NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP & EDITOR’S COMMENT: February 13

Global economy top threat to U.S., spy chief says

The new director of national intelligence told Congress on Thursday that global economic turmoil and the instability it could ignite had outpaced terrorism as the most urgent threat facing the United States.

The assessment underscored concern inside America’s intelligence agencies not only about the fallout from the economic crisis around the globe, but also about long-term harm to America’s reputation. The crisis that began in American markets has already “increased questioning of U.S. stewardship of the global economy,” the intelligence chief, Dennis C. Blair, said in prepared testimony. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — Even if the DNI’s warning was not intended as such, the elevation of global economic turmoil to the position of being the most urgent threat to the United States, is much more significant than simply being a reordering of national security threats.

Implicitly, this is a recognition that the greatest threat to the United States is systemic and both external and internal. Instead of facing the psychological comforting prospect of an external enemy — we can come together when we see a threat as intrinsically ‘other’ — we now face a threat that reveals the instability of the social and global order.

The widening gap between the interests of the corporate-state and the interests of ordinary people are becoming ever more glaringly visible. Ultimately and who’s to say how rapidly, this might create revolutionary conditions. Given that we live in a society well inoculated by superficial distractions and pervasive ignorance, the tipping point may not be close at hand. Even so, what seems different at this point in history is that more so than at any other time the conditions seem ripe for the articulation and organization of a global revolutionary movement. Trotsky could only dream of living at such a time.

A world in revolt

The sums involved [in bailing out the global banking system] are massively greater than those required to meet all of the United Nations’s Millennium Development Goals; yet the link between the urgent bailouts in one kind of emergency and the neglect and delay in the other has not yet been fully made. This, perhaps, will change with the emergence of transnational radical social movements.

There is evidence for this suggestion in the context of what happened in Mexico on new year’s day, 1994: the launch of the Zapatista rebellion in the southern (and largely indigenous) province of Chiapas. A rebel source outlined the roots of the revolt:

“We have nothing, absolutely nothing – not decent shelter, nor land, nor work, nor health, nor food, nor education. We do not have the right to choose freely and democratically our officials. We have neither peace nor justice for ourselves and our children. But today we say ‘enough’!”

It was little less noticed at the time that the Zapatistas saw their movement and rebellion in global terms, not just as a local or regional revolt. Indeed, their insurrection was timed to coincide with the coming into force of the North American Free Trade Area (Nafta), an agreement they were convinced would make their predicament even worse.

The aspiration to what might be called the internationalisation of dissent has not yet been fully realised. But there are more than glimpses of the phenomenon in social, environmental and workers’ movements – reflecting the fact that one result of globalisation is the much wider understanding of the transnational nature of marginalisation and exclusion. [continued…]

Depressed? No! We’re angry

According to American legend, when the stock market crashed on Oct. 29, 1929, flocks of stockbrokers jumped to their death on Wall Street, in violent parody of down-trending graphs and ticker-tape parades and calendar pages flung from windows on New Year’s Eve. It never happened.

The fallacy of American capitalism is the equation of our economic status and our mental well-being. In a country where we routinely define ourselves by our job, an economic downturn must lead to a psychological downturn. Right?

It becomes oddly pertinent to observe that, as the country faces an economic calamity unequaled since the Great Depression, the employees of the failed brokerage houses and banks in New York are not clustered on the ledges of skyscrapers above Wall Street. (I am afraid if they were, the cry from below would be “Jump! Jump!”) The pope of Ponzi, Bernard Madoff, is required by a federal judge to wear an ankle bracelet not because he is a danger to himself, but because the judge fears that Madoff will skip town.

Politicians, Democrats and Republicans alike, have learned in these last weeks that Americans are not a people listless with dejection. Quite the reverse. Americans are angry at corporate incompetence that is rewarded. Americans are angry at having to bail out the institutions that so efficiently foreclosed on their mortgages. Americans are angry that rich people — rich, smart, educated people who know all there is to know — seem not to know how to pay their taxes. [continued…]

Global recovery rests on a fresh US approach to China

As the previously unrivalled global hegemon, the United States is not used to dealing with other countries as equals. Blatantly the case in Bush’s presidency, it has been true ever since 1945. Obama’s presidency rests on new assumptions: it recognises that American power is not what it used to be and that the country faces a huge economic crisis. But in practice will it be mindful of and sensitive to the interests of other nations? The widely criticised statement by the new Treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, that China was manipulating its currency suggests not.

No previous administration has made such a grave accusation. If the US treasury officially decides that China is a currency manipulator, the administration could resort to a range of actions including anti-dumping measures, countervailing duties and various safeguards. It would certainly provoke a response from China, with a trade war drawing in other countries a likely possibility.

In fact, the charge that China undervalues its currency has little foundation. Beyond a point, the Chinese government has little control over the value of its currency, which is largely determined by market forces. Furthermore, since the peg to the dollar was abandoned in 2005, the renminbi has appreciated 21% against the greenback. Geithner’s charge was thus a deliberate provocation. It was also highly insensitive. China, still a poor country it should be remembered, is feeling the effects of the financial meltdown with a declining growth rate and rising unemployment: an appreciation in the value of the renminbi will only exacerbate its domestic impact.

The great danger facing the world is that what looks like a depression will deepen into a slump. In this situation, there can be no salvation in domestic recovery alone; in a globalised world, every country’s domestic recovery will be intimately linked to a wider global recovery. But the latter in turn requires a new kind of global co-operation. [continued…]

Will the relationship change? Yes it can

In mainstream American politics, especially Jewish-American circles, the idea of talking to Hamas has been virtually taboo. This is no longer true. After Mr Obama’s election, a group of senior bipartisan foreign-policy veterans handed a compelling letter, still unpublished, to the incoming president. Its signatories included Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft, who headed the National Security Council in Mr Carter’s and George Bush senior’s White House; Lee Hamilton, a Democrat who for many years chaired the House committees on foreign affairs and intelligence; Sam Nunn, a Democrat who chaired the Senate’s armed services committee; Paul Volcker, a long-time chairman of the Federal Reserve; Mr Siegman; and James Wolfensohn, a former head of the World Bank who was more recently entrusted by the younger President Bush with reviving the Palestinian economy.

The letter’s three key demands were that Mr Obama should appoint an even-handed special envoy with real clout (done); that he should spell out a clear vision for a Palestinian state (awaited); and that he should seek to draw Hamas into talks (not so easy). A key member of Mr Mitchell’s staff, Fred Hof, who previously co-drafted Mr Mitchell’s famous report on the state of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2001, is close to the Scowcroft group.

Mr Mitchell’s appointment was warmly applauded by that group and greeted coolly by many in the old pro-Israeli lobbies, such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). More to the point, though there have been other recent envoys to the Middle East, none has as much potential influence on the president as Mr Mitchell. General Jim Jones, too, Mr Obama’s new national security adviser, is a tough realist with recent experience in trying to improve security between Israel and Palestine. He is in hock to neither side.

No one is sure how Mrs Clinton, as secretary of state, will relate to Mr Mitchell—or to the Israelis and Palestinians. Since she became a senator for New York, she has ardently echoed more or less whatever AIPAC has said about Israel-Palestine. But some people recall how, when it was still controversial and her husband was president, Mrs Clinton called for a Palestinian state and even kissed Yasser Arafat’s wife after she had castigated Israel, a moment of horror in AIPAC’s eyes. Most probably, if Mrs Clinton sees a chance for a breakthrough to peace, she will go for it, whatever her previous constituents may think. [continued…]

Week before Gaza op, Israel and Syria were ready for direct talks

Israel and Syria were about to announce that they would speak directly a week before the fighting in Gaza broke out, a Turkish official said. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan had spoken with Syrian President Bashar Assad during Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s visit to Ankara, and had mediated in crafting a joint statement.

But a few days later, while still awaiting Olmert’s approval for the statement, Israel launched Operation Cast Lead in Gaza and Erdogan felt betrayed.

“Nobody imagined that Olmert would go behind Erdogan’s back like that and not even hint that he intended to start fighting in Gaza,” the Turkish official said. Erdogan had invited Olmert to his official residence after he met Turkey’s president. He suggested calling Assad and drafting a joint announcement about a direct discussion between the Israeli and Syrian delegations. [continued…]

Israel’s intelligence disaster

Palestinian intelligence agents, working for Israel in its recent “Operation Cast Lead,” were exposed and many of them captured or killed in the aftermath, U.S. officials said.

The ongoing round up is ongoing and expanding, these sources said. In the course of the operation, Israel also failed to find and reclaim Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured by Hamas in 2006, and Tel Aviv also failed in its planned targeted killing of Ahmad Haabri, the commander of Hamas’ military arm, the Al-Qassam Brigades, these sources said.

“The use of Palestinian agents to spy on Hamas has been Israel’s operating philosophy for many years,” said former CIA counter-terrorism chief Vince Cannistraro. [continued…]

US military loses 222,000 weapons sent to Afghanistan since 2001

The US military has lost track of about 222,000 weapons shipped to Afghanistan since 2001, a leaked report compiled by the US Government Accountability Office revealed.

The report shows that the US military failed to keep proper records of 87,000 rifles, pistols, mortars and other weapons sent to Afghanistan between December 2004 and June 2008. It also failed to track 135,000 weapons donated to Afghan security by 21 other countries. The UN spent more than $100 million (£70 million) on a disarmament programme that sought to remove weapons from the hands of illegal armed groups after November 2003. Many militiamen are known to have handed over antique or faulty weapons and UN officials reported First World War and even 19th-century flintlock rifles surrendered, rather than AK47s and rocket launchers. [continued…]

Secret talks with Taliban gather pace as surge looms

Secret talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, brokered by a Saudi royal who heads the country’s intelligence service, are gathering pace before the US-led military surge in Afghanistan.

Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz Al Saud is said to have been greatly encouraged by meetings he had held with both sides on recent visits to Afghanistan and Pakistan, paving the way for a fresh round of negotiations, The Independent has learnt.

The militant groups have appointed a former member of the Taliban regime as their envoy because of his good relations in the past with the Saudi government. He is Aghajan Mutasim, a minister under the ousted Taliban leader Mullah Omar, who is believed to have held detailed discussions with Saudi officials and also to have visited the kingdom during Ramadan. [continued…]

Poll: Most Americans want inquiry into anti-terror tactics

Een as Americans struggle with two wars and an economy in tatters, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds majorities in favor of investigating some of the thorniest unfinished business from the Bush administration: Whether its tactics in the “war on terror” broke the law.

Close to two-thirds of those surveyed said there should be investigations into allegations that the Bush team used torture to interrogate terrorism suspects and its program of wiretapping U.S. citizens without getting warrants. Almost four in 10 favor criminal investigations and about a quarter want investigations without criminal charges. One-third said they want nothing to be done. [continued…]

Unredacted documents reveal prisoners tortured to death

The American Civil Liberties Union has released previously classified excerpts of a government report on harsh interrogation techniques used in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay. These previously unreported pages detail repeated use of “abusive” behavior, even to the point of prisoner deaths.

The documents, obtained by the ACLU under a Freedom of Information Act request, contain a report by Vice Admiral Albert T. Church, who was tapped to conduct a comprehensive review of Defense Department interrogation operations. Church specifically calls out interrogations at Bagram Air base in Afghanistan as “clearly abusive, and clearly not in keeping with any approved interrogation policy or guidance.” [continued…]

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