Sunday, March 30, 2008

Add it to the list: Another expert warning about an invasion of Iraq in 1999

The invasion and ensuing civil war in Iraq has been a windfall for journalists - the Bush war machine goes back so far it has provided fodder for an entire generation of aspiring Pulitzer prize winners. Below is just one more foreboding commentary from a regional government minister (this time, the Oil Minister in Kuwait). It came up on a google search I was doing for 'social welfare systems in the Middle East' - the fact that it barely mentions the terms 'social,' 'welfare' or 'Middle East' (excepting of course, talk of invading Iraq) is indicative of the absence of serious social provisions in all but the GCC states - and even then only for the 10% of the population that has citizenship. But, back to the point. This is an interview from the Middle East Forum - I only reproduce the really great parts here, but you can find the entire text here.

MEQ: Do you see an end to Saddam's pattern of breaking his word, then at the last minute backing down?

Al-Sabah: Iraq has been jerking around the Security Council, the United States, and the whole coalition. We saw this back in February, when it at the last moment backed down from a confrontation and signed an agreement with Secretary-General Kofi Annan, thus narrowly avoiding war. The Clinton administration indicates that it has no more patience with such behavior; if that's so, a serious confrontation appears likely.

MEQ: You have confidence in this administration?

Al-Sabah: Look, I have full confidence in it, as we had in the previous administrations. But that's not even the main issue now. It's not what the administration wishes; it is rather the whole United States of America, plus the coalition, our partners, and the Security Council.

We are on the right course. Iraq did back down in February and again this month. Saddam vowed UNSCOM would never return to Iraq and he had to go back on this; but they're back and they're in business.

MEQ: What's to stop this from happening all over again?

Al-Sabah: It will be a different ball game next time around. Just watch.

MEQ: You have said that a weak Saddam Husayn is less threatening to Kuwait than some other regime.1 Please explain what you mean.

Al-Sabah: We don't see a viable alternative to Saddam Husayn emerging, one that would fulfill our desires to have a democratic and peace-loving Iraq for a neighbor. Given this pessimism, Saddam Husayn is perhaps less threatening than the alternative, which I see mainly as a civil war that would consume Iraq. Once Saddam falls, I expect a major civil war would erupt in Iraq. The Kurds in the north, Shi‘a in the south, and anti-Saddam Sunnis in the middle of Iraq will be busy settling scores. I also fear that a massive civil war would go beyond the borders of Iraq and create chaos in the region, where all the neighboring countries would get involved in it, as they did in Lebanon. Civil war in Iraq would make civil war in Lebanon look like a stroll in the park. We are extremely concerned this civil war could also spill over into Kuwait.

MEQ: Would it be fair to say that the security of Kuwait ultimately depends on American public opinion?

Al-Sabah: It remains very important.

MEQ: Do you worry about a softening in American public opinion?

Al-Sabah: Not really. I was in Houston the other night having dinner with President Bush, Governor Bush, and others. The conversation turned to some people talking about the sufferings of the Iraqi people. I said fine, we all sympathize with the sufferings of the Iraqi people, but doesn't anyone really sympathize with the sufferings of the American people? I look at the sufferings of those tens of thousands of soldiers who have to be apart from their families during the holiday season. When you see those young men and women leaving their loved ones behind, crying and kissing, hugging each other, boarding military planes, going to fight a war—that's more suffering than anyone else experiences. Thanksgiving is coming up, then Christmas and New Year's, and they'll spend it in the front-lines, not knowing whether they'll be coming back or not. This is the suffering we should be talking about.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

New UN Report Released on Hariri Assassination

The new report (you can find the text here along with the BBC analysis) seems to suggest that the assassination was "criminally" rather than "politically" motivated - although that doesn't necessarily rule out Syrian involvement, it does suggest a much more nuanced and complex picture than the earlier UN reports. Syria is reported to provide "generally satisfactory cooperation" to the investigative authorities.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

40% of Afghan aid returns to donor countries, says report

The Guardian has a great article on the reconstruction in Afghanistan. I'm knee-deep in a paper right now on free-market reforms and contracting, so it caught my eye on the Angry Arab's blog. I reproduce the article in its entirety below:

Richard Norton-Taylor
March 25 2008.

Afghanistan is being deprived of $10bn (£5bn) of promised aid, and 40% of the money that has been delivered was spent on corporate profits and consultancy fees, according to a hard-hitting report by aid agencies released today.

The failure of western donors to keep their promises, compounded by corruption and inefficiency, is undermining the prospects for peace in Afghanistan, it warns.

Civil aid programmes are a fraction of what is spent by America, Britain and other countries on military operations there. Much of the money earmarked for aid is diverted to political or military purposes.

The report by Acbar, an alliance of international aid agencies working in the country, including Oxfam, Christian Aid, Islamic Relief and Save the Children, says the international community has pledged $25bn to Afghanistan since 2001 but only $15bn has been delivered.

The US is the biggest donor to Afghanistan but is also responsible for one of the biggest shortfalls. The US delivered only half of the $10.4bn it committed between 2002 and 2008, according to the Afghan government, today's report says.

Over the same period the European commission and Germany distributed less than two-thirds of their respective $1.7bn and $1.2bn commitments while the World Bank distributed just over half of the $1.6bn it committed. Britain pledged $1.45bn and distributed almost all, $1.3bn.

The report estimated that 40% of the aid money spent in Afghanistan has found its way back to rich donor countries such as the US through corporate profits, consultants' salaries and other costs, significantly inflating the cost of projects.

For example, a road between the centre of Kabul and the international airport cost over $2.3m per kilometre in US aid money, at least four times the average cost of building a road in Afghanistan, today's report says.

Afghanistan's biggest donor, USAid, allocates nearly half its funds to five big contractors. The US government has awarded major contracts, some worth hundreds of millions of dollars, to KBR, the Louis Berger group, Chemonics International, Bearing Point, and Dyncorp International, according to a study by the US-based Centre for Public Integrity quoted in today's report.

Most full-time expatriate consultants working for private companies in Afghanistan cost between $250,000 and $500,000 a year, including salary, allowances and associated costs, the report adds.

Some 90% of all public spending in Afghanistan comes from international aid. The huge shortfall hinders efforts to rebuild infrastructure damaged by over two decades of war, and the delivery of essential services such as education and health, the report says.

Matt Waldman, Oxfam's Afghanistan policy adviser and the report's author, said last night: "The reconstruction of Afghanistan requires a sustained and substantial commitment of aid - but donors have failed to meet their aid pledges to Afghanistan. Too much aid from rich countries is wasted, ineffective or uncoordinated.

"Spending on tackling poverty is a fraction of what is spent on military operations. While the US military is currently spending $100m a day in Afghanistan, aid spent by all donors since 2001 is on average less than a tenth of that - just $7m a day.

"Given the slow pace of progress in Afghanistan, and the links between poverty and conflict, the international community must urgently get its act together".

The report says some degree of donor under-spending could be expected because of the lack of government capacity, large-scale corruption, and difficult security conditions. But the size of the shortfall highlights the need for donors making better efforts to face up to the problem.

The report also shows that a disproportionate amount of aid follows the conflict and is being used for political and military objectives rather than reducing poverty.

"This is a short-sighted policy," said Waldman. "There must be strong support for development in the south but if other provinces are neglected then insecurity could spread."

The report says the volume of aid, particularly to rural areas, should be increased, aid donors should be more open about what they want to provide and cooperate better with the Afghan government.

There should be better ways to measure the impact, efficiency, and relevance of aid money, and an independent commission to monitor the appropriateness and effectiveness of donors' programmes, should be set up, it says.

The Red Menace: It's Communism . . . . for the banks!

A great article in Scotland's Sunday Herald about the recent collapse of large finance houses. Below are some excerpts:

"The irony, though, is that this time it isn't the working classes who are demanding that the state should take over, but the banks. The capitalists are throwing themselves on the mercy of government, demanding subsidies and protection from the capitalist market - it's socialism for the banks. Hedge fund managers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your bonuses.

"Instead of just propping up bankrupt banks, the governments should be democratising them - mobilising their assets to stimulate the productive economy, repairing infrastructure, researching and developing new markets, and refitting western economies to combat climate change. It needs a kind of green New Deal - an update on Roosevelt's imaginative policies of the 1930s fought tooth and nail by the banks.

"They want unlimited access to public money to save themselves from the consequences of their own actions; welfare for the wealthy. This is above all a political, not an economic problem. There needs to be a political mobilisation of public opinion to force the banks and the government to bring the people into the equation. Unfortunately, the party that used to perform this function, Labour, has largely been bought out by the banks. They have privatised the government, even as they have socialised the financial markets.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The US Origins of Palestinian Violence

"After failing to anticipate Hamas’s victory over Fatah in the 2006 Palestinian election, the White House cooked up yet another scandalously covert and self-defeating Middle East debacle: part Iran-contra, part Bay of Pigs. With confidential documents, corroborated by outraged former and current U.S. officials, David Rose reveals how President Bush, Condoleezza Rice, and Deputy National-Security Adviser Elliott Abrams backed an armed force under Fatah strongman Muhammad Dahlan, touching off a bloody civil war in Gaza and leaving Hamas stronger than ever." Vanity Fair has the whole story.

NPR Series - Doing Business in the Middle East

Marketplace on NPR is doing a series on the Middle East - they cover everything from fair trade olive oil cooperatives in Palestine to migrant laborers in Dubai. Great stuff.

Friday, March 14, 2008

They found nukes in Iraq!!!

Okay, not really. But a young sheep herder did lead coalition forces to a weapons cache where they found: "9V GETTOP batteries, a box of latex gloves, washing machine timers, unknown documents, a Soviet striker release UZRGM and a cassette tape." "Significant caches found in Anbar" - really??

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Army of Shadows Sheds Light on early Israeli-Palestinian relations

The Nation has a great review of a new book Army of Shadows that uses archival material to paint a new picture of Israeli-Palestinian relations before and during the mandate period:

"In his groundbreaking book Army of Shadows, Hillel Cohen, a research fellow at Hebrew University's Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace, exposes this particularly nefarious side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Cohen has spent years in numerous Israeli and British archives gathering information that many would pre­fer to forget, and in Army of Shadows he sum­mons his findings to document the actions of a seemingly endless number of Palestinian mukhtars (village leaders), land merchants, in­­formers, weapons dealers, journalists, busi­nessmen, farmers and teachers who collaborated with the Jews between 1917 and 1948. By focusing on them, Army of Shadows chron­icles a tragic chapter in the people's history of Palestine, one that many Arab scholars have refrained from writing because it contradicts the dominant ethos of Palestinian national unity. Zionists have ab­­stained from recording it as well because it undermines their claim that the Palestinians were able to unify and fight against the es­tablishment of a Jewish state after the UN partition resolution of November 29, 1947. Cohen reveals that many Palestinians signed pacts with the Zionists during the 1948 war and that some even fought with the Jews against the Arab armies.

Collaboration is a very thorny issue, primarily because of its corrosive blend of betrayal, exploitation and deceit, so it's not surprising that Army of Shadows created a stir when the Hebrew edition was published in 2004. Both liberal Jews and Palestinians found the book difficult to digest because each group found its side portrayed in unflattering terms. Many Jewish readers were upset by Cohen's revelation that the prestate Zionist intelligence agency, Shai, and the Jewish Agency's Arab bureau exploited almost every honest Jewish and Palestinian relationship to advance narrow Zionist interests. There were, Cohen notes, many Jews who desired only friendship or good business relations with Palestinians but were eventually identified by the Shai, which used them to collect information and enlist Palestinian collaborators. The Jewish Agency even helped establish and finance Neighborly Relations Committees, which initiated mutual visits and Jewish-Palestinian projects, ranging from pest control to the sending of joint petitions to the Mandatory government. The rationale for the creation of these committees was not only to enhance coexistence but also to recruit informers.

Ezra Danin, head of the Shai's Arab department from 1940 to 1948, identified twenty-five occupations and institutions in which Jews and Palestinians mixed company, among them trucking, shipping, train and telecommunications systems, journalism, Jewish-Arab municipalities, prisons and the offices of the British Administration. He proposed that the Jews in these walks of life enlist Arab collaborators, adding that "such activity should be similar to the way the Nazis worked in Denmark, Norway, and Holland--touching on every area of life." Cohen explains that this approach was different from that of British intelligence, which allowed only political and military organizations and subversive bodies to be targeted as pools for potential informers. This revelation, besides shedding light on some of the ruthless tactics employed by the intelligence agencies, helps explain why, from Zionism's very beginnings, it was almost impossible for many Jews to develop loyal relationships with indigenous Palestinians.

Army of Shadows also disturbed Palestinian readers because it reveals for the first time the extent of Palestinian collaboration with the Jews during the Mandate period and the ensuing 1948 war. Some Palestinians were opportunists who collaborated with the Zionists to make money or advance their careers--these were primarily land brokers and people seeking administrative jobs. Others were mukhtars who wished to advance their regional or village interests or, in cases of internal competition, to solidify their leadership with the Zionists. Still others can be characterized as Palestinian patriots who simply disagreed with the dominant national leadership. Finally, there were those who had Jewish friends and did not view Zionist immigration as a catastrophe. The problem, though, as Cohen points out, is that regardless of the motivation, collaboration contributed to the fragmentation of Palestinian society at a time when its very fate was being determined.

Simultaneously, Cohen underscores the Palestinian leadership's failure to cultivate a unified national ethos. While disunity among a people is in no way unique, in this case, as Cohen shows, it was aggravated in two ways. First, a totally different and competing national movement was making claims on the same territory, and this movement knew how to profit from splits within Palestinian society in order to undermine national aspirations. Indeed, the Zionists exploited the fissures to recruit and deploy collaborators, and this ultimately served to deepen internal Palestinian discord and frustrate Palestinian nation building.

Second, and more disturbing for a Palestinian readership, Cohen stresses that instead of capitalizing on the fact that Palestinian Arabs shared a national consciousness and were divided mostly on pragmatic questions about how to achieve their goals, the dominant Palestinian group, led by Hajj Amin al-Husseini and loosely organized under the auspices of the Arab Party (established in 1935), defined all competing nationalist views and actions as treasonous. Collaborators, accordingly, were no longer just those who aided the Zionists' military efforts; they were local and regional leaders, merchants who traded with Jews, journalists who wrote in favor of the Zionist project and, most important, land dealers who helped Jewish institutions locate and purchase Palestinian land.