Month: February 1999

The Future of Iraq

Over 600 people saw Denis Halliday and Phyllis Bennis speak at Kane Hall at the UW last Monday, Feb. 15; the turnout was incredible, and latecomers were forced to stand or sit in the aisles. Halliday’s speech was important, because he has directly witnessed what the sanctions have done in Iraq.

Denis Halliday served for 34 years with the U.N. in various development projects around the world (Kenya, Iran, Malaysia, and all over Asia and the Pacific), and was appointed assistant U.N. Secretary General to coordinate the U.N.’s Humanitarian Relief effort in Iraq for 13 months in 1997 and 1998. He oversaw the Oil for Food program until he finally resigned in protest over the economic sanctions. Halliday is a native of Ireland and so brings an outsider’s perspective to the U.S.’s foreign policy goals in Iraq and the Middle East.

He made a useful distinction between the Oil for Food program and the sanctions. He was careful to say that the Oil for Food program has been a success in that the money from Oil sales made through the program has gone directly to buy food and medicines which have been distributed equitably throughout Iraq by U.N. teams. None of this money or these goods have gone to bolster Saddam Hussein or his government. Nevertheless, Halliday honestly pointed out that the Oil for Food program is a disaster in that it can’t meet the deep needs of a country that was bombed back to the Stone Age during the Gulf War, with the destruction of hospitals, sewage treatment plants, water pumping stations, factories that produce pharmaceuticals and veterinary supplies, oil extraction facilities, refineries, and agricultural infrastructure–in short, everything that any nation (including ours) would take for granted. In light of the poverty, disease, and collapse of infrastructure in Iraq, the Oil for Food program is a tiny band-aid on a hemorrhaging wound.

As a consequence, Halliday was very critical of the economic sanctions. He carefully outlined how the sanctions prevent legal trade by civilians and civilian businesses and the import of humanitarian goods, while allowing illegal trade to flourish on the black market, which more often than not enriches the very people the sanctions are supposed to punish: war profiteers, Saddam Hussein’s associates, Ba’ath party members, and criminals. The sanctions have destroyed Iraq’s middle class and created two widely separate societal strata: a vast civilian underclass struggling so hard to survive that it can’t mount an effective political opposition, and a wealthy upper class closely allied to Saddam’s government and his policies. In short, the sanctions have had the opposite effect from what they were intended to do: they’ve helped Saddam to consolidate his power.

Halliday went one step further in claiming that a fascist, anti-Western (particularly anti-U.S.), Islamic fundamentalist element may gain power in Iraq; he compared it to war-torn Afghanistan and the hard-line Taliban. There are a few problems with this analysis. First of all, Iraq has a highly educated population, a long history of Humanism, and a tradition of a liberal interpretation of Islam. Secondly, the Mujahadeen (of which the Taliban were one faction) were funded and supported by the CIA and wealthy fundamentalist elements in Saudi Arabia, and were allowed to fight their war from bases in Pakistan. If anything, the U.S. is having distinct problems with funding and supporting an opposition in Iraq, as our government is loathe to give too much support to the Kurds in northern Iraq. The Kurds have demanded and fought for an autonomous state for over 70 years, but to create this state would mean carving up Turkey, a traditional U.S. ally.

But what bothered me the most about Halliday’s speech was his mainstream solution to the conflict with Iraq. He would lift the sanctions, then offer $50 to $60 billion in credit–i.e., loans–to Iraq to rebuild its infrastructure. In a world where larger governments default on that much debt (as Russia did last August), and the price of Iraq’s main export (oil) has collapsed, that solution is no solution at all.

Phyllis Bennis, author and Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington D.C., was the better speaker. She gave a useful history of the Gulf War conflict and the economic sanctions, especially the U.S.’s role in bribing other U.N. member nations and security council members to go along with the bombings and the sanctions. She made the important point that Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait has numerous unpunished parallels around the world among U.S. allies (for example, Indonesia and East Timor, Turkey and Kurdistan, etc.). She also answered the question of “why Iraq?” with the simple but effective answer that Iran and Iraq are the only two nations in the Middle East that can potentially remain independent of the West and at the same time challenge U.S. hegemony in the region–they both are rich in resources, are agriculturally rich (and so can feed their own people), are large nations, and are strategically located. It’s no surprise that the U.S. maintains a hostile and destructive policy towards them.

Bennis, articulate and outspoken about opposing the inhumanity of the sanctions, also offered her own solution to the problem. She favors continued pressure by U.S. citizens against our government’s support for sanctions and the ongoing bombing of Iraq. Yet she also expressed hope for the United Nations, arguing that it’s the only institution that can and should govern the world in the 21st Century. This ignores the fact that the U.N. has been playing an increasingly weak role internationally, as corporate interests have made an end-run around it–particularly through the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the fledgling MAI (Multilateral Agreement on Investments). And there are other former U.N. employees who’ve criticized the U.N. and its development projects for being big, bureaucratic, wasteful, environmentally destructive, and inefficient in alleviating poverty (although very efficient at diverting money to bankers, construction companies, engineers, and other professionals). We do, after all, live in a world full of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that end up doing a lot of the really dirty work that the U.N. can’t and won’t do.

Nevertheless, it was encouraging to see so many people show up to hear criticism about the sanctions against Iraq, to ask questions, and to offer their opinions. For every person that I recognized there (and there were a lot of people that I didn’t), I know of many, many more folks who are against U.S. policies towards Iraq. We should take this as a sign that public sentiment is changing, and we should push even harder now to end the bombings and the sanctions.

Dodge It

It’s good to know that, even though the national military budget is expanding, the number of people entering the armed forces each year is declining. When carrier ships are sent off the Persian Gulf with only two-thirds of their normal crew, it’s tempting to think “that’s not safe!” But then you realize: “hey, the fewer killers out there, the better.”

Here in Seattle and the Puget Sound, we can’t really say that we live in a peaceful place. Certainly there are no militias waving guns, dropping bombs on cities, and herding the local populace into concentration camps. No. We just make the weapons for others to do use in countries around the world. The local papers trumpet Boeing’s big share of the expanding military budget and point out that the Lazy B now makes nearly its entire profit from its military and space programs. In the fiscal 2000 defense budget alone, Boeing stands to rake in $6.4 billion. The bulk of that money will purchase C-17 transport planes to move U.S. troops and supplies to “hot spots” around the globe.

So it’s encouraging to know that the military is hard up for new employees. Too bad. It’s not for want of effort, however: the military spends approximately $1.9 billion every year in recruiting costs to target about 380,000 high school students–most of them from poor, rural, and minority communities. Back when I was a kid growing up in rural Washington State near Fort Lewis Military Reservation, many of my teenage friends ended up in the military for all the wrong reasons: it’s what they knew (their parents were in the military), it was a guaranteed job (there were no other big employers around), and it was a way to pay for college (untrue, as many of them later discovered–the GI Bill is not nearly as generous as advertised).

I’m glad to find out that lots of kids are escaping from the military recruitment trap. The Junior ROTC programs in high schools are the biggest educational ripoffs in history. Recruiters promise money for college, job training that will carry over into civilian life, travel, and escape from poverty. The truth is the exact opposite for most recruits. The military steals the best and brightest kids from poor and minority communities only to train them in highly specific military-related tasks that can never be used in civilian life. Over 50% of JROTC cadets are students of color, yet JROTC can’t promise a military job for all of them, nor advancement once they enter the armed services–one-third of all military recruits are people of color, yet only one-eighth of the officers are.

JROTC teaches and promotes violence. Kids wanting to escape from gangs, for example, can learn how to shoot bigger guns in the JROTC program, often with the help of the local NRA chapter. Or they can learn how to break down and clean weapons, fix weapons, or how to read a radar screen–not exactly skills needed in the average office environment. A survey of military veterans done by Ohio State researchers (who received their funding from the military) found that only 12% of men and 6% of women surveyed said they used their skills learned in the military in their civilian jobs. In fact, 14 separate studies have found that, on average, veterans earn between 11-19% less than non-veterans who come from similar socio-economic backgrounds. In fact, the military is so bad at job training that over 50,000 veterans are on a waiting list for a special federal job training program geared especially for them. How do they get by while they wait to be accepted into the program? Well, the Veterans Administration estimates that one-third of all homeless people are veterans.

The much-vaunted “adventures” offered by military service include: sexual harassment by fellow soldiers (90% of women veterans have reported suffering harassment, by the VA’s own admission), racial discrimination in deployment (in the Gulf War, over 50% of front-line troops were people of color, exposure to toxic substances (Agent Orange, experimental vaccines, oil fires, depleted uranium), loss of Constitutional rights (which don’t apply in military courts), and, of course, death at the whim of a commander who may be sleeping with your spouse.

So I was miffed to find out that military recruiters were coming to Seattle high schools. A community of activists has worked hard in the past to keep military recruiters out of Seattle schools. Members of the local teachers’ union have also helped; they rightly view non-union JROTC instructors as a threat to their jobs, and they see the teaching of military propaganda in schools as a menace to students. Furthermore, each JROTC school unit costs school districts at least $50,000 per year to operate (you didn’t think the military paid for this, did you?). Folks at the Seattle Draft and Military Counseling Center began to get ready to use whatever non-violent means necessary to keep the recruiters out.

Guess what? Rather than risk being humiliated by the facts, the military decided to skip Seattle after all. Instead, the recruiters are visiting schools on the Kitsap Peninsula–once again doing their cowardly rounds of poor communities located near military bases. That won’t, however, mean that every Seattle student is safe; many kids will still join the military, as long as recruiting centers occupy storefronts in their communities. If you know a teenager who’s thinking about enlisting, talk to them about it. Give them the facts, find out why they want to join up, and suggest alternatives. It’s definitely worth your time, and you could literally save that person’s life.

Special thanks to Al Cairns at the Seattle Draft and Military Counseling Center (SDMCC) for many of the statistics in this article. For more information, call SDMCC at 206-789-2751, or the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors at 1-800-665-7682. SDMCC is also setting up a peace scholarship for a Shorecrest High School student and is currently taking applications.

And the War Goes On

This past week, while our government continued to bomb Iraq for not allowing U.S. spies into Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party headquarters, another war grabbed the headlines: Kosovo. The tale of Kosovo begins with a modern-day crisis within NATO.

Back in 1989, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, things were looking bad for NATO. With the “red menace” gone and European nations talking about economic unity, the U.S. was on the verge of losing all its influence in Europe. Particularly hard to lose was the U.S.’s long-standing military occupation of Europe via the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Geeks at the State Department and the Pentagon worked late into the night looking for reasons to keep NATO alive. Finally, they were rescued by chance and circumstance.

Along came the war in Bosnia. This conflict–a region wide land-grab fought by two virulently nationalist governments in Serbia and Croatia to parcel up the province of Bosnia-Herzegovina (after uprooting and exterminating its Muslim and multi-racial populations), was what rescued NATO from near extinction. Not that NATO did anything important in Bosnia; in fact, NATO troops from various countries have been implicated in aiding both sides of the conflict to displace and imprison refugees. Evidence exists that some NATO commanders turned a blind eye to mass executions of civilians carried out practically under their noses. And in spite of the on-again off-again threat of NATO bombing runs, it was only after Bosnia had been completely carved in two that the opposing sides finally come to the bargaining table to sign a treaty.

But long before the treaty, the nightmare scenario was that the Bosnian conflict would spread to Kosovo and its predominantly ethnic-Albanian/Muslim religious population, then from there to Macedonia, and on to Greece and Turkey, who exist side-by-side in a hostile and uneasy peace. Although it was back in 1989 that Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic declared Kosovo part of the Serbian homeland and revoked its autonomy, it’s only in the past year or so that he has sent Serbian war veterans off to occupy Kosovo. It’s also worth remembering that Serbia has been at war all during Milosevic’s rule–nearly a decade now. Many of the young men and teenage boys who joined the Serbian forces in Bosnia have come of age during wartime; they literally don’t know how to do anything but fight. And it’s an open question whether Milosevic’s repressive government–one that’s closed down independent newspapers and radio stations, brutally suppressed opposition political parties, and banned all forms of protest–would survive during peacetime. While Milosevic and his ilk retain power, the region will remain at war.

The guys at the U.S. State Department and the Pentagon all know this, and so do the folks at the U.N. and the other NATO member nations. The problem is that they’re not at all bothered by having him around. He serves a twisted purpose in the eyes of U.S. foreign policy makers, for one thing. Some people at the State Department would argue that getting rid of Milosevic’s government would mean allowing someone else–an unknown group–to come to power. At least Milosevic is familiar and predictable: he just kills Muslims and Catholics, who don’t have a very high value in Washington, D.C. anyway (or on Wall Street, either–the stock market doesn’t dip when mass graves are found in Kosovo).

The usual excuse given by our well-trained media pundits–that Russia supports Milosevic and we can’t offend them–is too stupid to warrant a reply. The U.S. government goes out of its way to offend Russia, from trying to amend the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (much to the dismay of both Yevgeny Primakov and the Russian Parliament), to attempting to construct new U.S. military bases in Kazakstan, a former Soviet Republic (gotta protect those Caspian Sea oil reserves!). No, that’s not the reason why the U.S. and, by association, NATO haven’t worked hard to at least contain Milosevic.

It’s because as long as there’s a war somewhere in Europe, there’s a reason for European nations to keep NATO alive. As long as NATO survives, European member nations will need to buy military hardware, a major export commodity for the U.S.

And if we need one more reason to believe this, let’s look at the pathetic excuse for a peace proposal now on the table in Geneva. The U.S., through NATO, wants to turn back the clock and return Kosovo to what it was before Serbia revoked Kosovo’s status as an autonomous province of a greater Yugoslavia. The only problem is that Yugoslavia exists in textbooks only; no province in the region thinks of itself as part of Yugoslavia anymore. And with 30,000 Serbian troops marauding in Kosovo and a new guerilla army rapidly arming itself to the teeth (the Kosovo Liberation Army), we have the makings for a long and bloody Bosnian-style war all over again. The best that NATO has done so far is to threaten to bomb some of Milosevic’s less important military installations if he doesn’t sit down at the bargaining table. Some incentive.

And so the fighting continues. Tragically, the folks who lose the most from all this posturing are the civilians in Kosovo; some 300,000 people were displaced during the fighting last year and a larger number will be massacred, die from starvation, or driven from their homes while these fruitless talks continue. Meanwhile, NATO is basking in the spotlight and pretending to broker a peace treaty on this, its 50th anniversary.

She Is Me

I cringe whenever I see another news article about a woman killed by her (insert one) husband, ex-husband, lover, ex-lover, boyfriend, ex-boyfriend, relative, co-worker, ex-coworker, date, or casual acquaintance. Maybe it’s me, but it seems to be happening a hell of a lot more frequently than it used to.

More importantly, it’s happening after women have taken action in court to keep these jerks away from them. The latest one–in which a 50-year-old Harborview nurse, Gertrudes Lamson, was killed by her estranged husband after he had been arrested for violating a court order to stay away from her, then released without bail–is particularly disturbing. This guy was a nut. A King County courts commissioner had ordered him to stay away from his 17-year-old son and surrender all of his guns to his eldest son (obviously that didn’t work). Violence within a family can seldom be mediated and addressed only by the family members; it needs outside intervention of some kind. Yet no one seems to think that there’s anything wrong with the way our system handles these things. Only when someone dies do we begin to wonder about it.

Surely no one has a right to terrorize another person the way that many men harass women. We are not objects, not Barbie dolls, not automobiles, nor TV sets. You can’t take a baseball bat to us if we don’t “work properly.” Yet consider this bit of hate speech: “We are both going to be dead. Do you really want this to (happen)? I’m going to get the gun and let’s just finish this.” It’s every woman’s nightmare to hear words like that. And believe me, a lot of us live that nightmare.

After Gertrudes Lamson was shot by her husband, he asked her: “Why couldn’t you love me?”–as if the fact that he beat her, threatened to kill her, threatened violence against their children, and made threats against her friends were “loving” acts of kindness. Male batterers are control freaks who get a lot of support from a society that praises and rewards those who practice similar acts of violence as a way of life. As a nation, we routinely dismiss larger acts of violence with justifications that ignore both the brutality of those acts and their deeper meaning–the sanctions against Iraq, and now the bombing of Iraqi civilians is only one example. When our national leaders send the message that another nation can’t continue to exist in peace without doing exactly what we say, it’s the same message Victor Lamson gave his wife.

Aside from that, there’s an ancient assumption that’s survived across many different cultures: the idea that women are simply worth less than men. If a woman isn’t happy in a relationship, it doesn’t matter, because it’s her duty to take care of her man–indeed any man in her life, from her husband to her boss to the man sitting next to her on the bus. It’s reflected in statistics that show that one in three women will be raped or sexually abused over the course of her lifetime (that’s a conservative estimate–some claim it’s 50% or more). Women are in danger constantly, and we know it.

Women continually worry about whether they’re safe doing things that men take for granted: driving with their car doors unlocked, using a cash machine, walking alone (even in the broad daylight), entering a parking garage, working in an office alone without another co-worker around, talking to strangers, going for an early morning run, etc. It’s a relentless, demoralizing drain on women’s energy and time. But it’s a fear based in reality, particularly for women escaping from a bad relationship.

Tragically, Gertrudes Lamson was just beginning to do that when she filed for divorce in September. No one can know why she stayed with her husband for so long (they had been married for over 20 years), but maybe she felt she had to raise her children first, before she could leave him. We all know how much society still penalizes single mothers if they leave abusive relationships; just ask a few women on welfare or in the WorkFirst program if trying to get enough money just to pay food, rent, and childcare (not to mention the electric bill) is fun. That so many women still have to choose between their personal safety or the economic well-being of their children is simply barbaric.

I wish I knew of a place where Gertrudes could have gone–a place for all the women like her who are fleeing danger: someplace without ex-husbands, without guns, without the face of an uncaring landlord that wants to kick you out on the street, without civil servants in suits deciding your future, without shelters that have no empty beds available, without self-righteous people (men and women) judging you for not finding the “right” kind of man in the first place or for giving him a second and third chance, without courts that value his individual rights over yours, without newspapers that scream your death in headlines that scare every woman in the city who’s thinking of leaving a bad situation, and without the crappy, unspoken assumption that you’re no good if you don’t stick with him until the bitter end.

That place doesn’t exist. But at least it’s here in my imagination … and now in yours, too. Can we make it happen?

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén