The filthy culture of bacha bazi in Afghanistan
The Afghans call this revolting act bacha bazi, and it is exactly what it sounds like. Young boys usually ostracised from villages by their families because they were attacked by a paedophile, wearing flowing colourful outfits clad in bells, dancing in seedy places for older turban wearing bearded Afghan men, only to be sexually assaulted after the contemptible night takes a drug and alcohol fuelled turn.
The Guardian stated,
“Dressed in a flowing shirt and long, red skirt, with sherwal pants beneath and small silver bells fastened to hands and feet, the dancer stepped across the floor, face hidden behind a red scarf. The bells chimed with the movement, the skirt brushing past the watching men who stretched out their hands to touch it. The sitar player sang loudly, a love song about betrayal. The dancer twisted and sang hoarsely with him, arms thrown high above a lean, muscular body, moving faster and faster until finally the scarf dropped, revealing a handsome young man’s face with traces of a moustache and beard. One of the men quickly grabbed the scarf and started sniffing it.
In an adjacent room, 16-year-old Mustafa was preparing to dance next. His owner opened a small bundle of clothes and produced a long, blue skirt, crimson shirt, leather straps and bells. Mustafa stood on a table and nervously smoked a cigarette. Holding his thin arms over his head, he allowed two bearded, turbaned men, giggling and laughing, to dress him like a doll. One combed his long hair, and invited the other to have the “honour” of wrapping the straps around his hands and feet.”
Bacha bazi is an old central Asian tradition, with roots buried deep in local culture. It has been documented in the award winning film The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan featuring journalist Najibullah Quraishi. The film shares accounts of Afghani boys who have been subjected to sexual slavery.
Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) stated,
“I go to every province to have happiness and pleasure with boys, says an Afghan man known as ‘The German,’ who acts as a bacha bazi pimp, supplying boys to the men. Some boys are not good for dancing, and they will be used for other purposes. … I mean for sodomy and other sexual activities.”
It was also depicted in Khaled Hosseini’s novel, The Kite Runner, where a boy is sold as a sexual slave to a member of the Taliban. But Khaled Hosseini had it wrong. Heinous as the Taliban’s cruel government had been, they actually abhorred child sex abuse. The militant group despised the act of bacha bazi, executing any Afghan found to have abused young boys.
The Washington Post stated,
“Like it or not, there was better rule of law under the Taliban, said Dee Brillenburg Wurth, a child-protection expert at the UN mission in Afghanistan, who has sought to persuade the government to address the problem. They saw it as a sin, and they stopped a lot of it.”
Now, with the Taliban gone, bacha bazi is once again flourishing in Afghanistan, from remote villages to teeming cities such as Kabul.
“Under Taliban rule, it was banned, but it has crept back and is now widespread, flourishing also in the cities, including the capital, Kabul, and a common feature of weddings, especially in the north. The bacha dancers are often abused children whose families have rejected them. Their ‘owners’ or ‘masters’ can be single or married men, who keep them in a form of sexual slavery, as concubines.”
For some, owning a bacha as a sex slave is a status symbol. Those who can’t afford it, buy CDs and DVDs of bacha bazi from the market. Others in the Kabul chai (tea) houses watch videos of dancing bachas.
The BBC explains how the bachas are powerless to save themselves.
“I started dancing at wedding parties when I was 10, when my father died,” says Omid.
We were hungry, I had no choice. Sometimes we go to bed on empty stomachs. When I dance at parties I earn about $2 or some pulau rice.
I ask him what happens when people take him to hotels. He bows his head and pauses for a long time before answering.
Omid says he is paid about $2 for the night. Sometimes he is gang raped.
I ask him why he doesn’t go to the police for help.
They are powerful and rich men. The police can’t do anything against them.”
Afghanistan’s allies are turning a blind eye, sweeping it under the rug in the name of cultural tradition.
In an eye opening article, The New York Times reveals how American soldiers are ordered to ignore the screaming cries of young boys being sexually abused by their Afghan allies. According to the report, they are told to turn a deaf ear to this aspect of Afghan ‘culture’.
It seems hypocritical of the United States to allow its allies to take part in crimes against humanity to maintain political stability. The stories are foul enough to churn your stomach.
“At night we can hear them screaming, but we’re not allowed to do anything about it,” one soldier told his father in a painful phone call.
Naturally, many marines were unable to contain their fury and attacked these Afghan officers. Later, they were reprimanded by their own government for intervening in local culture.
The New York Times,
“The American policy of non-intervention is intended to maintain good relations with the Afghan police and militia units the United States has trained to fight the Taliban. It also reflects a reluctance to impose cultural values in a country where pederasty is rife, particularly among powerful men, for whom being surrounded by young teenagers can be a mark of social status.
Some soldiers believed that the policy made sense; even if they were personally distressed at the sexual predation they witnessed or heard about.
‘The bigger picture was fighting the Taliban,’ a former Marine lance corporal reflected. ‘It wasn’t to stop molestation.’
Still, the former lance corporal, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid offending fellow marines, recalled feeling sickened the day he entered a room on a base and saw three or four men lying on the floor with children between them.”
This American policy has only isolated many village elders who are frustrated by the acts of depravity. American backed Afghans in powerful military positions to this day are said to own multiple sex slaves, and have been accused of crimes of rape and worse. The solution, of course, is not to invite monsters such as Taliban back into power, but to find a way to fill this vacuum in justice.
Unfortunately, those who take part in bacha bazi see nothing wrong with it.
The New York Times,
“So Captain Quinn summoned Abdul Rahman and confronted him about what he had done. The police commander acknowledged that it was true, but brushed it off. When the American officer began to lecture about ‘how you are held to a higher standard if you are working with US forces, and people expect more of you,’ the commander began to laugh.”
“What was so unnerving about the men I had met was not just their lack of concern for the damage their abuse was doing to the boys, Quraishi says. It was also their casualness with which they operated and the pride with which they showed me their boys, their friends, their world. They clearly believed that nothing they were doing was wrong.”
“Some people like dog fighting, some practice cockfighting. Everyone has their hobby, for me, it’s bacha bazi, he says.
When we leave the party at two in the morning a teenage boy is still dancing and offering drugs to the men around him.
Zabi is not especially wealthy or powerful, yet he has three bachas. There are many people who support this tradition across Afghanistan and many of them are very influential.”
To avoid any feelings of guilt, Foreign Policy explains, the Pakhtuns have twisted religious teachings,
“The fact that bacha bazi, which has normalised sodomy and child abuse in rural Afghan society, developed within a deeply fundamentalist Islamic region of the world is mystifying. According to a 2009 Human Terrain Team study titled ‘Pashtun Sexuality,’ Pakhtun social norms dictate that bacha bazi is not un-Islamic or homosexual at all — if the man does not love the boy, the sexual act is not reprehensible, and is far more ethical than defiling a woman.
Sheltered by their pastoral setting and unable to speak Arabic — the language of all Islamic texts — many Afghans allow social customs to trump religious values, including those Quranic verses eschewing homosexuality and promiscuity. Warlords who have exploited Islam for political or personal means have also promulgated tolerance for bacha bazi. The mujahideen commanders are a perfect example of this — they fought communism in the name of jihad and mobilised thousands of men by promoting Islam, while sexually abusing boys and remaining relatively secular themselves.”
Pakistan’s Hidden Shame, a documentary directed by Mohammed Naqvi and produced by Jamie Doran, is an eye opener. The documentary is difficult to watch, even in small doses. It tells deeply distressing stories from Peshawar of vulnerable children, trying to ease the pain of their lives by using narcotics, or resorting to self-harm by cutting themselves, who either sell themselves to older men, or are raped and gang-raped.
Naeem, a 13-year-old boy, was attacked while resting on the streets,
“I was lying here sleeping and four people grabbed me and threw me into a car, he sobs. One was a bus driver, the others were heroin addicts. All four of them raped me.”
One of the most horrifying tales is of Ijaz.
The Daily Mail,
“Once, there was a boy on the bus and everyone had sex with him, confesses Ijaz who admits to raping 12 different children during his career as a bus conductor.
I did it too but what else could I do? They invited me. And he was that kind of boy anyway.”
From Afghanistan to Pakistan, the common threads in these cases are as old as the act of rape itself. Invariably, the victims are heartbreakingly vulnerable, and invariably, the attackers themselves rationalise their actions by blaming the victim, ‘he was asking for it’, ‘he secretly liked it’, or ‘he was that type of boy’.
More upsettingly, accepting it as a cultural norm allows the abusers as well as those with the power to stop it, to alleviate feelings of guilt.
Foreign Policy claims that as many as 50 per cent of men in Southern Afghanistan ‘take boy lovers’. The leaders of Afghanistan do nothing for fear of losing their hold on power, as any action could offend their voter base. Meanwhile, as far as Pakistan’s northern areas are concerned, our own leaders would rather bury their heads in the sand.
This mentality can only be tackled with a concerted effort to revise a cultural norm. Somewhere along the way these people began to assume it was okay to take advantage of a child. For such a perverse act to become acceptable in parts of Pakhtun culture must have taken deep psychological conditioning, especially considering how many victims of sexual abuse become abusers themselves. It shall take equally complex psychological conditioning to invalidate child sex abuse as an acceptable act.
We can only achieve this if our political and religious leaders, filmmakers, educators, journalists, and others use their skills of influence. Shame can be a healthy feeling, but not when it is misused to function as a wall for paedophiles and rapists to cover their wrongdoings. Shame must instead be used as a hammer to break down these walls.
With the looming withdrawal of NATO troops and a persistent insurgent threat, Afghanistan is in a precarious position. Innumerable tragedies have beleaguered rural Afghans throughout the past decades of conflict — perpetual violence, oppression of women, and crushing poverty have all contributed to the Hobbesian nature of life in the Afghan countryside.
While the Afghan government has been able to address some of these issues since the Taliban’s ouster in 2001, archaic social traditions and deep-seated gender norms have kept much of rural Afghanistan in a medieval state of purgatory. Perhaps the most deplorable tragedy, one that has actually grown more rampant since 2001, is the practice of bacha bazi — sexual companionship between powerful men and their adolescent boy conscripts.
This phenomenon presents a system of gender reversal in Afghanistan. Whereas rural Pashtun culture remains largely misogynistic and male-dominated due to deeply-ingrained Islamic values, teenage boys have become the objects of lustful attraction and romance for some of the most powerful men in the Afghan countryside.
Demeaning and damaging, the widespread subculture of pedophilia in Afghanistan constitutes one of the most egregious ongoing violations of human rights in the world. The adolescent boys who are groomed for sexual relationships with older men are bought — or, in some instances, kidnapped — from their families and thrust into a world which strips them of their masculine identity. These boys are often made to dress as females, wear makeup, and dance for parties of men. They are expected to engage in sexual acts with much older suitors, often remaining a man’s or group’s sexual underling for a protracted period.
Evolution of Bacha Bazi
Occurring frequently across southern and eastern Afghanistan’s rural Pashtun belt and with ethnic Tajiks in the northern Afghan countryside, bacha bazi has become a shockingly common practice. Afghanistan’s mujahideen warlords, who fought off the Soviet invasion and instigated a civil war in the 1980s, regularly engaged in acts of pedophilia. Keeping one or more "chai boys," as these male conscripts are called, for personal servitude and sexual pleasure became a symbol of power and social status.
The Taliban had a deep aversion towards bacha bazi, outlawing the practice when they instituted strict nationwide sharia law. According to some accounts, including the hallmark Times of London article "Kandahar Comes out of the Closet" in 2002, one of the original provocations for the Taliban’s rise to power in the early 1990s was their outrage over pedophilia. Once they came to power, bacha bazi became taboo, and the men who still engaged in the practice did so in secret.
When the former mujahideen commanders ascended to power in 2001 after the Taliban’s ouster, they brought with them a rekindled culture of bacha bazi. Today, many of these empowered warlords serve in important positions, as governors, line ministers, police chiefs, and military commanders.
Since its post-2001 revival, bacha bazi has evolved, and its practice varies across Afghanistan. According to military experts I talked to in Afghanistan, the lawlessness that followed the deposing of the Taliban’s in rural Pashtunistan and northern Afghanistan gave rise to violent expressions of pedophilia. Boys were raped, kidnapped, and trafficked as sexual predators regained their positions of regional power. As rule of law mechanisms and general order returned to the Afghan countryside, bacha bazi became a normalized, structured practice in many areas.
Many "chai boys" are now semi-formal apprentices to their powerful male companions. Military officials have observed that Afghan families with an abundance of children are often keen to provide a son to a warlord or government official – with full knowledge of the sexual ramifications – in order to gain familial prestige and monetary compensation. Whereas bacha bazi is now largely consensual and non-violent, its evolution into an institutionalized practice within rural Pashtun and Tajik society is deeply disturbing.
Pedophilia and Islam
The fact that bacha bazi, which has normalized sodomy and child abuse in rural Afghan society, developed within a deeply fundamentalist Islamic region of the world is mystifying. According to a 2009 Human Terrain Team study titled "Pashtun Sexuality," Pashtun social norms dictate that bacha bazi is not un-Islamic or homosexual at all — if the man does not love the boy, the sexual act is not reprehensible, and is far more ethical than defiling a woman.
Sheltered by their pastoral setting and unable to speak Arabic — the language of all Islamic texts — many Afghans allow social customs to trump religious values, including those Quranic verses eschewing homosexuality and promiscuity. Warlords who have exploited Islam for political or personal means have also promulgated tolerance for bacha bazi. The mujahideen commanders are a perfect example of this — they fought communism in the name of jihad and mobilized thousands of men by promoting Islam, while sexually abusing boys and remaining relatively secular themselves.
The rampant pedophilia has a number of far-reaching detrimental consequences on Afghanistan’s development into a functional nation. The first — and most obvious — consequence of bacha bazi is the irreparable abuse inflicted on its thousands of victims.
Because it is so common, a significant percentage of the country’s male population bears the deep psychological scars of sexual abuse from childhood. Some estimates say that as many as 50 percent of the men in the Pashtun tribal areas of southern Afghanistan take boy lovers, making it clear that pedophilia is a pervasive issue affecting entire rural communities. Many of the prominent Pashtun men who currently engage in bacha bazi were likely abused as children; in turn, many of today’s adolescent victims will likely become powerful warlords or government-affiliated leaders with boy lovers of their own, perpetuating the cycle of abuse.
A second corrupting, and perhaps surprising, consequence of bacha bazi is its negative impact on women’s rights in Afghanistan. It has become a commonly accepted notion among Afghanistan’s latent homosexual male population that "women are for children, and boys are for pleasure." Passed down through many generations and spurred by the vicious cycle created by the pedophile-victim relationship, many Afghan men have lost their attraction towards the opposite gender. Although social and religious customs still heavily dictate that all men must marry one or more women and have children, these marriages are often devoid of love and affection, and are treated as practical, mandated arrangements.
While the Afghan environment has grown more conducive to improving women’s social statuses, the continued normalization of bacha bazi will perpetuate the traditional view of women as second-class citizens — household fixtures meant for child-rearing and menial labor, and undeserving of male attraction and affection.
The third unfortunate consequence of bacha bazi is its detrimental bearing on the perpetual state of conflict in Afghanistan, especially in the southern Pashtun-dominated countryside. Because pedophilia and sodomy were, and remain, a main point of contention between the Islamist Taliban and traditional Pashtun warlords, the widespread nature of bacha bazi likely continues to fuel the Taliban’s desire to reassert sharia law. The adolescent victims are vulnerable to Taliban intimidation and may be used to infiltrate the Afghan government and security forces.
The resurgence of bacha bazi since the Taliban’s defeat and the significant percentage of government, police, and military officials engaged in the practice has put the United States and its NATO allies in a precarious position. By empowering these sexual predators, the coalition built a government around a "lesser evil," promoting often-corrupt pedophiles in lieu of the extremist, al Qaeda-linked Taliban. Going forward, the strong Western moral aversion to pedophilia will likely erode the willingness of NATO and international philanthropic agencies to continue their support for Afghanistan’s development in the post-transition period. As Joel Brinkley, a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, asked: "So, why are American and NATO forces fighting and dying to defend tens of thousands of proud pedophiles, certainly more per capita than any other place on Earth?"
Despite the grave nature of the child abuse committed across Afghanistan, this tragic phenomenon has received relatively little global attention. It has been highlighted mainly in sporadic news articles and one Afghan-produced documentary, while other Afghan issues such as women’s rights and poverty are center stage.
From a human rights perspective, the pervasive culture of pedophilia deserves substantial international consideration due to its detrimental effects — the immediate and noticeable effects on the young victims, as well as the roadblocks it creates towards achieving gender equality and peace.
The only way to tackle both bacha bazi and gender inequality is to modernize Afghanistan’s rule of law system. Afghan officials have been scrutinized in multiple reports by the United Nations’ Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict for their failure to protect children’s rights. Although Afghan officials formally agreed to outlaw these practices in response to U.N. criticism in 2011, the government’s ability and willingness to internally enforce laws protecting children has been non-existent.
If a future Afghan government can achieve a balance between the Taliban, who strictly enforced anti-pedophilia laws but harshly oppressed women, and the current administration, which has put an end to the hard-line Islamic subjugation of women but has allowed bacha bazi to reach shocking levels, Afghanistan’s dismal human rights record may improve.
An additional strategy for combating bacha bazi is to attack the issue from an ethno-cultural standpoint. Identifying key tribal elders and other local powerbrokers who share the West’s revulsion towards such widespread pedophilia is the first step in achieving lasting progress. As is true with women’s rights, understanding Afghanistan’s complex social terrain and bridging its cultural differences is necessary to safeguard the rights of adolescent boys.
The Afghan government’s acknowledgement of bacha bazi and subsequent outreach into rural Pashtun communities, where the legitimacy of the government is often eclipsed by the power of warlords and tribal elders, will also be critical. The most important breakthrough, of course, will come when the Afghan government, police, and military rid themselves of all pedophiles. If the central government can ensure its representatives at the local level will cease their engagement in bacha bazi, the social norms are bound to change as well.
Eliminating this truly damaging practice will finally occur when a pedophile-free Afghan government is able to more closely connect the country’s urban centers to its rural countryside. Only then will a progressive social code be established. And if this evolved social code can incorporate the tenets of Islam with social justice and effectively marginalize the archaic and abusive aspects of Pashtun and Tajik warlord culture, there is hope for Afghanistan yet.
Chris Mondloch served as an analyst for the U.S. Marine Corps for five years and directed intelligence production for the Corps’ Economic Political Intelligence Cell in Helmand province in 2012.
Over the past eight years, news reports gradually revealed that Afghan soldiers and police officers allied with US military forces are sexually abusing young boys held against their will—sometimes on US military bases. Last month, Joseph Goldstein (2015) published a front page story in the New York Times under the headline “US Soldiers Told to Ignore Sexual Abuse of Boys by Afghan Allies,” which opened with the disturbing story of Lance Corporal Gregory Buckley Jr., who was fatally shot along with two other Marines in 2012. Buckley was killed after he raised concerns about the American military’s tolerance of child sexual abuse practiced by Afghan police officers on the base where he was stationed in southern Afghanistan. Buckley’s father told the Times that “my son said that his officers told him to look the other way because it’s their culture.”
The Times story provides the now standard boilerplate narrative that adult men having sex with young boys–some as young as twelve years old–exemplify a culture complex known as bacha bazi, or “boy play.” But it also includes vignettes of US soldiers walking into rooms of Afghan men bedded with young boys, a young teenage girl raped by a militia commander while working in the fields, and the story of a former Special Forces Captain, Dan Quinn, who was disciplined after beating an Afghan militia commander who was “keeping a boy chained to his bed as a sex slave” (Goldstein 2015). The article recounts a number of harsh disciplinary actions taken against other US soldiers and Marines who attempted to stop such abusive practices.
The military’s position is that these are local cultural practices, like differences in dress, diet, or musical preferences, and American forces should look the other way and not interfere with these cultural differences. According to a recent report by Shane Harris (2015), Marines are offered little direction if they witness rape or other forms of sexual abuse by local people in other countries. Harris obtained a copy of training materials in which sexual assault is explicitly described as a “cultural” phenomenon in Afghanistan.
Perhaps such revelations were predictable. A decade ago, the counterinsurgency doctrine developed by General David Petraeus and his associates was lauded by supporters as a kinder, gentler way of conducting war. They embraced the idea that the local populations of Iraq and Afghanistan were the “center of gravity,” a fulcrum upon which the fate of the US led occupations rested. The doctrine, most clearly expressed in US Army Field Manual Counterinsurgency: FM 3-24 (US Army 2007), required American forces to work with “host nation” allies (Iraqi tribal leaders in Anbar province, Afghan warlords opposed to the Taliban, etc.) whose beliefs and practices might be very different from those of US troops. Neither FM 3-24 nor any other doctrinal materials provided guidance for dealing with allies who regularly violated basic principles of human rights–or of human dignity for that matter. To make matters worse, the Petraeus doctrine clearly functioned in a top-down manner: soldiers and Marines were expected to set aside their better judgment and experience in order to conform to the demands of the new counterinsurgency.
What makes this topic somewhat tricky is the obvious fact that cultural beliefs and practices vary dramatically from one culture to another. A custom that is considered taboo in one place may be widely accepted or even encouraged elsewhere. Among the most significant contributions made by 20th century anthropologists was the idea of cultural relativism–the notion that each society should be viewed within its particular context, or understood on its own terms. But, as we discuss below, cultural relativism is not the same thing as moral relativism. There has been a surprising lack of inquiry into how American military officials who were obsessed with “cultural awareness” came to accept practices in which unwilling children were taken by Afghan police and militia leaders for sexual gratification.
Rationalizing Child Abuse
While much of this story remains unknown, there is some evidence that the US Army’s Human Terrain System (HTS) played a role in rationalizing pedophilia in Afghanistan, both within military circles and in the popular media’s discourse supporting the establishment of these policies. CounterPunch readers may remember HTS as an experimental and controversial counterinsurgency program that embedded social scientists with combat brigades in Iraq and Afghanistan. During its eight years of existence, the program cost tax payers more than $720 million, making it the most expensive social science project in history. It was fraught with ethical problems and was even condemned in 2007 by the American Anthropological Association. Earlier this year, one of us discovered that the Army quietly shelved the program in 2014 following accusations of fraud, mismanagement, and waste (González 2015).
An early public acknowledgment of the abusive practices of the US’s Afghan allies–and of American military anthropologists encouraging military acceptance of Afghan men having sex with boys–occurred on October 10, 2007 on a radio broadcast of The Diane Rehm Show. In an interview, HTS’s Senior Social Science Advisor Montgomery McFate provided an account of how Human Terrain Teams had helped a US battalion accept these “cultural differences.” McFate (who holds a Ph.D. in anthropology from Yale University) said that HTS had raised intercultural awareness and acceptance of something she referred to as the NAMBLA-like sounding “Man-Boy Love Thursday.” She recounted this as a “humorous” story illustrating the role of Human Terrain Teams in establishing military interactions with local populations:
“I’m just laughing, because anthropologists are great believers in reflectivity and in understanding your own biases, and sometimes it can be somewhat challenging and humorous to try to teach those perspectives to the military. And I’ll just give one example from Afghanistan, which is that on the Forward Operating Base it was a common practice on Thursday afternoons for some of the older men to go off with some of the younger boys for a little hanky-panky in the bushes. And the Brigade asked the Human Terrain members: ’what’s up with Man-Boy Love Thursday—what is going on?’ And, you know, essentially the Brigade’s view was ‘we need to put a stop to this because it was wrong, it was [in a laughing voice] wrong, it, you know, violates our notion of what’s appropriate.’
And the Human Terrain Team members said, ‘you know, actually that’s part of Afghan culture and there’s not really much you can do about it. If you don’t like it, you can’t stop it. It’s just part of what they are. Don’t try and impose your values on the people you’re working with because you’re not going to change them.’ So [that’s] somewhat a humorous example.” (McFate quoted in “Anthropologists and War” 2007).
McFate’s public persona was that of a bohemian counterculturalist, and her indifferent depiction appears to have influenced rapt US military officials who began to view rampant pedophilia as little more than a cultural oddity. McFate’s glib summary of “Man-Boy Love Thursday” stands as an example of what happens when anthropology is stripped of its ethics for the sake of convenience. By peddling this cheap, tawdry version of social science for military consumption, McFate told her sponsors and the general public that anthropology could serve a useful role in the age of American Empire by simplifying the moral complications of invasion and occupation.
While the New York Times now deserves some credit for focusing critical attention on the current manifestation of “Man-Boy Love Thursdays,” for years, the newspaper played an essential role in portraying HTS in glowing terms. In 2007, the Times ran a sympathetic front-page story in which HTS’s supporters described the program as effective and even “brilliant” (Rohde 2007). The corporate media largely ignored critics of the program. Later that year, the Times followed up its feature story with an op-ed piece lauding HTS, as University of Chicago anthropologist Richard Shweder praised McFate’s program, writing, “Ms. McFate stressed her success at getting American soldiers to stop making moral judgments about a local Afghan cultural practice in which older men go off with younger boys on ‘love Thursdays’ and do some ‘hanky-panky.’ ‘Stop imposing your values on others,’ was the message for the American soldiers. She was way beyond ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ and I found it heartwarming” (Shweder 2007). Shweder did not fully understand what sort of program of cultural acceptance he found heartwarming, yet his ignorance helped HTS gain the public legitimacy it needed at a crucial moment when anthropologists who were critical of HTS found it impossible to be heard by the Times’s editorial board.
Turning a Blind Eye
Between 2009 and 2011, the US military created a situation in which official reports and documents effectively portrayed the sexual exploitation of children as a natural and acceptable part of Afghan culture.
In 2009 an unclassified Human Terrain Team report on “Pashtun Sexuality” was released to the public. The report, authored by AnnaMaria Cardinalli (who holds a Ph.D. in theology from Notre Dame University), argues that a vast number of Afghan men practice “a culturally-contrived homosexuality,” particularly with boys, which can be partly explained by “a long-standing cultural tradition in which boys are appreciated for physical beauty and apprenticed to older men for their sexual initiation” (Cardinalli 2009: 1,2). Cardinalli’s report suggests that US military personnel need to understand such dynamics as “an essential social force underlying Pashtun culture,” and although it acknowledges that these practices may involve “a great imbalance of power and/or authority to the disadvantage of the boy involved,” it casts doubt on “whether this can rightly be termed abusive when seen through a lens from within the culture” (Cardinalli 2009: 2).
Two years later, in 2011, the Army released a draft training handbook which explicitly advised US personnel to ignore abuses perpetrated by Afghan security officers. The handbook, entitled “A Crisis of Trust and Cultural Incompatibility,” was written by Major Jeffrey Bordin (2011). According to his LinkedIn page, Bordin has a Ph.D. in psychology and holds a “Human Terrain Team Leader” certification from the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (LinkedIn 2015). The draft handbook includes a list of “taboo conversation topics” that American soldiers should avoid, including “any criticism of pedophilia” and “mentioning homosexuality and homosexual conduct.” Like Cardinalli, Bordin downplays child abuse as a cultural quirk. The handbook states: “Bottom line: Troops may experience social-cultural shock and/or discomfort when interacting [with Afghan security forces]. . .Better situational awareness/understanding of Afghan culture will help better prepare [American troops] to more effectively partner and to avoid cultural conflict“ (Bordin quoted in Nissenbaum 2011).
It is remarkable that HTS’s justifications of pederasty provoked so little media attention. By contrast, military narratives of the mistreatment of Afghan women by the Taliban were routinely recycled by a willing press after 2001, and many Americans came to believe that Afghan women needed to be saved from their own men. Curiously, US news organizations have largely ignored the mistreatment of women in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, or Pakistan–close allies of the United States.
In fact, Human Terrain Team analyses fit the preconceived off-the-shelf Orientalist stereotypes of Islamic societies critically dissected by the late Edward Said. One need look no further than the cover of Said’s Orientalism. It features Jean-Léon Gérôme’s painting The Snake Charmer, a romanticized portrayal of a nude boy dancing before tribal elders. The image neatly aligns with long-standing European notions of Oriental exoticism. (It is striking that European and American critics of pederasty often ignore the fact that it was practiced in the West for centuries–most famously in ancient Greece and Rome. Some suggest that the practice may have been introduced to Central Asia during the period of Alexander the Great, long before the arrival of Islam.) The “anthropological” information provided to the military by HTS frequently stressed such exoticism, while ignoring centuries of contact with the West, legacies of European colonialism, and the inequities of power relations that most anthropological analyses would address.
In any event, the reports by Cardinalli and Bordin were entirely consistent with the nonchalant attitude expressed by Montgomery McFate. In 2010, documentary film maker Adam Curtis (2010) blogged about a conversation he had with McFate. When Curtis asked her what she thought anthropology could provide to the military, she answered, “cultural relativism.” To illustrate, she told him about “Man-Boy Love Thursday,” saying:
“The Americans running the base had decided it was wrong. They worried about elder men preying sexually on young boys. They wanted to arrest the Afghan men–but the Human Terrain team persuaded the base commanders that this was an accepted part of Afghan sexual culture. I wonder how long it will be before the anthropologists start telling the military that what they think of as ’corruption’ is in reality a deeply rooted system of tribal patronage in Afghanistan that they should accept.” (Curtis 2010)
Curtis was clearly disturbed by her response.
Cultural Relativism is Not Moral Relativism
The comments of McFate and other former HTS personnel such as Cardinalli and Bordin reveal a profound misunderstanding of anthropology–and of Afghan society. Perhaps the biggest problem is that the ideas expressed by Human Terrain Team members betray a basic misunderstanding about the differences between cultural relativism and moral relativism. The first is a basic anthropological recognition that all cultures have distinct beliefs and behaviors that are seen by members of the cultural as normal and proper. Given the universality of this arrangement anthropologists use cultural relativism to understand cultural differences in their own terms.
But moral relativism is another thing altogether. Moral relativism moves beyond the acknowledgment of cultural difference and refuses to engage with any evaluation of the morality of practices. In this context, pedophilia in contemporary Afghanistan cannot be separated from the American military’s presence there, as HTS’s pseudo-philosophers maintain. By adopting a position of moral relativism, the Human Terrain System pretends to remove itself and the US military from responsibility for these abusive acts occurring on American military bases. One can only wonder why, as they reached this position of moral relativism, HTS’s anthropologically-trained personnel blatantly disregarded the American Anthropological Association’s commitment to the principles of international human rights (AAA 1999; see also Engle 2001). Interestingly, Afghanistan’s president Ashraf Ghani–who holds a Ph.D. in anthropology from Columbia University–recently condemned the sexual abuse of children in his country and vowed to crack down on the abusers (Rosenberg 2015).
There are, of course, cultural differences in expressions of human sexuality. Indeed, the impacts of these cultural differences are significant, and include things like cultural constructions of acceptable sexual expressions, orientations, and consent. Culture’s impact on these elements of sexuality are real and important. But what is vital and missing from such militarized social science analysis is a central acknowledgment of the political context generating these analyses. Like most other things created in a context of military invasion and occupation, the studying and reporting on sexuality occurs through a fog of war obscuring and permeating the operationalization and analysis of that which is studied. In such contexts, what might be normalized descriptions of variations in sexual behavior are transformed by power relations, and efforts to de-exoticize cultural differences in these contexts becomes counterinsurgency intelligence, used not only to understand and accept, but to understand and control. In Afghanistan, these conditions created a cascading escalation of events where HTS personnel provided the rationalization needed to transform American military facilities into areas where US-backed allies raped and brutalized screaming children. These dynamics of rationalization are not unique to this war. As anthropologist Marshall Sahlins observed half a century ago in his essay “The Destruction of Conscience in Vietnam,” soldiers are often placed in a predicament where “all peripheral rationales fade into the background. It becomes a war of transcendent purpose, and in such a war all efforts on the side of Good are virtuous, and all deaths unfortunate necessity. The ends justify the means” (Sahlins 1966).
HTS’s efforts to absolve American officials of responsibility or agency in these reports of abduction and child rape places US soldiers in an impossible position: they are asked to pretend that US protection and sheltering of those undertaking these acts does not make them morally culpable, even when they bear witness to sexual exploitation, coercion, and abuse. Perhaps there is no clearer indication of the Human Terrain System’s moral bankruptcy than the second-hand effects of its reckless forms of “research,” which have a real human cost. As Afghan children suffer the consequences of official indifference in the face of sexual abuse, American soldiers are haunted by the moral guilt of enforced complacency as they endure yet another lie about the US-led occupation of Afghanistan.
American Anthropological Association. 1999. Declaration on Anthropology and Human Rights. http://www.aaanet.org/about/Policies/statements/Declaration-on-Anthropology-and-Human-Rights.cfm
Anthropologists and War. 2007. The Diane Rehm Show, October 10. http://thedianerehmshow.org/shows/2007-10-10/anthropologists-and-war
Bordin, Jeffrey. 2011. A Crisis of Trust and Cultural Incompatibility. Unclassified N2KL Red Team Report. Available at http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB370/docs/Document%2011.pdf
Cardinalli, AnnaMaria. 2009. Pushtun Sexuality. Unclassified Human Terrain Team Report. Available at https://info.publicintelligence.net/HTT-PashtunSexuality.pdf
Curtis, Adam. 2010. Kabul: City Number One — Part 9. BBC Blogs, May 27. http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/adamcurtis/entries/c3dedc2f-3133-39e9-af1b-8444dd60605a
Engle, Karen. 2001. From Skepticism to Embrace: Human Rights and the American Anthropological Association, 1947-1999. Human Rights Quarterly 23(3). https://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/human_rights_quarterly/v023/23.3engle.html
Goldstein, Joseph. 2015. US Soldiers Told to Ignore Sexual Abuse of Boys by Afghan Allies. New York Times, September 20. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/21/world/asia/us-soldiers-told-to-ignore-afghan-allies-abuse-of-boys.html
González, Roberto J. 2015. The Rise and Fall of the Human Terrain System. CounterPunch (Online edition), June 29. http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/06/29/the-rise-and-fall-of-the-human-terrain-system/
Harris, Shane. 2015. Marines Trained That Rape in Afghanistan is a ‘Cultural’ Issue. The Daily Beast.com, September 23. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/09/23/marines-taught-to-look-the-other-way-when-afghans-rape-children.html
LinkedIn.com. 2015. LTC Jeffrey Bordin PhD. https://af.linkedin.com/pub/ltc-jeffrey-bordin-phd/7b/975/176
Nissenbaum, Dion. 2011. Draft Army Handbook Wades into Divisive Afghan Issue. Wall Street Journal, December 11. http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887324024004578171561230647852
Rohde, David. 2007. Army Enlists Anthropology in War Zones. New York Times, October 5. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/05/world/asia/05afghan.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
Rosenberg, Matthew. 2015. Ashraf Ghani, Afghan President, Vows to Crack Down on Abuse of Boys. New York Times, September 24. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/24/world/asia/ashraf-ghani-afghan-president-vows-to-crack-down-on-abuse-of-boys.html?_r=0
Sahlins, Marshall. 1966 . The Destruction of Conscience in Vietnam. Culture in Practice: Selected Essays, 229-260. New York: Zone Books.
Schweder, Richard. 2007. A True Culture War. New York Times, October 27. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/27/opinion/27shweder.html
Five Leaders Challenging Western Imperialism
Pope Francis, Vladimir Putin, Xi, Jinping, Hassan Rouhani, and Jeremy Corbyn
By James Petras
October 09, 2015 "Information Clearing House" - Western imperialism, in all of its manifestation, is being challenged by five political leaders, through diplomacy, moral persuasion and public pressure. In recent time, Pope Francis, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn have raised fundamental questions concerning (1) war and peace in the Middle East and the Caucuses; (2) climate change and the destruction of the environment; (3) economic sanctions, military threats and confrontation; and (4) growing inequalities of class, gender and race.
The New Global Agenda
These five protagonists of a new global agenda differ from past critics from the left both in the style and substance of their politics.
The politics of change, reform and peace in the near immediate period has a particular complex, heterodox complexion, which contains traditional conservative and popular components.
These leaders have a global audience and major impact on world public opinion – and indirectly and directly on Western politics.
Defying Past Left-Right Divisions
These five leaders defy the traditional left-right division. Pope Francis demands immigrant rights, equal pay for women, diplomacy and peace negotiations instead of war, and greater class equality. He excoriates neoliberal, capitalism (“the dung of the devil”).
But he also defends traditional Catholic doctrine on abortion, divorce, contraception and homosexuality. He opposes class struggle and social revolution in favor of class collaboration, dialogue, and negotiations.
President Putin favors negotiations and peaceful resolution of conflicts in Syria and the Ukraine. He is an ardent advocate of a global coalition to fight Islamic terrorism. He has sharply reduced western pillage of the Russian economy and restored salaries, pensions and employment. He has restored Russian military capacity and national security and reduced terrorist assaults from the Caucuses.
At the same time Putin supports some of the biggest Yeltsin era billionaires; is closely aligned with the conservative Russian Orthodox Church; and is excavating the remains of the last tyrannical Russian Tsar to honor him and his family.
President Xi Jinping has played a leading role in promoting increases in consumer spending, wages, pensions and social welfare. He has deepened links with US high tech industries and signed off on a major reduction of carbon fuels and pollution, offering $3 billion dollars to fund alternatives for less developed countries. He has fired, prosecuted and jailed over 250,000 corrupt government and party officials who exploited and abused the public, while limiting operations of speculative Western hedge funds.
At the same time, Xi retains the authoritarian one party system; defends China’s one hundred-plus billionaires; and restricts all forms of independent class political and trade union organizations.
Hassan Rouhani is both devout practicing Muslim and a staunch advocate of peace. He supports a ‘nuclear-free Middle East’. He is a consequential opponent of terrorism by Salafist Islamists, Zionists, Christians and Hindus. He is the leading critic of Saudi Arabia’s military intervention in Yemen and a principled defender of national self-determination. Internally he has reduced authoritarian state controls and censorship of free expression and promoted scientific and technological research – in a country where half of research scientists are women.
President Rohani has signed a high risk peace agreement with the US and its partners (5 + 1) dismantling Iran’s nuclear facilities and opening its military installations to international inspection by an international atomic agency of dubious neutrality.
At the same time, Rohani opposes a secular state, supports liberalizing the economy, invites foreign multi-nationals to exploit lucrative oil and gas fields, and supports the corrupt and regressive US backed Shia regime in Iraq.
Jeremy Corbyn, the newly elected head of the British Labor Party, has been a consequential critic of neo-liberal capitalism and a strong advocate of public ownership of strategic economic sectors. He backs a highly graduated progressive income tax to finance a comprehensive welfare program. e a
He advocates a democratic foreign policy that opposes Anglo-American and Israeli imperialism in the Middle East and elsewhere.
However, upon taking office as head of the neo-liberal, pro-imperialist Labor Party, he confronts a parliamentary party dominated by his adversaries. His appointments to the “shadow cabinet” are overwhelmingly pro-NATO and pro-European Union; some even oppose his Keynesian budgetary agenda. Moreover, Corbyn endorses ‘working in the EU’ and promises to support a ‘yes vote’ in any referendum, even as the world witnessed how the EU imposed harsh austerity budgets on Latvia, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and other countries in financial straits.
The Collective Impact of the Five
There is no question that these five leaders have made a major impact on world public opinion on issues of peace, climate change, equality and the need to reach international agreements. In most cases one or more of the leaders have exercised greater influence on a specific public or region and have had a greater impact on some issues over others.
The Pope, for example, has greater influence on Christians; Rohani on the Muslim public; Putin, Corbyn and Xi on secular opinion. Xi and the Pope have a greater impact on proposals for climate change. Putin, the Pope, Rohani and Xi are prominent in advocating peaceful resolution of conflicts; Corbyn and the Pope on reducing inequalities and securing social justice.
With the exception of Corbyn and Xi, all support traditional religious beliefs and observances. Most are ‘ecumenical’ in the sense of supporting religious tolerance.
Most important, all pursue these goals through persuasion, diplomacy and winning over public opinion. None of these world leaders have invaded or overthrown incumbent adversarial regimes or occupied countries. All are leading opponents of terror – especially ISIS.
President Putin is playing a leading role in challenging President Obama to join a broad coalition, including Bashar Assad and Iran, in fighting ISIS terrorism.
Washington, despite its rhetorical hostility, was pressured to respond – ‘partially favorable’.
President Putin has also taken the initiative in the Middle East. He leads a coalition, including Iraq, Iran and Syria to co-ordinate the war against terrorism.
China’s President Xi has committed military forces in support of the Russia’s anti-terrorist proposal for Syria. The Pope has offered tacit support via his pronouncements against terrorism and for international coalitions.
As a consequence of the massive flood of refugees resulting from the US-EU-Saudi-Turkey support of Islamist mercenaries invading Syria and Iraq, several European allies of Washington are reconsidering their anti-Assad policies. They are moving toward the broad front proposals of Putin-Rohani-Xi and the Pope.
The social-economic impact of the Pope’s call for social justice is less apparent, apart from the routine lip-service from Western leaders. Among the quintet, Rohani is looking toward ‘market solutions’: inviting Western and Asian investors to revitalize the oil industry. Xi is cracking down on big time fraudsters in China and abroad, but has yet to embrace a comprehensive welfare and incomes policy. Putin presides over a petrol-economy in recession and has relied on private corporate oligarchs and overseas investors to regain growth. Corbyn’s egalitarian pronouncements have little impact among Labor Party politicians and his shadow cabinet. Moreover, he appears reluctant to mobilize the rank and file Labor activists for a fight for his program within the Party.
The climate change and environmental struggle received robust backing from the Pope –in his speeches to the US Congress, the United Nations and in his mass gatherings.
President Xi reinforced the message by proposing to fund a massive clean air program for the less developed countries, while setting rigorous targets to reduce pollution in China. There is no doubt that their message is well received by all environmental groups and the general public. Some political leaders, including Obama, appear to be, in part, receptive.
Rohani, Putin and Corbyn have played only a minor role in the defense of the environment.
Response of the Western Powers
The US, EU, Japan, Israel and Australia, referred to as the ‘Western Powers’ paid lip service to the cause of peace, while continuing to pursue military objectives via air wars, cross border terrorist activities and military build ups.
In general terms, they manipulate a double discourse – of talking peace and bombing adversaries.
However, the Western Powers feel the pressure of ‘the quintet,’ which is winning the political ideological contest. The ‘Russian threat’ is no longer viewed as credible by most of the international public. China’s international financial initiatives have gained major support from across the globe.
Japanese militarization has provoked mass domestic unrest and regional concerns – especially in Southeast Asia.
Israel is a pariah, not just in the Middle East but is increasingly viewed with hostility by the rest of international public opinion.
Germany, Europe’s leading economic power, has been discredited because of the massive fraud scandal by Volkswagen, its leading automobile maker and major exporter.
In other words, while the Western Powers retain military superiority and important markets, their overseas policies have suffered severe setbacks and their leaders have lost credibility. Their domestic and overseas supporters are turning against them. Moreover, the moral authority of Western leaders has been severely questioned by the Pope’s harsh critique of the ‘exclusionary’ policies toward immigrants and refugees, the excessive greed of capitalism, the reliance on force instead of diplomacy and the massive human suffering due to capitalism’s unrelenting destruction of the environment.
The Pope’s generalities would not have had such a powerful political impact, if they were not accompanied by (1) the selective use of arms and diplomacy emanating from President Putin; (2) the diplomatic successes of President Rohani; and (3) the economic muscle of President Xi, in support of economic development and international co-operation on the environment and climate change.
From widely divergent origins and diverse ideological backgrounds, five political leaders have set a new agenda for dealing with war and peace, equality and inequality, security and terrorism and environmental protection. Except for Jeremy Corbyn, who in any case will probably be rendered impotent by his own party’s elite, none of these progressive leaders’ ideologies is derived from the secular left.
They challenge the status quo, and raise the central issues of our time, at a time when the secular left is marginal or self-destructs (as Greece’s Syriza, Spain’s Podemos or Italy’s Five Stars in Southern Europe).
Faced with this heterodox reality, the Left has the choice of (1) remaining in sterile isolation; (2) embracing one, some, or all of ‘the quintet’; (3) or aligning with them on specific pronouncements and proposals.
The five have sufficient drawbacks, ‘contradictions’ and limitations to warrant criticism and distance. But in the big picture, on the major issues of our time, these leaders have adopted progressive policies, which warrant whole-hearted active support. They are the only ‘show’ in the real world – if we are serious about joining the struggle against imperial wars, terrorism, environmental destruction and injustice.
James Petras is a Bartle Professor (Emeritus) of Sociology at Binghamton University, New York
NDP to announce $25 million to fight radicalizationPublished on: October 8, 2015
The NDP will announce its plan to boost national security and fight terrorism Friday, including a pledge of $25 million toward de-radicalization efforts to protect youth from ISIL recruitment.
It’s a move applauded by Christianne Boudreau, whose son Damian Clairmont was killed in 2014 fighting with an al Qaeda-linked group in Syria, and whose organization, Extreme Dialogue, is at the forefront of the fight against radicalization in Canada.
Reached in Calgary, Boudreau said the NDP’s proposed funding and leadership — totally absent under the government of Stephen Harper, she says — is “exactly what the country needs.”
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair will present his plan to create a National Coordinator to work with local groups on de-radicalization efforts and set out other major planks of the party’s national security platform at Montreal’s Palais des Congrès.
The NDP promises if elected to have Bill C-51 repealed within 100 days of taking office. It was the only party among the top three to vote against Bill C-51, the anti-terrorism bill that became law in June.
It will also restore the Inspector General for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service at a cost of $4 million, and allow the Security Intelligence Review Committee to conduct joint investigations with Canada’s other independent national security review bodies, as recommended by the Maher Arar commission.
The NDP will also set up a special all-party parliamentary committee to oversee national security intelligence activities, an idea also put forward by the Liberal Party.
“We’ve been calling on the government … to put in place a robust, strong program for deradicalization and instead the government brought us C-51, which many experts say works against deradicalization,” said Paul Dewar, the NDP critic for Foreign Affairs and a candidate in Ottawa. “At the end of the day we know the best way to deal with radicalization is to work with all partners at the community level. I get lots of calls from people and organizations across the country — faith groups and councils pleading with us, saying please engage with us, we can help.”
For Boudreau, these are all welcome improvements. She is still trying to get her son’s records from CSIS, whose agents were watching him for two years before he left for Syria. They tell her that as she doesn’t have a death certificate for him, they can’t release any information.
When she filed a request with the SIRC in 2014 to have it review her son’s case, she was told it would be at least a year before they looked at it.
“They told me it would be quicker to sue CSIS in court,” she said.
The other parties have also made radicalization part of their platforms. The Conservative Party has committed $10 million over five years to research the causes of radicalization, and $292 million over five years to help RCMP, CSIS and the Canada Border Services Agency combat terrorism.
The Liberal Party wants to prioritize community outreach and counter-radicalization by creating the Office of the Community Outreach and Counter-radicalization coordinator. But it hasn’t specified a budget for it.
“The (Conservatives) are just giving more money to police, the RCMP and CSIS to support just throwing people in prison,” Boudreau said. “But that doesn’t solve anything. It’s a temporary fix to keep people out of our way. And the Liberals haven’t offered anything concrete. They seem really on the fence and haven’t committed to any one solid stance.”
Boudreau thinks whichever party wins the election should play a leadership role in preventing radicalization. Her organization, which among other things trains people across the country to prevent radicalization of teenagers in school, has received zero funding from the federal government, she says. On Friday she is heading to Washington for a week of meetings with government officials and NGOs.
If the Canadian government won’t work with her, she says, she’ll work with the U.S. government instead.
Alexander Main and Dan Beeton work at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. They are contributors to The WikiLeaks Files: The World According to US Empire.
Earlier this summer, the world watched Greece try to resist a disastrous neoliberal diktat and get a painful thrashing in the process.
When Greece’s left government decided to hold a national referendum on the troika-imposed austerity program, the European Central Bank retaliated by restricting liquidity for Greek banks. This triggered a prolonged bank closure and plunged Greece further into recession.
Though Greek voters ended up massively rejecting austerity, Germany and the European creditor cartel were able to subvert democracy and get exactly what they wanted: complete submission to their neoliberal agenda.
In the last decade and a half, a similar fight against neoliberalism has been waged across the breadth of an entire continent, and mostly outside of the public eye. Although Washington initially sought to quash all dissent, often employing even fiercer tactics than those used against Greece, Latin America’s resistance to the neoliberal agenda has in large part been successful. It’s an epic tale that’s gradually coming to light thanks to continued exploration of the massive trove of US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks.
The outcome was strikingly similar to what we’ve seen in Greece: stagnant growth (almost no per capita income growth for the twenty years from 1980-2000), rising poverty, declining living standards for millions, and plenty of new opportunities for international investors and corporations to make a quick buck.
Starting in the late ‘80s, the region began to convulse and rise up against neoliberal policies. At first, the rebellion was mostly spontaneous and unorganized — as was the case with Venezuela’s Caracazo uprising in early 1989.
But then, anti-neoliberal political candidates began to win elections and, to the shock of the US foreign policy establishment, an increasing number of them stuck to their campaign promises and began implementing anti-poverty measures and heterodox policies that reasserted the state’s role in the economy.
From 1999 to 2008, left-leaning candidates won presidential elections in Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Honduras, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Paraguay.
Much of the story of the US government’s efforts to contain and roll back the anti-neoliberal tide can be found in the tens of thousands of WikiLeaked diplomatic cables from the region’s US diplomatic missions, dating from the early George W. Bush years to the beginning of President Obama’s administration.
The cables — which we analyze in the new book
— reveal the day-to-day mechanics of Washington’s political intervention in Latin America (and make a farce of the State Department mantra that “the US doesn’t interfere in the internal politics of other countries”).
Material and strategic support is provided to right-wing opposition groups, some of which are violent and anti-democratic. The cables also paint a vivid picture of the Cold War ideological mindset of senior US emissaries and show them attempting to use coercive measures reminiscent of the recent chokehold applied to Greek democracy.
Unsurprisingly, the major media has largely missed or ignored this disturbing chronicle of imperial aggression, preferring to focus instead on US diplomats’ accounts of potentially embarrassing or illicit actions taken by foreign officials. The few pundits that have offered bigger picture analysis of the cables typically assert that there is no significant gap between US official rhetoric and the reality depicted in the cables.
In the words of one US international relations analyst, “one doesn’t get an image of the United States as this all-powerful puppet master trying to pull the strings of various governments around the world to serve its corporate interests.”
A close look at the cables, however, clearly belies this assertion.
“This is Not Blackmail”
In late 2005, Evo Morales won a landslide victory in the Bolivian presidential elections on a platform of constitutional reform, indigenous rights, and a promise to combat poverty and neoliberalism. On January 3, just two days after his inauguration, Morales received a visit from US Ambassador David L. Greenlee. The ambassador cut straight to the chase: US-vetted multilateral assistance to Bolivia would hinge on the good behavior of the Morales government. It could have been a scene from The Godfather:
[The ambassador] showed the crucial importance of US contributions to key international financial [sic] on which Bolivia depended for assistance, such as the International Development Bank (IDB), the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. “When you think of the IDB, you should think of the US,” the Ambassador said. “This is not blackmail, it is simple reality.”
Nevertheless, Morales stuck to his agenda. Over the next few days he forged ahead with plans to re-regulate labor markets, re-nationalize the hydrocarbons industry and deepen cooperation with Washington’s arch-nemesis Hugo Chávez.
In response, Greenlee suggested a “menu of options” to try to force Morales to bend to the will of his government. These included: vetoing multi-million dollar multilateral loans, postponing scheduled multilateral debt relief, discouraging Millennium Challenge Corporation funding (which Bolivia has still never received, despite being one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere) and cutting off “material support” to Bolivian security forces.
Unfortunately for the State Department, it soon became clear that these sorts of threats would be duly ignored. Morales had already decided to drastically reduce Bolivia’s reliance on multilateral credit lines that required US Treasury vetting. Within weeks of his taking office, Morales announced that Bolivia would no longer be beholden to the IMF, and let the loan agreement with the Fund expire. Years later, Morales would advise Greece and other indebted European countries to follow Bolivia’s example and “economically free themselves from the International Monetary Fund’s dictate.”
Unable to force Morales to do its bidding, the State Department began focusing instead on strengthening the Bolivian opposition. The opposition-controlled Media Luna region began receiving increased US assistance. A cable from April 2007 discusses “USAID’s larger effort to strengthen regional governments as a counter-balance to the central government.”
A USAID report from 2007 stated that its Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) “ha[d] approved 101 grants for $4,066,131 to help departmental governments operate more strategically.” Funds also went to local indigenous groups that were “opposed to Evo Morales’ vision for indigenous communities.”
A year later, the Media Luna departments would engage in open rebellion against the Morales government, first holding referenda on autonomy, despite these having been ruled illegal by the national judiciary; then supporting violent pro-autonomy protests that left at least twenty government supporters dead.
Many believed an attempted coup was unfolding. The situation only calmed under pressure from all the other presidents of South America, who issued a joint declaration of support for the country’s constitutional government.
But as South America rallied behind Evo, the United States was in regular communication with the leaders of the separatist opposition movement, even as they spoke openly of “blow[ing] up gas lines” and “violence as a probability to force the government to . . . take seriously any dialogue.”
Contrary to its official posture during the events of August and September 2008, the State Department took the possibility of a coup d’etat against, or the assassination of, Bolivian President Evo Morales seriously.
A cable reveals plans by the US embassy in La Paz to prepare for such an event: “[The Emergency Action Committee] will develop, with [the US Southern Command Situational Assessment Team], a plan for immediate response in the event of a sudden emergency, i.e. a coup attempt or President Morales’ death,” the cable read.
The events of 2008 were the greatest challenge yet to Morales’s presidency, and the closest he came to being toppled. The embassy’s preparations for Morales’s possible departure from the presidency reveal that the United States, at least, believed the threat to Morales to be very real. That it did not say so publicly only underscores which side Washington was taking during the conflict, and which outcome it probably preferred.
How It Works
Some of the methods of intervention deployed in Bolivia were mirrored in other countries with left governments or strong left-wing movements. For instance, after the return of the left-wing Sandinistas to power in Nicaragua in 2007, the US embassy in Managua went into high gear to bolster support for right-wing opposition party Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN).
In February 2007, the embassy met with the ALN planning coordinator and explained that the US did “not provide direct assistance to political parties,” but — in order to bypass this restriction — suggested that the ALN coordinate more closely with friendly NGOs that could receive US funding.
The ALN leader said she would “forward a comprehensive list of NGOs that indeed support ALN efforts” and the embassy arranged for her to “next meet with IRI [International Republican Institute] and NDI [National Democratic Institute for International Affairs] country directors.” The cable also noted that the embassy would “follow up on capacity building for [ALN] fundraisers.”
Cables like this one should be required reading for students of US diplomacy and those interested in understanding how the US “democracy promotion” system really works. Through USAID, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), NDI, IRI and other para-governmental entities, the US government provides extensive assistance to political movements that support US economic and political objectives.
In March 2007, the US ambassador in Nicaragua asked the State Department to provide “approximately $65 million above our recent past base levels over the next four years — through the next Presidential elections” so as to fund the “the strengthening of political parties, “democratic” NGOs, and “small, flexible grants on short notice to groups engaging in critical efforts that defend Nicaragua’s democracy, advance our interests, and counter those who rail against us.”
In Ecuador, the US embassy opposed left-wing economist Rafael Correa well ahead of the 2006 elections that swept him into office. Two months before those elections, the embassy’s political counselor alerted Washington that Correa could be expected to “join the Chavez-Morales-Kirchner group of nationalist-populist South American leaders,” and noted that the embassy had “warned our political, economic, and media contacts of the threat Correa represents to Ecuador’s future, and had actively discouraged political alliances which could balance Correa’s perceived radicalism.” Immediately following Correa’s election, the embassy cabled the State Department with their game plan:
We are under no illusions that USG efforts alone will shape the direction of the new government or Congress, but hope to maximize our influence by working in concert with other Ecuadorians and groups who share our views. Correa’s reform proposals and attitude toward Congress and traditional political parties, if unchecked, could extend the current period of political conflict and instability.
The embassy’s worst fears were confirmed. Correa announced that he would close the US air base in Manta, increase social spending, and push for a constituent assembly. In April 2007, 80 percent of Ecuadorean voters endorsed the proposal for a constituent assembly and in 2008, 62 percent approved a new constitution that enshrined a host of progressive principles, including food sovereignty, the rights to housing, health care and employment, and executive control over the central bank (an enormous no-no in the neoliberal playbook).
In early 2009, Correa announced that Ecuador would partially default on its foreign debt. The embassy was livid, about this and other recent actions, like Correa’s decision to align Ecuador more closely with the left-wing Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) group of nations (which was initiated by Venezuela and Cuba in 2004 as a counter-force to the Free Trade Area of the Americas, then being pushed by the Bush administration). But the ambassador was also conscious that the US had little leverage over him:
We are conveying the message in private that Correa’s actions will have consequences for his relationship with the new Obama Administration, while avoiding public comments that would be counterproductive. We do not recommend terminating any USG programs that serve our interests since that would only weaken the incentive for Correa to move back into a more pragmatic mode.
The partial default was successful, and saved the Ecuadorean government close to $2 billion. In 2011 Correa recommended the same medicine for indebted European countries, particularly Greece, advising them to default on their debt payments and “ignore” the IMF’s advice.
The Streets Are Hot
During the Cold War, the supposed threat of Soviet and Cuban communist expansion served to justify countless interventions to remove left-leaning governments and prop up right-wing military regimes.
Similarly, the WikiLeaks cables show how, in the 2000s, the specter of Venezuelan “Bolivarianism” has been used to validate interventions against new anti-neoliberal left governments, like those of Bolivia, depicted as having “fallen openly into Venezuela’s embrace;” or Ecuador, seen as a “stalking-horse for Chávez.”
US relations with the left government of Hugo Chávez soured early on. Chávez, first elected president in 1998, broadly rejected neoliberal economic policies, developed a close relationship with Cuba’s Fidel Castro, and loudly criticized the Bush administration’s assault on Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks (the US pulled its ambassador from Caracas after Chávez proclaimed: “You can’t fight terrorism with terrorism”).
He later strengthened the government’s control of the oil sector, increasing royalties paid by foreign corporations and using oil revenue to finance popular health, education and food programs for the poor.
In April 2002, the Bush administration publicly endorsed a short-lived military coup that removed Chávez from power for forty-eight hours. National Endowment for Democracy documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act showed that the US provided “democracy promotion” funding and training to groups that backed the coup and that were later involved in efforts to remove Chávez through a managerial “strike” that paralyzed the oil industry in late 2002 and plunged the country into recession.
WikiLeaks cables show that, following these failed attempts to topple Venezuela’s elected government, the US continued to back the Venezuelan opposition through NED and USAID. In a November 2006 cable, then Ambassador William Brownfield explained the USAID/OTI strategy to undermine the Chávez administration:
In August of 2004, Ambassador outlined the country team’s 5 point strategy to guide embassy activities in Venezuela for the period [2004–2006] . . . The strategy’s focus is: 1) Strengthening Democratic Institutions, 2) Penetrating Chavez’ Political Base, 3) Dividing Chavismo, 4) Protecting Vital US business, and 5) Isolating Chavez internationally.
The close ties that exist between the US embassy and various opposition groups are apparent in numerous cables. One cable from Brownfield links Súmate — an opposition NGO that played a central role in opposition campaigns — to “our interests in Venezuela.” Other cables reveal that the State Department has lobbied for international support for Súmate and encouraged US financial, political, and legal support for the organization, much of it funneled through the NED.
In August 2009, Venezuela was rocked by violent opposition protests (as has occurred a number of times under both Chávez and his successor Nicolas Maduro). One secret cable from August 27 cites USAID/OTI contractor Development Alternatives, Incorporated (DAI) referring to “all” the people protesting Chávez at the time as “our grantees”:
[DAI employee] Eduardo Fernandez said that “the streets are hot,” referring to growing protests against Chavez’s efforts to consolidate power, and “all these people (organizing the protests) are our grantees.”
The cables also reveal that the US State Department provided training and support to a student leader it acknowledged had led crowds with the intention “to lynch” a Chavista governor: “During the coup of April 2002, [Nixon] Moreno participated in the demonstrations in Merida state, leading crowds who marched on the state capital to lynch MVR governor Florencio Porras.”
Yet, a few years after this, another cable notes: “Moreno participated in [a State Department] International Visitor Program in 2004.”
Moreno would later be wanted for attempted murder and threatening a female police officer, among other charges.
Also in line with the five-point strategy as outlined by Brownfield, the State Department prioritized efforts to isolate the Venezuelan government internationally and counter its perceived influence throughout the region. Cables show how heads of US diplomatic missions in the region developed coordinating strategies to counter the Venezuelan regional “threat.”
As WikiLeaks first revealed in December 2010, the US chiefs of mission for six South American countries met in Brazil in May 2007 to develop a joint response to President Chávez’s alleged “aggressive plans … to create a unified Bolivarian movement throughout Latin America.” Among the areas of action that the mission chiefs agreed on was a plan to “continue to strengthen ties to those military leaders in the region who share our concern over Chávez.” A similar meeting of US mission chiefs from Central America — focused on the “threat” of “populist political activities in the region” — took place at the US embassy in El Salvador in March of 2006.
US diplomats went to great lengths to try to prevent Caribbean and Central American governments from joining Petrocaribe, a Venezuelan regional energy agreement that provides oil to members at extremely preferential terms. Leaked cables show that, while US officials privately acknowledged the economic benefits of the agreement for member countries, they were concerned that Petrocaribe would increase Venezuela’s political influence in the region.
In Haiti, the embassy worked closely with big oil companies to try and prevent the government of René Préval from joining Petrocaribe, despite acknowledging that it “would save USD 100 million per year,” as was first reported by Dan Coughlin and Kim Ives in the Nation. In April 2006,the embassy cabled from Port-au-Prince: “Post will continue to pressure [Haitian president René] Preval against joining PetroCaribe. Ambassador will see Preval’s senior advisor Bob Manuel today. In previous meetings, he has acknowledged our concerns and is aware that a deal with Chavez would cause problems with us.”
The Left’s Record
One must keep in mind that the WikiLeaks cables don’t offer glimpses of the more covert activities of US intelligence agencies, and are likely only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Washington’s political interference in the region. Still, the cables provide ample evidence of US diplomats’ persistent, determined efforts to intervene against independent left governments in Latin America, using financial leverage, the manifold instruments available in the “democracy promotion” toolbox — and sometimes even through violent and illegal means.
Despite the Obama administration’s restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba, there is no indication that policy toward Venezuela and other left governments in Latin America has fundamentally changed.
Certainly, the administration’s hostility toward the elected Venezuelan government is unrelenting. In June 2014, Vice President Joe Biden launched the Caribbean Energy Security Initiative, seen as an “antidote” to Petrocaribe. In March 2015, Obama declared Venezuela an “extraordinary security threat” and announced sanctions against Venezuelan officials, a move unanimously criticized by other countries in the region.
But, despite incessant US aggression, the Left has largely prevailed in Latin America. With the exception of Honduras and Paraguay, where right-wing coups ousted elected leaders, nearly every left movement that came to power in the last fifteen years remains in office today.
Largely as a result of these governments, from 2002-2013 the poverty rate for the region fell from 44 to 28 percent after actually worsening over the prior two decades. These successes, and the willingness of left leaders to take risks in order to break free of the neoliberal diktat, should be an inspiration for Europe’s new anti-austerity left today.
Certainly some of the governments are experiencing significant difficulties today, in part due to a regional economic downturn that has affected right- and left-wing governments alike. But seen through the lens of the cables, there are good reasons to question whether all of these difficulties are homegrown.
For instance, in Ecuador — where president Correa is under attack from the Right, and from some sectors of the Left — protests against the government’s new progressive tax proposals involve the same opposition-aligned business leaders that US diplomats are seen strategizing with in the cables.
In Venezuela, where a dysfunctional currency control system has generated high inflation, violent right-wing student protests seriously destabilized the country. The odds are extremely high that some of these protestors have received funding and/or training from USAID or NED, which saw its Venezuela budget increase 80 percent from 2012 to 2014.
There is still much more that we can learn from the WikiLeaks cables. For the “Latin America and the Caribbean” chapters of The WikiLeaks Files, we pored through hundreds of WikiLeaks cables, and were able to identify distinct patterns of US intervention that we describe at greater length in the book (some of these previously reported by others). Other book authors did the same for other regions of the world. But there are over 250,000 cables (nearly 35,000 from Latin America alone) and there are undoubtedly many more notable aspects of US diplomacy in action that are waiting to be uncovered.
Sadly, following the initial excitement when the cables were first released, few reporters and scholars have shown much interest in them. Until this changes, we’ll be lacking a full account of how the US state sees itself in the world, and how its diplomatic arm responds to the challenges posed to its hegemony.
<tr style="background:#eee;"><td colspan="2" style="font-size: medium; padding: 5px;color: #000; font-weight: bold; text-align: center;">SANTA CRUZ: MAY 4 AS A PANACEA</td><br/> </tr><br/> <tr style="background:#eee;"><br/> <td><div class="s_key"><a rel="nofollow" data-hasqtip="true" oldtitle="Date" alt="The date the document was created." class="i" title="">Date:</a></div><div title=" 2008 April 2, 15:58 (Wednesday)" class="s_val">2008 April 2, 15:58 (Wednesday)</div></td><br/> <td><div class="s_key"><a rel="nofollow" data-hasqtip="true" oldtitle="Canonical ID" alt="Unique document identification number.<br /><br /><i>We have created a canonical ID by taking the original document ID and adding a '_' at the end and then WikiLeaks' annotation for different datasets: Cablegate = a, the Kissinger Cables = b, etc. If document IDs are duplicated in the original datasets we number each duplicate, eg 1976WARSAW05657_b2 is the second document with that ID in the Kissinger Cables.</i>" class="i" title="">Canonical ID:</a></div><div title=" 08LAPAZ717_a" class="s_val">08LAPAZ717_a</div></td><br/> </tr><br/> <tr><br/> <td><div class="s_key"><a rel="nofollow" data-hasqtip="true" oldtitle="Original Classification" alt="Classification the document was originally given when produced.<br /><br /><a rel="nofollow" href="/plusd/about-oc/" class="j">Citations for acronyms used are available here.</a>" class="i" title="">Original Classification:</a></div><div title=" UNCLASSIFIED,FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY" class="s_val">UNCLASSIFIED,FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY</div></td><br/> <td><div class="s_key"><a rel="nofollow" data-hasqtip="true" oldtitle="Current Classification" alt="Classification the document currently holds.<br /><br /><a rel="nofollow" href="/plusd/about-cc/" class="j">Citations for acronyms used are available here.</a>" class="i" title="">Current Classification:</a></div><div title=" UNCLASSIFIED,FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY" class="s_val">UNCLASSIFIED,FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY</div></td><br/> </tr><br/><br/> <tr><br/> <td><br/><div class="s_key"><a rel="nofollow" data-hasqtip="true" oldtitle="Handling Restrictions" alt="All handling restrictions governing the document distribution that have been used to date.<br /><br /><i>In the metadata of the Kissinger Cables this field is called 'Previous Handling Restrictions'.<br /><br />Cablegate does not originally have this field. We have given it the entry 'Not Assigned'.</i><br /><br /><a rel="nofollow" href="/plusd/about-hr/" class="j">Citations for acronyms used are available here.</a>" class="i" title=""><br /><br /><i>Cablegate does not originally have this field. We have given it the entry 'Not Assigned'.</i>" class="i">Executive Order:</a></div><div title=" -- Not Assigned -- (251287 documents)" class="s_val">-- Not Assigned --</div></td><br/> <td><div class="s_key"><a rel="nofollow" data-hasqtip="true" oldtitle="Locator" alt="Where the original document is now held - online or on microfilm, or remains in "ADS" (State Department's 1973 Automated Data System of indexing by TAGS of electronic telegrams and P-reels) with the text either garbled, not converted or unretrievable.<br /><br /><i>Cablegate does not originally have this field. We have given it the entry 'TEXT ONLINE'.</i>" class="i" title="">Locator:</a></div><div title=" TEXT ONLINE (1885254 documents)" class="s_val">TEXT ONLINE</div></td><br/> </tr><br/><br/> <tr><br/> <td><div class="s_key"><a rel="nofollow" data-hasqtip="true" oldtitle="TAGS" alt="Traffic Analysis by Geography and Subject (TAGS)<br /><br />There are geographic, organization and subject "TAGS" - the classification system implemented by the Department of State for its central files in 1973.<br /><br /><a rel="nofollow" href="/plusd/about-ta/" class="j">A list of TAGS, with citations for any acronyms used, is available here.</a>" class="i" title="">TAGS:</a></div><div title=" BL - Bolivia | ECON - Economic Affairs--Economic Conditions, Trends and Potential | KPAO - Public Affairs Office | PGOV - Political Affairs--Government; Internal Governmental Affairs" class="s_val"><a rel="nofollow" href="/plusd/?q=&qftags=BL#result" target="_blank" title="BL Bolivia (11944 documents)" style="color: #216B7C;">BL<span style="color: #216B7C;"> - Bolivia</span></a> <span color:="" style="">|</span> <a rel="nofollow" href="/plusd/?q=&qftags=ECON#result" target="_blank" title="ECON Economic Affairs: Economic Conditions, Trends and Potential (75832 documents)" style="color: #216B7C;">ECON<span style="color: #216B7C;"> - Economic Affairs--Economic Conditions, Trends and Potential</span></a> <span color:="" style="">|</span> <a rel="nofollow" href="/plusd/?q=&qftags=KPAO#result" target="_blank" title="KPAO Public Affairs Office (16420 documents)" style="color: #216B7C;">KPAO<span style="color: #216B7C;"> - Public Affairs Office</span></a> <span color:="" style="">|</span> <a rel="nofollow" href="/plusd/?q=&qftags=PGOV#result" target="_blank" title="PGOV Political Affairs: Government; Internal Governmental Affairs (180409 documents)" style="color: #216B7C;">PGOV<span style="color: #216B7C;"> - Political Affairs--Government; Internal Governmental Affairs</span></a></div></td><br/> <td><div class="s_key"><a rel="nofollow" data-hasqtip="true" oldtitle="Concepts" alt="Keywords of subjects dealt with in the document.<br /><br /><i>Cablegate does not originally have this field. We have given it the entry 'Not Assigned' for this field.</i>" class="i" title="">Concepts:</a></div><div title=" -- Not Assigned --" class="s_val"><a rel="nofollow" href="/plusd/?q=&qfconcept=--+Not+Assigned+--#result" target="_blank" title="-- Not Assigned -- (251287 documents)" style="color: #216B7C; ">-- Not Assigned --</a></div></td><br/> </tr><br/><br/> <tr><br/> <td><div class="s_key"><a rel="nofollow" data-hasqtip="true" oldtitle="Enclosure" alt="Attachments or other items sent with the original document. These are not necessarily currently held in this library.<br /><br /><i class="b">Cablegate does not originally have this field. 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It is taken from subsets the documents were released in after State Department review.<br /><br />Cablegate does not originally have this field. 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We have given it the entry 'Not Assigned'. </i>" class="i" title="">Markings:</a></div><div title=" -- Not Assigned -- (251287 documents)" class="s_val">-- Not Assigned --</div></td><br/> </tr><br/><br/> <tr><br/> <td class="sc"><div class="s_key"><a rel="nofollow" data-hasqtip="true" oldtitle="To" alt="Who/where received the document.<br /><br /><a rel="nofollow" href="/plusd/about-to/" class="j">A list of destinations, with citations for any acronyms used, is available here.</a>" class="i" title="">To:</a></div><div title=" Argentina Buenos Aires | Brazil Brasilia | Brazil São Paulo | Central Intelligence Agency | Chile Santiago | Colombia Bogotá | Ecuador Quito | Paraguay Asunción | Peru Lima | Secretary of Defense | Secretary of State | Uruguay Montevideo | Venezuela Caracas" class="s_val"><a rel="nofollow" href="/plusd/?q=&qfdestination=Argentina%23%23Buenos Aires#result" title="Argentina Buenos Aires (17123 documents)" style="color: #216B7C; ">Argentina Buenos Aires</a> | <a rel="nofollow" href="/plusd/?q=&qfdestination=Brazil%23%23Brasilia#result" title="Brazil Brasilia (27806 documents)" style="color: #216B7C; ">Brazil Brasilia</a> | <a rel="nofollow" href="/plusd/?q=&qfdestination=Brazil%23%23São Paulo#result" title="Brazil São Paulo (8909 documents)" style="color: #216B7C; ">Brazil São Paulo</a> | <a rel="nofollow" href="/plusd/?q=&qfdestination=Central Intelligence Agency#result" title="Central Intelligence Agency (49267 documents)" style="color: #216B7C; ">Central Intelligence Agency </a> | <a rel="nofollow" href="/plusd/?q=&qfdestination=Chile%23%23Santiago#result" title="Chile Santiago (18094 documents)" style="color: #216B7C; ">Chile Santiago</a> | <a rel="nofollow" href="/plusd/?q=&qfdestination=Colombia%23%23Bogotá#result" title="Colombia Bogotá (18743 documents)" style="color: #216B7C; ">Colombia Bogotá</a> | <a rel="nofollow" href="/plusd/?q=&qfdestination=Ecuador%23%23Quito#result" title="Ecuador Quito (14526 documents)" style="color: #216B7C; ">Ecuador Quito</a> | <a rel="nofollow" href="/plusd/?q=&qfdestination=Paraguay%23%23Asunción#result" title="Paraguay Asunción (7080 documents)" style="color: #216B7C; ">Paraguay Asunción</a> | <a rel="nofollow" href="/plusd/?q=&qfdestination=Peru%23%23Lima#result" title="Peru Lima (17371 documents)" style="color: #216B7C; ">Peru Lima</a> | <a rel="nofollow" href="/plusd/?q=&qfdestination=Secretary of Defense#result" title="Secretary of Defense (69629 documents)" style="color: #216B7C; ">Secretary of Defense </a> | <a rel="nofollow" href="/plusd/?q=&qfdestination=Secretary of State#result" title="Secretary of State (1328443 documents)" style="color: #216B7C; ">Secretary of State </a> | <a rel="nofollow" href="/plusd/?q=&qfdestination=Uruguay%23%23Montevideo#result" title="Uruguay Montevideo (8591 documents)" style="color: #216B7C; ">Uruguay Montevideo</a> | <a rel="nofollow" href="/plusd/?q=&qfdestination=Venezuela%23%23Caracas#result" title="Venezuela Caracas (25977 documents)" style="color: #216B7C; ">Venezuela Caracas</a></div></td></tr>
1. (SBU) Summary: During a March 26-28 visit to Santa Cruz, American Presence Post officer found the city surprisingly calm and optimistic, although individual Santa Cruz citizens are outraged. They cite an increasingly long list of grievances and complaints against the central government, and they are putting all their energy and hopes into the May 4 referendum on the draft autonomy statute. Expectations among the population are high, and civic leaders recognize that hand-in-hand with the get-out-the-vote campaign they must dampen expectations for what will happen on May 5. Nonetheless, they hope a resounding "yes" vote will mark the beginning of a new negotiation (difficult though it will be) with the Morales administration which will result in restructuring the system of government in Bolivia. End summary.
Hitting Where it Hurts ---------------------- 2. (SBU) Santa Cruz citizens have reached the boiling point after a series of recent moves by the central government designed to hit where it hurts most: their wallets. The March 19 decree forbidding exports of cooking oil, an industry central to Santa Cruz's economy (reftels), were seen as a direct attack not only on the business owners, but on small producers, transportation workers, and factory employees; in all 16 sectors of the economy. Since the decree violates both market principles and common sense (hurting Bolivia's economy and trade balance as a whole), Crucenos are convinced it is merely a punishment for resistance to the government's socialist vision. The only escape valve on this pressure cooker is the May 4 vote on Santa Cruz's autonomy statute.
3. (U) As the government imported Argentine rice to resell at subsidized prices, Santa Cruz rice producers asked why the government didn't buy the product directly from them. Now that the rains have stopped and the roads are again navigable, local rice prices have dropped below those of the government's Argentine rice, which sits in warehouses. 4. (U) Strikes to protest the government ban on agricultural exports have been peaceful and controlled. Prefect (Governor) Ruben Costas called March 31 for the strikes to be lifted. He expressed his intention to participate fully in the dialogue of reconciliation led by the Catholic Church (after May 4), but at the same time called for a huge pro-autonomy rally and march on April 2 to demonstrate the unity of purpose in Santa Cruz.
Will the Real Indigenous Leaders Please Stand Up? --------------------------------------------- ---- 5. (SBU) APP met with indigenous leaders representing the five communities native to Santa Cruz. The Prefecture has designated ten percent of income from the mining, forestry and hydrocarbons sectors exclusively for development in indigenous communities, and created an office to administer the funds under the leadership of a Chiquitano. With USAID assistance, these indigenous leaders and their communities have drafted prioritized development plans, and they also serve as non-voting representatives in the regional council. Under the autonomy statute, which they had a hand in drafting, each indigenous community will have its own representative (with voting rights) in the regional council, in addition to representatives elected per district. This will result in double representation for indigenous citizens.
6. (SBU) These leaders are opposed to Evo Morales' vision for indigenous communities. One pointed to the difference between "indigenism," which he defined as reciting poetry and telling legends about noble races suffering for 500 years, and "indianism" which meant fighting for your rights and your interests. He said the government seemed obsessed with the former, while Santa Cruz indigenous leaders were working on the latter. 7. (SBU) They are particularly worried that their communal lands will be divided or taken away if the government's draft constitution is passed. They are even more worried that the land will then be given to "colonizers" from the altiplano who they believe live less in harmony with the land. (Note: These migrants are usually indigenous Aymara or Quechua.) They point for example to the environmental destruction caused by coca cultivation and the resulting natural disasters. As coca has never been an important element in Eastern indigenous cultures, they are completely opposed to the incursion of coca in their protected areas and communal lands.
8. (SBU) The indigenous leaders working with the prefecture resent the image of Morales as the indigenous face of Bolivia. However, they admit that there are many Morales supporters in their communities, and MAS party activists are campaigning hard against the autonomy statute and in favor of the draft constitution. (Media reports April 1 said that a different group of indigenous leaders had declared their respective communities autonomous in line with the vision of the draft MAS constitution.) Nonetheless, they are convinced that the majority of Santa Cruz indigenous community members favor departmental autonomy. 9. (SBU) The indigenous leaders said their most immediate need is for financial resources to travel to their communities and campaign for the statute. They feel used and abused by leaders of the Civic Committee (a group of civic associations at the forefront of the autonomy movement), saying the Civic Committee is quick to parade them as pro-autonomy indigenous representatives, but does not give them the resources needed to do the job that is expected of them (campaign in their communities).
Decentralization: It's Catching On ---------------------------------- 10. (SBU) APP met with the local branch of the citizen watchdog "Social Control Mechanism" (ref C), the Association of Municipalities of Santa Cruz (AMDECRUZ), and several private citizens and civic leaders. All are waiting anxiously for May 4, to express at the ballot box their frustration with the increasing centralism not only of the Morales government, but of other institutions. Martha Lazo Suarez, who used to form part of the national civic watchdog group "Social Control Mechanism" explained that she had returned to Santa Cruz because she wanted to be at the vanguard, shaping the model for the future political system in Bolivia. She said the prefecture has been completely open and cooperative with her office's requests and demands, and that after May 4 the hope was to further decentralize and train citizens at the municipal level to serve the anti-corruption whistle-blower function. Only then could corruption be reduced and citizens have more faith in their local officials.
11. (SBU) Likewise, AMDECRUZ leaders explained that municipal associations had been created first in each of Bolivia's nine Departments. Those nine organizations, in order to share information and lobby for their interests, had formed an association at the national level. However, the umbrella group had become a centralized beast that did not distribute resources fairly. Another of AMDECRUZ's complaints was that the government was distributing hydrocarbons taxes (IDH) based on the average price of oil and gas in 2006, not the real prices in 2007, and therefore owed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the municipalities and prefects. Other APP Outreach Activities
12. (SBU) To date, APP has met with the largest five of Santa Cruz's 14 universities: --Gabriel Rene Moreno Autonomous University, the public university --Private University of Santa Cruz (UPSA), an institution founded by the Santa Cruz Chamber of Commerce with an emphasis on business and technical fields --Private Technological University (UTEPSA) --Catholic University --Nur University, based on Bahai principles All are eager for increased relations with the United States, including speaking engagements by APP and other embassy officers, both in the capital city and in provincial branches. Though we are maintaining a low profile through May 4, we are setting the stage to meet the APP goal of increased outreach to the Embassy's target audiences -- indigenous and youth.
Comment: ------- 13. (SBU) "We just have to make it to May 4," is the common refrain which follows complaints from Santa Cruz citizens. Local leaders are wary that the government has a surprise up its sleeve to try to stop the referendum, but they are determined it will take place no matter what, and confident that Santa Cruz citizens will approve the autonomy statute with a resounding "SI!" However, leaders are also aware that May 4 is the beginning of a process, not the end. So far the government's public stance has been one of denial: to declare the referendum illegal and ignore the phenomenon that is taking place.
14. (SBU) Leaders are aware there will be no immediate solutions starting May 5, and the situation may indeed get worse before it gets better. They realize that along with the "yes" campaign, they must dampen expectations and convince citizens to be patient while the autonomy process moves forward. Leaders are also pleased that the government agreed to mediation by the Catholic Church, although they do not expect any dialogue to produce results until after May 4. While they are determined that the new "dialogue" will not derail the autonomy vote, they know that negotiating with the government is the only way to shape Bolivia afterwards.
Volume 49, Issue 4: September/October 2015
Joining Empire: Canadian Foreign Policy under Harper
Since the Conservative government of Stephen Harper came to power in 2006, shifts in Canadian foreign policy have been a flashpoint of debate in Parliament, the media, and civil society. There is general agreement that a “revolution in Canadian foreign policy” has occurred, to quote Canadian academic Alexander Moens.
For liberals, Harper’s changes are simply a product of his right-wing ideology and domestic maneuvers, and thus are amenable to executive reform. For social democrats and left-nationalists, the same perspective holds, with the added concern of US influence over Canadian state practices.
As Marxists have pointed out, the limitation of these perspectives is the absence of any political-economic analysis of Canadian state power – of any theorization of Canadian foreign policy as an expression of economic, political, and social power dynamics at home and abroad.
In this article I provide such a theory of Canadian foreign policy under the Harper government. I examine, in particular, the global context in which Canadian foreign policy operates; the policies of Liberal governments before Harper; the strategy of armoured neoliberalism that Harper has advanced; and the implementation of this strategy in several case studies. I argue that the new Canadian foreign policy is a reflection of the internationalization of Canadian capital and the restructuring of the state as an institution of class domination locally and globally.
The Global Context
The ‘revolution in Canadian foreign policy’ has to be viewed in relation to global dynamics in the world economy and state system. After the economic crises of the 1970s and 1980s, corporate elites and state managers pursued a ‘neoliberal’ model of capitalism in which wages are reduced, unions curtailed, social programs retrenched, public assets privatized, and finance and production globalized. The goal was to raise corporate profits by exploiting workers more harshly, and by creating new commodities out of nature and the public sector. Predictably, the neoliberal period has witnessed new patterns of social inequality, uneven development, and political conflict within and between countries.
The world economy, for example, has been characterized by structural imbalances – in particular, by the trade and investment relations within and between the regional blocs of North America, Western Europe, and developed Asia. Anchored by the United States, the North American bloc has been integrated as a preferential trading zone, and has tended to run systematic deficits with the European Union and key Asian economies. American deficits have been covered by dollar inflows to Wall Street and the US Treasury, allowing the US to finance its trade and government deficits, credit bubbles, and military campaigns.
Through these global value flows, US strategy has been buttressed. Since the end of the Cold War, successive US administrations have articulated a strategy of global preeminence. To this end, the US has worked to block the emergence of any competitor in Eurasia, to expand the Cold War security alliances, and to further globalize neoliberal policies.
To support this agenda, the US has engaged in global forms of disciplinary militarism. After 9/11, it increased defence spending to nearly half of world totals, and intervened militarily in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen, Haiti, and Ukraine, among other countries. Despite the failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US has developed new techniques of interventionism, including drone strikes, Special Forces operations, and cyber warfare capabilities. The US has also contrived new pretexts for regime change in ‘rogue’ or ‘failed’ states – for example, through selective applications of ‘democracy promotion’ and the ‘responsibility to protect’ civilians from oppressive governments.
Since the first Gulf War, the Middle East has been the key front of US imperialism. According to US Central Command, the US government’s fundamental interest is in protecting “uninterrupted, secure U.S./Allied access to Gulf oil.” To this end, the US has maintained its key alliances with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Israel; supported Israeli attacks on several states and resistance movements in the region, and impeded any efforts to end the occupation of Palestine; sanctioned and threatened Iran; and tried to steer the ‘Arab Spring’ in amenable directions – for example, by seeking regime change in Libya and Syria, backing repression in Bahrain and Yemen, and recognizing the 2013 military coup in Egypt. Alongside the war in Iraq, these policies have generated a vicious circle of militarism, underdevelopment, terrorism, and state failure in the region.
Beyond the Middle East, the neoliberal agenda of US grand strategy has also limited development. In 2010, the UN Development Programme admitted that the world economy had experienced “no convergence in income…because on average rich countries have grown faster than poor ones over the past 40 years. The divide between developed and developing countries persists: a small subset of countries has remained at the top of the world income distribution, and only a handful of countries that have started out poor have joined that high-income group.” Furthermore, “within countries, rising income inequality is the norm.”
The logic of global capitalism under US hegemony has thus been one of entrenched inequality and uneven development. With this in mind, how has the Canadian state positioned itself in the global system of empire?
Before Harper: Neoliberalism and Canadian Foreign Policy
Harper’s foreign policy agenda is best viewed as a radical extension of Canadian state practices in the neoliberal period. On both economic and political fronts, four dynamics have transformed the political economy of Canadian foreign policy.
First, from the mid-1980s to the present, the Canadian state has pursued a project of continental neoliberalism. Under the direction of corporate policy groups and think tanks, the goal of this strategy has been to integrate the US and Canadian economies in free-market ways, and to decompose the Canadian labour movement through new forms of regional competition. The free-trade agenda, which was embodied in the 1988 Canada-US Free Trade Agreement and the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, was a vital strategy for capital, and helped to raise the rate of profit for Canadian business from 1992 to 2007.
Second, the Canadian state worked to globalize production and investment on a broader scale. In fact, the regional strategy of continental neoliberalism was designed as a stepping-stone for Canadian corporate expansion in the world economy, particularly through foreign direct investments. By 1996, Canada had become a net exporter of direct investment capital, and Canadian corporations became leaders in several global sectors, including energy, mining, finance, aerospace, and information-and-computer-technologies. Directorship interlocks between the top tier firms of Corporate Canada and the top firms globally also increased, with Canadian corporate elites expanding their position in the ‘North Atlantic ruling class.’ On the trade front, Canada began to register a pattern in the balance-of-payments, running deficits with Europe, Asia and less developed economies, and overcoming these deficits with surpluses with the US. In these ways, the NAFTA zone supported the global links of Canadian capital.
Third, in support of these dynamics, Liberal governments worked to erect a global architecture for transnational neoliberalism. In the 1990s, this was achieved through the World Trade Organization, APEC forums, and efforts to establish a Multilateral Agreement on Investment through the OECD. In the early 2000s, the Chrétien government also sought a Free Trade Agreement of the Americas. Building on the mass campaigns against CAFTA and NAFTA, Canadian activists played a critical role in protesting these trade and investment initiatives, most notably during the 2001 Summit of the Americas in Québec City.
Fourth, Liberal governments also began a rethink of Canadian foreign policy in light of the globalization agenda and Washington’s primacy strategy. Most notably, in 1999, the Chrétien government supported NATO’s illegal attack on Serbia, and in 2001 sent troops to Afghanistan. The Chrétien and Martin governments also increased budget lines for the Department of National Defence (DND) and for Canada’s national security and intelligence agencies.
To support these efforts, they also issued several strategy documents, including the National Security Policy (2004) and the International Policy Statement (2005), both of which called for new security measures domestically and new military capabilities internationally. In addition, both governments further aligned Canada’s security and immigration policies with the US, as demonstrated in the Smart Border Declaration (2001), the Safe Third Country Agreement (2002), and the Security and Prosperity Partnership (2005). Although Canada refused to participate formally in the 2003 Iraq war, the Chrétien government offered multiple forms of military assistance, including surveillance aircraft, naval ships, military personnel on exchange programs, and a military deployment to Afghanistan to relieve US soldiers for the Gulf. The Martin government also deployed troops to Haiti in support of the 2004 coup d’état, and its Emerging Market Strategy (2005) delineated an array of supports to Canadian corporate expansion in the Third World.
The Harper government thus inherited a nascent apparatus for the internationalization of Canadian capital and the militarization of Canadian foreign policy in conjuncture with US imperialism.
Armoured Neoliberalism: Harper’s Grand Strategy
The novelty of Canadian foreign policy under Stephen Harper’s government has been the upfront class-consciousness of its geopolitical and geo-economic agenda. With support of the corporate community and defence lobby, the Harper government has articulated a new grand strategy of armoured neoliberalism: a fusion of militarism and class warfare in Canadian state policies and practices. The aims have been three-fold: to globalize Corporate Canada’s reach; to secure a core position for the Canadian state in the geopolitical hierarchy; and to discipline any opposition forces – both state and non-state – in the world order.
In pursuit of these goals, Harper has operated as “the ideal personification of the total national capital,” to quote Friedrich Engels. With this in mind, his government has developed new state capacities for military propaganda; propped up right-wing constituencies domestically for external purposes; and fortified a national security apparatus to monitor and suppress any challengers to the state/corporate nexus in Canada.
At the level of doctrine, this agenda has been spelled out in several statements. In 2008, the Canada First Defence Strategy highlighted “terrorism,” “failed and failing states,” and “insurgencies” as key security threats, and argued that Canada’s highly globalized economy relied on “security abroad.” It promised $490 billion in new military spending, and envisioned a “combat-capable” military that is interoperable with US forces.
In 2013, the Harper government released its Global Markets Action Plan, according to which “all Government of Canada assets [will be] harnessed to support the pursuit of commercial success by Canadian companies and investors in key foreign markets.” As part of this, it articulated an “extractive sector strategy” for Canadian resource investors abroad.
To support such economic interests, the Harper government published Building Resilience Against Terrorism (2012), also known as the Counter-Terrorism Strategy (CTS). This document has been the key legitimation strategy for Harper’s national security and foreign policy agenda. It begins by identifying “Islamist extremism” as the leading threat to “Canadian interests.” The importance of this threat assessment is that it bases Canadian strategy on an apolitical and ahistorical understanding of Islamist violence, one that ignores the history of Western foreign policy in the Muslim world and conflates different types of Islamist movements. In the process, it constructs a one-dimensional menace against which Canadian forces must be mobilized on a permanent basis.
Second, the CTS targets domestic movements of “environmentalism and anti-capitalism” as potential sources of terrorist violence against “energy, transportation and oil and gas assets.” It thus seeks to legitimate a class-based project of securitization in the Canadian state itself, one that can surveil and discipline any working-class or environmental challenges to Canadian capital.
The key strategy of the Harper government, then, has been to openly define the foreign and domestic interests of Canadian capital as the raison d’étre of the state. The aim is to consolidate a national security state that can advance the global interests of Canadian capital, and suppress any opposition to this agenda. With this in mind, the Harper government has further restructured the national security and foreign policy apparatuses.
For example, under the Harper government, funding for Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), a federal agency for global signals-intelligence, increased dramatically to $422 million in 2013. With such new resources, CSEC has been involved – as part of the ‘Five Eyes’ group of countries – in metadata surveillance at home and abroad; in foreign industrial espionage in support of Canadian mining and energy corporations; and in covert spying operations for the US National Security Agency.
By 2010/11, funding for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) also increased to $506 million, giving CSIS new capacities for foreign and domestic intelligence work. CSIS has been involved in communications monitoring in Canada, and in surveillance operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. It has also been complicit in the detention and torture of Canadian citizens abroad, as demonstrated in the cases of Maher Arar, Abousfian Abdelrazick, and Omar Khadr, among others. In support of this, the Harper government closed the Office of the Inspector General of CSIS, and now allows CSIS to use intelligence gained through torture by foreign security services. Within Canada, CSIS has collected intelligence on the global justice and peace movements, and has targeted indigenous activists, mosques, and migrant organizations.
The Harper government has revolutionized the foreign policy apparatus in other ways. In March 2013, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) was folded into a new Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD). In the process, Canada’s development assistance work was further linked to the economic and geopolitical interests of the state. In particular, it was torqued for making developing economies “trade and investment ready,” as former-Minister Julian Fantino put it. Alongside Export Development Canada and Natural Resources Canada, the DFATD has anchored a ‘whole-of-government’ effort for Canadian mining investment in the Third World.
Although the ‘commercialization’ of Foreign Affairs began in the early 1980s, the Harper government has advanced this process in novel ways. In particular, it tasked DFAIT with reviewing ties with emerging economies in Asia, coordinating more closely with the US State Department on trade and global security, and developing a ‘Strategy for the Americas’ in light of Canadian corporate expansion in the region (see below). It also has negotiated a series of bilateral foreign investment agreements, and supported a new arms exporting strategy in liaison with the Canadian Commercial Corporation and defence industry groups.
In 2012, it also inked a Foreign Investment Protection Agreement with China, with the two-fold aim of (1) securing and protecting long-term Chinese investment in Canada’s growing industrial sectors; and (2) offsetting the decline in US demand for Canadian exports with new patterns of trade and investment with China and Asia. While the Agreement does not provide the same reciprocity to Canadian investors in China, and while it limits Canadian democracy with respect to economic, environmental, and First Nations policies, it fully accords with the neoliberal project of globalizing Canadian capitalism. With this in mind, Harper’s DFATD has also worked on dozens of other investment and trade agreements with developing countries, many of which are recipients of large-scale investments by Canadian banking, mining, and energy firms.
The Harper government has also restructured the Department of National Defence. In October 2012, the Canadian Forces were given two command structures: the Canadian Joint Operations Command and the Canadian Special Operations Command. By 2011, Harper had increased defence spending to $22 billion, the highest level since the Second World War. In this context, the Conservative government increased regular and reserve personnel, and launched a major procurement effort, though the latter has been limited by austerity measures, the withdrawal from Afghanistan, and political incompetence. Harper also has withdrawn Canadian forces from any significant UN peacekeeping operations, supported DND efforts to build seven overseas operational support hubs, and endorsed the new DND focus on counterterrorism, defence diplomacy, and interoperability with US and NATO forces.
To support these efforts, it has tried to inculcate a new culture of militarism in Canadian civil society – for example, through yellow ribbon campaigns, war commemorations, recruitment drives, fallen soldier ceremonies, and military spectacles at professional sporting events. As historians Ian McKay and Jamie Swift argue, this “state-orchestrated cultural revolution” has aimed to “realize a specific vision of Canada, one of money for arms, more respect for soldiers, and more muscularity in foreign affairs.”
In these ways, then, the Harper government has embedded a new calculus of power in the grand strategy and institutional resume of the state. It has consolidated a national security apparatus at home, and redefined the strategy of Canadian foreign policy abroad, around a class-based imperialism.
Exploitation and Destruction: Harper In Action
The key foreign policy actions of the Harper government have revealed the logic of armoured neoliberalism in Canadian grand strategy. The war in Afghanistan has been the most important case in point. Upon taking office, the Conservative government fully embraced the counterinsurgency mission in Kandahar, and continued to extend the deployment until Spring 2011, after which Canadian forces were mandated with a three-year training mission for Afghan security services. Through a Strategic Advisory Team in President Karzai’s office, Canadian military personnel were entrenched in the Afghan state, and played a key role in drafting a neoliberal development plan for that country. This plan involved privatizing state assets, deregulating the domestic economy, and liberalizing trade and investment. International donors largely managed the distribution of aid funds, and NGOs established projects across the country, without coordinating with the state.
Under the Harper government, the majority of Canadian aid spending was militarized as part of supporting the war in Kandahar. However, as Nipa Banerjee, the former head of CIDA operations in Afghanistan, has revealed, “all the projects have failed” and “none of them have been successful.”
The Canadian military mission also failed to achieve its stated aims of pacification, democratization, and development. While it prevented the Taliban from taking over Kandahar City, it failed to defeat the insurgency, antagonized the population, empowered warlords and drug traffickers, killed civilians and destroyed infrastructure, and knowingly transferred detainees to torture by Afghan security personnel. In these ways, Canada practiced a neoliberal form of militarism in Afghanistan – one that liberalized the Afghan economy, and established a client state for western influence in the region.
The same logic was apparent in Harper’s Strategy for the Americas, which was designed to support Canadian corporate investment, bolster conservative governments, curry influence in Washington, and beat back left-wing movements. Nowhere was this more evident than in Honduras, where, in June 2009, the democratically elected President was abducted and flown out of the country by the military. He was replaced by a dictatorship, led by prominent members of the Honduran oligarchy, which cracked down violently on demonstrations.
Canada quickly emerged as one of the dictatorship’s closest allies, consistently blaming the former-President for the crisis and lauding the accomplishments of the dictatorship. Though the OAS immediately ejected Honduras, demanding the restitution of democracy, Canada lobbied to have Honduras re-instated. Indeed, Canada helped the dictatorship create the appearance of democracy and rule of law, twice accepting the results of fraudulent elections and sending a representative to a sham ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’, despite Amnesty International’s denunciation of the dictatorship for using death squads to assassinate activists and journalists.
In 2011, Canada announced that it had signed a free trade agreement with Honduras, which would further reduce taxes and operating constraints on mining, garment, and tourist industry capital in Honduras. Canada has also helped train Honduran police, as part of Canada’s emphasis on security – which makes sense in a context where Honduran communities have been mobilizing against Canadian companies like Goldcorp and Gildan.
Similar interests guided the Conservative government’s interventions in Haiti after the 2012 earthquake. In public statements, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon averred that Canada’s military deployment was “all about solidarity…all about helping [Haiti] in its hour of need.” Classified DFAIT documents reveal, however, that Canada’s main priority was containing both “the risks of a popular uprising” and the “rumour that [left-wing] ex-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide…wants to organize a return to power.” The same documents reveal that Canada also supported a neoliberal reconstruction effort, one that involved a “real paradigm shift” and a “fundamental, structural rebuilding of [Haitian] society and its systems.” With this in mind, roughly 97 per cent of Canadian relief funds bypassed the Haitian government, going instead to the UN and international NGOs. As a result, it compounded what Canadian academic Justin Podur calls the “new dictatorship” in Haiti: a coalition of foreign and domestic elites that dominate and exploit the country through neoliberal methods of political, economic, and military control.
The same practices have appeared in Harper’s Middle East policies. To begin, Harper has given unqualified support to Israel and its apartheid system in Palestine. As part of this, he changed Canada’s voting patterns on Palestine at the UN, and boycotted the elected Palestinian Authority in 2006. Harper also backed the Israeli assault on Lebanon (2006), as well as successive Israeli attacks on Gaza, which the UN and human rights groups have described as war crimes. To build support for these policies, the Harper government has established strong ties with the Israel lobby in Canada, and has disingenuously conflated the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment (BDS) movement with Anti-Semitism.
The Harper government was also quick to join NATO’s 2011 war for regime change in Libya. While popular protests against Gadhafi’s government had emerged in parts of the country, and while the UN Security Council had sanctioned a no-fly zone, the NATO mission focused primarily on bombing government, military, and civilian infrastructure in support of the insurgency. Canadian intelligence officers had warned the DND that, “there is the increasing possibility that the situation in Libya will be transformed into a long-term tribal/civil war.” They also warned that, given the presence of “several Islamist insurgent groups” in the opposition, the Canadian-commanded NATO mission ran the risk of becoming “al-Qaida’s air force.” That Canada, the US, and NATO ignored such warnings indicates (1) the persistent fallacy of such ‘humanitarian wars’; (2) the western strategy to contain the Arab Spring and to exert greater control over Libya’s oil wealth; (3) the strategic interest in testing US AFRICOM’s reach into the continent; and (4) the ongoing use of jihadist groups for imperial ends.
In the wake of Libya, Canada also established closer ties to the economies and security apparatuses of the Gulf Arab monarchies. For example, Canadian arms exports to the region have boomed under the Harper government, reaching tens of billions of dollars. Saudi Arabia, in particular, has become a close ally of Canada’s Middle East policy. It has purchased approximately $15 billion in Canadian military exports; supported other business ventures by Canadian firms such as Bombardier and SNC Lavalin; and participated in Canadian navy and air force exercises. As Canadian journalist, Yves Engler, has noted, “the Conservatives’ ties to the Saudi monarchy demonstrate the absurdity … of Harper’s claim that ‘we are taking strong, principled positions in our dealings with other nations, whether popular or not’.”
Finally, Harper was quick to insert the Canadian military into the US war against Islamic State (IS) – in particular, through a Special Forces training mission for Kurdish peshmerga militias, an air campaign of CF-18 Hornets, and an aid program for Iraqi and Syrian refugees in the region (though not for settlement in Canada). While Canadian efforts have achieved some success in containing IS capacities in northern Iraq, they fit within a larger strategy that is highly contradictory.
First, the war strategy ignores how the sectarian, neoliberal policies of the US occupation of Iraq created the impetus for IS’ emergence. Second, it ignores how the western strategy of regime change in Syria created another opportunity for IS to advance alongside other jihadist currents, including al-Qaeda in Syria. Third, it involves military forces from the Gulf dictatorships, which share and promote the same ideology as IS. Fourth, it ignores the sectarian character of the Iraqi government and its role in alienating the Sunni population. Fifth, judging from the military engagements to date, it is unclear if western strategy is to defeat or simply contain IS for imperial ends in the region. Sixth, the strategy has not confronted the active role of NATO-member Turkey in supporting IS. And finally, it has refused open collaboration with other forces in the region – namely, Iran, Hezbollah, and the Syrian government – that are also fighting IS and al-Qaida.
For these reasons, Canada’s new engagement in Iraq and Syria is an imperialist war that will likely compound the cycle of militarism, sectarianism, underdevelopment, and state failure in the region, to the detriment of popular struggles.
The conflict in Ukraine has been the last major front of Harper’s imperial statecraft. The conflict has been over-determined by several dynamics of geopolitical and geo-economic rivalry in the post-Cold War period, including the eastward expansion of NATO, US violations of Russian sovereignty, NATO’s rejection of any Russian security interests near its borders, US plans for nuclear superiority, western fury over Russian assistance to Syria, and fears of Russian-Chinese ‘balancing’ of US/NATO dominance. The ‘New Cold War’ of western foreign policy partly explains the authoritarian nationalism of Putin’s government and its actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine after the US-backed coup d’état in Kyiv in February 2014.
In this conflict, Canada has played a prominent role. In the events leading up to the coup, opposition protestors were allowed to occupy the Canadian embassy in Kyiv for several days. Canada also recognized the coup government and the subsequent elections of limited legitimacy. In addition, it provided hundreds of millions of dollars in bilateral aid; backed a host of NATO Reassurance Measures; imposed a sanctions policy (albeit with loopholes for Canadian corporate ties with Russia); and deployed military trainers for the counterinsurgency in eastern Ukraine. In June 2015, it also signed a free-trade agreement with the Ukrainian government, which has subsequently solicited Canadian investors to purchase billions of dollars of soon-to-be privatized public enterprises. In taking these positions, the Harper government also aimed to buttress its links to conservative forces in Ukrainian-Canadian communities in several urban ridings.
However, Harper’s policies vis-à-vis Russia and Ukraine are not driven by such electoral machinations. While corporate interests are largely peripheral to this conflict, the Harper government has worked to advance the class interests of Canadian imperialism. As ‘the ideal personification of the total national capital,’ Harper has escalated the political, economic, and military conflict with Russia as a means of asserting Canadian state power in a changing global order, one that is increasingly multi-polar and resistant to US/NATO preeminence. As a result, the ‘whole-of-government’ engagement with Ukraine fits within a larger system of economic, political, and military rivalry at the global level. It thus exemplifies the class-based nature of Harper’s foreign policy, and his strategic mobilization of domestic constituencies for political, economic, and military purposes abroad.
Harper’s foreign policy is an avatar for changing dynamics of economic and political power in Canada and around the world. Although Harper himself has played a critical role in conceptualizing and advancing the new grand strategy of armoured neoliberalism, his government is merely supporting the logic of Canadian corporate expansion. As such, Harper’s imprint on Canadian foreign policy is best understood as a hegemonic strategy of the state-capital nexus in the context of neoliberal globalization and US primacy objectives.
With this in mind, any strategy to challenge the new Canadian imperialism will have to address the political economy of capital and class at home and abroad. To this end, the further building of working-class, indigenous, and environmental movements will be of vital service to peace and global justice.
Jerome Klassen is a Research Fellow at the MIT Center for International Studies, and is author of Joining Empire: The Political Economy of the New Canadian Foreign Policy (University of Toronto Press, 2014). He thanks Tyler Shipley, Anthony Fenton, and Greg Shupak for support in writing this article.
<!-- .entry-header -->Clinton shared classified identity of CIA source, Gowdy reveals in scathing letter to top Benghazi committee Dem
A Hillary Clinton confidante and informal adviser used his direct access to the then-secretary of state to promote his business interests in Libya during that country’s 2011 unrest, newly released documents reveal.
According to a letter from Rep. Trey Gowdy (R., Okla.), chairman of the House panel investigating the 2012 attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, Clinton internally raised the possibility of employing American security contractors, one of which Sidney Blumenthal had a direct financial interest in.
In a letter last week to Rep. Elijah Cummings (D., Md.), the ranking Democrat on the Benghazi committee, Gowdy also reveals that Blumenthal, who frequently emailed Clinton regarding the security situation in Libya, sent an email to Clinton’s personal address containing the name of a Central Intelligence Agency source in Libya.
“This information, the name of a human source, is some of the most protected information in our intelligence community, the release of which could jeopardize not only national security but also human lives,” Gowdy wrote.
“Armed with that information, Secretary Clinton forwarded the email to a colleague—debunking her claim that she never sent any classified information from her private email address,” Gowdy noted.
That apparent breach of sensitive information and Blumenthal’s attempts to get Clinton on board with efforts to secure Libyan government contracts for his company “raise the likelihood that the Committee will need to bring back Sidney Blumenthal to reopen his deposition,” Gowdy wrote.
The new revelations were contained in a batch of 1,500 emails from Clinton provided to the committee last month. According to Gowdy, 500 pages of those emails were to or from Blumenthal.
Blumenthal frequently emailed Clinton with intelligence reports on the situation in Libya gleaned through what has been described as an off-the-books “spy network.”
“At the same time that Blumenthal was pushing Secretary Clinton to war in Libya, he was privately pushing a business interest of his own in Libya that stood to profit from contracts with the new Libyan government—a government that would exist only after a successful U.S. intervention in Libya that deposed Qaddafi,” Gowdy wrote.
Among the newly revealed emails were a pair of messages from July 2011 in which Blumenthal described efforts to secure Libyan government contracts for Osprey Global Solutions, a company in which Blumenthal has admitted to having a financial interest.
Blumenthal warned Clinton that French companies were looking to scoop up security contracts from the Transitional National Council, the revolutionary government of the Libyan resistance, and plugged Osprey’s ability to be an American counterweight.
“It puts Americans in a central role without being direct battle combatants,” Blumenthal wrote of Osprey’s TNC contract. He described his efforts in “putting this arrangement together through a series of connections, linking the Libyans to Osprey and keeping it moving.”
Clinton forwarded that message to Jake Sullivan, her deputy chief of staff, and asked to discuss it later.
Emails also show that Clinton actively promoted security arrangements that might have benefitted Osprey. Blumenthal told Clinton in an April 2011 email that Libyan revolutionary leaders were “considering the possibility of hiring private security firms to help train and organize their forces.”
Clinton forwarded that email to Sullivan, adding, “the idea of using private security experts to arm the opposition should be considered.”
Gowdy shared that information in an effort to defend the Benghazi Committee’s work in the wake of comments from House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) that, Democrats claim, suggests political motivations for the committee’s investigation into Clinton and activities concerning the Benghazi attacks.
Gowdy slammed Cummings in his letter for reversing his calls for all of Clinton’s relevant emails to be made public by failing to join the committee in its attempts to make sure that none of the emails were missing.
“Only in Washington, D.C. can both the author of the emails and the ranking member of a committee call for the disclosure of all relevant emails and then complain that all relevant emails were disclosed,” wrote Gowdy.
Gowdy said that his Democratic colleagues on the committee have a “complete lack of interest in gathering any facts whatsoever.”
“Your Democrat colleagues and you have contributed nothing substantively to the committee’s investigation over the past seventeen months—you have not requested a single new witness interview nor have you made one single document request to any Executive Branch agency,” wrote Gowdy.
Gowdy also charged that Democratic committee members rarely show up for witness interviews, and stay “only long enough to apologize to the witness, ask questions about Secretary Clinton, and then address the media.”
Gowdy acknowledges that Cummings is “under extreme pressure” from Democrats to “act as an apologist and defense attorney for this Administration.”
“Your duty as Ranking Member of this Committee has not been to the American public, but to your Democrat colleagues and to the Administration, including former Secretary Clinton,” wrote Gowdy.
“I was hopeful that we could rise above the din of partisanship and show America that Congress can in fact serve American interests in the aftermath of tragedy,” wrote Gowdy. “But it takes two to accomplish that objective, and your continued actions as a defense lawyer for the Administration have rendered my hope false.”
Although Gowdy doubts that Cummings will change course, he called on Cummings to “rise above” political pressures.
“You may, and no doubt will, attempt to continue characterizing our motives however you feel may be politically expedient for the Democrats,” wrote Gowdy.
“I hope you are finally able to rise above the political pressures you face and remember why we are here: the promises we made more than a year ago to the families of our fallen heroes.”
Benghazi Committee: New Emails Show Clinton Promoted Blumenthal Interests in Libya11:39 AM, Oct 8, 2015 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
The House Select Committee on Benghazi will be making public next week new documents that demonstrate Sidney Blumenthal was seeking business in Libya as he was advising then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on U.S. policy in the country. According to a letter from Chairman Trey Gowdy to Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the committee, at least once Clinton sought to aid Blumenthal's business interests in Libya.
The 13-page letter also details new concerns about compromised security on Clinton's email, noting that in one unsecured email Blumenthal appears to name a top CIA source in Libya --a revelation that could compromise the safety of that source if it became known publicly.
In a statement accompanying the letter, Gowdy makes some of his strongest accusations to date about the Obama administration's obstruction of the committee's work.
“These messages should have been made public when the State Department released Secretary Clinton’s other self-selected records on Libya and Benghazi, but there was a clear decision at the time to withhold this information from the American people and the Committee," reads the letter. "The State Department has now made these messages available, and the Committee intends to question Secretary Clinton about them during her appearance.”
Gowdy did not identify the individuals responsible for the "clear decision" to withhold information. The new documents add to a long list of materials withheld by the Obama administration and Clinton and her lawyers, and raise further questions about what other documents have not yet been turned over to the committee.
- 11 minutes ago
Libya crisis: UN proposes unity government
The United Nations envoy for Libya has proposed the formation of a national unity government after months of difficult talks.
Since 2014 Libya has had two rival parliaments - an Islamist-backed one in Tripoli and an internationally recognised government in the east.
UN envoy Bernardino Leon told a news conference in Morocco that Fayez Sarraj would be nominated as prime minister.
But both parliaments must back the deal and some MPs cast doubt on the UN plan.
Abdulsalam Bilashahir, of the Tripoli-based General National Congress (GNC), told the BBC: "We are not a part of this (proposed) government. It means nothing to us and we were not consulted."
Ibrahim Alzaghiat, of the House of Representatives (HoR), based in Tobruk, said: "This proposed government will lead to the division of Libya and will turn it into a joke. Mr Leon's choice was unwise."
However, Mr Leon said he believed that the list of proposed ministers for the unity body "can work".
"After a year of work in this process, after working with more than 150 Libyan personalities from all the regions, finally the moment has come in which we can propose a national unity government," Mr Leon said in the Moroccan city of Skhirat.
"All of them will work as a team. This was not an easy task," he added.
Other posts in the proposed government include three deputies for the prime minister to represent Libya's east, west and south.
BBC North Africa correspondent Rana Jawad says there are now likely to be long talks in the rival authorities over whether to accept the proposal.
One of the proposed deputy prime ministers, Mussa al-Kouni, said: "The hardest part has just begun."
A loose alliance of militias, including Islamists, seized the capital, Tripoli, in August 2014 and reinstated the GNC, forcing the existing and internationally recognised government to flee to the eastern city of Tobruk.
Libya's politicians have faced increasing pressure from the West to reach agreement on a unity government.
Libya has suffered years of unrest since the overthrow of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
The violence and political chaos have allowed Islamist militants to gain ground in Libya and also seen human traffickers use the Libyan coast to send tens of thousands of migrants across the Mediterranean to Europe.
- 6 October 2015
Libya's parliament extends mandate
Libya's internationally recognised parliament has voted to extend its term beyond 20 October.
The move could complicate efforts by the UN and Western powers to bring an end to the country's protracted political stalemate.
The parliament's spokesman said it was still supporting UN-sponsored talks that resumed in Morocco this week.
Libya has had two rival parliaments and governments, backed by rival militia groups, since last summer.
The move to extend the parliament's mandate was passed by 112 out of 131 MPs.
The assembly had acted to "avoid a vacuum in the country", MP Tarek Juroushi told the Reuters news agency.
Both parties taking part in UN-backed negotiations have been on the fence over the latest draft agreement, which the UN says can no longer be amended, the BBC's North Africa correspondent Rana Jawad reports.
The country's politicians are facing increasing pressure from the West to reach an agreement, she adds.
How a small Libyan town insulated itself from surrounding chaos
In today’s chaotic Libya, one town stands out as a safe haven where crime rates are down and fighting is considered a thing of the past. Bani Walid is a mountainous town some 180 kilometers (112 miles) southeast of Tripoli, the capital. Its residents and those who had been displaced from it are secure. It is the home of Libya’s largest tribe, Warfalla, whose members are scattered around the rest of the country. Bani Walid and its people became famous for their relentless steadfastness against the NATO-backed rebels. The last town in Libya to be captured by them in September 2011, it soon freed itself of the rebels and gangs.
In 2012, its own volunteer security brigade forced the few rebels out of town, and the town’s elders set up the Social Council of Warfalla Tribes (SCWT) as a civilian collective leadership body responsible for managing its affairs.
I've visited Bani Walid, my hometown, many times over the last couple of years. Every time I come to Libya I check on friends and family and talk to people about how the town is progressing. On my September visit, I was in for a surprise. Bani Walid had actually become a beacon of peace, security and a mecca for those seeking shelter from other troubled towns in Libya. During the second half of September the town received nearly 200 families who fled Sirte as the Islamic State strengthened its control of the coastal town some 250 kilometers northeast of Bani Walid. I spoke to SCWT’s chairman, Salah Maeuf, a professor of history at the local university and tribal leader. “I answered the call when my town needed me,” he explained when asked why he accepted the leadership position. He said, “Bani Walid now is far different from what it was three years ago. It is more peaceful and much more secure compared to the rest of Libya.”
Read More: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2015/10/libya-bani-walid-town-security-safety-self-governance-chaos.htmlMustafa Fetouri
Bani Walid's own volunteer security force, a group of civilians commonly known as al-Saria, keeps their town safe. Crimes such as extortion and kidnapping shot up between 2012 and 2014, while the small official police force in town was unable to work properly due to a lack of effective government across Libya. Salah told Al-Monitor that al-Saria “enjoys the support of our council, our social-tribal cover and legitimacy.” In practical terms, this means no known criminal or suspect will be able to claim tribal protection once implicated in any crime, and many have been jailed and disowned by their tribes in the process.
The majority of people in Bani Walid support the work done by the volunteer security force. It is now rare to see arms on display in the streets. The checkpoints around the town are manned by teams of guards made up of civilians and former police officers. Inside the town itself there are no checkpoints at all. As a demonstration, Salah encouraged me to witness a small celebration commemorating the third anniversary of the decision by the General National Congress on Sept. 25, 2012, allowing the militias to invade the town, claiming it harbors remnants of the former regime. Such events in lawless Libya are usually celebrated by gunfire, among other activities. Yet, this time around, the celebration went smoothly without a single bullet fired nor a single arm on display.
The event brought together victims’ families and representatives of other tribes across Libya who came to express their support for Bani Walid and to try to learn from its experience in self-governing.
While chaos and a lack of security dominates the lives of most Libyan cities and towns, Bani Walid is increasingly becoming the safest place in Libya thanks to its own people, led by its elders. In harmonic social cohesion, people cooperate to solve the challenges facing the town. The latest such challenge is accommodating and feeding the nearly 200 families who fled Sirte. Many of them are Warfalla — meaning they have relatives and family members in Bani Walid — but many others are not. In previous waves of displaced people coming to the town, the tribal council used to donate apartments and food, but this time residents of Bani Walid are volunteering to provide help, ensuring that not a single displaced family goes without shelter, food and other necessities. Displaced children are sent to the local schools.
Since its creation in late 2011 right after the war, the tribal council has provided political and social leadership, and aims to play a role at the national level. So far it has attracted at least another 50 tribes from all over Libya that share its agenda of rebuilding the country through reactivating its social network of tribes, despite the political wrangling that has so far failed to produce any tangible results.
Syria without Assad would be like Libya – bishop
If Syrian president Bashar al-Assad were removed from power now, Syria would become like Libya, a Syrian bishop has warned.
Archbishop Jacques Behnan Hindo, Syrian Catholic Archbishop of Hasakeh-Nisibi, said “the Syrians will decide if and when Assad has to go away, and not the Daesh [the so-called Islamic State] or the West,” continuing “and it is certain that if Assad goes away now, Syria will become like Libya”.
He also warned that the ISIS-besieged city of Deir al Zor has run out of food so that its population is “literally starving”.
The archbishops’ comments came in the aftermath of American criticism of Russian attacks on anti-Assad rebels linked with al-Qaeda. “US Senator John McCain protested saying that the Russians are not bombing the positions of the Islamic State, but rather the anti-Assad rebels trained by the CIA,” the archbishop said, continuing, “I find these words are disturbing. They represent a blatant admission that behind the war against Assad there is also the CIA.”
Russian president Vladimir Putin, who has long backed President Assad, claims western intervention in the Middle East has caused the current Middle East crisis. Speaking in the UN last month he said “an aggressive foreign interference has resulted in a brazen destruction of national institutions and the lifestyle itself”, criticising how “policies based on self-conceit and belief in one’s exceptionality and impunity have never been abandoned”.
Calling for a coalition to fight Islamist terrorism, he said that “any attempts to play games with terrorists, let alone to arm them, are not just short-sighted but fire-hazardous”.
The Russian president’s UN address was followed by air attacks on a succession of targets identified by the Syrian government, which is believed to be responsible for the majority of deaths in the country since the civil war began in early 2011. Among those attacked were Islamist rebels including Al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch, the so-called ‘Army of Conquest’.
“Western propaganda keeps talking about moderate rebels, who do not exist,” said Archbishop Hindo, continuing, “there is something very disturbing about all this: there is a superpower that since September 11 protests because the Russians hit the militias of al-Qaeda in Syria. What does it mean? Al-Qaeda is now a US ally, just because in Syria it has a different name? But do they really despise our intelligence and our memory?”
Russian planes have since been reported to have attacked ISIS targets at the city of Palmyra, where a 2000-year-old triumphal arch was destroyed on Monday.
On September 24 I gave a keynote presentation at Purdue University about the NSA, Edward Snowden, and national security journalism in the age of surveillance. It was part of the excellent Dawn or Doom colloquium, which I greatly enjoyed. The organizers live-streamed my talk and promised to provide me with a permalink to share.
After unexplained delays, I received a terse email from the university last week. Upon advice of counsel, it said, Purdue “will not be able to publish your particular video” and will not be sending me a copy. The conference hosts, once warm and hospitable, stopped replying to my emails and telephone calls. I don’t hold it against them. Very likely they are under lockdown by spokesmen and lawyers.
Naturally, all this piqued my curiosity. With the help of my colleague Sam Adler-Bell, I think I have pieced together most of the story.
It turns out that Purdue has wiped all copies of my video and slides from university servers, on grounds that I displayed classified documents briefly on screen. A breach report was filed with the university’s Research Information Assurance Officer, also known as the Site Security Officer, under the terms of Defense Department Operating Manual 5220.22-M. I am told that Purdue briefly considered, among other things, whether to destroy the projector I borrowed, lest contaminants remain.
UPDATE: Just after posting this item I received an email from Julie Rosa, who heads strategic communications for Purdue. She confirmed that Purdue wiped my video after consulting the Defense Security Service, but the university now believes it went too far.
“In an overreaction while attempting to comply with regulations, the video was ordered to be deleted instead of just blocking the piece of information in question. Just FYI: The conference organizers were not even aware that any of this had happened until well after the video was already gone.”
“I’m told we are attempting to recover the video, but I have not heard yet whether that is going to be possible. When I find out, I will let you know and we will, of course, provide a copy to you.”
Let’s rewind. Information Assurance? Site Security?
These are familiar terms elsewhere, but new to me in a university context. I learned that Purdue, like a number of its peers, has a “facility security clearance” to perform classified U.S. government research. The manual of regulations runs to 141 pages. (Its terms forbid uncleared trustees to ask about the work underway on their campus, but that’s a subject for another day.) The pertinent provision here, spelled out at length in a manual called Classified Information Spillage, requires “sanitization, physical removal, or destruction” of classified information discovered on unauthorized media.
If I had the spider sense that we journalists like to claim, I might have seen trouble coming. One of the first questions in the Q & A that followed my talk was:
“In the presentation you just gave, you were showing documents that were TS/SCI [top secret, sensitive compartmented information] and things like that. Since documents started to become published, has the NSA issued a declass order for that?”
I took the opportunity to explain the government’s dilemmas when classified information becomes available to anyone with an internet connection. I replied:
“These documents, by and large, are still classified. And in many cases, if you work for the government and you have clearance, you’re not allowed to go look at them…”
“Now, it’s perfectly rational for them to say, we’re not going to declassify everything that gets leaked because otherwise we’re letting someone else decide what’s classified and what’s not. But it gets them wound up in pretty bad knots.”
By way of example, I mentioned that the NSA, CIA, and Office of the Director of National Intelligence “have steadfastly refused to give me a secure channel to communicate with them” about the Snowden leaks. Bound by rules against mingling classified and unclassified communications networks, they will not accept, for example, encrypted emails from me that discuss Top Secret material. In service of secrecy rules, they resort to elliptical conversation on open telephone lines.
My remarks did not answer the question precisely enough for one post-doctoral research engineer. He stood, politely, to nail the matter down.
“Were the documents you showed tonight unclassified?” he asked.
“No. They’re classified still,” I replied.
“Thank you,” he said, and resumed his seat.
Eugene Spafford, a Purdue professor of computer science who has held high clearances himself, wrote to me afterward: “We have a number of ‘junior security rangers’ on faculty & staff who tend to be ‘by the book.’ Unfortunately, once noted, that is something that cannot be unnoted.”
Sure enough, someone filed a report with the above-mentioned Information Assurance Officer, who reported in turn to Purdue’s representative at the Defense Security Service. By the terms of its Pentagon agreement, Purdue was officially obliged to be shocked to find that spillage is going on at a talk about Snowden and the NSA. Three secret slides, covering perhaps five of my ninety minutes on stage, required that video be wiped in its entirety.
This was, I think, a rather devout reading of the rules. (Taken literally, the rules say Purdue should also have notified the FBI. I do not know whether that happened.) A more experienced legal and security team might have taken a deep breath and applied the official guidance to “realistically consider the potential harm that may result from compromise of spilled information.”
Or perhaps not. Yes, the images I displayed had been viewed already by millions of people online. Even so, federal funding might be at stake for Purdue, and the notoriously vague terms of the Espionage Act hung over the decision. For most lawyers, “abundance of caution” would be the default choice.
This kind of zeal is commonplace in the military and intelligence services. They have periodically forbidden personnel — and even their families — to visit mainstream sites such as the Washington Post and the New York Times for fear of exposure to documents from Snowden or Wikileaks.
But universities are not secret agencies. They cannot lightly wear the shackles of a National Industrial Security Program, as Purdue agreed to do. The values at their core, in principle and often in practice, are open inquiry and expression.
I do not claim I suffered any great harm when Purdue purged my remarks from its conference proceedings. I do not lack for publishers or public forums. But the next person whose talk is disappeared may have fewer resources.
More importantly, to my mind, Purdue has compromised its own independence and that of its students and faculty. It set an unhappy precedent, even if the people responsible thought they were merely following routine procedures.
Think of it as a classic case of mission creep. Purdue invited the secret-keepers of the Defense Security Service into one cloistered corner of campus (“a small but significant fraction” of research in certain fields, as the university counsel put it). The trustees accepted what may have seemed a limited burden, confined to the precincts of classified research.
Now the security apparatus claims jurisdiction over the campus (“facility”) at large. The university finds itself “sanitizing” a conference that has nothing to do with any government contract. Where does it stop? Suppose a professor wants to teach a network security course, or a student wants to write a foreign policy paper, that draws on the rich public record made available by Snowden and Chelsea Manning? Those cases will be hard to distinguish from mine.
If the faculty and trustees are comfortable with this arrangement, I honestly do not know how.
Some are not, I discovered.
“There is a fundamental conflict between the role of the university and the application of the [facility clearance] rules,” Spafford told me. “I’m not sure if the university is taking them too far, or if the rules are too constraining and they didn’t understand what they were getting into.”
Before writing this post, I reached out to a vice president and other senior figures I met on campus. I hoped to find that there had been some mistake. I received no reply.
Then I left word for Mitch Daniels, the former Indiana governor who became Purdue’s president two years ago. Daniels had introduced my talk and asked me to speak again for guests at a dinner he held that night. He was a delightful, well-read and open-minded host, but he has not returned my messages either. I sent one last note, detailing my main points here, to Purdue’s assistant vice president for strategic communications. I’ll update with her reply if she sends one.
The irony is that the Dawn or Doom colloquium was Daniels’s own personal project. Two of the organizers told me he is fascinated by the contradictory responses — from celebration to alarm — that tend to accompany big technological advances. He proposed to convene Purdue faculty members and leading national experts to explore the risks and promises of artificial intelligence, robotics, and Big Data surveillance, among other developments.
In his own view, Dawn or Doom is not a hard question. Daniels and I chatted about that theme as we stood in the wings off stage, shortly before my talk.
“The answer always turns out to be, it’s dawn,” he said.
Postscript: Someone is bound to suggest I post the Purdue talk here. I wish I could, but I did not write it out. Nor are the slides self-explanatory. Most of them are just amusing images, intended to make my remarks sound wittier than they probably are. On the other hand: If you have a samizdat copy of the video, please send it my way. I’ll be glad to publish it.
It holds to something called the doctrine of American exceptionalism, which maintains that the U.S. has a special role in the world.
Some interpretations of the doctrine argue that America should not be subject to international laws governing other nations. They are also bound up in Christianity and a desire to export American values.
So little wonder that, when it comes to militaristic excesses, the U.S. holds itself to a different standard.
For example, the White House and the State Department maintain lists of terrorist organizations and of states they accuse of supporting terror.
Washington has also seen to it that several foreign leaders have been indicted and judged for war crimes.
At the same time, it brushes off as ridiculous any assertion that America has funded or supported terrorists, despite ample evidence to that effect over the years, in places like Central America, Southeast Asia and Afghanistan.
America's violent proxies abroad are always "freedom fighters," because fighting on America's behalf is per se fighting for freedom, under the circular logic of the doctrine of exceptionalism.
Russian Cruise Missiles Help Syrians Go on the Offensive
OCT. 7, 2015
BEIRUT, Lebanon — Russia and Syria unleashed a coordinated assault by land, air and sea on Wednesday, seeking to reverse recent gains by rebel groups that were beginning to encroach on the Syrian coast, a critical bastion of power for President Bashar al-Assad.
Moscow said it had fired 26 cruise missiles at Syrian targets from naval vessels in the Caspian Sea, 900 miles away, though it was not immediately clear whether they had struck in the area of the ground offensive.
Although in its early stages, the coordinated attack has revealed the outline of a newly deepened and operationally coordinated alliance among Syria, Iran, Russia and the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah, according to an official with the alliance, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss military strategy.
The official said the Russian intervention — a result of plans by the four allies over at least four to six months — had rejuvenated Syrian government forces and put to rest any doubts about Russia’s commitment to the Syrian president.
Despite Western calls for his departure, Mr. Assad remains in power more than four years into a war that has killed a quarter of a million people and displaced half the country.
“No more questions,” the official said in tones of renewed confidence and optimism. “Not at any level.”
For Mr. Assad’s supporters and opponents alike, regionally and internationally, Russia’s increasing willingness to throw its full military power behind him is a game-changer. For his supporters, it gives a respite to depleted ranks of fighters and bolsters morale. For his opponents, it means taking on a vastly stronger foe and severely constrains options — for instance, virtually ruling out the imposition of a no-fly zone or buffer zone along the border with Turkey.
Russia has focused its earliest operations on the insurgent coalition known as the Army of Conquest, or Jaish al-Fatah, rather than on the Islamic State, according to the official from the pro-government alliance, because it is the Army of Conquest’s positions that most urgently threaten the crucial government-held coastal province of Latakia, while Islamic State forces are farther to the east and can later be isolated and hit. Latakia is Mr. Assad’s family’s ancestral home and the heartland of his fellow Alawites, who provide a critical bloc of support.
Wednesday was the first time since the spring that the government’s forces had moved “from defense to offense,” the official said.
The assault seemed to focus on an area straddling northern Hama Province and southern Idlib Province, where insurgent command of high ground threatens the coast. The initial ground attacks took place around three villages that insurgents consider the first line of defense of the strategic Jebel al-Zawiyah area.
The bombardment appeared to reach new levels of intensity in some places. One video showed white smoke rising far above a village’s minarets, while another appeared to show at least a dozen explosions — the person filming described the weapons as rockets — in less than five minutes.
A number of times in Wednesday’s fighting, insurgents fired advanced TOW antitank missiles, supplied covertly by the C.I.A., at Syria’s Russian-made tanks, leaving the impression of a proxy war between Russia and the United States. Rebel groups, including two that have received American aid, Division 13 and Suqour al-Ghab, posted videos that showed the guided missiles sailing toward approaching tanks and destroying them.
The main thrust of the offensive was aimed at areas held by insurgent groups that oppose both Mr. Assad and the Islamic State, including the Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate. But there were airstrikes elsewhere in Syria, according to SANA, the state news agency, which said that Syrian and Russian warplanes had worked together to attack targets in Al Bab, a city in eastern Aleppo Province long held by the Islamic State.
While Russian officials said the missiles launched from the Caspian Sea had targeted the Islamic State, also called ISIS or ISIL, Western officials said the great majority of the attacks had been directed against rebel groups fighting Mr. Assad. There were no reports of large explosions in Islamic State-held areas to the east, making it less likely that the cruise missiles had hit the group’s strongholds.
The news of the missile attacks came in a televised meeting between the Russian defense minister, Sergei K. Shoigu, and President Vladimir V. Putin.
“That we fired from the territory of the Caspian Sea, at a range greater than 1,500 kilometers, and hit targets precisely, this shows high qualifications,” Mr. Putin said, referring to naval crew members. Mr. Shoigu said no civilians had been injured.
The ground operation will eventually widen to include new contingents of fighters from Hezbollah, which has long played a key role on the front lines, as well as the current configuration of Syrian forces backed by Russians in the air, according to the alliance official. In addition, Iranian military advisers have been active on the ground in Syria and would most likely be involved in such a crucial operation.
There were no reports of Russians’ joining in the fighting, though an official refused to rule out the possibility of “volunteers” becoming involved.
The ground offensive is meant first to push the insurgents out of northern Hama Province, and then to move north into Idlib Province, according to the official and to diplomats and analysts in the region. In addition to Jebel al-Zawiyah, the government is trying to reclaim Jisr al-Shoughour, a city in Idlib that insurgents captured in March, a victory that was considered an ominous sign for the Syrian government.
The Army of Conquest is an Islamist coalition that includes the Nusra Front. Often fighting alongside it are more secular groups calling themselves the Free Syrian Army, including some that have received American aid. Russia has so far refused to make a distinction between the Army of Conquest and the Islamic State, labeling both groups as terrorists. Some Free Syrian Army groups have been hit in Russian strikes.
On Wednesday, insurgents said they had managed to blunt the start of the new ground offensive. “The regime stopped progressing, but the mortars are still hitting us,” said Abu Imad, a fighter with the Islamist group Jund al-Aqsa, who gave only a nom de guerre for safety. He said a united response by several rebel factions had helped repel the attack.
One fighter with Division 13 was being hailed as the “TOW king” after he was said to have destroyed four tanks using TOW missiles. Activists circulated pictures of him beaming over a celebratory meal and of other fighters riding in a captured tank.
When asked at a news conference in Rome about the ground offensive, Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter lamented “the Assad regime’s use of violence against its own people.”
Mr. Carter added, “To the extent that Russia enables that, that’s the fundamental reason we believe Russia is making a mistake in their actions in Syria.”
Backed by Russian airstrikes, Syrian troops launch offensive
The attacks target areas in Syria that are important to President Bashar Assad but that not controlled by the Islamic State group.
Albert Aji Nataliya Vasilyeva Associated Press, Published on Wed Oct 07 2015
Photos View photos
DAMASCUS, SYRIA—Syrian government troops launched a ground offensive Wednesday in the country’s central region under cover of Russian airstrikes, a Damascus official said. And in the first salvo from the sea, Russian warships fired missiles into Syria, with Moscow saying the targets were militants.
The latest developments — exactly a week after Russia began launching airstrikes in Syria — add a new layer to the fray in the complex war that has torn this Mideast country apart since 2011.
In these attacks, Moscow is mainly targeting central and northwestern Syria, strategic regions that are the gateway to President Bashar Assad’s strongholds in Damascus and along the Mediterranean coast.
The strikes appear to have given Assad new confidence to try to retake some lost ground. According to the Syrian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, the government push is concentrated in the adjacent provinces of Hama and Idlib where rebels have been advancing in the past months.
The Islamic State group is not present in the areas where the fighting is underway.
Wednesday’s offensive in central Syria and the ensuing clashes with militants, including Al Qaeda’s Syrian branch, was the first major ground fighting since Moscow began launching air raids in Syria last week.
In Moscow, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said Russia is using warships in the Caspian Sea to target the Islamic State group in Syria. Shoigu told President Vladimir Putin in televised remarks that Russia on Wednesday morning carried out 26 missile strikes from four warships of its Caspian Sea flotilla. Shoigu insisted the operation destroyed all the targets and that the strikes did not hit civilian areas.
Shoigu also said Russia has carried out 112 airstrikes on IS positions since its operation began on Sept. 30.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a government offensive began on four fronts early Wednesday in the northwestern provinces of Idlib and neighbouring Hama. Observatory director Rami Abdurrahman described it as “the most intense fighting in months.”
In Syria, the leader of a U.S.-backed rebel group, Tajammu Alezzah confirmed the ground offensive in a text message to the media, claiming there were Russian and Iranian soldiers in the operation.
The rebel group’s commander, Maj. Jamil al-Saleh, said the offensive is targeting areas almost totally controlled by rebel groups.
The Observatory, which has a network of activists on the ground, said the main launching point for government forces is the town of Morek on the highway that links the capital, Damascus, with the snorthern city of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and former commercial centre. Rebels have controlled areas on the highway since 2012.
The Observatory said a total of 37 Russian air raids areas hit the area of fighting on Wednesday alone.
The Observatory said two helicopters — believed to be Russian — were seen flying at low altitude in Morek. It added that militants opened fire at the helicopters without striking them. It was not immediately clear if the pilots were Russian or Syrian. The Syrian military has Russian-made helicopters in its air force.
Though the Islamic State has no presence in the areas hit Wednesday, Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, the Nusra Front, is active in central and northern parts of the country — as are the Western-backed rebels.
In Turkey, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu renewed criticism of Russia’s airstrikes in Syria, insisting they were mainly targeting the moderate Syrian opposition and therefore helping strengthen IS. He asked that Russia also respect Turkey’s security concerns over Syria.
Davutoglu called on Russia to respect Turkey’s air space, saying the country would not “make any concessions” on matters concerning its border security.
Russian warplanes violated Turkey’s borders on two separate occasions over the weekend, drawing strong protests from Turkey’s NATO allies. Turkey scrambled F-16s in response and also summoned the Russian ambassador to lodge protests.
Danny Williams says Stephen Harper's tactics are borderline racist
Former Newfoundland and Labrador premier launches scathing attack of longtime political foe
CBC News Posted: Oct 05, 2015
Former Newfoundland and Labrador premier Danny Williams says some of the tactics of Conservative Leader Stephen Harper are borderline racist.
Williams, who led a Progressive Conservative government in Canada's most easterly province from 2003 to 2010, launched his latest scathing attack against Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada on Sunday during an interview with CBC News.
He used the word racism in reference to the debate over the wearing of the niqab by Muslim women taking part in the oath of citizenship.
Williams said the issue is not worthy of becoming a national issue, but the Conservatives have latched onto it in order to secure votes.
"He doesn't care if he isolates the issues of women or if he isolates the issue of minorities, and even crosses, possibly, that racism line," Williams stated.
"It doesn't matter to him. It's all about getting elected at the end of the day."
Instead of voting Conservative, don't vote at all
With Canadians set to go to the polls for a federal election in just two weeks, Williams said many "progressive conservatives" have a natural inclination to vote for Harper and the Conservatives.
But he called on those who can't follow their political leanings, and are unwilling to vote for the Liberals or the New Democrats, to simply stay away from the polls on Oct. 19.
"Don't vote at all. Just don't vote for him because he's bad for the country," Williams said.
Williams's broadside is just the latest in his long-running feud with Harper, which reached its peak during the 2008 federal election when the then Newfoundland premier launched the so-called ABC Campaign (Anything But Conservative).
Williams accused Harper of breaking a promise on equalization payments, igniting an unusual rift between the two Conservative cousins.
The campaign was hugely successful, with not a single Conservative candidate winning election in Newfoundland and Labrador.
The federal Conservatives remain very unpopular in the province, which is largely a legacy of Williams's ABC campaign.
Williams left office in late 2010 with his popularity still largely intact, and his views still carry a lot of weight in the province.
Williams is obviously hoping his unfiltered attack on Harper will make a difference in a three-way race between the Conservatives, Liberals and New Democrats.
"Over time we've seen that this man cannot be trusted. He had no integrity. He's trying to stifle democracy. There's no end to what he's doing," said Williams.
"He's a lousy prime minister who's divisive."
When asked what it would take for the federal Conservatives to re-establish themselves in Newfoundland and Labrador, Williams answered simply: "A change of leadership is what's needed here."