Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Kofi Annan interview!

 From Catskill Review of Books!

Syria, Israel and the UN

October 2012, Pages 40-41
United Nations Report Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Will Lakhdar Brahimi's Credentials and Credibility Help Him With Syria Assignment?

By Ian Williams

Lakhdar Brahimi, the new United Nations peace envoy to Syria, speaks to the press following a meeting with French President Fran├žois Hollande at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Aug. 20, 2012. (Patrick Kovarik/AFP/GettyImages)
Lakhdar Brahimi has a long record of working on behalf of the United Nations. The good-humored and quietly spoken diplomat has a strong track record of cutting through rhetorical obfuscations and getting to the underlying reality. As a former Algerian freedom fighter, he has an exemplary record—especially compared with most of the sundry hereditary officials around the Arab world—which is second to none. Indeed, as one of the "Elders," the independent group of global leaders brought together in 2007 by Nelson Mandela, Brahimi has a global diplomatic reputation based on strong principles.
Of course, he picks up the Syria baton that his fellow Elder, Kofi Annan, did not so much drop as cast it aside in disgust. I had always suspected that Annan's intention was to test to the limit the sincerity of Moscow and Beijing—and he did. But their shamelessness knows fews bounds. Brahimi is a logical successor—an astute choice by Ban Ki-moon.
To affirm Brahimi's diplomatic bona fides one need look no further back than his work in Iraq as U.N. special envoy in the dark days after the U.S. invasion, when he was roundly attacked by Israel's U.N. envoy, Dan Gillerman.
The occasion was Brahimi's "undiplomatic" lapse into the truth, when he told a French radio station that Israeli policies toward Palestinians, and Washington's support for those policies, hindered his search for a transition government in Baghdad. "The problems are linked, there is no doubt about it," he said. "The big poison in the region is the Israeli policy of domination and the suffering imposed on the Palestinians."
Brahimi complained of the difficulty of dealing with Iraqis in the face of "Israel's completely violent and repressive security policy and determination to occupy more and more Palestinian territory."
The more things stay the same—the worse they get! Now of course, Israel has occupied even more territory than anyone conceived possible.
In Iraq, and previously in Afghanistan, Brahimi's credibility and reputation for integrity enabled him to pull together disparate elements into coalitions of the grudging, at least. As the endgame in Syria looks far off and bloody, if anyone can pull off a compromise among the various elements, it has to be him—not least since he is securely insulated against allegations of being part of any terrorist or Zionist plot.
It is just possible that his veteran Third World credentials—almost in at the foundation of the Non Aligned Movement—might give him more credibility to dissuade the Russians and Chinese from their support for the Syrian regime, which is every bit as unprincipled as Washington's unconditional support for Israel.

Target Iran or Target Obama?

As Syria disintegrates and Hillary Clinton wrings her hands, the secretary of state must console herself that the mass killings there take attention away from Iran—which Israel is threatening to attack. These are times when it appears that we are observing a parallel universe in which the laws of logic and reason have been spun around, in which the Red Queen often believes three impossible things before breakfast.
The psychopathic wing of the Israeli government wants to attack Iran, no matter what arguments against that reckless and illegal action are produced. Frankly, with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu one cannot be sure whether this is a pathological hatred of any rival military power in the region—in which case, with Syria and Iraq gone, if Iran were removed from the equation then one could suspect that Turkey would suddenly move up the pariah ladder.
But it is equally probable that the Israeli prime minister wants to ensure that President Barack Obama is not re-elected. Netanyahu has what we can only hope are substantial fears that a second-term Obama would remember all the insults and campaigns waged against him by the right-wing Israeli leader, as well as the U.S. president's own tarnished international reputation because he allowed Netanyahu to thwart his earlier outreach to the Arab and Muslim world.
We have come a long way since the Zimmerman telegram—it is now the hasbara leak. The current bright ideas emanating from the Israel lobby—sorry, I mean senior Middle East advisers in Washington—really tax belief. In an Aug. 17 New York Times op-ed, Dennis Ross, the former Clinton administration Middle East peace coordinator who currently is a "counselor" at the AIPAC spin-off Washington Institute for Near East Policy, advised that the way to stop Israel from attacking Iran was to give it the bunker busters, tanker planes and other weaponry necessary for it to attack Iran effectively.
So, the way to stop Jack the Ripper was to leave large bags of surgical instruments about for him? Along similar lines, the Israeli leak factory Debkafile declared that Obama was going to pledge that the U.S. will attack Iran later, in order to abort Netanyahu attacking earlier.
So Israel, which does not have the capability to attack Iran on its own, will refrain from doing so only if the U.S. provides it with the weaponry to do so, or attacks in its place. And the reward would be that Netanyahu would have succeeded in his main aim, which is to make Obama a one-term president.
What is missing here is any sense that the Iraq debacle taught America's various pro-Likud factions anything at all about international law, let alone international relations. There is no legal mandate whatsoever for Israel, or indeed the U.S., to attack Iran. On the contrary, the constant threats from Israel would possibly constitute a defense for a pre-emptive attack by Iran on Israeli, and maybe even U.S., military positions. Certainly under the version of international law espoused by both of them on various occasions, Iran could justify, say, mining Israeli harbors!
Of course, in reality Iran is not in a superpower position that could support such novel legal interpretations. But consider Obama. He has spent his first term embroiled in two wars, one of which he opposed not least because Bush began it against international law and without U.N. authority, allegedly on the issue of weapons of mass destruction.
U.S. intelligence, and many Israeli intelligence authorities, aver firmly that Iran does not (yet, at least) have a nuclear military program or capability. Indeed its leading political and religious figure issued a fatwa against such immoral weapons.
The U.N. is not going to threaten to issue an ultimatum to Iran to stop a program it does not have—so if Obama were to go ahead, his position would be even weaker than that of George W. Bush.
That is, of course, quite apart from the human casualties and financial consequences for a fragile U.S.—and, indeed, global—economy of a war that would threaten much of the world's oil supplies.

Washington Echoes Tel Aviv's "Advice"

In that context, it is reassuring that Ban Ki-moon scorned Netanyahu's "advice" to stay away from September's Non Aligned Summit in Tehran. Indeed, he boldly also repudiated similar U.S. advice as well. With a straight face, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters that Iran "is a country that is in violation of all kinds of U.N. obligations and has been a destabilizing force."
Most of the Non Aligned, indeed most of the world, might think that a country building illegal settlements in defiance of U.N. resolutions and constantly threatening to make war on another country fitted that description better than Iran, no matter what reservations they had about Tehran's human rights policy or support for Syria.
Hillel Neuer, who founded "U.N. Watch" to scrutinize the world organization—albeit only in relation to Israel—condemned Ban's attendance but urged him to "at the very least, bring with him the latest U.N. General Assembly resolution detailing Iran's massive human rights violations, the report by the Human Rights Council's Iran monitor documenting the country's 'striking pattern of violations of fundamental human rights guaranteed under international law,' and the six Security Council resolutions on Iran's illegal nuclear program."
In its way, all that is fair enough. But we wonder when U.N. Watch ever called upon the secretary-general to take the much longer list of resolutions addressing Israeli crimes to Mr. Netanyahu.
Tapping the same rich vein of chutzpah, Israel's Soviet-born Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman sent a letter to the foreign ministers of the Middle East Quartet, calling on them to press for new elections in the Palestinian Authority to replace President Mahmoud Abbas. In a whole new dimension of chutzpah, Lieberman described Abbas, seen by many Palestinians as a little too pacific, as "an obstacle to peace."
"The Palestinian Authority is a despotic government riddled with corruption," Lieberman wrote. "This pattern of behavior has led to criticism even within his own constituency. Due to Abbas' weak standing and his policy of not renewing the negotiations, which is an obstacle to peace, the time has come to consider a creative solution, to think 'outside the box,' in order to strengthen the Palestinian leadership."
As his comrade in buffoonery, Humpty Dumpty, said, "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less." Lieberman's concern with "strengthening" the Palestinian leadership is an example of outstandingly Orwellian doublethink, worthy of Goebbels. His government has locked up any strong Palestinian leadership whenever it gets the chance—and, to underscore its contempt, defied U.N. and EU censure to announce the building of yet more settlements in East Jerusalem for Jews only.
U.N. Watch of course, maintains total silence on that inconvenient issue.

Ian Williams is a free-lance journalist based at the United Nations who blogs at <>.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Walk On By - Or Not!

 After three weeks of bowdlerization/editing, the United Nations Association of the US, who for two weeks said they were going to run this, decided they couldn't. This is an earlier version. Their timorous attitude suggests why, despite many admirable local chapters and active members, the national leadership of the UNA has made little or no impact in DC.

R2P Strikes a Chord: Sovereignty Alone Is Not Enough

The concept of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) has gained more quickly quicker than anticipated.

Former Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy.
Former Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy.
While it is no consolation for beleaguered Syrians, the concept of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) has moved to general acceptance much more rapidly than many of those who steered the 2005 World Summit declaration expected at the time. They saw it as a first, almost tentative, step on a Long March to global acceptance. In 2009, for example, only four manifestly expediently motivated states (Venezuela, Cuba, Sudan, and Nicaragua) expressed any wish to rescind the 2005 decision—despite the latter’s foreign minister pushing that view in his capacity as President of the General Assembly. In the recent UN General Assembly debate on R2P, few delegates questioned the principle itself. Indeed, the Assembly, representing mostly the smaller states which are supposedly so concerned about their sovereignty, had already overwhelmingly supported action in Syria and were clearly as unhappy with the Russian and Chinese abuse of veto power as they often are with Washington’s. Countries like Brazil and other “middle powers” have been actively working out methods of ensuring that R2P can be implemented over expedient superpower objections - while making sure those powers do not abuse the principle as, for example, some of them tried in Iraq.
Former Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy, now President of the University of Winnipeg, comments, “In 10 years [R2P] has moved from a concept to a principle to a basis for some action. It has had a very fast track, going from being accepted as a concept, on to being enshrined in the 2005 resolution to being cited in the Libya Security Council resolution. If you think about the ways the world runs, the present nation states have been around for about 250 years, while R2P has only been around for ten—and it has made huge inroads. It clearly struck a response: people really understand that sovereignty is not enough.”
However, on Syria, Axworthy sees “A perfect storm of self interest. Putin coming back to the presidency in Russia, [President Obama] coming up for reelection reluctant for stronger action, the EU financial crisis where the Europeans got cold feet. My own country now has a very conservative government that does not recognize R2P. The major players needed to make R2P work have been absent.”
Axworthy also admits that the current form of R2P suffers from the compromises that were needed to pass the concept initially.
The concept of humanitarian intervention flew in the face of the founding principle of the United Nations. Despite the reference in the preamble of the Charter to “We the Peoples,” the UN has always stood for national sovereignty, as well as the somewhat idealistic notion of equality that gives China the same vote as Nauru in the General Assembly, even if the pragmatism of the veto for the larger powers tempered that metaphysical concept.
In that respect, the UN has been more successful than people give it credit. There might have been annexations, but with few exceptions those have yet to be accepted as legitimate by the world community—whether Kuwait or East Timor. Mired in exegesis about sovereignty, however, the organization failed in Rwanda and the Balkans, just as it had failed the Kurds and Shi’a in Iraq.
The two principles intersected with the second Iraq War in 2003, which, as Kofi Annan admitted, had no UN legitimacy whatsoever, and which terminally polluted the concept of humanitarian intervention when British PM Tony Blair expediently added it to the list of dodgy excuses for the war.
Just as “ethnic cleansing” became a near synonym for genocide, so “humanitarian intervention” was transformed to signify Western neocolonialism under camouflage of do-gooding. That made the achievement of Annan, Axworthy, and the others so much more creditable when they shepherded R2P through the GA. For those who scorn the weaselly language of diplomacy, the evolution of R2P is instructive not least for the way it neatly replaced the degraded phrase of humanitarian intervention.
The failings of the 2005 Declaration are part of the price it took to get the concept accepted. Axworthy points out that the delicate negotiations had to stroke susceptibilities about expedient use of the concept, so “every sentence in the crucial paragraph 139 of the Outcome Document repeats verbatim the formula that prescribes the only four events agreed to trigger rise to R2P’s application: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.”
That, he points out, narrows the scope. “Simply measure the elements of risk. … Disasters, environmental disasters, changes, refugees, desertification in Sahel or hurricanes in Caribbean,” and of course, shortly afterwards, we had governments refusing international aid for populations devastated by storms and floods. What does that mean for R2P, if your life is threatened? It doesn't matter if it’s a new epidemic virus or environmental disaster or an AK47 transcending boundaries, if you can’t feed your kids.” Within three years in 2008, the world looked on horrified as the government of Burma decided its sovereignty was more important than rescuing typhoon victims.
Even so, he considers that “It’s very healthy that it is now a basis for discussion. But there has to be a better balance between those who lean to the Old Westphalian system, and establishing an international framework, ensuring that it is used positively for a practical function and not for fairly narrow purposes. Safeguards issues should be built on exit issues, early warning issues, some form of constabulary."
He cites Libya, as “a case in which political will (largely inspired by strong regional calls for action) combined with R2P’s principles to produce effective action to stop a threatened atrocity. The Security Council’s steadily escalating responses included sanctions, referral to the ICC, an arms embargo and then the imposition of a ‘no fly zone.’ These culminated in the Council’s authorization of ‘whatever steps may be necessary’ to protect the Libyan population.”
It is sad but true that often in the court of world public opinion actions that are entirely justifiable in themselves can be damned as expedient because opponents can point to other cases that implied impunity. Why is it so insufferable to allow the Libyan or Syrian governments to murder—but not Bahrain? Why should the world unite to stop the shelling of Homs, but nod understandingly when Gaza comes under fire? So, although the Russians and Chinese did not directly veto the action, they used it to mitigate effective action.
They might not have been that attached to Gaddafi’s survival but they used the exigencies that the compromise resolutions forced on NATO and the Arab League first to hamper effective action and then to decry it as going too far. It gave them the traditional prerogatives of the harlot: power without responsibility. As a result, Axworthy points out, “Part of the problem is that the way the Libyan thing ended up, since it did end up looking like the white guys in suits running the world.” That perception obviously plays to the pro-Assad gallery at the UN -- although his friends are noted more for their obduracy and power than the number. But one of the reasons the P5 still have a real veto is that they are among the few powers that could threaten a force projection that would be effective in R2P."
The veto will stay for the foreseeable future, although, just like R2P itself, that should not stop the small and medium powers waging a campaign of attrition against it. Somewhat naively the original Axworthy Commission looked to the GA and “the Uniting for Peace Resolution” as a means of bypassing the veto if the P5 refused to accept limits. But the US, which had originated the bypass mechanism to bypass unreasonable Soviet vetoes has since denied it when the Palestinians brought into play to bypass what most of the world sees as equally unreasonable vetoes on behalf Israel.
“What we are missing is a voice around the issue that can contend with these things, that can raise issues,” concludes Axworthy—even as he points out that the Harper government in Ottawa has effectively abandoned the high moral ground Canada once had.
Although Susan Rice is a strong supporter of the concept, the US and even President Obama are hamstrung by domestic politics in relation to Israel and the veto. Looking around the world, there is a distinct shortage of the presence that could once have shamed Moscow and Beijing, let alone the financial clout to make them listen.
It is fortunate that SG Ban Ki Moon is a strong supporter of R2P, but his diplomatic work-style is built on strong talking in private but less ostentatious, albeit firm, statements in public. He lacks that concentration of global influence that Annan could call upon -- and he has surely been trying.
R2P as a concept might have arrived sooner than expected -- but who would have expected such an almost complete absence of ethics and charisma in world capitals. Almost, with Syria, the endgame might depend on the Ba’athist regime doing something silly to provoke Turkey to invoke the traditional right of self-defense, as did for example Vietnam, Tanzania and India to halt atrocities in neighboring countries. It would not be the best outcome for international law, the UN or R2P—or for that matter, the Syrians.
More realistically, those Middle Powers could put their efforts together with those of Ban Ki Moon and his new Deputy Jan Eliasson to press the recalcitrant superpowers to show them that there is a price, diplomatic or financial, for covering for mass murder.
Ian Williams has written for newspapers and magazines around the world. He is currently writing a book on the Americans who blame the United Nations for all the ills of the United States. For more by Ian Williams visit Deadline Pundit.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Masocho-Leninism and its Pathology

Romney and Ryan are a one-way ticket to disaster

Obama may have disappointed, but a Republican in the White House would be bad news for the world, warns Ian Williams
by Ian Williams
Tribune October 4th, 2012
Barack Obama has under-fulfilled his own modest promises in many respects, but compared with the Philistine farrago of his opponents’ positions, only the tried and tested school of Masochism-Leninism could wish for his defeat or do anything like abstention that would assist a victory for the Grand Old Party.
In the face of an unrelenting and unprecedented war of attrition by Republicans on Capitol Hill, Obama does have some solid achievements. In the fuzzy logic of political calculus, the President eschews grandstanding about what he has done, not least since, when outwitting your somewhat dim opponents, it is not clever to explain your tricks.
Apart from the healthcare bill that, despite its faults, infuriates the GOP to the extent that it tries to repeal it on a weekly basis, the last budget compromise possibly saved the world economy by smuggling in a stimulus package whose passage was dependent on it not appearing as such.
That has been good in terms of pragmatic – one might almost say Fabian – tactics. But it underestimates the attachment of the American electorate to theo-ideological appeals – and voters’ aversion to evidence-based analysis.
In a country where almost half of the population are creationists, climate change deniers and so many Republican voters think their President is a foreign-born Muslim, it is hardly surprising that American voters in their untold millions are convinced that Obama has increased their taxes and that the economy
has worsened during his first term.
Obama’s tactical call is to decide when he broaches the big ideas. This carries dangers. Attracting the independent-minded voters who look at technical details like reality could conflict with the communitarian ideals that he needs to rally his own core supporters and motivate them to turn out to vote.
It is Obama’s acute dilemma: he has to win over the independents, who often do vote, and yet motivate the traditionally abstaining minorities and poverty-stricken who, with some good reason, fail to see what a battle between different bankers’ surrogates has to offer them.
In both cases, his biggest asset is inadvertent: the insouciant cretinism of his opponents. It might be observed that the Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan ticket is taking the shape of a Dan Quayle and Sarah Palin duet to disaster. Romney’s comments on the 47per cent whom he puts in the position of spongers, dependent on the largesse of a state funded by people like him, will certainly upset many.
But we are not talking about a group of avid readers, even if the video leak of his speech to wealthy fundraisers had made as much of splash in the media as it should have done. Is the world really ready for a devout former Mormon bishop in the White House who will tell his backers whatever they want in order to gain power?
There was little or no fuss when it was revealed that Romney’s “charitable” donations were, in fact, mostly tax-deductible tithes to the Church of the Latter Day Saints.
Faced with the doctrinaire reality detached nature of current Republican positions, it could almost be reassuring that Romney is so gymnastically flexible in his positions. However, that tactical flexibility is a thin veneer on a harsh and selfish neo-liberal, Mormon core ideology.
As befits an American bred religion founded on the search for golden treasure and disciplined hierarchy, the Mormon Church has not exactly been in the forefront of American progress.
Romney does have a communitarian vision of sorts. Along with a pattern of patriarchal sexist authoritarianism, his record as a Mormon bishop includes many examples of care –within the church community.
Similarly, his fundraising talk shows that he prepared to extend the LDS community of blessed, provident and self-sufficient Americans to include the general congregation of committed “self-made” and self-reliant billionaires – the “Church of Lucky Damn Sods”, as it were. Of course, such definitions of self-made persons exclude any help from rich parents, conspiracies with rich insider colleagues and similar examples of divine providence.
Here, his expedient running mate comes into his own. Apart from the general inclination to shovel money from the poor to the rich that he shares with Romney, Paul Ryan is a true believer – in an atavistic form of Catholicism which is so reactionary that it outflanks Franco on the right and ignores half a century of Roman Catholic developments in social concern. Ayn Rand meets Savanorola, in his peculiar worldview.
Both Mormonism and Ryan’s Catholicism share an unhealthy pre-occupation with how people screw each other sexually that covers their with enthusiasm for mass financial rape by the rich. People who need food stamps to feed their kids will vote for candidates who oppose abortion – but will take away their food stamps.
When Ryan produced his deficit reduction plan, which every sane economist saw as an extended plan for euthanising the United States economy while amputating the last vestiges of the New Deal, the mainstream punditocracy greeted it with respectful clucks. It was like watching the emperor’s new clothes being made in front of your eyes.
So that is why the Romney-Ryan ticket is still in with a chance. While a refreshing number of people do remember that the financial crash came on non-person Bush’s watch, far too many have been mesmerised into thinking that taxes are too high, as are (everybody else’s) welfare entitlements.
They think that the deficit is the biggest problem – except when it comes to military spending (which Ryan wants to increase).
So, this presidential election does make a difference. Obama’s technocratic competence and attenuated concern for the disadvantaged, not to mention seeing his feet on the ground of the New Deal and the real economy, is in total contrast with the unmitigated disaster promised by the opposition.
The Masochist-Leninists are probably beyond hope, but we can hope that the Romney-Ryan double act can persuade the poor and minorities who see Republican attempts to clear them from voting rolls, who see their healthcare evaporating, and their jobs and even unemployment benefits threatened, to turn out on the day.
If any of them claims voting does not make a difference, they should be directed to Britain’s former mining towns, where Margaret Thatcher showed that it did.