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The Saudi-Israeli Superpower

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By Robert Parry | Consortium News | August 29, 2013

The twin crises in Syria and Egypt have marked the emergence of a new superpower coalition in the Middle East, the odd-couple alliance of Israel and Saudi Arabia, with Jordon serving as an intermediary and the Persian Gulf oil sheikdoms playing a supporting role.

The potential impact of this new coalition can barely be overstated, with Israel bringing to the table its remarkable propaganda skills and its unparalleled influence over U.S. foreign policy and Saudi Arabia tapping into its vast reservoir of petrodollars and exploiting its global financial networks. Together the two countries are now shaping international responses to the conflicts in Syria and Egypt, but that may only be the start.

Though Israel and Saudi Arabia have had historic differences – one a Jewish religious state and the other embracing the ultraconservative Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam – the two countries have found, more recently, that their interests intersect.

Both see Iran, with its Shiite rulers, as their principal regional rival. Both are leery of the populist Islamic movements unleashed by the Arab Spring. Both sided with the Egyptian military in its coup against the elected Muslim Brotherhood government, and both are pleased to see Syrian President Bashar al-Assad facing a possible military assault from the United States.

While the two countries could be accused of riding the whirlwind of chaos across the Middle East – inviting a possibility that the sectarian divisions and the political violence will redound negatively to their long-term interests – there can be little doubt that they are enjoying at least short-term gains.

In recent months, Israel has seen its strategic position enhanced by the overthrow of Egypt’s populist Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi, a political change that has further isolated the Hamas-led Palestinians in Gaza. Meanwhile, in Lebanon, the Shiite movement of Hezbollah has come under increasing military and political pressure after sending militants into Syria to support the embattled Assad regime.

Assad is an Alawite, a branch of Shiite Islam, and has been a longtime benefactor of Hezbollah, the political-military movement that drove Israeli forces out of southern Lebanon and has remained a thorn in Israel’s side. The growing sectarian nature of the Syrian civil war, with Sunnis leading the fight against Assad, also served to drive a wedge between Hamas, a Sunni movement, and two of its key benefactors, the Syrian government and its Iranian allies.

In other words, Israel is benefiting from the Sunni-Shiite divisions ripping apart the Islamic world as well as from the Egyptian coup which further weakened Hamas by re-imposing the Gaza blockade. Now, Israel has a freer hand to dictate a political solution to the already-weak Palestinian Authority on the West Bank when peace talks resume.

A Method to Neocon Madness

Giving Israel this upper hand has long been the goal of American neoconservatives, although they surely could not have predicted the precise course of recent history. The idea of “regime change” in Iraq in 2003 was part of a neocon strategy of making a “clean break” with frustrating negotiations in which Israel was urged to trade land for peace with the Palestinians.

The plan to dump negotiations in favor of confrontations was outlined in a 1996 policy paper, entitled “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm” and prepared by prominent neocons, including Richard Perle and Douglas Feith, for Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign for prime minister.

In the document, the neocons wrote: “Israel can shape its strategic environment, in cooperation with Turkey and Jordan by weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria. This effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq – an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right — as a means of foiling Syria’s regional ambitions.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Mysterious Why of the Iraq War.”]

The neocons failed to persuade President Bill Clinton to invade Iraq in the late 1990s, but their hopes brightened when George W. Bush became president in 2001 and when the American people were whipped into a state of hysteria by the 9/11 attacks.

Still, it appears that the neocons believed their own propaganda about the Iraqis welcoming American troops as liberators and accepting a U.S. puppet as their new leader. That, in turn, supposedly was to lead Iraq to establish friendly ties with Israel and give the U.S. military bases for promoting “regime change” in Syria and Iran.

In 2002, as President Bush was winding up to deliver his haymaker against Saddam Hussein, neocons passed around a favorite joke about where to go next after conquering Iraq. Should it be Syria or Iran, Damascus or Tehran? The punch line was: “Real men go to Tehran!”

However, the Iraq War didn’t work out exactly as planned. Bush did succeed in ousting Hussein from power and enjoyed watching him marched to the gallows, dropped through a trapdoor and hanged by the neck until dead. But the U.S. occupation touched off a sectarian bloodbath with Hussein’s Sunni minority repressed by the newly empowered Shiite majority. Sunni extremists flocked to Iraq from around the Middle East to kill both Iraqi Shiites and Americans.

The end result of the Iraq War was to transform Iraq from a Sunni-ruled authoritarian state into a Shiite-ruled authoritarian state, albeit still a place where sectarian bombings are nearly a daily occurrence. Yet, one of the principal beneficiaries of the Iraq War was Iran with its Shiite theocratic government unexpectedly finding itself with a new Shiite ally replacing a longtime Sunni enemy, Saddam Hussein, all thanks to the United States.

Widening Violence

But the Iraq War had another consequence. It exacerbated sectarian tensions across the region. Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf oil states that had supported Hussein in his war with Iran in the 1980s, were shocked to see Iran now have a “Shiite crescent” of influence extending through Iraq and Syria to the Shiite enclaves in Lebanon.

The Saudi monarchy was shaken, too, by the popular uprisings known as the Arab Spring. Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak, a longtime Saudi ally, was ousted and replaced by a democratically elected government led by the populist Muslim Brotherhood.

Though the Muslim Brotherhood was Sunni, too, the movement represented a mix of Islam and democratization, which posed a threat to the Saudi princes who live pampered lives of unimaginable wealth and privilege. On a personal level, these playboys confine their wives to humiliating conditions out of the Middle Ages while the men sample the pleasures of lavish European resorts or fly in Scandinavian prostitutes for parties.

Yet, while the Arab Spring sent shivers down the spines of the oil sheiks of the Persian Gulf – and even brought a Saudi military intervention to put down a Shiite-led democratic uprising in Bahrain – the political upheavals also presented an opportunity to Saudi geopolitical strategists, the likes of Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the former ambassador to the United States and now head of Saudi intelligence.

By supporting rebels and militants in Syria, for instance, the Saudis and the other oil sheiks saw a chance to reverse Iran’s geopolitical gains. And, by funneling billions of dollars to the Egyptian generals, the Persian Gulf monarchists countered any pressure for restraint from the United States.

Increasingly, too, the interests of Saudi Arabia and Israel began crisscrossing, sparking a relationship that the Jordanian monarchy helped broker and encourage. Jordan has strong security ties to Israel and is dependent on the largesse of the Persian Gulf royals, making it a perfect matchmaker for this unlikely hook-up.

According to intelligence sources, Jordan has been the principal site for bilateral contacts between Israelis and Saudis, a behind-the-scenes alliance that finally went public with their joint support for the Egyptian coup. While Saudi Arabia arranged the finances for Egypt’s new military regime, Israel deployed its potent lobby in Washington to dissuade President Barack Obama from labeling the coup a coup, which would have forced a shutoff of U.S. military aid.

New Superpower

Now, this new powerhouse combo is teaming up on Syria, where the Saudis and other Persian Gulf states have been financing the rebels seeking to destabilize and possibly overthrow the Assad government, while the Israelis have been deploying their political and propaganda assets to increase international pressure on Assad.

Both the Saudis and the Israelis stand to benefit from having Assad’s regime bled over time into either a weakened state or its demise. For Saudi Arabia, regime change in Syria that would mark a strategic victory against its chief rival Iran.

Israel also would like to see Iran undercut and isolated, but there is the additional benefit of hurting Hezbollah and further alienating the Palestinians from important sources of support, i.e. Iran and Syria. That gets Israel closer to the neocon vision of leaving desperate Palestinians with little choice but to accept whatever “peace” terms that Israel chooses to dictate.

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There is, of course, a potential downside for Israel and the West. Since Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states are arming some of the most radical Islamists fighting in Syria, including groups affiliated with al-Qaeda, one outcome of the Syrian civil war could be a new haven for Islamic terrorism in the heart of the Middle East. In the 1980s, Saudi Arabia was the principal funder for Osama bin Laden and his jihadists who traveled to Afghanistan to fight the  Soviets before turning their hatred and suicidal tactics against the United States.

The emerging Saudi-Israeli alliance also may have serious ramifications for global geopolitics. The combination of Saudi Arabia’s extraordinary financial and economic clout and Israel’s equally extraordinary capacity to pull political and propaganda strings, especially inside the United States, could mean that a new superpower has stepped onto the international stage.

Its arrival may be heralded by whether Saudi Arabia and Israel can jointly yank the United States into the Syrian civil war.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).

August 29, 2013 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Timeless or most popular, Wars for Israel | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Victory! Federal Court Recognizes Constitutional Rights of Americans on the No-Fly List

By Nusrat Choudhury | ACLU | August 29, 2013 

A federal court took a critically important step late yesterday towards placing a check on the government’s secretive No-Fly List. In a 38-page ruling in Latif v. Holder, the ACLU’s challenge to the No-Fly List, U.S. District Court Judge Anna Brown recognized that the Constitution applies when the government bans Americans from the skies. She also asked for more information about the current process for getting off the list, to inform her decision on whether that procedure violates the Fifth Amendment guarantee of due process.

We represent 13 Americans, including four military veterans, who are blacklisted from flying. At oral argument in June on motions for partial summary judgment, we asked the court to find that the government violated our clients’ Fifth Amendment right to due process by barring them from flying over U.S. airspace – and smearing them as suspected terrorists – without giving them any after-the-fact explanation or a hearing at which to clear their names.

The court’s opinion recognizes – for the first time – that inclusion on the No-Fly List is a draconian sanction that severely impacts peoples’ constitutionally-protected liberties. It rejected the government’s argument that No-Fly list placement was merely a restriction on the most “convenient” means of international travel.

Such an argument ignores the numerous reasons an individual may have for wanting or needing to travel overseas quickly such as for the birth of a child, the death of a loved one, a business opportunity, or a religious obligation.

According to the court, placement on the No-Fly List is like the revocation of a passport because both actions severely burden the right to international travel and give rise to a constitutional right to procedural due process:

Here it is undisputed that inclusion on the No-Fly List completely bans listed persons from boarding commercial flights to or from the United States or over United States air space.  Thus, Plaintiffs have shown their placement on the No-Fly List has in the past and will in the future severely restrict Plaintiffs’ ability to travel internationally. Moreover, the realistic implications of being on the No-Fly List are potentially far-reaching. For example, TSC [the Terrorist Screening Center] shares watchlist information with 22 foreign governments and United States Customs and Boarder [sic] Protection makes recommendations to ship captains as to whether a passenger poses a risk to transportation security, which can result in further interference with an individual’s ability to travel as evidenced by some Plaintiffs’ experiences as they attempted to travel abroad by boat and land and were either turned away or completed their journey only after an extraordinary amount of time, expense, and difficulty. Accordingly, the Court concludes on this record that Plaintiffs have a constitutionally-protected liberty interest in traveling internationally by air, which is affected by being placed on the list.

The court also found that the government’s inclusion of our clients on the No-Fly List smeared them as suspected terrorists and altered their ability to lawfully board planes, resulting in injury to another constitutionally-protected right: freedom from reputational harm.

The importance of these rulings is clear. Because inclusion on the No-Fly List harms our clients’ liberty interests in travel and reputation, due process requires the government to provide them an explanation and a hearing to correct the mistakes that led to their inclusion. But under the government’s “Glomar” policy, it refuses to provide any information confirming or denying that our clients are on the list, let alone an after-the-fact explanation and hearing.

The court has asked the ACLU and the government for more information about the No-Fly List redress procedure to help it decide the ultimate question of whether that system violates the Fifth Amendment right to due process. We are confident the court will recognize that the government’s “Glomar” policy of refusing even to confirm or deny our clients’ No-Fly List status (much less actually providing the reasons for their inclusion in the list) is fundamentally unfair and unconstitutional.

August 29, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , | Leave a comment

Selective ‘obscenity’: US checkered record on chemical weapons

RT | August 29, 2013

The US charge against Syria is being driven by Damascus’ alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians. While Washington is quick to intervene on moral grounds, its own checkered past regarding WMDs may put the world’s policeman under the spotlight.

“Nobody disputes – or hardly anybody disputes – that chemical weapons were used on a large scale in Syria against civilian populations,” US President Barack Obama told a briefing Wednesday. “We have looked at all the evidence, and we do not believe the opposition possessed … chemical weapons of that sort.”

It is this charge, so far unsubstantiated by UN inspectors, that underpins Western attempts to intervene militarily in Syria.

“If we are saying in a clear and decisive but very limited way, we send a shot across the bow saying, ‘Stop doing this,’ this can have a positive impact on our national security over the long term,” Obama said.

On Monday, US Secretary of State John Kerry was more emphatic in stressing the ethical basis for intervention.

“Let me be clear: The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders, by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity.”

The obscenity of such attacks is a reality Kerry is all too familiar with, as the decorated war veteran served at a time when the US was engaged in a decade of chemical warfare in Vietnam.

From 1962 to 1971, the US military sprayed an estimated 20 million gallons of defoliants and herbicides over Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in a bid to deprive the Vietcong of food and cover.

The Vietnamese government estimates that 400,000 people were killed or maimed and 500,000 children born with birth defects as a result of the so-called ‘rainbow herbicides.’

Christopher Busby, an expert on the health effects of ionizing radiation and Scientific Secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk, said it was important to make the distinction that defoliants such as Agent Orange are not anti-personnel weapons designed to kill or deform people, and are thus “not quite the same as using a nerve gas or something that is intended against personnel.”

“But nevertheless, it had a very serious effect, and they shouldn’t have used it because they must have known that it would have these side-effects,” Busby said. “At least, when they were using it they must have learned that there would be these side-effects, and they should have stopped using them at this or that point. But they didn’t.”

A similar legacy was left by the deployment of white phosphorous and depleted uranium following the US-led 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Busby said that while the genotoxic effects of white phosphorous were debatable, the deadliness of depleted uranium was beyond question.

“All of the genetic damage effects that we see in Iraq, in my opinion, were caused by… depleted uranium weapons. And also [non]-depleted uranium weapons of a new type. And these are really terrible weapons. These are weapons whic have absolutely destroyed the genetic integrity of the population of Iraq,” he said.

The people of Fallujah, where some of the most intense fighting during the Iraq war took place, have since suffered a veritable health crisis.

Four studies on the health crisis in the city were published in 2012. Busby, an author and co-author of two of them, described Fallujah as having “the highest rate of genetic damage in any population ever studied.”

There is a case to be made that in terms of Agent Orange, White Phosphorous and depleted uranium, the often deadly consequences have been a side-effect rather than the goal of their deployment.

While Washington currently argues that the use of chemical weapons is a “red line” that requires a swift and immediate military response to deter future crimes against humanity, the US has a checkered record on the issue, said former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, citing the time when then-US ally Saddam Hussein deployed chemical weapons against Iran during the Iran-Iraq War – with US knowledge.

“We had the famous picture of Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam Hussein,” McGovern told RT. “That happened the day after the first public announcement that the Iraqis had used mustard gas against the Iranians. So [turning a] blind eye, yeah, in spades.”

“The problem is that we knew what was going on, and there is a Geneva Convention against the use of chemical warfare. Our top leaders knew it,” McGovern continued. “The question is: had they no conscience, had they no shame?”

For more, watch Marina Portnaya’s full report:

August 29, 2013 Posted by | Timeless or most popular, Video, War Crimes | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The New Crossfire: Where Both Sides Support War With Syria

By Peter Hart | FAIR | August 28, 2013

CNN-Crossfire-SyriaCNN is bringing back Crossfire next month, but viewers on August 27 got a taste of what they might expect: The left thinks we should bomb Syria, while the right thinks we should have started that a long time ago.

On the show The Lead, guest host John Berman moderated a “debate” between conservative S.E. Cupp and left-leaning Van Jones.

“Look, I want to commend the president for finally following through on our red line threats,” Cupp declared–before explaining that Obama’s plan was too timid:

We should absolutely intervene to stop the genocide of more than 100,000 people. We should absolutely intervene to stop Al-Qaeda and Islamic extremism from jihadizing yet another conflict. It is absolutely our obligation, and instead we do the bare minimum to save face and pat ourselves on the back for our civility and our diplomacy. I think it’s pathetic.

OK, and from the left? Jones said:

This president has now said there is a red line. It was not clear before whether the line was crossed. It’s crossed, he’s moving forward. I think we need to stand behind this president and send a clear message to Assad that this type behavior is not acceptable.

And:

If you kill Assad right now, wonderful. You have a huge power vacuum. Who is going to fill it? Listen, people have a nostalgia for 1953 when the U.S. could just sort of thump out dictators like in Iran. This is not the world we live in. It is a tough neighborhood over there, and the idea that we should have a more bloodthirsty and reckless president, I reject.

I’m not sure what “thumping out dictators like in Iran” is supposed to mean; in 1953, the United States supported a coup against Iran’s elected president.

But back to Syria: The American public is generally and overwhelmingly skeptical of military strikes on Syria. But in CNN‘s left/right debate, that point of view seems to be missing entirely.

August 29, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Moscow: No Strike Against Syria This Week

By Jean Aziz | Al-Akhbar | August 29, 2013

Diplomatic sources in Russia say that those who are expecting a military strike against Syria will have to wait a little longer, predicting a fight at the UN Security Council before Washington sends its Tomahawks over Damascus.

There are those in the Syrian capital who were convinced that media reports of an imminent strike – with many reporting that Thursday, August 29 was the zero hour – were largely accurate, expecting US missiles to rain down on Damascus in the coming hours.

The media had declared that four US naval vessels were already in place near the Syrian coast, ready to unleash 90 Tomahawk missiles each on a variety of military targets throughout the country. Western officials and analysts, however, all talked of a limited attack that was not intended to topple the regime.

A Russian diplomatic source seemed quite confident that Washington is not quite ready to carry out the attack, at least not this week, and all the bluster that we heard from Western capitals is beginning to temper, particularly after considering the repercussions of military action on the region as a whole.

The diplomat explained that the Obama administration has now decided to expend all means to get “international legitimacy” for the strike by resorting to the UN Security Council, where they will once again hit a wall of opposition from China and Russia. This, the source added, will take them at least a few days to reach a dead end.

There is also the question of obtaining Congress’ approval, which Obama has decided to seek, perhaps for internal political calculations, according to the Russian diplomat, adding that they do not plan to meet to discuss the issue before the beginning of next week.

He noted that Moscow has opened all its lines of communication with Washington, and that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is in constant contact with his US counterpart John Kerry to keep up with all the developments and prevent any misunderstandings or miscommunication.

It is through these channels, which the source says Moscow opened with the Europeans too, that they have sensed a de-escalation on the part of the West, moderating their tone. This may not mean that they no longer intend to wage an attack and are just buying time to prepare the necessary forces, he added, but it does offer an opportunity to try to diffuse the situation.

The diplomat was not overly concerned about the fact that Washington canceled the August 28 meeting in The Hague to discuss plans for the Geneva II conference, maintaining that the American side remains keen on a political solution to the Syrian crisis and will agree with Russia on a new date this Fall.

He went on to reveal that there are approximately 17,000 Russian citizens that remain in Syria today, who work as “experts” in various state institutions, and it is the duty of Moscow to protect them from any bodily harm. He explained that there are no plans to evacuate them for the time being, confirming that a few hundred families have departed by way of Beirut in the last few days.

What will happen then? All possibilities are still open – it is like the Cuban missile crisis but on a smaller scale, he replied, so anything is possible. What is important is that we don’t think anything will happen this week, so sleep easy and we will wake you when the hour of reckoning approaches.

August 29, 2013 Posted by | Militarism | , , , | Leave a comment

Misunderstanding, militarized

By Matt Erickson | LJWorld | August 21, 2013

[Jerry] Dobson, a professor of geography at Kansas University [KU], is the lead researcher on one of 14 projects to win grants this year from the Minerva Research Initiative, a U.S. Department of Defense effort to learn more about other parts of the world through social-science research.  He and other researchers will receive about $1.8 million over three years to study indigenous communities throughout Central America, with a possibility to apply for renewal and receive a total of $3 million over five years. […] “There are too many instances where misunderstanding of other areas has cost us,” Dobson said. From Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan, he says, the United States may have fared better in many of its conflicts over the past half-century with more knowledge about the culture and politics of other parts of the world.

Yes, the Bowman expeditions are back, rebooted by a Department of Defense Minerva grant, and soon to arrive in all seven Central American countries.  To study which indigenous peoples, exactly?  Usually in academia such things are not secret, but this project involves the US military.  After reading Erickson’s story I wrote Professor Dobson to ask for a copy of his research proposal.  In reply to my request, he sent me a link to one of his peevish essays.  I thanked him for the piece and asked for the proposal again; he replied by asking if I had read his essay—which, I gather, he sees as a scathing rebuke of critical scholars like me, hence an answer in itself.  That’s the thing about collaborating with the military: it makes you more cloistered and secretive.  The fraternal romance of power creeps in.  Pretty soon you don’t share basic information about your research with other scholars, even when the work is funded from the public and motivated, ostensibly, by a need to create an “informed public.”

In fairness to Professor Dobson, he has reason to be defensive.  His work has come under sharp criticism (see Joe Bryan’s essay, e.g., and its links).  I recently published a book, Geopiracy: Oaxaca, militant empiricism, and geographic thought, that examines how Dr. Dobson and other geographers from the University of Kansas went to Mexico to map indigenous lands with funds from the US military and, according to the communities they studied, failed to mention the source of their funds and their ties to the US military.  I won’t recapitulate the whole story (you can read Jeremy Crampton’s review here), but it’s worth remembering that the controversy started when indigenous communities in Oaxaca discovered the ties between the Bowman expeditions and the US military.  They rebelled, publishing a trio of public denunciations of the project, such as this 2009 letter from the community of San Miguel Tiltepec, Oaxaca:

[The geographers] never informed us that the data they collected in our community would be given to the Foreign Military Study Office (FMSO) of the Army of the United States, nor did they inform us that this institution was one of the sources of financing for the project.  Because of this, we consider that our General Assembly was tricked by the researchers, in order to draw out the information the[y] wanted.  The community did not request the research[;] it was the researchers who convinced the community to carry it out.  Thus, the research was not carried out due to the community’s need, it was the researchers […] who designed the research method in order to collect the type of information that truly interested them. […] [W]e wish to express to the public […] our complete disagreement with the research carried out in our community, since we were not properly informed of the true goals of the research, the use of the information obtained, and the sources of financing [for the entire statement, see Zoltan Grossman’s website].

The ‘Oaxaca controversy’ shocked many by revealing US military collaboration with academic geographers.  With his NSF/Minerva grant, Professor Dobson is again spearheading the military front within the discipline.  Although to read the coverage of his work in LJWorld, it seems the sole motivation is cultural understanding.

Thanks to the Public Records Office at the University of Kansas, I was able to obtain a copy of the proposal that won Dr. Dobson the $3 million.  As a scholarly proposal it is not worth serious discussion.  The text is comprised mainly of recycled bits of Bowman Expedition doggerel; superficially it resembles an NSF proposal, but the analytical architecture is just shoddy.  For instance, their research hypothesis is: “certain land tenure and land use practices will mean significant level of cultural resilience, with associated benefits, such as environmental conservation and tourism development…” (p 4).  Yet these “certain” practices are never defined and the brief theoretical discussion on land tenure relies mainly on a handful of US military sources.  Their methodology is to vacuum up as much material about indigenous communities as they can obtain and repackage everything into one giant “ArcGIS database of digital maps, data, and statistics” (p 5).

Nevertheless, the proposal contains these useful hints about the project.  Their fieldwork is based out of the Department of Anthropology at the National Autonomous University of Honduras (or UNAH) where they are collaborating with anthropologist Dr. Silva Gonzalez (p 5).  They aim to study all the municipalities in Central America where at least 30% of the population is indigenous as classified by language (p 7).  Presumably this means that they will conduct considerable fieldwork in Guatemala – home to the largest percentage of indigenous people in Central American – although, curiously, Honduras is the only country singled out for fieldwork in the proposal.

Less ambiguous are their promises about the project’s usefulness to the US military.  The proposal’s one-page ‘abstract’ includes this statement:

Impact on DoD Capabilities and Broader Implications for National Defense: The proposed research addresses recognized deficiencies in U. S. foreign policy, military strategy, and foreign intelligence.  DoD will gain new capabilities to conduct human geographic research, similar to but more advanced than those employed extensively in World Wars I and II.  DoD will benefit directly and abundantly from the openly-reported research and the geographic information disseminated and from a greatly improved pool of regional experts, an improved labor pool, and a better informed public in times of future political debates and conflict [my italics].

Never mind a weak analytical argument; this is the stuff that wins Minerva grants.

The Minerva program emerged out of the DoD circa 2007, i.e. the same era as the Bowman expeditions.  Through Minerva the DoD seeks to derive ideas and data about potential targets from US-based social scientists.  To do so, the Pentagon has teamed up with NSF (which engages the scholars and handles the money).  The funding isn’t enormous – a few million dollars per grant – but these are times when money is scarce and even research proposals rated as ‘excellent’ are not necessarily funded by NSF.  Ironically, the competitiveness of normal NSF (scientific) funding increases the prestige value of the Minerva (military) grants.  And the NSF helps some Minerva applicants assuage their fears that they are not actually conducting military research.  But make no mistake; it is the DoD’s money and they shape the agenda.  They will also certainly get the ArcGIS database being built by the Kansas geographers.

Geographers have not been at the forefront of the Minerva program; Dr. Dobson’s was, I believe, the only geography proposal funded in this year’s batch.  Among geographers there is practically nothing written on Minerva, but perhaps Dobson’s grant will change that (the Social Science Research Council has posted a useful overview on Minerva with some good essays, such as this one by Priya Satia at Stanford).  To grasp something of the psychology of those geographers working with the US military today, we are best served by studying the recent pair of extraordinary papers published by Trevor Barnes on Walter Christaller’s work for the Nazi regime (including this one, coauthored with Claudio Minca, in Annals of the AAG 103(3)).  And in times of Bowman redux, we should reread the late Neil Smith’s outstanding biography of Isaiah Bowman, American Empire:

[C]iting the ‘growing influence of geography among military men,’ [Bowman] even urged the War Department [today’s Department of Defense] to send some officers to the AGS [sponsor of today’s Bowman expeditions] to advance their studies in ‘the field of geography as applied to military operations’.  He hedged about whether Latin American governments should be informed.  What became of these plans tendering geography for the purpose of government spying is not clear.  There have always been social scientists who have collaborated with government intelligence organizations, and from the time of the Roman geographer Strabo to the current CIA [headed by Petraeus], geography as a scholarly pursuit has traditionally operated as a handmaiden to the state.  But the great majority of scholars have traditionally frowned on collusion with military intelligence operations, and scholarly associations often carry explicit prohibitions against spying. […] What is remarkable about Bowman’s injudicious peddling of geography and the services of the AGS is the lack of any sense that his eager cooperation with Military Intelligence, the government’s premier spy agency of this period, in any way compromises his scientific integrity or endangers scientists (pp. 89-90).

The Bowman Expeditions represent only one side-project for the US state/military and a small one at that.  Thanks to Edward Snowden, the NSA’s spying has been exposed and we’ve learned how hundreds of thousands of people in the US have been subject to government surveillance.  The situation is much worse when we consider US state surveillance of the rest of the world.  The task of systematically collecting geospatial data and conducting routine surveillance around the world for the US state/military falls to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), an organization that has not received the scrutiny given to the NSA.  (On the NSA revelations and the NGA, see Jeremy Crampton’s excellent essay at the Society and Space website.)  No less worrying are the myriad military programs to improve how the US armed forces – particularly the Army – ‘uses’ human geography as a weapon.  As I have discussed elsewhere, these are geographical projects of much greater significance than the Bowman expeditions and led by people who are more dangerous than Professor Dobson.

We are witnessing an unprecedented attempt by one state to collect data – much of it geocoded – from multiple sources (data mining, satellites, outright spying, and much more), reaching into the most intimate spaces of our lives and saturating our very means of communication.  The US government has constructed an unparalleled platform for geospatial data collection and analyses, capable of mapping people’s movements and communications across the entire planet.  All of this has potential military ‘applications’, meaning the potential to harm people, including US citizens (since we can have little faith that these tools cannot be used on civilians through police, FBI, or other agencies).  The capacity of the US state/military to locate, follow, track, and kill people is without precedent and without equal, and that is the point.  Given the extraordinary record of violence carried out by the US government over the past century – from Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan – one would have to have an almost religious faith in the infallibility of US leadership and the rightness of their ideology not to look at the government’s military/intelligence capacities and feel enraged at the injustices already committed—and the many more to come.

What are we to do?  One way to answer this question, as Professor Dobson reminds us, is to ask how we can “reduce international misunderstandings.”  His approach is to militarize those misunderstandings by providing maps and data to the Pentagon.  There is another way, one elaborated beautifully by Edward Said in a 1991 interview.  Allow me to quote at length:

There’s only one way to anchor oneself [as an intellectual], and that is by affiliation with a cause, a political movement.  There has to be identification not with the secretary of state or the leading philosopher of the time but with matters involving justice, principle, truth, conviction.  Those don’t occur in a laboratory or a library.  For the American intellectual, that means, at bottom, that the relationship between the United States and the rest of the world, now based upon profit and power, has to be altered to one of coexistence among human communities that can make and remake their own histories and environments together. … [Unfortunately, even] inside the university, the prevalence of norms based upon domination and coercion is so strong because the idea of authority is so strong, whether it’s derived from the nation-state, from religion, from the ethnos, from tradition. … Part of intellectual work is understanding how authority is formed.  Authority is not God-given.  It’s secular.  And if you can understand that, then your work is conducted in such a way as to be able to provide alternatives to the authoritative and coercive norms that dominate so much of our intellectual life, our national and political life, and our international life above all.

If we are going to criticize the formation of authority and provide alternatives to the norms that dominate intellectual life, we have no choice: we must confront the US military.

~

Joel Wainwright is an Associate Professor in Geography at The Ohio State University. His most recent book Geopiracy: Oaxaca, Militant Empiricism, and Geographical Thought delivers an expanded critique of the first round of Bowman expeditions.

August 29, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance, Militarism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Colombia: With a “Mea Culpa,” the Arrogant Santos Government Relents

By Nazih Richani | Cuadernos Colombianos | August 27, 2013

The rural workers who have mounted Colombia’s national agrarian strike are staying the course after four peasants and one policeman were killed and scores more detained. Hundred of thousands of peasants and small farmers are participating in this historic mobilization whose scope and magnitude has not been seen for decades. But this is just a tactical triumph in a long struggle to address the current crisis in the rural economy. The crisis has been generated by a neoliberal model of development based on the extraction of raw materials and large bio-fuels agribusiness. It has been exacerbated by free trade agreements increasingly transforming Colombia into an importer of its basic food necessities. In August 19 when the strike started  President Juan Manuel Santos ridiculed it by declaring  that “el paro agrario no existe,” that is, “the agrarian strike does not exist.” Well, against his wishful thinking, the strike is still going strong after nine days (as of this writing, 27 August) and has expanded to include most of the country’s departments. It has put the agrarian crises on the social and political map and has highlighted its centrality in a country in which some 31.6% of the population still live and depend on the agrarian economy (according to the UNDP Report of 2011 on Colombia’s rural economy).

Finally Santos acknowledged the strike in a meeting that took place on Monday August 26, with peasants’ representatives in Tunja, an epicenter of the mobilization and the capital of the department of Boyacá.  Speaking to peasant representatives, Santos openly apologized, saying “Mea Culpa” for his earlier dismissive comment on the strike and promised to continue his negotiations. Santos recognized the obvious, especially after the mobilization reached La Casa de Nariño, his presidential palace in Bogota, where 8,000 demonstrators in Bolivar Plaza raised their voices and their casseroles in solidarity with the peasants.

The fundamental question is whether this strong show of force by the peasants can translate into policy that takes Colombia in a different direction? That is a different matter. Can this strike open the door for a very serious discussion of the root cause: the economic model and the free trade agreements with the United States, Canada, and EU. How would this wide mobilization resonate in Havana where the Santos government is negotiating with the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC)?  The answers would depend on the resilience of the organizations that led the strike and the effectiveness of the democratic and revolutionary forces in pushing for an economic change that safeguards the subsistence peasant economy and the real producers of “bread, milk and butter” in Colombia.

August 29, 2013 Posted by | Economics, Solidarity and Activism | , , , | Leave a comment

WHY IS THE ISRAEL LOBBY KEEPING QUIET ON SYRIA CRISIS?

By Damian Lataan | August 29, 2013

In a recent article in Politico, Anna Palmer pondered the question of why the Israel lobby is silent on Syria. After having spoken with a number of pro-Israel activists representing pro-Israeli organisations like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the American Jewish Committee (AJC) she reports that most have kept quiet about the events in Syria for two main reasons: one is the uncertainty of what is going on in Syria and, two, not wanting to seem in any way influential about US foreign policy relating to affairs in the Middle East – especially after the disastrous invasion of Iraq which was strongly supported by most Israeli lobby groups on the basis that Saddam supported the Palestinian cause during the Second Intifada and had WMDs likely to be used against Israel.

Meanwhile, at Commentary online magazine, lead neocon propagandist Jonathan Tobin attempts to spin that the pro-Israeli groups in the US, better known as the Israel Lobby (‘so-called’ as Tobin would have it), don’t have a vested interest in the outcome of the Syrian war because, regardless of who wins, it will not, he says, be in Israel’s interests. He denies that the pro-Israeli organisations are not trying to keep a low profile for any nefarious reasons that they could take advantage of or that they are worried about public opinion if they supported intervention against al-Assad.

The reality, which Palmer has ignored and which Tobin would vehemently deny, is that the Israeli Zionists, including the neocons and those in AIPAC, the AJC and the other pro-Israeli organisations are hoping that the war in Syria where al-Assad is supported by Hezbollah and Iran, will spill out into Lebanon which will then provide Israel with an opportunity to attack Hezbollah. Further escalation may then even involve an attack against Iran by either Israel and/or the US.

Israel will play its usual game of provocation such as IDF incursions into Lebanon, drone flights over Lebanon, low level strike jet overflights into Lebanese airspace, shootings of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, etc., in the hope of provoking retaliation from the Palestinians and Hezbollah that would justify a full on attack against both. A US and allied attack against Syria might also provoke retaliatory attacks against Israel that would also justify Israeli action.

But, of course, none of this is likely to be talked about openly by Zionist Israelis or their representative Israel Lobby organisations are they? Hence the silence.

August 29, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Wars for Israel | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments