Feds Try Afghan Drug Lord, Former US Ally

noorzaiA suspected Afghan druglord went on trial this week in New York for attempting to smuggle tens of millions of dollars worth of heroin from Afghanistan into the US. Afghanistan is currently the world’s most prolific producer of heroin. Not coincidentally, Afghanistan’s drug trade has gone hand-in-hand with US policy in that country.

In the 1980s, the US backed and financed, along with its Saudi allies, a massive holy war on Afghan soil against the Soviet occupation. It was at that time that heroin production in Afghanistan peaked globally. Narcotics were the untraceable currency which paid for weapons on the black market. These weapons eventually ended the Soviet occupation and helped the US win the Cold War. Nearly two decades later, under a US/NATO occupation, Afghanistan has earned the distinction of world’s greatest heroin producer for the second time.

Ironically heroin production under the Taliban slowed drastically as that regime responded to UN sanctions. My partner-in-crime, James Ingalls, wrote all about it in December 2000 in an article called Smart Sanctions on Afghanistan: The Real Target is Peace, as Afghans Suffer. But those sanctions were hypocritical – they only sought to curb drug production by the Taliban, not our allies, the Northern Alliance (or, as they used to be called: The United Front). The Northern Alliance (NA) warlords have hideous pasts as war criminals and jihadi drug lords, and were the very same men who led the drug-financed operation against the Soviets in the 1980s followed by massacres of ordinary Afghans in the early 1990s. Fast forward to a year after the UN sanctions were in place: after the 9-11 attacks, the NA helped the US defeat the Taliban and, as a reward, were given high positions in government. As an added bonus, there was a tacit understanding that their poppy farms would be overlooked.

Seven years later, Haji Bashir Noorzai is in New York, facing life imprisonment for drug smuggling into the US. In fact he is a minor player in Afghanistan’s landscape of corruption, crime, and political intimidation and is distinguished by not being a member of the central government. Warlords far more powerful and even more clearly linked to crimes hold power in Afghanistan’s parliament, part of the central government supported by the US. Men like Yunus Qanooni, Barhanuddin Rabbani, Mohammad Mohaqiq, and Abdul Rabb al-Rasul Sayyaf, whose crimes are documented by Human Rights Watch, wear a mantle of democracy in today’s Afghanistan. Additionally, Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s own brother Ahmed Wali Karzai, is linked to serious drug smuggling. And, worse, Izzatullah Wasifi, the current head of the Afghan government’s anti-corruption authority, once spent more than three years in a Nevada prison for selling heroin in Las Vegas.

While Noorzai fought in the US-financed jihad against the Soviets, he eventually allied himself with the Taliban, hoping that they would stabilize Afghanistan during the bloody 90s. As is the case with most of the corrupt militia leaders in Afghanistan that the US has worked with, Noorzai went the way the wind seemed to be blowing and once more changed his allegiance back to the US in 2001 when he helped defeat and disarm the Taliban. Now, he is puzzled as to why the Americans would treat an ally with such disrespect and has offered to share information about the notorious Taliban leader Mullah Omar in exchange for leniency in his case.

According to the New York Times (9/8/08), the US government is accusing Noorzai of aiding the Taliban:

He also provided weapons and manpower to the Taliban, the indictment says. In exchange, the indictment says, the Taliban provided him with protection for his opium crops, heroin laboratories and drug-transportation routes.

At the time of his arrest, Karen Tandy, then chief of the Drug Enforcement Administration, said the operation had “removed one of the world’s top drug traffickers,” and someone, she added, who “for too long, devastated the country of Afghanistan.”

Not surprisingly, Tandy takes no responsibility for the US encouragement of Afghan heroin sales when it has been beneficial to Washington. An excellent history lesson on the US role in the Afghan drug trade can be found in Alfred McCoy’s 2003 book, The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade.

Further in the same New York Times article, Noorzai’s version of the story is found through the words of his defense lawyer, Ivan Fisher and his own affidavit:

Mr. Fisher wrote that Mr. Noorzai was an ardent supporter of the United States-supported government in Afghanistan, and cooperated with American military and intelligence agencies in the years before and after the 2001 terror attacks.

Mr. Noorzai, in his own affidavit, said that in 1982 he began to lead a small force that grew to 1,000 mujahedeen fighters in the war between Afghanistan and the Soviet Union.

In 1990, he said, he used his network of tribal contacts to help the C.I.A. recover Stinger missiles that the United States had provided to the Afghan rebels. He eventually turned over about 12 missiles, he said.

While Noorzai maintains that he was not paid by the US for his help in defeating and disarming the Taliban, he was likely the exception. The majority of Afghan drug lords and warlords were hired with financial and political incentives to help defeat the Taliban. In an October 2003 article I published in Foreign Policy in Focus, I detailed some of the financial ties:

The cooperation of warlords such as Fahim and Qanooni was central to U.S. Operation Enduring Freedom and in fact they were paid off by the United States and Britain in return for supporting Karzai and fighting against the Taliban. In July 2002, the UK Observer “learnt that ‘bin bags’ full of U.S. dollars have been flown into Afghanistan, sometimes on RAF planes, to be given to key regional power brokers who could cause trouble for Prime Minister Hamid Karzai’s administration. Paying the warlords for their services has triggered clashes among groups eager to win patronage from the United States. In some areas commanders have been told they will receive a top-of-the-range $40,000 pick-up truck–a local status symbol–if they can prove they have killed Taliban or al Qaeda elements.”

So why would the US go out of its way to lure an Afghan drug lord to the US and put him on trial now? Is it possible that the war/druglords have abused their illegitimate power in Afghanistan so seriously over the past 7 years that they are jeopardizing the central government’s credibility and, by extension, the US government’s credibility? Is it possible that the US hopes to make an example of Noorzai, both to scare his colleagues in Kabul, and to appear as though it is doing something, anything, about a drug trade that has flourished under its troops’ noses?

Regardless of what happens to Bashir Noorzai, what will likely remain unchanged is the ages-old American policy in Afghanistan of this government selfishly pursuing its own interests at the expense of everything and everyone else.

There is a slim chance that the trial may have the unintended consequence of actually revealing the US’s moral compromises in Afghanistan. A Reuters article hints at the possibility:

Besides focusing on Afghanistan’s drug trade, the case may explore U.S. dealings with drug smugglers for political or security purposes.

US Good Cop, Israel Bad Cop

US-supplied Israeli Cluster Munitions.  Photo by HRW.In its bombing of Lebanon last summer, the Israeli military liberally sprinkled the notoriously deadly cluster bombs throughout populated areas. The funny thing is, the United States is now saying that “Israel violated American prohibitions” on the use of the weapons “against populated areas.” Why is the Bush administration showing such concern over Israel’s use of US-supplied weapons, even suggesting sanctions?[1]

The bombs, each of which spreads 88 submunitions over a large area, are nearly always used to terrorize civilian populations, since their imprecision makes them hard to target. Furthermore, their up to 14% failure rate turns 12/88 of them into future landmines when fleeing civilians return to a war-strewn area. So the weapons are universally condemned by human rights groups.

I don’t believe the critique of Israel is serious. Washington itself uses cluster munitions all the time. In fact all its major recent military operations – the US/NATO attack on the former Yugoslavia, the US invasion of Afghanistan, and the Iraq war – featured civilian deaths due to cluster bombs. According to Human Rights Watch,

the use of cluster munitions in populated areas in Iraq caused more civilian casualties than any other factor in the U.S.-led coalition’s conduct of major military operations in March and April 2003, killing and wounding more than 1,000 Iraqi civilians. Roughly a quarter of the 500 civilian deaths caused by NATO bombing in the 1999 Yugoslavia war were also due to cluster munitions.[2]

It is likely there won’t be any real action against Israel other than the current “preliminary finding” that Israel “may have violated” US law. The New York Times says, “Any sanctions against Israel would be an extraordinary move by the Bush administration, a strong backer of Israel, and several officials said they expected little further action, if any, on the matter.”

Still, even a pretend-critique of Israel’s conduct of the war is more than usual, and I’m not exactly sure where this is coming from. It’s possible that there are a few elements of the Administration that don’t agree with what has been standard US policy for decades, namely using Israel as a tool of US foreign policy in the Middle East and backing Israel without question when it behaves brutally (like its mentor).

Or maybe this is just the standard “good cop/bad cop” routine, where the scary Israeli military (which would be nothing without Washington’s support) is counterbalanced by a more reasonable US State Department to try to coerce the Lebanese people into accepting US stewardship. Clearly, Washington sees the current turmoil in Lebanon between its friends in the government and the extremely popular Hizbollah and other Shiite movements as a test of its ability to trump Iran as the biggest influence in Lebanon. According to the Associated Press, “[Prime Minister Faoud] Saniora stands between the West and Iranian-backed Hezbollah militants trying to bring down his government.” The recent Western donor’s conference that pledged $7.6 Billion for Saniora’s government “had an urgent tone, with some diplomats and leaders hoping to give Saniora tangible bargaining power in his power struggle with Hezbollah.”[3]

So maybe this tepid and hypocritical “outcry” against Israeli brutalities is another attempt to persuade the Lebanese people that George W. Bush is On Their Side.

OK to offend Muslims, not USA

Luckovich Cartoon

Guess what? It’s okay for Danish Christians to print racist anti-Muslim cartoons, but cartoons critical of well-documented US torture are “a disgrace” and require an apology. Mike Luckovich’s 22 June political cartoon in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (reprinted above) depicts an American torturer, giving lessons in “torture etiquette” to an Al Qaeda torturer. According to the newspaper’s public editor Angela Tuck, the cartoon resulted in a powerful “backlash,” with 90% of 18,000 readers disapproving of the piece in an online poll. Tuck all but apologized for the publication of the cartoon, saying it was “ill-timed,” since it was published alongside photos of the mangled remains of two US servicemembers who had been tortured and killed in Iraq. Luckovich himself apparently “believes now that allowing some distance between the murders of Tucker and Menchaca [the mutilated US soldiers] and the cartoon’s publication would have been better.” [1]

One reader wrote in to the Cumberland Times of Maryland/West Virginia, which also carried the Luckovich piece, saying the paper’s editorial staff has “reached a new low.”

I believe in freedom of the press, but I also believe that it comes with a responsibility to print the truth, and also to maintain some measure of character, class, and dignity…[W]e have more than our share of families who currently have loved ones “in harm’s way” still fighting, as all of those other veterans have done down through history, to protect the rights of you and your staff to be mouth breathing, drooling, idiots whenever you choose. What a disgrace! You should all be ashamed. When you guys awake from your collective moronic stupor, you owe all of us an apology. [2]

An advertiser to the Journal-Constitution, the Mercedes-Benz dealership RBM of Atlanta, printed a full page ad apologizing for Luckovich’s cartoon. The ad reads in part:

To Our Clients: We are sorry!

While we strongly affirm the right of free speech, the June 22, 2006 Mike Luckovich cartoon depicting the U.S. as torturers on par with Al-Qaida was very offensive to us. Moreover, to publish this cartoon directly above the pictures of the two brave men who gave their lives, willingly, and were tortured and mutilated in service to their country (and each of us) is unacceptable.[3]

The Hawaii Reporter published an op-ed by Jeff Emmanuel that finds “revolting” the “hinting at moral equivalence between the U.S. and bloodthirsty terrorists.” Emmanuel considers this “another shot in the mainstream media’s seemingly unending battle to blur the moral line between America and the brutal, barbaric enemy we are facing.” According to him, “America DOES NOT torture prisoners, and America DOES NOT target civilians; no nation in history has been more of a global force for good than America.” [4]

Remember the Western pontifications in favor of the free speech rights of newspapers that wanted to publish the Jyllands-Posten anti-Muslim cartoons, one of which shows the Prophet with a bomb for a turban? [5] Some considered those cartoons racist, since they painted all Muslims as terrorists [6]

Many commentators thought the cartoons deserved to be printed, and many publishers did so, simply to make a point about freedom of speech, or because the cartoons were “news.” The Hawaii Reporter published an op-ed by Onkar Ghate of the Ayn Rand Institute, that described a “fear of criticizing Islam,” and expressed contempt for governments that took offense at the cartoons. According to Ghate, governments should instead “defend our freedom of speech by force,” because “an individual’s freedom of speech is sacrosanct, no matter who screams offense at his ideas.”[7] Ghate rightly criticized the death threats that were issued by ultra-conservative clerics and others, but his disdain seemed to encompass all Muslims who demonstrated against the cartoons, as if nonviolent protest was not also covered by free speech rights.

The two cartoon controversies are not equivalent. Here are some significant differences:

  1. Some of the anti-Muslim cartoons are racist, painting an entire group of people with a negative stereotype; the Luckovich cartoon could only be said to generalize US military policy
  2. The anti-Muslim cartoons were drawn by non-Muslims, outside of the criticized community; Luckovich is a member of the society he is criticizing
  3. The anti-Muslim cartoons, being racist, are by definition false; the truth of the Luckovich cartoon is at least worth debating

I think point 3 is important. The Jyllands-Posten cartoons were not designed to inspire debate on the merits of violent resistance (for example), only to insult Muslims. Luckovich’s cartoon, on the other hand, should be debated. Does the US torture prisoners? Is it any better than Al Qaeda in that regard? Emmanuel’s claim that “no nation in history has been more of a global force for good” is an attempt to stifle the debate that the people of this country need to have about the role of the US in the world. His statement that “America does not torture prisoners” hurts his credibility and calls into question the rest of his argument against the printing of Luckovich’s cartoon.[8]

Proxy Soldiers of Soccer

Soccer Ball with Hammer and Sickle At the risk of alienating over half of the planet, I’d like to state my distaste for the wave of football fervor that has overtaken the small part of the world with which I am familiar, and most likely much of the rest of humanity as well.

Imagine my surprise to find that people with otherwise reasonable political analyses extolling the political significance of soccer. I want to emphasize that, despite my own personal dislike for sports, I do not believe there is anything wrong with people enjoying watching great athletes compete, or doing it themselves. But hearing that the political side to football extends beyond its corporate ownership is too much. (I urge readers to check out Daniel Gross’ “The Capitalism of Soccer” for an interesting analysis of how the business of European soccer is much more capitalist than US-style football.[1] )

Toronto-based Simon Black wrote “A Socialist’s Guide to the World Cup”[2] , in which he states that, “In many countries, soccer is a terrain of political and ideological struggle like the media or the education system.” He goes on to give examples of how current political issues in a given country or pair of countries make the soccer games more relevant. For example, Black mentions the powerful psychological boost a football victory against a colonizer can give the people of a colonized country:

[A]nytime a former colony goes up against its colonizer, far more than just a game is at stake.

Long independent, the nations of Togo, Trinidad and Angola will face their colonizers in the first round of World Cup 2006. Both soccer minnows, a victory for Togo or Trinidad will set off waves of celebration in the home country.

Yet the Angola versus Portugal match is arguably the most exciting and politically stimulating of the first round. Angola waged a brutal struggle for independence against Portuguese rule (and later against U.S. and South African influence) gaining independence in 1975. Angolans will be hoping their team rises above the favoured Portuguese in a game that will be charged with political symbolism.

Does this mean that, if the former colony loses the soccer game, the colonizer was somehow justified? Soccer players must be under a lot of pressure, having to live up to all the expectations of fans expecting them to fight for a socialist/fascist/anti-colonial cause. Why should a bunch of athletes playing a game be forced to represent anything but themselves and their teammates?

I guess I just don’t get it. There is always going to be something irrational and consciously inexplicable about enjoying games, or any form of “impractical” human activity like music, or surfing the web. There is no need to rationalize it politically. Not everything we do or enjoy has to be “politically positive,” does it? It seems like leftists who endorse the political interpretation of soccer are playing out their fantasies using other people as “cannon fodder” since they feel powerless against their political enemies under ordinary circumstances. The soccer team becomes a sort of proxy to fight one’s battles. Unfortunately the battle is not going to change anything. I hate to break it to football fans: after the soccer game, the world will still be the same as it was before the game.

Linknotes:

  1. Slate
  2. Rabble

The United States of Failure

Failed States Global Index What is a “failed state”? I never liked the label, since it is usually used to ostracize poor defenseless countries and provide excuses to invade them. But a recent Fund for Peace/Foreign Policy study suggests that some people are beginning to apply the label a bit more universally.

According to the study,

a failing state is one in which the government does not have effective control of its territory, is not perceived as legitimate by a significant portion of its population, does not provide domestic security or basic public services to its citizens, and lacks a monopoly on the use of force. [1]

In the 2006 ranking, some might be surprised to find, the US was actually ranked 18th from the bottom (“bottom” meaning least-failing state, in this case Norway). That is, the country that supposedly “promotes democracy” in “failed states” was considered to be in worse shape than Chile, Singapore, or Ireland. According to the study, a lot of this had to do with the US government response to Hurricane Katrina.

…Hurricane Katrina exposed gaping holes in the country’s disaster preparedness. Viewers around the world watched in astonishment last August and September as the world’s superpower left thousands of its citizens stranded for days.[2]

But Katrina can’t be the whole story, since the report also cited “Uneven Economic Development along Group Lines,” i.e., the huge wealth gap, “Mounting Demographic Pressures,” perhaps due to the influx of labor from across the border, and “widespread” human rights violations.

The study of course doesn’t go far enough, failing to comment on the fact that the United States, in addition to failing its own people, has been spreading state failure around the world, or at least contributing decisively to it. In the top ten failing states are Iraq (4th), Haiti (8th), Pakistan (9th), and Afghanistan (10th).[3] Two of these countries were invaded and occupied by US forces after 9/11 and endured a US-sponsored “regime change,” one is an ongoing victim of US “democracy promotion,” and the other is a longtime US ally against “terrorism.”

Many of us recall that the “failed state” label was often invoked when US policymakers needed a justification for intervention in the 1990s and after 9/11. I noticed it a lot around the invasion of Afghanistan. While the current situation in Afghanistan is not completely a product of post-9/11 US policy, many of the armed warlords and drug lords – who control much of the land and fill the parliament, making it difficult for the pseudo-democratic government to have any control – are a product of CIA programs of the 1980s and early 1990s. These same programs contributed to the rise of fundamentalism in bordering Pakistan, the CIA’s primary ally in building the Afghan resistance. Some of today’s major “state failures,” if they can be called that, are Washington’s.

The May 1 Demonstrations

Los Angeles Immigrant Boycott Morning March, Photo by S. Kolhatkar

It had to be seen to be believed. There were at least half a million people on the streets in downtown Los Angeles on Monday. It was the biggest demonstration I’ve ever been to. The United States is certainly not used to such a degree of mobilization these days.

The first thing that strikes someone like me who may have missed the 60s and the 80s, (heck, I didn’t go to my first demonstration until the late 90s), is that the people marching are mostly families. These are people who realize that their lives and the lives of their loved ones depend on what they’re doing.

Los Angeles Immigrant Boycott Afternoon March, Photo by J. Ingalls

The second thing that struck me was the breadth of the politics of the people present. The majority of the people there were fighting for basic rights and dignity, an end to criminalization of the undocumented worker. To judge by their signs and proud US flag-waving, most didn’t go beyond the extremist Sensenbrenner bill (which would make undocumented workers felons) in their criticisms of the US government.[1]

At the same time, some did. And when you’re talking half a million people, “some” amounts to tens of thousands. This was especially true at the more radical morning march, organized as a boycott, or general strike (the evening march was intended to be less controversial, less threatening to those in power). There were people calling for general amnesty for all undocumented workers. There were Latinos who made the point that their ancestors on the continent (and in many cases in California) pre-dated most of the ancestors of current white US citizens. For someone used to seeing a few thousands of marginalized people at a demonstration, it was refreshing to see such a broad spectrum finding common cause.

The tenor of the movement is certainly “mainstream.” Its core demands have not yet seriously challenged US power, even though the simple act of getting people on the streets in such large numbers demonstrated that the movement is potentially a powerful force in national politics. In fact, the demands of some of the people there (such as the “guest worker” program promoted in the Kennedy/McCain bill[2] are favorable to US elites. Those calling for something more do not yet seem to represent the mainstream of the movement, although we certainly could see a radicalization in the future. My guess is right now, this movement is pretty representative of the spectrum of political views in the Latino immigrant community, like any real democratic movement should be.

Supreme Court Ruling Misrepresented by Anti-Abortion Camp

Destruction of Birmingham clinic.  Photo by WBRC, via CNN (1998). The Supreme Court ruled today that protests outside abortion clinics and violence to prevent the functioning of the clinics cannot be prosecuted as racketeering.[1] I would agree. The worst of the anti-abortion (“pro-life”) attacks should not be classified as racketeering, but as terrorism.

Anti-abortion protests, even coordinated ones, are certainly not racketeering, which according to the law is a conspiracy to obstruct, rob, extort, or violently interfere with commerce. The clinics are not technically carrying out commerce and I wouldn’t want to use a pro-business law to fight any kind of protesters, even violent ones. Really, anti-abortion violence, like the bombing of abortion clinics and assassination of doctors, is more like the kinds of things we’re seeing in Iraq and Afghanistan today, called “terrorism” by the Bush Administration.

Anti-abortion groups are portraying the new ruling is “a major victory for the pro-life community.”[2] But this is a misrepresentation. The ruling was about what the anti-abortion activities are not, not what they are. There is nothing in the ruling that argues in favor of criminalizing abortion, and certainly nothing that vindicates terrorism against women exercising their rights. The ruling stipulated on “the meaning of the phrase that modifies the term ‘physical violence,’ ” in the legal definition of racketeering. It is disingenuous to treat this as any sort of support for violence against abortion practitioners or even simply support for the anti-abortion cause in general. Thomas Brejcha, the lawyer for Joseph Scheidler (the national director of the Pro-Life Action League and plaintiff in the case), claimed the ruling was “not just a victory for pro-life activists, but for anyone who chooses to exercise his First Amendment rights to effect social change.”[3] An interesting interpretation. Does this mean suicide and other bombings in Afghanistan and Iraq are an exercise of free speech “rights to effect social change” too?

Bringing Down Palestinian Democracy

Tank vs Stone-Thrower

It’s not new: whenever an occupied or unjustly governed group of people get the vote, and they make the “wrong” decision (according to their former masters), the vote is nullified. I just never expected to see it played out so clearly as in the case of the Palestinian elections. Particularly galling is the openness with which officials from US and Israel are admitting their interest in overthrowing the elected Hamas-majority government.

On February 14 the New York Times reported that “Israeli officials and Western diplomats” informed the paper that, “the United States and Israel are discussing ways to destabilize the Palestinian government so that newly elected Hamas officials will fail and elections will be called again.” The discussions were apparently “being discussed at the highest levels of the State Department and the Israeli government,” according to the Times’s sources.[1]

A “senior Western diplomat” told the paper, “The point is to put this choice on Hamas’s shoulders. If they make the wrong choice, all the options lead in a bad direction.”

Apparently the plan “centers largely on money.”

The Palestinian Authority has a monthly cash deficit of some $60 million to $70 million after it receives between $50 million and $55 million a month from Israel in taxes and customs duties collected by Israeli officials at the borders but owed to the Palestinians.

Israel says it will cut off those payments once Hamas takes power, and put the money in escrow. On top of that, some of the aid that the Palestinians currently receive will be stopped or reduced by the United States and European Union governments, which will be constrained by law or politics from providing money to an authority run by Hamas. The group is listed by Washington and the European Union as a terrorist organization.

…[B]eginning next month, the Palestinian Authority will face a cash deficit of at least $110 million a month, or more than $1 billion a year, which it needs to pay full salaries to its 140,000 employees, who are the breadwinners for at least one-third of the Palestinian population.

The employment figure includes some 58,000 members of the security forces, most of which are affiliated with the defeated Fatah movement.

If a Hamas government is unable to pay workers, import goods, transfer money and receive significant amounts of outside aid, Mr. Abbas, the president, would have the authority to dissolve parliament and call new elections, the officials say, even though that power is not explicit in the Palestinian basic law.

…Hamas gets up to $100,000 a month in cash from abroad, Israel and Western officials say. “But it’s hard to move millions of dollars in suitcases,” a Western official said.[2]

The next day the Times reported that the allegations were denied strenuously at the same high levels that were supposedly involved in the plan. Yes, “they would cut off aid and transfers of tax receipts to a Hamas-led Palestinian government if it did not renounce violence and recognize Israel.” But, “they had no plans to oust such a government.” Not exactly encouraging, since (as the Feb. 14 article noted) the aid cutoff is expected to have that effect.[3]

The denials are largely strategic. Any subsequent US/Israel-friendly Palestinian government must not be seen as a stooge of the West. Rather, as the Feb. 14 article states, “The United States and the European Union in particular want any failure of Hamas in leadership to be judged as Hamas’s failure, not one caused by Israel and the West.”

Another day later (Feb. 16), the Times carried a piece, “Israel Plans Sanctions as Hamas Picks a Prime Minister.” The title conveys the appropriate irony. The Times makes no reference, however, to the contrast between coercive Israeli schemes and a democratic exercise in Palestinian sovereignty.

No element of the leaked “destabilization plan” is missing from the sanctions that the Israeli Defense Ministry is contemplating.

Israel says it will cut off the roughly $50 million it collects in taxes each month on behalf of the Palestinians. In addition, Israel can make it difficult for foreign funds to reach the Palestinians by blocking bank transfers. And the Palestinians use the Israeli shekel for their currency, which gives Israel additional leverage in controlling the Palestinian economy.

In addition, there was discussion of “a series of restrictions” on the mobility of Palestinians in their former homeland. “The measures include preventing Palestinian workers from entering Israel and making it even more difficult for Palestinian and their goods to move between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.”[4]

Hey, these are just sanctions. It’s really up to Palestinians to decide how to deal with them, not a conspiracy to force out an elected government. Daniel Ayalon, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, said, “we do not want to harm the Palestinian people, and … it is their choice whether to abide by international norms or become a terrorist entity.” Another perspective is that of Mushir al-Masri, a Hamas spokesman, who called the leaked plan “a rejection of the democratic process, which the Americans are calling for day and night.”[5]

Suggesting Genocide

Former education secretary William Bennett said on his television show that the crime rate would be reduced if black babies were aborted:

If you wanted to reduce crime, you could, if that were your sole purpose; you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. [This would be] an impossible, ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down.[1]

Besides the fact that this is a disgustingly racist (actually, genocidal) notion, it’s incorrect. Or, to be more precise, it’s only correct insofar as killing off any population will reduce the number of crimes that can potentially be committed by members of the population. Bennett could just have easily have claimed that aborting white babies would reduce the crime rate. In fact, you would get more criminals that way, since most crimes are committed by whites. (About 65% of arrestees for crimes are white, whereas 32% are black.)[2] But that isn’t what he claimed, nor is it ever something he would claim, even if he qualified it as “an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do.” Because to people like Bennett, I am sure that even mentioning abortion of white fetuses as a solution to crime is reprehensible, as it should be. Apparently this is not so for black fetuses.

In Bennett’s defense, Andrew McCarthy wrote in the National Review Online:

In the course of a free-wheeling conversation so common on talk-format programs, Bill Bennett made a minor point that was statistically and logically unassailable, but that touched a third rail — namely, the nexus between race and crime — within the highly charged context of abortion policy. He emphatically qualified his remarks from the standpoint of morality. Then he ended with the entirely valid conclusion that sweeping generalizations are unhelpful in making major policy decisions.

That he was right in this seems to matter little. Bennett is being fried by the PC police and the ethnic-grievance industry, which have disingenuously ripped his minor point out of its context in a shameful effort to paint him as a racist. He’s about as bigoted as Santa Claus.[3]

This defense rests primarily on the supposed “correctness” of Bennett’s statement, which as I’ve pointed out is not so “statistically and logically unassailable” as McCarthy would have it. McCarthy adds, “The lesson to be drawn is not that we can hypothetically conceive of the severe solutions but that we resolutely reject them because of our moral core. This is a bedrock feature of American law and life.”

As far as I can tell, the only “bedrock feature” of the American legal and social system that Bennett’s statement brings out is its systemic racism, still in place from the country’s founding. If McCarthy or Bennett wanted to conceive of a “severe solution” that they could “resolutely reject … because of our moral core,” it would be that you would save a lot more lives domestically and worldwide by genocide against white male Americans. But they didn’t, because today’s white supremacist system makes it less controversial to make the claim, however qualified, that killing black babies would reduce crime.

The truth is that white male US citizens are responsible for the deaths of people all over the world, by means of war and the withholding of food and medical supplies (sanctions), in far greater numbers than those for which black Americans are responsible. The US domestic murder rate is about 15,500.[4] In Iraq alone, white male GW Bush is responsible for at least 24,000 civilian deaths (by killing) in two years.[5] This is doesn’t count the deaths due to infrastructure destruction, poor sanitation, and the stress of war and occupation. All told, Lancet estimated in October 2004 an increase in mortality of about 100,000 in Iraq since the invasion of March 2003.[6] Then of course there are the over 500,000 deaths due to eleven years of sanctions prior to the invasion, held in place by white male Bill Clinton…

Perhaps if Bennett’s stupidity were aimed in a slightly different direction, he might suggest we kill every politician in Washington, to reduce the likelihood of so many deaths. Or, why not abort all white male fetuses, since no non-white and/or female babies have ever grown up to become US president?

Bennett said, “What I do on our show is talk about things that people are thinking.” This only makes sense if by “people” he means “racist white people,” an equivalence that “people” like Bennett have been implicitly making for centuries.

Buying the Boss Dinner

I’m sure some Americans will say that the $100,000 pledged by Afghanistan to help the US deal with Hurricane Katrina was a symbolic gesture of goodwill, or some other such platitude. I agree that it’s symbolic, but not of “the strength of the ties between our two peoples.”[1] Don’t get me wrong. I have never experienced as much hospitality as I did during my visit to Afghanistan. Despite the tenuous livelihoods of most people there, I have no doubt that many Afghans would be perfectly willing to give up what little comforts they had if they thought it would help others in need. But that isn’t what this is about, is it?

Afghanistan is now a major US base in Central Asia, dependent on US backing. The Afghan government is right now bankrolled by the United States and other foreign powers. I’m sure Hamid Karzai does nothing controversial unless he already discussed it with Washington. $100,000 goes a long way in Afghanistan. In my experience, $100,000 was enough to run RAWA’s Malalai Hospital, which saw about 200 patients a day, for five months.[2]

Karzai using the funds of his devastated country to give back $100,000 to the US is like a sweatshop manager buying the owner of the company dinner with the funds that were supposed to go towards employee salaries.

Linknotes:

  1. Reuters
  2. Afghan Women’s Mission – The hospital was forced to close due to lack of funds. RAWA has opened a smaller clinic instead.