilateral investment agreements and the EU’s economic partnership agreements. If you have ever wondered how a small, densely populated country which produces very little supports itself, I would urge you to study these asymmetric arrangements.
But now, as John Lanchester demonstrates in a fascinating essay in the London Review of Books, the City could be fatally wounded. The nation that relied on financial services may take generations to recover from their collapse. The great British adventure – three centuries spent pillaging the labour, wealth and resources of other countries – is over. We cannot accept this, and seek gleeful revenge on a government that can no longer insulate us from reality.
“Will the United States bomb itself?” ~Eduardo Galeano
With three months and change in office, its a fair time to take a look at the record of the 44th president of the United States. The leading deceptions of Barack Obama to date has been made capable by his understanding of the American psyche, and his misuse of the public’s desire for genuine change.
The best example of the psychological malfeasance of Obama is the Iraq war. In June of 2008, while campaigning, he stated that on day one of his presidency he would immediately begin the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, and ship them instead to the good war in Afghanistan. Somehow, it is more acceptable to capture civilians and torture them for bad intelligence that then leads to more arrests and more torture in Afghanistan, than to perform the same practices in Iraq. But the goal of beginning the removal of troops immediately was, after the election, immediately subverted by Barack Obama. An immediate withdrawl of troops became an 18-month drawdown, with now no end in sight.
If this is the case, what was the net effect of taking a position and then changing it? With this practice, the public gets the false impression that things are changing, that their opinion is valued and that their trust is sacred. In the current age, it is of central importance for most Americans to not feel offended. Perceived offense is taken as seriously as physical harm. With this mindset, all persons who lead guarded lives of safety feel just as at risk as those who are living from day to day, week to week, month to month, year to year, in an economy that keeps people permanently displaced, on the move from job to job. An economy that sees 22% of American children grow up in poverty. An economy that is seeing record foreclosures, massive unemployment, evaporating wages for the poor and coming epic inflation. In such an environment, ownership becomes rentership, and interpersonal trust becomes a matter of commerce.
The nation wanted universal, single-payer healthcare, and at first Barack Obama claimed he would provide it. But demanding a new plan was not a priority for him, the goal of universal coverage is being kicked further down the road to a place where no one actually believes it will be picked up. There is a word for all of this, deceit.
Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency as well took the applauded position of halting mountaintop coal-removal, that process that blasts entire tops of the oldest mountains of the Eastern Americas for a finite, polluting resource. Tennessee was covered in 400 acres of coal sludge up to 6 feet deep in December, but after Obama waited one month, the EPA stated that 42 of 48 sites, including two dozen mountaintop sites, were A-OK, and that business could proceed as planned, by business, for business, for profit.
In addition, Obama promised and immediately acted to close the torture facility known as Guantanamo Bay. There were no words spoken of whether Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan or other sites further afield known for torture as well would be closed, and it mattered little as the immediate order was allowed to air for a few weeks, then was quietly shelved. A public debate then ensues about whether the prisoners are allowed the rights of human beings, with no one seeming to notice that to date there are over two hundred people who have been held without due process, in massive isolation, for almost a decade now, in order to prove that the United States is a country of laws. To date, the only persons to be tried are Osama Bin Laden’s driver, and his cook. The gravest crime between the two is the forging of a passport. The matter of closing Guantanamo now proceeds toward the ever less likely for a public that is having its will publicly eroded.
To speak for a moment of the importance of location; in Afghanistan, in Palestine, in Iraq, to be a young man between the ages of 18 and 35 is to be a target. US reports of deaths of men between the ages of 18 to 35 proceed with the presumption that all men of this age group are presumed to be ‘terrorists’. For the United States, a country which has never had active on-going military bombardment, the use of robotic planes to eliminate the risk to the precious flesh of our soldiers while bombs are dropped on villagers and random mud huts in Pakistan and Afghanistan, surely indicates that our country has crossed a line into the realm of pure fantasy.
A young man, born into the country of Iraq, sees his neighborhood destroyed and his neighbors killed, tortured or forced to flee the country, has a choice. Leave, become a passive target for an unaccountable U.S. Military or Iraqi militia, or join the resistance. An entire population of people is considered, in the eyes of the American Media, guilty by age and location of birth and is pushed toward desparation. War does not even exist on television screens, apart from the sterile discussion of tactics. More time of televised discussion is focused on one sporting game than the active US military bombardment of three nations. We are at a sad point of dislocation from reality. The estimated 1 million people killed in Iraq are proportionally equal to the country of Iraq invading the U.S. and killing the entire population of the state of Michigan. The US has displaced a populace equivalent to the state of California.
All of this though isn’t altering the public’s ability to believe Barack Obama. The reason is a very straightforward trick of mnemonics. If the brain remembers something, anything, and if the brain then tries to remember that same thing later, the brain can literally not tell the difference between whether something occurred in reality, or if it is a memory of a memory. So when Barack Obama says the right thing, the moral thing, the thing the public believes in, he is able to give people the illusion of having made a difference, while deferring to their sloth and refusal to check-up on stories greater than 2 weeks old. All of this in order to have business continue unabated, unbridled, slightly reorganized, but funded, as the military is, at the same or greater levels, funding the same entities, with the same lack of oversight, for the same duration, forever.
In a world that is moving exponentially closer to economic, agricultural, environmental and inter-national collapse, one thing has been made very clear. The saving of the financial institutions, including Wall Street primarily, but secondarily the finance arms of GM and Chrysler, have shown that Obama is not interested in reviving the sections of the economy that produce a single thing. Bold change, bold leadership, would have seen Obama ban the sale of domestic automobiles for a year, two years, in order to have the plants retool for wind turbines and massively decrease the number of automobiles available while increasing the number of hybrids and electric autos on the road. Bold leadership would have followed through on what Obama said when he stated, “If I were designing a system from scratch, then I’d probably set up a single-payer (healthcare) system.” There will never be a better time to confront the insurance giants, the megalithic healthcare providers, and pharmaceutical corporations than right now. Bold leadership would have followed the advice of Major General Paul Eaton’s son, currently in Afghanistan, “I don’t need any more combat power. I need agriculture experts, I need water engineers, I need doctors, nurses, dentists .”
And so it is with Barack obama. He has made it clear that the production economy is not his priority. The non-producing economies, the banking system, and the destructive economies, the war machines, are the priority. These are the areas that are being supported by the administration. These are the areas for which priority speed has been granted. Torture will continue under a different name. The American Public will continue to pay its tax money to be spied on by its own government, to risk random arrest, to be fed to another non-productive system, the prison system. At what point will the American Population begin to realize that a few more plastic baubles from Wal-Mart, a few more cheap poisoned tangerines, are not worth the amount of destruction we are leaving our children, are not worth the wreckage we are visiting upon our fellow human beings, do not amount to more than a hollow, ransacked way of doing things that we shouldn’t be saving in the first place?
On the day the American Populace figures that out, there will be revolution in this country, and it will be needed.