Archive for ‘USA’ Category
I will be traveling to a family reunion in Boston during the September 11 commemorations, so will not be doing much posting during that time. What I will do now is briefly opine on what the US public might reflect upon a decade on after the attacks.
It is clear that, in terms of security against large-scale terrorist attacks, the US is safer. The price for that safety, from the indignities of airport security to the infringements on civil liberties and constitutional rights allowed by the Patriot Act and attendant legislation, is something that Americans take for granted, even if large gaps still remain in the defense against a committed and well-organised attack against mass targets (one need only to see shopping mall security to get an idea of the potential targets such places represent). By and large the US public is resigned to living in an age of fear, and go about their business willfully ignoring the myriad aways in which it is being surveilled, eavesdropped, video monitored and otherwise treated as a nation of suspects. Such, as they say, is the price for freedom.
The US has also become the most fearsome military force on the planet, with a level of combat experience and lethal technologies that exponentially exceeds that of any other country or combination of countries. For all their rise as important powers, when was the last time China, India or Russia were capable of sustaining two prolonged wars of occupation half way across the globe for years on end? What rivals, such as Iran or North Korea, have the ability to bring sustained multi-layered force to the battlefield, and which of these countries has a cadre of combat-hardened 30 year old field commanders and enlisted personnel capable of wreaking organised havoc at a tactical level? The answer is none. The US is a war machine par excellance, and allies and adversaries are well aware of this fact.
But the US has paid a price for its war-mongering. Having engaged in torture and the killing of thousands of innocents in the Muslim world in its pursuit of those responsible for 9/11 (and some who were not, such as Saddam Hussein), the US has lost much diplomatic stature and respect in the international community. It no longer represents the so-called “shining house on the hill” that all people aspire to. It is now just another great power bullying its way, with little to none of the moral authority it used to claim just ten years ago. Nor is it much liked, not only in places that have been traditionally exhibited antipathy to it such as Latin America, but now even amongst the community of liberal democracies that it ostensibly leads. The situation is so dire that even the Russians feel compelled to critique the US on issues of democratic governance and values. That is a sorry state indeed.
The ongoing commitment to unilateral pre-emptive war has exacted a toll on the US economy. More Americans are out of work than anytime since the late 1970 (the overall unemployment rate is over 9 percent and the unemployment for some sub-groups such as young Afro-American men exceeds 16 percent). More Americans are devoid of affordable health care since before World War Two. The dream of secure home ownership, the foundation of the American Dream as much as the quarter acre pavlova paradise is in NZ, is less attainable for the majority than at any time during the last fifty years. Crime rates have crept back up after record lows in the late 1990s. Political, class and ethnic divisions are at their sharpest in a quarter century. Polarisation, not solidarity and communitarianism, are the hallmarks of US society today. There is more to this litany of despair, but the point is that the US may still be proud, but it is bowed. It may be physically safer from foreign attack than ever before, but it is also more insecure than at any time since the war of 1812.
The mood, from what I can gather speaking with friends and family across the country, is sombre. This contrasts sharply with the historical sense of US optimism, if not idealism, that existed prior to 9/11. A friend of mine, a former Pentagon official, drew the analogy this way: the US went on a bender from the mid 1990s until 2008, only pausing in its partying ways during the weeks after 9/11 while the immediate damage was assessed. It now saddled with a massive hangover and the need to sober up by living within its diminished means. Although the Fox News and Tea Party crowd will engage in the usual jingoistic patriotism and shout that “we are still number one” to all and sundry, for the vast majority the anniversary will be ignored, be spent quietly, or be cause to reflect on what once was, and is no more.
Thus, my questions for the day are this. Is the US more or less strong than it was on 9/11/2001? Are its people more or less secure than they were on that terrible day? And if not, why is that, especially since al-Qaeda has been largely routed as a large scale irregular fighting force and Osama bin Laden is dead?
The answer, I reckon, lies within the US itself.
I arrived in Miami just as Hurricane Irene turned northeast, sparing Florida but pounding the Mid- and North Atlantic seaboard. From what I saw of the outer fringe of the storm when it was a category 3 hurricane–5 meter frothing waves, high gusting winds and torrential (sometimes horizontal) rain, the folk up north were lucky that the storm weakened as it hit colder water and made landfall. Not surprisingly, many complained about the mandatory evacuation measures that were put into place, arguing that it was over-kill given the downgrading of Irene to a category 1 storm, even though the flooding and winds that did reach the major population centers clustered along the East Coast caused more than 30 deaths, major damage to property and infrastructure, and prolonged power outages that affected over 5 million people. Just like those who flocked to the shoreline to see the big surf, it is as if they simply cannot understand the implications of what was originally headed their way. In many ways, this reflects the general state of US politics at the moment.
The current political climate in the US is dominated by the Republican primary campaign. Truth be told, it has all the aspects of a circus side-show, freaks and all. There is Michele Bachmann, she of the “always on high beam” glazed stare and Cold War apocalyptic views with the closet queen husband who claims that he converts homosexuals to heterosexuality through prayer (giving a whole new meaning to the phrase “laying on of hands”). There is Rick Perry, a W. Bush wanna-be Texas governor who does not believe in man-made climate change and endorses creationist interpretations of evolution. There is a black guy with a slave name (Herman Cain) who ran a chain of pizza shops and seems to think this is enough experience to run the country. There is the evergreen Ron Paul, who looks better over time in the measure that his party candidates increasingly evidence pre-reconstruction beliefs. There is Newt Gingrich, serial adulterer and engineer of the last government shutdown, pontificating about a return to “constitutional values” ( he must be thinking about the founding father’s penchant for liasions with female slaves). There is millionaire Mitt Romney, once again attempting to recast himself in a right-wing image, this time as a Tea Party supporter. Romney and another candidate, John Huntsmann, are both Mormon former governors of states that in no way reflect the larger society in which they exist (Massachusetts is an unsually liberal state, while Utah is unusually conservative). Behind this motley suit-clad crew are the ranters and ravers, led by Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck, who want to bomb Iran, Venezuela, North Korea, Pakistan and any other place the communist-socialist, islamofascist, feminazi, ecoterrorist gay-lesbian secular humanist alliance is taking hold.
The GOP is a party now governed by its rump, in the guise of the Christian fundamentalists and Tea Party anti-government activists (who in spite of their claimed belief in self-reliance are strangely silent on the issue of accepting federal aid to the hurricane disaster zones, perhaps because Bachmann and televangalist Pat Robertson both claimed that the hurricane and the earthquake that preceded it on the East Coast were acts of God designed to warn politicians to be fiscally prudent and morally conservative). It is a party that has congressional leaders that openly gloat that their primary objective is to make the Obama administration fail, even if it takes forcing government agency closures as arguments over budgetary matters continue at an impasse (the agreement on the debt ceiling is only a temporary measure). This includes trying to tie federal disaster relief to budget cuts in other areas. It a party that is openly disloyal and disrespectful of the presidency, and which has open champions on conservative media outlets that are equally disrespectful and delusional in their approach to “correcting” the multiple ailments afflicting the country. These people dream of an Ozzie and Harriet la-la land where Negros, Hispanics, Arabs and other non-whites know their place.
The trouble for this crowd of neo-cons, bible-bashing fundies, xenophobes, racists, isolationists, revanchists and neo-imperialists (and yes, there is a bunch of contradictions layered in there) is that their proposed solutions to the US malaise avoid the major issue and in fact will serve to exacerbate it: growing class differentials, both in income and opportunity. In the US today, the top 400 individual income earners control as much of the national wealth as the bottom 60 percent of the population. This is what I have called in the past the “Brasilianisation” of US society, where income inequalities become monumental, except that now Brazil is thriving and growing its middle class by using the type of state-managed macroeconomic policies so reviled by the American Right, to the point that it beginning to look like what the US once was (no insult to Brazil intended).
Yet the Tea Baggers and GOP want to continue tax breaks for the upper ten percent of the population and corporations (some of whom have paid no net tax in the last five years) while drastically reducing public funding for so-called “entitlements” like universal health care, welfare, education and infrastructure development. The new scapegoats, along with the traditional targets of brown-skinned immigrants, are public sector employees, who now are being targeted for layoffs and redundancies at both the state and federal level. A major target are public school teachers, whose pensions are considered to be a major drain on state coffers (in spite of the fact that these employees paid a significant percentage of their salaries into their pension funds).
Behind all of this is open hatred of unions to the point that some GOP candidates want to eliminate them entirely. Bachmann, for example, wants to disestablish the National Labor Relations Board, a non-partisan oversight body established by FDR as part of the New Deal that encourages the right to collective bargaining and union representation in the workplace (but not closed shops). Anti-union governors have emerged in several states (most notably in Florida, Minnesota and Wisconsin) using union-bashing as a populist tool in pursuit of fiscal reform. Given president Obama’s conciliatory and compromising stance vis a vis GOP demands (some have called it a sell-out), cracks in the Democratic support base are starting to show, with the labor movement, Congressional black caucus and Hispanic leaders all denouncing his retreat from the “progressive” (as much as you can be in the US) policies on which he campaigned. This augers poorly for his re-election chances in 2012, although given the dog-and-pony show that is the GOP candidate list, he remains the default option.
Of course, these same reactionaries want the US to maintain a global military presence (now in more than 80 countries) that can strike at any adversary, real or imagined (recall the invasion of Grenada under a previous Republican president). They fail to understand that keeping a global war machine requires and exceptional level of public funding through taxation, and that the 100+ trillion dollar US public debt is in large measure due to the Bush 43 administration’s deficit-spending pursuit of two wars of occupation (one of necessity, one of choice) that is currently costing 1 million dollars per deployed soldier per day (one only has to think of the logistics lines and cost of equipment to see how these figure tallies up).
Rather than push to withdraw or downscale the US foreign military presence these same folk preach about the need to maintain the US role as global policeman, particularly in light of the re-emergence of China and Russia as strategic rivals along with the threats posed by states such as Iran and other middle powers that fail to adhere to US dictates. They deny that they are imperialists, but in order play the role of world cop the GOP is willing to sacrifice the roots of domestic stability, in the form of an equitable tax base and the robust provision of public goods and services.
This brings up what the GOP and Tea Party extremists cannot see and what their policies will aggravate: class conflict. The US has always been good at deliberately down-playing class conflict in favour of racial tensions, cultural differences and issues of social choice. During times of plenty, say the 15 year period between 1993 and 2008, the underlying class divisions in US society could be more readily submerged by these distractions, making the electorate easily manipulable by the corporate-political elite that benefited the most by the macro-economic policies of the last two decades. But in the last three years, as the same economic elites who plunged the US economy into recession were awarded corporate bail-outs by both the Bush 43 and Obama administrations, millions of “ordinary” Americans have lost their jobs, their homes and their future prospects. Now, rather than providing the federal safety net as a stop-gap against further social dislocation and the unrest that it brings, the GOP is successfully pressuring the federal government to remove key components of the fundamental social contract that has underpinned US society since the 1960s.
The proposed conservative roll back ignores the fact that what got the US out of the Great Depression, the New Deal, was founded on a federal job creation program, and that the Great Society of the 1960s was rooted in the expansion of civil rights tied to equal opportunity access promoted and enforced by the federal government. Instead, the American Right has adopted a “survival of the fittest” approach in no small part because they are the fittest to survive given who their economic benefactors are. The reality is that their proposed remedies are exactly the opposite of what has worked in the past to revitalise the economy and will have negative consequences far in excess of whatever benefit they hope to achieve.
What the GOP, Tea Baggers and the frothing-at-the-mouth media conservatives are blind to is the fact that their policies will accentuate class differences, leading to increasing alienation and dispair amongst those for whom the American Dream no longer exists. One only need to look at the UK riots to understand where such policies lead to, yet the likes of the infamous Koch brothers (billionaires who are funding the Tea Party movement) continue to push for policies that reduce the ability of the federal government to help those at the bottom of the socioeconomic totem pole.
There is irony in the fact that the Tea Party movement is made up of mostly white middle and working class people yet advocates tax and fiscal policies that openly favour the rich and corporate interests instead of their own. In fact, the Tea Party movement is backing policy prescriptions that are a thinly veiled attack on the working poor and lower middle classes as much as they are a coddling of the wealthy. But then again, false consciousness is a common feature of declining class fractions confronted with the evolution of society in which they no longe matter, as they seek to cling to a nostalgic version of the past in which they served as the motor force of the economy and culture. They no longer are, and the conservative correctives will ensure that it stays that way.
The bottom line is that like the fools who ignored warnings about the hurricane, the American Right is plunging the country towards its worst nightmare: the day in which class conflict emerges out into the open and cannot be disguised by so-called “culture wars” and the other customary diversions that have been used successfully in the past. When that day comes not only will the discourse of politics be different. So too will be social interaction, which will begin to adopt centrifugal rather than centripetal characteristics as the fabric of society begins to fray.
NB: A note for Lew: you will be interested to know that television advertising in the US increasingly sees the use of military personnel (or actors protraying armed service people) in a variety of huckster roles, from selling donuts to cars to anxiety medicine. Most of the military personnel being potrayed (including female soldiers) are depicted as being from the enlisted ranks, as a common touch with the consuming masses. Since you are the media analysis guru I shall leave it to you to ponder the implications of the military presence in US advertising, but if it is true that advertising reflects more general social preferences, trends and mores, then from my non-expert vantage point it sure looks like the militarisation of public discourse is near complete (which only will make the impending clash of class interests that more alarming).
Market responses to the US debt crisis and financial downgrade have been like king tides as of late, and inevitably speculation centers on the possibility of a “double dip” global recession (this speculation is more than rhetorical. Gold and other precious metal prices have spiked overt the last three weeks as investors flee the stock, bond, commodity and currency markets). There is much talk, some fearful and some hopeful, of a global meltdown of epic proportions. The argument goes that downgrading the US credit rating devalues US Treasury bonds and the dollar, which slows US private investment at home and abroad, decreases domestic consumption, increases unemployment and generally prolongs the recession begun in 2008. This ripples negatively across the globe given the interconnectivity of commodity chains and the central role of the US in them. Be it on the Left or the Right, the belief in state bankruptcy is taken as an article of faith.
The reality is different. What is happening is a fiscal crisis of the Western State rooted in a cyclic crisis of capitalism. Arguments about the blown-out US public debt obscure the fact that it is the result of the same conditions that produced the 2008 recession and which are at root the cause of the next one. For the last thirty years the ‘bubble” of private debt was replicated by the US Government, in the last decade under the strain of simultaneously fighting two prolonged low intensity conflicts. In Europe public debt was in part procured in order to compensate for private debt (via the provision of subsidized entitlements). Capital was lent on looser and looser terms as interest payment calculations came to rival returns on productive investment as the dominant macroeconomic logic. The market in financial derivatives boomed, then busted, bringing with it a crisis in small scale property ownership at the same time that major manufacturers were being bailed out by the US government.
There is a difference, however, between the private sector and the State when it comes to fiscal crises. The analogy between States and firms is overdrawn. Firms go bankrupt; States do not. States may default on loans and suffer the indignities of downgrading by financial institutions, but they do not go out of business. The reason is simple. States with a presence in the global economy may fail but they do not cease to exist.
Modern states are political entities with other measures of power beyond economic resources, are rooted in historical and cultural ties within more or less fixed borders, have distinct political systems and political regimes that govern them, and are therefore sheltered from the hard realities that beset wayward market agents in a globalised system of production, service and exchange. More importantly with regard to the social and political relations of production, the modern nation-state supercedes the market at any specific moment even while being generally subject to its rhythms and dictates. It is, after all, a capitalist type of state that is not reducible to the productive apparatus.
Imagine even if the US defaulted on its current obligations. Its credit rating would fall further in parallel with the value of its currency, but how long will that last? Even if the US fails its financial obligations, it would be the markets that push for a debt restructuring favourable to it. As the core of the global economy, the US is simply too big to fail because its financial collapse would reverberate widely and deeply through the world. In fact, with the exception of undeveloped failed states and microstates with minimal economic resources to promote, virtually all modern states can survive a fiscal crisis and default.
Take Argentina, which in 2000 defaulted on its foreign loans, uncoupled its currency from the US dollar and then renegotiated the terms of its obligations. Since most of the outstanding balance was interest rather than principal, foreign creditors were eventually forced to settle on terms favourable to the Argentines (about 60 cents on the dollar lent). The weakened Argentine peso stimulated commodity exports and attracted foreign investment in resources and primary goods. In spite of endemic corruption, political interference and a multitude of market inefficiencies, over the last five years Argentina has averaged growth rates in excess of six percent and attracted the highest levels of foreign investment ever even while maintaining a large public deficit.
Greece, the poster child of all that is supposedly wrong with governments and societies that do not couple entitlements with production, is another such case. What would happen if Greece defaulted on its recently rescheduled loans? Will it cease to be? what it could do is drop out of the Eurozone, replace the Euro with the much less expensive drachma, and print money to fund its domestic obligations. Somee foreign investors may flee, but local capitalists will continue to engage the domestic market, people will continue to consume, albeit at lower rates with regards to imported goods, tourists will still flock to see the historical sites and visit the islands, and the country will continue to exist. In fact, should it be successful at restructuring its economy on more internally-focused terms out from under the straitjacket of Eurozone obligations (say, by making its tax collection system more rational and efficient), it could serve as a model for the other “PIGS” nations—Portugal, Ireland and Spain—as well as Italy.
It was Northern European, mostly German capital, directly and channeled through the European Central Bank, which sought to recycle in the European periphery the super-profits accrued during the last two decades of derivative market expansion. These are the creditors who took the risk in the PIGS and who now demand debt repayment schedules rooted in austerity measures and privatization programs. They are also the beneficiaries of a strong Euro, unlike the weaker Southern European economies now under siege. Should debtor countries in Europe decide to reconfigure their economies around a devalued national currency a la Argentina, the European Union will be finished as a currency regulator. Here the sub-regional ripple or contagion effect makes each of the PIGS too big to fail, something that is magnified in the case of the US. Loss of credit rating and a high debt to GDP ratio, in others words, does not translate into State bankruptcy.
The larger point is that states can default but they cannot be bankrupted because they are not solely economic agents but instead sovereign political actors with interests that transcend a financial bottom line. They can be upgraded and downgraded as financial risks, but even if investment falls and inflation rises, they will not disappear. Think of Brazil and Argentina in the late 1980s when inflation ran at over 1000 percent per year. Did they disappear? Did all foreign investment dry up? Did local markets crash?
Truth be told, capitalism, led by finance capital, was on overheated overdrive for the two decades before 2008, only slowing down briefly after events such as 9/11, even when objective conditions advised against the maintenance of the macroeconomic policies private agents used to calculate the speed of their returns. Western States emulated private agent logics, whereas Asian banks and sovereign wealth funds were less keen to adopt derivatives-led financial approaches backed by increasingly unsecured loans (although some of that did creep into Asian markets as regional economies attracted Western investment).
Here is where global networks come in. Rather than wage war on States with economies in default, other States that are debt free or less indebted work to cover their investments, and those of their private agents, in the debtor States. This means that even if private agents in the debtor States fail as a result of their market excesses or miscalculation, and State treasuries do n not have enough reserves to cover their debts, States remain open for business, perhaps even on more favourable terms depending on the nature of sovereign debt restructuring agreements (public debt for equity swaps are one measure that can improve State efficiencies as a result of restructuring). Inefficient producers are expelled from the market; inefficient States muddle along.
The entire Western capitalist combine was due for a retrenchment given the downward slope it has been on since spending, both public and private, exceeded productive output in material goods and services. So long as money could be made off of lending money and risks were passed on to increasingly lower-level actors, early 21st century capitalism saw States tax and spend without coherent productive purpose (which mirrored the approach of the financial markets). This was a good political calculation but not a sound economic grounding for future productive growth within current capitalist parameters. Thus the turn towards private sector retrenchment in 2008, with public sector retrenchment now following.
We hear about the demise of various States because they can no longer afford to repay what they have borrowed in order to maintain whatever it is that is considered precious to national identity and political stability–public goods and entitlements in Europe, a war machine in the US. Retrenching Western States may not be able to provide these services in the measure they used to, but thy remain (however diminished) as linchpins of an international system that has its origins in the Treaty of Westphalia rather than Bretton Woods or the Washington Consensus. States are the ties that bind that global system of exchange, and Western States continue to have a central role in it even as the system moves towards increased multipolarity.
Markets and politicians alike need to be cognizant of this fact, because as Keynes pointed out, it is political conditions, not economic conditions, that are the best guarantors of long-term investment. Rather than the economic particularities of a given investment climate at a specific moment in time, political stability offers better conditions for secure future private return. A stable national polity is the best guarantee of profit even if the public books are not balanced. That is the political cost for the social peace that is the basis for economic stability.
Ironically, it was the short-term focus of the macroeconomic logics that propelled the “bubble” that led first to the financial crisis of 2008 and now to the current conditions of political impasse and social instability in many liberal democracies. That is where the convergence of the fiscal crisis of the Western State and the cyclic crisis of capitalism can lead to liberal democratic State failure: when it produces a crisis of legitimacy of the political elite, often confused with regime crisis, that once rooted in and superimposed on the economic downturn and social unrest constitutes an organic crisis of the State. The UK evidences these type of pre-conditions.
Rather than demand zero-sum tax cuts and a diminished State role in guaranteeing the social relations of production, the priority of the market during a State fiscal crisis should be to to express confidence in the State because delegitimisation of the latter is an absolute guarantee of disasterous market consequences for the private actors involved with them in the event that they are overthrown or fragment. That is where market ideologues have failed in their basic obligation: to help foster the political and socio-economic conditions in which stable rates of private return are generated. Instead, they are exacerbating the crisis with their jitters, demands and panic trading. This will not lead to an organic crisis in most liberal democratic states (which will muddle along), but it could produce legitimacy crises in newly democratic states or those with significant social cleavages. Even then the prospect of State, as opposed to regime or private sector failure, is unlikely.
All of which is to say that when it comes to the fiscal crises of modern Western States, this too shall pass.
Posted on 14:24, May 24th, 2011 by Pablo
One axiom of mediation is that the parties sincerely want to settle their dispute and realise that mutual concessions will have to be made in order to do so. Another is that the mediator has to be procedurally and substantively neutral–s/he has no interest in the specific terms of the result and is bound to procedurally enforce the rules on negotiations as well as externally enforce the settlement (which in effect makes the latter a contract between the disputants).
This is why Barack Obama’s latest attempt at mediating the Israel-Palestinian conflict is doomed.
In order to establish a semblance of neutrality, he proposed that Hamas recognise Israel’s right to exist in exchange for Israeli acceptance of the (post-conflict) 1967 borders as the basis for negotiations on a two-state solution. He said that mutually agreed upon land swaps would form the basis for the contract. Neither Hamas or the Israeli government accepted the offer and instead rejected it outright. Although it is possible that Obama’s initiative is just the opening gambit in a more delicate elaboration, it is also quite possible that this was his best offer, which is now dead in the water.
The problems with the proposed deal are many. With regards to the US, it is clearly not an impartial mediator. Whether the administration of the moment wants to or not, the power of the pro-Israel lobby and Israel’s strategic connections (intelligence sharing, weapons acquisitions and covert political maneuvering) ensure that the US will support it as the default option. To that can be added the fact that the US has designated Hamas as a terrorist organisation and openly supports Fatah as the legitimate representative of Palestinian interests even though the latter lost its electoral mandate to Hamas some years ago. By any measure the US is not impartial, neutral or objective, so its role as a mediator is reduced to pressuring Israel to engage limited concessions in the hope that Hamas will take the bait and offer significant concessions of its own. That will not happen. And yet no other country has offered to step into the breach, and it is doubtful that any other country (the UK? Germany? France?) would be acceptable to both parties.
As for the principles, they have no real interest in cutting a deal that binds them over the long-term. Politics in Gaza and Israel are dominated by fundamentalist discourses that see the conflict as a zero-sum struggle where the “other” is seen as sub-human and inherently evil. Both governments are divided and weak, the Palestinians visibly so but the Israelis no less so in spite of their veneer of unity. Corruption has become a major problem on both sides, which delegitimates their standing as honest interlocutors and representatives of their respective constituencies.
Moreover, both Israel and the Palestinians have foreign partners who overtly or covertly work to prolong the impasse and low intensity warfare because it is seen as serving their geopolitical objectives (Iran and Saudi Arabia come to mind). Then there are the weapons merchants and others who see profit in fighting and who do not wish to see the source of that profit end. One might argue that there even are NGOs and humanitarian agencies that have a vested organisational interest in an unresolved armed standoff that provides them with the opportunity to “do good.” In other words, the constellation of interests that favour the continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict outweigh those that sincerely seek a durable peace.
Which is why Obama’s initiative will not prosper. But there is a factor now at play that may make the US role irrelevant and actually force a hole in the diplomatic logjam obstructing resolution of the Palestinian “question:” the Arab Spring. Although it has yet to result in democracy anywhere in the Arab world, the groundswell of popular protest against authoritarianism has been a game-changer (of sorts). The change is in the acceptance of non-violent mass resistance as the preferred method of voice and redress. Not only does this strategy explicitly turn its back on jihadism. It also forces regimes to either up the ante and engage in mass repression (such as in Syria), or attempt to reform-monger in a way that maintains elite interests while offering more avenues of representation and service to the populations in question. Most importantly, though, it forces the Arab world to reappraise the regional status quo, specifically with regard to the status of Palestine, in such a way that it will make it increasingly less tenable for Israel to continue its policy of illegal settlements and armed force. With popular demands for a harder line on Israel emerging in places like Egypt, the pressure is on for the “reformist” leaders to reconsider the options with regard to Palestine. In addition, the use of (mostly) non-violent passive resistance against Israel such as the Nakbar protests on the Israeli-Syrian border forces it to show its authoritarian stripes (as it did in killing a half dozen of the cross-border protesters) or live up to its supposedly democratic principles when confronting unarmed protest.
Given Israel’s current political climate, it may well ignore all democratic pretense and fire away at will against peaceful demonstrators. But that is a short-term solution. The longer-term impact of the Arab Spring will be to force increased accountability on Arab regimes, which in turn will require them to adjust their approaches to Israel and Palestinians in ways that will not uphold the status quo ante. Should that happen, then it will be Israel that will be forced to make the first significant move with or without US backing, and it will do so not out of a sense of idealism but because it has pragmatic self-interest in doing so. After all, Israel is the stronger actor in this conflict. It has less to lose and much to gain when offering a genuine unilateral concession, in the beginning of what game-theorists call a “tit-for-tat” strategy (that is, it opens with a cooperative move then mirrors the adversaries’ response). It may take a few iterations and more concessions to elicit a cooperative response from Hamas, and the outcome could still result in failure, but that is how the game will have to be played if there is any hope of reaching a negotiated compromise.
Hardline Zionist talk notwithstanding, the best guarantee of Israel’s long term security given the changes underway in the Arab world is not superior counter-force as a deterrent. Instead, the solution that guarantees Israel long-term security is diplomatic, and that involves over-riding hardline interests in pursuit of diplomatic flexibility. There will be domestic consequences when it does make the first move, which will have to involve the unilateral eviction and withdrawal of newer settlements on occupied Palestinian land (think of the precedent of violent resistance by illegal settlers to the limited evictions undertaken by the Israeli government to date), and Hamas and Fatah will have to agree on a commensurate response if negotiations are to advance to the point of establishing a blueprint for dual statehood (which is the only realistic option and where recognition of Israel’s right to exist comes in). None of this will be voluntarily generated by the elites currently in office, not will it be the US that breaks the impasse and brokers the deal. Instead it will be the extension of the Arab Spring into Gaza and Israel that may offer the best hope for a diplomatic opening in pursuit of a durable peace, and should that opening come, it will be endogenous rather than exogenous in nature.
Although it is hard for the Obama administration to do given the imperial hubris that infects US domestic politics and foreign policy, the best thing it can offer is to quietly encourage the Arab Spring, openly condemn repression, seek broader international consensus and let events take their course. Or, as a senior Israeli intelligence official told me a few years ago (and I roughly paraphrase from memory here), “although conditions are not favorable to negotiations at the moment, there will come a time when both sides realise that theirs is an unhappy marriage, but it is for the children’s sake that they stay in it and make it work.” That moment may shortly be upon us, and it will be the “children” who force the issue.
Osama bin-Laden has met his maker, facilitated on his journey by a US Delta Force operation (which would have involved a SEAL fire team–SEAL Team Six, specifically– Air Force special operations platforms for insertion and extraction and US Army special forces and CIA paramilitaries doing the human, signals and technical intelligence to pinpoint his location and guide the fire team to the target, and which appears to have involved the fair use of deception in order to divert Pakistani attention elsewhere). Militarily, it is a tremendous achievement and underscores that the US military has become the most experienced and dangerous military force on earth (after all, it has been continuously at war for most of the last three decades, in both high and low intensity operations, and has developed a full spectrum skill set that no other military can match). It tells the jihadist movement that, as in the case of the old Nazi-hunter’s approach to fugitive war criminals, they can run but they cannot hide. It tells would-be adversaries such as the Chinese and Russians that they have a long way to go before they can militarily challenge with any hope of prevailing. As for the likes of the leaders of Iran and Venezuela, it tells them that reckless provocations can have unpleasant consequences even if they hide amongst wimin and children. In a word, the US is unsurpassed in projecting force, which means it is dominant in any battle field, even if it takes some time for it to adjust to the tactical exigencies of the moment (this, however, does not mean that it can politically prevail in every instance, which ultimately is the determinant of overall victory in war. Political issues, rather than military balances, are what make the Afghan conflict and Pakistan’s instability so intractable).
The significance of killing of bin-Laden is more symbolic and ideological rather than practical. After all, al-Qaeda has been fragmented and forced to devolve into decentralised small unit and self-radicalised “lone wolf” operations that cannot alter the strategic equation that runs against them. It can lash out and cause damage in restricted tactical operations, but it is no longer able to mount big symbolic attacks such as the 9-11 and 1990s US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania (reports of a hidden al-Qaeda nuke in Europe notwithstanding). Strategically, AQ is not a game-changer.
The killing of bin-Laden is the second ideological blow to al-Qaeda that has terminally weakened it as a global political force. The first blow was the Arab Spring, currently ongoing, in which al-Qaeda is a non factor. Instead of rebelling in support of Sharia rule, fundamentalist interpretations of the Koran and the extension of the Caliphate, the Arab street has risen up against tyranny in favour of democracy, free speech, popular vote, government accountability and better equality of opportunity. These are “Western” values that al-Qaeda explicitly rejected, so the ideological repudiation of its vision of the preferred Muslim society is near complete. With the death of its symbolic leader, the futility of its fight is made apparent.
This does not mean that AQ is not dangerous. Ayman Al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s operations director and the person with the fixation on airplanes and transportation hubs, is still alive. Small-scale operations, to include inevitable revenge attacks, will continue for some time to come, if not forever. But as a fighting as well as ideological force, al-Qaeda is spent.
However, another can of worms has been opened by bin-Laden’s killing. His location in a modern constructed (2005) fortified compound with 3-5 meter walls topped by barbed wire located 40 miles outside of Islamabad suggests complicity by at least some elements of the Pakistani state in sheltering him. Although President Obama has said that he consulted with Pakistani authorities and that they “collaborated” in the operation, the truth is more likely that such statements are designed to save Pakistani face and that if anything, the Pakistani authorities were alerted only once the operation was over. The civilian government is weak, fractured and does not control either the military or the intelligence services (ISI). one would think that at least some elements of Pakistan’s security forces would have to have been alerted to the construction of the compound and the unusual nature of its occupants. The Pakistani state is fractured and acts as a sieve when it comes to information leaks, unless the subject matter is too important for some state actors to divulge because their own core interests are involved. Thus it is improbable that the entire Pakistani security complex had no idea of bin-Laden’s whereabouts.
The Pakistani authorities are now confronted by a dilemma. They have repeatedly complained about drone strikes as violations of territorial sovereignty, and most recently ordered the expulsion of dozens of CIA agents. Yet the raid on bin-Laden, so deeply into Pakistani territory–over 120 miles from the Afghan border (or more than 250 miles if the assault came from the Arabian Sea) and so close to the Pakistani capital–is a direct and measured assault on the sovereignty of the Pakistani state. It tells the Pakistani authorities that they do not have a monopoly on security within their borders, and that they are not trusted to share intelligence on critical subjects within those borders. This will leave them embarrassed and seeking a way to placate what will be inevitable domestic protests against the raid and supposed Pakistani collusion with it.
Under such conditions it is not implausible to speculate that some elements of the Pakistani security apparatus will attempt to stage a honor-restoring diversion so as to appease public unrest and re-establish some measure of self-pride. This could be focused on India or Afghanistan as easy targets for unconventional or proxy warfare. It could involve diplomatic retaliation such as a turn towards China. But is seems inevitable that the Pakistani State will be rendered by this event, and that the consequences of that destablisation may be anything but positive.
Hence, jingoistic flag-waving in the US notwithstanding (and some will say that the flag-waving is amply justified), the death of Osama bin Laden may bring some degree of closure but it is not the end of an era. It could well spark an uprising of extremist Muslim resistance that is reinvigorated by its symbolic leader’s death. It will force a change in US-Pakistan relations and in the way Pakistan behaves as a geopolitical actor. Whatever the consequences, this is just the end of one chapter and the beginning of another in a story yet to be concluded.
Sarah Palin, as has been clear for some years now, has an unmatched talent for drawing the spotlight. A week after the infamous ‘blood libel‘ video she’s still at it today, pouring more fuel on a fire which should never have been started. ‘Blood libel’ and the American Right’s shrieking, paranoid victim complex are now a bigger story than the (attempted) murder of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and others at a political rally outside a suburban supermarket. That takes an awful lot of doing.
But she simply doesn’t know when to shut up. Let me be clear: I’m by no means saying that she must shut up, or even that I want her to shut up; nor am I attempting to curtail her First Amendment rights or impinge upon her cherished liberty — let there be no persecution fantasies regarding the humble analysis which is to follow. Palin’s conduct is a matter of political strategy for her PAC, the wider Tea Party movement and ultimately the Republican party. If they want to keep pursuing a strategy which, politically, is a hiding to nothing, then far be it from me to stand in their way. But I am arguing, as are plenty of Republican-oriented strategists, including former Bush advisor David Frum — that as a matter of strategy she should just shut the hell up and resume her place on the fringes of this topic, because there’s nothing to be gained and an awful lot to be lost by continuing to fan these flames. Frum is hardly a bleeding-heart liberal; he invented the ‘Axis of Evil’. He is also Jewish, as is Rep Giffords, so one assumes the misuse of ‘blood libel’ by a renegade WASP like Palin has special salience to him.
Let me also say that Palin and the Tea Party had some right to be angry at the invective levelled at them and their movement in the immediate aftermath of the Tucson shooting. I generally agree with Pablo’s previous points, that Palin and the Tea Party must bear some responsibility for the climate of discourse they have created; but I’d also say that they have not created such a climate on their own. While disproportionately on the elephant side, warlike imagery and symbols of political violence are a commonplace in both camps of US politics. Influential US liberal commentators, notably Keith Olbermann, jumped all too gleefully upon the chance to all but blame Palin (and Beck, etc) for pulling the trigger, although at best there is only a tenuous link between Jared Lee Loughner’s anti-government sentiments and the Tea Party. (Although it is often overlooked that Olbermann’s rant also called strongly upon the American left to repudiate (not refudiate) violence in word and deed). The extent of the speculation and the attempts to pin the murders on Palin and the Tea Party before the dust had settled were unmerited and, as I say, the objects of these accusations were justified in a certain amount of self-righteous indignation.
But one of the defining characteristics of the Tea Party, and of libertarian-oriented small-government revivalist movements in general, is their utter lack of perspective, and Palin simply went too far. These are people who genuinely believe taxation to be armed robbery, after all. So, like the white supremacist who blames all misfortune on immigrants; like the misogynist who bemoans the PC feminazi dykocracy; or the wealthy white elderly Sensible Sentencing Trust supporters who believe themselves to be the most vulnerable victims of crime, when, objectively, the reverse is true — the Tea Partiers and Palin simply can’t see past their own trivial victimisation to the actual and genuine victims of the Arizona tragedy, those who are dead, wounded or bereaved. IrishBill, writing at The Standard recently referred to these sorts as Right Whingers, and the persecution narrative is a feature of modern backlash movements: when elites come under such threat that they feel as if they no longer command the fields of cultural battle, they claim to have been victimised. And they go on and on about it. “Help, help, we’re being repressed!”
Nobody likes a whinger or someone who talks a big game but can’t play, especially in US politics. One of the Republican party’s strongest symbolic assets through the latter 20th century has been the sense that it’s a party of rugged individuals with the thousand-yard gaze of their pioneer forebears, while the Democrats are a bunch of preppy sissies with excuses always at the ready. To an extent there’s been some truth to this narrative, but the “all hat and no cattle” label attached to Bush did his party’s political fortunes considerable harm, and Palin has already weakened her own pioneer and Mama Grizzly credentials immeasurably with the now-infamous ‘hunting’ episode of Sarah Palin’s Alaska. In it, despite her claim to being a life-long hunter, she appears unfamiliar with her rifle (“does it kick?”), is unable to chamber her own rounds (daddy does it for her); and takes five shots to hit a large animal standing on a skyline 120 yards away (and then there’s the estimate that a hunting trip in her home state cost $42,000 — not very pioneerish, that).
Likewise, the emergence of the Tea Party and its rather more extreme rhetoric has seen the erosion of the traditional, conservative pioneer narrative in favour of a more excitable tone — perhaps a shift from ‘pioneer’ to ‘revolutionary’ would be the metaphorical change. This shift in itself is not a weakness, except when its less favourable characteristics come to the fore, and it is these aspects of the Tea Party movement which the Democrats and other liberals have been emphasising: its crazed extremes and frightening rhetoric; the cultish, heightened emotionality of leaders like Glenn Beck, which verges on the religious; its lack of concern with details like grammar, factual accuracy and proportion; its brittleness and temporary, ad-hoc nature as opposed to the reliable stability of the Grand Old Party.
By resort to the strident ‘blood libel’ line, Palin has fallen into the trap of confirming — and defending — key aspects of the liberal narrative about her and by extension about her movement: she lacks any sense of perspective or proportion, public decorum or decency or compassion; she is an attention-seeker with a persecution complex who thinks it’s always all about her; she doesn’t know what the terms she uses actually mean; that they’re desperate cranks rather than serious statespeople; and most seriously, that she can dish it out but not take it. This last will be the master narrative going into the 2012 Presidential election, in the increasingly unlikely event that Palin is the nominee, and Democrats and liberals the world over relish the prospect of a proven big-game player like Obama against a scattergun show-pony like Palin.
The decision to release and then defend the ‘blood libel’ video is a double tragedy for the Republican party, who took a strong lead in the November mid-terms, and have now missed the best opportunity in a decade to consolidate that lead by looking like the calm, sober, conservative adults they claim to be and to represent. Palin’s decline may be better for them in the long term; many commentators are now confirmed in the belief they held before the mid-terms that she had outlasted her usefulness as an energising agent, and is now simply a liability, a distraction from the serious business of government to which the GOP must now turn its attention.
Posted on 15:04, January 13th, 2011 by Pablo
In the aftermath of the Tucson shooting, it has been unsurprising but nevertheless amazing at how the US media Right and other conservatives have rushed to deny any linkage between the shooting and the political climate of the moment. Even some of the usually smart contrarian commentators here at KP have been quick to join the chorus claiming that this attack was just the work of a lone nutter. But let it be clear: even if the killer has clear psychological issues, he chose a political target rather–as in the case of other mass killings by mentally disturbed individuals in the US in recent times–random strangers or family members. For that reason alone, the Tucson massacre is a politically-motivated crime regardless of the Right trying to deny it, and the proof of that is the federal indictments against Mr. Loughner.
Confronted with the obvious–that the vicious political discourse of recent times, a discourse rabidly promoted by conservative media outlets, internet commentators and political demagogues, has set the stage for an inevitable act of armed violence on the part of someone who shares, however partially and incoherently, the world view of the reactionary Right–the media Right and its political acolytes have turned to the tried and true tactic of deny and divert.
First, they deny that the shooting was a political act but instead was just an act of lunacy. These are the same media types who immediately saw world Jihadism behind the rampage conducted by Major Nidal Malik Hasan at Fort Hood. They are the same people who describe murderous anti-abortionists as people of conviction led astray by the strength of their beliefs, and who claim that the Oklahoma City bombing was conducted by some loser social misfits. The flatly refuse to acknowledge the context in which these attacks occurred, and they flatly refuse to accept their share of responsibility for fomenting an atmosphere of partisan hate and violence. In a country that has seen its popular culture debased and vulgarised to the point that gratuitous violence is a mainstay of popular entertainment and an attitude of insolent disrespect has become a norm in inter-personal exchange, such incendiary posturing does nothing more than provide an accelerant for those who are already disposed to act out in violent ways. And yet, the cowards in the media Right claim they had nothing to do with the events in Tucson.
Instead, they and their political allies have adopted the tactic of diverting and deflecting criticism towards the “liberal” press and politicians who they claim have attempted to make political capital out of the tragedy. They have attempted to equate Left liberal acts of civil disobedience, peaceful resistance and direct action with the shooting and previous Right wing threats of armed violence and actual acts of such (in the infamous list of purported Left wing acts of violence posted by a notorious Right wing blogger there is not a single image of anyone with a firearm, much less of anyone shooting or killing in pursuit of their beliefs. In fact, among the supposed comparable acts listed by that blogger are recordings of people laying down in the front of weapons trains in protest of war. Can that really be considered morally equivalent to a mass shooting? Only in the fevered mind of a Right wing apologist).
Reactionary attention has centred on the comments of Pima Country Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, who has held the job for 30 years based upon regular re-election as a Democrat (in a county that is majority Democratic in an otherwise Republican state). In his first press conference after the shootings Sheriff Dupnik denounced the climate of hate and atmosphere of bigotry that has descended on Arizona and the country in general. The Right went ballistic at his mention of this patent fact, accusing him of partisanship, jeopardizing the case and failing in his duties to prevent the shooting because Laughner was known to the police prior to the event (ignoring the fact that his department is hamstrung by mental health and civil rights laws that prevent it from arresting individuals in cases short of domestic violence where reported threat behaviour is not materially imminent). In other words, in spite of the Right’s attempts to smear him, Sheriff Dupnik well knows of what he speaks, because it is his office that has to confront the daily consequences of loose gun laws an anti-immigrant sentiment in a county that extends down to the Mexican border. Put succinctly, Sheriff Dupnik stated the truth. For that public service, he has been pilloried by the Right wing media frothers.
Regardless of whether Mr. Loughner was indirectly or directly inspired by hate speech and the venom directed at the federal government and “liberals” by Right wing political-media networks, the simple point is the obvious point that Sheriff Dupnik was making: the increasingly public language of hate and divisiveness was the backdrop against which he carried out his rampage. He chose a political target. His intent was political assassination. His was, in sum, a political act, however deranged he may be. And that act was carried out against a “liberal” Democrat in the US federal government who has repeatedly been, along with others of her ideological persuasion, the direct recipients of the hyper partisan vitriol emanating from the mouths of the fear and hate-mongering Right.
No amount of denial, diversion and obfuscation can detract from that fact.
UPDATE: Frank Rich does a good job of summarising the situation.
As someone who once lived in the area of Tucson where the politically motivated shooting of US Representative Gabrielle Giffords and 19 others occurred, I have something of a personal connection to the event. I shopped in the strip mall where the attack took place and still have friends in Tucson who I visit when possible. Were I still living at my last address there, Giffords would have been my Representative. I am well aware of Arizona political culture and the issues that divide it, and know something about its gun laws as well. Thus I am not surprised one iota that an assassination attempt on a “liberal” Democrat would happen in Arizona, although it is somewhat surprising that it happened in Tucson, which is a liberal college town oasis in an otherwise vast political landscape of new and old right-wing conservatism.
Unsurprisingly, as soon as news of the shootings hit the airwaves left-leaning commentators blamed right-wingers for inciting the killer while GOP leaders, Tea Party representatives and the populist demagogues in the media all moved quickly to put distance between themselves and the gunman even though the latter professed beliefs that were very much in concert with the thrust of the Tea Party message as well as those of earlier conservative fringe movements. In fact, some in the rightwing media suggested that the Left has its own violent extremists so the table is balanced on that score.
To which I ask: when was the last time a Left activist in the US attempted to kill a politician? Lee Harvey Oswald was less a committed Stalinist during his time in the USSR and more of a social outcast looking for a belief system to cling to (I shall defer from bringing in Mafia-related and other conspiracy theories at this point). John Hinkley’s attack on Ronald Reagan does not count as he was motivated by the demons in his head, and the attacks on Gerald Ford by members of Charles Manson’s gang in the mid-1970s were equally devoid of political content. But as recently as 2009 a right wing extremist, apparently egged on by the commentary of talkshow rabble rousers, killed abortionist George Tiller outside his church. This has followed a series of attacks carried out by right wing militants that include the Oklahoma City bombing and repeated attacks across the country on abortion clinics. Minutemen and other self-professed right wing militias have demonstrated a penchant for violence against others. The Unibomber was motivated by a mix of left and right views. Islamicists operate according to a profoundly conservative belief system. Anti-Castro Cuban nationalists have committed acts of domestic and international terrorism (including the bombing of a Cuban airliner) in pursuit of their conservative goals.
In contrast, Earth First! and the Animal Liberation Front have lefty ideals and destroy property but do not kill people. Anti-trade protestors and anarchists have run riot in Seattle and DC but mostly gotten (some might say well-deserved) police beatings and tear gassed for their efforts. Puerto Rican nationalists have disrupted Congress and planted bombs but killed no one. Thus it would seem that contrary to the claim that the US Left has its fair share of murderous extremists, not since the days of the SLA, Weatherman and Black Panthers has there been a deadly attack carried out by Left militants on political targets. During that same time period, in contrast, the right wing fringe has claimed dozens of victims, of which those in Tucson are the latest. Truth be told, this is only the latest in a long history of right wing assassination attempts on “liberal” political targets that are seen as “communists,” “socialists,” Trilateral Commission and World Government surrender monkeys, atheists or some unholy combination of all of the above. Just as the John Birch Society had its fair share of armed extremists, so now it appears that modern US conservative movements attract a similar element to their ranks.
To put a not-so-fine point on it: be it as lone wolves or as part of a criminal conspiracy, it is the fringes of the US Right where most political violence comes from. Even if in most cases the extremists involved exhibited signs of mental illness (as in this case), in the modern US it is right-wing militants who disproportionately get murderous. That could be due to the lack of appeal for calls for working class “revolution” in a country founded on the sanctity of individual liberties and property rights, but one would think that would make Leftist militants more rather than less prone to violence against those political figures that attract their ire. Instead, it is the reverse.
Rather than debate the question of how complicit, implicitly or explicitly, the Tea Party, GOP, Sarah Palin and conservative media have been in the Tucson attack, let me offer a simple formula that outlines the context in which it occurred (and will occur again). Note that this “formula” is exclusive to the US but can be altered, mutatis mutandis, to apply to other countries as well:
Loose gun control laws+availability of semi-automatic weapons+polarised politics+venomous hate mongering political rhetoric in media and in election campaigns+rapid demographic change+economic crisis+ eroding social cohesion and solidarity+deranged or otherwise sociopathic personality disorders+precipitating event (personal or political)=likelihood of an armed attack on a perceived “traitor” by someone espousing militant ideological views.
In the contemporary US, this formula suggests that the attack in Tucson is neither unique or a once-off, and in fact points to a condition of ongoing anomie that barring a major change in both the structural and superstructural causal factors listed above, will lead to more such events in the near to medium future. Rather than the content of any one ideology or creed, it is the combination of factors that makes for the murderous enemy within, and no amount of blame-fixing and scapegoating of “foreign” beliefs detract from that fundamental fact.
PS: for those interested in a more immediate look at the tragedy, take a gander at my old home town newspaper: http://azstarnet.com/
UPDATE: As if on cue a NZ version of the unhinged reactionary chickenhawk faction weighs in, with a link to this post: http://truebluenz.wordpress.com/2011/01/11/it-is-not-about-loughner-or-palin-its-about-the-republic/
Posted on 11:52, December 21st, 2010 by Pablo
I have digested as many of the NZ wikileaked cables as possible and have summarised my thoughts on the reality behind the rhetoric with regards to post 9/11 NZ-US relations as well as the possible implications of the revelation of the true nature of the ties in my latest “Word from Afar” column over at Scoop.
This one is arguably better than the last. I say “better” simply because it speaks to intelligence and security issues in the main rather than broader foreign policy or NZ leaderships characteristics, and names key players in the NZ security apparatus (it should be noted that although it is illegal to name various intelligence personnel in NZ public fora, this was a classified internal US government document so the legal restrictions do not apply. Now the document is a matter of public record so the cat is out of the bag, so to speak).
10/23/2018 TAGS: PINR, PREL, NZ SUBJECT: A/S FORT’S OCTOBER 9-10 VISIT TO NEW ZEALAND Classified By: Pol/Econ Counselor Margaret B. McKean; Reason 1.4 (b), ( c), (d) 1. (C) Summary. During an October 9-10 visit to New Zealand, INR A/S Randall Fort met with members of the External Assessments Bureau (EAB), the Chief Executive of the Prime Minister and Cabinet’s Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade Deputy Secretary Caroline Forsyth, and officials with New Zealand’s Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB). GNZ officials praised USG efforts to improve intelligence sharing, particularly with respect to imagery. GNZ interlocutors acknowledged that New Zealand gains enormous benefits from being part of the Five Eyes intelligence community. A/S Fort’s message focused on the increasing sophistication of commercial search engines and the growing number of open source analyses available to policymakers. In the future, the intelligence community must find ways to differentiate their products and provide value added to policy makers, argued A/S Fort. He also discussed the issues surrounding cyberspace and national security. Key issues for GNZ officials centered on the recent Georgia/Russia conflict, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan/Afghanistan, North Korea and the Pacific region. End Summary. Security of Public Sector Computers is Key Concern ——————————————— —– 2. (C) INR Assistant Secretary Fort visited New Zealand on October 910, accompanied by other INR staff. Meetings with GNZ officials included calls on Gregory Baughen, head of New Zealand’s External Assessments Bureau (EAB), working sessions with EAB officials, a meeting with Bruce Miller, Deputy Director of New Zealand’s GCSB, and a a call on Michael McBurney, Deputy Director of New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS). Discussions with EAB working level staff and analysts from other government
offices focused on the recent Russia/Georgia conflict, North Korea and northeast Asia, China, Iran/Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Pacific region. 3. (S/NF) During his visit, Fort called on Chief Executive of the Department for Cabinet and Prime Minister’s Office, Maarten Wevers, who manages a staff of 120, including Domestic and External Security groups, the PM’s policy group, and Wevers also oversees New Zealand’s intelligence committee. Wevers likened his Department to the National Security Council in terms of breadth of coverage and responsibilities. He noted that EAB’s operations are highly compartmentalized and EAB reports are tightly held within Cabinet, with few Ministers seeing them. He explained that New Zealand’s contribution to the Five Eyes intelligence community consists of two monitoring stations; one in the northern end of the south island, and the other on the north island near Wellington. Wevers offered that the GNZ recognizes that it is a “”enormous beneficiary”” of the Five Eyes community and lauded the good bilateral relations on intelligence sharing, including recent strides in imagery sharing. He added that New Zealand was “”well past the military issues”” of the past. A/S Fort hoped the additional access would prove useful to New Zealand; the amount of information and management of the information can be a challenge. Wevers commented that intelligence and assessments may mean something different to New Zealand than to other Five Eyes partners. Often there are significant differences with Australia, he added, as New Zealand is a more Pacific country than Australia and the latter is not always attuned to Pacific developments. 4. (C) A/S Fort spoke about the challenges for intelligence analysts posed by the rapid growth of commercially available analytic services outside government and the sophistication of search engines such as Google and Yahoo. The information needed by policymakers is increasingly available outside government,
and the size of outside companies or groups is not a factor. Smaller can be very nimble; the quality of the analysis is key and the intelligence community must increasingly look to match outside services and provide additional value added to remain relevant, affirmed the A/S. 5. (C) Fort turned to issues involving cyberspace and the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative (CNCI), which will begin with the Five Eyes and then move to NATO countries. Security is part of the issue, but the A/S also stressed the relevance to finance and defense. Even small countries can benefit with a relatively small contribution towards equipment and personnel. Regarding deterrence, he mentioned that there are analogues to nuclear deterrence but the international community is only beginning to think about cyber threats in similar fashion. Wevers noted that the GNZ is seized with the issue of cybersecurity, and f is working with the PM’s Department to protect the public sector computer system and analyze the range of risks. 6. (C) In discussing the Pacific and Chinese activities in the region, Wevers said that China has recognized that their competition with Taiwan is not helpful, but their foreign affairs officials are not always aware of what others in the Chinese government are doing in the region. Venezuela and Cuba are now coming into the Pacific, and Wevers likened their interest to that of the Russians in the past. A/S Fort mentioned that the backtracking of democracy in the broader Pacific region (Fiji, Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia) was a Washington concern. The region is more fragile today than 10 years ago, he opined, and urged a coordinated approach by the stronger and healthier democracies. Wevers offered that APEC remains an important regional mechanism and the East Asia Summit, which includes India, is another good venue for raising issues. Wevers added that China is only now realizing the very significant law and order problem
within China, as people are making money illicitly without any sense of the rule of law. The metamphetamine problem in the region can be traced to China, continued Wevers, and the precursor chemicals are coming into New Zealand and other countries in large containers that are difficult to stop. Meeting with MFAT Deputy Secretary Caroline Forsyth ——————————————— —— 7. (S/NF) DepSec Forsyth welcomed A/S Fort’s visit, stating that the GNZ values its contacts with the Washington intelligence community. The twice-weekly CIA-Commonwealth briefings are very useful, but the Five Eyes provides greater depth. She added that intelligence reports go to the PM’s office, who “”absorbs”” the paper. A/S Fort explained that the State INR Bureau is relatively small, and therefore focuses on core issues. Currently, Washington policymakers are focused on the longer term implications of the recent Russia/Georgia conflict and what is holds for Russia’s future and adherence to international norms. With North Korea, the Six Party Talks are the central issue, but also Kim Jong Il’s health and possible successor. Afghanistan’s trend lines are worrisome, he added, particularly due to the link with the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in Pakistan. Pakistan’s transition to civilian leadership is being watched closely in Washington, noted the A/S. He and Forsyth discussed Iranian nuclear pretensions and possible Israeli reaction. A/S Fort offered that Israel is likely to strike if the government of Israel believes Iran has met their red lines; an Israeli strike against Iran would be more complex than those launched against Iraq and Syria, he said. A/S Fort added that the US-India nuclear deal was an historic diplomatic achievement for the Secretary. Responding to Forsyth’s question, Fort downplayed Venezuela as a threat to USG interests and characterized Chavez as more of an annoyance with limited political influence within the region. 8. (S) Forsyth praised the US-New Zealand bilateral
relationship, noting that the highlight of the year had been the Secretary’s visit to New Zealand and onward travel to Samoa, which had provided a window into the challenges facing the Pacific, particularly to the micro-states of the region. New Zealand views the situation in Fiji as “”acute,”” and appreciates USG support for the Pacific Island Forum (PIF) position on Fiji. A/S Fort commented that GNZ sigint had been critical to USG understanding of the 2006 coup. Forsyth offered that New Zealand sees an arc of instability in Melanesia, as there is a great deal of money but little to no capacity to use it wisely. The Solomon Islands are under control at the moment but there are still significant problems in terms of governance and corruption. The GNZ is weighing the necessary structural changes needed to make a long-lasting improvement in the SI society so that RAMSI security forces might depart. Vanuatu is coping for the moment, she added, and New Zealand is putting significant assistance towards agricultural projects there. 9. (S/NF) Moving to North Korea, Forsyth asked if the stalled progress on the Six Party Talks was linked to a DPRK assessment that the U.S. election aftermath might offer a better deal. A/S Fort replied in the negative, noting that foreign policy continuity is the norm. Oscillation is part of the DPRK strategy, he added, and the current situation is complicated by Kim Jong Il’s health issues and the succession process. Kim Jong Il played off the former Soviet Union and China to his benefit and may be trying to use the U.S. in the same way as the Soviets. China’s role has been constructive, continued Fort, largely because Beijing does not want to see a nuclear Korean peninsula and the ramifications of a northeast Asian arms race. The A/S mentioned that North Korea faces a food crisis despite World Food Program assistance. Forsyth said that the New Zealand high commissioner in Seoul would be going soon to North Korea for a periodic visit. 10. (S/NF) The MFAT
Deputy Secretary asked for A/S Fort’s assessment of Afghanistan and Pakistan. New Zealand has troops stationed in Bamiyan province and the GNZ is concerned over the malevolent influence from the tribal areas of Pakistan, particularly since the international community has been trying to transform Afghanistan into a state since 2001. Fort responded that Afghanistan will be an enduring challenge for generations requiring cultural changes. The U.S. is determined to be more aggressive in addressing Taliban cross-border operations, and is weighing the political costs with Pakistan. Forsyth and Fort discussed prospects for the Indian government to improve its relations with Islamabad to ease pressure on the Pakistan army to fight insurgents in the FATA. Comment ——- 11. (C) GNZ interlocutors were pleased to have the opportunity to discuss a range of global issues of bilateral concern. All meetings focused on GNZ support for the intelligence sharing partnership and, in particular, the singular role of Prime Minister Clark in ensuring good cooperation. As of this writing, the New Zealand HC based in Seoul has already returned from her trip to the DPRK; we will try to get a readout from MFAT. End Comment. 12. (U) A/S Fort has cleared this message. MCKEAN”,24/10/2008