Here is a photo gallery from my visit on May 9, 2013, to the Iraqi National Museum, courtesy the Ministry of Culture. Ancient Iraq or Mesopotamia was, of course, the cradle of civilization, and the treasures on display are breathtaking.
Donald Rumsfeld allowed thousands of items to be looted from the museum in 2003. (US soldiers watched the looting happen but were ordered not to intervene). Many artifacts have been recovered but 3000 – 7000 are still missing. Most of the really important and striking pieces are back on display. Some things, including precious cuneiform tablets chronicling the dawn of civilization, were forever destroyed. The damage to the museum and its collection is yet another black mark against the Bush administration and, sorry, the United States of America, which by its illegal and brutal invasion and occupation diminished our store of knowledge about a crucial period of world history.
Nabil goes in: A British Muslim responds to the Woolwich murder in which Lee Rigby, 25, of 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, was butchered by clearly unbalanced persons. Our hearts go out to the Rigbys.
The next time you hear politicians campaigning on “lower taxes,” you should realize two things.
First, they don’t intend to lower your taxes, which are probably mostly social security. In fact, they might like effectively to raise those taxes by extending the retirement age. They mean they intend to lower taxes for rich people and corporations.
Second, what they really mean is that they intend to deny you basic social services of the sort government provides through your taxes, such as upkeep of roads and bridges. They want to allow the trucking and other corporations who use those resources to escape paying for them (most road degradation is caused by trucks), and pass the cost on to you, either in the form of tolls or of deteriorating infrastructure. I.e., when they campaign on lower taxes they are actually promising you that your bridges will collapse. Like the one in Washington state.
President Obama seems determined to give responsibility for drone strikes to the Department of Defense, taking it away from the Central Intelligence Agency. While there is no automatic Congressional oversight of Pentagon actions and programs, the Congress can at will call over DoD officials to explain themselves. At the moment, the program is largely handled by the CIA and is covert, so that its very existence could not be admitted by US officials and no public question could be answered about it by, e.g., the Secretary of State. I have argued that having it in the CIA makes the program profoundly undemocratic and unaccountable. That 16 senators and congressmen were told about the strikes after the fact (yes) is not sufficient and does not equal informing “Congress,” much less the public.
President Obama appears determined to reduce the use of drone strikes to instances where there is evidence of a clear and present danger to US territory. At the moment, drones are used in the place of hot pursuit to punish Taliban and al-Qaeda forces based in the tribal belt of Pakistan for supporting or engaging in operations against NATO and the Karzai government over the border in Afghanistan. Obama made it clear that such ‘force protection’ steps will cease at the end of 2014 with the withdrawal of US combat troops from Afghanistan. I also read him to say that while a strike might be carried out on an al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula operative in Yemen if there was evidence he was imminently involved in an attack on the US, the use of drones to shore up the government in Sanaa against radical Sunni Muslim challengers would cease.
The president recognizes that a condition of permanent war inevitably undermines democracy (as James Madison held), and wants to end or deeply modify the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Force. Actually, since the AUMF refers to fighting those who planned and carried out 9/11, and since the remaining such cohort is getting to be small and long in the tooth, I think it would be enough just to interpret the AUMF more literally and to not apply it to territorial, vague al-Qaeda affiliates (Obama implied this).
Obama tried to shame the Congress into letting him close down Guantanamo, where most of the remaining prisoners have either been declared victims of false arrest or where the case against them has been compromised by the US government use of torture. Keeping under lock and key dozens of people declared eligible for release, for whom no trial is envisaged, is a profound violation of both US and international law.
Obama’s defense of the continued use of drones skirted many important issues. He did not admit that the evidence used in deciding to assassinate (yes) someone in a foreign country often comes from shady and manipulative sources and may not always be trustworthy. He did not admit that the courts in Pakistan, e.g., have found US drone strikes illegal and a violation of Pakistani sovereignty, and that many at the UN and the ICC have similar concerns.
Obama asserted that the drone strikes are effective. While this view prevails at the CIA and in the NSC, there are many dissenters from it. AQAP and other radical Sunni groups have grown in numbers and influence in Yemen during the period of US drone strikes, and possibly because of them. How effective, then, have they really been? Inside the Beltway analysts are obsessed with atriting the enemy’s leadership cadre. But asymmetrical terrorist groups, some of them kin-based, don’t have that big a need for alpha leaders. Kill one, and a cousin will take over. Blowing stuff up also isn’t all that hard to do, so killing people who know how to do it doesn’t stop the bombings– others just teach themselves how to make and set off explosives.
President Obama committed himself to the continued use of targeted assassination via drone. Although he asserted the validity of a vague doctrine of self-defense as a basis for doing so, many of the considerations above bring that justification into question.
He did not admit that NGO findings that the US has killed at least 400 innocent civilians via drone strikes have been found plausible by academic social scientists
The president spent a lot of time asking Congress to do things that that Tea Party-dominated body will not do. So, in the end, the speech changes little. Obama cannot close Guantanamo. He will continue to drone people, including American citizens, to death. He will continue to target journalists for intrusive surveillance until, he said, Congress passes a shield law (why can’t he just issue an executive order that journalists are not to be targeted)? He asked for an increase in foreign aid, which isn’t going to happen. In his flights of fancy, some of that imaginary money would be used to train security forces in Libya! That would be an excellent idea, but apparently won’t happen until the Tea Party gets behind it (never).
Obama admitted that the Israel-Palestine issue roils US relations with the Muslim world (though he did not say that it is because the US is helping Israel screw over the stateless Palestinians), and argued for more diplomacy to resolve it. But the simple fact is that Obama could unilaterally put enormous pressure on Israel to change its policy of stealing Palestinian land and resources simply by declining to use his veto at the UN when the UNSC introduces resolutions of censure against the Israeli government for its illegal actions against the Palestinians. The proposition that the government of Binyamin Netanyahu is likely to take any steps toward genuine peace with the Palestinians is risible.
I’d just like to point out in closing that counter-terrorism in the Muslim world could usefully begin with better explaining the United States. We can’t do that very well with skeleton crews cowering in embassies in Tunis and Tripoli; Obama needs to stop being so afraid of the Republicans and let the diplomats do their work out there.
Some US policy may be objectionable, but people often don’t even know the basics about the US in the region. Most of them don’t speak English (yes), and the number of solid Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Indonesian and Swahili books about the United States is tiny. I have published books in Arabic about Thomas Jefferson and Martin Luther King in the past couple of years. The US government has a small translation program, but it hasn’t really gotten the word out about real US values. It should be expanded and efforts should be made to get these books into high school and university courses. Moreover, that al-Hurra satellite television channel needs to be rethought; almost no one watches it. The US isn’t serious about communicating with people instead of droning them until it does something serious about this Information Gap.
We have a word for the conscious slaughter of a racial or ethnic group: genocide. And one for the conscious destruction of aspects of the environment: ecocide. But we don’t have a word for the conscious act of destroying the planet we live on, the world as humanity had known it until, historically speaking, late last night. A possibility might be “terracide” from the Latin word for earth. It has the right ring, given its similarity to the commonplace danger word of our era: terrorist.
The truth is, whatever we call them, it’s time to talk bluntly about the terrarists of our world. Yes, I know, 9/11 was horrific. Almost 3,000 dead, massive towers down, apocalyptic scenes. And yes, when it comes to terror attacks, the Boston Marathon bombings weren’t pretty either. But in both cases, those who committed the acts paid for or will pay for their crimes.
In the case of the terrarists — and here I’m referring in particular to the men who run what may be the most profitablecorporations on the planet, giant energy companies like ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, BP, and Shell – you’re the one who’s going to pay, especially your children and grandchildren. You can take one thing for granted: not a single terrarist will ever go to jail, and yet they certainly knew what they were doing.
It wasn’t that complicated. In recent years, the companies they run have been extracting fossil fuels from the Earth in ever more frenetic and ingenious ways. The burning of those fossil fuels, in turn, has put record amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. Only this month, the CO2 level reached 400 parts per million for the first time in human history. A consensus of scientists has long concluded that the process was warming the world and that, if the average planetary temperature rose more than two degrees Celsius, all sorts of dangers could ensue, including seas rising high enough to inundate coastal cities, increasingly intenseheat waves, droughts, floods, ever more extreme storm systems, and so on.
How to Make Staggering Amounts of Money and Do In the Planet
None of this was exactly a mystery. It’s in the scientific literature. NASA scientist James Hansen first publicized the reality of global warming to Congress in 1988. It took a while — thanks in part to the terrarists — but the news of what was happening increasingly made it into the mainstream. Anybody could learn about it.
Those who run the giant energy corporations knew perfectly well what was going on and could, of course, have read about it in the papers like the rest of us. And what did they do? They put their money into fundingthink tanks, politicians, foundations, and activists intent on emphasizing “doubts” about the science (since it couldn’t actually be refuted); they and their allies energetically promoted what came to be known as climate denialism. Then they sent their agents and lobbyists and money into the political system to ensure that their plundering ways would not be interfered with. And in the meantime, they redoubled their effortsto get ever tougher and sometimes “dirtier” energy out of the ground in ever tougher and dirtier ways.
Iran’s Guardian Council startled that country when it announced that Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president (1989-1997) who was among the founders of the Islamic Republic, would not be allowed to run for president in the June election. Less surprising, it struck down the candidacy of Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, a confidant of outgoing president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Their exclusion is a further step toward authoritarianism and perhaps totalitarianism in Iran. For all its flaws and illiberal tendencies, the Islamic Republic did have, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, a democratic side to it. Even though the presidential candidates and those running for parliament were vetted, and many excluded, a spectrum of candidates did run and elections did produce surprises. Now, the ideological litmus test for office is becoming more and more narrow, and the regime seems determined to prevent surprises even if it means ballot-stuffing.
A major challenge for the remaining 8 presidential candidates will to get anyone to care about an election conducted on a vary narrow basis, which might well be fixed anyway.
The two excluded candidates had something in common. They had caused headaches for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Rafsanjani had argued in summer of 2009 during the Green Movement that Ruhollah Khomeini’s vision of the Islamic Republic had had a strong popular and democratic dimension, and acknowledged a limited form of popular sovereignty. Rafsanjani is no democrat, and is a billionaire elitist, but he did not approve of the election being stolen that year, and he clearly did not approve of Khamenei’s authoritarian interpretation of the meaning of the Islamic Republic. I wrote at that time, in 2009, of a major sermon by Rafsanjani:
“Another piece of evidence for the popular character of the Islamic Republic, Rafsanjani says, is Khomeini’s own haste to establish lay, elected institutions and to implement a republican constitution. He maintains that Khomeini actually strengthened some of the popular institutions when he made suggestions for revision of the draft constitution. Even having a constitution is a bow to popular sovereignty, he implies, and he contrasts the haste with which revolutionary Iran established a rule of law and popular input into government with the slowness of these processes in countries such as Algeria.
Then Rafsanjani says:
“As you are aware, according to the constitution, everything in the country is determined by people’s vote. People elect the members of the Assembly of Expert[s] and then they elect leader, that is, the leader is (indirectly) elected by people’s vote. Presidents, MPs, members of the councils are elected by direct votes of the people. Other officials are also appointed (indirectly) through people’s vote. Everything depends on people. This is the religious system. The title of Islamic Republic is not used as a formality. It includes both the republican and Islamic nature.”
He points out that the parliament, president and members of municipal councils are drectly elected. But the Supreme Leader is indirectly elected, since he is chosen by the Assembly of Experts. But they in turn are directly elected by the people (i.e. the Experts are a sort of electoral college in American terms).
Opinion polling shows that Iranians mostly want the Supreme Leader to be directly elected. But Rafsanjani’s point is that even the Supreme Leader, whom some see as a theocratic dictator, derives his position from the operation of popular sovereignty.”
Rafsanjani was roundly condemned for the thrust of this sermon, which leant nuanced support to the Green Movement (who supported Mirhossein Mousavi, the candidate the regime said had lost).
Still, the exclusion of one of the founders of the Islamic Republic, and a former president, from running for this office, shocked many Iranians (see at end).
As for Rahim Mashaie, he was widely seen as a way that Ahmadinejad sought to extend his influence into the future. Ahmadinejad is a right wing populist, often having campaigned against the wealthy ayatollahs and businessmen of Khamenei’s Establishment. He also tried to maintain at least some autonomy from the Supreme Leader, insisting on making his own cabinet appointments, and was slapped down for it.
The exclusion of these two is a sign that Khamenei does not want an independent-minded president who might appeal to the people in any contest of will with the Supreme Leader.
Some observers believe that Khamenei intends to abolish the presidency and go to a parliamentary system, with a prime minister. The Supreme Leader would have more unchallenged power in such an arrangement, and would in a sense combine the powers of Theocrat and president. In this reading, Khamenei only wants a yes man as president, since this election is a way station toward ending the office.
Tehran Mehr News Agency in Persian at 0918 GMT on 22 May reported that Iranian conservative MP Ali Motahhari has said that the Guardian Council’s move to bar former President Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani from running in the June polls was “politically-driven.”
Motahhari said that it was “wrong” for the vetting body to disqualify Hashemi-Rafsanjani and approve the candidacy of nuclear negotiator Sa’id Jalili.
“This showed that the Guardian Council’s approach is political rather than legal or ideological,” the MP told Mehr.
“They have provided two reasons for the disqualification of Mr Hashemi, both of which are unsubstantiated. The first one is the lack of physical fitness, and the second one is that he played a role in the 88 sedition (unrest after the 2009 elections).”
“In order to measure the physical fitness of Mr Hashemi, I propose a 100-metre running competition between him and Mr Jalili, and a wrestling match between Mr Hashemi and Mr Haddad,” Mehr further quoted the MP as saying.
Sa’id Jalili, an approved presidential candidate who is currently the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, lost his right leg in the 1980s Iran-Iraq war.
“Regarding the 88 sedition too, there were slanders against Mr Hashemi and his family in the live televised presidential debates then. He asked the state broadcaster to give him air time to defend himself and they did not,” Motahhari added.
“Also, how did Mr Jalili’s candidacy get approved, given his lack of experience? Can a few meetings and negotiations with Catherine Ashton (EU’s foreign policy chief) qualify anyone to become the president?”
“I think the only solution is that the Supreme Leader approves Mr Hashemi’s eligibility to run in the election with an official decree. This is not far from imagination: After he registered his candidacy, Mr Hashemi told him (the Supreme Leader) that he would withdraw if the Leader was against it, and the Leader had said that he was not against it.”
(Description of Source: Tehran Mehr News Agency in Persian — Conservative news agency, run by the Islamic Propagation Office, and affiliated with the conservative Qom seminary; in October 2010, prominent long-time journalist Reza Moqaddasi, previously an executive director of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, was appointed to a four-year term as managing director; URL: www.mehrnews.com)