A Post-Iraq G8 Summit
On the surface, the Israeli government’s grudging acceptance of the “ road map” peace plan looks like an American success, albeit a highly improbable one. After all, this is Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s far-right cabinet, some of whom advocate the forced removal of Palestinians from the West Bank to Jordan. The road map, which mandates a freeze on all settlement construction, the destruction of so-called settlement “outposts” added in the last two years, and the eventual establishment of a Palestinian state in exchange for a halt to Palestinian violence and political reform, is anathema to most of Sharon’s cabinet.
Nevertheless, a majority of ministers held their noses on Sunday and voted to accept the US-backed plan — sort of. As the Washington Post‘s John Ward Anderson reports, the devil is in the details: the Israelis haven’t abandoned the laundry list of objections that threatened to doom the road map before it even got off the ground. Rather, Washington simply agreed to address their grievances at a later date.
“The Israeli government said in a statement that the cabinet had ‘agreed to accept the steps set out in the road map,’ but avoided saying that the road map itself had been approved. Senior officials also refused to say Israel had accepted the entire road map, asserting under questioning by reporters that it had accepted only the steps set out in the plan.”
As the editors of the liberal Ha’aretz note (via the London Guardian), the cabinet’s qualified acceptance of the road map might be purely tactical — a move designed to stall for time and shift the focus to the Palestinians and their new prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas. If that is the case, Ha’aretz opines, it will soon be apparent.
“The decision of National Union, National Religious party and Likud radicals to stay in the government despite yesterday’s resolution, gives rise to concern that this resolution will prove to be a ploy intended only to lob the ball back into the enemy’s court. The first test of Mr Sharon’s sincerity can be expected in the territories in a few days, in both the unauthorised outposts and the Arab towns. Israel can now prove its sincerity if it voluntarily starts to dismantle the unauthorised outposts.”
The Saudi-based Arab News‘ editorial board praises Sunday’s decision, as far as it goes. They also note that Sharon and his men really didn’t have a choice: In today’s political climate, what Bush says, goes.
“In addition, the road map is the only initiative which the United States, a party that helped draft it, is willing to deal with — meaning that Israel would have risked being put in Washington’s doghouse had it not gone along with what its closest ally wants.”
For leaders of the settler movement, however, even the road map’s tepid language represents a threat to their dream of perpetual Israeli control over the Occupied Territories. As a result, they have begun branding Sharon — traditionally one of the strongest backers of the settler movement — as a traitor. On the right-wing Arutz Sheva network, Ya’akov-Perez Golbert condemns the road map, Sharon, and, of course, all things Palestinian.
“On Sunday afternoon, the 25th of May 2003, the State of Israel ceased to exist. It became, by its own action and consent, a protectorate of the United States of America. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon presented the cabinet with the ‘Road Map,’ the plan that calls for the creation, in Eretz Yisrael, within five years, of a sovereign state for the Arabs who call themselves ‘Palestinians.'”
Other pro-settler voices were similarly pessimistic, the London Independent‘s Eric Silver reports.
“Yesterday the settlers threatened to ‘return to the streets,’ as they had done after Yitzhak Rabin’s Labour government signed the 1993 Oslo accords.
‘This decision is even worse than Oslo,’ Pinchas Wallerstein, a former chairman of the settlers’ council, said. ‘It is the first time an Israeli government has recognised another state west of the Jordan. We’ll make every effort to change it.'”
So far, it’s unclear whether the settlers really have anything to worry about — previous efforts to dismantle the settlements have come and gone, and the number of settlers has continued to grow. As Ha’aretz‘s Yoel Marcus points out, though, this time could be different. If Bush is serious about Middle East peace, he writes, the settlers might be right to worry.
“The government decision on Sunday, with all the hemming and hawing, and all the hairsplitting that went with it, is a historical decision. It makes no difference if Sharon winks at the settlers out of the corner of his eye or thinks he can pussyfoot around. The nationalist camp has lost another battle. With Arafat or without him, the convoy is on its way. Sharon can take the lead or he can trail behind. In any case, Bush is in the driver’s seat.”
A Post-Iraq G8
Though the Bush administration may bill this year’s G8 Summit as an opportunity to repair strained international ties, its request for aid to Iraq has already alienated the leaders of some countries. As Gideon Burrows of London’s Guardian notes, the U.S.’s past policy on debt relief has won the U.S. the title of G8 nation most likely to oppose debt relief. Now, the administration suddenly supports relief of Iraq’s massive debt — based on claims that the debt was racked up by a careless dictator. But of course, those claims must only apply to Iraq:
“If African nations thought they might receive the same consideration for their debts, many of which were built-up in the same way, they were quickly disappointed.”
Additionally, the decline of the US dollar remains absent from the G8’s financial dialogue. According to Agence France-Presse, the dollar’s devaluation negatively affects exports from Europe and Japan while making US exports more attractive in the global market. But reports from the meetings of the eight said that “despite deepening signs of weakness and terrorism,” the finance ministers are betting that reform will revive the global economy:
“The finance ministers … wound up a two-day meeting in Deauville, a posh casino resort on the Normandy coast, appearing to want to beat the odds laid out in recent data pointing to recession and deflation in the richest nations.”
Critics of the G8 and its summits fault the eight developed nations for the continued suffering of underdeveloped nations. They argue that the meetings meant to boost the world’s economy and provide aid and development only serve to further a capitalist system that, in turn, further benefits the already economically successful nations. Burrows reports that, despite last year’s good intentions to provide African countries with access to clean water and sanitation systems, the G8 funds to water and sanitation programs have dropped. And African countries are likely to prioritize clean water below education or health care.
Reuters writes that protestors of the G8 plan to gather in and around the French city of Evian, where the summit will take place, and make efforts to block delegates’ access to and from their hotels. Calling the G8’s policies part of “a militaristic, neo-liberal capitalism that is despoiling the planet and trampling on workers’ rights and the Third World,” protestors hope to “ make a peaceful nuisance of themselves while avoiding any repetition of the Genoa riots.” Rioting in the Italian city resulted in a police officer’s fatal shooting of a protestor. According to Reuters, most protestors this year are angry at Bush’s international policy, especially the war in Iraq.
A Triumphalist Abroad
President Bush, the most stay-at-home American leader in recent memory, is venturing abroad. The highlight of his trip — indeed, the very point of it, most domestic coverage suggests — is a series of meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in Jordan. But before he gets to the Middle East, Bush will make three stops in Europe, culminating in his appearance at the G-8 summit in the French spa town of Evian.
The White House has made it perfectly clear that the summit itself is not the most important stop on Bush’s trip — in fact, the president will leave the meeting early in order to make other meetings in the Middle East. Is that a measure of the administration’s desire to make something of its ‘road map’ for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, or of Washington’s lack of interest in repairing frayed transatlantic ties? The G-8 meeting would seem to be an ideal opportunity to mend fences, as it will bring together the heads of four governments which supported the war: the US, Britain, Italy, and Japan; and four that opposed it: Germany, Russia, France, and Canada.
Leading up to the summit, officials on both sides of the divide were making conciliatory sounds. National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice assured Reuters that Bush wants to move past the acrimonious war debate. “We are through the Iraq conflict,” she declared. Still, amid all the conciliatory talk, Rice didn’t hesitate to snipe.
- “‘Clearly the United States has never believed that there had to be a choice in European countries between their European-ness and their transatlantic ties.’
Rice said Bush understands ‘honest policy disagreements,’ but added in remarks that might have been aimed at Germany: ‘No one understands if things take on an anti-American tinge.'”
In fact, officials on both sides of the Atlantic seem to be playing from the same score: Declare a desire to mend fences, but offer nothing of substance to back up the conciliatory words.
White House officials, unnamed, of course, tell the Washington Post that Bush will use his stopover in Poland to deliver a policy speech aimed at reaffirming the ties between the US and Europe. Based upon what the anonymous insider tells the Post, however, the “conciliatory” speech could sound more like a condescending lecture to European ears.
- “The official said the spirit of Bush’s address will be, ‘Get off the couch and get to work, do what needs to be done in the world.’ The official said Bush believes the military victory in Iraq ‘gives him and the United States an enormous amount of political capital’ he will use to push the world’s rich democracies to join him in ‘fighting poverty, making the world a better place.’
The plans outlined yesterday fell well short of European officials’ hopes that a victorious Bush would be in a magnanimous mood. Aides said Bush plans no conciliatory gesture such as proposing an alternative to the Kyoto global warming treaty, which he abandoned in his second month in office. After that, the split with Europe grew steadily.
The official said Bush does not plan to directly address the differences over the war, saying it would make no sense to start a meeting by saying, ‘Item 1: Let’s talk about how it was nasty.'”
Meanwhile, the G-8 hosts seem equally prepared to nurse the feud, perhaps because the White House, despite the “political capital” a military victory in Iraq might have earned it, still has no answer for the many questions French officials raised before the war. Like the Bush administration, the French government has insisted it is ready to move past the Iraq disagreement and repair its relationship with the US. But, like their colleagues in Washington, officials in Paris seem willing to bend only a little to reach that goal. “We are not in a mood to give an apology or ask for an apology,” a French official tells the Post. “We just want to have a good summit and share a bottle of Evian.” That unnamed official certainly seems to have captured the sentiment of French President Jacques Chirac. In an interview with The Financial Times, Chirac indicated he was “anxious to put this divisive episode behind him.” Chirac’s desire to avoid acrimony, however, has strict limits.
- “In his talks with the leaders of Britain, Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the US, the French president will be anxious to head off a confrontation between the ‘pro-war and anti-war’ camps that emerged during the Iraqi crisis. But Mr Chirac made clear: ‘A war which lacks legitimacy does not acquire legitimacy if it is won.'”
James Rosen of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports that the French president’s attitude reflects that of his country. The French, Rosen writes, “recoil at the anti-France anger that has swept the United States and the notion that their country’s opposition to the war was itself an expression of anti-Americanism.”
- “‘I don’t think there is one view of the United States in France,’ said Serge Halimi, an international affairs columnist for Le Monde Diplomatique in Paris. ‘You have people who are very critical of Bush’s foreign policy but who love American jazz and American movies. So, the notion of French anti-Americanism seems to me very shallow and wrong. This is a term that tries to shame the opposition by suggesting that it is xenophobic or nationalistic or racist — when, in fact, there is just an honest divergence of opinion.’
Echoing sentiments heard repeatedly in Paris, Halimi accused Bush of lying about his real reasons for attacking Iraq and hiding his true desire to extend U.S. hegemony in a crucial area of the Middle East.
‘His policy was based on a number of premises, none of which are holding fire,’ Halimi said. ‘It was to seek weapons of mass destruction, but none have been found. It was to stabilize the country, but it’s not stable. It was to stop terrorism, but what we have just seen with the bombings in Saudi Arabia and Morocco indicates that objective was not reached. You cannot allow one country to wage war on another just because it has decided to do so unless you want to shred the U.N. charter and adopt the law of the jungle.'”
Despite Rice’s reassurance, it remains clear that the administration’s European policy has shifted little from the one the national security advisor reportedly described last month as “punish France, isolate Germany, forgive Russia.” All three initiatives make little sense, argues the normally conservative Anne Applebaum in the Post. Worse, she writes, all three reflect a penchant for unilateralist, undiplomatic thinking which the administration cannot seem to outgrow.
- “What seems to be missing, in both the Bush administration’s prewar and postwar European diplomacy, is any sense that we are speaking not to a handful of unpleasant individuals but to entire countries. There is a carelessness about the language being tossed around Washington, as if no one here cares anymore about who might be listening. Besides, what does “punish France” actually mean? Punish all of the French — even the pro-American French? In diplomacy, how you say something is as important as what you do, if not more so.
Instead of dreaming up ways to be rude to Gerhard and offensive to Jacques, the president should concentrate on the people who are going to elect their successors. He should talk over the heads of the European chattering classes who have opposed him and speak directly to the television audiences that are listening around the world every time he so much as clears his throat. Just because we are the world’s only superpower doesn’t mean we don’t need to persuade people, from time to time, to listen to our point of view. I still believe that if the Iraq war had been explained early on to Europeans — instead of being presented to them as a fait accompli — the United States would have attracted far more public support.
Yes, the war did prove, as everyone knew it would, that we no longer need military allies — and in that sense, Europe is irrelevant. But the war also proved we do need allies for other things: to help in the nation-building we have such a national allergy to, and to help fight our battles in the multilateral institutions we so loathe. We do have a few — Britain, Spain, Italy, Poland — many of which are, not coincidentally, among the countries the president visited on his first trip to Europe. We could have more, if we bothered to cultivate them.”
Instead, Washington has cultivated only European antipathy. And the revelation that the Bush administration had a hand in the drafting of two European declarations intended to isolate France and Germany in the weeks before the war is likely to just add to the anger and mistrust. The administration had denied playing any part in preparing the two letters — one signed by eight western European leaders, another signed by the leaders of 10 nations in eastern and central Europe petitioning for membership in NATO. In fact, as the FT reports, both statements were reviewed and approved by “officials in the White House and a consultant working with the administration in Washington.”
- “The Letter of Eight, as it became known, was published in The Wall Street Journal and other newspapers on January 30. In the days before publication, the Bush administration was kept closely informed and was sent a draft of the statement.
The following week, the 10 nations of central and eastern Europe lining up to join Nato, known as the Vilnius 10, issued a joint statement backing the US. The text was written by Bruce Jackson, a US citizen with ties to the White House. US administration officials were closely consulted in the process.”
Well, at least Bush will have another thing to not discuss with Chirac and other European leaders in Evian.
Picking Through Pickering’s Past
President Bush outraged Democrats when he resubmitted Judge Charles Pickering’s nomination to the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals. Pickering had already been rejected once, on the grounds that the Mississippi judge was “insensitive to civil rights.” His renomination resulted in a thorough digging-up of his unflattering past. Democrats and reporters discovered significant stains on the judge’s record: according to Sean Wilentz of Salon, the judge was deceptive and dishonest about his role as a segregationist during the Civil Rights movement. And in 1994, Pickering appealed a seven-year sentence in a cross-burning case to federal authorities, arguing that the man convicted was “devoid of any general attitude of racial animosity,” reports R. Jeffrey Smith of the Washington Post.
Pickering’s Republican supporters argue that determining his eligibility based on his behavior in the Civil Rights-era South doesn’t take into account the political turmoil of the time. They also like to cite his two-word testimony against a notorious Ku Klux Klan organizer as evidence of his support for civil rights. Pickering was forced by subpeona to testify, and said the man’s reputation was “bad.” What a crusader.
What Republicans neglect to mention, however, is that Pickering’s 1964 conversion from a Democrat to a Republican was largely influenced by his law partner, J. Carroll Gartin, a prominent segregationist. While Pickering tries to depict Gartin as a progressive Southerner, documents from the former lieutenant governor’s public files prove that he was nothing of the sort. Gartin was a staunch segregationist and a member of a notoriously racist organization called the Sovereignty Commission.
These documents, reports Salon, also show that Pickering’s conversion was a direct result of his segregationist leanings. Wilentz writes:
“When he announced his switch, Pickering, not surprisingly, said nothing about Gartin’s role in his conversion. But he made it clear, albeit sometimes by code words, that the national Democratic Party’s embrace of civil rights was the chief reason he decided to bolt.
In 2002, Pickering attempted to portray Gartin as a progressive who was not a racist. What we know now is that, in trying to cover up Gartin’s past, Pickering wasn’t just covering up for his late law partner: He was covering up for the man who, more than any other, was responsible for his bolting the Democratic Party in 1964, a major event in Pickering’s career. That is, he was covering up for himself.”
Not surprisingly, Pickering has found a friend in Mississippi Republican Senator Trent Lott, who, in hopes to push the Pickering nomination through, wants to have a hearing to change the filibuster rules for judicial nominees in the Senate. Ana Radelat of Mississippi’s Clarion-Ledger points out that Lott, as the new head of the Senate Rules committee, is quite enthusiastic:
“‘The Senate hasn’t been reformed in many, many years,’ said Lott […] ‘I’m looking for work, so I’m looking at the rules. We’ll either have some reform, or we’ll have some fun.'”
Fun indeed. It’s fine for politicians to take some things lightly. But Pickering is a judicial nominee whose jurisdiction would include the states of Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, a nominee who reduced a 20 year-old white male’s sentence for burning a cross on an interracial couples’ lawn from seven years to 27 months. Apparently, Daniel Swan’s cross-burning was all in fun too: when the man received his sentencing, Pickering admonished, “Sometimes, youthful pranks under the influence of alcohol on a cold winter night can get you in a heap of trouble.” The Post’s Smith notes that Pickering’s potential circuit “includes more minority residents than any other — 43 percent of the states’ total population.” When it comes to Pickering’s nomination, it seems like resubmitting his name should be the prank. What a riot.
Dems Need A Strong-backed Stance
With the 2004 Presidential election looming up ahead, despairing supporters of the Democratic party decry that the Dems of today couldn’t outrace a Republican if he were hog-tied and running backward. The problem, pundits pontificate, has to do with the Dems’ inability to grow any one of a number of essential anatomical pieces that colloquially symbolize courage. Syndicated columnist Arianna Huffington writes:
“The Party leaders are so timid, spineless, and lacking in confidence that to compare them to jellyfish would be an insult to invertebrates.”
Backbone. Wherever has it gone? And, more importantly, why has it gone? Former President and self-named “comeback kid” Bill Clinton told the Associated Press that Democrats stand to do well in the coming election if and only if they “stop fighting among themselves and refocus their criticism on their eventual foes — President Bush and the Republicans.” The critics’ consensus seems to be that the Democratic Party has relieved Republican strategists of their work by poking holes in each others’ arguments. While Democratic centrists and moderates vie for voter support, the GOP’s PR geniuses chuckle away amongst their spitwads and paper fighter jets. Michael Tomasky of The American Prospect writes of the intra-party factions:
“Honestly and honorably, they have very different ideas about what the Democratic Party should be and where it should go. They should present those ideas to voters in a competitive fashion. But they should not be providing fodder, and entertainment, for [Bush adviser] Karl Rove.
“[T]he two factions have to behave less like factions and more like people who are fighting a common enemy.”
Reporters with their eyes on the polls say that most voters side with the Democrats’ stances on health care, gun control, abortion, the environment, and most other issues. The perceived base of support for the Republican Party stems not from widespread voter mentality, but rather from a very vocal and radical minority, or, as Tomasky puts it:
“The Republican Party is ideologically homogeneous because the conservative movement has taken ownership of it. But the Democratic Party is, and will remain for a while, a heterogeneous party.”
Columnists and the constituency call for the Democratic Party to risk alienating one or more of the small subgroups within its’ voter base and to take a clear stand on the nations’ most pressing issues. Otherwise, Dems will be seen as fearing a President who is only admirable in his ability to act with disregard for what the general populace thinks. Perhaps Democrats could stand to learn from Bush — or at least some Texas legislators. Take cues from the Dems in the Lone Star State, urges Newsday’s Robert Jensen:
“If you want to be something more than Karl Rove’s doormat, keep more of an eye on Texas in the coming months than on the polls. Taking risks might prove to be politically effective. And even if it doesn’t win votes in the short term, it will win back some self-respect.”
Congo’s Endless Conflict
In the spring of 1994, mobs of Hutus, egged on by government officials and incendiary radio broadcasts, began massacring Tutsis in Rwanda. Watching the genocide unfold, the commander of the United Nations’ small peacekeeping contingent in Rwanda pleaded with his superiors to send more troops or, at the very least, let him and his soldiers intervene aggressively. Instead, the UN pulled out, the West averted its eyes, and almost a million people died.
Now, observers are warning that a similar crisis might be in the making in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Ruled by the kleptocratic US client Mobutu Sese Seko for 30 years, the Congo plunged into civil war following his death five years ago. Soon after, Congo’s abundant mineral wealth attracted the armies of nine other nations and a welter of local militias, each of them seeking a piece of the pie. A peace accord, while forcing the pullout of some of the foreign armies, hasn’t yet stemmed the bloodletting. In all, some 4.7 million people have died since 1998, the vast majority of them civilians.
The latest flare-ups have occurred in gold-rich Ituri province, where some 50,000 civilians have died since 1999. While Ugandan and Rwandan troops have begun their withdrawal, they have left weapons in the hands of their proxies, the Hema and Lendu — two tribes with mutual hatreds dating back to the colonial era which continue to battle it out. As the London Guardian‘s James Astill reports, a pitifully small garrison of UN troops hides behind a barbed wire fence at the center of the fighting, while the militias loot and murder. Sadly, he notes, the situation was grimly predictable.
“There are women’s bodies scattered in Bunia’s main market place; a baby’s body on its main road; two priests’ bodies inside one church. Last week, a burning corpse was tossed on to the main UN compound’s lawn, to show 700 Uruguayan peacekeepers what they were missing while they cowered under fire behind its razor-wire perimeter, unauthorised to intervene in the latest massacre of Congolese civilians.
‘Does the world care what happens to Congo? No,’ said Lieutenant-Colonel Daniel Vollot, the French commander of UN forces in Ituri.
‘We’ve been sending messages every day to [the UN headquarters in] New York [saying] this was going to happen, that we need more troops. Nothing was done.'”
As Gareth Evans points out in the International Herald Tribune, there’s no shortage of blame for Congo’s mess: Washington, Europe, and the UN all deserve a share.
“The responsibility for the present drift and impotence is shared. Britain keeps trying to knock Ugandan and Rwandan government heads together, but also goes on giving them both generous unconditional aid — a policy ripe for reconsideration. It is critical that Uganda and Rwanda, whose proxy warfare has already caused so much Congo misery, be put under real pressure to stay out of Ituri for good.
UN efforts have been much hampered by U.S. reluctance to authorize or provide the necessary resources … Nothing much moves these days without Washington’s support, and if the Bush administration does not alter its attitude to this crisis it runs the risk of being seen as just as indifferent as the Clinton administration was to Rwanda in 1994. Breast-beating after the event is no substitute for effective action before it.
The UN mission’s own performance has been less than impressive and it has to lift its game, fast. While its mandate is minimal — to monitor the cease-fire and voluntary disarmament — and its troop numbers have always been inadequate, it has often seemed more preoccupied with protecting its own personnel than helping protect Congolese civilians to the extent it has been capable.”
Washington, however, apparently doesn’t have much interest in the conflict, which has prompted charges of hypocrisy from critics like Fran Quigley. And the status quo, she writes on Alternet, is just fine by the politically-connected multinational corporations that profit from Congo’s never-ending war.
“The ignored tragedy of Congo highlights the disconnect between the freedom-soaked rhetoric of President Bush, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld et al. and the profit-based reality that governs too much of U.S. foreign policy. The chief reason that there is no significant U.S. intervention to stop the nightmare in Congo is because the current state of chaos provides a perfect setting for exploitation of a land that is rich in natural resources like diamonds, copper, timber and gold.
Adam Hochschild, author of ‘King Leopold’s Ghost,’ an account of Congo’s colonial-era occupation by King Leopold II of Belgium, explained the situation in a recent New York Times essay. ‘The [Congo’s] Balkanization and war suit the amazing variety of corporations — large and small, American, African and European — that profit from the river of mineral wealth without having to worry about high taxes, and that prefer a cash-in-suitcases economy to a highly regulated one,’ Hochschild wrote.”
In fact, the ubiquitous Bechtel, the San Francisco construction and engineering giant tapped for Iraqi reconstruction contracts, is a player in the Congo. As is Canada’s Bush-connected Barrick Gold, which controls much of the gold fields in Ituri.
The message may be getting through at last, though. Earlier this month, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan called for a “ coalition of the willing” to help stabilize the Congo. France has pledged to send an emergency force as early as next week, and is seeking UN and US approval for its efforts, the Washington Post‘s Colum Lynch reports. Although the White House has ruled out any military assistance, a host of countries have indicated a willingness to contribute troops to this new coalition.