Sunday, December 26, 2010

How to stop imperialism

Sustained efforts with clear explanations can change behavior. One-time or occasional efforts, especially if interpretation of those efforts is left to parties hostile to those making the efforts, are very ineffective at changing behavior.

Efforts can be violent or non-violent. In a lot of situations it is easier to sustain non-violent efforts, and easier to issue explanations of non-violent behavior.

On the other hand if non-violent efforts are closed off, violent efforts are, of course, more effective than no efforts at all.

I’m not being sentimental in writing this. Gandhi is one example, there are others, violent and non-violent. You will not find an example of imperialistic behavior changing without a sustained and continuous campaign against it, aimed at parties that are necessary for its continuation but that are not the direct beneficiaries of that imperialistic behavior.

9/11, for example, would not change US behavior in the Middle East because it only happened once. If some group was to have the capacity to orchestrate a 9/11 every month and was able to explain clearly what behaviors it was intending to stop – not vaguely “get out of the Middle East” but specifically “stop giving military and intelligence support to subject dictatorships in these countries and opposing the rights of the Palestinians including the refugees” – then that group would ultimately get the US to meet its demands.

But that capacity is very difficult to attain.

If a group could non-violently stage protests that slow transportation in the downtown area of major US cities every month that group, with the same specific explanations of what it wants, that group also would ultimately get the US to meet its demands.

I don’t think violent or non-violent efforts against Israel itself would change Israel’s behavior. Israel believes the historic fate of Jews depends on there being a Jewish state, on the refugees never being able to return and on the region being ruled permanently by pro-Zionist stooges as Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and UAE are today or sanctioned and punished as Gaza, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Iran are today as pressure on those areas to accept stooge leadership.

US policy in the Middle East is much more important to Israel than it is to the US.

About war, that would probably ultimately work also – if the US during the war were getting the message that the reason Iran is killing US soldiers is because Iran will not accept the kind of stooge dictatorship the US has imposed on its colonies in the region on Israel’s behalf. If that message is not transmitted at least somewhat effectively, the US could lose a war and still not change its imperialistic behavior. Especially in the Middle East because war would not directly address the ability of Jewish Americans, the US’ most wealthy ethnic group, to shape US policy in Israel’s favor.

But war, if it works to change US imperialistic behavior, is a really expensive way to accomplish that. Many, many more Iranians will die than Americans. War is not something to want. If the objective is to get the US to accept independent nations in Israel’s region then that objective can only be accomplished with sustained violent or non-violent action accompanied by clearly stated specific demands. War is just one example, and not the best example, of sustained violent or non-violent actions toward that end.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Glimpses into the Wikileaks release process

We can get bits and pieces of how these cables are being released from various sources. Together they paint a picture of a process under the relatively firm control of the US government and parties sympathetic with the foreign policy objectives of the US government.

The British organization the Guardian, one of the first four recipients of the full wikileaks archive of over 250,000 cables shared that archive with the New York Times out of fear of legal consequences if it had not.
David Leigh, The Guardian's investigations executive editor, told The Cutline in an email that "we got the cables from WL"—meaning WikiLeaks—and "we gave a copy to the NYT."

It's not everyday that a newspaper gives valuable source material to a competitor. But Leigh explained in a second email that British law "might have stopped us through injunctions [gag orders] if we were on our own."
The four original news organizations, from UK, France, Germany and Spain, have along with the New York Times come up with a process that involves US government oversight of the release process.
In this light, two backup checks were applied. The US government was told in advance the areas or themes covered, and "representations" were invited in return. These were considered. Details of "redactions" were then shared with the other four media recipients of the material and sent to WikiLeaks itself, to establish, albeit voluntarily, some common standard.
Documents and portions of documents that are withheld from public release are not withheld according to any set of rules that could be explained, criticized and defended, but rather by the cable-by-cable judgment of the releasing news organizations.
The Times has taken care to exclude, in its articles and in supplementary material, in print and online, information that would endanger confidential informants or compromise national security. The Times’s redactions were shared with other news organizations and communicated to WikiLeaks, in the hope that they would similarly edit the documents they planned to post online.

After its own redactions, The Times sent Obama administration officials the cables it planned to post and invited them to challenge publication of any information that, in the official view, would harm the national interest. After reviewing the cables, the officials — while making clear they condemn the publication of secret material — suggested additional redactions. The Times agreed to some, but not all. The Times is forwarding the administration’s concerns to other news organizations and, at the suggestion of the State Department, to WikiLeaks itself. In all, The Times plans to post on its Web site the text of about 100 cables — some edited, some in full — that illuminate aspects of American foreign policy.

The question of dealing with classified information is rarely easy, and never to be taken lightly. Editors try to balance the value of the material to public understanding against potential dangers to the national interest. As a general rule we withhold secret information that would expose confidential sources to reprisals or that would reveal operational intelligence that might be useful to adversaries in war. We excise material that might lead terrorists to unsecured weapons material, compromise intelligence-gathering programs aimed at hostile countries, or disclose information about the capabilities of American weapons that could be helpful to an enemy.

On the other hand, we are less likely to censor candid remarks simply because they might cause a diplomatic controversy or embarrass officials.
Wikileaks is not releasing documents independently.
Julian Assange:

The cables we have release correspond to stories released by our main stream media partners and ourselves. They have been redacted by the journalists working on the stories, as these people must know the material well in order to write about it. The redactions are then reviewed by at least one other journalist or editor, and we review samples supplied by the other organisations to make sure the process is working.
What we are left with is a process that appears to be a release of 250,000 documents but actually is the major Western news organizations, led by the New York Times, releasing small numbers of documents that they select in coordination with the US government and using the wikileaks name to generate interest.

Wikileaks: Assange has been maneuvered into being a US press agent

On the wikileaks matter I’m primarily guided, I think, by a sense in following the Middle East for a while that the New York Times especially and Western news organizations generally are not trustworthy sources for information about the Middle East or about US relations with the global South. For me, given my interests, this is completely and obviously clear. For Assange, with a different set of interests, this may not be as clear or as important.

So having the New York Times lead Western news organizations in releasing 250,000 documents strikes me as only superficially different from having the US government do it itself. There is no reason to expect Assange to agree with me on this, but if he followed the Middle East as closely as I do, and was impartial or objective, he’d probably reach that conclusion himself.

Now the US did not release these cables on purpose. I disagree with people who think segments of US intelligence released these cables. There are a lot easier ways to prevent war with Iran than this. And in fact, the parties of the US government that do not want war are doing a very effective job preventing it right now and have been since 2006 at the very latest.

But once the cables were released, I’m sure at least one team in the US government was assigned to minimize the damage. And in this case, much more than previous cases, this team has done an excellent job. One reason is likely that the US government or at least those given this job, like me but unlike Assange maybe until now, understood that the New York Times can be, for the most part, trusted by the US to minimize any damage to US foreign policy objectives.

How it works is that Assange has been convinced that cables cannot be released unedited, and he does not have the resources to edit them himself. Assange, for his own reasons seems to have tried to avoid the Times, giving the cables to foreign (but very friendly – Britain, Germany and Spain) press.

The US state department seems to have through steps convinced Guardian that it is not legally safe to release the cables without following the lead of … the New York Times.

And what we have now is a New York Times-led process. The arguments that convinced Guardian to follow the NY Time’s lead were at least attempted in the cases of the other papers. It isn’t clear to what degree of success, except that all of the organizations have agreed to coordinate with each other with this slow release process.

Here is my issue. If the New York Times says it looked through 250,000 cables and found 100 that say Saudi Arabia wants the US to bomb Iran, I believe them. I don’t have to read the cables. I'm also completely unimpressed. The story still may or may not be true. It isn’t even fair to ask any independent party to refute that story looking only at the cables the Times released and not the 250,000 the Times looked at and did not release.

When will an independent parties be able to look at what the New York Times looked at? Never. Some at least segments of the documents the New York Times examines are determined to be too damaging to US interests to release. We’ll never find out who makes that determination or on what basis, but I don’t trust the Times, even if the decision was not made in consultation with the US government, which it is.

But at the current pace, wikileaks will be finished releasing the documents it decides to release more than five years from now. There is no reason to believe the current pace will be maintained though. Over these five years, at least, the US government and New York Times have a head-start in shaping the stories that come from these cables.

Another example is that it seems that someone has found a document where a Shell executive claims to have spies throughout the Nigerian government. This is a passing story for Guardian, but why can Lagos publications not look though all of the documents related to Nigeria to make their own determination of which documents are important, to get as full an understanding as Guardian or New York Times can get?

That is the true travesty that Assange was maneuvered into submitting to. It repeats itself in probably hundreds of ways, most of which will remain unknown for years if they are ever released.

This slow release may be keeping the story in the headlines, but it is keeping important stories out of Nigerian newspapers and others and it is causing the pressure on Assange to grow steadily.

The slow release is a terrible idea all around. Assange would be well served I think to have the ACLU hire a private law firm to go through the documents removing names based on transparent and publicly explained basis and releasing the rest of the documents immediately.

A process like that is what was done for previous large releases from the same source. I can’t explain why Assange or wikileaks switched to such an inferior process for this one, but it represents a victory for the US government at applying pressure on the organizations Assange trusted to release the cables.

The process renders the leaks of minimal value. We are seeing a skewed sample of the documents and while there are nuggets of valuable or exciting information, we and all independent parties, unlike the New York Times and US government, cannot see the other documents that would establish a context for this information, can’t see the environment where the information came from or where it led.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

So, when is the US going to attack Iran?

I've come across some commentators who believe the US is not imminently going to attack Iran, but is preparing to do so now. I essentially agree with that view, except that "preparing" has a stronger implication of the an attack eventually and even unconditionally happening than I think is warranted.

By the phrase “preparing for war”, a commentator argues that the US plans, over time, to degrade Iran’s defensive capabilities while increasing its offensive capabilities until it can attack with less harm to US interests.

I think that is the race. Can the US degrade Iran’s defensive capabilities while increasing its offensive capabilities to the point that it is comfortable attacking. The US is giving that a shot because it has nothing to lose in doing so.

If Obama wakes up tomorrow and has a report that surprisingly Iran’s retaliatory options have evaporated, he will order an attack tomorrow. I think, and disagree with some people who believe Iran prevents a US attack by its cooperation with the IAEA or public relations efforts to make its case to the world, that the state of Iran’s defensive capabilities is almost the only factor at this point in determining whether or not a US president attacks Iran.

But while the US has a risk-free gamble that Iran will one day be weak enough to attack, and the US is taking that gamble, I don’t expect it to pay off. The US is preparing to attack Iran but will never be prepared. Once Iran’s ability to have US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan killed is reduced, Iran is likely have other ways to kill US soldiers, based in UAE and Kuwait.

I also want to write that I still think the ability to kill US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are Iran’s main deterrent. US generals have seemed confident that they could keep the shipping routes reasonably clear in a war and the US has a strategic reserve of oil that it would use to pressure other countries if the flow is disrupted.

By the time the US is out of Iraq and Afghanistan, then there one of three possibilities will happen: 1) Iran will have developed a credible threat to kill US soldiers in bases other than Iraq and Afghanistan 2) Iran will have developed nuclear weapons and a credible way to deliver them either to Israel or US bases 3) Iran will be attacked.

I think 1) and 2) together, are more likely than 3). So I don’t predict an attack.

About an attack. The US does not think an attack could prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons, but instead could delay it for the amount of time it would take to build more centrifuges and set them up and make new fissile material.

The US would take a delay in Iran’s nuclear program if there was no cost. The US does not attack Iran today because it values the US lives it would lose more than it values what it publicly calculates as a two or three year setback in Iran’s nuclear program.

I don’t think the delay would actually be two or three years, especially if LEU is partially recoverable after an attack which seems plausible. And certainly if Iran has enough notice of an attack to put its already enriched LEU somewhere secure. But whatever the delay is, now, when Iran would kill US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan in response, it is not worth it.

Once the soldiers are gone, the US could attack Iran for free. It would have a chance of harming Iran’s nuclear program and even if it doesn’t work, the US would not have lost anything. “Free” gambles characterizes the US approach to Iran’s nuclear program. The sanctions, aiming for preventing nuclear capability, killing scientists, the color revolution, these are all things that are unlikely to work, but trying them has no consequence for the US so it does.

These no-cost attacks on Iran will continue until Iran can develop and communicate immediate consequences for US actions. Until Iran establishes that the US has something to lose.

I think that over the medium term, Iran can deter a US attack if it establishes a way to kill US soldiers in the region even after the US leaves Iraq and Afghanistan. If not, those who argue that the US will eventually attack Iran are right. Not necessarily to end Iran’s program or even to delay it, but as a no-cost gamble where if it hurts Iran, good and if it does not, the US has not lost anything.

I still do not see an attack while there are substantial US troops in Iraq and/or Afghanistan.