Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

Blowback Amnesia

Posted in politics by allisonkilkenny on April 15, 2009

It seems like only yesterday when Ron Paul was nearly guillotined on live television for suggesting that 9/11 was caused by this thing called “blowback.” It was 2007, and the Republicans were jockeying for the position of frontrunner during the national debate season. Rudy “9/11″ Guliani, never one to pass up reminding everyone of a national tragedy so we’ll forget what a horrible, little human being he really is, lept for Paul’s jugular. 

Some pirates operating off Somalia's coast claim to act as coastguards [GALLO/GETTY]Salivating, Rudy made a series of unchallenging commonplace remarks: “That’s really an extraordinary statement, as someone who lived through the attacks of September 11th…” (Pause for awed silence…two…three…four) “..that we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq.”

Of course, Paul was right. The attacks on September 11, 2001 were carried out by a group of 19 hijackers (15 of whom were Saudi Arabian), and Al-Qaeda clearly cited their principal grievances as:

1. America’s unwavering support of Israel.

2. America’s military presence in the Middle East, particularly near holy landmarks.

Instead of learning a valuable lesson from 9/11, America (led by its mainstream media, political hawks, and overinflated military) seems hellbent on inviting more cases of blowback. As Paul mentioned way back in 2007, America has built an embassy in Iraq that is bigger than the Vatican. But that probably won’t pissed anyone off. …Right?

Now, certain hawks, led by the ever vivacious John Bolton, are discussing a ground invasion into Somalia as retaliation for the kidnapping of Richard Phillips. Bolton wants to do this with – I shit you not – “a coalition of the willing.”

Can I pay someone to beat John Bolton with the 9/11 Commission Report?

“We need to look at what we do from the perspective if someone did it to us,” Ron Paul said that fateful night. This simplistically beautiful sentiment called the principle of universality often invites the sneering rebuttal: “So you’re saying we (or the victims) deserved this?” That was the question the moderator posed to Paul during the debate. 

Paul’s response: “I’m suggesting we listen to the people who attacked us.”

Surely, this is the only way to break the cycle of violence. If we refuse to listen to our enemies, then we don’t know their grievances, and we can never make amends. We’ve learned that bombing and bullying alone cannot build bridges between us. Iraq taught us this, and Afghanistan will teach us the same lesson.

Somalia waits to offer us the same lesson (yet again.) As anyone with even a basic understanding of history could have predicted, the killing of the three pirates may set off a domino effect of retaliations.Waiting to reenforce the message are a slew of angry Somali pirates, who vowed to avenge their fallen comrades. “This could escalate violence in this part of the world, no question about it,” said Vice Admiral Bill Gortney, the commander of United States Naval Forces Central Command. The New Zealand Herald reports

Abdullahi Lami, one of the pirates holding a Greek ship anchored in the Somali town of Gaan, said: “Every country will be treated the way it treats us. In the future, America will be the one mourning and crying. We will retaliate [for] the killings of our men.” 

To put it another way: Blowback.

On Tuesday, armed pirates attacked an American cargo ship in the Gulf of Aden. The Times article concludes with a quote from John Wick, the director of International Security Solutions, a maritime security firm in London: “Somali pirates have typically not mistreated their captives.” Of course, now we’ve killed three of their guys. That may change their policy toward American hostages. Such is the danger of letting men eager to make war make our policy decisions.

My last piece, in which I sought to explain the causes of Somali piracy, inspired some colorful hate mail. Americans seem comfortable with the mainstream media’s cartoonish depiction of villainous pirates, and they aren’t interested in humanizing the three men who were just executed by Navy snipers. 

The media certainly isn’t helping to explain the Somali situation. Apart from Democracy Now, most newscasters and journalists seem comfortable with recycling the old explanation for these acts of aggression: terrorists hate out freedom, brown people are incapable of running a functioning state, etc.

Determined to repeat the same sick exercise that led the American citizenry, blind, into an illegal war, the mainstream media spent the day after the pirate executions drooling over the awesome awesomeness of the US military. Aren’t they great, everyone? Those bullets just pierce flesh so wonderfully!

Even the progressive messiah, Rachel Maddow, called the spectacle of the US Navy shakily standing-off against four poorly armed pirates “riveting.” Maddow further commented that the Navy-Somali standoff had Americans brushing up on their, “How freaking impressive are Navy Seals-ology?”  

(Really glad that 9PM slot on “liberal” MSNBC went to someone aggressively challenging America’s bloated military. Oh well, what can one expect when Ms. Maddow operates on a network owned by G.E., which manufactures some of the very weapons used by the navy?)

I explained in my original article that Somali pirates claim their motives stem from the West overfishing in their seas, and then dumping nuclear waste in their waters. Unable to sustain themselves with traditional modes of employment, they have turned to acts of piracy out of desperation. The nuclear waste dumping charges have been confirmed by the United Nations envoy for Somalia.

Though the mainstream newspapers have documented the Somali’s qualms with western powers, they have not gone the extra step to link these grievances with acts of piracy. Furthermore, most of the major network conversations about Somalia are worryingly moving toward a place of militarism. I always grow concerned when news networks break out their extra spiffy graphics during War Game time: showing Navy snipers shooting faceless bad guys, troop deployments in a “theoretic” ground invasion of Somalia, etc.

It reminds me of the lead-up to Iraq. The chatters starts to sound like war drums.

Everyone needs to take a deep breath. If Americans can collectively act like adults and think past the next thirty seconds, they’ll see that a ground invasion into Somalia is an awful idea. Another awful idea would be bombing Somalia’s coastline, which is roughly as long as the eastern seaboard of the United States. Imagine blanketing such a huge swath of land with bombs. Imagine how many innocent women, children, and young men will die. Yet another terrible, terrible idea would be to harass innocent fisherman and profile all citizens because of the acts of a minority of young men.

All of the above terrible, terrible, terrible ideas breed blowback. The opposite of these mind-numbingly stupid plans comes from addressing the Somalis’ grievances and offering them aid and support as they try to rebuild their country. Western states need to end their overfishing and the dumping of hazardous waste.

If America fails to understand the world’s grievances with its militaristic, imperialist agenda, then it is destined for decades (maybe centuries) of blowback. America must break this endless cycle of blowback if only to finally (please God) stop the pirate puns.

In Defense of Pirates

Posted in Citizen Radio, media, politics, terrorism by allisonkilkenny on April 10, 2009
Hazardous waste on Somalian shore (scidev.net)

Hazardous waste on Somalian shore (scidev.net)

If I’m to believe the mainstream press and pundits (most disappointingly, Rachel Maddow,) there are bands of inexplicably evil men sailing around the Horn of Africa, pillaging ships and terrorizing sailors simply because they are pirates. And pirates are evil. End of story.

Except, that’s a rather shallow interpretation of what’s happening in the Somalian waters. Acts of piracy are acts of desperation, and not the acts of evil men. Of course, terrorizing civilians is never acceptable, though I would like to point out my own government is guilty of crimes against humanity that far exceed any acts of Somalian piracy.

In his excellent article, Johann Hari writes of a fascinating exchange between Alexander the Great and a pirate. The pirate was captured and brought before Alexander.

[Alexander] demanded to know “what he meant by keeping possession of the sea.” The pirate smiled, and responded: “What you mean by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, while you, who do it with a great fleet, are called emperor.” Once again, our great imperial fleets sail in today – but who is the robber?

Hari went into further detail about Somalian pirates when I interviewed him for my show Citizen Radio. During the interview, he explained that Somalian pirates are actually poor fishermen. It was only after Somalian waters were poisoned by western nations, and the livelihoods of Somalian fisherman were destroyed, that civilians turned to acts of piracy as means of survival.

What happened in Somalia is that in 1991, the Somalian government collapsed and the country imploded. Two processes began in different parts of Somalia; bearing in mind it has a 3000 km coastline. A European shipping fleet, mostly Spanish, Italian and some British came along and basically started industrially fishing Somalian fish, which is one of the main sources of food in a starving country. Suddenly these tiny little fishermen with nets were being out fished by these industrial trawlers and the fish started just disappearing, so there was a massive increase in hunger in Somalia.

In another part of Somalia, industrial waste from Europe begun to being dumped just off the coast, because it’s expensive to get rid of waste in Europe [whilst] it costs nothing to take it in a boat and dump it outside Somalia. The most incredible thing that was dumped was literally nuclear waste. So after the tsunami, barrels of all sorts of random shit started to wash up on the coast of Somalia, including nuclear waste that we now know [as a result] radiation sickness killed around 300 people but no ones bothering to count or check. That’s [what] the UN special envoys estimate to me was, 300 died, could be far more, no one’s looking, cleaning or doing anything.

Imagine if this happened in Florida, imagine if the government of Florida didn’t have any resources and suddenly Italians came, stole all the fish and everyone was going bust in Florida, and they started dumping nuclear waste. People of Florida would be calling for the nuking of Italy.

The Somalians with very limited resources sent what they called the ‘National Volunteer Coast Guard’ to try and stop these people, and the people we call pirates call themselves the coast guard. This is not that implausible when you bear in mind the context. It’s absolutely true that the some pirates have committed unacceptable acts, I don’t believe it’s ever right to take a hostage, [but] they haven’t killed anyone, harmed anyone, but they have taken hostages. That’s not right, they do it to get money but they then in some cases give it back to [their] communities, which have been desecrated in several instances. So it’s a good example of how something is presented as mindless insanity when actually it’s actually completely different.

Pundits (even our beloved Progressive pundits) adore simplicity, and the pirate coverage off the coast of Somalia presented to them an orgasmic, cartoonish stand-off between “noble seamen,” and “evil pirates.”

The truth is more complicated than that.

Somalians live in  a shockingly volatile environment complete with stark poverty and religious fundamentalism. Their environment has been poisoned by the west, their source of food and income destroyed, and now desperate men are resorting to desperate acts.

To stress again: it’s never acceptable to harm civilians, and hostage-taking is never a valid means of negotiation. Still, when considering the stress placed upon Somalia’s civilians, it’s actually pretty surprising that there hasn’t been more violence, and that most nautical conflicts with pirates have been resolved peacefully. (Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, even admitted that “in most of these cases to date, [the] crews have ultimately been released unharmed.”)

It’s important not to demonize Somalians, even the Somalian pirates. When we demonize our enemies, they become less than human, and it becomes easy to apply such blanket rhetoric as “terrorists.” Demonization (particularly by our media) allows hawkish figures an excuse to say that Somalia “must be invaded,” that poor fisherman AKA pirates “must be destroyed,” and that the “axis of evil” has a new peg.

Johann Hari’s official website: http://www.johannhari.com/

Allison Kilkenny’s official website is here: allisonkilkenny.com. Also available on Facebook and Twitter.

(VIDEO) Continuing Bush Policies in Israel and Afghanistan

Posted in Afghanistan, Barack Obama, foreign policy, politics by allisonkilkenny on January 26, 2009

Glenn Greenwald

us-israelBy all accounts, the U.S. is suffering extreme economic woes.  We continue to borrow trillions of dollars simply to prevent financial collapse.  Our military resources are spread so thin that the establishment consensus view blames the failure of our seven-year (and counting) occupation of Afghanistan, at least in part, on the lack of necessary resources devoted to that occupation.  And a significant (though not the only) reason why we are unable to extricate ourselves from the endless resource-draining and liberty-degrading involvement in Middle East conflicts is because our one-sided support for Israel ensures that we remain involved and makes ourselves the target of hatred around the world and, especially, in the Muslim world.

Despite all of that, the Bush administration, just days before it left office,entered into yet another new agreement with Israel pursuant to which the U.S. committed to use its resources to prevent guns and other weapons from entering Gaza.  That agreement cites “the steadfast commitment of the United States to Israel’s security” and “and to preserve and strengthen Israel’s capability to deter and defend itself,” and vows that the U.S. will “address the problem of the supply of arms and related materiel and weapons transfers and shipments to Hamas and other terrorist organizations in Gaza.”

Speaking about that new U.S./Israeli agreement on her show late last week, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow (in the course of aggressively questioning an absurdly evasive Sen. Claire McCaskill on the wisdom of Obama’s plans to escalate the war in Afghanistan and noting the cadre of Bush defense officials on whom Obama is relying — video below) observed that the Obama administration has enthusiastically expressed its full support for the new Israeli agreement entered into in the last days of Bush’s presidency.  Maddow said (h/t Antiwar.com):

Also, not particularly change-like, then-President Bush made a deal in his final day in office with Israel about the terms of Israel’s relationship with Gaza. I’m sorry – it wasn’t his last day in office. It was within his last few days in office — my mistake.

The U.S. under President Obama is bound by that last-minute agreement between the U.S. and Israel. And a statement from Press Secretary Robert Gibbs today says that President Obama supports the agreement fully.

That new agreement has already led the U.S. Navy last week to take risky and potential illegal actions in intercepting Iranian ships that were transporting arms.  As The Jerusalem Post reported:

The interception of an Iranian arms ship by the US Navy in the Red Sea last week likely was conducted as a covert operation and is being played down by the US military due to the lack of a clear legal framework for such operations, an American expert on Iran told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday evening.

International media reported that an Iranian-owned merchant vessel flying a Cypriot flag was boarded early last week by US Navy personnel who discovered artillery shells on board.

The ship was initially suspected of being en route to delivering its cargo to smugglers in Sinai who would transfer the ammunition to Hamas in Gaza, but the US Navy became uncertain over the identity of the intended recipient since “Hamas is not known to use artillery,” The Associated Press cited a defense official as saying. . . .

Prof. Raymond Tanter, president of the Washington-based Iran Policy Committee, said, “It is not surprising that the US Navy is reluctant to acknowledge the operation, which may have been covert,” adding that maritime law posed challenges when it came to intercepting ships that fly the flag of a sovereign country. . . .

For the time being, the interceptions and searches are being carried out on the basis of the memorandum of understanding signed between Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and then-US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on January 16, which is “aimed at halting arms smuggling into Gaza as part of efforts to clinch the cease-fire,” Tanter said.

The article quoted Emily Landau, director of the Arms Control and Regional Security Program at the Institute of National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, as arguing that the risk of provoking a confrontation with Iran from such interceptions is low — but not non-existent — because “Iran is not looking for an armed confrontation [with the US Navy] at this point.”

And Haaretz reports that preventing Palestinians in Gaza from re-arming itself is now — for some reason — an ongoing military operation of the United States:

A United States naval taskforce has been ordered to hunt down weapons ships sent by Iran to rearm its Islamist ally Hamas in Gaza, The Sunday Times reported.

Quoting U.S. diplomatic sources, the British daily said that Combined Task Force 151, which is countering pirates in the Gulf of Aden, has been instructed to track Iranian arms shipments.

There were several aspects of the Israeli attack on Gaza that made it even more horrifying than the standard atrocities of war:  (1) the civilian population was trapped — imprisoned — in a tiny densely-populated strip and were unable to escape the brutal attacks; and (2) it was a completely one-sided war, because one side (Israel) is armed to teeth with the world’s most sophisticated and deadly weapons, while the other side (the Palestinians) is virtually defenseless, possessing only the most primitive and (against a force like the IDF) impotent weapons.

What possible justification is there for the U.S. (as opposed to Israel) to use its military and the money of its taxpayers to ensure that the Palestinians remain defenseless?  In exactly the way that the U.S. felt free to invade Iraq (with its decayed, sanctions-destroyed “military”) but not North Korea or Iran (with its much more formidable forces), it’s precisely because the conflict is so one-sided that Israel feels no real pressure to cease the activities that, in part, feed this conflict (beginning with still-expanding West Bank settlements and the truly inhumane blockade of Gaza).  

Obviously, where one side has its foot on the throat of the other, the side with the far more dominant position has less incentive to resolve the dispute than the side being choked.  And it’s perfectly natural — not just for Israel but in general — for a party to want to maintain dominance over its adversaries and to want to prevent its enemies from obtaining weapons that can be used against it.  It’s entirely rational for Israel to desire a continuation of that particular state of affairs — i.e., for only Israel, but not the enemies with whom it has intractable territorial and religious conflicts, to have a real military force.

But what does any of that have to do with the U.S. Navy and the American taxpayer?  What possible justification is there for using American resources — the American military — to patrol the Red Sea in order to ensure that Gazans remain defenseless?  That question is particularly pronounced given that the U.S. is already shoveling, and will continue to shovel, billions and billions of dollars to Israel in military and other aid.  Why, on top of all of that, are increasingly scarce American resources, rather than Israeli resources, being used to bar Palestinians from obtaining weapons?   And why — as it is more vital than ever that we extricate ourselves from Middle Eastern conflicts — are we making ourselves still more of a partisan and combatant in this most entrenched and religiously-driven territorial dispute over the West Bank and Gaza Strip?

Israel is hardly the only country which the U.S. expends vast resources — including military resources — to defend and protect, and all of those commitments ought to be seriously re-examined.  But none of those other commitments entail anywhere near the costs — on every level — of our seemingly limitless willingness, eagerness, to involve ourselves so directly and self-destructively in every last conflict that Israel has.  Given what we are constantly being told is the grave economic peril the U.S. faces, shouldn’t we be moving in exactly the opposite direction than the imperial expansion which we continue to pursue?

* * * * *

The day after George H.W. Bush invaded Panama in one of the most absurd (though quite lethal) military operations of the last several decades (“Operation Just Cause”), The New York Times published an article by R.W. Apple on its front page celebrating Bush for having “shown his steel,” proving he was “a man capable of bold action” who “carried a big stick.”  The article proclaimed:

For George Bush, the United States invasion of Panama early this morning constituted a Presidential initiation rite as well as an attempt to achieve specific goals. . . . For better or for worse, most American leaders since World War II have felt a need to demonstrate their willingness to shed blood to protect or advance what they construe as the national interest. . . . – all of them acted in the belief that the American political culture required them to show the world promptly that they carried big sticks.

With only a week in office, Barack Obama has already fulfilled this Presidential initiation rite, as his body count — of civilians — already easily exceeds the number of days he’s been President.  Last week, two Drone missile attacks struck Pakistani villages, killing numerous civilians (including children) and maybe — though maybe not — a couple of “Al Qaeda operatives.”  And as Obama prepares to escalate the war in Afghanistan, a U.S. attack on Saturday killed 16 Afghan civilians (according to the Afghan government), and it was reported that more than 4,000 Afghan civilians were killed in the last year alone.  And read this harrowing account of what happened in an Afghan village several weeks ago during a U.S. raid and the effect this is all having on the attitudes of Afghan civilians towards the U.S. occupation (as is typically the case, the U.S. military denies the claims of the villagers). 

Despite all of that, Joe Biden yesterday told us all to expect a rise in casualties.  Questions of justifiability to the side for the moment, there is almost no discussion of what possible good will be achieved by escalating the seven-year war in Afghanistan (though the New York Times did run a thorough story on some of these questions over the weekend).  As part of the above-referenced MSNBC segment, Rachel Maddow highlighted all of the right questions, pointed to a number of vital parallels between our occupation of that country and the Soviet Union’s self-destructive attempt to control it, and tried — with total futility — to induce key Obama ally Sen. Claire McCaskill to address any of these questions in a meaningful way:

WATCH VIDEO HERE
(more…)