MERIP Blog

Five Notes on Egypt's Crisis

by Joshua Stacher | published December 6, 2012 - 6:07pm

Hani Shukrallah, the distinguished former editor of al-Ahram Weekly, laments the “decline and fall” of the Society of Muslim Brothers from a partner in a diverse Egyptian nation to a narrowly partisan faction willing to beat up opponents, “the very caricature of itself as painted for years by its bitterest enemies.”

Amidst street battles over Muhammad Mursi’s decree and Egypt’s draft constitution, the Brothers have indeed argued a familiar authoritarian line: The protesters have no valid claims; they are a small troublemaking minority; they wish to disregard electoral results and plunge the country into chaos. Some of the Brothers and their backers have been portraying the protesters as nothing but Mubarak-era “remnants” (fuloul), an empty charge if ever there was one.

Mursi, in his speech today, made gestures toward toning down the rhetoric, saying it was “natural” for there to be some opposition to his actions. But in repeatedly using words like “thugs” and “infiltrators” -- and emphasizing the deaths of six counter-demonstrators -- he evoked the dismissive attitudes of Egyptian leaders past toward dissent. He invited the opposition to lunch and indicated willingness to revise one article of the draft constitution, but otherwise made no concessions, stressing that soon the electorate would decide the constitutional matter anyway.

At the same time, it is entirely unsatisfactory to compare the Brothers to fascists, as Shukrallah does in his piece and as Amr Hamzawy was quoted doing in the New York Times. Mursi and the Brothers are overseeing an autocratic transition due to their structural position, not because they are inherently more autocratic than any other group. There is a desperate need to avoid painting the Brothers or the opposition with a broad brush; at the same time, analysts should be clear that the current conflict is asymmetrical. The Brothers are the stronger party and it is disingenuous to lay blame for the strife equally on all sides.

In that spirit, a few points:

1) As Shukrallah notes, it was the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) that wrote the rules for the post-Mubarak transition and set the stage for the routinized violence that has accompanied its every phase. The SCAF picked the Brothers as the only organization capable of pushing through Mubarak-era protections of army prerogatives in a “democratic” Egypt. Meanwhile, the SCAF designed a weak presidency and, with judicial assistance, robbed the presidency of other elected institutions or a constitution that might support it. It worked to maintain basic continuity within the state apparatus, and excluded those demanding deeper change. With that backdrop, perhaps any sitting Egyptian president would now be seeking to centralize authority in his own hands, if for no other reason than to govern. This is a byproduct of the structure of the post-Mubarak transition. But now it’s the Brothers and not the SCAF who are taking the heat. It is disturbing, to say the least, that the military has escaped with so little scrutiny.

2) Ironically, in fact, Mursi’s speech today was reminiscent not so much of Mubarak’s swan songs in January-February 2011 as of the time-buying proclamations of the SCAF’s Field Marshal Husayn Tantawi over the next year. He’s throwing dissenters a few tiny bones to squabble over while preparing for a referendum that he is confident will render all the contention moot.

3) Mursi is alternately depicted as all-powerful and incredibly calculating or a stooge who is making it up as he goes along. He is neither. He stacked the Constituent Assembly, for sure. It would have been smarter and more generous to allow weaker parties a more substantive role in writing the constitution. But that’s never the way political transitions work. The powerful write the rules in their own interest. In Egypt’s case, the decision was made to “electionize” the transition. Those who don’t have a voice in the corridors of power have a right to object, but they also need to strategize about a way forward.

4) The Brothers are poised to use the new $4.8 billion IMF package to further consolidate their power. They will use “structural adjustment” to eliminate competitors, reduce the size of the state (which currently has 5.5 million employees), and place their own people at the levers of power. Economic reform will be the means of breaking the holdovers in the state apparatus or neutralizing them. It will be entirely partisan and undemocratic -- an exclusivist project of political engineering. Yet it would also seem likely to engender still more protest and conflict. So it is odd that, besides the US government, the only institution that seems less “concerned” about Mursi’s constitutional declaration is the IMF.

5) The protesters have many solid legal and ethical arguments on their side. But they don’t have the numbers to compel Mursi to back down. Mursi’s electoral mandate was slim -- 51 percent -- but it is likely that elections in the near future will produce more of the same. To call a president who got 13 million votes illegitimate and liken him to Mubarak (however much the Brothers’ tactics do indeed resemble Mubarak’s) is an argument that will not hold. (And the US doesn’t matter much, but Washington’s warming embrace of the Brothers will further isolate the protesters.) The game has changed, yet the protesters are working off the same script that they used to eject the dictator of 30 years. In Charles Tilly’s terms, they are using old repertoires of contention to fight institutions that are not transformed but whose guise is. This disconnect is fueling conflict.

It’s an entirely unfair process. It is deeply troubling to watch progressive Egyptians keep experiencing such violent disappointment. But no one ever promised justice: just elections and turnover.

And the urge to throw around analogies to Nazis is to be resisted as much as the self-serving discourses of power that the Brothers are unleashing on Egyptians.

Condi-ist Manifesto

by Sheila Carapico | published November 25, 2012 - 5:34pm

In one of the most nonsensical sentences published in the Washington Post since the US invasion of Iraq, and perhaps ever, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice writes in a November 23 op-ed: “Today’s Karl Marx is Iran.”

The lead-in to this astonishing assertion is that the author of the Communist Manifesto called upon the “workers of the world” to unite against the “‘false consciousness’ of national identity.” In a remarkable feat of revisionism, Rice invites contemporary American readers to imagine that Marx and the Islamic Republic share a certainty that -- unlike nationalism -- ethno-sectarian identities in general and Shi‘i affinities in particular are somehow authentic, natural and catalytic. As if Marx never called religion “the opiate of the masses”…but the unstated element of Rice’s comparison seems to be that working-class solidarity is not just a “special interest,” but a subnational loyalty as corrosive as sectarianism. It’s quite an interesting embellishment upon the “47 percent” thesis.

Anyway, in Rice’s mind, Iran envisages a pan-Shi‘i theocracy that will wreak havoc upon national boundaries. Iran, she implies, threatens the sacrosanct integrity of “artificial” multi-ethnic nation-states in the Middle East, like Bahrain, Lebanon and Syria.

The US, by contrast, says the diehard defender of imperial intervention, favors “the Middle East as we know it,” the post-Ottoman nation-state system. “In Iraq,” she writes, “after overthrowing Saddam Hussein, the United States hoped that a fledgling multi-ethnic, multi-confessional democracy could…give all of these groups a stake in a common future.” To an extent, she boasts, the US invasion and its aftermath gave Iraq “elections repeatedly producing inclusive governments.”

Never mind the purblind revisionism, whereby the US occupation was a force battling against sectarianism in Iraq, rather than a force enshrining it at the very center of Iraqi politics.

What a low bar Rice sets. If elections in Iraq (two rounds in 2005, more in 2009 and 2010) produced a parliament demographically or geographically if not proportionally representing Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Shi‘i Islamist partisans -- shall we call that a multi-confessional accomplishment? Even if a robust gender quota put no women in top decision-making posts, and old communist and nationalist sentiments were sidelined, the government does not govern and Iraqis are not safe -- shall we call that “inclusive”?

Moving back to the present, Rice tells us that the crisis in Syria is not merely “humanitarian.” It’s not just that people are dying. Instead, she worries that “artificial states could fly apart” if Washington fails to act decisively to keep them together.

Syrians, Iraqis, others in the Middle East and progressive scholars abroad are contemplating prospects for humane, possible and/or optimal external interventions to mitigate the Syrian tragedy. MERIP writers and readers have grappled with these issues of humanitarian intervention in the past -- after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, in the former Yugoslavia and Somalia, and elsewhere at other times. We didn’t and won’t find easy answers for the twenty-first century in Marxism-Leninism, international human rights conventions, faith-based peacemaking or Arab nationalism. As we struggle for insights, however, let’s not be distracted either by the outlandishly Orientalist shibboleths of identity politics or by imperial fantasies of post-colonial Westphalian order. If there are reasons for intervention in the Syrian conflict -- by arming the opposition, imposing no-fly zones or other means -- let us not count “preserving the status quo ante” among them.

Blisters and Sanctions

by Shahriar Khateri , Narges Bajoghli | published November 25, 2012 - 2:03pm

Shahriar Khateri is an Iranian veteran of the Iran-Iraq war. Exposed to chemical warfare agents during the fighting, Khateri became a doctor at war’s end, and since 1997 he has been involved in caring for chemical weapons survivors. He now heads the only non-governmental organization in Iran that advocates effectively on behalf of survivors of chemical warfare from Iran and Iraqi Kurdistan. He is also one of the founders of the Tehran Peace Museum. This article is written in his voice.

Narges Bajoghli is a Ph.D. student in anthropology at New York University. She is director of the documentary film, The Skin That Burns (2012), about survivors of chemical warfare in Iran. She has been researching the topic for eight years.

It was February 1987, at the front lines near Khorramshahr, in the south of Iran along the Iraqi border. We had been engaged in heavy battles for over a week. Our troops had penetrated fortified Iraqi positions, and the Iraqis were making us pay: Artillery and mortar shells rained down on us with a vengeance, as did bombs from Iraqi planes.

It was hell. Dead bodies, both Iranian and Iraqi, were scattered across the field. The bodies were strewn like broken dolls over the war-ravaged landscape, resting on their sides, with limbs folded in awkward positions and heads blown off. The faces were frozen in expressions of fear, of pain -- and, at times, of relief. The smell of blood and sweat was overwhelming. It’s a smell that has never left me after all these years…it has permeated me through my pores.

I was scared, but still proud of myself for managing to join the army as a volunteer at the age of 15. I felt brave and strong.

But in the midst of all that death, I thought of my mother, knowing how much she must be worrying. My brother, after recovering from his chemical burns, had returned to the war front, only to be killed months afterward. My mother was never able to bury him and find comfort in mourning at his grave. His body is missing to this day.

She begged me not to go to the front. “It’s enough that I’ve lost one son,” she cried. But I didn’t listen, wanting to follow in the footsteps of my hero brother. On that day in 1987, I was sure she was listening to news of the offensive and crying again, not knowing if her sole remaining son was alive or dead.

“Gas! Gas!” Soldiers began screaming in terror. I saw the ominous cloud drifting toward our trenches and my nostrils immediately caught its strange odor.

Our commanders shouted: “Put on your gas masks. Be quick!” I donned my gas mask that very second and ran with the other soldiers in the opposite direction from the approaching poisonous vapor. It was difficult to breathe while running with the mask on. I felt that I might suffocate, but the other soldiers pushed me along. We were lucky -- the wind changed direction and blew the gas cloud away from us. Looking back on it now, I know what a big miracle that was. We would have lost many more comrades if the wind hadn’t changed direction.

A few in our battalion were positioned exactly in the middle of the gas attack zone. I tried to return to the site to help them, but my commanders would not allow it. I removed my gas mask and felt my eyes burning for the first time. Around me, others were coughing violently and some fainted. I overheard on an officer’s radio that we had sustained heavy casualties: The gas killed many instantaneously. Others had critical injuries.

Well into the night, I received pieces of bad news: Some of my closest buddies had been killed in the attack. I started weeping but had to suppress the tears. My eyes were burning. I tried to scream, but it was too difficult to breathe.

My lungs were on fire from the gas.

***

Starting in 1981, and picking up steam a couple years later, Iraq fired countless chemical warheads at Iranian soldiers and at people in Iraqi Kurdish towns, as part of the eight-year Iran-Iraq war. Today, 24 years on, Iran is home to the world’s largest population of chemical weapons survivors, a significant proportion of whom are chronically ill.

The 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war was the longest conventional war of the twentieth century and one of the bloodiest. For the first time since World War I, armies slugged it out in trenches. There were more than a million casualties, combining those on both sides.

Iraqi troops carried out the first extensive chemical attack on Iran in March 1981, with shells containing tons of sulfur mustard and nerve agents. Later, with the help of West Germany, Iraq began to manufacture mustard gas and nerve agents in large amounts. Following several requests from the Iranian government, the “international community” sent three official investigative teams to Iran starting in March 1984, but only after helicopters built by the Germans, Soviets and French had dumped still more tons of poison on Iranian soil.

In March 1984, the UN secretary-general, Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, ordered an investigation that exposed Iraq as a violator of the 1925 Geneva Protocol outlawing the use of poisonous gas in wars. Member states ignored the finding. Two more official investigations took place: one in February-March 1986 and another in April 1987. Again, the international community disregarded the results.

Companies from Great Britain, France, West Germany, Spain, the United States, India, Egypt and other countries were involved in selling and providing material to Iraq for the chemical weapons. To date, no company has been prosecuted for its involvement in this trade.

Chemical attacks on residential areas occurred more than 30 times in Iran, as well as in the Iraqi Kurdish town of Halabja, where more than 5,000 civilians were killed.

Various chemical agents were used on soldiers and civilians across the span of seven years. Most nerve agents have fatal consequences for human beings and cause damage to the environment as well. Due to the effects of mustard gas on DNA, survivors face long-term afflictions of the respiratory organs, eyes and skin. Chronic lung, eye and skin ailments are common among those exposed. There can also be further complications, such as cancers and immune system, psychological and genetic disorders. The severity of these conditions depends on the route and duration of exposure, as well as the individual’s powers of bodily resistance. Each year, more and more of the chemically wounded die, their lungs finally collapsing after years of excruciating labored breathing and coughing.

To compound this situation, there is very little medical knowledge about how to treat victims of chemical warfare (or, for that matter, of depleted uranium).

***

It is October 2012 at Tehran’s Medical Research Center for Veterans, where I work. There is a light rain. I am in the office working on a report about the health effects of mustard gas, which I am to present at a conference the next week in Europe. My cell phone rings and I see an unfamiliar number on the screen.

A man with a hoarse voice asks for me.

He introduces himself and I am shocked. It is Ali, one of the survivors of the chemical gas attack on that fateful day in 1987. He and I were soldiers in the same platoon. I remember him being badly injured. We had remained in contact for some time, but I had lost touch with him many years ago.

“We need your help, doctor,” he rasps over the phone. “You remember how my eyes were damaged by mustard gas in that attack? I’ve had several surgeries, including a cornea transplant. My doctor has prescribed special medication to prevent rejection of the transplant. But the medicine is no longer available in the drug stores and my doctor says that I’ll go blind unless I can get my hands on that medicine soon. And do you remember our commander, Reza, who was hospitalized for two months after the gas attack?”

“Of course I remember him. I know he suffered from serious lung damage. What’s happened to him?” I ask.

“He has to use oxygen daily and several inhalers to survive, but the main inhaler that helps him breathe is from the same company that makes my medicine. The pharmacies have said that they no longer have these foreign-produced medications, because the sanctions restrict them from being imported to Iran. We thought of you, doctor, and were hoping you could find a way for us to get the medicine we need.”

My heart breaks as he speaks in his tired voice.

“I will do my best, Ali,” I muster. “I promise to find the medications and send them to you. You will get better soon. Say hello to Reza.” I quickly hang up the phone.

I feel ashamed because I know I cannot help them. It is not only Reza and Ali whose lives are in danger because of the shortage of medicine in Iran now; there are many thousands of survivors of chemical weapons, both civilians and veterans, who have the same problems.

And, as a physician, I know that it is not only survivors of chemical warfare in Iran who face these difficulties, but patients suffering from cancer and other terminal diseases as well. Their medicines are no longer available due to the sanctions. The sanctions themselves do not prohibit importation of medicine, but the reality is that Iranian pharmaceutical companies and the Health Ministry cannot purchase it because of strict restrictions on Iran’s Central Bank and the fact that SWIFT, the body that handles global banking transactions, has cut Iranian banks out of its system. Even those Iranian companies that have, so far, managed to circumvent the sanctions by transferring money via a middleman bank are now finding that most of their orders are rejected.

My mind goes to the US presidential debates in the preceding weeks. President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney were in a race to promise the most “crippling” sanctions on Iran. And all I wish to do is to ask them: Maybe the “international community” has said it is “legal” to cripple a population to this extent. But is it moral? Is it right?

Why Not Jordan?

by Pete Moore | published November 13, 2012 - 8:56pm

The November 13 withdrawal of fuel and electricity subsidies has sparked vigorous demonstrations in Jordan, prompting renewed speculation about whether the wave of Arab uprisings that began in late 2010 has finally arrived in the Hashemite Kingdom. Indeed, amidst the rush of scholarly attempts to explain why uprisings did or did not occur in various Arab countries in 2011, Jordan is proving a stubborn case. Jordan fits nearly all the criteria for an uprising, but sustained protest has yet to take root.

If social media and Internet access drove the revolts, then Jordan should have already had an upheaval, for it ranks well ahead of Egypt and Libya and is comparable to Tunisia in Internet penetration. Some have argued that the building blocks of protest were increases in literacy rates and average number of years of schooling. Yet from 1980 to 2010, Jordan ranked ahead of Egypt and Tunisia in rate of increase in years of schooling (see p. 169 of Filipe R. Campante and Davin Chor, “Why Was the Arab World Poised for Revolution?”). Maybe, as some economists have argued, declining socio-economic opportunities spread the spirit of rebellion. If so, then, again, Jordan should have seen a revolt, as it suffers from some of the Arab world’s highest rates of aggregate unemployment, youth unemployment and underemployment compared to educational achievement (again as noted by Campante and Chor). In Jordan, as elsewhere, neoliberal reforms failed, wages stagnated and inequality rose.

What about the corruption that so animated popular anger across the region? Jordan arguably stands at the head of that line as well, with no shortage of open accusations of royal corruption and the involvement of numerous government officials in suspicious development projects. Recent corruption investigations are widely perceived as picking the low-hanging fruit while the juiciest goes untouched.

Egypt’s long history of protest is credited with paving the way to 2011 there, but Jordanian society has hardly been quiescent, especially since 1989. Another popular candidate for social scientists trying to explain why some countries witnessed mass uprising and others did not is regime type. So, setting aside the Bahraini case, it is said that monarchies experienced no sustained protest while the republican regimes succumbed. As the argument goes, monarchy may impart advantages, say, special claims to authority or direct family control of political institutions, that help to discourage the unrest that overthrew presidents in Egypt and Tunisia. For most observers of Jordanian politics, however, the Hashemites’ claim to authority is at best deeply contested; the Hashemites in no way operate like the larger, corporate ruling families of the Gulf. Few, outside Washington perhaps, credit King ‘Abdallah II with much leadership skill.

So why no uprising in Jordan? One answer is that what started in 2011 may not be over, regardless of the outcome of the current demonstrations. For the last year the Jordanian ruling class and society have been on edge, precisely because of many of the factors listed above. The almost comical turnover of cabinets, four since February 2011, is expressive of these tensions. Prior to the November 13 cuts, officials had announced slashes of fuel and electricity subsidies (costing over 6 percent of GDP), and then pulled back at the last minute, hardly suggesting a crafty regime in secure control. Still, few are now predicting an outbreak of sustained protest. Weekly Amman demonstrations by what Jordanian writer Hisham Bustani terms the “alternative opposition” draw only a few hundred participants and remain isolated. The Islamic Action Front has put many more people in the streets on occasion, but failed to follow through or to articulate the revolutionary demands that emerged elsewhere in the region.

A second answer recognizes that revolutionary moments are highly contingent. While Jordan may share the structural attributes of the Arab uprisings, the intangibles seem to be missing. Historically, successful challenges to authoritarian rule require cross-cutting social alliances that converge to become unstoppable forces. Something has to galvanize those alliances. In Tunisia, Egypt and Syria, there were discrete cases of state abuse of youths -- Mohamed Bouazizi, Khalid Sa‘id, the graffiti-scrawling teens in Dir‘a -- whose fates ended up vitally important to many people other than their immediate families. Sympathy carries political power.

As yet, there has been no such spark in Jordan in 2011. Certainly, there is no shortage of people abused by Jordanian authorities, but the very deep divisions within Jordanian society and political movements seem to have impeded the evolution of broader linkages. Of course, these divisions do not well up from some foundational political culture; the Hashemite regime has cultivated them assiduously. And that is why the simple East Bank/Palestinian divide so often employed to explain all things Jordanian is insufficient. These identities are themselves subdivided by class, region and place of origin.

So what about the chances for an uprising in the near future? Here there are grounds for pessimism.

For one thing, there are negative examples. The spread of protest in 2011, as in Eastern Europe in the late 1980s, unfolded as one society demonstrated possibilities to others. Opposition movements could model their strategies after the successes of their neighbors. Today, the opposite dynamic is at work. The turmoil in Libya, Syria and Bahrain stands as a warning to prospective protesters; the more “positive” examples of Tunisia or Egypt now seem like a distant dream. Moreover, the threat of spillover of violence from Jordan’s neighbors, Palestine, Iraq and now Syria, only seems to deliver short-term economic boosts, allowing the regime to muddle through.

Then there is the US role. Washington’s goal is to preserve the status quo, whereby Jordan is a “safe zone” in a sea of unrest. Over the last decade, the US Embassy in Amman has embedded itself in Jordanian politics to an unprecedented degree, even helping to write the country’s draft income tax law in 2009, according to USAID Fiscal Reform Project officials I interviewed in Amman in May. Former CIA director George Tenet was not making an idle boast when he said (as related in Bob Woodward’s State of Denial) that “we created” the Government Intelligence Directorate, Jordan’s fearsome security service, “and now we own it.” The US Army has maintained a low-profile base in the country for some years and, according to the New York Times, another US base, ostensibly to support Jordan’s handling of Syrian refugees, has now been opened. Finally, there is the county’s extreme dependence on external revenue flows mediated by Washington and its Gulf allies.

It’s no wonder, then, that in public opinion polling conducted by the University of Jordan’s Center for Strategic Studies in 2008, Jordanians ranked the US as the third most important obstacle to democracy in Jordan. Those same polls showed an average of 75 percent of respondents feared criticizing their own government. No matter how hapless the Hashemite regime may appear, very weighty interests have its back.

Six Questions for Fareed Mohamedi

by Chris Toensing | published November 7, 2012 - 4:23pm

It’s like clockwork: When the race for the White House is on, the contestants will promise to make America self-sufficient in energy. Everyone understands this concept to mean less dependence on imported oil from the Middle East, though politicians do not always come out and say so. The implication is that if the US can break its supposed dependence, then it can disengage from (even forget about) a region that many Americans see as perennially volatile, if not hostile. In 2004, candidates George W. Bush and John Kerry each bewailed America’s reliance on “foreign” or “Mideast oil.” In 2008, Barack Obama vowed to kick the importing habit within ten years, to which the John McCain campaign replied with the one-upping catch phrase, “Drill, baby, drill.” The current mantra is “energy independence,” and in 2012 both President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney touted plans for achieving it. I asked Fareed Mohamedi, vice president for industry analysis at Statoil and frequent contributor to Middle East Report, for his thoughts on this campaign-season chestnut.

During the US presidential campaign, both candidates spoke enthusiastically of America’s coming “energy independence.” We’ve heard this pledge so many times before, from politicians of both parties. But recent articles in the Financial Times and elsewhere indicate that this time is different. Is the US poised to be “energy-independent”?

In reality, the issue of “energy independence” for the US was always a non-issue. Supposed dependence on the Middle East was a way for US politicians to justify attacks on Middle Eastern countries or provide phony explanations for why gasoline prices were rising.

First, even before the shale oil and gas revolution of which the Financial Times article speaks, the US was essentially self-sufficient in natural gas and coal, which accounted for a large percentage of its non-transport energy consumption. Second, while US imports of crude oil were growing before the shale oil revolution, mainly due to relatively low gasoline and diesel prices, these crude imports came from a large number of countries. Supplies from the Middle East were a smaller proportion than most people believe. Saudi Arabia was the number-two source of imports in 2011, but number one was Canada and the others in the top five were Mexico, Venezuela and Nigeria.

With the shale oil and gas revolution, North America could indeed become oil-independent and have a surplus of natural gas. Canada and Mexico are also part of this equation, along with the US. But the shale revolution has also transformed the US into a potential exporter of oil and gas, on top of being energy-independent. Crude oil exports from the US are banned, but US refineries have been buying cheaper US crude relative to the rest of the world (the unprecedented phenomenon of the WTI-Brent spread of around $20 per barrel), refining it in the US, and then exporting it as various highly profitable products.

As for the growing surplus in gas supplies, several changes are taking place. US utilities are switching from coal to natural gas, leading to greater US exports of coal especially to Europe. There is a lot of talk of a revival of US industrial investment to take advantage of very cheap natural gas prices in the US, and several US chemical companies that were going to expand overseas are now redeploying investments at home. Also, many companies want to expand the use of natural gas in trucking and car fleets. Finally, several oil and gas companies are planning on exporting natural gas in the form of liquified natural gas (LNG) to higher-priced markets like Europe and Asia. This has raised the possibility that the US may ban LNG exports so that prices stay low for US consumers and industrialists.

What is the larger significance of the technological advances in extracting oil and gas for the world economy?

The shale oil and gas revolution was not necessarily the result of a huge technological advance, but rather of incremental changes in technical innovation over the last several decades. What changed was the rise of oil prices in the 2000s and the perception in the market that they would be sustained at these levels. Higher oil prices led to three major changes in the world of oil: first, expensive drilling techniques like those used for shale oil and gas became economical; second, major resource-holding countries around the world hardened their terms; and as a consequence, third, small US independent oil and gas companies (as opposed to the super-majors like Exxon Mobil) sought new supplies in their own backyard that had now become profitable given the high prices. If this phenomenon of shale oil and gas spreads to other regions of the world (which is still highly uncertain because of some the unique conditions in the US), oil and gas prices could fall, giving the world economy a boost.

Long-time critics of dependency on fossil fuels, like Michael Klare, are now arguing that these advances promise only illusory “energy security,” both because of cost and because of unsustainable environmental side effects.

If you don’t like fossil fuels you are not going to like the shale oil and gas revolution in the US because there is just more fossil fuel around. But the abundance of natural gas and a switch over to gas from coal has led to a lowering of US greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, if you want to use more renewables (notably wind and solar) in power generation, you need to use more natural gas to offset the fluctuation of those supplies. So more natural gas is a facilitator for renewables. It also is leading to lowering US dependency on gasoline and could accelerate electrification of the US transport fleet. Over 60 percent of Chinese energy consumption comes from coal. So a gas revolution in China like the US would have a massive impact on the environment and reduction of greenhouse gases.

The global north is again becoming a major producer of oil and gas, rather than just a consumer. How might this shift reverberate in global politics?

This is really a US phenomenon and I am not sure that it changes global politics. It could have an impact on oil and gas prices, which will possibly give a boost to the weak global economy. It could make Asia more dependent on sources of North American natural gas. But, all in all, it is possible that not much will change in the geopolitical arena.

How will this shift affect the strategic thinking of major non-Western producers, like Russia, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states?

Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states were already focused on the rise of the Asian economies, which have been their biggest customers for nearly a decade. Short anecdote: Saudi Arabia’s biggest customer for crude oil is China. Saudi Aramco’s CEO reportedly goes to China nearly every other month and visits the US (the previous number-one client) only once a year. Whether this is true or not, the Gulf Arabs are giving Asia a lot more attention and creating a solid link between the western and eastern ends of the continent. That shift, however, does not change the role of the US in the Gulf -- it will maintain the Fifth Fleet and other bases there as the guardians of oil export routes and deterrents to potential attacks on the region’s oil facilities. It is highly unlikely that the Chinese would want to assume this role, even if they could. Interestingly, the Indians are now cooperating with the US in patrolling the sea lanes.

As for Russia, it had largely concentrated over the last decade on “hard-wiring” itself with pipelines to “Old Europe” and promoting LNG extraction with the goal of exporting gas to the US. Moscow saw these projects as a way to revive its geopolitical fortunes. But two things happened: Europe went into a deep recession and gas demand fell; and the US remained self-sufficient in gas. So now Russia may have to start the process of reorienting itself to sell gas to China. The Chinese, however, are suspicious of the stability of Russian gas supplies. I think they will only become “hard-wired” to Russian gas when they have secured sufficient supplies of pipeline gas from Central Asia, LNG from Australia and the Middle East, and new supplies, possibly from the US and Canada. Then they can feel they have options in case of Russian interruptions.

The Carter Doctrine of 1980 enshrined the notion that it is a vital US interest to protect the Persian Gulf oil patch and the sea lanes that connect it to world markets. This idea has endured despite fluctuations in how much oil the US itself imports from the Gulf. Is there any reason to think that the US strategic interest in the Persian Gulf will wane?

No. Why would the US give up such a geostrategic asset when its potential geopolitical rival, China, is so dependent on the Gulf for crude oil supplies?

An Indecent Proposal?

by Darryl Li | published November 6, 2012 - 2:28pm

Quite a few eyebrows were raised last week when Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, perhaps one of the most infamous “terrorists” in Pakistan, extended an offer of humanitarian aid to the United States in the wake of Hurricane Sandy -- notwithstanding the $10 million bounty Washington has placed on his head.

Saeed leads Jamaat ud-Dawa, an Islamist group regarded as a front for the banned Lashkar-e Tayyiba, which has waged a bloody armed campaign in Indian-controlled Kashmir over the past two decades. Lashkar’s notoriety reached new heights after it was accused of carrying out the 2008 Mumbai attack. Saeed denies allegations that he is involved in such political violence. After Sandy he gestured to larger issues at stake: “Regardless of what US govt propagates about us…we look forward to act on the traits of our Prophet Muhammad [Peace Be Upon Him] by helping and serving adversity struck American people, considering it our religious and moral obligation.”

Saeed’s offer scored points among those who sympathize with his status as Washington’s bête noire (and New Delhi’s), but otherwise elicited the usual range of derision and fascination that greets “terrorist” attempts to do seemingly non-terrorizing things (a similar reaction produced by the gap between demonization and banality is at work in the popular Tumblr, “Kim Jong-Il Looking at Things”). The US embassy in Islamabad dismissed the proposal on Twitter, only for Jamaat ud-Dawa to riposte in kind:

The hint of caution in the embassy’s refusal (“We respect the Islamic tradition of help to the needy, but…”) reflects some tiptoeing around the not inconsiderable respect that Jamaat ud-Dawa has amassed in Pakistan by aggressively publicizing its social, charitable and relief activities. As Humeira Iqtidar, one of the few scholars to have conducted fieldwork on the group, detailed in the summer 2009 Middle East Report:

How does one measure the depth and significance of the JuD’s societal entrenchment? Quantifiable measures include the number of schools; in 2007, there were roughly 200, mostly in Punjab but a few in Sindh as well, with a total student population in the range of 35,000. Another measure is the number and circulation size of publications; the JuD in-house printing press, Dar ul-Andalus, produces pamphlets, booklets and six magazines, including the monthly al-Dawa with a circulation of 200,000. The number of people treated by its free clinics is estimated at 6,000 patients per year, and 800,000 hepatitis vaccinations were administered in 2007.

As with Hamas, Hizballah and many other armed groups in the Muslim world, Jamaat ud-Dawa’s simultaneous resort to social work provokes the usual hypotheses: Charity is a way of compartmentalizing decision-making in response to state bans; a tool for recruiting or fundraising; or perhaps a path to “moderation.” These instrumentalist explanations may all have some truth; but fundamentally, the need for separate “wings” or “fronts” stems from the absence of that special kind of legitimacy to do harm unto others that we call “sovereignty.” With that license in hand, wings and fronts become ministries and departments.

Of course, we are all supposed to know that there is legitimate and illegitimate violence, and that democratic decision-making is what separates the two. But the unacknowledged drone war unfolding in northwestern Pakistan with the apparent (and deeply unpopular) consent of US clients in Islamabad/Rawalpindi underscores the limitations of national democracy in the face of transnational power. In any event, when purveyors of illegitimate violence -- be they partisans, rebels, pirates or bandits -- offer beneficence as well, others look askance. But the state is expected to provide both, as exemplified by the pride with which the US concurrently rained bombs and humanitarian aid down upon Afghanistan.

Especially interesting here, however, is the international scope of Jamaat ud-Dawa’s vision. The group claims that its offer to aid the US is merely a continuation of previous relief efforts in Indonesia and Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami. Similarly, Lashkar-e Tayyiba’s armed agenda has long been a primarily international one, focused on Kashmir. This history, along with Lashkar’s avoidance of both parliamentary politics and combat with the state, has led many to regard it as little more than a proxy for Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), used to wage low-level war against India with the cover of plausible deniability.

While the ISI’s leverage over Lashkar-e Tayyiba is undeniable, Jamaat ud-Dawa’s publications suggest that the critique of world politics embedded in the group’s exhortations to jihad is not reducible to the Indo-Pakistani strategic confrontation. Jamaat-affiliated presses have produced books not only on Afghanistan, but also two on the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

These texts condemn the West for supporting or abiding atrocities against Bosnian Muslims, chronicle the brave exploits of Arab mujahideen, and detail the solidarity work in Pakistan of Jamaat’s predecessor organization, Markaz-i Da‘wa wal-Irshad. Shaped in part by the group’s roots in the Ahl-i Hadith Muslim reform movement (most of whom rejected calls to join the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan), these books cast the Bosnian war in explicitly sectarian rather than nationalist terms. But they are sectarian on a global canvas: not Bosniaks versus Serbs versus Croats, but Muslims versus Catholics and Orthodox, in the best Huntingtonian tradition. One of them even describes the Bosnian Croat nationalist politician -- and one-time Communist party functionary -- Mate Boban as the “Pope of Bosnia.”

It may be tempting to take such propaganda at face value as evidence of a global Islamist conspiracy, yet there is no credible evidence that Lashkar-e Tayyiba ever sent fighters to Bosnia (indeed, the hundreds of Pakistanis who traveled to the country did so as part of a UN peacekeeping force under European command, consistent with the army’s history of imperial soldiering). Instead, the transnational jihad links that did exist were more dispersed and contingent: Markaz-i Dawa literature counts as one of its co-founders an Indian-born Arab called Mahmoud Bahadhiq (Abu ‘Abd al-‘Aziz) who later fought in Bosnia. A Saudi Arabian national of Yemeni origin, Bahadhiq raised money for jihads in Bosnia and likely Kashmir in the 1990s, but was not fully enmeshed in either, much like the Western spies, aid workers and journalists who also parachuted into such conflicts and doled out cash. And while the books mentioned above glowingly spoke of Bahadhiq as the “supreme commander” of the Bosnian jihad (which he was not in any meaningful sense) and praised him for striking fear in the hearts of Christian Europe, Bahadhiq himself gave an interview to a Croatian newspaper early in the war urging cooperation against a common Serb foe.

Bahadhiq’s entrepreneurialism in jihads -- having fought in Afghanistan, Kashmir, Bosnia and elsewhere -- upset Saudi authorities and their US allies, so he has spent much of the past decade in prison in Saudi Arabia and was placed on US and UN blacklists in 2008 as a suspected Lashkar-e Tayyiba financier. Yet despite his commitment to globetrotting and fighting, Bahadhiq’s numerous statements published in Arabic, English and Serbo-Croatian until 2002 spoke of jihad in terms of assisting Muslims facing invasion or occupation. Not only is there no mention of Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda, he pointedly passed up opportunities to criticize the House of Saud or the clerics who support it. As I noted in the fall 2011 edition of Middle East Report, visions of jihad sans frontières constitute a diverse landscape of ideological projects, in which al-Qaeda’s global war against the United States is arguably in the minority.

Taken together, the international visions in Jamaat ud-Dawa’s jihad literature and Hafiz Mohammed Saeed’s offer of humanitarian aid after Sandy are attempts, however flawed, to call forth a transnational public counterposed to the official “international community” dominated by Western elites. While Jamaat’s relief efforts after ecological disasters in Pakistan at times brought the state’s incompetence into stark relief, its international pretensions are an attempt at one-upping a global hegemon instead. Yet the domestic and international arenas remain deeply intertwined: As Iqtidar notes, the Pakistani army’s response to the 2005 Kashmir earthquake was held up while waiting for NATO to deliver CH-47 transport helicopters -- assets diverted from the fight in Afghanistan. Once again, the effect is to call into question the rigid separation of violence from humanitarianism that makes Saeed’s offer so striking to some in the first place.

Perhaps the subtext of Hafiz Mohammed Saeed’s proposal is: If we are accused of sending bombs overseas, why can’t we send aid packets with them, just like you? If there is a joke to be found here, it’s not because Saeed speaks about humanity while practicing violence, but because the US does so all the time. The joke isn’t about incongruity; it’s about parody. And the US isn’t the target, but rather the straight man. It’s a joke told at the expense of all those caught up in the wars large and small that have engulfed the region, and it isn’t very funny at all.

Image: In the Jihad Fields of Bosnia, by Muhammad Tahir Naqqash (2002)

The “Matrix” Comes to Libya

by Steve Niva | published November 2, 2012 - 1:38pm

Within days of the deadly assault on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, the skies over Libya began buzzing with American surveillance drones, prompting annoyed responses from some Benghazi residents. “Give it a rest, Obama,” one resident posted in a Twitter message after a low-flying drone woke up much of the city. “We want to get some sleep.”

More broadly, the AP reported that armed drones are also flying over other parts of Libya and northern Africa, and US Special Operations forces are on call, ready to attack if the Obama administration can identify who was behind the attack. In addition, the New York Times reported on October 15 that the United States is now “speeding up efforts” to help the Libyan government create an elite commando force that can combat “terrorist and violent extremist organizations” and counter the country’s fractious militias. American Special Operations forces would conduct much of the training as they have with building elite counterterrorism forces and commando units in Pakistan, Iraq and Yemen, among other places.

Thus, while the American media remains fixated on “who knew what and when” regarding the Benghazi attack, the surge in drones and plans to create an elite commando force indicates that the more significant story is the extension of the “matrix” to Libya: the incorporation of Libya into the global precision-strike network built over the past decade in which the US military, the CIA and other agencies hunt, kill or capture alleged enemies worldwide without needing to deploy ground troops or necessarily gain local political approval for operations.

According to a three-part series published in the Washington Post, the Obama administration has institutionalized its controversial targeted killing program through the development of what it terms the “disposition matrix,” an operational planning guide whose purpose is "to augment" the "separate but overlapping kill lists" maintained by the CIA and the Pentagon and map out the various operational plans for “disposing” of alleged terrorist suspects. “If he’s in Saudi Arabia, pick up with the Saudis,” a former official said. “If traveling overseas to al-Shabaab [in Somalia] we can pick him up by ship. If in Yemen, kill or have the Yemenis pick him up.” The Post concludes that the new “disposition matrix” is tranforming “the highly classified practice of targeted killing” from “ad-hoc elements into a counterterrorism infrastructure capable of sustaining a seemingly permanent war.”

Thus, while drones and drone strikes have received the bulk of attention regarding the Obama administration’s targeted killing program, the notion of a “matrix” aptly captures the much broader institutional form and operational expansion of what Nick Turse identifies as the new American style of war-fighting: a “light footprint” combination of clandestine Special Operations raids, drone strikes, continuous surveillance, cyberwarfare and locally trained proxy forces who hunt, capture, kill and manage perceived threats to American interests on a global scale.

On the one hand, the “matrix” is a not simply a single agency or actor but rather a networked constellation of agencies and actors who pool resources in various “task forces” to mass information on selected target areas and conduct targeted kill-or-capture operations. This network includes the increasingly paramilitary forces of the CIA, which recently requested an expansion of its drone fleet, as well as the rapidly expanding array of Special Operations Forces, along with satellite analysts from the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, regional experts from the State Department and surveillance specialists from the National Security Agency, among other institutions. The Washington Post series highlights the central role played by the once clandestine Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), upon which President Barack Obama has repeatedly relied to execute the nation’s most sensitive counterterrorism missions. JSOC has recently established a secret targeting center across the Potomac River from Washington.

This networked “matrix” is increasingly being augmented by the training of elite indigenous commandos or local special forces through joint training missions that emphasize the networked “interoperability” American and local forces for conducting such clandestine targeted operations.

In this regard, Yemen, for example, has become a virtual “matrix” laboratory where the US is carrying out its signature new brand of warfare with “black ops” troops from JSOC like the SEALs and the Army’s Delta Force conducting kill-or-capture missions, while “white” forces like the Green Berets and Rangers are training indigenous commandos, and CIA and JSOC drones hunt and kill members of al-Qaeda and its affiliates.

On the other hand, the “matrix” is spreading its global reach through building and linking an expanding constellation of drone, Special Operations and surveillance bases over several continents, casting its net over ever wider expanses. The Washington Post series highlights how Djibouti is the clearest example of how the United States is laying the groundwork to expand these operations into new regions of Africa. As the US military’s first permanent drone war base, Camp Lemonnier is the centerpiece of an effort to extend American force projection to combat militants and terrorist groups across the continent, from Mali to Libya to the Central African Republic.

The officials quoted in the Washington Post series hint that the permanent war “matrix” could expand to even more countries. “Egypt worries me to no end,” an administration official said. “Look at Libya, Algeria and Mali and then across the Sahel. You’re talking about such wide expanses of territory, with open borders and military, security and intelligence capabilities that are basically non-existent.”

The apparent extension to Libya of the “matrix” network of drones, Special Operations Forces and elite indigenous forces who conduct targeted operations illustrates not only the further expansion of the “matrix” into North Africa, but also the myopic US penchant for military responses to complex social and political challenges. The US remains focused on direct action and kinetic solutions, rather than on helping Libya establish accountable institutions and a government that has popular support, while developing a viable, responsive police force capable of expanding that popular support. Moreover, elite commando forces more often than not end up becoming regime protection forces.

The appeal of the “matrix” form of networked permanent war to Washington is easily understood. It is a method of expanding power and control to new areas while reducing the stigma of a large US military “footprint” and the domestic consequences of American soldiers’ deaths, and its enables the expansion of operations without the formalities of Congressional or UN approval. As Jacob Levich points out in a perceptive recent commentary on the political aims of drone warfare, “all this points toward a future of worldwide ‘virtual occupations’ in which US power is projected primarily by drone-based COIN, supplemented with relatively small teams of Special Forces.” In this sense, like its science fiction namesake, the “matrix” can be everywhere and nowhere at the same time.

After the Bomb in Beirut

by Lori Allen | published October 21, 2012 - 1:12pm

As a recent arrival in Beirut, I quickly learned the Lebanese map, geographic and political, when the bomb hit Ashrafiyya on October 19, killing eight and injuring more than 100. A friend in the US e-mailed to ask if the bomb was close, but since I didn’t hear it explode or smell the smoke, gauging distance and direction by senses, it couldn’t have been. Even before it became known that Wisam al-Hasan, a Lebanese intelligence chief, was the apparent target, a friend here parsed the “political grammar”: neighborhood, bomb location in relation to the headquarters of various political parties with various stances toward Syria. Once Hasan’s death became known, his identification with the March 14 camp and the family of ex-premier Rafiq al-Hariri, killed by car bomb in 2005, complicated the syntax. But grammar, as any US college teacher knows, is relative. This friend described Ashrafiyya as a poor Christian area, while the Guardian called it “middle-class Christian,” and another friend pointed out that plenty of Shi‘a live there, too, along with Christians of the upper class. Certainly, the bomb did not discriminate: One of the dead civilians, Georgette Sirkassian, was a 42-year old mother of three.

A local news website posted headlines every few minutes, recording the accusations and appeals for calm of various politicians, broadcasting calls for blood donors and naming the roads blocked by protesters’ burning tires. There was shooting reported in Tripoli in the north, where mostly poor neighborhoods of different political leanings have clashed periodically as the war in Syria has intensified. Roads in the south were also said to be cut off. Quick e-mails to local friends gave some sense of the spaces and places. My first thought was of the Syrian refugees, people who had fled government attacks in their own country, only to wind up in the thick of things again.

Eventually, shooting was reported in Beirut, in districts explained to me as populated with Sunni Hariri supporters. I was urged not to go out, with warnings that the nearby headquarters of the pro-Syrian regime political group, the SSNP, might become a focal point of anger. My mental map, however, assured me that the path to the burger joint where I’d just placed an order didn’t take me past any obvious target. On the way there, I noticed that a building site I pass during the day is home to someone at night. Lights and a TV glowed from deep in a second-floor “room,” with nothing for a door but the large plastic sheet announcing a restaurant that’s been “coming soon” for quite some time. It was probably a Syrian worker or two, the people who are slowly raising the building around them during the day. In recent months, there has been a new rash of apparently random attacks on Syrian workers. What will happen to them now?

Then, a typical Beiruti juxtaposition: I elbowed my way past a trio of young girls in very tight clothes and very high heels, as if decked out for a costume ball -- either that or face masks and feathers are the new chic. They were not visibly worried, except maybe about tripping in their stilt-like shoes.

Back home with my chicken burger, I could not resist the urge to hit “refresh” on the news sites. Time spent in the West Bank during the second intifada left a habit of constant news updating. Then it was a matter of needing to know where the tanks are rolling and whether it’s time to consider the angles of windows and bullet trajectories. Here it’s still just a matter of burning tires and blocked roads. The call for blood donors to go to hospitals around Ashrafiyya brought me back to Bethlehem TV’s Urgent News Update banners, scrolling in blurry red font across the bottom of the screen.

A friend engaged with me in armchair analysis over the phone asked if all the “whodunit” speculation on the Internet wasn’t common in Palestine, too. “Well, no, actually. There it’s usually pretty clear who’s responsible -- it’s the Israelis.” Laughing for a moment in recognition of this obvious fact, she exclaimed, “But here it always ends up being the Israelis, too!” Eventually Hizballah did blame the bombing on Israel, insisting it was the Zionists who wanted to stir up trouble in Lebanon.

So far, there is otherwise a lot of pleading to avoid hasty conclusions, but fingers are nonetheless pointing at Bashar al-Asad’s regime or Hizballah or other Lebanese actors said to be in Syria’s pocket. Wisam al-Hasan had apparently gathered evidence that a former information minister, Michel Samaha, had plotted with Syria to stage other bombings. Immediately after the explosion, Prime Minister Najib Miqati called for a national unity government and Michel Aoun for wisdom. By the next day, Miqati was saying he would step down “sooner rather than later.”

The English-language press is particularly sure about what’s going on in “deeply fragile and sectarian Lebanon.”

It took no time at all for the language of inexorable chaos to spread in outlets like the Guardian, the New York Times, Al Jazeera English and the BBC. Double, double, toil and trouble. The spells are cast in every article: “The melting pot of the region has barely been holding together as Syria boiled.” The bombing “could set off tit-for-tat killings and reprisals that could spiral out of control.” “Our correspondent said that already there were fears that the bombing meant the Syrian crisis had spilled over into Lebanon.” “Many here had feared something like this would happen sooner or later and that Lebanon would be inevitably dragged into the conflict in neighboring Syria.” For these Western reporters, sectarianism and the way it maps onto the conflict in Syria explain it all: “Lebanon’s religious communities are divided between those who support the Syrian government -- including many Shias -- and those mostly from the Sunni community who back the rebels.” Left out of this neat picture of religio-political factionalism are the Lebanese activists gathering donations for the traumatized people made homeless in Ashrafiyya and the hotel owners offering them rooms. Or the teenagers following a new iPhone app that provides updates on which cafés are open and which roads are blocked. Also unreported are those staying put at home, keen to avoid trouble, cynical about the overt machinations of the parties trying to make political gains out of the blast.

Indeed, Hasan’s funeral in downtown Beirut was turned into a political rally, with the opposition head, Saad al-Hariri, calling for a new government, while Miqati’s offer to resign has been put on hold. The attempts by protesters from the March 14 grouping to storm the prime minister’s office, though so far repelled, are now being transformed through political alchemy into more accusations, met with more calls for Lebanese unity and respect for state institutions. 

We shall have to wait and see what reality all the incantations will summon.

Tie a Pink Ribbon

by Amanda Ufheil-Somers | published October 17, 2012 - 4:40pm

Obligatory displays of Komen pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month continue their spread beyond women’s accessories and yogurt containers into the masculine redoubts of the NFL and even the US military. While NFL players and coaches will spend the month sporting pink accessories, sailors in the South China Sea created a human ribbon to promote awareness of the disease.

Indeed, breast cancer is on the military’s radar in a big way. According to the Army Times, a study conducted at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in 2009 found that women in the military had a 20-40 percent higher chance of developing breast cancer. The military’s rate of male breast cancer cases is also significantly higher than that of the civilian population, where it is relatively rare and found only in older men. The Centers for Disease Control have identified a breast cancer cluster at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, possibly linked to groundwater contamination from military chemicals.

Iraqis and international public health researchers, of course, have long been aware of the link between breast cancer and the US military. Most reporting on the public health crisis in Iraq following the 2003 invasion has focused on the dramatic rise in miscarriages, infant mortality and birth defects -- missing or shortened limbs, oversized heads, missing eyes and externalized organs are among the more horrifying -- in Falluja, where the US is accused of having used depleted uranium munitions in two assaults on the city in April and November/December 2004. But the incidence of breast and blood cancers is also many times higher in Falluja than in neighboring provinces and the region. Recent studies have also looked at the high rates of cancer in Basra (particularly among children) and other southern Iraqi cities after the documented use of depleted uranium during the 1991 Gulf war. The World Health Organization is expected to publish a report in November on cancer and birth defects in Iraq since 1991.

This month also marks the two year anniversary of the Basra Children’s Hospital, a US Army Corps of Engineers-built facility focused on pediatric oncology. Delayed for years due to cost, poor management and the ongoing war, the project was personally championed by Laura Bush as a remedy for Basra’s staggering rate of childhood cancer, double that in the rest of the country. The provenance of these cancers was never mentioned.

The US military certainly isn’t the first or only entity to push a tone-deaf cancer awareness campaign. But the Pentagon’s consistent denial that its depleted uranium weapons cause disease (or that they were used in the first place) deserves special recognition. Just don’t make it a pink ribbon.

Photo credit: US Department of Defense

Drones Over Israel

by Steve Niva | published October 16, 2012 - 2:47pm

Two stories regarding Israel and drones appeared last week, illustrating both the dangerous new world of drone proliferation and Israel’s major role in making that possible.

Early last week, a mysterious object that entered Israeli airspace turned out to be a drone launched by the Lebanese Shi‘i militant organization Hizballah. Its leader Sheikh Hasan Nasrallah warned would that it would not be the last “quality” operation of its kind. The unarmed reconnaissance drone was believed to have been launched near the southern Lebanese city of Sidon and flown over the Mediterranean near Gaza. It was shot down about 35 miles inland to the north of Israel's Negev desert, marking a rare breach of Israel’s tightly guarded airspace.

Also last week, a report on CNN declared Israel the world’s largest exporter of drones, noting that the state-owned Israeli Aerospace Industries sells unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and related technologies to dozens of countries as varied as Nigeria, Russia and Mexico. The report notes that Israel’s booming drone industry is just a symptom of a broader global trend: Only ten years ago the US had a virtual monopoly on drones, but now more than 70 countries own some type of unmanned aircraft, although just a small number of those possess armed drones.

The timing of these two stories may have been coincidental, but the relationship between Israel’s fervent use and export of drones and their eventual deployment by Israel’s arch-enemy Hizballah is not.

As one of the first states to develop and use drones in war, Israel pioneered their use as tools of surveillance and assassination in the new “asymmetrical” conflicts between states and insurgent organizations in Lebanon and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, making it a particularly attractive “battle-tested” supplier for states seeking new tools to control their populations. Israel’s booming trade in such techniques and technologies is a major part of what Jimmy Johnson has referred to as the “Global Pacification Industry,” the growing industry serving a market of inequality management around the world.

Thus, it should be no surprise that Israel’s opponents, including insurgent and militant groups, are seeking to counter them in this new arena of warfare. War is a largely reciprocal and imitative human endeavor. The British military theorist Gen. John Fuller wrote of the “constant tactical factor” describing the interplay: Every technological innovation is eventually countered, which in turn spawns demand for another technological innovation. In fact, Hizballah has attempted to send unmanned aircraft over Israel on several occasions, dating back to 2004. The last known such attempt took place during the 2006 war, when Israel shot down at least three Iranian-made pilotless aircraft that had entered its airspace, each carrying a payload of explosives, marking the first drone attack against a state by a non-state drone.

Moreover, it is increasingly the case that technologically sophisticated non-state organizations are able to utilize many of the same technologies that stronger powers like Israel have developed and exported, which security analyst John Robb has called the rise of “open-source warfare.” While it certainly was the case that the drone Hizballah sent up over Israel was a crude facsimile of its Israeli counterparts, dismissed as “rinky-dink” by one analyst, its use indicates that the drone genie is out of the bottle, and will likely spur new and further innovations.

As CNN’s Peter Bergen suggests, the explosion in drone technology promises to change the way nations conduct war and threatens to begin a new arms race as governments scramble to counterbalance their adversaries. But states are not alone in their quest for drones. Insurgent groups, too, are moving to acquire this technology. Last year, Libyan opposition forces trying to overthrow the dictator Muammar Qaddafi bought a sophisticated surveillance drone. As drone technology becomes more widely accessible, it is only a matter of time before others acquire them.

The broader message of Hizballah’s drone should be clear: The drones launched by Hizballah, one of most innovative militant groups at war today, marks the coming end of the monopoly by states over drone technologies, walking right through the door that Israel and other states have opened into the dangerous new world of robotic warfare.

But Hizballah’s drone also reveals something else about the new world of warfare. Both Israel and the US frequently unveil new instruments of warfare in displays of “technological exhibitionism” meant to warn and deter opponents. Hizballah appears to have adopted the same practice. Indeed, Hizballah’s open acknowledgement of Iran’s role in producing the drone, which was then assembled by Hizballah in Lebanon, and its actual flight path over southern Israel suggests its deployment was as much a marketing strategy as a military operation. Directing attention to the location of Israel’s long-standing nuclear weapons program, Nasrallah stressed that the drone “flew over sensitive installations inside southern Palestine and was shot down in an area near the Dimona nuclear reactor.” Whether or not the drone actually got near Dimona is doubtful. But in the context of escalating rhetoric by Hizballah that it may strike strategic targets in Israel if it were to attack Iran, it appears that Hizballah’s drone was meant to play as a “drone over Dimona” -- a low-tech cyber-deterrent warning Israel that it might face dangerous consequences if it strikes Iran.

With its drone over Israel, Hizballah was also sending a message.