Monday, February 20, 2006

The Devil Went Down To Georgia

The military monster, aka, the US of A, may be bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan but that doesn't mean the war of terror doesn't go on. Unless you've been living under a rock, you know the US is gearing up for a 'military campaign' against Iran, who, wouldn't you know it, is on the cusp of acquiring those weapons of mass destruction, in fact, the deadliest of the lot, nuclear, and this has to be stopped. Anyway, this is not a report to debate or lampoon this scenario, alll pretty much a repeat of the Iraqi charade. This is to point to the latest developments in preparing for said attack-to-be. There's an interesting report in the Moscow News saying the U.S. is courting the Caucasus nation of Georgia to use it as a base to launch aerial raids on Iran’s several nuclear sites. The entire report is here.

As readers of the Informant know, Georgia is now led by one Mikhail Saakashvili, a Harvard-trained lawyer and certified Washington stooge. His Velvet Revolution was due to a healthy dose of US pr magic and internet savvy, following the template trailblazed in Serbia and then copied successfully in Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, and not so successfully in Belarus. That’s not to say that his predecessor, Eduard Shevardnadze, was a saint, but once he put U.S. Caspian oil pipeline plans into doubt, he had to go. And go he did. Saakashvili has been one of the few European leaders to give unquestioned support to the Iraqi war-cum-quagmire. After President Bush was reelected, Georgia announced plans to increase its number of troops stationed in Iraq from 159 to 850. The Washington Times notes that given Georgia’s small population, this increase makes it one of the top contributors on a per capita basis

Saakashvili is now a shameless US backer and Russian basher. Out with the Russians and in with the Americans! During the Soviet era, Krtsanisi military base outside Tbilisi was home to the Red Army. Now it is US soldiers who are in charge and, according to the US Ambassador in Tbilisi Richard Miles, they are in Georgia to stay. In 2002 the Bush administration set up an 18-month, $65m program aimed at training and equipping Georgia's impoverished army.

According to Arms Trade Resource Center,for a country that is slightly smaller than South Carolina, with only 4.6 million citizens, Georgia receives a staggering amount of military support from the United States.

According to the center, in 1997 Georgia received its first FMF grant of $700,000. In 1998, Washington increased FMF more than 7 times over, granting $5.3 million in aid. Since those first years, Georgia has received a total of $107.7 million in FMF grants.[138] The Bush administration requested an additional $12 million in the 2006 budget.

Both Secretary of State Colin Powell and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld visited Georgia in 2004, pledging continued U.S. support to the country.

Georgia, an aggressive force in a number of border disputes and a state with a well-documented history of human rights violations, does not seem like an ideal candidate for U.S. military aid. Human Rights Watch says the country is, "one of the most corrupt in the world, is desperately short of money, and has a record of persistent and widespread human rights abuses."

The State Department agrees, finding in its most recent Human Rights Report that "nongovernmental organizations blamed two deaths in custody on physical abuse. NGOs reported that police brutality continued, and in certain areas increased. Law enforcement officers continued to torture, beat, and otherwise abuse detainees."

Despite his sycophancy, Saakashvili seems a little weak in the knees about getting involved in the next US attack. Apparently he does not share the unabashed enthusiasm of the Busheviks and feels there could be reprecussions for his small Caucasus nation should it play any role in a U.S. attack on Iran. Stay tuned...

Monday, February 13, 2006

Islam And Europe

Every two-bit pundit has rubbed his chin on this one, so why not yours truly. I never thought I'd see the day fuzzy, progressive countries like Denmark and Norway would be targeted by angry mobs. But the TV images don't lie. Pissed off crowds have set on their embassies in Beirut and Damascus and demos have erupted everywhere else across the Muslim world and in major European cities as well, Paris, London, and Berlin. All over images like the one pictured here, in this cartoon chaos. It would be easy to jump on the bandwagon, expressing outrage over how many of these protests have turned really ugly, with the torching of embassies in Syria and Lebanon, in particular. The violence is a tactical no-no, turning away anyone maybe willing to listen to their argument that the Danish paper that started this mess exhibited religious intolerance, fanned the flames of hatred, ecetera... all by the way legitimate points, especially, as the Guardian has pointed out, the same obscure Danish rag balked at printing some risque Jesus drawings out of fear of offending Christians. It's a shame, the focus now has shifted to the violent response, and not to the cause of it, at least in the vaunted "West," just further ripping the gulf further apart between what are, I have to admit, two very different worlds, but I won't get sucked into the "Clash of Culture" trap. Here in Europe, there's been a backlash against "multiculturalism," sparked I guess, if you can peg such things, to the killing in Holland of director Theo Van Gogh. A Muslim, Mohammed Bouyeri, who is now serving a life sentence, shot and stabbed Van Gogh as he cycled through Amsterdam in 2004. He claimed he acted out of religious conviction. Now that happened in hip Holland, best known for its red light districts and hash brownies in Amsterdam, all underscoring its liberal image. The Van Gogh murder prompted lots of Dutch to question their liberal live-and-let-be policies to immigrants under which there wasn't even a requirement to learn the Dutch language. That debate also comes with much of Holland's generous welfare safety net being chipped away at by its right-wing government. When people are either out of work or fear losing their jobs, they tend to take a less charitable view of those worse off. Then this November France was racked by the worst urban violence since the student-worker riots of 1968. In three weeks of rioting, about 9,000 vehicles were torched, hundreds of schools and public buildings attacked, and more than 3,000 people arrested. Many of those doing the damage were offspring of emigrants from North Africa and the Middle East, a remnant of France's colonial past. Some progressives pointed to France's failure to integrate them, highlighting that country's shameful racism. But the unrest furthered the divide between blacks and whites, Christians and Muslims across the continent. Television images of youths setting fire to cars, trash bins, shops, buses, did little to soften up French or other European peoples to the plight of the migrant poor. In Denmark, the government of Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen has courted the right in his country, creating a less tolerant, anti-Muslim atmosphere there. The Europeans aren't the only ones seeing objectionable images on their television screens. Muslims routinely see or hear or read stories of Muslims being tortured or killed in Iraq and Afghanistan where the Americans have reputation for shooting first and asking questions later. Lest we forget, Abu Ghraid and Guantanamo and those images of torture. In the latest affront, a British tabloid, the News of the World, got their hands on a very nasty video, depicting what looks like British soldiers having a good ol' time beaten up Iraqi boys. Elsewhere, Palestinians are still routinely humiliated by the Israelis without much objection from Europe, let alone the U.S. These injustices goes largely unnoticed in the West, not in the Muslim world. While the anger is real, that doesn't mean others aren't exploiting it for their own purposes. It's no coincidence that Iran and Syria-- currently on the U.S. blacklist and possibly on deck for military action -- have witnessed some of the more violent protests. Stirring up anti-Western sentiment can give them a little breathing room and shore up their own sagging support. Sadly, when more reasoned and calm voices are needed, it is the shrill that are being heard right now.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Strange Days in Poland

Imagine a government led by Pat Robertson. Scary, right? Well, Poland may be the closest thing to a "700 Club" fantasy on the face of the earth. Take the governing "Law and Justice" party, which backs conservative favorites, like "traditional values", and an agenda that is full of 'antis' like gay, immigrant and EU. Oddly, the party backs a generous social welfare network, not something Pat and his crew would likely take a shining to although in synch with other populist parties. Now, Law and Justice won parliamentary elections back in September, but they didn't win enough seats to form a government. So, what do they do? Turn to even smaller, and more rightwing parties to govern. It's getting pretty scary in Poland.

How bad is it in ultra-conservative Catholic Poland? Just ask Alicja Tysiac. She is pretty close to blind and wears really think glasses to see. Last year, three eye specialists warned her she risked going completely blind if she took her third pregnancy to term. Slightly freaked, Tysiac sought frantically for a doctor to give her an okay to abort the pregnancy. Legal under communism, abortion is now illegal in Poland, unless the health of the mother or child is at risk. Tysiac did finally find one doctor who did agree having the child would threaten her eyesight. However, when she went to a Warsaw hospital, the staff there didn't see it that way(pardon the weak pun), and refused to do it. After the birth, Tysiac's vision did deteriorate. Now, the single-parent Tysiac sits at home in Warsaw, next to blind and living off a meager monthly welfare check. It won't bring back her vision, but Tysiac has taken her case to the European Court of Human Rights.

Robertson wouldn't be the only American-that-mattered to be all a titter with Poland. Our Prez, Mr. Bush has called Poland America's best European ally outside of Britain, and its poodle quizzling, Tony Blair. Chalk that up in part to a strong ethnic Polish lobby in the U.S., (Chicago has the highest concentration of Poles outside of Warsaw) whose feverish anti-Communist has ingrained a strong pro-US stance. During the Iraqi quagmire, Poland has stood at attention saluting commandante Bush. Remember the "Coalition of the Willing" El Salvador ecetera in Iraq? Well Poland is still there, even though their 1,500 troops were set to come home in January. (While most Poles are Yankie-friendly, like all Europeans most do not support the U.S.-led war in Iraq.)But the Law and Justice Party said nope, and now the Poles will remain in southern Iraq. And those furtive CIA prisons in Eastern Europe? Yep, Poland is said to house at least one of them along with fellow top suspect Romania. It's not all that eye-brow-raising given that Poland's Defense Minister Radek Sikorski is a committed neo-conservative who worked as a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), where he toiled alongside such neo-con stalwarts Michael Ledeen and Richard Perle.

According to Insider Magazine, Sikorski has a spooks past working for the CIA. Polish intelligence sources report that Sikorski became a U.S. intelligence asset during the Reagan Cold War years. Sikorski was a Solidarity leader in the 1970s. He was visiting Britain in 1981 when martial law was declared in Poland. In 1984 Sikorski became a British citizen.

Sikorski operated under the cover of a journalist in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan during the mid 1980s and in Angola in the late 1980s where he liaised with pro-U.S. UNITA guerrillas backed by apartheid South Africa and noted GOP activists, including recently convicted Jack Abramoff as well as Karl Rove friend and adviser Grover Norquist.

Some in Europe, including ol' French President Jacques Chirac, look warily at Poland, fearing Warsaw is a fifth column doing the bidding of Washington at the expense of efforts to build an EU superstate, complete with a robust foreign policy outside of Washington's control.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

NATO, What's It For?

Unbeknownst to most of you, assorted generals and majors from that military dinosaur NATO got together in Munich recently for their yearly powwow to chit chat on "security issues." NATO is still something of a lost child after losing its play partner the Soviet Union years ago. Since then, NATO has been in search of a new "mission." Bombing Yugoslavia in 1999 to "save" ethnic Albanians in Kosovo was part of that effort. It was the first time the military club had used its weapons for real not to repel an invasion -- as spelled out in its charter to justify action -- but to attack a sovereign nation that hadn't threatened it. Anyway, that mission didn't solve all the problems of NATO which now stands at 26 members having taken in lots of former enemy Warsaw Pact states. Anyway to the meeting. Angela Merkel, Germany's first female chancellor, has been in sycophant overdrive taking every available opportunity to brown nose the Busheviks in Washington, who felt snubbed by her predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, whose anti-Iraq war rhetoric peeved off Bush and crew. (However, as the Informant and other top news sites have pointed out, it seems the German intelligence services were providing the Yanks with some furtive bombing target data during the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.) So what did Angela have to say? Lots. She opined NATO "should be the first place to discuss international conflicts." I guess Angela forgot about another international organization with a slighly larger membership -- 190 countries or so --call the United Nations, set up for just the purpose Angela would like handed over to the more selective NATO club. Merkel called for NATO to engage in "broader operations" and take on "a primary role in the world." I can just see Bush and his bunch standing off by the side, rubbing their hands, saying "excellent, Angela, excellent."

Not to be outdone in the butt-licking department, German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung also saw lots of work ahead for NATO. "Terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, failing states -- these are the scourges of our times," Jung told the conference. "The old NATO as a purely defensive alliance is history," he added. In hindsight, what do you expect a military man to say?

US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld thanked Merkel for her "thoughtful and important remarks on NATO." But Rummy lectured the Europeans on their shyness not to splurge on military spending like in the ol' US. "Insufficient" military spending, as Rummy put it, is holding back NATO's "potential."

The United States was spending 3.7 percent of its GDP on defense but other NATO members were spending far less, he said.

Leave it to the French, however, to be difficult. French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie took a more skeptical view on NATO's role and stressed the importance of the European Union's growing security capability, reflecting widespread concerns in France that a stronger NATO would mean a weaker EU.

Hey, wait a minute, how can NATO and the US keep an eye and control over the Europeans, if the EU is stronger? Bad idea, Michele, bad. You're getting a little too uppity.

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, however, supported "pragmatic" cooperation between NATO and the European Union and sought to calm French fears. He did say something very, very interesting. De Hoop Scheffer, (phew, that's a name) said NATO could "protect energy supply lines" from "terrorists." Protecting energy sources with military might? Sounds like the stuff those conspiracy nuts have been saying all along that motivates the U.S. in the former Soviet Union, specifically in the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea region, where oil and pipelines abound.

Just try, try, for a moment to look at this from Russian President Vladimir Putin's position. His country's erstwhile enemy is now talking about 'protecting' energy resources that lie within the old Soviet empire and not too far from presentday Russia. Might make him antsy, no?