— The Erimtan Angle —

Archive for March, 2011

Jeremy Scahill on Libya

 

About a week ago, Scahill told Amy Goodman the following: “Right, well, I mean, first of all, the no-fly zone has always been a recipe for disaster. It was a disaster in Iraq, where it resulted in a strengthening of Saddam Hussein’s regime. The U.S. has bombed Gaddafi’s house. The U.S. is bombing targets that have no aerial value whatsoever. You know, I’m against the U.S. policy in Libya for tactical and strategic reasons. I think that it could end up backfiring in a tremendous way and keeping Gaddafi in power even longer. And if the United States is going to start intervening in every failed rebellion or insurrection around the world, it’s going to be very, very busy. I think this was a reactionary policy with very little sight of an endgame. This morning we heard that an F-15 went down inside of Libya. Remember Donald Rumsfeld said in November of 2002, “Iraq might be five days, five weeks or five months, but no longer than that,” and 50,000 U.S. troops and an equal number of private contractors remain there. So, I don’t see an endgame here. I think this is a classic case of knee-jerk “we need to remain relevant in the world so we’re going to take military action,” while propping up ruthless dictators elsewhere that have conducted the same kinds of operations, or ignoring far worse humanitarian crises and far worse mass slaughter on the part of dictators around the world”.[1] 


[1] “The No-Fly Zone Has Always Been a Recipe for Disaster”: Jeremy Scahill Says Libyan Strategy Has No Endgame” Democracy Now! (22 March 2011). http://www.democracynow.org/2011/3/22/the_no_fly_zone_has_always.

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Libya: Assisted Rebellion or a Just War?

Following the outbreak of violence in Libya, the so-called rebels have received their fair share of media attention and subsequent NATO support enabling them to make gains on Gaddafi. Libyan government forces have subsequently been able to push back rebel advances till another bout of air support turned the tables. The UN-sanctioned no-fly zone has in effect turned out to be a tacit if half-hearted support for the forces opposing Colonel Gaddafi, a thorn in the West’s side ever since the glory days of Ronald Reagan.

By early March, reports that Gaddafi’s forces were bombing civilian targets in Libya spread like wildfire on the world’s media. But, Russia’s military chiefs at the time said they had been monitoring Libya from space — and that their pictures told a different story. According to Al Jazeera and BBC, on 22 February, Libyan government inflicted airstrikes on Benghazi and on the capital Tripoli. However, the Russian military, which monitored the unrest via satellite from the very beginning, has come out saying that nothing of the sort was transpiring on the ground. In fact, the Russian military stated unequivocally that the attacks on civilians reported by the global media never took place. Nevertheless, the global television set managed to sensitise global opinion in such a way that something apparently had to be done.

Following the global outcry over the impending massacre at Benghazi, the UN Security Council could not but oblige and passed resolution 1973, authorizing its member states to implement a “no-fly zone . . . [and] to take all necessary measures to protect civilians under threat of attack in the country, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory”. As a result, on 19 March, the anniversary of the Bush campaign of Shock & Awe that was meant to bring Saddam Husain to his senses, the U.S. commenced Operation Odyssey Dawn, assisted by France, the UK, and Canada. The world has clearly changed in some respects, the proliferation of news broadcasters, the internet and social networking have clearly sensitised global public opinion. Would the Ruanda genocide have been prevented if present conditions had been in place in 1994? At the same time, the international community’s present reluctance to intervene in Côte d’Ivoire appears doubly disconcerting. Following his loss in last November’s election incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down and the situation is growing more and more tense each day, with civil war and dead civilians more than a distinct possibility.

Now, following the passing of adequate UN sanction and the prospect of NATO taking over the brunt of the cost and responsibilities, President Obama delivered a first speech to the American people on the topic of the new war in the Muslim world. On Monday, 28 March, he addressed a crowd at the National Defense University in Washington, DC. This speech was somewhat reminiscent of his Nobel acceptance speech in Oslo on 11 December 2009. He stated that the military action was limited to “enforcing the no-fly zone and protecting civilians on the ground” and did not constitute first moves toward regime change or even the execution of Colonel Gaddafi. In other words, Obama implied that the U.S. military action in Libya, supported by an UN resolution and allied forces, constitutes a just war. In Oslo, the U.S. President declared that “The concept of a ‘just war’ emerged, suggesting that war is justified only when certain conditions were met: if it is waged as a last resort or in self-defense; if the force used is proportional; and if, whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence”. The UN resolution’s aim was to save civilians and hence, the current military intervention appears to possess all the hallmarks of a “just war”, as championed by Obama and his Christian role-model, Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971). Elsewhere I have indicated that President Obama is very much in line with the teachings of the Cold Warrior Niebuhr, the primary proponent of Christian Realism in the U.S. and thus not averse to employing quasi-theological arguments to wage war – “just wars” aimed at defeating evil and protecting civilian life.

But is the situation in Libya really that straightforward? The Israeli independent internet website DEBKAfile, founded by a team of journalists in June 2000, which aims to provide an intelligence and security news service, reported on 25 February 2011 that “[h]undreds of US, British and French military advisers have arrived in Cyrenaica, Libya’s eastern breakaway province, debkafile’s military sources report exclusively. This is the first time America and Europe have intervened militarily in any of the popular upheavals rolling through the Middle East since Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution in early January. The advisers, including intelligence officers, were dropped from warships and missile boats at the coastal towns of Benghazi and Tobruk Thursday Feb. 24, for a threefold mission: 1. To help the revolutionary committees controlling eastern Libyan establish government frameworks for supplying two million inhabitants with basic services and commodities; 2. To organize them into paramilitary units, teach them how to use the weapons they captured from Libyan army facilities, help them restore law and order on the streets and train them to fight Muammar Qaddafi’s combat units coming to retake Cyrenaica. 3. To prepare infrastructure for the intake of additional foreign troops. Egyptian units are among those under consideration”. Since then, there has also been the embarrassing capture of an SAS team in Libya – an eight-strong group, who were escorting a junior British diplomat – which indicates that there is clearly more than meets the eye in the state of Libya.

In effect, the UN-mandated no-fly zone is but coded language for NATO-support for the forces opposing Colonel Gaddafi and his regime. The identity of these rebels is far from certain, but  in spite of this fact President Obama has nevertheless signed a secret order – a so-called “presidential finding”— authorising covert U.S. government support for rebel forces seeking to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Will this lead to arming the rebels and eventually contributing to the formation of a group similar to the Taliban in Afghanistan, which was the outcome of similar U.S. aid to forces opposing the Soviet occupation of the Hindu Kush?

The Future of Nuclear: George Monbiot vs. Dr. Helen Caldicott

The crisis in Japan has refueled the global debate about the viability of nuclear power. Democracy Now! hosts a debate today about the future of nuclear energy between British journalist George Monbiot and Dr. Helen Caldicott. Nuclear energy remains a controversial topic in climate change discourse, as environmental activists argue how to best reduce the amount of greenhouse gases being emitted into the atmosphere—often the debate pits one non-renewable energy against another as renewable energy technology and research remains underfunded. Monbiot has written extensively about the environmental and health dangers caused by burning coal for energy, and despite the Fukushima catastrophe, stands behind nuclear power. Caldicott is a world-renowned anti-nuclear advocate who has spent decades warning of the medical hazards posed by nuclear technologies, and while agreeing about the dangers of burning coal, insists the best option is to ban nuclear power.

 

Part 1

 

Part 2

 

Caldicott notes the following on her personal website: ‘As I write this on 25 March from Ottawa , two weeks since the earthquake and tsunami and the calamity that has befallen the Fukushima Nuclear Plant No 1, the situation has grown increasingly grave. Despite the heroic efforts of the “Nuclear Samurai” – the TEPCO employees who have selflessly and heroically fought to stabilize the reactors and restore power – there are worrying signs that signal dangerous instability continues to reign. Among them, the announcement today that one of the reactor cores may have suffered a break that could have released large amounts of radiation at the plant; the widening of the exclusion zone to 30 kilometers; and the US government ban on certain milk and vegetables from that area from importation. In truth . . . nuclear power and its deleterious effects are a medical problem of vast dimensions — the greatest public health hazard the world will ever see. Tragically, the “Nuclear Samurai” work for a company — TEPCO –that has been exposed as having ignored mandatory safety checks at Fukushima; as allowing spent fuel rods far in excess of the number that was deemed prudent to be stored on site; and as being evasive and unforthcoming about the real facts of the unfolding emergency What we have also seen is a second tsunami of a different kind – a tidal wave of blow-back from the nuclear industry around the world, which has been rocked back on its heels by Fukushima but is now regrouping. There are claims that radiation is good for you; that nuclear power is still the only answer to global warming; and that fears about the safety of nuclear power are unwarranted and panic-stricken. Let us be clear: there are billions and billions of dollars at stake for the nuclear industry, which has, as I’ve written earlier, managed to bamboozle governments around the world, much of the press, and many ordinary citizens into believing that nuclear power is green and clean. Nothing could be further from the truth. The industry will not walk away from that money without a fight’.[1] 

Russia and Turkey are two nations that apparently favour profits over people, as their plans to build a nuclear power plant in the vicinity of the  East Anatolian Fault appear to have been unperturbed by the recent disaster that has struck Japan. Always good at mincing his words, Turkey’s Energy and Natural Resources Minister Taner Yıldız stated recently that “We do not want our citizens to have concerns. We do not do risky things”.[2]  As reported by the news agency Reuters, SolveClimate’s Julia Harte comments that “[d]ays after the Fukushima disaster, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirmed to the press the country’s commitment to build this first reactor, and said the nation would have three functioning nuclear power plants by 2023. The Ministry of Energy did not return repeated calls and emails for comment . . . In addition to the seismic risk, critics of the project are also taking aim at the choice of reactor type, the VVER 1200. It has never been built before, though versions of it are currently under construction at two sites in Russia. The VVER 1200 is third-generation technology and is generally considered safer than the world’s current fleet of reactors”.[3] 


[1] “A Medical Problem of Vast Dimensions” Helen Caldicott, MD (26 March 2011). http://www.helencaldicott.com/.

[2] “Turkey determined to construct nuclear power plant” NEWS.am (23 March 2011). http://news.am/eng/news/52392.html.

[3] Julia Harte, “Building of Turkey’s First Nuclear Plant, Sited on a Fault Line, Facing Fresh Questions” Reuters (25 March 2011). http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/03/25/idUS122778134920110325.

Libya: NATO takes Control

 

 

Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s earlier statements have now become a reality of sorts. The U.S. propaganda broadcaster VOA adds this on Tuesday, 29 March: Diplomats from many of the world’s major powers met in London Tuesday and agreed to continue coalition airstrikes against government troops and targets in Libya, but they made no decision whether to arm rebel forces. The meeting came as forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi pushed back rebels in Bin Jiwad, a coastal town near the Mr. Gadhafi’s hometown of Sirte.

 

The UN imposed an arms embargo on Libya in 26 February 2011, and thus the issue of arming the rebels opposing Gadhafi would appear to be off the table. Philippe Sands QC, professor of international law at University College London, explains: “The embargo appears to cover everybody in the conflict which means you can’t supply arms to rebels”.[1]  President Obama’s insinuation that the conflict against Colonel Gadhafi constitutes a just war notwithstanding, taking sides has as yet not been sanctioned by the international community.

 


[1] Robert Booth, “Arming Libya rebels not allowed by UN resolutions, legal experts warn US” The Guardian (30 March 2011). http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/mar/30/arming-libya-rebels-america-warned.

Fukushima Blues Around the World

 

(29 March 2011)

 

The BBC’s Mark Worthington adds from Tokyo that the “highest radiation level yet in the seawater off Fukushima is the strongest indication so far that highly radioactive water is leaking into the sea. The reading comes as workers at the plant continue the difficult balancing act between pumping in water to keep the reactors cool, and draining pools of radioactive leakage. Japan’s Nuclear Safety Agency said the radiation level does not pose an immediate threat to fishery products. But it’s likely this latest discovery will increase concern both for the safety of Japanese seafood and its reputation abroad”.[1]  The BBC then provides these figures: ‘Seawater near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has reached a much higher level of radiation than previously reported. The new readings near reactor No 1 – 300m (328 yd) from the shore – showed radioactive iodine at 3,355 times the legal limit, said Japan’s nuclear safety agency. Earlier samples had put the iodine level in the sea at 1,850 times the legal limit. Much lower – but still elevated levels – of the same radioactive element have been found in seawater as far as 16km (10 miles) to the south. Tepco and the safety agency say the exact source of the leak is unknown. “Iodine 131 has a half-life of eight days, and even considering its concentration in marine life, it will have deteriorated considerably by the time it reaches people,” Hidehiko Nishiyama, deputy director-general of Japan’s nuclear safety agency told a news conference. Radioactive materials are measured by scientists in half-lives, or the time it takes to halve the radiation through natural decay’.[2] 

In case the urgency of this nuclear disaster has not yet become apparent, the BBC adds that ‘Iodine 131 was blamed for the high incidence of thyroid cancer among children exposed to fallout from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986’.[3]  In fact, the whole issue of nuclear energy seems patently absurd: in order to boil water to operate some turbines, nuclear material is fused to produce high levels of energy (ore heat) that is then put to use to boil water basically, or to put it in more formal words, as can be found on the website Three Mile Island: the ‘only purpose of a nuclear power plant is to produce electricity. To produce electricity, a power plant needs a source of heat to boil water which becomes steam. The steam then turns a turbine, the turbine turns an electrical generator, and the generator produces electricity’.[4] 

  


[1] “Analysis” BBC News (30 March 2011). http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-12903725.

[2] “Japan to scrap stricken nuclear reactors” BBC News (30 March 2011). http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-12903725.

[3] “Japan to scrap stricken nuclear reactors”.

[4] “1. How does a nuclear power plant work?” Three Mile Island. http://www.threemileisland.org/science/pdfs/how_nuclear_power_works.pdf.

Libya: A Just War???

In his speech on Monday night (28 March), the 10th day of direct U.S. involvement in Libya, President Obama defends the war in Libya – but does it make sense? In other words, Obama is once again invoking the principle of Just War, which he propounded during his Nobel acceptance speech in Oslo (11 December 2009) – an address that was somehow caught up in theological rhetoric. In fact, as I pointed out in Today’s Zaman some time ago, “Obama is much attached to the work of the American Protestant exponent of ‘Christian realism’, Reinhold Niebuhr”.[1]  Even though Obama did not explicitly state his reasoning during yesterday’s speech – no doubt mindful of Gaddafi’s taunt that he was facing a Crusader attack – he nevertheless implied that the War in Libya is a just war, waged to protect civilians.

 

Here is Rachel Maddow dissecting America’s current war effort in the Muslim world. Maddow quite insightfully also refers to Obama’s Oslo speech.

 

  

President Obama said: “Our most effective alliance, NATO, has taken command of the enforcement of the arms embargo and the no-fly zone. Last night, NATO decided to take on the additional responsibility of protecting Libyan civilians. This transfer from the United States to NATO will take place on Wednesday [, 30 March]. Going forward, the lead in enforcing the no-fly zone and protecting civilians on the ground will transition to our allies and partners, and I am fully confident that our coalition will keep the pressure on Gadhafi’s remaining forces. In that effort, the United States will play a supporting role – including intelligence, logistical support, search and rescue assistance, and capabilities to jam regime communications. Because of this transition to a broader, NATO-based coalition, the risk and cost of this operation – to our military and to American taxpayers – will be reduced significantly”.[2] 


[1] C. Erimtan, “A frontline in the war against Islamic Extremism or A Crucial Part of the Eurasian chessboard?” Today’s Zaman (25 January 2011). http://tiny.cc/h3b5g

[2] “President Obama’s Speech To Nation 28 March 2011 @ 18:35 HRS CST (TCP)CHICAGO” The Critical Post (28 March 2011). http://thecritical-post.com/blog/2011/03/president-obamas-speech-to-nation-28-march-2011-1835-hrs-cst-tcpchicago/.

History of U.S. Interventions & Humanitarian Interventions and Supported Insurrections

MSNBC host and Young Turk Cenk Uygur speaks with Colonel Jack Jacbos (U.S. Army, Retired) and history Professor Juan Cole about the history of U.S. interventions abroad in the context of the no-fly zone in Libya from a coalition looking to overthrow dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Libya: Humanitarian Interventions and Supported Insurrections

 The Middle East is now convulsing under the strains of the so-called Arab Awakening. First Tunisia, then Egypt, and now such places like Yemen, Bahrain, and even Syria and Jordan witness scenes of popular unrest and public displays of dissatisfaction. In the midst of these popular demonstrations and government crackdowns, the evens in Libya stand out as somewhat uncharacteristic and even extreme. Rather than protesting against Gaddafi’s 42-year rule, some people in Libya have actually taken up arms and have commenced a veritable uprising, an uprising that rapidly turned into a civil war of sorts.

 The Colonel and his forces, however, fought back and easily defeated the rebels who retreated to the city of Benghazi. It was then that Gaddafi appears to have made his most serious miscalculation. Instead of merely attacking the city and crushing the rebellion, he issued threats to the city, its 700,000 residents and the opposition forces: the “hour of decision has come . . . The matter has been decided . . . we are coming. There is amnesty for those who throw away their weapons and sit in their house . . . No matter what they did in the past, [they will be] forgiven [, but] there will be no mercy or compassion [for those who resist]”. Gaddafi made this ominous warning on Thursday night (17 March) and subsequently, the international media as well as political leaders worldwide started uttering such words and phrases like ‘massacre’, ‘genocide’ aimed at ‘unarmed civilians’. As a result, the Free World’s leader felt forced to act. President Obama who had till then shown great restraint, now felt at ease threatening Gaddafi: “All attacks against civilians must stop. Gaddafi must stop his troops from advancing on Benghazi, pull them back from Ajdabiya, Misrata and Zawiya, and establish water, electricity and gas supplies to all areas. Humanitarian assistance must be allowed to reach the people of Libya. Let me be clear, these terms are not negotiable”.

 But unlike his predecessor, Obama did not rush in and throw American weight around. He waited for the United Nations to provide legal justification. And, compelled from above, the Security Council could not but oblige and passed resolution 1973, authorizing its member states to implement a “no-fly zone . . . [and]  to take all necessary measures to protect civilians under threat of attack in the country, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory”. As a result, on 19 March, the anniversary of the Bush campaign of Shock & Awe that was meant to bring Saddam Husain to his senses, the U.S. commenced Operation Odyssey Dawn, assisted by France, the UK, and Canada. The Arab League, which had been pleading for the implementation of a no-fly zone was shocked at first as it had apparently not realised the exact military ramifications of putting such a zone in place. Arab leaders soon changed their tune however. Commentators have not missed the opportunity to refer to Kosovo bombing campaign of 1999, which had also adhered to a humanitarian rationale.

Then, Serbia’s Slobodan Milošević used his troops and supporters to ethnically cleanse the then-province of its Albanian inhabitants. Bill Clinton’s war against Milošević was relatively short yet decidedly harsh in indiscriminately pursuing Serb positions, including occasional civilian targets in Belgrade and elsewhere. The Albanians who were then forced to flee their homes at gunpoint have now back home in Kosovo unilaterally declared their independence from Serbia. At the time, the misery inflicted upon the Albanian population was highly visible and beyond doubt, but subsequently, critics of Clinton’s policies have emerged indicating that the real reason behind the bombing campaign was the Trans-Balkan pipeline running from the Black Sea to the Albanian port of Vlore. And adding weight to this interpretation is the continued existence of Camp Bondsteel, strategically located next to the pipeline’s projected trajectory. The leftist critic Paul Stuart explains that in “June 1999, in the immediate aftermath of the bombing of Yugoslavia, US forces seized 1,000 acres of farmland in southeast Kosovo at Uresevic, near the Macedonian border, and began the construction of a camp. Camp Bondsteel is known as the “grand dame” in a network of US bases running both sides of the border between Kosovo and Macedonia. In less than three years it has been transformed from an encampment of tents to a self sufficient, high tech base-camp housing nearly 7,000 troops – three quarters of all the US troops stationed in Kosovo”.

Barack Obama has now reassured his war-weary people that the United States will not embark upon yet another war, but that responsibility for maintaining the no-fly zone would pass to NATO or other interested parties, which effectively means that the allied forces are actively supporting the rebels in their efforts to defeat Gaddafi. But the world is still reeling under the consequences of the financial crisis and austerity measures are being implemented everywhere. The initial costs of the Libya intervention were substantial: Tomahawk missiles worth nearly $260 million have been fired; while neutralising Libya’s air defenses cost more than $800 million; and maintaining the no-fly zone is estimated to cost approximately $100 million per week. Domestically however, the Obama Administration, aided by the Republican-controlled Congress, is cutting services and curbing spending. In contrast, the Financial Times’ Jack Farchy and Roula Khalaf indicate that Colonel Gaddafi “is sitting on a pot of gold. The Libyan central bank . . .  holds 143.8 tonnes of gold, according to the latest data from the International Monetary Fund, although some suspect the true amount could be several tonnes higher”. They continue that Gaddafi’s gold is “worth more than $6.5bn at current prices”.

The past weekend BBC America’s Ted Koppel exclaimed the following question on live television: “why it is that Libya, of all countries in that region, has won the humanitarian defense sweepstakes of 2011?”. Koppel’s query seems more than justified. In the U.S. the plight of the inhabitants of Darfur has been highly publicised in the past, whereas the situation in the DRC is nothing short of genocidal, and currently the Ivory Coast is descending rapidly into a civil war. Libya’s underground assets arguably play a role, and the news agency Reuters has stated that about 32 percent of Libya’s oil goes to Italy, 14 percent to Germany, 10 percent to France and China and 5 percent to the United States. Could this meagre 5% explain President Obama’s initial reticence?