Category Archives: United States

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Mr. Trump

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By coincidence, the UN and the USA came to ‘elect’ their respective leaders, Antonio Guterres and Donald Trump, at the same time. In both cases, there was not much of an election if the term is meant to designate the selection of a political person through the means of fair competition and general elections in which the will of all the people is properly translated into votes. In the USA, many voters, especially African Americans and from minorities, were disenfranchised on more than hollow grounds before the elections with the effect of low voter turnout in poor areas, and the popular vote was, to say the least, in blatant contradiction to the electoral college vote. The problem with the popular vs. electoral college vote is not so much that there are two electoral mechanisms, for this is, actually, quite common in many democracies; the problem is that these two institutions are not linked to each other or even coordinated in any way. The electoral college vote does not reflect the demographics of present-day USA and its demographic bias reduces particularly the vote of African Americans, and there is no obligation whatsoever for Great Electors to take the popular vote into account. Additionally, the election took place in a highly loaded atmosphere with incessant threats of violence from the Trump side, and a continuous flow of fake news, propaganda and extremely aggressive trolling.  The US elections did not only reflect the deep divisions running through the country but also the fragility of institutions that rely heavily on unwritten norms of civility, respect and dialogue.

Compared to the spectacle of the US elections, Antonio Guterres’ appointment as Secretary-General of the United Nations appeared as a rather civilized yet highly staged, hypocritical and fundamentally undemocratic process. But then, the UN does not pretend to be the oldest modern democracy. It actually not even pretends to be democratic, at least not in the modern sense of the word. The Secretary-General is chosen by a mixture of backroom bargaining and ballot by the Security Council members. It effectively represents the smallest common denominator of the preferences of the five permanent members of the Council because preferences, choices and rankings of all selectors will never match up, and it is mathematically impossible that any candidate would ever get a clear majority (especially not if there are more candidates than selectors; this is called the Condorcet voting paradox and is also behind the IOC’s absurd choices of Olympic cities).

The Secretary-General is also not the leader of a world government despite conspiracy theories that claim the contrary. The Secretary General of the United Nations is the ‘chief administrative officer’ of the UN yet with large leeway for advocacy and the potential of an important diplomatic role in the world. Whether the Secretary-General really takes up this later role, for instance by independently bringing matters of world peace onto the agenda of the Security Council, depends entirely on his stature. Secretary-Generals like Dag Hammarskjöld, Xavier Perez de Cuellar, Boutros Boutros-Ghali or Kofi Annan interpreted their role largely and widely and engaged in numerous initiatives to bolster the role of the UN as peacemaker in the world; others like U Thant, Kurt Waldheim or Ban Ki-Moon made the UN almost entirely disappear from the world political scene.

It remains to be seen in whose footsteps Guterres will step, Moon’s or Annan’s.

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The Iraq War Ten Years After – The national security archive papers

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“The U.S. invasion of Iraq turned out to be a textbook case of flawed assumptions, wrong-headed intelligence, propaganda manipulation, and administrative ad hockery, according to the National Security Archive’s briefing book of declassified documents posted today to mark the 10th anniversary of the war”, introduces the national security archive its webpage where they publish a number of documents related to the US and UK decision to invade Iraq. The documents are hugely interesting and should not be missed in any teaching on the Iraq war.

These are just a few observations of mine:

All documents confirm what every keen observer knew from the start, namely that Bush administration grossly exagerated the WMD risks if not using outrightly false information, that the US administration did not think one little second about the aftermath of the invasion, that the UK followed to lick boots.

But they also show that a major mind frame of the time was the conception that the invasion would run smoohtly like a repetition of WWII invasion of Germany: run them over, bomb the baddies out, de-baddy the society (De-Ba’athification they call it), dispossess the big industrial complexes and run them by corporate boards (like IG Farben or Volkswagen), introduce a decentralized political system, and you’ll get a stable, democratic society. As if there had been no Cold War, no decolonization, no fall of the Berlin wall, no globalization talk, no internet, no change of the world and if baddies were simply baddies. World politics in Hollywood standards.

Colin Powell’s speech to the UN appears almost like a comic strip rather than a serious discussion of potential war. Especially the slide “Iraq is Harboring Terrorists, Including Al Qaida”. One wonders if there are, today, any other terrorists than Al Qaida … Joke aside, it was, after 9/11 entirely sufficient for a Secretary of State to put up a slide like that with an extremely vague and superficial organigram and to yell “fire”….well, looking at France’s talk of “terrorists” in Mali it is still sufficient today…if you want to play war, just yell “terrorists!”, how simple.

There is also an uneasy question of academic complicity that creeps up. All these false and erroneous CIA reports for instance…they were written by so-called experts: area experts, political analysts, engineers, anthropolgists, lawyers etc. People who had been recruited because they had excellent degrees, probably because they came from fancy universities, and because they had already shown that they were good at writing such kind of stuff. Because they had been well trained in our universities… which seemingly entirely failed to produce the critical thinkers and to diffuse the critical knowledge we are supposed to be producing.

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And no, the US are not liberating Afghan women…

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American officials often justified the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan by an argument about liberating Afghan women. In the dust and haze of the Bush administration’s lies this seemed just one more handy pretext. It is therefore somewhat surprising to see just how much the fate of Afghan women continues tos preoccupy the US adminstration and legislature, with hearings being held on a regular basis referring explicitly to Afghan women. Despite its certainlygood intentions, this fixation on liberating Afghan women has a couple of exasperating aspects to it, foremost of which is the entirely distorted perspective on the US role in helping trample any advancement for women in countries with reactionary regimes.

In the past, the US tried extremely hard and often successfully to squelch any communist or socialist regime in Third World nations, including Afghanistan. Yet communist or socialist regimes typically  did a great deal to abolish traditional legislation that kept women out of work and out of the “community”. For these regimes, the “women’s question” was closely associated with larger issuess of social justice, class equality and the progress of the working class (or whatever other formerly oppressed group was put forward). There are good reasons to critically discuss how effective these policies were in promoting women’s freedoms, as rather often radical feminism was denounced as hostile to the working class and feminists ended up in dissidence. Some argue,  probably not entirely incorrectly, that the main aim of communist women’s politics seems to have been to move women from the home to the factory without  really conceding positions of male power and influence.

However, the association of women’s politics with larger issues of social and political justice as well as economic  redistribution had two healthy side-effects:First, the “women’s question” was lifted out of the morass of biological or cultural arguments about women’s “nature” and set into a political and socio-eocnomic context. Second, women’s status was changed from within the political system and with economic and social rewards for the families that followed the party line. By targeting communist or socialist regimes in the name of a supposedly better and more progressive ideal – liberalism – the US destroyed this association and it did so in two ways.

First, the US supported the most reactionary groups in society to fight against the communist or socialist government of Afghanistan  up to the point of literally lifting them on to the throne. History will judge whether the losses for women’s freedoms  provoked by these US-sponsored counter-revolutions were more than just “collateral damage”. It is quite obvious today that the losses for campesinos in general were intentional goals of the strong Latin American lobbies in the US, and hence, not  so-called collateral damage rom the US contra strategy but rather an intended consequence.

However, supporting reactionary groups was not the only way that US hysteria with communist regimes in the Third World destroyed advances of and prospects for women’s freedoms in these countries. By crushing these regimes and imposing some sort of reactionary (neo?)liberalism in these countries, the US largely contributed to dissociating women’s question” from larger questionsof social and econmic justice. The “women’s question” became a stand-alone issue, and, in the best liberal tradition, one of rights rather than one of status, recognition and equality. As a question of rights, the “women’s question” all of the sudden was a human rights issue–and just as other human rights issues, it became a yardstick for civilizational and cultural progress, and so  drowned again in the swamp of culture and nature.

What is more, particularly in those countries where the US intervened militarily in the post-Cold War era, the “women’s question” was now part of the “clash of civilizations” (which remains an ideology only Al Qaeda and the Tea Party believes in) and a marker of imperialism. As the reactionary forces the US had fed through during the Cold War turned upon their former masters, they obviously turned upon the “women’s question”too, partly because, yes, they were reactionary, but partly also because women’s emancipation had become part of the cultural package of US imperialism. Therefore, when the House and Senate now babble over women’s freedoms in Afghanistan, they are just reinforcing the dwindling spin against women.

But this is yet not the nauseating aspect of this. One can still concede that those NGOs and legislators advocating more women’s rights and protection in Afghanistan do so in full awareness of this history,yet still assumethat it is better to bang the drums for Afghan women now. What is exasperating in this is much more basic: the complacency and smugness that makes them believe they know best what Afghan women now need, and whatever it is they need, that it can only be achieved if the US promotes it…it is exactly the same complacency and smugness that made Cold War warriors chase communists in the Third World back then.

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The US’ xenophobic drones or why the Republicans don’t want to confirm Hagel

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So, the Republican senators do not want to confirm Hagel as Secretary of Defense on the grounds that his answers to questions about the legal grounds for the domestic use of drowns were considered insufficient? Should the Republicans all of the sudden have discovered their hidden consciousness for human and civil rights? Far from it. On the contrary, this debate just clearly reveals how deeply xenophobic the war on terror is.

Humanitarian interventions, the war on terrorism and interventions under the responsibiltiy to protect doctrine are all considered to be decided on the universal grounds of human rights and humanity. Consequently, the means of violence deployed are supposedley taking into consideration the universal human rights of menkind or so it is often argued. If drones are used in this struggle and “islamists” or other “terrorists” are killed then this has, up to now, caused little outrage; on the contrary many even argue that drones are a means of killing that is particularly respectful of human rights as it allows precise targeting of the person to be killed.

But now that the US Department of Justice is thinking of using drones for targeted killings of US citizens, or to be more precise of US cititzens under suspicion of being “terrorists”, and to do so on US territory, there is nothing universal anymore about terrorist threats and the way to deal with them. Now there is outrage in the US. Now the Senate has questions to ask about the legality of these killings. Now congressmen and women have a word to say. Now special commissions should be created. Killing people is one thing, killing Americans is quite another, it seems. The war on terror is now openly revealed to be a war against the US’ other as, by definition, a US citizen seemingly cannot be a terrorist. And even if he (or she) ever was, then this would have to be proven in a lawful procedure first in the great ol’ country of the rule of law…Yet, as the celebration of torture in recent Hollywood films shows, the least the war on terror needs is such fancy decorum as rightfulness, legality or rights so it’s absolutely fine to put away with this stuff for those outside the US. It’s like turning the Declaration of Independence on its head: if the Declaration can be read as a universal invitation to everyone who is pursuing happiness to become a US citizen, then the war on terror has redefined this as a doctrine where anyone who is not a US citizen is not pursuing happiness and, potentially, hostile to the American dream…in short: a terrorist. So, in the Republican’s view there is the US and its citizens, and there is the world out there and its terrorists.

It’s 2013 by the way, year 16 after Netscape.

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Syria — the return of proxy wars.

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Kofi Annan is giving up. Assad’s deafness towards any mediation and the impossibility of a cease-fire or even complete cessation of violence have worn this skilled, experienced and certainly sincere mediator out. Given the daily reports on the increasing violence, the advances of the “rebels” (or however they need to be called), it does, however, make one wonder where Assad takes his intransigeance from if not from his deep conviction that he will be able to survive the violence and stay in power. The support of Russia and China are, materially and ideologically, probably the most important pillars of this conviction.While China is hiding discretly behind the large back of Russia, the latter is not hiding the least its full support of Assad’s regime and their hostility towards any UN action in Syria. The situation resembles the unfortunate history of those endless proxy wars that the US and USSR have had waged in the past in the names of “freedom” or “socialism” respectively. Both use allies to arm their respective sides in the violent clashes, both oppose diplomatically any proposal that might resolve the confrontation in one or the other sense, and Russia seems to please themselves in the role of Mr Niet in the United Nations Security Council.

And just as at the height of the Cold War the issues at stake have only very little if not nothing to do with the reasons for rebellion and violence that have motivated the rebellion in the first place. There are geostrategic motives for Russia and China to keep, or rather in the case of China to get a foothold in the Middle East, just as the motivation for the US to partake the Libya intervention was the geostrategic need to keep a foothold in the Maghreb. But there are also “ideological” reasons to support Assad if the mixture of one-man/one-party authoritarianism and rapaciaous, capitalist enrichment of a select few can be called an ideology. And finally, just as the nuclear deterrence of the Cold War offered an almost perfect security cover for the geostrategic pushing-and-shoving on the ground, the Israel-Iran conflict with the menace of a nuclear escalation offers a convenient cover for showing off geostrategic competition in Syria.

And just like in the proxy wars of the past this greater chess game is played without the least consideration of the population and will only serve to radicalise the worst elements of the violent players. The war in Angola lasted 30 years, the war in Afghanistan is yet not over. A Twitter went round that Syrians were returning in the hope the battle over Damas would be over soon; from former proxy wars they’d better seek refuge far away and for a long, long time as this might be only the very beginning of decades of violence.

 

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