Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right

23 10 2011

Freedom is hammered out on the anvil of discussion, dissent, and debate.

Hubert Humphrey

This is a cropped image taken (stolen) from the Herald-Sun’s #occupymelbourne gallery. I was flicking through, & this poster caught my attention. I flicked back & forth & still ended up at the same image.

Why? Because it speaks to me so loudly of everything that I find disturbing about the occupy movement as it exists in Australia. No economics or factoids in this post. Purely visceral.

Firstly, an apology to #occupysydney participants for not fully understanding why the camp was established outside the Reserve Bank of Australia. I was hammering away, railing inside my head & on Twitter as to why camp hadn’t been set up in Bridge Street (drunken aside: #occupybs would be a cool hashtag) given it’s home to the ASX? I asked a question on Twitter tonight (depending on how quickly I write this, maybe last night) and, thanks to @hailants, I learned something. Securency. I thought polymer notes were just a cool invention. I asked politely, genuinely, & I got a polite, genuine, informative answer about something I knew nothing about. That’s pure gold to me.

OK, so back to the poster. This is so fucking far from pure gold to me it’s not funny. Starving African child juxtaposed with obese Western kids eating junk food. Seems like everything capitalism, everything wrong, everything #occupy represents. Not to me.

I am in no way accepting of how totally fucked it is that gross poverty, is delivered in white 4WDs to the Global South by, yes capitalism, but also inept, corrupt governments & non-state actors. The answer (according to me) to a fraction of that starving African child’s problems is not the carte-blanche, lazy finger-pointing at evil capitalism. It is pathetic infrastructure. It is more expensive to transport food to famine-declared areas from a food bowl IN Africa than it is to ship food aid from Europe. As this Massachusetts Institute of Technology project contends, it is only through global actors such as the World Bank that intra- and inter-country roads in Africa can be built and maintained (the example it uses is the Mombassa – Nairobi road project in Kenya). People in sub-Saharan Africa starve not because there is no food, but because transportation costs are so high, making them aid dependent, and if the greedy Global North cannot be arsed, they die. Dambisa Moyo’s seminal work, Dead Aid may not be popular, but her central thesis, that cutting aid will force these capitalist solutions to take hold, is worth study. I do not agree with cutting foreign aid; but I would play with the idea and put forward the following solution – that the member states which signed up to lift aid to 0.77 per cent of GDP under the UN Millennium Goals – make that abysmal fraction higher, and invest in an infrastructure fund that will assist in building transportation routes and enable, empower the most impoverished to trade with their neighbours. It’s a capitalist solution to a problem that exists, that is so obvious, that for the life of me, I cannot understand.

Next: is this problem assisted by a poster in Melbourne? No. Bring forth the person in, Melbourne, or my Sin City of Sydney, this city of 4.5 million, who is not aware, that somewhere in the world, people are starving. Seriously, I will travel to them, I will jam my foot in their front door  & show them this poster if I am wrong. People know famine exists; they may not understand why, beyond natural causes such as drought; but we know it happens. Forgive me, Occupiers, but where are your solutions, where are your ideas, to fixing this unnecessary, base evil, ill? Capitalism Isn’t Working? It’s not an idea; it’s a statement of questionable fact. There is no attempt to make a constructive argument; it’s not even a talking point memo. Where, in the general assemblies or working groups, are the solutions? I know what the problem is. I’m disgusted by it. I’ve been to Dharavi, one of the world’s largest slums. I’ve seen poverty in South London, where I worked in social housing; in Gaza; in Russia; in Redfern – none of which this poster represents – barring one teeny, tiny thing. The fat kids. The ultimate representation, the tool to demonstrate, about the greedy Global North. Shyeh, right on.

Yep, the fat kids eating junk food. What greater depiction of corporate greed could you imagine? Oh, I can. Teeny, tiny mind of mine suggests that the kiddies sat at the Golden Arches of the capitalist piggery of the Global North, are the the poorest percentile, those totally dependent on welfare; the kids who grow up in households where generational unemployment is a fact of life … these kiddies, the fat capitalist pigs gorging on the fries – they are the 99 per cent. Not you, not even me, with my multitude of fucktardness visited, uninvited, on my childhood. Fact: poor families sacrifice, or cannot afford, fresh fruit and vegetables. They eat fried food. They have less playing space. They are the children whose life expectancy is slashed; who will develop NCDs (non-communicable diseases) such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. They will die earlier, their lives straining public health systems in between. They will, on average, not go to university. They won’t make these posters & camp in Martin Place or City Square, because they have never fucking been to Martin Place. They are in our rural and regional centres. They are on the fringes of our cities & at there epicentres. They do not regularly attend school. They are supplied with breakfast & taught how to read by the best of the 99 per cent – our under-valued teachers. These are the children Occupiers need to speak to; not Twitter twats like me. These children are growing up poorer than any of us – not in terms of disposable income, the measurable, cold, economic indicators I have written about before but under-educated, not even disengaged. They are the scorn of our ‘current affairs’ programming. Fringe-dwellers, regardless of race. The underclass. The illiterate and innumerate. The kids who set London on fire while we, the lucky 99 per cent of the Land of Oz sat here and watched. Rail against quantitative easing, #occupysydney … give me a small break while I imagine an austerity package, two or three, visited upon us. The truly frightening thing is that these children are not the stereotypical fat, unruly progeny of Macquarie Fields, or Fitzroy Crossing, or Frankston: they are the middle classes of  the BRICs, especially China and India. There are 78 million Indians with Type 2 diabetes. To work these most basic health issues through, we – who are not the 99 per cent – must get off Martin Place and reach Mumbai. Indians don’t see themselves as victims of capitalism. Indians thrive on trade; not just now, but through the ages. They live in a post-colonialist, still caste-ridden and religiously-divided country. They are more powerful than this lazy portrait, the Indians, South Americans, South Africans, Russians than our piss-poor democracy can imagine.

OK, I am drunk, and tired and I have ranted and railed more than enough for the early hours. Please leave a comment or tweet me about what this poster says to you. I am a cranky old woman, sure; but I genuinely want to know, in more than a cut and paste about how we are controlled by the banks, the media, the corporations and politicians, just what this poster represents. I want more of you,from you, as the individuals who claim to make up the 99 per cent. Agree, disagree; just don’t ignore. Oh, and don’t bash the people you have so long admired for kicking against the pricks of the right, and laughed at the idiocy of the Convoy of No Confidence. If you believe that Wayne Swan is going to chuck a Tony Abbott and stand in front of an ‘occupy buildings, abolish gaols’ banner, you are sorely mistaken. Barack Obama is endorsing #ows in his cool, pragmatic style. He wants to save his presidency by appealing to his base. End of Politics 101. Time for bed. Like this, loathe me, just think about it. Please.

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Blowback

18 04 2011

As the conflict in Libya drags on, it is becoming increasingly clear that as with most armed conflicts of the last 100 years, a bombing campaign will not ‘succeed’ (success in this case being the removal from power of Muammar Qaddafi). Having secured a United Nations resolution for ‘all necessary measures’ to protect Libyan civilians from their government, NATO began air strikes which had an immediate effect on Qaddafi’s forces. Then again, they were easy pickings in Libya’s vast deserts, chasing the ‘rebel’ forces aligned with the National Transitional Council east towards the putative capital of Benghazi. It doesn’t take a military genius to work out that once Qaddafi’s forces & arms reached population centres such as Tobruk and Misurata, bombing, no matter how surgical, is going to endanger the civilians the planes were sent to protect.

Resolution 1973 is the clearest indication yet that the international community is willing to implement the doctrine of the “Responsibility to Protect”. Military intervention is not the beginning of “R2P”; it is the last resort. The responsibility to prevent is crucial. It was clear for weeks before the conflict escalated that Qaddafi would not go willingly. Any hope of negotiating with Qaddafi, or his son, Saif, was doomed by pushing them into a corner. I am not saying that it was feasible or even wise; but Qaddafi rules because he is rat cunning and controls tribes. He is no Mubarak, a ‘strongman’ whose power was based on more readily understood (to the Western observer) military structures. Libyan society, like much of the region, is based firstly on tribe, family, and blood. The TNC is a collective of Western Libyan tribes. Qaddafi’s power is drawn from Sirte, his tribal home, yes; but also from Tripoli. With a population of 2 million in a country of 6 million, with Tripoli goes Libya. At the height of its surge west, the TNC reportedly came close to taking Tripoli (many Western media outlets breathlessly and prematurely reporting Qaddafi’s end was nigh). And this is where it all went pear-shaped. While there may have been broad support for getting rid of Qaddafi, he stared them down, fairly frothing at the mouth from a balcony, doing what he does best. Cornered, he blamed everyone from al-Qaeda spiking the Kool-Aid to his old enemies in the West for the uprising. I’m sad to say I called his strategy. Libyans, particularly Tripoli residents, remember the American raids of 1986 after the Berlin nightclub bombing and other outrages. The targeting of his compound killed an infant girl, who Qaddafi claimed was his adopted child. Qaddafi reverted from the prodigal son role he had played to win redemption with the European powers & United States in the wake of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing. He galvanised his army, the tribes still paying fealty to their lord and did as he has done for 40 years: fight. As the rebels withdrew, the international community prevaricated. By the time the first planes were in the air, it was all but too late.

The National Transition Council is recognised as the legitimate government of Libya by three Member States of the United Nations – France, Italy & Qatar. For the other 189, it is the opposition, including Britain, Australia and the United States – for all of our huffing and puffing. The Arab League, at first supportive of the no-fly zone, withdrew it almost immediately. The ‘Mad Colonel’ happily posed for photos with an African Union delegation dispatched to mediate between the warring sides. They were then treated with contempt by the TNC (given the AU’s rapprochement with the self-proclaimed ‘Lion of Africa’, who could blame them?). In the early days of the insurrection, there was the farcical discovery of what appeared to be British Special Forces on the ground. They were rejected, and ejected by the TNC. NATO has not been able to dislodge Qaddafi, and unless there is a change of tactics, they won’t be able to. What now? An ignominious choice: to prevent the wholesale slaughter of residents of Eastern Libya – the real and present danger put to the UN under Resolution 1973 – they must do one of two things – negotiate a ceasefire and enter the country with peacekeeping forces, as the UN and French have done most recently in Côte d’Ivoire; or arm the rebels to ‘level the playing field’.

There are several problems with both strategies. Firstly, Qaddafi has said he will negotiate along the lines of the plan put to both sides by the AU. The sticking point: the TNC will not entertain any plan which does not remove Qaddafi from power. The risk is the rebels are over-run; already fighting street-by-street in Misurata, Ajdabiya shelled and without effective air support from NATO, this is a real possibility. The pay-off is a true balls-to-the-wall gamble: that the international community will respond by putting boots on the ground. Perhaps that is why, as I write, the US is spinning into overdrive, trying to find an African country to provide an African solution – play host to Qaddafi in exile. God knows where, and at what price? Every effort must be made to strike a compromise. The TNC must understand that the West has no stomach for another war. President Obama would kiss a second term goodbye, and with wars in Iraq & Afghanistan still very much open sores, it is not going to happen, as UK PM David Cameron has today made perfectly clear.

While there are rumblings from the US and Britain about responding to the cries of the TNC and breaking the blanket arms embargo enforced by the UN to arm the rebels, it is, in my opinion, stupid in the extreme. Firstly, NATO Commander Admiral James Stavridis has stated that the Mad Colonel may not be entirely wide of the mark. As veteran BBC correspondent John Simpson reported on 29 March 2011 (www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-12901820), intelligence has shown ‘flickers’ of al-Qaeda and Hezbollah activity. Secondly, the rebel army is far from one. The fighters are undoubtedly committed, but untrained civilians used to shooting semi-automatics at best. NATO (or whichever body broke the embargo) would be arming groups of young men who may in turn seek to inflict terror on those loyal to Qaddafi, whether they are true believers, paid protestors or foreign workers, lured by the promise of the oilfields, and marked as mercenaries. The rebels are already rigging up ‘Mad Max’-style adapted light weapons. Thirdly, Libya is subject to an arms embargo. Breaching it is illegal and sets such a reckless precedent that attempts to control the trade in small arms and light weapons (SALW) or respect other embargoes will be laughed at. Finally, Libya’s borders are porous. Here is where we really gear up for the frightening prospect of a steady supply of arms flowing through Libya to Tunisia and Algeria on the east; south to its former foe, Chad; or west, to Egypt and Sudan. Do we really want more weapons in these post-conflict zones?

Already, the rebels are claiming to have seized weapons from pro-Qaddafi forces made in Israel, while Qatar is suspected of shipping anti-aircraft guns to the rebels. The matter is further complicated by the fact that the embargo has only been reinforced this year, being lifted in 2004 after pressure from the Italians in particular. According to www.defencetalk.com, Russia had an order book from Libya worth 1.5b euros; official EU data for exports in 2009 show Italy exported weapons worth 205m Euros, followed by France (€143m); Malta (€80m); Germany (€57m); Britain (€53m) and Portugal (€21m). The US was not to be left behind: according to Reuters, representatives of Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Raytheon Co. visited Libya as members of trade delegations. South Africa also saw a piece of the Libyan action: its National Conventional Arms Committee annual report for 2010 showed the country sold R70m in arms last year. Manufacturer Denel has denied sales, but a leaked memo outlined a visit to Libya in April involving the planned sale of artillery systems, missiles, grenade launchers and anti-materiel rifles (www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/SA-sold-R70m-weapons-to-Libya-20110410)

Now, the West is bombing an army it armed, much as it did in Iraq. Reading over the articles of Qaddafi’s ‘rehabilitation’, it seems so long ago; now, those guns are involved in bloody civil conflict. They fall into the hands of the rebels, who shoot back with the same small arms & fire the same light weapons. Mistakes in the name of greed and guns have already been made. Tilting the balance in the conflict by arming the rebels presents moral hazards the world cannot afford to entertain.





Yisra’el and the Zeal of Islam

4 09 2010

Sometimes, Referrals, I think hard about things. I’m not extraordinarily bright, but I’m interested in things, places and people beyond my understanding. That’s why I went back to university in 2009, and did a Master of Arts (International Relations). Because I remember, as a child – a very strange child – Anwar Sadat’s assassination, and asking my mother if the world was going to end. I’ve always been interested in the Middle East, and when I went on my grand tour in the mid 1990s, it was one of the first regions I visited. This post is an edited version of an essay I wrote for my degree last year so it is dated, but the resumption of Israeli settlement building in the last week has been playing on my mind; and when serious issues occupy my head instead of prancing unicorns, I don’t sleep. At all. And when I think about the reasons for the rise of groups like Hamas, or the Muslim Brotherhood, my mind fairly trembles at the thought of what ‘surrogate service providers’ may achieve in Pakistan if the millions of people left homeless and without livelihoods feel they are not being assisted by their government, or the international community.

I was very fortunate to have Dr Anthony Billingsley as my Middle East politics lecturer. Anthony Billingsley is everything someone who wants to learn could want from a teacher: good-humoured, ferociously bright, generous with his knowledge. He has contributed to The Drum (see this post on Australia’s U.N. candidacy: http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/stories/s2378066.htm) and I’ve also heard him interviewed on the wireless. He has a touch of the Ian Flemings about him (he’s not a Bond), as this interview explores: http://www.newspaper.unsw.edu.au/archive/2009/09_11_13/text/fivemin.htm. The man’s got pages of googledom, so I’m not going to list every article he’s given his two cents’ worth to. Back to me and my thinking. Or attempt at thinking about why I can’t see a two-state solution for Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. As I said, it’s an edited version of a full paper which also examined the 2006 war in Lebanon. For the record, I passed. Here goes:

Perhaps the greatest problem for Israel is its statehood. Bound and constrained by a complex, inflexible regime of institutions, ideas, relationships and practices, nation-states can render themselves incapable of identifying and ably responding to threats that transcend or subvert territorial boundaries. In Hamas, Israel is engaged with a force which is neither a conventional army, nor global Jihadist. Regardless of Syrian / Iranian surrogacy, Hamas is not regarded as a surrogate by the people; instead, it is accepted and welcomed as an indigenous, multi-faceted and highly organised service providers.

It is not a guerrilla movement as traditionally understood – a small organisation that uses its mobility as a weapon and feeds off its host population, depending on it for shelter and survival. Instead, Hamas participates in local politics, provides local services and can be bargained with. Because Hamas refuses to mark ‘X’ as military targets, civilian losses are almost certainly guaranteed to be higher than Western democracies can stomach. While it may be a surrogate of Syria and Iran, it is ‘of’ the people; an indivisible power. This philosophy is reflected in its military tactics and strikes at the heart of Israeli identity – while it is unlikely to defeat Israel by firing rockets at its citizens, Israel’s mighty army cannot prevent them from being fired. Israelis are supposed to be tough; the name for an Israeli-born Jew, sabra, comes from the Hebrew for cactus – Sa’bar; but how long can Israelis continue to manifest their insecurity in a highly-weaponised military when it does not keep them safe?

Of all of the actors central to the conflict, one force has demonstrated an uncanny ability to exploit these tectonic plates of Middle Eastern geopolitics for its own purposes: Iran. Neither Arab nor Sunni, Iran supports Islamist groups, both Sunni and Shi`a, using the Arab-Israeli conflict to bridge the sectarian and national gap. It could be argued that there is nothing Iran would like more than to see the Palestinian question remain unanswered. The continued ostracism of Hamas, despite it being the democratically-elected government of Gaza, means it has ‘nowhere to go but deeper into the embrace of Iran’. Iran is able to use the anniversary of al-Nakba to mobilise support for its Islamist proxies. The relative strategic impacts on any form of rapprochement between Fatah and Hamas are immense. Could youmfitna al-tawil , destroy the two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians? How can a two-state solution be found when in reality, there are three states operating? Without a zaïm since Arafat’s death, Palestine has splintered geographically and politically between Hamas, controlling Gaza, and Fatah in the West Bank stronghold of Ramallah; all on the watch of an increasingly hard-line Israel.

The 2006 attack on Lebanon changed Israel’s political landscape irrevocably. It was a major factor in the downfall of Ehud Olmert and the Kadima Party government. Governed by Binyamin Netanyahu and a coalition of his Likud Party, the remnants of the once-dominant Labour Party (with its former Prime Minister, Ehud Barak agreeing to be Netanyahu’s Defence Minister); and Yisra’el Beitenu with the latter’s leader Avigdor Lieberman, a former nightclub bouncer from Moldova, taking the role of Foreign Minister, leaving Kadima, founded by Ariel Sharon and led by former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, as the moderate opposition. Despite its domestic political shake-up, Israel repeated many of the mistakes it made in Lebanon in 2006 when it attacked Gaza in the last few days of December 2008. If the definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing and expecting a different outcome, then repeating these failures against Hamas almost defies belief – another entrenched grassroots movement; a Sunni Arab ally of Iran; the democratically elected (but isolated) government; with militants firing rockets at Israeli civilians. Israel’s timing was cynical (in the interregnum between the US Presidential election and inauguration); it seems to have approached the fighting, and the Arab world, from a strategic perspective that will increase instability in the region and ultimately weaken Israel‘s security’. Attacking United Nations’ installations and using white phosphorus coalesced international opinion against it; destroying Gaza’s already inadequate infrastructure (just as it had done in Lebanon); all the while ignoring the strategic impact of the horrendous images of Gaza’s humanitarian crisis conflict. Israel has experienced consistent shelling from the Gaza strip since its withdrawal in August 2005. The reality for Israel and Palestine is that the folly of 2009 has made the blockade and ghettoisation of Gaza worse. The schism between the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas has fractured the domestic constituency to an extent where one possible outcome is renewed factional fighting. Weakening Hamas by isolating it has not worked; it has not given Mahmoud Abbas and the PA a foothold in Gaza. Unifying the territories and their political and security apparatuses seems increasingly unlikely – so a one-state solution is likely to prevail. How can there be a two-state solution when there are, effectively, three states, territories, turfs – whatever you want to call them – three entities in play in that tiny strip of land: Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. The Palestinian Territories are not just separated by ideology, they are physically asunder. In any event, Netanyahu is unlikely to seek a political settlement for fear of looking weaker than Olmert to his insecure citizenry.

The expectation gap that appears to be crushing the Obama administration is a leading indicator of the possible strategic impact of US foreign policy in the Middle East and one which has its roots in the 2006 Israeli-Hizbollah conflict, namely negotiations with Syria. Obama simply cannot afford to spend political and economic capital on the unflinching support of Israel of his predecessors – his strained talks with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu indicate he has no intention of doing so; as does his commitment to a two-state solution and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s repeated calls for an end to the spread of Israeli settlements. The possibilities of taking Syria out of the equation by giving both Israel and Syria what they had come close to agreeing to are of immense strategic value: agreement between the two countries would wound Hizbollah materially, and curb the ‘Shi`a Crescent’ that stretches from Iran through Syria to Lebanon and on to Gaza. It would also ameliorate Israeli insecurities stemming from two-pronged attacks and possibly revive ‘Annapolis’ – the aim of which, was to agree on the framework for a Palestinian state alongside Israel be the end of 2008, a goal which was never reached. However, the attack on Gaza made the Pax Syriana more difficult to realise. It strained relations between Turkey and Israel. Loosening Damascus’ ties with Tehran by restoring the Golan Heights and with it, Syria’s territorial integrity would also have weakened Hizbollah. However, both conflicts reinforced the Israeli public’s sense of insecurity. Why should Israel withdraw from more land when pulling out of Lebanon and dissembling settlements in Gaza has prompted hot wars?

In the end, the most likely strategic impact of Israel’s 2006 attack on Lebanon and 2009 attack on Gaza may have nothing to do with bombs, but babies: as Andrew J. Bacevich, professor of history and international relations at Boston University wrote in The Boston Globe on 8 January 2009, ‘demography rather than weaponry is likely to determine the conflict’s ultimate outcome: that the Palestinian and Arab Israeli birthrate far exceeds the birthrate among Jewish Israelis is a fact with enormous strategic implications’*; and one that cannot be solved with talks, roadmaps or rockets.

To read Bacevich’s full article, follow this link: http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2009/01/08/the_lessons_of_gaza/