Thursday, May 24, 2007

Genocide or mass murder?

Genocide or mass murder?

the full version of the Guardian Comment is Free post on genocide and its abuses

A seminar recently discussed whether Serbia was guilty of 'genocide' - useful semantic debate or merely quest for an acceptable euphemism?
Ian Williams

May 23, 2007 5:00 PM

On Tuesday, there was a seminar in New York on the international court of justice verdict in the case that Bosnia brought against Serbia for genocide. The ICJ's longest ever case, this was the first time that the often-cited but never implemented 1948 genocide convention was brought against a state.

Participants tried to make sense of the verdict which, confusingly, found Serbia under Milosevic guilty of aiding and abetting an act of genocide, but not guilty of the act itself, even though the court found that the military and police of the Republika Srpska, the Serb entity that Dayton created in Bosnia, had indeed committed genocide.

"Genocide" is a big issue, perhaps too big. In Cambodia this week, survivors demonstrated at the killing fields to speed up the long delayed trials of the Khmer Rouge leaders. Darfur's attritional mass murder continues amid arguments about whether it qualifies as genocide. Supporters of Kosovan independence invoke alleged Serb genocide against Albanians to overrule Serbia's residual claims of sovereignty. Supporters of Israel call on Hitler's genocide as support for their claims to be a special case in international law.

Apart from the emotional significance of the concept, Bosnia had good technical reasons for using the genocide convention: it creates legal obligations on its signatories since it says that states have a duty to intervene and prevent it and gave Sarajevo a legal lever to take the case to the ICJ. It was to avoid those duties that the Clinton administration deliberately avoided using the G-word over Rwanda.

In the postwar period, the presence of the Soviet Union in the United Nations clearly inhibited any definition in the convention that would, for example, cover mass murder of Kulaks for political or social engineering purposes rather than ethnic reasons and the evil ingenuity of modern murderous politicians has outpaced the legal inventiveness of lawyers and diplomats. Death comes in 10,000 ways and the word "genocide" has become like "terrorism", a way to evade the awful reality of savagery, torture, murder and rape.

When the UN experts returned from Darfur and said that what was happening there was mass murder and crimes against humanity, but no genocide, across the US in particular it was treated as another excuse to bash the UN. The only consolation for the thousands of Arabic-speaking Muslim Africans being killed by Arabic-speaking Muslim Africans is that if their deaths were genocide it created legal responsibility on the rest of the world to do something about. Seeing how the global community acquitted itself in Rwanda and Bosnia, that is small consolation indeed.

Like squabbles over the definitions of terrorism or freedom fighter, arguments about what constitutes genocide increasingly obscure the real issue, which is murder. The peculiar forms of Balkan revisionism and argument over what is or isn't genocide obscure the reality of the victims who rotted in the festering mass graves that continue to be uncovered.

Since the UN general assembly in 2005 redefined the UN charter with the "Responsibility to Protect", there is less need or excuse for invoking the genocide convention. Crimes against humanity inside a state now constitute a threat to peace and security that the security council can act against.

One might argue that, as in US law, a crime motivated by racial hatred deserves extra punishment, but the problem in international law has not been the degree of punishment for crimes against humanity: it has been the absence of any reckoning whatsoever. Mass murder is wrong, and it is time to stop the semantic quibbles and put a brake on what Mary Robinson called the "Cycle of Impunity".

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Genocide or Mass Murder?

My latest Comment is Free in the Guardian just up is on the increasing distractions of genocide from the core principle. Mass Murder Wrong, whatever you call it!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Afterlife of An Atheist

The Latest Edition of Logos contains my review of John Rodden's book on Orwell Scenes from an Afterlife

Afterlife of an Atheist

Ian Williams

Shakespeare’s contemporary John Webster wrote that death hath ten thousand several ways for men to make their exits. But he was silent about the number of ways they re-enter. John Rodden has filled the gap with Scenes from an Afterlife, his account of the near ten thousand several ways that Orwell has been revived to make a re-entrance. Despite his not being a member of any dogmatic sect, religious or secular, George Orwell has been perilously exposed to numerous and varied posthumous canonizations, or indeed equally to anathematizations.

Apart from the ancient, and mostly anonymous, writers of the Bible, Orwell is probably unique in being claimed by such wildly disparate ideologues. At least in the Bible, “Thou shalt not kill,” can be counterbalanced with a wide selection of comprehensively vindictive injunctions to smiting, although most Christians have historically tended to overlook the final word on turning the other cheek.

Orwell, whose final word was that he was a democratic socialist and supporter of the Labor Party, at least had the merit of relative consistency in his outlook, even if he changed its application in the light of changing events. If he were to have an afterlife, he would surely have been wryly amused at some of the posthumous claims made upon his works and his person. In other times, one suspects that his body would have been dismembered for relics, although it was equally likely that some parts would have been ceremonially burnt at the stake.

His actual resting place in an Anglican churchyard was an aesthetic choice rather than a spiritual one, and appropriate in as much as the Church of England, like the Labor Party that Orwell supported in his latter years, was the original broad church, imposing no particular tests for membership

Overall, John Rodden has a fact-based rather than faith-based approach to Orwell’s legacy in Scenes from an Afterlife, preferring to let him speak for himself rather than have canonizers and devil’s advocates, secular and spiritual, have their way with him.

Rodden’s comprehensive examination of these has added interest in that, as well as the more usual political claims to and for the writer’s heritage, he also deals with the religious claims to Orwell’s soul, even as he admits that his subject showed no signs of believing he had one.

The support that religious writers have had for Orwell is at first glance surprising, since it should be even more difficult to for them get beyond his inveterate opposition to the “Stinking RC” than it is to make him a closet conservative or posthumous Trotskyist as others have done regardless of his own forcefully expressed philosophy.

Orwell was not alone in his anti-Catholic bias. Britain had a strong tradition of it, based very much on the Church’s anti-socialism, manifested at election times with calls from the pulpit to vote against the Labor Party. Indeed, it is part of an old radical and popular tradition in Britain, and indeed in old New England, which saw “Popery” as an enemy of democracy and the liberties of citizens. In addition to this cultural background of antipathy, the Roman Catholic Church was totally against the Republicans and supported Franco in Britain and elsewhere, which was no more calculated to endear it to Orwell than Soviet behavior had been.

Usually quite objective and dispassionate, John Rodden shows how even he can be influenced by his own background of Liberal Catholicism. He complains of Orwell “how schematized and blinkered by politics his religious thought could be,” and says that some observers have “fairly noted” that Orwell had a “blind spot,” when it came to religion.
However he may have slipped a little here. From the viewpoint of the irreligious, what Orwell had was not a blind spot, but clarity of vision. In fact, to an agnostic or atheist, the question is rather how confused other people’s politics often are by their religious affiliation!

At least Rodden does not ascribe a spurious religiosity to his subject as others have done. He cites Auden, without lending credence to him when, apart from audaciously calling Orwell “a true Christian” obligingly revealed himself in 1970 to be agnostic about what Orwell would actually say about trade unions, birth control, nationalization and student demonstrations: “What he would have said I have no idea. I am only certain he would be worth listening to.”

There is a history to such urbanity of course. Auden had forgiven Orwell his attacks on him during his communist period, although many others not attacked by Orwell never forgave him for being a premature pre-Twentieth Congress exposer of the Soviet regime.

There is no need to ascribe the faintest support for the Athanasian Creed and transubstantiation in Orwell’s sympathy for the likes of G K Chesterton. Each had, from different premises, come to similar conclusions about the desirability of common decency as against the ideologues. When the far left talk about Orwell and decency, they usually intone both words with a scornful sneer since they see the concept as inherently unscientific and unsocialist.

Orwell was indeed Chestertonian in his prejudices and in his faith in the common man against the ideologues – even down to his occasionally unreal pastoral vision of an ideal society. There is as much of a socialist dimension to Chesterton and Waugh as there is a spiritual dimension to Orwell – alone suspects, not a lot in either case

Equally, the accidental concatenation of Orwell’s opposition to the “birth control” people and that of the Church that Rodden mentions were derived from entirely different premises. Orwell’s opposition to the birth control people seems more ad homines than it was to the concept itself. In the context of the thirties, it is worth remembering that many prominent birth control advocates were part of a social-engineering ideology of the type that Orwell despised. Birth control pioneers were often tied into the eugenics movement, explicitly racist and certainly class-biased, seeing the poor as inferior breeding stock to be neutered for their own good and that of society. His opposition had nothing to do with Pauline antipathy to sex itself, which, on the contrary, he seems to have warmly appreciated as a pastime in and out of matrimony.

Similarly, it is no surprise that Jews in Britain and the US, who stood for the same human decencies as Orwell, should have resonated in sympathy with him. Most of those involved would have denied any theological basis for their social and political opinions, even if they may have admitted a sociological inspiration from the position of the community they grew up in. In those days, the majority of Jews supported similar liberal and leftist causes as Orwell, so their good opinion was not a product of his ethnic attitudes. They did not ask whether he was good for the Jews, but whether he espoused the same wide, universalist causes as they did.

We should also beware of seeing positions sixty years ago through the prism of the present. The conflation of Jewish identity with the existence of Israel is a relatively recent phenomenon among Jews and it is even more recently that it has been foisted on the larger society.

Orwell did not let his friendship with Jews and his indignation with anti-Semitism and its effects blind him with sentiment when it came to Palestine. In those far off days, Zionism was a minority tendency even among Jews, and it was perfectly possible to disagree with it without being accused of anti-Semitism.

Indeed, he anticipated some of the modern Left by seeing Zionism as a European colonial venture imposed upon the Arabs rather than as a “Jewish Liberation” movement. On this issue he managed to disagree with many of his Jewish comrades on the Left, and the many in the Labor Party influenced by them, and yet to remain friendly with them all.

Indeed, Fyveld, as Rodden points out, after disagreeing in a comradely way with Orwell over Zionism later credited him with foresight for his prediction of how militarized such a settler state would become. Such latitude, on both parts, is a refreshing contrast with the Leninist left which would have purged anyone who differed on any such significant point of doctrine.

As Orwell would have been the first to recognize, people can arrive at similar positions from different starting points. He certainly distinguished himself from the democratic-centralist school of literary critique by accepting that even reactionaries could produce great art.

People of decency, of profound humanitarian impulses, may be fortified in their work by religious feeling, but they rarely derive those impulses exclusively from their religious beliefs. We usually feel that they would be good whether they were Christians, Jews, Muslims or Atheists. The parable of the Good Samaritan holds and we mistrust those Pharisees who have to look up clauses in the holy rulebooks before deciding whether to do good or not.

“Why this is hell, nor am I out of it”

If Orwell had a serious afterlife, his reaction to the outright commercial exploitation that Rodden covers in his section on Orwellmania, would surely echo Mephistopheles’ answer to Faust’s question.

Rodden's examples show how the advertising industry, whose copywriters surely represent one of the most shamelessly Ingsoc professions, lying for money, can devalue some of the key concepts of Orwell’s work. Rodden cites the Apple computers’ Super Bowl advert aimed at the implied Big Brother, IBM. For such referential adverts to work demands a general pervasiveness of the concepts throughout the population which in its own perverse Mammonistic way is a tribute to Orwell.

However, Scenes from an Afterlife was written before one of the more bizarre recent manifestations of Orwellmania that surely deserves the Rodden treatment in any future edition. The writing machines that Orwell had producing formulaic novels for the Proles could not match the TV reality show “Big Brother.” In the original Dutch concept, Big Brother referred to the round-the-clock surveillance of the competitors.

Now, I am prepared to bet that most viewers of the cloned shows around the world are completely unaware of any Orwellian reference, and if anything see the title as vague reference to the prowess of the winning survivor of the shows.

The snowball effect of repeated dumbed-down references is operating like a sort of linguistic Gresham’s law, with the bad and inappropriate usage driving out the sound original Orwellian coinage.

Across the world, television has now reduced one of the most chilling metaphors of the Twentieth Century, the archetypal image of absolute pervasive totalitarian power, to the voyeuristic fascination of greedy people humiliating each other in front of millions of viewers in the expectation of large rewards. One can only hope that other indispensably Orwellian concepts, such as thought-crime, doublethink and newspeak are not similarly killed with trivialization as metaphors.

Of course, this is only the culmination of a well-established process; Rodden cites such bizarre sources as Shooting Industry magazine predicting that the handgun business should recover at least as fast as the general economy unless “Big Brother” disarmed the citizenry.

Where the metaphors are still fresh and scarring is of course in the field of politics. As long as there are relics of totalitarian regimes such as Central Asia and North Korea, it would seem from Rodden’s account that there will be readers who see a direct personal account in Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm.

Some of the most interesting insights that Rodden has derive from his experience in the last days of the German Democratic Republic, where the Teutonic thoroughness of the Communists went deep. It reinforces what Orwell tried to show in Nineteen Eighty-Four, that totalitarianism has a push-me-pull-you effect. A mere authoritarian power, such as Jeanne Kirkpatrick used to describe with some degree of approval, can rely on death squads, punitive raids and torture chambers, to maintain power. But it does not care what people think, as long as they obey. Totalitarian regimes have to believe their own lies; they have to believe they are speaking for the people, for the workers: and that means that the people and the workers had better show no signs of skepticism either.

Rodden’s researches during the morphosis of East Germany reminds us that in Nineteen Eighty-four, Orwell in fact invented, or rather described, brainwashing: how to get people to behave and believe in ways that denied reality. Big Brother’s world was not kept going by the threat of brute force alone, but also because so many people accepted and in some measure supported the system. The scene of Winston Smith with tears in his eyes in the Willow Tree Café at the great victory was uncannily prophetic of the death of Stalin, when even denizens of the Gulag wept. Indeed recent polls show that even now just over half of Russians now harbor nostalgic warmth for the original of Big Brother, J. V. Stalin.

As Rodden records, there is something authentically Orwellian about being arrested and imprisoned for possessing a book by Orwell, and he interviewed such victims of the East German regime. “Like Winston Smith, they were falsifying history even as they discussed a book about the falsification of history,” he sharply comments on Klaus Hopke, the Deputy Culture Minster of the GDR who in the early eighties declared that Nineteen Eighty-Four was about “the characteristic features of capitalist reality… the multinational firms and their bloodhounds.”

The book was of course banned, and presumably only Inner Party people like Hopke could gain enough access to the novel to make any assessment of it at all. Others who got their hands on the texts were arrested. Consequently, the Inner Party assessment ruled, in a classic triumph of Doublethink.

Rosa Luxemburg, in Voltairean mode had argued against Lenin that “Freedom is freedom only if it also applies for the one who thinks differently.” Ironically, Scenes from An Afterlife records that this potent truth from the founding indigenous icon of the GDR had itself also become an “Unquote,” not to be repeated, so it was hardly surprising that a foreigner and a Westerner such as Orwell became a Goldstein figure, only mentioned to be reviled.

As Rodden records, Andrei Sakharov became just the latest in a series of Warsaw Pact intellectuals who wondered how someone who had not lived in the system understood it so well. The answer is of course that Orwell had lived in it, mentally at least. He had withstood the seductions of Marxist certainty himself, when many around had succumbed. It was not the threat of torture chambers that kept many of his contemporary Western intellectuals hewing to the Party line.

Orwell saw those outside direct Soviet control practicing Doublethink—in spite of all the evidence, they chose deny that the torture chambers and the Gulags existed. When the order came in 1939, they embraced the Nazi Hyenas as blood brothers in the struggle against British Imperialism. And when Hitler attacked the USSR, they turned on a sixpence to demand the internment of all who continued to say that.

So, in Nineteen Eighty-Four itself, Winston and his colleagues had an investment in the system: they believed. The totalitarian society, as typified by IngSoc, North Korea, or East Germany, does indeed have its torture chambers and Gulags, but it has Thought Police. It not only wanted its citizens to obey – it wanted them to believe. And it worked. As Parsons told Winston Smith in the Thought Police holding cell, “Of course I’m guilty…You don’t think the Party would arrest an innocent man do you? Thoughtcrime is a dreadful thing, old man.”

We have yet to get a full version of how Big Brother operates in North Korea, but defectors already suggest that much of the population is steeped in doublethink, somehow imbued with the propaganda about the success of the Party and its Dear Leader, while on another level aware of how sordid life is. Indeed the disparity is much greater than for Winston Smith who had to contend only with clogged drains and a pervasive smell of boiled cabbage. Untold thousands of Koreans have died without a whiff even of cabbage, and yet many of them and their surviving neighbors still seemed to think they have a stake in the system.

What Rodden describes in East Germany is a more IngSocish version, a culture of deprivation but not starvation, where making do, as Orwell and the British did during the wartime years of rationing, is debilitating and time-consuming rather than fatal. The search for coffee and razor blades takes time and energy that may otherwise have been wasted on thinking. But as he shows, right up to the end, a significant proportion of the intelligentsia had an intellectual investment in the society.

Rodden invites some degree of empathy, if not exactly sympathy, for individuals caught in a system that put such a premium on low-tech mutual surveillance. Similarly, he is perhaps too indulgent to the Orwellian overtones in our own societies, although he wrote before the serious post 9-11 excesses of the Bush and Blair administrations. “Winston’s work is (from our society’s viewpoint) illegal and base, consisting as it does of the falsification, bowdlerization, and “rectification” of history,” he says.

He is of course right about it being base, but one can hardly call it illegal. The huge intellectual apparatus surrounding Washington’s K Street, the lobbyists, the governmental spin masters, the political campaigners, the cable TV and radio shows, the PR companies and consultants are every bit as pervasive in their effects as the work as MiniTru. They do not have the excuse of the Thought Police and Big Brother for their labors, but while they do not have the state monopoly of the latter, they are in some ways more effective since we maintain the appearances of equal access.

In the dangerous game of what would Orwell say, I cannot help feeling that he would rephrase Victor Hugo about the rights of the rich to sleep under the Seine bridges and remark upon the right of every poor person to own major print, electronic and broadcast conglomerates.

It is an unpleasant fact, not often mentioned, that even now, those on the Left in the West who revile Orwell usually have political origins in parties that sympathized with the Soviet Union and “actually existing” Socialism. Rodden is sometimes too kind in his discussion of so-called cultural studies professors who indulge in Orwell bashing. Their hate for Orwell for being a premature anti-communist has survived the disappearance of the Soviet system they loved, admired or apologized for.

Raymond Williams, Rodden reminds us, described Orwell as an “ex socialist” in 1970, and added that Orwell’s influence on the Left was “diminishing” and would continue to do so. In fact Williams’ Left of the 1970’s has diminished to a shadow of its former self outside the ivory towers of academia. Rather, history is validating the arch statement of the admittedly conservative Geoffrey Wheatcroft on Raymond Williams, that he “will be read when George Orwell is forgotten—but not until then.”

The New Left, the communists and Trotskyists, have in their various ways morphed.
The former Euro Communists were among the inspirations for Blair’s New Labor project, while insofar as Trotsky has real political influence in the US, it is through his former followers among the Neoconservatives in the Bush administration. More than ever before, the gold standard for socialism is Orwell’s social-democracy, the Golden Mean between capitalist excesses and Leninist despotisms. As he put it, “Socialists don’t claim to be able to make the world perfect: they claim to be able to make it better.” (II 265)

It may be that Rodden’s readings of too many hard left academics in his field, which is after all one of their few redoubts, may have left him excessively gloomy about Orwell’s future in the education field. He points out that Wilhelm Liebknecht, Luxembourg’s comrade in arms, saw education as the key to building a society, and so appropriately, he considers the position of the “set” books for examinations in Britain and the USA.

He cites Scott Lucas, an intemperate and unrepresentative hard left Orwell-hater, to substantiate a claim that most Left academics doing cultural studies today look at continental, Marxist oriented thinkers as their exemplars, not to Orwell.

In reality, I suspect that compared with the general society of the U.S., where socialists tend to be ghettoized in the liberal arts faculties, most British academics across the spectrum would be considered left, but not Marxist. In the Literature departments and the teacher-training institutions, Orwell’s much more indigenous strain of Anglo-American empiricism is, and is likely to remain, much more acceptable than the forgotten fossils of the New Left.

As Rodden quotes about Dickens, “Severe artistic limitations, a sense of decency, impassioned sympathy for the underdog,—most readers of Orwell find his work characterized by these very same shortcomings and strengths.” But Orwell, not only has the brevity needed to conquer the syllabus for an attention-deficited generation of school readers, he has relevance beyond Dickens. Orwell’s warnings against the totalitarian mindset are every bit as pertinent today as when they were written. Animal Farm works even if the reader does not have a clue about the progress of the October Revolution, although of course it adds deeply to the appreciation to know about it, just as it works in ex-Soviet Russia where people have no concept of a mixed family farm.

In his epilogue Rodden brings it all together. Despite these ghosts and doppelgangers of his subject conjured up by fevered ideologues, he suggests the almost novel approach of letting Orwell speak for himself. Orwell was a self-confessed Democratic Socialist, and, as Rodden sketches around his complex subject, “a moral radical with a bracing contempt for radical chic,” “radical by conviction, conservative by sentiment,” with “socialist politics and a conservative ethos.”

The tentative nature of Rodden’s descriptions is what gives Scenes from an Afterlife its verisimilitude, not least since they share with Orwell an ancient radical injunction from Oliver Cromwell: “Consider that ye may be mistaken.” Such a dubious thought never crosses the minds of the ideologues that Rodden parades through this informative, if occasionally inadvertently depressing work. It is never far from the thoughts of the author, nor was it from those of his subject.


John Rodden, Scenes from an Afterlife, ISI Books Wilmington 2003

Logos 6.1-2 - winter-spring 2007
© Logosonline 2007

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Full Ration of Rum, Sun, Sand - or Coke (no cola)

Full text of the Comment is Free
Tourism or cocaine?
Caribbean economies depend on tourism. So why aren't the nations to the north encouraging an honest way to make a buck?

Ian Williams

May 19, 2007 9:00 AM
Lots of people think that it is humiliating for a country to be dependent on tourism. Things could be worse: about the only country in the Caribbean that doesn't rely on visitors dropping in is Haiti, which is hardly a model of sturdy self-reliance to emulate. Even Cuba has escaped from Marxist orthodoxy enough to accept that its economy depends on planeloads of palefaces landing to be become lobster-red before their return.

Some of the Caribbean islands are dependent on tourism for 80% of their GDP and, if anything, the trend is upwards as World Trade Organisation decisions force them out of sugar and bananas and leave them with a choice between building a tourist industry or being relay stations for cocaine shipments between Columbia, the US and Europe.

Indeed in 1999, after Bill Clinton requited a $500,000 donation from Chiquita with a WTO case that ended preferential access to Europe for Caribbean bananas, some local leaders were overheard questioning whether they could afford to continue cooperating with the US in the "War on Drugs". Perhaps wisely, most of them opted for big planes full of tourists rather than small planes full of coke.

Even now, however, Washington is not helping. Until last year, most US visitors to the islands, like most Americans, did not have passports. They were allowed to visit the Caribbean, Canada and Mexico and return with a driver's license or a birth certificate. As part of the paranoia of the "war on terror", they now need to have a valid passport.

But there is money in the islands. I've just been to the Caribbean Hotels Association Tourism Investment Conference in Curacao, where there were record numbers of financiers with chequebooks loaded looking for viable projects - hotels, villas and condominiums - to cater to the baby-boomer demand for what Captain Jack Sparrow celebrated on his desert island as "Sun, Sand, Rum! It's the Caribbean!"

Local opponents of tourism see it as demeaning: reducing locals to servings meals and cleaning rooms. It is an understandable prejudice in island societies that were built on slavery, but it is not borne out by the facts. In fact, the industry generates investment and skills in IT, telecommunications, finance, construction and can even put life into local industries like furniture making. And tourists may be obnoxious - but less so than grinding poverty, or proximity to a bauxite mine.

Not only do tourists take far more cash to developing countries than official overseas aid they do it in a much more "virtuous" way. Instead of recycling the cash back through experts and tied purchases, or at best handing it over to governments of occasionally dubious probity for prestige projects, they put the cash directly into the hands of locals where it immediately goes to work in the local economy.

This is not always true. I remember the sense of shock in Cuba when I saw sachets of sugar marked "Made In Canada" in an island that had massive and un-sellable stocks of the stuff. However, the best resort and hotel owners have been working to develop local suppliers and to develop local skills.

There is another dilemma. Small islands smack in the middle of the hurricane belt are the most vulnerable to global warming and sea level rise. Those beaches are not for sunning when the winds blow and the waves crash. But the only effective way to get their hands on all those tourists' euros and dollars is to fly them in, so local officials are peeved at current European calls to tax and curtail air traffic.

From a Caribbean point of view, it looks triply, indeed quadruply, ungrateful. First Americans and Europeans kidnapped their ancestors and brought them to grow sugar, then we lost interest in them, and then put up huge barriers against the very products that they were enslaved to grow. Now we try to curtail air links to make up for all greenhouse gas damage caused by our historical industrialisation process that was largely capitalised by the fruits of their servitude.

I once did a rough calculation - the modern economy jumbo passenger probably does have less space than a slave on a slave ship - but it really isn't the same, and few tourists would care to make the Middle Passage for their dream holiday in the sun.

All those environmentalists who want to cut back air traffic to the Caribbean are compounding historical injustice to the locals with meanness to their own compatriots. There is a very good reason why people don't go for weeks in British seaside resorts anymore. It will take a hell of a lot of global warming before they can compete with the beaches, the warm blue waters, the music, the rum and the sun of the Caribbean.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Rum, Sun, Sand - or Coke (no cola)

Latest on Guardian Comment is Free about tourism (and of course rum) as a development tool
check out

Kosovo, Kouchner and Killing Field Fans

Seven years ago, I interviewed Bernard Kouchner in Pristina. I reproduce this story because it is now doubly, indeed triply relevant. Word is that Sarkozy is appointing Kouchner as Foreign Minister, which will be, to say the least interesting times in the Quai D'Orsay and elsewhere. Secondly, Kosovar independence is in the news, and finally the subject of humanitarian intervention makes some leftists fervent fans and apologists for genocide.

Here it goes. The Financial Times (London) September 15 2000

Maverick Viceroy By Ian Williams

In the summer of 1999, there was only one restaurant open in the chaos of Pristina - a pizzeria. I suggested to Bernard Kouchner that even his many critics had to admit that dining out in Kosovo had improved immeasurably during his year as the United Nation's viceroy there.
He liked my title for him, but of the innumerable bars and restaurants opened by the Albanians returning after their deportation, he could only say: "The cuisine is still not good - nor the service."
So did the "special representative of the secretary general" feel secure, sitting in the open, shaded portion of parkland sequestrated by the Pristina Park Hotel for its outdoor restaurant?
"No, my guards are over there. You know, I don't want to die. They have been going to the bathroom with me for a year now. This is not a relaxed job."
Even so, the waiters were unimpressed; we signalled vainly for attention.
While we waited, we discussed Kouchner's transformation from manning the barricades of Paris in 1968 to his becoming almost absolute ruler of a Balkan province. His period as French health minister in the Jospin government made him a respectable choice when UN Secretary General Kofi Annan needed someone to cope with the pressures of Kosovo.
Kouchner sees no inconsistencies along his career path. "This is a huge step forward for international society because we protected the minority across the borders of a state.
"Think of East Timor. We waited and demonstrated for 20 years. Now, the right to intervene is a real right. As internationalists, our generation, we have done well. After Auschwitz, after Cambodia, we did it. It was the century of genocide, and now we have found the way to protect minorities. A tribunal is fine, but it is always too late to prevent the crimes."
He jumps about in his seat with a physical agility that matches his mental agility. "When I set up Medecins Sans Frontie`res, I never considered that the humanitarian world was so different from the political; they were different aspects of the same thing. To protect people from murder, is it political or humanitarian? When the boat people were dying in the China Sea, which was it? We have to take humanitarian intervention step by step.
"It was impossible 10 years ago to think of confronting the Yugoslav army. But the intervention is still a success. It is a change in the old international diplomacy, based on sovereignty."
At last a waiter deigns to take notice. Fish dominates the menu. Since it is a long drive to the coast from landlocked Kosovo, he insists on seeing the product. The waiter brings a tray, and Kouchner pokes the contents suspiciously with his finger.
"It is fresh?" he demands, before deciding on Levruga ("sea wolf", according to the translation in the menu). Not wanting to be caught ruling a country under the influence of alcohol, we choose mineral water. Expecting a long wait, we sip the water and chew on the local bread, dipped in olive oil.
"It is good to have fish," he says. "They eat meat three times a day here." I agree - even a carnivore can be daunted by "cattle soup" on local menus.
Kouchner is small and looks younger than his 60 years. Some people who deal with him often complain of arrogance, but anyone who knows the UN bureaucracy accepts that it took someone of his strength of character to break the rules. Resolution 1244, which set up his administration, repeats the fiction of Yugoslav sovereignty and most UN bureaucrats would have taken it very seriously.
"Yes, I took it very seriously - in my own way." He smiles. "It was very important, but . . ."
His train of thought is derailed as he pitches forward. The plastic garden chairs we are using are not strong enough to cope with his hyperactivity.
He picks himself up and continues: "Yes, states are absolutely sovereign, and we have to respect their sovereignty - when the state is respectable, when it is respectful of its minorities. When they are killing their own people, they are not respectable."
And as for the UN: "We are in charge of a state. It was impossible to refer issues to New York to the legal department, to the political department. When I went to New York the second time I was very rude - 'I don't want you to advise me,' I said, banging the table. 'I will only talk to the secretary general'.
"It helped that Kofi backed me up. He knew what he was doing; he was very clever. We had lunch on the 38th floor of the UN and he told me: 'I did not choose you because you were the most disciplined player.' So I said, 'OK, you're not disappointed then?' "
His defiance of bureaucratic caution led him to rescind Belgrade's apartheid-style legislation, open a new Kosovo postal service, make the D-mark Kosovo's currency, and put customs officials at the borders.
Most Security Council members appreciate the achievements. Others complain: "The Chinese, not so much, but the Russians write a lot of letters," he comments, adding laconically: "We used to reply."
By now the fish has arrived, tastefully displayed on a large plate with a few basic vegetables. With an air of pleasant surprise, hebrandishes a first forkful. "It's good, isn't it?"
It is.
I ask whether Kosovo will ever be part of Serbia again. He pauses,and has a rare lapse into tactful diplomacy. "Let us say, they willnever come back to the former situation, and I will do the maximum for them. Substantial autonomy must be set up; I believe that despite the fact that I favour independence, this step-by-step way is the only way."
The revenge killings of Serbs led many cynics to conclude that the intervention and his reign in Kosovo is a failure. This is not his first encounter with the unpleasantness of the interface between aspirationand reality.
"What about the Kurds? We protected those stupid bastards there! Barzani and Talibani and so on. Exactly the same thing! I spent months and months working in the hospital. I met them again afterwards, when they started killing each other by the thousands. I was really disgusted."
That starts another line of thought. "But now we are the only obstacle between the Albanians and independence. In a few months they may consider us an enemy."
Wasn't he disappointed at the continuing murders?
Once again realism triumphed. "If you wanted to choose a good example for humanitarian intervention, you wouldn't choose Kosovo. Here the victims are not angels, they are Albanians - very, very tough, with a tradition of revenge and mafia. And then we discovered that, hidden by the threatened minority, there was another minority to be protected.
"But do you believe the Rwandese were very good people? They were not! You cannot choose whom you're supposed to help. The only rule is to be on the side of the victim."
At this point, the hotel decides to pipe the local radio station through its PA system. "Stop that bloody radio!" he bellows, more as an irate customer than an angry potentate.
He has found his year in Pristina, "very tiring, very frustrating, and very interesting. The people around me are fantastic, they are militants, not UN diplomats. Highly engaged, concerned and devoted. But then it is frustrating, because the situation is frustrating, the UN resolution is frustrating."
Now, he is ready to move on - but not until after the local elections he has scheduled for next month.
"I am not a rabbit or a rat to run in front of the boot," he declares.
He has been mentioned as a possible replacement for Sadaka Ogata as UN high commissioner for refugees. "It's a good job," he admits. "If I were in charge, I would transform it. I would look to prevention, I would not be waiting at the border for the refugees so that we could put them in camps. Here, I would apply the right to interfere."
I provoke him with some recent statements from the UNHCR on the need to maintain a distinction between "internally displaced persons" and legal "refugees" who have crossed borders. He rises to the bait.
"That's ridiculous - an IDP is exactly the same for me. All because of the sovereignty of the state. It is the same fight," he declares, and repeats: "The fish is good, eh?" as he finishes, leaving only the bones and head on the plate.
An hour later than scheduled, we drive away with his armed escort to Government House, where he holds court in the former Serbian headquarters. Kouchner is an interventionist at heart and, in the modern world, that means courting the media.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Fail Caesar

Another variant on my Blair/Nixon comparison,
this one from Tribune 18 May 2007

Ian Williams

As Mark Anthony said about another military adventurist who came unstuck:

The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interréd with their bones!

Anxious for their seats and for the patronage of the incoming Prime Minister, there may be few who care to take an objective poke around the political cadaver of Tony Blair to see what achievements may be secreted there.

In many ways, his going, with the director of public prosecution looming over his shoulder, has shades of Richard Milhous Nixon's impeachment-impelled exit from the White House.

In fact, Blair suffers from the comparison. In terms of actual achievement, despite the murky circumstances under which he was forced to leave, Nixon was the most liberal and progressive president since FDR.

A poke around his bones reveals that Federal spending on welfare and the National Endowment for the Arts, as well desegregation measures all reached a peak during his presidency. He stopped the war in Vietnam, recognised China, fostered détente with Russia, engineered arms control treaties, and ended the US's chemical and biological warfare programs. He ended conscription and was the last president to consider a comprehensive national health service. He passed the Clean Air Act, and empowered the Environmental Protection Agency.

In comparison, Watergate was almost a peccadillo, which allowed both conservatives and liberals, outraged at how he had co-opted the Democratic agenda, to unite against him.

Now back to Anthony Charles Lynton Blair, leaving with the purchasable peerages and the disastrous war clouding his reputation.

When Labour was elected Britain’s international standing was high. Robin Cook, Claire Short, Michael Meacher and others, were able to articulate a foreign policy that did indeed have an ethical dimension and certainly won a position of respect in organizations like the UN.

To put the eccentric New Labour “patriotism” campaign in perspective, Blair has left Britain’s international reputation at its lowest since Thatcher tried to cover for Apartheid. He has been told to butt out of the Middle East because of his criminal support for Bush, not only in Iraq, but also for opposing a ceasefire in Lebanon as Israel sowed its cities with cluster bombs. There was more distance between Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan than between Blair and Bush, possibly the most unpopular president in the world.

Domestically, how can we reconcile the early New Labour guff about empowering citizens with the ID cards, the ASBOs, the attacks on civil liberties under the guise of anti-terrorism, the overflowing and privatized prisons, the lie detectors for benefit claimants, that intrude upon the life of British citizens?

But let us poke in the ossified remains of the Blair years. One senior minister complained during the first term that the government was actually doing a lot of good, but that they were not allowed to advertise it, and there is a lot of truth in that.

From the perspective of an exile from the Thatcher era, I suspect that those who stayed behind do not always appreciate how much better things in Britain really are now than when Labour first took over.

On my freeze-frame annual visits to Britain, the increasing prosperity has been clearly visible. Northern Ireland power-sharing and the abolition of most of the hereditary peers may still represent unfinished business – but they are further forward than any previous government has managed. The minimum wage, twice the US level, is a major achievement, along with parental leave and similar provisions. The expanding economy, and reduced unemployment and the increased resources for education and healthcare are big steps forward towards a more just society.

But too often it has been two steps forward and one step backward. The university top-up fees in England, the complex and expensive PFA partnerships retract some of those gains. And how many of these achievements were Blair’s rather than of the residual oldish Labourites in the cabinet?

It took twenty years for Nixon’s good to be disinterred, and even now the exhumation is a work in progress. One suspects it will take far less time for Tony Blair’s rehabilitation. He will probably be on the board of directors of Murdoch's News Corporation, which will assure him of an adulatory and amnesiac media across the English-speaking world.

But while we should not underplay the achievements of this Labour government, we should not forget that Blair’s cabal consciously tried to destroy the Labour Party as a mass organization with an active membership and to mutate it into mere PO box for large donations for re-election.

The Peerages for Sale wheeze was a political project that was almost certainly based on an idea by Bill Clinton. Just as Clinton stole the Democratic Party from what he called "Special Interest Groups" like working people, minorities and women, and handed it over to Wall Street, its purpose was to free the prime minister from any remaining accountability to the residual socialism of the unions and the Labour Party. Gordon Brown has always been much more aware of the party as an institution – one of his first jobs is make sure that it is not interred with Blair.

A Cult Above the Others

full text of the Guardian piece of Sweeney and the Scientologists, and click to get the Guardian link and 100 or so comments, from barking to perspicacious about the Hubbardistas and religion.

The cult of cash

I sympathise with John Sweeney: Scientology is bad. But are other religions better, or just envious of the riches the Scientologists reap?
Ian Williams

May 16, 2007 8:00 PM

The so-called "Church of Scientology" has been flaming BBC journalist John Sweeney all over the Internet for shouting at them during an interview. I don't see the problem: it seems clear that he was doing Sergeant Major imitations in an attempt to get his questions across.

But, either way, he was wasting his time. If there is a point to Scientology training and exercises with the e-meter, it's to disguise any displays of emotion, so everyone has the same simpering smirk that is, for example, church stalwart John Travolta's inevitable on-screen persona.

I have had personal experience with Scientology's response to journalists. In October of 1987 I was driving to Liverpool from Leeds, down the Pennines, and wondering why my trusty little clunker would only do fifty even when going downhill.

I got home and played the answering machine. It had the numerous messages, sung through a voice modulator: "We are Scientologists if you please/ We are Scientologists if you don't please" - or "Dianetics, Jolly Dianetics", sung to the tune of "the Bridge of Avignon". And then, in the middle of the song, it cut dead.

The radio was announcing that Britain's biggest hurricane, which had the peripheral effect of keeping me below the speed limit, had devastated the south of England. A quick call to the editor of the East Grinstead Gazette confirmed that the winds had brought down the power and telephone lines to Scientology's British headquarters, right in the middle of the last harrassing phonecall.

I had published a large article in the Independent about Scientology a few weeks before, accompanied by a wonderful picture of L Ron Hubbard auditing a tomato, and, the editor told me that the morning it appeared there was a private investigator at the office seeking my address. Knowing what I did about Scientology tactics, I called the local police, played the tapes and showed them clippings about the church's habit of bringing false charges against opponents. I was not worried about personal attacks. This was my Liverpool home, where there were plenty of volunteers to deal with attackers.

I maintained my interest over the years and have often covered "cult" stories with input from various ex-members. But I have always been ambivalent about using the word cult, or at least using it exclusively to refer to what are often euphemistically referred to as "New Religions". When listening to "old" churchmen fulminating against them, there was always an element of competitive resentment.

And, since the new ones were designer religions, they had of course incorporated many elements of the competition. Isolation of recruits from family and friends? Get thee to a nunnery! Or indeed a monastery. Charging for services? Try to get a free seat in a popular synagogue on a high holiday - and remember that the Apostles were supposed to give all to Judas Iscariot, the treasurer of the Church of Jesus, Inc. Interfering in politics and recruiting celebrities? What, no spotlight-hungry bishop ever complained to his flock about abortion, communism or gay marriage?

The uniqueness of Scientology can be found in the remarkable frankness of its founder, loopy megalomaniac and pulp sci fi writer L Ron Hubbard, who frequently mentioned to fellow writers who were struggling on a few cents a word that the real way to make money was to found a religion.

Dianetics was a sort of hyped up Freudian psychoanalysis which traced our problems back even before childhood, even before birth. And to be frank, it has about the same scientific credibility. Which is to say minimal.

The outrageous fees that Scientologists charged for "auditing" recruits on their dubious ascent to Operating Thetan level, plus whispers from defectors about the pretty whacky tale of Xenu the alien captured so tellingly in South Park, meant that the IRS refused to give the church tax-exempt status. The credibility of the refusal was somewhat enhanced when Scientologists burgled the IRS offices.

That all changed after Bill Clinton was elected. By an amazing coincidence, not long after the Hollywood Scientologists bundled large donations to his election campaign, the administration ordered the IRS to stop defending the cases the church was bringing and, even more mysteriously, agreed to a sweetheart deal that was kept secret for several years. It allowed Church members to claim their "auditing" sessions for tax purposes, in violation of Supreme Court judgments disallowing similar deductions for other, older religious groups.

Indeed, Clinton met John Travolta, who went on to play him rather kindly in the Hollywood version of a devastating character assassination of a novel, Primary Colors, and agreed to a US government campaign against the Germans for doing exactly what the IRS had been doing for decades - denying Scientology's religious status.

It is in fact almost impossible to legislate against a "cult" in a way that does not also hit mainstream religion. But no religion, cult or otherwise, should be able to claim exemptions and privileges for activities that are otherwise illegal. We would not allow the Church of Moloch to sacrifice infants, nor do we allow female circumcision.

In fact, far from being a sign of the separation between church and state mandated in the US Constitution, religious exemption from taxation is a medieval hangover from the days when the one Church was an arm of the state. The "Church" of Scientology's tax exemption is a reductio ad absurdum of the church/state doctrine and a standing inducement to other evangelical entrepreneurs. Well done, John Sweeney. And keep your answering machine on.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

My posting on the Church of Scientology hue and cry after BBC journalist John Sweeney is up on the Guardian Comment is Free page click on
The Cult of Cash

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Remapping the Innocents

I'm in the Caribbean and only in intermittent contact with the Internet, but as a long time follower of archaeology, I was fascinated to get a press release from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs announcing the discovery of King Herod's tomb.

However, as I read the description and the news reports, there was a huge and noisy silence about one issue. The discovery was not in Israel.

The Herodium, the palace, fortress and tomb are firmly on the wrong side of the Green Line, in the occupied West Bank. I rather suspect that the Palestinians, especially Hamas, will be too worried about this evidence of "Jewish" presence to make sufficient fuss about it, which is ironic in that contemporary Jews were far from convinced about Herod's genuine Jewishness.

But here is Israel, once again, in flagrante delicto, as Herod's Roman patron's would say, looting cultural patrimony from the territories. At the very least the PA should be insisting that any significant finds stay on the site. But will they?

The big bad wolf's big head

Another Guardian Comment is Free post on Wolfie

"People who never called for Kofi Annan to resign amid the $12.8bn oil-for-food scandal are calling for Wolfowitz's head over a $60,000 raise," complains semi-reformed neoconservative David Brooks in an otherwise canny assessment of the World Bank president's problems.

In an oddly reversed way he has a point - many of those who lined up to demand Kofi Annan's resignation have been equally fervently defending Paul Wolfowitz's limpet-like adhesion to his World Bank title.

And of course the answer to Brooks' petulant challenge is that Annan's alleged guilt consisted of not checking out more thoroughly what use his son was making of his name, whereas Wolfowitz is charged with being directly responsible for shovelling his girlfriend oodles of cash.

For someone who set out his stall as opposing corruption in the developing world, it takes some legendary chutzpah to hang on.

It is also worth noting that this side of the event horizon, not one member state of the United Nations, nor one senior official, called for Annan to go, whereas it seems that the few defenders that Wolfowitz has in the World Bank are the officials he directly appointed and governments such as Canada and Japan, worried about the White House reaction.

But we expect no less from the Bush appointee whose CV includes engineering a disastrous war and occupation of Iraq that has been paid for with Chinese loans to the US treasury, but whose conscience bade him, while he was at the Pentagon, to withdraw and destroy 600,000 army berets which were made in China.

This hypocrisy is sadly not unique. The Europeans joined with the Americans last week to thwart the further investigation by Unesco into yet another Bush appointee to go off the straight and narrow road of probity. Following the hasty departure of former Republican congressman Peter Smith, after auditors had found him steering contracts to Navigant, a UN-based consultancy with few apparent qualifications for them, the non-aligned members urged Unesco to "take appropriate disciplinary action," against Smith and to reinstate the whistleblowers he had transferred.

Basically, the Europeans and the Japanese conspired to get Smith off the hook without further investigation, even though Bush had sent him to "reform" the organisation. If Smith had been from a politically incorrect third world country, the Manhattan district attorney would be issuing Interpol warrants and the Wall Street Journal editorialising about the inequities of the unreformable UN system.

Of course, the World Bank is in a funny position compared with two decades ago, when it and the IMF engendered more insurrections than the Third International with their attempts to force neoliberalism on an unwilling world. Wolfowitz's predecessor James Wolfensohn made some fairly convincing attempts to turn the bank around, and in effect stole the UN Development Programme's thunder as the caring, sharing world agency. By all accounts, this turnaround did not convince all his managers, however, which is what makes the bank staff revolt against Wolfowitz so surprising.

Overlooking the little peccadillo of engineering a new Vietnam in the desert, his professed policies at the bank were not that shockingly different, even if, to pay off the White House for his own appointment, he employed American conservatives who imposed their own eccentric anti-birth-control agendas.

And while one can only applaud cutting programmes in Uzbekistan, one can indeed reasonably doubt whether it was Islam Karimov's tyranny, or his quit order to the US bases, that prompted Wolfowitz's unilateral decision.

For all his manifold faults, one can only applaud someone who went to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and told thousands of rabid pro-Israelis that they should think about the plight of the Palestinians. Indeed, having a girlfriend at the World Bank of Muslim origin is a testament to a lack of prejudice in these difficult times.

The pattern here is as much arrogance as bravery, a refusal to listen to advice. A footnote for those on the left is that Wolfowitiz played a catalytic role in convincing Christopher Hitchens to become a neo-neocon and sign up for the Bush crusade. But he never went to so far as to get Hitchens a job at the bank, so there were clearly some limits to his chutzpah. But his refusal to take the hint offered by most of the bank's members and management suggests that those limits are not very constraining.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Tricky Dick, meet phoney Tony

From Guardian Comment is Free
7 May 2007
What the end of Richard Nixon can teach us about the end of Tony Blair.

Ian Williams

How long will it take to rehabilitate Tony Blair? As Mark Anthony said about another military adventurist who came unstuck:

The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interréd with their bones

As Tony Blair gets ready to call the movers into 10 Downing Street, it may be premature to exhume some of the soon-to-be-buried good from the loads of justified dirt about to be heaped on his grave, but a spirit of balance calls for some sense of perspective - as long as he actually goes!

In many ways, Blair's going with the director of public prosecution hovering over his head is reminiscent of Richard Milhous Nixon's impeachment-impelled exit from the White House. Nixon was not exactly one of my favourites when he was in office, but since then I have developed quite a soft spot for him. I think Blair suffers from the comparison, but there are nonetheless similarities: not least stealing the opposition agenda, but also a complete lack of public trust compounded by a complete sense of personal infallibility.

On the other hand, spending on welfare and the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as court-ordered desegregation measures all reached a peak under Nixon. He stopped the war in Vietnam, recognised China, fostered détente with Russia, engineered arms control treaties, and ended the US's chemical and biological warfare programs. He stopped conscription and was the last president to consider a comprehensive national health service. He passed the Clean Air Act, and empowered the Environmental Protection Agency. By many rational standards of actual achievement, Nixon was the most liberal and progressive president since FDR. In fact, since his departure, most studies show that American workers' incomes have been stagnant in real terms.

Of course, Nixon also had dismissively anti-Semitic and racist attitudes... but hell, you have to take the rough with the smooth when dealing with a president who believed so much in transparency that he wired the White House to preserve all his own ill-considered words.

Watergate was his downfall, which in its way was the type of peccadillo that allowed both conservatives and liberals, outraged at how he had co-opted the liberal agenda, to unite against him. Just compare Nixon's public excoriation with the free pass given to Ronald Reagan and Iran-Contra , where the Republican team conspired with the ayatollahs to keep Americans hostage until the election and then promptly traded arms between them and the Israelis to overthrow the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. Not only did they get away with it, but half the pardoned perpetrators are now in and around this administration - and saying we should not talk to the aforesaid ayatollahs under any circumstances.

Now back to Anthony Charles Lynton Blair. One of his senior ministers complained during the first term that the government was actually doing a lot of good, but that they were not allowed to advertise it and there is a lot of truth in that.

From the perspective of an exile from the Thatcher years, I suspect that those who stayed behind do not always appreciate how much better things in Britain really are now than when Labour first took over. (Which is not to discount how much better they could have been were it not for the paranoid, power-hungry clique of New Labour that Blair led, with all its nannyish obsessions.)

It is difficult to reconcile all the early New Labour guff about empowering people with the ID cards, the ASBO , the attacks on civil liberties under the guise of anti-terrorism, the lie detectors for benefit claimants, and similar measures that intrude upon the life of British citizens in a way that makes the average North Korean commune seem like an open-house.

And then there is the sleaze. Blair's crowd descended on the Labour Party like Deng Xiaoping on the Chinese Communist Party, and in effect told it that greed was good. And the comrades took to it with the vengeance of the wannabee nouveau riches. The ministerial mayhem was of course capped with the Peerages for Sale wheeze, which was almost certainly based on an idea by Bill Clinton. It was intended to free the prime minister even further from any remaining ties to the residual socialism of the unions and the Labour Party, just as Clinton took the Democratic Party from what he called "Special Interest Groups" like working people, minorities and women, and handed it over to Wall Street.

Does anyone really believe that Blair did not know what was going on? Here we get to the real cause for his downfall. Who believes anything he says anymore? Lies led Britain into Iraq, and the prime minister now dissimulates in harmony with possibly the least popular president in the world who, incidentally, does not have a smidgeon of Nixon's solid domestic track record to rehabilitate his sleaze.

It took several decades before many people overcame their reflexive repulsion for Nixon. Indeed, even quite recently, I have had steak knives brandished at me across Manhattan dinner tables for challenging the received liberal view that wants to replace the "x" in his name with a hyperbolic swastika.

Even without Nixon's real achievement, Blair is smooth, articulate and photogenic, unlike him. And since Blair will probably be on the board of directors of Murdoch's News Corporation
in about the time it takes to sing the first verse of the Red Flag, he will be assured of an adulatory and amnesiac media across the English-speaking world, so one cannot help but suspect that his rehabilitation will only take several years. It may be a small price to say goodbye.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

All Hail Freedonia: Groucho for Congress

Here's the full text of "Save Freedonia" in the Guardian Comment-is-Free

When it comes to Western Sahara, America's Africa policy is so bad you'd think it was dealing with an imaginary country from a Groucho Marx movie.
Ian Williams

May 1, 2007 7:30 PM

Not many people have heard of the Western Sahara dispute and most congressmen could not tell it from Freedonia - until the lobbyists came a-knocking.

Yesterday, the UN Security Council fought back a Franco-American effort to rewrite international law in favour of Morocco and against the people of Western Sahara. Morocco has offered dubious "autonomy" to Western Sahara, but is refusing to hold the referendum in the territory that the World Court and the UN Security Council have called for - and to which Morocco had agreed, until it became clear that it would lose.

The compromise resolution did not endorse the Moroccan plan, but called for talks between Morocco and the Sahrawi Polisario, "with a view to achieving a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution, which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara." The Moroccan plan directly precluded self-determination.

The US's new pro-Moroccan policy was heralded last week when no less than 168 members of congress signed a letter demanding that the White House support Morocco - regardless of international law or previous policy.

We can safely assume that at least 160 of them had never heard of Western Sahara a month ago. When the learned members of congress rush to sign a fact-free letter on foreign policy, you can be sure that there is a lobby at work.

Not that the lobbies have to work too hard. In foreign policy matters congressmen can be like urinal walls - you can write anything on them. In 1992, a Spy magazine reporter called some two score Republican congressional new-comers for the Newt Gingrich revolution and asked them what they were going to do about the situation in Freedonia. The neocons had not taken over then, so not one of them suggested regime change and getting rid of Groucho. Instead, they waffled in a statesmanlike way about the efforts they would take to ensure stability there.

So, on this occasion, who could be too surprised to discover that the lobbyists responsible for those diplomatic triumphs, the war in Iraq, the war on terror, the embargo on Cuba and America's uncritical support for whichever nudnik heads the Knesset were also those who garnered the 168 signatures?

Morocco has put in some $30m into its lobbying effort and, through its surrogate, the "Moroccan American Policy Center", has been tickling the soft underbelly of the congress.

Toby Muffett, a former Connecticut representative who had been elected on a Naderite clean-up-Congress ticket, engagingly described a week in the life of a lobbyist in the Los Angeles Times recently:

I leave and rush to the House side of the Capitol to meet another client, the ambassador from Morocco. We have a meeting with a key member of the Appropriations Committee. Morocco has a good story to tell. It is a reliable friend of the U.S. It believes that the long-standing dispute with Algeria and the rebel Polisario group over the western Sahara must be resolved.

We tell the congresswoman and her staff that the region is becoming a possible Al Qaeda training area. ...My idea is to sell this as a chance for Democrats to resolve a dispute in a critical region, in contrast to the president's utter failure to fix anything.

And on the Republican side, Elliot Abrams the "deputy national security adviser for global democracy strategy", a hawkish pro-Israeli supporter and one of the neocon devisers of the Iraq war, has also been pushing the Moroccan plan, betraying the same insouciance towards legal technicalities that he did when convicted over the Iran/Contra scandal.

In Washington, the Moroccan Embassy hired Edelman for $35,000 a month as its lobbyist, which of course had nothing to with the timely letter from an increasingly conservative and belligerent American Jewish Committee weighing in with a letter of support for the king, who combines being chair of the Organization of the Islamic Conference's Committee for Jerusalem with being one of Israel's best friends in the Arab world.

For Morocco supporters, an enemy's friend is a hated foe. Polisario has the dubious benefit of Castro's support and that is enough, (plus a $15,000 monthly retainer) to rally the Florida delegation, which has also noticed that El Jefe has a soft spot for the Palestinians as well, with similar results on their voting patterns.

The 168 signatories are almost a roll-call of anti-Castro, pro-Israeli members of Congress, and their numbers were doubtless boosted when the MACP recently hired the law-and-lobbying firm of Alberto Cardenas, a veteran anti-Castro Cuban American who served two terms as head of Florida's Republican Party and co-chaired Bush's 2004 effort in the Sunshine State.

That alone should put in relief his concern for Democracy in north Africa. But just in case you had lingering doubts, Freedom House and similar bodies give Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara and Zimbabwe the same human rights score, just beating, by a wrenched out finger-nail, Tibet, Cuba, North Korea, and Sudan.

If in doubt, of course, invoke terrorism. Most of the letters from the King's men and women invoke the Polisario-held areas as potential heartlands of al-Qaida style terrorism. Oddly enough, in the real world, the Polisario's biggest supporter is Algeria, which is battling Islamic extremists with some considerable vigour - indeed a little too much for some tender minded observers - while Polisario itself was, until recently, proclaimed a communist plot by American politicians, which is why they have tacitly supported the Moroccan occupation all these years.

But luckily, it's not all Duck Soup on Capitol Hill - even if there are far too many horse feathers around for comfort. Most of the members of the African subcommittee in the house were among the 50-plus who signed an opposing letter demanding US support for Sahrawi self-determination. But without Moroccan money behind it, not many people heard about the story.

It's no way to rule a world!

Oh Islands in the UN, bought for me by China's Yuan

My latest in the Asia Times,
Islands in the Beijing-Taipei storm
By Ian Williams

NEW YORK - This week the newly elected United Workers Party (UWP) government in St Lucia finally put truth to the rumors that have been spreading since it took office. It has reopened diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

China has been blustering for several weeks in anticipation of the event, which was heralded by several high-level visits from Taipei. St Lucia had switched from Taiwan to China in 1997 when St Lucian Labour Party leader Anthony Kenny won the election.

The Caribbean is rich in music, rums, beaches - and United Nations envoys. Most of the small islands are sovereign members of the UN, and each has the same vote as mighty China in the General Assembly. Indeed, each of them also has one more vote than medium-sized Taiwan, which has led to a war of attrition over several decades between Beijing and Taipei, with each wooing the governments of the small states for recognition. In fact, 12 of the 25 states recognizing Taiwan are Central American or Caribbean.

The Caribbean states have few assets, and their sovereignty is one of them, which is why their votes are courted on such issues as the whaling ban - and China. Many of them also are prickly on their independence and have maintained strong stands on such issues as the International Criminal Court and relations with Cuba, despite heavy pressure from the United States. They can be bought, but they do not like bullying, which is why Beijing's blustering can be counterproductive.

The competition benefits the Caribbean as a whole, since the chosen weapon of the two contending parties is aid: roads, conference centers, sports stadiums and gymnasiums. In the case of St Lucia, the People's Republic of China's current projects include a psychiatric hospital and schools. The massive International World Cricket Cup that climaxed with an Australian victory in Barbados last Saturday was played on several of the islands, in stadiums paid for with the fruits of competitive aid.

But St Lucian External Affairs Minister Rufus Bousquet complained after a recent visit by his Taiwanese counterpart James Huang that "the Chinese have essentially given us very large and expensive buildings which are rather difficult to maintain. Thus far St Lucian citizens have asked themselves questions as to both the usability and viability of the stadium built by the Chinese. We as a government are grateful for the fact that the Chinese have shown a willingness to assist, but I think in terms of assisting, the general concept with which the UWP operates [is] one of sustainable development, an area in which the Taiwanese are very proficient."

Sometimes there are echoes of the Cold War, in that the parties that were resolutely anti-communist such as the UWP of Sir John Compton, elected prime minister of St Lucia in December, recognized Taiwan while the more leftist, Third Worldist governments went with Beijing. But with the blurring of ideology from China, those influences are usually less crucial. For example, Kenny's close political friend Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves of St Vincent and the Grenadines maintained the Taiwan connection when he took office in 2001, despite a youthful fling with Maoism. Taiwan is rebuilding the airport, essential to expanding tourism.

The island nation of Dominica was facing bankruptcy and then was faced with an offer from Beijing that it could not refuse - more than US$100 million over six years. It switched from Taipei to Beijing in 2004.

One of the few that have had to pay a price has been Haiti, where China, despite having personnel in the UN mission there, has often threatened to veto its continuation in protest at the continuing recognition of Taiwan by successive administrations in Port-au-Prince. It has so far bowed to diplomatic pressure from Latin American and Caribbean states not to do so.

The new pro-independence government in Taiwan stopped the former policy of insisting that states recognize it as the sole government of all of China (indeed, the Kuomintang had insisted on including Mongolia as well) and, as now with St Lucia, encouraged countries to maintain relations with Beijing. Of course Beijing actually wants Taipei to claim the whole of China, rather than restrict its claims to the territory it actually claims.

It is highly unlikely that China will continue relations with St Lucia past the few weeks or months it takes before it abandons its hopes of persuading the UWP government to reverse its stand yet again.

On many issues, the Caribbean nations like to take a united stand. It is unlikely that they would on recognition of either Beijing or Taiwan. Whichever they recognize, it is to the advantage of all of them to be able to play off one against the other, so an occasional churning of envoys reminds both Taipei and Beijing that they should not take loyalties for granted.

Ian Williams is author of Deserter: Bush's War on Military Families, Veterans and His Past, Nation Books, New York.

(Copyright 2007 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

All Hail Freedonia!

Latest on Guardian Comment is Free about Western Sahara and the lobbyists in Washington.
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UN Blackout on Polisario?

So who sabotaged the TV feed for Polisario?

April 30 was another day at the UN Security Council Stakeout. As the Polisario representative Ahmed Boukhari was answering questions, someone called the control room and told them to fade the cameras to black. No one has confessed, but some Moroccan present or former member of UN staff will doubtless be rewarded by his grateful Kingdom.

In fact, whoever it was has done an oblique favour by reminding us that Morocco's arguments have no legal credibility whatsoever. Their only weapon is to silence the truth.

For over 15 years the issue of the Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara has come up every six months ago as the Council members agree to pour yet even more money into the sand for MINURSO, the peace-keeping force. Everyone wishes the issue would just go away, since it poses such a clear challenge to the UN and to international law. The ICJ said there should be a referendum, the Security Council said Morocco should end the occupation and endorsed a ceasefire that was to end in a referendum. Even the former King of Morocco said there should be a referendum – although he stopped saying it as soon it was apparent that he could not win since MINURSO would not let him pad the electoral rolls with Moroccans.

But no one had enough of a dog in the fight to force Morocco to abide by Security Council resolutions. On the other hand, smaller members have been concerned enough to thwart the perennial plans of France and others to hand the territory over to Morocco. This time the French were joined by the Americans, but once again they could not railroad a decision past the atavistic attachment of the smaller members to international law. Even so, the resolution shamelessly thanks the Moroccans for their initiative in offering spurious autonomy – without a referendum or the option of independence while only noting Polisario's willingness to go along with the full letter of UN resolutions.

The non-aligned are right to be cautious. If Morocco can overturn international law, and legalize its movement of settlers into and annexation of occupied territory, then why can't Israel? The Arab countries that stand by and let Morocco get away with this are forging the weapons to dispossess the Palestinians, whose only remaining weapon is international law and United Nations decisions.

And that is not to mention condemning their Arab brothers of the Sahara to a justly condemned regime that consistently violates their human and national rights.