The American Bear


Blowback of the ugliest kind: The lessons no one will learn from Benghazi | Mark LeVine

Americans and Europeans are no doubt looking at the protests over the “film”, recalling the even more violent protests during the Danish cartoon affair, and shaking their heads one more at the seeming irrationality and backwardness of Muslims, who would let a work of “art”, particularly one as trivial as this, drive them to mass protests and violence.

Yet Muslims in Egypt, Libya and around the world equally look at American actions, from sanctions against and then an invasion of Iraq that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and sent the country back to the Stone Age, to unflinching support for Israel and all the Arab authoritarian regimes (secular and royal alike) and drone strikes that always seem to kill unintended civilians “by mistake”, and wonder with equal bewilderment how “we” can be so barbaric and uncivilised.

Russia receives little better grades on this card, whether for its brutality in Afghanistan during the Soviet era, in Chechnya today, or its open support of Assad’s murderous regime.

Meanwhile, the most jingoistic and hate-filled representatives of each society grow stronger with each attack, with little end in sight.

Let us assume that the attack was in fact not directly related to the protests in Benghazi but rather was the work of an al-Qaeda affiliated cell that either planned it in advance or took advantage of the opportunity to attack. If correct, we are forced to confront the very hard questions raised by the support for the violent insurgency against Gaddafi instead of following the much more difficult route of pressing for continued non-violent resistance against his murderous regime.

Such a choice was extremely hard to make while Gaddafi was massacring Libyans by the thousands. But it’s one the needs to be examined in great detail if the most recent deaths are to have any lasting meaning. As long as the jihadis were rampaging Mali or destroying Sufi shrines, Americans didn’t have to think about the costs of supporting the violent removal of Gaddafi.

Now that the violence has been turned against their representatives, will Americans respond as expected, with prejudice and ignorance? Or, during this crucial election season, will they ask hard questions of their leaders about the wisdom of violent interventions in the context of a larger regional system which the United States administers that remains largely driven by violence?

As I flew home yesterday from Europe, unaware of what had transpired in Libya, I read through the 2008 report by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, titled “From Exporting Terrorism to Exporting Oppression: Human Rights in the Arab Region”.

The report described the often unbearable levels of abuse suffered by citizens across the region is one of the most depressing reads imaginable. Every single government, from Morocco to Iraq, was defined by the systematic abuse of its citizens, denial of their most basic rights, and rampant corruption and violence. And in every case, such abuses and violence have been enabled by Western, Russian and other foreign interests.

Simply put, each and all the policies and actions described in the report - and 2008 was no better or worse than the years that proceeded or followed it - are as much forms of terror as the destruction of the World Trade Centre, invasion of Iraq, or attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi.

In fact, the Middle East and North Africa have for over half a century constituted one of the largest and most pernicious terror systems of the modern era. And the US, Europe, Russia, and now increasingly China have been accessories, co-conspirators, and often initiators of this terror throughout the period, working hand-in-hand with local governments to repress their peoples and ensure that wealth and power remain arrogated by a trusted few.

All Hell is still Breaking Loose in the Arab World, Television is just not Reporting it | Juan Cole

1. Several center-left parties in Tunisia have formed a centrist party for the next election. The Progressive Democratic Party only got 16 seats in parliament, despite being a popular party, and it is determined to improve its electoral position.

2. Omar Suleiman, the former head of Egyptian military intelligence, has thrown his hat in the ring as a candidate for the presidency. He denies that he is the candidate of the Egyptian military. But a leader of the Jama’at al-Islami said his candidacy is a slap in the face of those who died struggling against the old regime of Hosni Mubarak (Suleiman was close to the old regime).

3. Members of the radical Yemeni Ansar al-Shariah or helpers of Islamic law, attacked a base near the city of Lawdar in Abyan province, killing four soldiers and wounding some ten others.

4. Troops loyal to deposed president Ali Abduallah Saleh who had taken over the airport in Sanaa on Saturday abruptly withdrew from the facility on Sunday, allowing it to reopen. President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi had late last week removed several loyalists to the former regime from their posts in the military. He has complained that the former president still uses these commanders to exercise control over the government.

5. The plan for a Syrian ceasefire in fell apart on Sunday. The ruling Baath regime abruptly put a new precondition for withdrawing militarily from the cities in rebellion, saying that first the guerrillas would have to disarm.

At the heart of the discussions about Iran’s nuclear program is something much more rudimentary than a neoconservative agenda to remake the Middle East or one regional/international power imposing its hypocritical will on other states. The stakes are much higher. This is about the political and military status quo of the region. This is about a collective effort on the part of the United States, Israel, and a bundle of Arab states at preventing that status quo from being forever altered. Ziad Abu-Rish

Jadaliyya and Ahram Online | The Myth of Middle East Reporting

Indeed, in an area which has often been subject to misrepresentation, or even bias, in scholarship and reporting, the status of Arab writers at the Western media remains one of the core issues of Middle East reporting, and consequently its politics, which seems to underline the ideas of Edward Said and Michael Foucault’s on the correlations between knowledge and power.

After a career of nearly forty years in journalism, including assignments and newsroom work for some 30 years with Western news organizations, I can say with a clear conscience that there is nothing to compare with the knowledge and courage of some Arab journalists who work with foreign media and whose input to the Middle East coverage has been invaluable.

Yet, these journalists have remained “unknown soldiers” in the raging battle for truth and accuracy, in a crude manifestation of denial and prejudice. Those who are familiar with what I am talking about know pretty well that this is a phenomenon which speaks volumes about the kind of reporting the Middle East receives in the Western media.

It tells us how humble have been all these locally hired reporters who face tremendous challenges and difficulties, brave wars, threats and intimidation by brutal Middle East dictatorships and their security apparatus, in order to tell the story of their own societies to the whole world with the in-depth knowledge they possess.

Such courage I have seen year after year in many Arab countries in reporters who are shinning symbols of true commitment and strength. The courage that dares without recognition and without the protection of any kind, is a courage that humbles and inspires and reaffirms one’s faith in the profession.

These local reporters have been the backbone of foreign media operations in the Middle East for decades. Their devotion, talent, knowledge and journalistic “meta” skills have been indispensable for both regional bureaus and newsrooms at the organizations’ headquarters.

Through their commitment, endurance, context building ability, perceptives, analysis and the major stories they have been able to break, these local reporters have managed to give true meanings to events unfolding in the Middle East and even help to reshape the world’s awareness of the region in a way not influenced or framed by foreign agendas or Western strategies.

Yet again, they remain vulnerable, if not discriminated against, in terms of professional descriptions, job opportunities and salary levels. There is a tendency to consider local reporters as mainly interlocutors, stringers, fixers, translators and gatherers of information to help their Western “bosses” in their jobs and not as equal partners.

In fact, the most worrying aspect of the dilemma of these Arab reporters today is their inability to express freely their versions of reality and opinions, whether through editorial interference, manipulation or omission, especially on critical topics such as the Arab Israeli conflict, Islam and now the Arab uprisings.

Read more

(via sharquaouia-deactivated20121015)

Surveillance Tech, Western Companies and Authoritarian Regimes


We’ve mentioned it before and we’ll mention it again and again: the digital tools that help liberate are also used to repress, and are often put in the hands of authoritarian regimes by Western companies.

Via The Atlantic:

For all of the good this technology has done, activists are also beginning to understand the harm it can do. As Evgeny Morozov wrote in The Net Delusion, his book on the Internet’s darker sides, “Denying that greater information flows, combined with advanced technologies … can result in the overall strengthening of authoritarian regimes is a dangerous path to take, if only because it numbs us to potential regulatory interventions and the need to rein in our own Western corporate excesses.”

The communications devices activists use are not as safe as they might believe, and dozens of companies — many of them based in North America and Europe — are selling technology to authoritarian governments that can be used against democratic movements. Such tools can exploit security flaws in the activists’ technology, intercept a user’s communications, or even pinpoint their location. In many cases, this technology has led to the arrest, torture, and even death of individuals whose only “crime” was exercising their universal right to free speech. And, in most of these cases, the public knew nothing about it.

Recent investigations by the WallStreetJournal and BloombergNews have revealed just how expansively these technologies are already being used. Intelligence agencies throughout the Middle East can today scan, catalogue, and read virtually every email in their country. The technology even allows them to change emails while en route to their recipient, as Tunisian authorities sometimes did before the revolution.

(Source: futurejournalismproject)

Qatar, Al Jazeera, and the Age of Virtual Power | Al Akhbar

Qatar’s role in shaping the new Middle East presents a challenge to classical geopolitical theories and traditional interpretations of international politics.Qatar’s influence comes essentially from two interrelated components. The first is the financial capability it gains from its oil and natural gas exports, which have made per capita income in Qatar the highest in the world (around US$103,000 annually). Qatar’s sizable economic surplus allows it to play a role internationally through the funding of governments, parties, militias, and media.

The media, and particularly Al Jazeera’s role, represent the second component of Qatari power. Through its Arabic and English language outlets, Al Jazeera is able to play a leading role in what is known in media studies as “setting the agenda,” i.e. reporting what will be the main subject of focus as well as how they will be covered (the nature of the problem, who are the important parties, what are the possible solutions, etc.).

In this regard, Qatar resembles an international organization with a huge budget and a public relations office working to influence states and governments without being subjected to the same standards that it wishes to impose on others.

The Qatari government has been able to play this role by being free of ideological and geopolitical constraints. Qatar appears to be a country without a society – as if it consists solely of a very rich government – and so it has tremendous political flexibility. Qatar can attack its opponents by providing media support for opposition movements in other countries, while its opponents are unable to use the same weapon against it.

Continue reading (you should) →

Imperial Hegemony and Its Discontents | Noam Chomsky

Writing at TomDispatch:

The Arab Spring, another development of historic importance, might portend at least a partial “loss” of MENA.  The US and its allies have tried hard to prevent that outcome — so far, with considerable success.  Their policy towards the popular uprisings has kept closely to the standard guidelines: support the forces most amenable to U.S. influence and control. 

Favored dictators are supported as long as they can maintain control (as in the major oil states).  When that is no longer possible, then discard them and try to restore the old regime as fully as possible (as in Tunisia and Egypt).  The general pattern is familiar: Somoza, Marcos, Duvalier, Mobutu, Suharto, and many others.  In one case, Libya, the three traditional imperial powers intervened by force to participate in a rebellion to overthrow a mercurial and unreliable dictator, opening the way, it is expected, to more efficient control over Libya’s rich resources (oil primarily, but also water, of particular interest to French corporations), to a possible base for the U.S. Africa Command (so far restricted to Germany), and to the reversal of growing Chinese penetration.  As far as policy goes, there have been few surprises.

Crucially, it is important to reduce the threat of functioning democracy, in which popular opinion will significantly influence policy.  That again is routine, and quite understandable.  A look at the studies of public opinion undertaken by U.S. polling agencies in the MENA countries easily explains the western fear of authentic democracy, in which public opinion will significantly influence policy.

read whole

In the context of a relative decline in US power, and the emergence of an increasingly multi-polar world, this has meant that the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] (and, by extension, the Middle East as a whole) is a key zone in how competitive rivalries between the leading capitalist states will play out. This is the reason for the central emphasis that long-term US strategy places upon the tight military and political relationship with the GCC states. This relationship was forged in the post-World War 2 era, but continued to deepen through the 1980s (indeed, the actual formation of the GCC in 1981 was very much part of consolidating the Gulf states under a US military umbrella in the context of the Iran-Iraq war). Dominance of the region was a key strategic factor in the US-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the ongoing struggles around control of Central Asia. The rising bellicosity against Iran also needs to be seen in this light. The announcement by the US government a few weeks ago that it would be repositioning its military forces located in Iraq to the GCC is further confirmation of this. Already, the GCC hosts the US Fifth Fleet (in Bahrain) and US Central Command (CENTCOM) forward headquarters (in Qatar) — responsible for all US military engagement, planning and operations across 27 countries from the Horn of Africa to Central Asia. The monarchies in the GCC are fully dependent upon US military protection as well as univocal political support from the West (as the reaction to the uprising in Bahrain indicates). Adam Hanieh | Class and Capitalism in the Gulf

Class formation in the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] is deeply interpenetrated with the development of capitalism as a whole, and the greatest fear of any of the leading states in the world market – and this, it should be stressed, includes China and Russia – is a significant challenge to that class structure. It is, in other words, a shared concern of all leading capitalist states to ensure that the GCC remains fully aligned with the interest of world capitalism. The policies of leading foreign powers in the Middle East thus have a dual character – on one hand, attempting to extend their individual competitive interests while, on the other, working cooperatively to prevent any popular challenge that would see the region’s wealth used to benefit the broad masses of people rather than a tiny parasitic social layer. This is the deeper meaning of the uprisings that have unfolded over this year. Adam Hanieh