From Russia, With Love

Posted November 30, 2006 on 8:54 pm | In the category International Broadcasting, Press, Public Diplomacy | by Jeff

There was much glee in the West in 1989 as the Soviet Union imploded and the Cold War came to its supposed end. There was considerable optimism a few years later regarding the future of democracy in Russia when Boris Yeltsin stood on a tank and successfully resisted a takeover by old-style communist apparatchiks. The conversion appeared complete to President Bush when he looked into Putin’s eyes and saw his soul. His strange friendship – or is it a kinship? – with Putin continues in the face of clear evidence that Russia is heading down a far different road than we had once hoped.

Journalists critical of the Putin regime are attacked and not infrequently murdered (42 journalists have been killed in Russia since 1992), foreign–based NGOs are restricted by obscure licensing requirements, Radio Liberty and Voice of America are being forced out of long-standing re-broadcast agreements with Russian radio stations, and the Russian press has been cowed into a quiet acquiescence;  or risk an unfortunate accidental death by poison or gunshot.

The apparent murder of Alexander Litvinenko, the former KGB spy, in London is only the latest in a series of alarming events. The Committee for the Protection of Journalists has reported that 42 journalists have been murdered in Russia since 1992 but this apparent murder has implications of  future nuclear terrorism.

Meanwhile the Bush administration shows no interest in supporting international broadcasting into Russia at a time when its people depend on outside sources for its news. The budget for Radio Liberty, the premier American Russian language broadcaster has been seriously reduced which serves Mr. Putin’s interests. Since the money is a small issue perhaps the kinship between gut-level authoritarian leaders calls the shots.

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The Québécois, A Nation, Sort Of

Posted November 28, 2006 on 3:58 pm | In the category Canada | by Jeff

While our own MacKenzie Brothers are hanging out in Munich’s Bier Gartens their home country has decided to make one of its provinces more special than all the others. The Quebecois has been named a nation within a more-or-less unified Canada. What next? A seat in the UN for Quebec? A separate Olympics hockey (the ice variety) team? Foie gras fighting it out with sweetbreads for national food of the Quebecois?

Apparently Michael Ignatieff started all of this by suggesting such a move on a French language TV station in Quebec province that he figured no one outside of Quebec would tune in to. Till now, Ignatieff was viewed as the reincarnation of Pierre Trudeau and at least one of the MacKenzie brothers suggested he was smarter than all of the U.S. cabinet put together. The jury is still out on that claim – probably a close call – but this move does not provide much support for it.

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“Civil War” or “Faith-Based Melee”?

Posted November 28, 2006 on 2:52 pm | In the category Iraq, Press, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

The Bush administration is wrangling with the press over whether to call whatever is happening in Iraq a “Civil War”. While Jon Stewart has come up with “Faith-Based Melee” as a possible reference, President Bush spends more time trying to define it as something it is not than figuring out how to stop the bleeding. Bleeding which he started; by choice, not necessity. When the discussion moves into these kind of surreal details it is clear that the game is up and that we are watching the death twitches of a miserably failed operation. The next step will be to announce that the operation was a success but – alas – the patient died of his own hand. For a short but sweet discussion of the great Iraq War Terminology Debate go to the American Journalism Review website for Rem Reider’s take on it all, which includes this straight-forward advice to America’s journalists:

“At any rate, the Bush administration isn’t the nation’s copy desk chief, at least the last time I checked. America’s newspapers and TV stations and news Web sites should start calling the Iraq war what it is, not what someone wishes it were.”

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Corruption Where It Is Unexpected

Posted November 25, 2006 on 11:41 am | In the category Germany | by Mackenzie Brothers

Germany is swiftly losing its confidence in the basic honesty of the men (and I think that they all are men) who run some of their most prestigious companies. the director of the Deutsche Bank managed to escape prosecution for misuse of funds only by paying what amounts to a fine of over 3 million Euros. Worst of all, it seems like a group of top level financial managers in Siemens managed to squirrel together a bribery pot of more than 200 million Euros, much of which was used for bribes in Nigeria. There is a suspicion that this could not have been done without the knowledge of the absolute top level directors of Germany’s premier high tech company. The question now is: where will it end, what can still be coming, and how long has this been going on. OK, the Germans would recently have said that they expect that from some of their new European Union colleagues, like Rumania, Number 84 on the list of corruption-infiltrated countries, just behind Cuba and Burkano Fasso. But Germany? Speaking of the EU, it is quickly displaying some of its basic weaknesses. It seems like they didn’t really mean it when they wrote in the constitution that decisions had to be made unanimously. Or perhaps they hadn’t considered what that meant when Malta and Cypress joined. But it is Poland, run by the strangest of all family duos, which has demonstrated what it means. They vetoed an otherwise unanimous motion to negotiate with Russia on energy matters, since the Russians banned their meat imports. So now they can’t talk to Russia which supplies most of the energy to Europe. Putin can laugh his way back to Moscow.

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Run-up to Iran??

Posted November 21, 2006 on 10:39 pm | In the category Iran, Press, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

Seymour Hersh reports in this week’s New Yorker that while VP Cheney (and presumably the President) are seriously considering preemptive bombing of nuclear facilities in Iran, they are sitting on a report from the CIA indicating that there is no evidence that Iran is actually moving toward production of nuclear weapons. Hersh is careful to point out that the CIA report is not definitive in terms of eliminating the possibility, but he maintains that the report is being purposely ignored by the administration.

Hersh then morphs into a discussion of a range of issues around the decision-making apparatus in the Bush White House during a time of lame duck presidency, control-freak vice-presidency, and Geroge H.W. Bush bringing in his troops to salvage junior’s presidency. It is not a pretty sight and is full of real-world ambiguities. Read the Hersh piece for a look into the surreal world of the Bush Presidency.

Also – ask yourself why I can find discussion of the Hersh piece in the press in Germany, Turkey, China, and France – but virtually nothing in the U.S. mainstream press. When Bob Woodward, the Bush Court Stenographer, publishes his notes form conversations with the powerful the press is all over it. When Sy Hersh, perhaps the last of the great investigative journalists in America breaks a story everyone waits to see what the competition says about it before they even describe it, let alone comment on it.

For what it is worth the Bush White House commented that the Hersh story had no merit. Pretty much what they said when he broke the Abu Ghraib story.

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Jews return to the heart of a German city?

Posted November 20, 2006 on 11:07 am | In the category Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

It´s time for some potential good news. Last weekend the largest Jewish centre in Europe was opened to great fanfare in the centre of Munich on St. Jakob´s Platz. 68 years to the day from Kristallnacht which ended in the Holocaust. Every member of the Bavarian parliament was at the ceremony opening the new syngogue along with all the leading German politicians except Chancellor Merkel. On the next day, 15000 Munich citizens, watched over by 1500 police and elite soldiers, spent hours standing in line so they could take a look at the new buildings. Skepticism about the size of the complex, including a synagogue, community, centre, school and museum. seemed to disappear in the presence of what was universally felt to be a powerful piece of architecture. Some members of the now 10000 strong Jewish community of Munich remain skeptical that Jewish life can be said to have returned to the centre of the former birthplace of Naziism when 1500 soldiers are a very welcome part of the procession. But nevertheless something has changed dramatically with the building of this centre and that will surely bear fruit in the future.

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“Never Again”? OR, “Only Occasionally”?

Posted November 18, 2006 on 6:56 pm | In the category Africa, China, DARFUR, Genocide | by Jeff

The linked story from the BBC updates the naïve reports in major Western media to the effect that Sudan had agreed to a joint United Nations/African Union peacekeeping force. The stories that appeared in major U.S. papers including the NY Times and Boston Globe (see earlier post on this blog) reported Kofi Annan’s comments to the effect that an agreement had been reached. Alas, some deals are not real, after all. According to the BBC report, immediately after Annan’s comments, Sudanese Foreign Minister Lam Akol said that “there should be no talk about a mixed force” and that there would be no UN troops in Darfur. Mr. Akol said that the UN would simply provide technical support.”
There are reports today that Sudanese forces are once again on the attack, working with Arab Janjaweed militia in destroying villages. UN humanitarian chief Jan Egeland has been forced to leave Darfur by veiled threats from the Sudanese government and is publicly wondering why the world is watching while Darfur burns.

The last fifteen years have seen two major genocides preceding the one in Darfur. The Rwanda genocide was more efficient: 800,000 to 1,071,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus killed in 100 days. Individual nations, including the Western powers did not find it in their interest to intervene and the UN maintained that it had to follow its rigid rules of engagement, which were in reality rules of nonengagment. The leader of the U.N. mission, Canadian General Romeo Dallaire suffered major depression and was hospitalized over the failure to act and wrote movingly of the Rwanda genocide in his book, Shake Hands With the Devil (read an excellent interview with Dalliere here).

The Bosnia Genocide was less efficient but equally ghastly – it took from 1992-95 for the Serbs to kill over 200,000 Bosnian Muslims. A watershed of sorts – perhaps “bloodshed” should be the term – occurred at Srebrenica when the UN’s 400 Dutch peacekeepers watched as over 8000 Bosnian males were systematically murdered over a period of ten days in July 1995. Once again, the UN forces asked for permission from UN headquarters to use force to resist the genocide and permission was denied.

These examples seem likely to predict the future for Darfur – and the lessons from them do not lead to optimism. Based on recent history and the quality of current leadership, the major powers are unlikely to intervene until it is far too late for effective action (what is too late? 200,000 lives? 500,000?, one million?); some countries (esp. China) will assist Sudan in resisting UN force implementation; and if and when UN forces are there they are likely to be ineffective. Hope I am wrong.

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Baffled by Silence

Posted November 17, 2006 on 6:56 pm | In the category China, DARFUR | by Kiwi

Where is the outrage?

Why doesn’t Darfur bring activists to the streets? Why doesn’t China enabling oppression inspire a popular reaction? Why is the UN’s impotence ignored?

In Myanmar, according to the NY Times, there is yet another immediate case of China’s support of cruelty and corruption :

“…attempts at outside pressure to prod the government to address its people’s needs and curb abuses have faltered, in large part because China’s thirst for resources has undermined nearly a decade of American economic sanctions.”
The Chinese are happy to supply the arms Myanmar needs to oppress its people in return for access to Myanmar’s natural gas.

“What can we do about it?” said a well educated man here, when asked about the plans to sell the gas abroad in the face of the deprivation at home. “What good would it do to protest, what would we get?” People were too afraid of the 400,000-member strong army supplied by China, Russia and Ukraine to complain, he said.

Perhaps these people could take hope from the UN. Unfortunately the Times story isn’t encouraging on that :

“The United Nations under secretary general, Ibrahim Gambari, met with the junta leader, Gen. Than Shwe, on Nov. 11 in Myanmar and urged the government to mend its ways on forced labor and political prisoners. The meeting ended inconclusively, United Nations officials said.”

The US intends to push for further sanctions in next week’s Security Council meeting. The US is trying to gather support for sanctions at this weekend’s meeting in Viet Nam.

Let’s do the obligatory : it is Bush’s fault. Yes, Bush is inept in Viet Nam. He is off message. Instead of drawing attention to the Myanmar peoples’ plight he draws attention to his stupidity by making an inane comment comparing the Viet Nam and Iraq wars.

So next week the Security Council will talk about a US resolution to increase pressure on the Myanmar regime and China will assure that nothing real happens.

OK. Such are the ways of the world. But where are the activists? Where is the outrage? The activist community in the past has supported efforts to force Myanmar’s release of dissident San Suu Kyi so maybe there’s hope? Will we see some pickets at the Chinese Embassy on Connecticut Ave? Probably not.

Bush has used up our outrage. It is in deed Bush’s fault. So in 2 years it will all change for the better. When Bush is gone Darfur and Myanmar will be safe from the Chinese energy-for-opression foreign policy. Thank Dog for that.

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The Man is Baffling

Posted November 17, 2006 on 4:47 pm | In the category Iraq, U.S. Foreign Policy | by John

“HANOI, Nov. 17 — In his first day in the capital of a country that was America’s wartime enemy during his youth, President Bush said today that the American experience in Vietnam contained lessons for the war in Iraq. Chief among them, he said, was that ‘we’ll succeed unless we quit.’ ” [link to NYTimes]

So stated our President during a visit to the nation the US fought for over 10 years before retreating bloodied and bowed. The US lost more than 57,000 in Vietnam and the Vietnamese lost more than 2 million. And here comes Bush telling the Vietnamese that we should have fought longer – “stayed the course” as it were. He is the first sitting President to visit Vietnam (I believe) since that dreadful episode in our nation’s history. So what does he offer? Gracious apologies? No. Essentially he says that – and this is said on Vietnamese soil – if we had just stayed longer, whatever it would have taken – 5, 10, 50 years – we could have beaten those commies. And that’s the lesson of Vietnam according this man – if we just stay in Iraq for 5, 10, 50 years, whatever it takes -we’re gonna beat those Iraqis. Whew. Nothing else to say to that.

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Sudan To Choose Who “Intervenes” in Their Crimes?

Posted November 17, 2006 on 3:24 pm | In the category Africa, China, DARFUR, Genocide, Uncategorized | by Kiwi

Roll over George Orwell, newspeak has reached a new high.

Earlier today the Chinese government said that it was up to the Sudanese if the UN would be permitted to prevent the Sudanese government from prosecuting its genocide in Darfur. If that weren’t sufficiently perverse, the Chinese added that Beijing promised to use its seat on the UN security council to “continuously play a constructive roll” in Darfur.

Now the Sudanese are so confident of their oil-for-genocide pact with the Chinese that they have just suggested negotiations begin for “…all financial, material, logistic or technical assistance from the UN in order to strengthen the AU mission in Darfur.”

Confused? Well, don’t be. The Organization of African Unity mission is unlikely to do anything to interdict the Sudanese government so why not make them comfortable? The Sudanese Foreign Minister has made it clear that “there should be no talk about a mixed [UN/AU] force”.

He also wants to discuss the AU missions size and composition. There is no agreement on anything until he’s satisfied. He told the BBC there would be no UN troops.

To drive home the point the Sudanese Defense Minister, Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein, said Darfur would become an “invaders’ graveyard” if a UN peacekeeping force was sent there.

Well, surely the UN won’t tolerate being instructed by the very government it seeks to constrain? Yeah, right. It is a good bet that the UN will do the rolling over in this situation. They will try to put a good PR face on this and kick the can a further few months down the road.

Think not? Well, the UN’s head-dude-on-the-scene is no longer on the scene : “UN humanitarian chief Jan Egeland has cut short his trip to Darfur after Sudan’s government told him it would be too dangerous for him to travel outside the region’s major towns.” according to the BBC.

And in a few months the death toll will be up from the current 200,000-plus and the refugee count will be more than the present 3,000,000-plus.

And the new UN Secretary General will announce that he is getting up to speed on what’s happening in Darfur.

Orwellian or what?

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