Readings

So, where were we?

Thanks to the readers who wrote in and left comments about why I haven't posted for over two weeks. The reason is basically that I've been traveling a lot and was very busy with work at the same time. I will slowly crank up posts again over the next week (still some travel left though). In the meantime here are links I've collected in the last few days.

- From an interview by the FT's Martin Wolf with Bibi Netanyahu, current favorite as future prime minister of Israel:
FT: Does the fear many Arab regimes feel for Iran create a strategic opportunity for Israel?

BN: Categorically yes.

FT: How do you see that working?

BN: I think what it means is that if you broaden the search for a Palestinian-Israeli peace from two players to, say, four and you involve Jordan and Egypt in creative ways then you can probably resolve some of the problems – an example would be tackling a major problem the Palestinians have, which is instituting law and order in their own cities and streets and preventing the spillage of violence into their own homes and into ours. Clearly, they need assistance. Some kind of federated or confederated effort between Jordan and the Palestinians might introduce that function of security and peace.

FT: Does this apply to Gaza as well?

BN: That’s the point. We have to get our sights focused on a broader approach. Right now it’s all a zero-sum game. Israel is supposed to be constricted on its narrowest part, shut its eyes, hope for good and pray. And that doesn’t work out for Israelis or Palestinians. But if you look at this puzzle both in terms of territory and in terms of security functions and of course economic functions and transport, if you look at it at least with four players then there are many, many more opportunities and I intend to propose concrete plans along these dimensions.
- Chalmers Johnson (author of the excellent Blowback, Sorrows of Empires, and Nemesis) discusses "imperial liquidation" over at TomDispatch:

I believe that there is only one solution to the crisis we face. The American people must make the decision to dismantle both the empire that has been created in their name and the huge (still growing) military establishment that undergirds it. It is a task at least comparable to that undertaken by the British government when, after World War II, it liquidated the British Empire. By doing so, Britain avoided the fate of the Roman Republic -- becoming a domestic tyranny and losing its democracy, as would have been required if it had continued to try to dominate much of the world by force.

For the U.S., the decision to mount such a campaign of imperial liquidation may already come too late, given the vast and deeply entrenched interests of the military-industrial complex. To succeed, such an endeavor might virtually require a revolutionary mobilization of the American citizenry, one at least comparable to the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
Heady stuff coming from a very establishment former Cold Warrior. But do read Sorrows of Empire for some fascinating insight on US military deployments in the Middle East -- the maps showing military bases around the Persian Gulf beggars belief.

- J.G. Ballard on Dali and film.

- Le Monde Maghreb correspondent Florence Beaugé on Algeria's recent elections: "To make themselves heard, Algerians have chosen silence." For detailed analysis also see Hugh Roberts' report for the Carnegie Endowment, which argues that what's really at stake is the demilitarization of Algeria.

- Interesting post on food supplies for the US in Iraq and the history of military supply at Kafr al-Hanadwa. My comments on it are there.

- Check out War Criminals at Harvard, a group dedicated to highlighting and opposing the training of war criminals at the Ivy League school. Their campaign has lately been focused on former head of the Israeli military Dan Halutz, who just completed a management program at the Harvard Business School. Halutz was responsible for the death of over 1,200 civilians during last summer's Lebanon war, including through the use of indiscriminate bombing, cluster bombs and other measures taken directly against civilians.

- Anecdote from Pat Lang, former DIA spymaster, about interviewing with Douglas Feith:
It was at the beginning of the first Bush term. Lang had been in charge of the Middle East, South Asia and terrorism for the Defense Intelligence Agency in the 1990s. Later he ran the Pentagon's worldwide spying operations.

In early 2001, his name was put forward as somebody who would be good at running the Pentagon's office of special operations and low-intensity warfare, i.e., counterinsurgency. Lang had also been a Green Beret, with three tours in South Vietnam.

One of the people he had to impress was Feith, the Defense Department's number three official and a leading player in the clique of neoconservatives who had taken over the government's national security apparatus.

Lang went to see him, he recalled during a May 7 panel discussion at the University of the District of Columbia.

"He was sitting there munching a sandwich while he was talking to me," Lang recalled, "which I thought was remarkable in itself, but he also had these briefing papers -- they always had briefing papers, you know -- about me.

"He's looking at this stuff, and he says, 'I've heard of you. I heard of you.'

"He says, 'Is it really true that you really know the Arabs this well, and that you speak Arabic this well? Is that really true? Is that really true?'

"And I said, 'Yeah, that's really true.'

"That's too bad," Feith said.

The audience howled.

"That was the end of the interview," Lang said. "I'm not quite sure what he meant, but you can work it out."

Feith, of course, like the administration's other Israel-connected hawks, didn't want "Arabists" like Lang muddying the road to Baghdad, from where -- according to the Bush administration theory -- overthrowing Saddam Hussein would ignite mass demands for Western-style, pro-U.S. democracies across the entire Middle East.
There's also some good stuff on Wolfowitz there.

- The Friday Lunch Club is a newish blog on the Middle East worth bookmarking.

- CounterPunch, has a fascinating story in the latest issue (subscriber only) about the history of US President Thomas Jefferson's war with the Barbary Pirates, which saw the birth of the Marine Corps and has been bandied about by right-wing idiots (and some people who know better like Christopher Hitchens) as the first war against terror. Another way to look at it is the birth of the military-industrial complex:

However, Jefferson’s most important legacy was probably his role in the creation of a permanent military machine for the U.S.

“We ought to begin a naval power if we mean to carry on our own commerce”, Jefferson declared. In contemplating the Barbary challenge, he added: “Can we begin it on a more honorable occasion or with a weaker foe?” And he elaborated, “These pirates are contemptibly weak”, their fleets reduced to a handful of poor vessels with mediocre artillery and un- trained personnel. That to Jefferson was a major lure. Jefferson also felt that it would be cheaper to build a few modern frigates, more powerful than anything in the Barba- ry fleets, than to pay subsidies. True, there were also operating costs to consider. To cover those, he proposed to hijack Otto- man vessels, kidnap Muslim passengers and crews, and sell the captives on the slave market of Christian Malta. Further revenues could be generated by selling the cargos stolen from Muslim merchant ships by U.S. frigates during the conduct of their anti-piracy campaign. However, Jefferson was not yet president, and the progress of the American Navy was slow.

The turning point came when, with British encouragement, corsairs from Algiers began to seize American ships again. By invoking fear of the Saracen Hordes, the Washington administration in 1794 secured passage of a bill to authorize construction of six frigates and to estab- lish a Marine Corps. Ardent militarists lauded the bill as the first step toward their dream for the U.S. to create a fleet so large that no other country could challenge it. The administration spread construction across major port cities to buy the sup- port of several Congressional districts, a practice followed in big military procure- ment contracts to this day. Even so, only congressmen from northeastern seaboard states were enthusiastic. Hence the bill passed with a clause that required the gov- ernment to also seek peace by negotiation, and to stop naval building if negotiations were successful.
- From this month's issue of Harpers, Tajudeen Abdel Rahim's take on African dictators, as told by Breyten Breytenbach:
1. They come as liberators, but the longer they stay in power the more they become oppressors, intolerant of dissension and even of discussion within their own political and military formations.
2. The vanguard of the masses slowly become the vanguard of the ruling party or clique and soon degenerates into the vanguard of the leader.
3. They come with big dreams, but the paraphernalia of power, the glitz, the pomp and pageantry and all the trappings, take over. Add to that the institutionalized culture of sycophancy: jungle fatigues soon give way to the best of Savile Row suits, Gucci shoes, Rolex watches, etc. The "comrade" has now "arrived" and will be in no hurry to vacate the statehouse he ridiculed not so long ago.
4. A ruling group that had been held together for many years by shared ideology and perspectives is more and more built around the personality of the leader, his family, his in-laws, freelance opportunists, and other cronies.
5. The interests of the party, the government, and the people become indistinguishable from the whims and caprices of the leader. To oppose him is to oppose the people.
6. The progressive changes they have brought about in the country become "gifts" from a benevolent leader to his hapless citizens.
7. Most of them were revolutionaries who began their rebel lives as firebrand anti-imperialists but soon became converts to the free market and are now best friends with the imperialist countries, especially the U.S.A. and other Western powers.
8. These former revolutionaries who espoused Pan-Africanism now resign themselves to "better managing" the neocolonial state and are soon engrossed in competition rather than cooperation with their former comrades. Liberation become looters and occupiers.
9. & 10. The twin evils of these leaders becoming victims of their militaristic means of getting and retaining power, and wallowing in external validation by the same Western powers who not that long ago praised our erstwhile dictators as "moderate."
You can find the full Breytenbach article here if you're a subscriber.