An ‘Inevitable’ War?
World leaders have reacted to President Bush’s United Nations speech, during which Bush laid out his administration’s argument for a preemptive attack on Iraq, with caution. As the BBC reports, most leaders remain firmly on the fence, calling on Bush to seek international cooperation before acting but also calling on Iraq’s Saddam Hussein to quickly comply with existing UN rules. The cautious response might be expected, but the Minneapolis Star Tribune argues in an editorial that the UN cannot afford to stay on the sidelines for long. Foreign leaders must consider the warning Bush delievered, and what a unilateral US attack could mean. “Initiated without the legitimacy of a council resolution, an attack by the lone superpower would provide a powerful global precedent for Lone Ranger military action,” the paper argues. The San Francisco Chronicle worries that Bush’s address does nothing to reassure those concerned about Washington’s go-it-alone tendencies, suggesting that “the saber-rattling tone of the speech only adds to the growing impression that the administration regards a wide alliance as a nicety rather than a prerequisite when waging war.” While Bush challenged the UN to “show some backbone” and force Iraq to obey arms-inspection rules, Ellen Goodman of The Boston Globe suggests that “there were, surely, many among the colorful assembly with reason to doubt our allegiance to the international community.” The Bush administration’s track record hardly suggests it is a true champion of international resolutions, Goodman writes. Brett D. Schaefer, writing in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, argues that Bush’s decision to address the UN was “a smart move.” But Schaefer insists that Washington need not wait on the support of foreign leaders before launching an attack. William M. Arkin, writing in the Los Angeles Times, actually dismisses the question of whether Bush should wait for UN approval, suggesting that Washington’s policies have made war between the US and Iraq inevitable. “There is nothing that the UN can do because there is nothing that Iraq will do that is acceptable to the US,” Arkin says.
Social Security as Reparations?
Responding to calls from reporters, GOPAC, a Republican political action committee, has pulled a radio advertising campaign that equates Social Security privatization with slavery reparations, the Associated Press reports. “The next time some Democrat says he won’t touch Social Security, ask why he thinks Blacks owe reparations to whites,” the ad proclaimed, alluding to claims that Blacks receive thousands of dollars less than whites in retirement benefits because of shorter life expectancies. GOPAC denied responsibility for the racially-oriented message, claiming it never intended to release the ad, which it commissioned through a Missouri media company and paid about $5,000 to broadcast. The retraction came amidst what Jonathan Weisman of The Washington Post describes as Republican back-pedaling on the very term “Social Security privatization,” which has been the topic of partisan mudslinging over Social Security reforms slated for the Spring. aimed at Kansas and Missouri Blacks
Global Warming, Texas Style
In an ironic twist on President Bush’s unyielding global warming stance, Stephanie Mencimer of The Washington Monthly forecasts that the president’s home state of Texas is second only to California in its vulnerability to climatic changes caused by pollution. By easing clean air regulations, Bush is speeding up the process of global warming, Mencimer reasons, and, if the cycle continues, the beauty and ecological balance of his ranch in Crawford, Texas — along with the rest of the state — could be lost. Already, temperatures and rainfall in Texas have reached new highs, and Mencimer argues that unabated increases could produce a Biblical abundance of strange happenings: from dried-up riverbeds to “thriving colonies of red fire ants, blood-sucking flies, and disease-carrying mosquitoes.”
Kashmir’s Contentious Polling
The first stage of state elections in Kashmir produced a flurry of violence, charges of military intimidation, allegations of terrorist threats — and claims that the turnout had topped 30 percent.
While one person was reported killed in an attack on a polling place, the Associated Press reports that voting was far less chaotic than many had feared. Election officials are claiming that voter turnout topped 30 percent, the Hindustani Times reports, but turnout rates were dramatically lower in the heart of Kashmir, as many residents heeded a boycott call from separatist leaders.
While Indian officials insisted that the polling had been free and fair, John Lancaster of The Washington Post reports that voters were “herded toward the local polling station and in a few cases beaten by Indian soldiers who insisted they take part in the voting.” The Times of India reports that the presence of the ruling National Conference party was evident at virtually every polling place, fueling claims of intimidation. “Wherever there was lack of enthusiasm or an atmosphere of intimidation, the NC appeared to gain,” the Times reports.
Pakistan has preemptively dismissed the Kashmir vote, and Zaffar Abbas of the BBC reports that Islamabad’s view is shared by virtually everyone on the Pakistani side of the Kashmir border. Claiming that most Indian elections produce voter turnout rates of about 67 percent, The News International of Pakistan suggests that many Kashmiris “declined to vote, giving their support rather to a poll boycott declared by All Parties Hurriyat Conference,” the main separatist group, which has called for a UN-supervised plebiscite to determine the future of Kashmir. Given the boycott of the Hurriyat candidates, the Far Eastern Economic Review‘s Joanna Slater suggests that a “major goal of the polls — getting prominent separatists to stand for election — remains unachieved.”
Finally, some observers are reminding us that the polling is far from over. Despite the relative peace of the first round of polling, Ashok K Mehta argues in The Asia Times that the remainder of the election period, which will coincide with an election campaign in Pakistan, will likely be far more violent.
Tapping Africa’s Oil
As the Bush administration marches steadily towards a war with Iraq — and a possible disruption of oil production in the region — Washington has stepped up its search for an alternative long-term source of foreign crude. As the BBC reports, the administration’s gaze has lately settled on sub-Saharan Africa. Led by Nigeria and Angola, the region could produce 25 percent of US oil by 2015, the BBC reports, with far less chance of disruption due to anti-American hostility. Just in case, though, the president of Sao Tome and Principe, a West African island nation thought to have huge oil reserves, announced that the US was building a naval base on the island to help safeguard its interests, according to the Associated Press.
Meanwhile, AllAfrica.com reports that the World Bank has approved a controversial oil pipeline between Chad and Cameroon which will pump Chadian crude to ports on Cameroon’s coast. Spearheaded by industry giants Exxon-Mobil and Chevron, the project is set to proceed despite longstanding concerns over human rights in the two countries and environmental risks.
China’s Looming Epidemic
For years, the Chinese government has denied that HIV/AIDS is a problem within its population, and there is new evidence Beijing is staying that course.
China’s leading AIDS activist, Wan Yanhai, who publicized a secret government memo documenting the explosive spread of AIDS in Henan province, remains in jail, charged with revealing a “state secret.” The Guardian reports that the secret memo provides the first evidence that thousands of peasants in Henan contracted HIV/AIDS while selling blood at government-sponsored “blood stations.”
As The Washington Post writes, “the assumption is that Wan Yanhai has been put in prison for being too truthful about the AIDS catastrophe facing the country.” In a similar vein, the editors of The New York Times suggest that, “[b]efore international donors start pumping in substantial sums to help contain the epidemic, China will need to release its most prominent AIDS activist.”
China recently applied for $90 million in assistance from the new UN Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Chinese health authorities have admitted that the number of people in China with HIV/AIDS will top 1 million this year, but a Chinese health ministry spokesperson told the Associated Press that the rate of new infections is on the decline. According to the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS, Beijing’s optimism is baseless. Claiming that only a fraction of new cases are reported in China, the UN Programme predicts that the country’s infected population will grow to 10 million by the end of the decade.
Irish Sea Showdown
An 18-ship flotilla organized by Greenpeace will take to the Irish Sea today, bound for a confrontation with two ships laden with nuclear fuel which has been rejected by the Japanese government, Reuters reports. A Greenpeace press officer tells Reuters that the floating protest, featuring the group’s flagship, the Rainbow Warrior, “is to stop the seas being used as a nuclear dumping ground and a nuclear highway.” The Irish Times writes that protesters plan to form a 16-mile cordon of ships in order to intercept the five-ton shipment of substandard fuel, headed for a processing plant in Sellafield, England. The Irish government, having made clear to England its own objections to the transport, has pledged naval and air surveillance of the two fuel ships.
Baghdad Bends, Bush Bristles
Iraq has announced it will give UN weapons inspectors full access to the country’s weapons and nuclear facilities, but many claim the sudden capitulation may be too little to satisfy a Bush administration seemingly fixated on a military confrontation.
Early this week, Washington made it clear that unconditional weapons inspections were the key to avoiding war, a message that President Bush made the centerpiece of his address to the United Nations last week. As The Washington Post reports, Iraq seems to have backed down, with Foreign Minister Naji Sabri inviting UN weapons inspectors to reenter his country and examine its nuclear facilities “without conditions” for the first time since 1998.
Thomas Walkom writes in The Toronto Star that Iraq’s offer represents a tactical hurdle for the Bush team. “If they want to keep their invasion on schedule, Bush and his fellow war buffs will now have to scramble for a way to reject as insufficient what appears to be a full capitulation by Saddam,” Walkom argues. The White House seems to be taking exactly that approach, Reuters reports, dismissing the offer and calling on the UN to ratchet up the pressure by adopting a new resolution requiring Iraq to disarm. As the Los Angeles Times reports, that resolution, introduced by Secretary of State Colin Powell would also serve as an ultimatum and a justification for military action.
While Washington insists that complete disarmament is the only way to prevent Iraq from developing nuclear weapons, a growing chorus of skeptics are questioning just how close Baghdad is to building a bomb. As The Christian Science Monitor reports, “[a]lthough experts and intelligence officials say they can’t tell for sure without examining the country’s facilities, they say Iraq isn’t likely to have a bomb at this point.” Moreover, as Eric Margolis of Common Dreams writes, even if Iraq had a bomb, it “lacks aircraft or missiles to deliver nuclear weapons beyond a range of 70 miles.” John Diamond, writing in USA Today, says the administration is “expanding on and in some cases contradicting U.S. intelligence reports” in its fervor to make a case for military action.
Stuck on the Sideline?
Since making his address before the United Nations last week, President Bush has said the onus for action now rests with the UN and Congress. While the world body has been busy, Gail Russell Chaddock writes in The Christian Science Monitor that Capitol Hill is awkwardly struggling to find an appropriate response. Chaddock says Democrats have been particularly ineloquent, a theme echoed by an editorial in The New Republic, which argues that “most of what [Democratic leaders] say is best understood as highly articulate evasiveness.” Ethan Wallison makes the same point in Roll Call, suggesting that Congressional Democrats are showing a “ strong impulse to change the subject,” hoping to build on recent polls showing voters are preoccupied with economic issues prove sound. The criticism isn’t all coming from outside the party, either. Hank Perritt, a Democratic candidate for Congress in Illinois, chastises fellow Democrats in The Washington Post for not “challenging the underlying premises of the administration’s bellicose posture.”
Of course, cynics suggest that Democratic opposition might only emerge if public support for a war wanes. The Associated Press reports that a new Newsweek/ABC poll indicates that support remains high, with two-thirds of Americans supporting a war against Iraq, but John Judis of The American Prospect argues that a new Gallup poll, which reports that number at 53 percent and shrinking, provides a more accurate view of the national mood.
Protest or Pageant?
Who says beauty pageants can’t be progressive? Nigeria, host of this year’s Miss World pageant, finds itself facing a boycott of the competition as foreign beauty queens protest a death-by-stoning sentence handed down to a woman found guilty of adultery by a Sharia court in one of the country’s northern states. The BBC reports that contestants from France, Belgium, Switzerland, Ivory Coast, Norway and Kenya have already withdrawn from the pageant, while those from seven other countries are considering doing the same. As MotherJones.com reported earlier this year, several states in Nigeria’s largely-Muslim north have adopted Sharia law in response to growing lawlessness and corruption — the legacy of decades of military rule.
Reform Party Regroups
Ousting their national chairman, the Reform Party cleared away the last vestiges of its failed 2000 presidential campaign at a Colorado conference on Sept. 7, Stephen Dinan of the Washington Times reports. Dinan says the change came as the final blow in a campaign by several party leaders to dump a cult of personality which surrounded former presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan. Claiming that the party lost its focus and funding when Buchanan’s followers seized control, Jones says the conservative firebrand’s supporters “did not come in because of our platform or our principles.”
With Washington’s gaze fixed firmly on Iraq, some are beginning to ask if the White House is jeopardizing — or even abandoning — its mission in Afghanistan.
Michael O’Hanlon and P.W. Singer argue in The Boston Globe that the job in Afghanistan remains only half-done. While the Taliban may have been toppled, the country remains on the brink of chaos and the government in Kabul is under siege from warlords and other groups — including some that are believed to be harboring Taliban fugitives. Moreover, as Helena Cobban writes in The Christian Science Monitor, the social fabric of Afghanistan is in tatters. “So far, Washington’s commitment to spearheading the real social and political rehabilitation of Afghanistan has fallen far short,” Cobban declares.
As the BBC reports, the US and other foreign governments promised billions of dollars in aid to fund the battered country’s reconstruction, but so far only a fraction has trickled in. As James Dobbins points out in The New York Times, Kosovo, less than one-tenth the size of Afghanistan, “received several times more American and European assistance per capita to recover from 13 weeks of conflict than Afghanistan has received to rebuild from 20 years of civil war.”
Spencer Ackerman, writing in The New Republic, suggests that the Bush administration has staked out a clear, ideological position on nation-building and peacekeeping, mandating that “military power should be used only to protect clearly defined American interests.” The criticism is not limited to the left, either. James Phillips, writing in The National Review, argues that “while ultimate responsibility for guaranteeing a peaceful future belongs to the Afghan people, America can help the Afghans help themselves.” America’s involvement in Afghanistan cannot be open-ended, but should at least extend to helping the Afghan government “build necessary infrastructure and civil institutions.”
Finally, an editorial in The Globe and Mail suggests that there are compelling geoplitical reasons — beyond the humanitarian ones — for Washington and the West to care about Afghanistan’s reconstruction. Without foreign aid, Afghanistan faces a slide back into chaos, the paper argues, and “as was learned on Sept. 11, hopelessness and hatred in a faraway country can swiftly arrive on our doorstep.”
CEO Pay Back in the Spotlight
The media buzz surrounding corporate wrongdoing has dissipated, but some renewed focus is being placed on the issue of executive compensation, thanks to a new SEC investigation into former General Electric boss Jack Welch’s retirement package.
Welch has become the new poster boy for über-spoiled corporate executives, the BBC reports, after papers related to his divorce revealed the extent of his retirement perks — which include free use of company jets, satellite TV, a massive pension, and a laundry list of exceptional luxuries. According to USA Today, Welch agreed to scale back his benefits once the media got wind of them, but the SEC has not backed off.
Jeff Brown ponders in the Philadelphia Inquirer why anyone should care about Welch’s excessive compensation if it doesn’t hurt the company’s bottom line or the nation’s economy. His answer: Welch’s case comes as the public is increasingly recognizing that executive perks are still a waste of shareholder money. The Washington Post‘s Richard Cohen suggests that the outcry is fundamentally an expression of envy and disgust. “The cost to the stockholders was minimal,” suggests Cohen, but “the cost to public confidence was much greater.” Such small doses of class envy are actually healthy for our society, Cohen argues, serving to check excesses of the elite.
Hope and Tension in Sri Lanka
The Tamil Tigers, the Sri Lankan guerilla group that has been waging a war for independence for almost two decades, has opened negotiations with Sri Lankan government officials for the first time in seven years, the Associated Press reports. Previous talks have collapsed over issues concerning whether the country’s disputed eastern provinces — called Tamil Eelam by the LTTE — would be autonomous or independent. On Monday, Nilan Fernado of the International Herald Tribune, citing the success of the country’s 10-month-old ceasefire, speculated that “[t]his time, however, the outcome could be different, given what appears to be renewed political will on both sides to reach a settlement.” According to Agence-France Presse, the current round of talks is distinguished from past failures because of the guerrilla group’s landmark announcement that “they were not campaigning for Tamil Eelam… but instead wanted ‘regional autonomy and self-government.’”
Mending Old Wounds
Even as the Bush administration labors to justify an invasion of Iraq, another member of the president’s ‘axis of evil’ appears to be emerging from isolation and preparing to rejoin the international community.
North Korean President Kim Jong-Il is following up on promises to build economic and diplomatic ties with Pyongyang’s longtime rivals, including South Korea, Japan and even the US. In the most visible example of the warming relations, the two Koreas have started removing landmines from sections of the heavily-fortified border in order to reconnect rail lines and roads severed half a century ago, the Associated Press reports.
The move comes on the heels of a high-risk summit between North Korea, during which Kim shocked many by publicly admitting and apologizing for his country’s abduction of 8 Japanese citizens in 1977, The Washington Post reports. While the apology may be the most eye-catching development, The Independent reports that the summit also produced a “a far-reaching agreement with East Asia’s dominant economic power and Washington’s most important regional ally.” Just as importantly, The Boston Globe reports, Pyongyang agreed to extend North Korea’s moratorium on missile tests and allow UN weapons inspections.
Jumping on the Pre-emptive Bandwagon
The Russian government may not be supporting Washington’s call for a pre-emptive strike against Iraq, but Moscow has found a domestic use for the Bush administration’s pre-emptive doctrine.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov says Moscow is prepared to launch pre-emptive strikes against neighboring Georgia, claiming the Kremlin has evidence that the tiny country on Russia’s southern border is harboring terrorists, the Associated Press reports. If Ivanov’s language sounds familiar to American ears, it should: As The Washington Post argues in an editorial, Moscow’s threats are “a grotesque parody of Mr. Bush’s principled stand on both Iraq and Afghanistan.”
LAW AND JUSTICE
Unocal Faces an Accounting
In a landmark ruling, a federal appeals court in California has reinstated a lawsuit against Unocal Corporation, declaring that the oil company may have “aided and abetted” human rights abuses carried out by the government of Myanmar, Pui-Wing Tam reports in The Wall Street Journal. The ruling reverses the decision of a lower court, which dismissed the case in August, 2000, after finding that Unocal’s role in the human rights abuses was not one of “active participation.”
The Montagnards’ Lasting Struggle
Protesters are vowing to descend on Vietnamese embassies around the world this weekend to protest the government’s human rights record and the continuing plight of the country’s Montagnard minority. An editorial in The Washington Times argues that the Montagnards have paid dearly for supporting America’s military during the Vietnam War and seeking some measure of independence. Meanwhile, just last week, former Green Berets who served in Vietnam helped to resettle 900 Montagnard refugees in North Carolina, now home to the largest Montagnard community outside of Vietnam, David Lamb of the Los Angeles Times reports. The resettlement, Lamb writes, comes nearly three decades after US military leaders promised to protect the Montagnards and help them in their fight for autonomy.