Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Monday, January 30, 2012

Madness over Iran

by Ian Williams
Tribune January 27th, 2012
The financial and fornicatory hypocrisy of the Republican ­candidates is nauseating. But the salacious interest it excites allows the media and the electorate to overlook foreign policy. But then, in some ways we are fortunate that the rest of the world has not been a big item in the debates. Texas Governor Rick Perry dropped out shortly after saying Turkey, a Nato member and recently a voice of balanced reason in the region, was run by an Islamic dictator and should not be allowed to be a member.
However, the other turkeys are every bit as bad, as they pander their way to see who can get most primary votes from Christian Zionists and cheques from Likud reactionaries. British leaders still bask in the illusion of the “special relationship”, but on Capitol Hill, the term is almost ­exclusively used for Israel and the United States. For better or worse, two world wars, Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan, and the half century of Britain being a prime nuclear target on America’s behalf, is not exactly at the front of legislative thoughts.
Between them, the candidates seem to have made it axiomatic that Israel should attack Iran, with US support. However, polls suggest, not surprisingly after the ­debacles of Iraq and Afghanistan, that one of the few points of unity for an otherwise bitterly divided American electorate is ­opposition to a new war. Even in Israel only 41 per cent support an attack, which is ­surprisingly high, considering who would suffer most in any exchange of weapons with Tehran. But Republican candidates happily cheer terrorist assassinations of Iranian scientists.
The one exception among the candidates, Ron Paul, has become the standard bearer of some on America’s alleged left, who are prepared to overlook his profoundly reactionary domestic policies because his America-firster views lead him to oppose Israeli influence in Washington.
This is no time to get sentimental about ayatollahs, and the appropriate response to Israeli threats is certainly not adulation for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The regime in Iran is almost as attached to fundamentalist religion and the death penalty as a southern Republican governor. It does appear to have stolen the last election, but some informed observers think that it might have won anyway.
However, if there is one thing that seems to unite Iranians, it is the nuclear programme, with many Iranians probably going beyond the government, which still disclaims a military nuclear option. As an aside, I am often invited as a pundit on Iran’s Press TV, and have told them, live, that they should disclaim civilian, let alone military nuclear programmes, abide by even unjust United Nations resolutions, and invest in their refining capacity instead. Last week I reached the limits of their ­tolerance. They called me about the ­Falklands, and when I told them I would say that even English speakers had the right to self-determination, my slot was immediately dropped.
I also said that Argentina used the issue to divert domestic discontent about the economy – which is a role that Iran plays for Benjamin Netanyahu and his supporters in the Israel lobby in the US, where Iran can whip the majority of liberal-minded Jews into support for the occupying state.
So, begin with principles. It is useful to treat it like a mathematical equation and substitute the terms. Take out Iran and put it in Israel, Pakistan or India, the real rogue states. The difference is that Iran has signed the non-proliferation treaty and they have not. However, it could withdraw from the treaty, like North Korea, and it has not. If Israel attacks Iranian facilities and murders its citizens, it should not complain if its Dimona nuclear facility is targeted.
Even the International Atomic Energy Agency, despite some worries, has not concluded that Iran has moved decisively towards military nuclear capability. The UN Security Council only became involved when a kangaroo court on the IAEA’s ­ruling body referred the case – with nuclear India one of those supporting the referral, strongly instigated by Israel, the one ­definite nuclear state in the Middle East, with its several hundred war heads.
So is this a crusade, or jihad (since the Saudis seem to be onside) for civil rights? The Wahhabi theocracy in Saudi Arabia makes the most conservative ayatollahs appear positively Anglican in their ­tolerance. We are being invited to support or condone an illegal and unethical war that would unite Iranians and much of the Middle East against Israel and the West, and risk the destruction of Israel with collateral damage to its neighbours not to mention a high chance of casualties among the “oppressed” Iranians.
One does not expect our lords and ­masters to be too concerned about mere human body counts, but they should worry that one sure consequence would be a drastic spike in oil prices that could push the world economy, already teetering on the brink, over the edge, with a calculable chance of escalation. It seems a high price to pay so Netanyahu can keep on building settlements.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Primary Colours? It's more like the Muppet Show

Primary Colours? It’s more like The Muppet Show

Ian Williams says Barack Obama’s bitterly-divided Republican enemies could help to get him relected
by Ian Williams,
Tribune, Saturday, January 14th, 2012
Covering the Republican primaries is a bit like watching Fraggle Rock after dropping a tab of LSD. Until John Huntsman entered the fray in New Hampshire, it sometimes seemed like only Ron Paul had his feet on the ground – with the large caveat that for him the ground is on another world, conjured up by the fertile reactionary imagination of Ayn Rand, the “philosopher” who channelled Barbara Cartland to write bodice-rippers on the model of Mein Kampf.
As always, the sound of silence was most deafening. In the media scrum around the candidates, no one seems to have noticed that, for all his faults, Barack Obama is effectively unchallenged. He will gracefully segue to be the Democratic nominee as the Republicans eviscerate each other in public.
If Gordon Brown, or Ed Miliband, had had the courage – or perhaps chutzpah is a more appropriate term – to do what the Republicans are doing, Labour would probably be in power now. If they had ­actively disavowed Tony Blair and New Labour along the way they could have ­benefited from the reflex vote.
But Republicans have not so much ­disavowed the two Bushes who represent their party’s last three terms in the White House as made them non-persons. They are not mentioned at all.
That neatly allows Republicans to smear Obama for the financial crisis and for the bailouts at the end of George W Bush’s presidency.
There is some justice there, since Bill Clinton’s term actually espoused much of the ethos of voodoo economics and deregulation, but it took the junior Bush to strip regulators of power and introduce the tax cuts that paved the way for the parallel financial and fiscal crises that now hamper any attempts at recover. Ironically, George Bush senior is a non-person for opposite reasons – because he opposed voodoo economics and actually increased taxes.
Two years ago, it would have been difficult to believe that a party could be re-elected on a platform that effectively vetoes any effective regulation of the banks and companies that caused the crisis. Despite their differences, that is what unites almost every Republican candidate. The sleight of hand is so audacious it is admirable: through the Tea Party, the “Grand Old Party” has channelled the understandable rage against big banks and big business against the only institutions that can challenge them – “big labour” and big government.
By invoking abstractions such as “freedom” and “enterprise” with the amplification that huge corporate donations give them, Republicans drown out their actual practice, which is to pander to any business interest that wields a cheque. Set against a faith-based minority that votes in the Republican primaries, they can get away with this. Their voters do not believe in climate change, evolution or Obama’s American citizenship, so they are addressing an audience already strongly inclined to credulity, to denying the evidence of reality. So Obama was responsible for the bailout and it was government interference in the free market that forced banks to give mortgages to the feckless poor (a coded terms for black) that brought about the crisis are easily digested counterfactuals.
However, the secret of their success is that they meet no ideological opposition. Since Bill Clinton, most of the media and most of the Democrats also hold the truths of the free market to be self-evident and scarcely attempt to defend against the attacks on regulation, unions, or government action. On the core issue, the economy, they have abandoned the field of battle to the conservative enemy.
Instead of raising Obama’s standard on the right of every American to affordable healthcare, his genuine achievement of a healthcare bill was accompanied by a welter of bureaucratese that had all the appearance of guaranteeing insurance companies’ profits rather than being a charter for citizens dying in their thousands because they could not afford medical services. Polls showed that Americans were prepared to support a single payer system of national or state insurance. What they got was a mandatory requirement to pay some of the most bloated, corrupt and inefficient companies around.
That being said, those on the far left who do know different are as off-planet as the GOP. Far too many are prepared to overlook Ron Paul’s determination to do away with any social welfare provisions at all and give him elbow room for being opposed to foreign wars. He would of course have opposed American involvement in the Second World War as well, but then some of the American left would have picketed the Normandy Landings as foreign intervention.
Their insignificance means that this will have negligible electoral effect, but their detachment from real politics in the US has deprived America of a politics able to combat the Chicago school. It is significant that a bunch of anarchists around the Occupy Wall Street protests have done more to push Obama into egalitarian eloquence than the whole Noam Chomskyite left academia.
And despite those who prefer Ron Paul to Barack Obama, the President did get millions of uninsured on the rolls. He did end the war in Iraq. He has appointed a consumer protection head in the teeth of Republican opposition. On every count, even when disappointing, his record has been better than anything likely from the gaggle of reactionary Muppets on the other side.
So, while any diagnosis of the state of American politics based on the primaries is necessarily gloomy, the prognosis is not so bad.  The Republicans are busily making themselves unelectable, while Obama has a real chance to win. And he is by far the least worst option. What is more, if he and the Democrats can get their act together, it is possible that they might stave off disaster in Congress by tapping sane voters’ ­revulsion at the ugly face of American ­conservatism revealed in the ugly contest that is the Republican primary race.