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1,000 US dead in Afghanistan; Taliban attack Kandahar base, Parliament on Strike

May 23, 2010

The US and its NATO allies continue to prepare the upcoming Kandahar offensive scheduled for later this summer.  In the meantime it Taliban/resistance attacks on the US/Nato have been on the rise both in frequency and audacity.   The recent attacks have targeted three major centers of US/NATO power in Afghanistan: Bagram Base, the US’s largest in the country, and assault on a convoy in the capital Kabul, and most recently at the major base in the south of the country in Kandahar province, the site of the upcoming offensive.

The attacks have pushed the US death toll past 1,000.  Meanwhile Obama gave a speech to the graduating class of West Point, praising the US war efforts and using Iraq as a model for success in Afghanistan.  He must have hoped that people have stopped paying attention to what is happening in Iraq.  The country has no government over two months after the March 7th elections and is highly unstable.  The so-called democracy that has been set up in the country is on a very slim footing indeed and with the allegations of fraud from all sides in the last election its roots in the country seem tenuous at best.

In Afghanistan the lower house of the parliament has actually just gone on strike in protest against the Karzai government for failing to meet a deadline to present the nominations for the 11 vacant cabinet posts still to be filled.  There is a total lack of trust between the parliament, and the country at large, and the government under Karzai.  This is, among other reasons, because he is widely believed to have stolen the last election in which he was the only candidate to vote for in the deciding second round.

As Juan Cole notes:

That any resolution of the crisis in Afghanistan will ultimately have to be political in character is widely recognized. But how to get a political settlement when the executive and the legislature are themselves at daggers drawn is not clear.

Obama and Clinton’s choice: humility or humiliation?

May 22, 2010

The following was written recently by Paul Woodward on his War in Context blog:

This week the Obama administration made what may come to be seen as a blunder of historic proportions. At a moment when tactical agility was a must, it stayed on course because it lacked the diplomatic finesse to show or perhaps even recognize the difference between being resolute and being inflexible.

The sanctions juggernaut plowed into the Iran diplomatic initiative masterminded by Brazil and Turkey and on the basis that these are “lesser” powers, Washington imagined its own agenda must be unstoppable. Or at least the administration felt compelled to bow in obedience to a fear that shackles every Democratic leader: the fear that flexibility will be seen as a sign of weakness.

Common sense and prudence made it clear that the smart way of responding to the new opening from Iran would have been with a cautious opening in return. Instead, Iran, Turkey and Brazil got the door slammed in their face. The calculation in Washington, no doubt, was that Iran, in its usual tempestuous style would swiftly reject the swap deal in the face of the continued threat of sanctions, and the diplomatic upstarts, Lula and Erdogan, would defer to the old world order.

Instead, it seems that Iran remains intent on seizing the initiative, will stick to the deal it signed and thereby demonstrate to the world that in the long-running nuclear dispute it is the United States that is now the intransigent party.

Visit War in Context to view the relevant links that Woodward, as always, provides.

The other debt crisis: Climate debt

May 21, 2010

Watch this excellent program about climate change and the effects it is having on Bolivia. These effects, aside from raising all kinds of economic and environmental difficulties for the Bolivian people, has also propelled Bolivia to the forefront of the world stage on advocating for radical and global solutions to climate change. The center of this struggle is the concept of climate debt, the notion that the wealthy industrialized countries of the global north have a responsibility to pay for most of the necessary changes that need to be made. There is only a finite amount of atmosphere that everyone has to share and the countries of the global north have polluted it many times over in proportion to the rest of the world in their historical development. Bolivia and other developing nations are now demanding that the north pay its fair share for its historical pollution of the common atmosphere and help the countries of the south to be able to develop.

The global north, especially the US, is refusing to recognize their historical responsibility of climate debt and are thus far refusing to pay a share that is in line with that responsibility. Contrast that to the current ecological disaster unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico where the US government is demanding that BP take complete responsibility for the oil spill and use its own funds to clean it up. I know the two situations are not analogous, but their certainly is a sense or irony that must be lost on those in Washington.

Oil Spill 19 times larger than BP, US government claim?

May 21, 2010

As the oil continues to pump into the Gulf of Mexico the amount of oil being released is subject to dispute.  The official estimates of BP and the US government of 5,000 barrels a day seem to be seriously underestimated size of the spill.  The best and latest estimates, based on video footage released by BP of oil spewing forth from the ruptured pipe at the bottom of the ocean floor, have placed the level closer to 90,000 barrel/day.  As pointed out on the Destructionist blog, this represents a potentially catastrophic ecological and economic disaster.  Below is a video from the Real New Network about the possible (and increasingly likely) misrepresentation of the size of the spill by BP.

Brasil criticizes US over Iran

May 21, 2010

Chomsky on being denied entry into Israel

May 20, 2010

Noam Chomsky was recently detained at the border of Jordan and the West Bank, which Israel controls all access to, and denied entry.  He was on his way to give a lecture at Bir Zeit University.  The reasons given by Chomsky that he was detained were two-fold; first that Israel doesn’t like what he writes, which Chomsky noted probably put them in the same category as every other government in the world, and secondly that he was scheduled to speak at a university in the West Bank but not one in Israel.

In an interview with Haaretz, Chomsky likened the ban to a Stalinist state:

“I find it hard to think of a similar case, in which entry to a person is denied because he is not lecturing in Tel Aviv. Perhaps only in Stalinist regimes,” Chomsky told Haaretz.[…]

Chomsky told Haaretz that it was clear that his arrival had been known to the authorities, because the minute he entered the passport control room the official told him that he was honored to see him and that he had read his works.

The professor concluded that the officer was a student, and said he looked embarrassed at the task at hand, especially when he began reading from text the questions that had been dictated to him, and which were also told to him later by telephone.

Chomsky told Haaretz about the questions.

“The official asked me why I was lecturing only at Bir Zeit and not an Israeli university,” Chomsky recalled. “I told him that I have lectured a great deal in Israel. The official read the following statement: ‘Israel does not like what you say.'”

Chomsky replied: “Find one government in the world which does.”

“The young man asked me whether I had ever been denied entry into other countries. I told him that once, to Czechoslovakia, after the Soviet invasion in 1968,” he said, adding that he had gone to visit ousted Czechoslovak leader Alexander Dubcek, whose reforms the Soviets crushed.

In response to the official’s question, Chomsky said that the subjects of his lectures were “America and the world,” and “America at home.”

The official asked him whether he would speak on Israel and Chomsky said that because he would talk of U.S. policy he would also comment on Israel and its policies.

He was then told by the official: “You have spoken with [Hassan] Nasrallah.”

“True,” Chomsky told him. “When I was in Lebanon [prior to the war in 2006] I spoke with people from the entire political spectrum there, as in Israel I also spoke with people on the right.”

“At the time I read reports of my visit in the Israeli press, and the articles in the Israeli press had no connection with reality,” Chomsky told the border official.

The official asked Chomsky why he did not have an Israeli passport.

“I replied I am an American citizen,” Chomsky said.

Chomsky said that he asked the man at border control for an official written explanation for the reason his entry was denied and that “it would help the Interior Ministry because this way my version will not be the only one given to the media.”

The official called the ministry and then told Chomsky that he would be able to find the official statement at the U.S. Embassy.

The last time Chomsky visited Israel and the West Bank was in 1997, when he lectured on both sides of the Green Line. He had also planned a visit to the Gaza strip, but because the Palestinian Authority insisted that he be escorted by Palestinian guards, he canceled that part of the visit.

To Haaretz, Chomsky said Sunday that preventing him entry is tantamount to boycotting Bir Zeit University. Chomsky is known to oppose a general boycott on Israel. “I was against a boycott of apartheid South Africa as well. If we are going to boycott, why not the United States, whose record is even worse? I’m in favor of boycotting American companies which collaborate with the occupation,” he said. “But if we are to boycott Tel Aviv University, why not MIT?”

Chomsky told Haaretz that he supports a two-state solution, but not the solution proposed by Jerusalem, “pieces of land that will be called a state.”

He said that Israel’s behavior today reminds him of that of South Africa in the 1960s, when it realized that it was already considered a pariah, but thought that it would resolve the problem with better public relations.

In other news related to Israel, musician Elvis Costello recently announced, that he will be canceling two upcoming concerts in Israel due to “grave and complex” sensitivities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Colombian Presidential Election Update

May 20, 2010

Only a month ago it seemed like a given that the upcoming Colombian presidential election would go to Juan Manuel Santos, the right-wing former defense minister under current right-wing president Alvaro Uribe.  But the past month has seen Santos suffer a number of setbacks, including a wire-taping scandal that has damaged his hopes of an uncontested election.  New polls actually show Santos losing in the second and deciding round of elections to the left leaning Green Party candidate Antanas Mockus.  This would be a monumental upset for the right in Colombia, which had seemed to secure its grasp on power under the eight year rule of Uribe.  Uribe’s time in office has been characterized by solidifying ever closer military ties with the US, the increasing militarization of Colombian society, the growing division between the reactionary regimes in Latin America (Colombia, Peru, Mexico) the rest of the region which is moving towards integration.  A serious challenge to Santos and the right in Colombia has the potential to change the balance of forces in the region, although it is unclear how much a Green victory would actually change the substantial military and free trade agreements Colombia has signed with the US under Uribe.  A continuation of the current ties with the US is the most likely outcome.  A change in regional relations are a possibility though.  One would assume that the high tension between Colombia and its neighbors, especially Venezuela and Ecuador (which Colombia launched an offensive military raid into in 2008 under the direction of then defense minister Santos), would subside.  This would certainly be a welcomed outcome for all concerned parties.  Whether or not the prospect of ending the four decade plus civil war in Colombia remains to be seen.