Saturday, March 09, 2013

Gorilla Radio with Chris Cook, Greg Palast, Kim Ives, Janine Bandcroft Mar. 11, 2013

This Week on GR

by C. L. Cook - Pacific Free Press

Millions of citizens from across Venezuela traveled to the capital and cued for hours last Thursday in a miles-long procession to see Hugo Chavez's body as it lay in state. So many in fact, the interim government of vice president, Nicolas Maduro announced, following his funeral Friday, the "Comandante" would lie in state an extra week.

While death marked his finish, as it ends us all, the work Hugo Chavez began as South America's first modern reformist president is not over; not by a long chalk, if the cries of Venezuela's "Chavistas" are to be believed.

Listen. Hear.

The send off Chavez received in the "Western" press was decidedly unflattering; a series of black epitaphs running the A to B gamut; from the celebratory Fox, to the barely contained gleefulness of Canada's State broadcaster, whose radio news flagship reporter, Anna Maria Tremonti pronounced of his death on her program, 'The Current'
"In a country dominated by a cult of personality where information is not free, the death of the populist and polarizing Hugo Chavez leaves a gaping hole and endless questions."
Not least of those questions, for Canadians, should be: "Do we actually have to PAY for this crap masquerading as news!?"

Like Anna Maria Tremonti, Greg Palast is not a journalist, but he is an honest reporting investigator, whose peerless work for the BBC's Newsnight broke wide-open the similarly lop-sided and wrong-headed reportage surrounding the 2002 coup d'etat against Chavez and Venezuelan democracy. In an article he wrote at the Guardian about the coup almost eleven years ago, Palast observed;
"Thirty years ago, when US corporations demanded the removal of a bothersome president, the CIA thought it most important to aim propaganda at the Latin locals. Now, it seems, in the drumbeat of disinformation buzzwords about Chavez - "dictatorial", "unpopular", "resigned" - the propagandists have learned to aim at that more gullible pack of pigeons, the American and European press."
How little has changed. While still working with Newsnight and the Guardian, Palast also writes a weekly column for Vice Magazine and is the author of the New York Times bestsellers, 'Billionaires and Ballot Bandits,' 'The Best Democracy Money Can Buy,' and 'Armed Madhouse.' He's also author of the highly acclaimed, 'Vulture's Picnic: In Pursuit of Petroleum Pigs, Power Pirates, and High-Finance Carnivores.'

Greg Palast in the first half.

And; while the 2002 attempt against Hugo Chavez was a rare failure of Western democracy's economic hit men, lessons learned there certainly helped guarantee the success of 2004's usurpation of Haiti's mild reformist president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The former liberation theologist priest Aristide was spirited farther out of the country than Chavez, all the way to the Central African Republic, from where there could be no triumphant return. Aristide's two short-lived administrations are contrasted by the Papa and Baby Doc Duvalier reigns of terror, together lasting more than three decades, and seeing uncounted numbers of Haitians tortured, killed, and disappeared. Baby Duvalier was too flown out of Haiti courtesy of the US government, but his exile was a self-imposed, luxurious vacation in France that only ended when the booty he looted from the treasury on leaving began running out. He returned to Haiti just over two years ago, and has danced with the judiciary there ever since. That jig picked up pace last Monday, seeing the former "president for life" in court answering questions about human rights abuses committed on his watch. Just hours after his first scheduled court appearance, the 61 year old was reported to have been hospitalized, his lawyer Reynold Georges saying only Duvalier "was sick." It's a sentiment long held in Haiti.

Kim Ives is a journalist, co-host of the WBAI radio program, 'Haiti: The Struggle Continues,' and co-founder of the international weekly newspaper Haiti Liberté. He's also a writer and editor with Haiti Progres newspaper and a documentary filmmaker who has directed and worked on many films about Haiti, including: 'Bitter Cane,' 'The Coup Continues,' and 'Rezistans.' He also works with the Haiti Support Network (HSN), has led numerous delegations to Haiti, and frequently speaks about Haiti before church, student, and community audiences, and on Haitian and U.S. radio programs.

Kim Ives and tales from the dictator's fall in the second half.

And; Victoria Street Newz publisher and CFUV Radio broadcaster, Janine Bandcroft will be here at the bottom of the hour to bring us news from our city's streets and beyond. But first, Greg Palast and the passing of a president.

Chris Cook hosts Gorilla Radio, airing live every Monday, 5-6pm Pacific Time. In Victoria at 101.9FM, and on the internet at:  He also serves as a contributing editor to the web news site, Check out the GR blog at:

G-Radio is dedicated to social justice, the environment, community, and providing a forum for people and issues not covered in the corporate media.

Duvalier Deigns Appear in Haitian Court

Former Dictator, Jean-Claude Duvalier's First Court Hearing

by Yves Pierre-Louis & Kim Ives - Haiti Liberté

On Feb. 28, 2013, former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier had to show up at the Port-au-Prince Appeals Court to hear various charges against him for crimes against humanity. After not responding to three previous summonses in February, the former "President for Life" had to bow to the court’s authority or risk arrest for contempt.

Duvalier is due to report to court again on Mar. 7, but his lawyer claims that he has been admitted into an unspecified hospital with an unspecified sickness.

Nonetheless, many suspect that the hearings summoning Duvalier are nothing more than "show business" aimed at eventually rubber-stamping the Jan. 30, 2012 finding of examining magistrate Jean Carvès. He ruled that the statue of limitations has expired for prosecuting Duvalier for his human rights crimes. These hearings are for an appeal to overturn that ruling.

Duvalier ruled Haiti with an iron fist from 1971 to 1986, during which time tens of thousands were extrajudicially killed, imprisoned, exiled, or disappeared.

With many of his victims in the audience, Duvalier responded to questions from members of the Court, the prosecution, the plaintiffs, and defense counsel.

When the court asked about "repression, torture, beatings, crimes against humanity, political killings, and human rights violations" under his regime, Duvalier dead panned that "every time an anomaly was reported to me, I intervened so that justice could be done. I want to stress that I sent a letter to all department commanders, to all section chiefs, asking them to strictly apply the law around the country, and these directives also applied to the Corps of the Volunteers for National Security," better known as the infamous Tontons Macoutes, a paramilitary militia which acted as the eyes, ears, and fists of the Duvalier regime.

Asked again later about "murders, political imprisonment, summary execution under your government, and forcing people into exile," Duvalier replied: "Murders exist in all countries. I did not intervene in police activities... As for imprisonment, whenever such cases occurred, I intervened to stop abuses being committed."
Duvalier never betrayed a trace of remorse or regret, arguing that "I did everything to ensure a better life for my countrymen... I'm not saying that life was rosy, but at least people could live decently."
Returning to Haiti in January 2011, "I found a ruined country, with boundless corruption that hinders the development of this country," Duvalier said. "And on my return, it’s my turn to ask: what have you done to my country?"

He suggested that he was close to journalist Jean Léopold Dominique (assassinated in 2000), "who accompanied me often in my inspections in the provinces" and that he helped Dominique obtain his radio station, Radio Haïti.

Former soccer star Robert "Bobby" Duval, the founder of the Haitian League of Former Political Prisoners (LAPPH), was also in the courtroom as one of the plaintiffs appealing Judge Carvès Jean’s ruling. Duval spent 17 months imprisoned in the infamous Fort Dimanche prison without charges. But Duvalier claimed that Duval "was arrested for subversive activities," saying that "during a search at the François Duvalier airport, we found weapons in his possession and he was released a few years later by an act of clemency by the Head of State." Duvalier claimed that Duval’s suit against him "is a real joke" and that Duval "was treated well" and that "a family member brought him food three times a day." Duval almost died from starvation and disease in Fort Dimanche.

Asked what he thought about the charges against him, Duvalier said "it makes me laugh" because people are just "inventing fantasies."

The hearing lasted more than three hours, after which Duvalier’s victims and representatives of human rights organizations said they were satisfied and encouraged that the Appeals Court judges were not intimidated by pressure from the government of neo-Duvalierist president Michel Martelly. They said they felt more determined than ever to talk about the suffering and torment caused by the murder, imprisonment, disappearances, and other crimes committed under Duvalier’s dictatorship. They were also galled by Baby Doc’s contemptuous attitude during the hearing.

After the hearing, Bobby Duval scoffed at Duvalier’s assertion that he had been arrested for illegal possession of firearms. Of the 13 Haitian political prisoners whom Amnesty International championed at that time in the late 1970s, Duval is one of the three survivors. "Their goal was to kill me," he said, adding that he would not have survived much longer in prison.

Henry Faustin was another former political prisoner who attended the trial. Arrested on Jun. 15, 1976, Faustin spent two months in a dungeon in the Dessalines Barracks (another political prison under Duvalier, located behind the National Palace). Only 20 years old, Faustin was then transferred for another 16 months (until December 1977) to Fort Dimanche. "Fort Dimanche was not child's play," he said. "You arrived there as a prisoner, with clothes, but then they stripped you naked as a worm."

International human rights organizations are following the Duvalier hearings closely.

"If someone like Duvalier is not judged, how can one judge someone who has stolen a chicken to feed his family?" asked Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch.

"How do you establish the rule of law when he who is accused of the worst crimes gets away with it? But Haiti has always been considered an exception. Moreover it is interesting to see that the big countries like France and the United States have never requested that Duvalier be tried, because they have disdain for Haiti. Haiti is not entitled to justice. It's good enough if Haiti just gets a little to eat, or if the population has a little shelter. They don’t make the link between the lack of justice for the vast majority and the lack of social justice as well."

Ape Talks to Citzen's Forum

Citizen's Forum October 23, 2012

by Citizen's Forum

to go straight to Ape interview, click here.
Jack Etkin hosts Citizens Forum on October 23, 2012. Walter McGinnis co-hosts the first segment with discussions covering local, national, and international issues. In the second segment (starts at 26m00s) Jack Etkin interviews Chris Cook of about local issues and how activism has changed with the arrival of new media. In the last segment (starts at 41m15s) Jack interviews John Farquharson, a local citizen of Victoria, about local issues.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Kevin Neish's Gaza Dispatches - M6, '13

Kill Zone Transformed into Food Zone

by Kevin Neish

I toured the northern border buffer zone yesterday and took a few photos.

What was a desert like waste land in November, (note the sand hill in the background),  the Palestinians have transformed into productive land.  Before the November ceasefire allowed the farmers back onto this land, all the areas in these photos was within the “shoot to kill” buffer zone. The IDF are still shooting farmers in spite of the supposed ceasefire, but the farmers are willing to take the risk to till their soil.

The Palestinians are making the desert bloom again.  You’ll notice that are few buildings or infrastructure, as that was all repeatedly bulldozed since the 2008/09 assault.  The farmers are making the bare minimum investments of just mini green houses and irrigation pipes, as the IDF is still destroying these farms, but even so the production was amazing.

Strawberries, onions and corn, altogether in one field.  The Palestinians are making the best and fastest use of the land with multiple plantings using the same little greenhouses and irrigation pipes.

Crops of potatoes, right up to the desert border area, with an Israeli base just over the hill and the smoke stacks of Ashklon Israel in the near distance.

Strawberries have never tasted so good.  Grown on newly liberated land.

The Palestinian sheep don’t know the politics involved as theynow blissfully graze right up to the Israelis’ border wall.

The Israeli border looks clearly defined but there are multiple walls, fences and perimeter roads which all eat into Palestinian farm land.

Donkeys, compost and manpower are helping to produce food once again in the buffer zone in the shadow of the IDF wall.

An automated machine gun tower, remotely controlled from Tel Aviv, looms over the Gazans’ fields.  The danger for the farmers is clear and present all the time, night and day.

The Global War on Terra Must End (and Capitalist Patriarchy with It)

Vandana Shiva on Int’l Women’s Day: "Capitalist Patriarchy Has Aggravated Violence Against Women"

by Democracy Now!

We end our International Women’s Day broadcast with the Indian feminist, activist and thinker Dr. Vandana Shiva. The author of many books, most recently "Making Peace with the Earth," Dr. Shiva discusses the impact on women by what she calls the world’s "violent economic order," and the women-led uproar over sexual violence in India triggered by last year’s brutal gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old student in Delhi. A world-renowned physicist, Dr. Shiva also addresses the recent U.S. Supreme Court case pitting an Indiana farmer against the agri-giant Monsanto. "The multiple wars against the earth, through the economy, through greed, through capitalist, patriarchal domination, must end, and we have to recognize we are part of the earth," Dr. Shiva says. "The liberation of the earth, the liberation of women, the liberation of all humanity is the next step of freedom we need to work for, and it’s the next step of peace that we need to create." 

Union Maid: State of Union Working Women in Canada

State of the Working Woman


State of the Working Woman Jenny Ahn: Unionized women workers do better than unorganized; All working women need access to universal daycare.

Palestinian Women Call for Rights to Exist on International Women's Day

Under Siege, Palestinian Women Call for Human Rights on International Women's Day

by Eva Bartlett - In Gaza

In Gaza we don’t lead normal lives, we just cope, and adapt to our abnormal lives under siege and occupation,” says Dr. Mona El-Farra, a physician and a long-time human rights and women’s rights activist in the Gaza Strip. On International Women’s Day, when many of the world’s women are fighting for workplace equality and an end to domestic violence, Farra and the majority of Gaza’s women fight for the most basic of rights.

“It is difficult to live in this small piece of land, where basic needs like clean water, regular electricity, proper sanitation and means of recreation are not met. Women in Gaza are particularly traumatised by the continuous Israeli military attacks,” says Farra.

A 2009 Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) report highlights the suffering of Palestinian women under the illegal Israeli-led siege imposed on Gaza for the past seven years, and under the 23 days of Israeli attacks in 2008-2009 which killed over 1,400 Palestinians, including 112 women.

The report, ‘Through Women’s Eyes’, notes Gazan women’s continued struggle “as they attempt to come to terms with their grief and their injuries; with the loss of their children, their husbands, their relatives, their homes, and their livelihoods.”

For Hiba an-Nabaheen, 24, a media studies graduate from Gaza’s Palestine University, the biggest issues facing women in Gaza are the poverty and unemployment that result from the siege.

“How can a woman whose husband has died or been imprisoned continue to take care of her children? The deadly Israeli wars we endure don’t compare to the growing poverty we face. I’m a university graduate and can’t find work, and many graduates like me face the same problem, including those with exceptionally high marks.”

From a family of ten, Nabaheen is the only child to have yet gotten a degree. “My father is disabled and cannot work, and my siblings are younger than me. Even my sister who has a 98 percent average in high school won’t find any work when she finishes university.”

Um Oday, 30, would love to work. “I have three young children to care for, but my husband is very supportive of me working, if I found work. In addition to my university education, I’ve taken different training courses in the hope that I’ll find work. But in Gaza, there is none.”

Tagreed Jummah, director of Gaza City’s Union of Palestinian Women Committees (UPWC), agrees that the siege is the main oppressor.

“The siege affects us all, but it especially affects women,” says Jummah. “In recent years, more women have been forced to become heads of the family because their husbands have been killed, are in Israeli prisons, or are unemployed as a result of the siege. But the majority of these women have no means of earning money.”

An August 2012 United Nations (UN) report, Gaza in 2020: A liveable place? cites unemployment as “higher than in the late 1990s.” The report highlights the impact on women, whose unemployment rate in early 2012 was 47 percent.

For Malaka Mohammed, 22, an English Literature graduate from Gaza’s Islamic University, and now employed at the university, higher education is both her greatest ambition and greatest obstacle.

“In Gaza, whether you are a woman or a man, you face the same consequences under the siege and the occupation. I’d like to do a Masters degree, but there is no English Masters programme here.”

For the past over ten years, Israel has banned Gazan Palestinians from studying at universities in the occupied West Bank.

“Studying abroad is very expensive, so I am searching for a scholarship, but even then I will be among thousands of people applying.”

Egypt under the Mubarak regime was complicit in preventing hundreds of Palestinian students holding places and scholarships in foreign universities from leaving the Strip.

Active in prisoners’ rights issues, Mohammed spearheaded a boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign in her university, the first on a Gazan campus. “I also head the first twinning project between a Gaza university and one in Sheffield,” she says.

Rana Baker, studying business administration at the Islamic University, and a freelance journalist, is active on numerous political issues facing Palestinians.

“To be honest, when it comes to the impact of Israel’s siege and colonial policies on the people of Gaza, indeed all of Palestine, I do not think that the experiences of men and women differ from each other,” says Baker.

“When Israel deliberately bombards schools, both males and females are affected. When talking about the limits Israel forces upon our aspirations, both genders share the same suffering. The Israeli government acts with indifference to the Palestinian population. The same lethal policies are applied to men, women and children in an indiscriminate manner.”

But women do have particular problems. The siege-manufactured poverty leading 80 percent of Gaza’s 1.7 million Palestinians to be food-aid dependent has caused increasing rates of malnutrition and anaemia in women.

A June 2012 joint report by Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) and Save the Children notes that anaemia affects 36.8 percent of pregnant women in Gaza and that anaemia can result in “poor pregnancy outcome, reduced work productivity in adults,” and “contributes to 20 percent of all maternal deaths.”

Palestinian author, journalist and activist, Laila El-Haddad, holds a Masters from Harvard University, has written for numerous established media, and keeps a running blog on the life of a Muslim Palestinian mother from Gaza.

In the description for her co-authored cookbook, The Gaza Kitchen: A Palestinian Culinary Journey, Haddad writes, “even in Gaza, that most tortured little strip of land, hundreds of thousands of women every day find ways to sustain their families and friends in body and spirit. They make the kitchen a stronghold against despair, and there craft necessity into pleasure and dignity.”

Of the cookbook, a window into the hardships of Palestinian home-makers, Haddad says the Gazan kitchen illuminates “how cooks manage with extreme shortages of gas and electricity, how families reorganize to compensate for destroyed homes and near-universal joblessness.”

She notes that understanding the reality of a Gaza Palestinian women is appreciating “the strength and endurance which allows these women every day to confront a hopeless situation and to create within it small spaces of grace, beauty and generosity.”

For UPWC’s Tagreed Jummah, the Palestinian woman “represents Palestinian resilience, resistance, is strong, and is a mirror of the Palestinian struggle and steadfastness. We’ve lost families, children, and suffer under the closures and Israeli army attacks. We carry all of the suffering of our people, but we continue living and continue resisting.”

In its report on the suffering of Gazan women, PCHR highlights that prospects will not improve until the siege on Gaza is lifted and normal economic activity allowed.

“The dire economic situation means that many women and their families are sliding deeper and deeper into abject poverty. They have suffered the horrors of an illegal war, and now are struggling just to survive.”

*First Published at Inter Press Services (IPS)

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Russia Needs a Wake-Up Call on Syria and Iran

by Finian Cunningham - RT

It seems that Russian leaders are befuddled by the conflict raging in Syria, sensing rightly on one hand that the Western powers and their Turk and Arab proxies are conducting a low-intensity war for regime change. Yet, strangely, on the other hand, Moscow appears apathetic or blasé about the West’s criminal geopolitical agenda.

The same applies to Iran, where Russia (and China) continues to engage in a bankrupt process of isolating the Islamic Republic through the P5+1 sham negotiations over sovereign nuclear rights.

First though on Syria, take this statement from Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov following the carnage of a massive car bomb last month that obliterated 53 lives, including women and children, near the Russian embassy in the Syrian capital, Damascus.

On 22 February, Reuters reported Lavrov as being “disappointed” by American “double standards” in not condemning the massacre. Regarding Washington’s lack of condemnation, Russia’s most senior diplomat commented:

“And we see in it a very dangerous tendency by our American colleagues to depart from the fundamental principle of unconditional condemnation of any terrorist act, a principle which secures the unity of the international community in the fight against terrorism.”

Hold on a minute. What’s this talk about “American colleagues” and “the unity of the international community in the fight against terrorism”? That atrocity in Damascus was indisputably the work of Western-backed terrorists who are funded, armed and directed by Western military intelligence to wipe out the government of President Bashar Al Assad.

This kind of indiscriminate mass murder has proven to be standard operating procedure for the Western proxy army in fulfilling long-held Western plans for regime change in Syria.

Despite cynical claims by Washington, London, Paris and Berlin of supplying “only non-lethal” military equipment to Syrian militants, Russia is well aware that these Western governments are arming this network of killers to the teeth and providing the logistics and intelligence to expedite the terror against civilians. Previously, Russia has itself highlighted and condemned the supply of American anti-aircraft missiles to the armed groups.

So let’s disabuse this notion of “colleagues fighting international terrorism”. The so-called “colleagues” are fomenting terrorism via well-worn Western channels Al Qaeda and other Saudi-backed extremist mercenaries.

Russia (and China) must be cognizant of the bigger picture by now. The post 9/11 “war on terror” charade has nothing to do with “an international fight against terrorism” and all to do with the American-led capitalist Western powers staking out new global spheres of influence. Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Mali are all part of a continuum in Washington’s strategic vision of “full spectrum” dominance in resource-rich regions.

The expansion of NATO bases into former Soviet Union member states, the encroachment of missile systems on Russia’s borders, and the threatening military encirclement of China are also part this dynamic in which perceived geopolitical rivals must be thwarted, corralled and subjugated. The Western pseudo “wars against terrorism” or “responsibility to protect” that have spawned across Asia and Africa are as much about dominating those continents’ resources as usurping Russian and Chinese economic interests.

Syria provides the only foreign naval base to Russia, at Tartus, enabling access to the strategically vital Mediterranean Sea and the oil-rich Middle East. It is transparent that the Western powers want to oust Russia from this holding, by killing off the Assad government in Damascus and installing a pro-Western puppet regime.

Yet instead of condemning Washington and its allies for criminal aggression, Moscow seems to be indulging in some kind of illusion that the US and other NATO criminals are to be reasoned with. Last week, for example, Sergei Lavrov met new US secretary of state John Kerry in Berlin, while President Vladimir Putin entertained French counterpart Francois Hollande in Moscow for negotiations over Syria.

But rather than pandering to political chicanery, what Russia and China should be doing is using their combined undoubted influence on the world stage to expose and denounce Western governments for their crimes against humanity and international peace in Syria and elsewhere. Furthermore, Moscow and Beijing should be deploying forthright and unapologetic military support for Damascus.

Clearly, the only language that the criminal Western powers understand is force not diplomatic rhetoric. If the Western regimes can be so brazen as to arm and support terrorists who are detonating 1.5-tonne car bombs in downtown Damascus targeting Russian sovereign interests, then Moscow needs to be brazen back in its support for Syria.

On the issue of Iran, Russia and China also need to urgently raise their political game and get real. For more than a decade, Iran has been threatened with war and pummeled with illegal sanctions all on the back of entirely bogus claims by Western states that Iran is secretly using its nuclear program for military ends.

This Western calumny as pretext for criminal aggression towards Iran keeps being repeated like a broken record.

US secretary of state John Kerry said of the latest P5+1 talks in Kazakhstan at the end of last month:

“Iran knows what it needs to do, the president has made clear his determination to implement his policy that Iran will not have a nuclear weapon.”

Kerry is either woefully briefed or, more likely, cynically spinning the propaganda wheel of fortune. The US National Intelligence Estimates, its plethora of spy agencies and its Israeli surrogates do not even pretend to believe this fairytale about Iran as a nuclear threat. Russia must know this too. It has been involved closely in developing Iran’s civilian nuclear industry at Bushehr for the past 16 years.

So why does Russia and China continue to give this mockery of international relations and sovereign rights any further legitimacy by engaging in P5+1 wrangling? This self-styled grouping comprises the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China. Who are these nuclear-armed powers to dictate to anyone, especially given the record of the Western entities for genocidal wars and international lawlessness?

This cabal would not be able to continue plying its fiction over Iran’s nuclear ambitions if Russia and China simply walked away – as they should.

Moscow and Beijing have both expressed support for Iran’s right to civilian nuclear development. Therefore, these powers should put their money where their mouths are and insist on Iran’s inalienable right, not lend legitimacy to a smokescreen for strangling Iran.

Iran and Syria are part of the same imperialist dynamic of Western capitalist powers waging wars on the world for their selfish and criminal interests. Ultimately, Russia and China are the targets of this dynamic. Even if it’s only for their own self-defence, Moscow and Beijing must adopt clearer analysis of the geopolitical context and see the Western powers for the aggressive adversaries that they are.

A military defence of Syria and an insistence on ending illegal sanctions on Iran would be a start to more realistic thinking and policy that could restore a semblance of law and order in the world.

Russia and China bear a heavy responsibility for world peace. They need to act promptly on that by forming a realistic defensive alliance with Syria and Iran.

Why talk with arsonists when the house is burning?

Finian Cunningham, originally from Belfast, Ireland, was born in 1963. He is a prominent expert in international affairs. The author and media commentator was expelled from Bahrain in June 2011 for his critical journalism in which he highlighted human rights violations by the Western-backed regime. He is a Master’s graduate in Agricultural Chemistry and worked as a scientific editor for the Royal Society of Chemistry, Cambridge, England, before pursuing a career in journalism. He is also a musician and songwriter. For many years, he worked as an editor and writer in the mainstream news media, including The Mirror, Irish Times and Independent. He is now based in East Africa where he is writing a book on Bahrain and the Arab Spring.He co-hosts a weekly current affairs programme, Sunday at 3pm GMT on Bandung Radio. More articles by Finian Cunningham

Chavez Commited the Unforgiveable Sin: People Before Profits

Evil Incarnate: Putting the Poor Before Profits and Bling

by Chris Floyd - Empire Burlesque

As'ad AbuKhalil points us to this rather eye-boggling -- and revealing -- passage from AP's obituary of Hugo Chavez:

Chavez invested Venezuela's oil wealth into social programs including state-run food markets, cash benefits for poor families, free health clinics and education programs. But those gains were meager compared with the spectacular construction projects that oil riches spurred in glittering Middle Eastern cities, including the world's tallest building in Dubai and plans for branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim museums in Abu Dhabi.

My god, to think such evil once walked this earth!

Earlier, AbuKhalil had this take on Chavez's death:

I have never been a fan of Chavez but I am much less of a fan of his enemies and critics in the West or in the East. ... Chavez allowed opposition media (many of which were funded or supported by the US government no doubt) but the New York Times commented (in its most silly obituary of the man) that he compelled opposition media to carry his speeches. Wow. That is something that is not done in the various dictatorships that US supports and cuddles, which don't allow any vestiges of opposition media. Chavez was certainly more democratic in his rule than China, Russia, and all the Arab dictatorships and Central Asian dictatorships that the US supports, funds, and arms. but he was turned in the media as a twin of the North Korean dictator. This comes to show you that the standards of Western governments and media have nothing to do with democracy and everything to do with 1) defiance against US will; 2) with the extent to which [a] regime allows multinational corporations to exploit and steal in a particular nation. Chavez's championing of the poor was certainly offensive to Western governments and media. That we know.

We do indeed. I recall the NY Times' first story on the death (since updated), which told us that Chavez -- elected four times against full-throttled opposition in democratic elections vetted by international observers -- won his power by "tapping into the resentments of his country's poor."

Their "resentments." Obviously, the poor of Venezuela -- a vast majority when Chavez was first elected -- were full of "resentment" at their subjugation at the hands of a monied elite. They didn't feel justified anger at their plight, they were not motivated by common human aspirations to secure a better life for themselves and their children; no, it was only "resentment" at their more deserving masters that drove them to support a man who -- dast one even say it? -- did not worship at the altar of America's imperial greatness. There could no other reason for such uppity behavior.

There were also rich pickings in the NYT's many other bashings of the dead man -- such as William Neuman's declaration that Chavez left behind "a bitterly divided nation in the grip of a political crisis" or Rory Carroll's crocodile-teared lament for "the decay, dysfunction and blight that afflict the economy and every state institution" in Venezuela. One can only say that these New York sages should perhaps take a gander southward toward the Potomac if they want to see political crisis, dysfunction and blight writ far larger -- and deeper and more destructive -- than anything Chavez could have wrought in his country.

Oh well. The incessant denigration of the majority of humankind by rulers and their sniveling sycophants has been going on since the first whips were laid across the backs of slaves building dolmens and gathering flints. Maybe one day our idiotic race will get tired of it.

Or does that sound -- OMG! -- resentful?

Hugo Chavez: Remembering the Triumph that Was

Chavez’s Triumph

by Andre Vltchek - CounterPunch

Nairobi - When we lose people that are indispensible to us, nothing may change on the surface: we are still walking, eating sleeping, working, even fighting. The void, the gaping hole is what dominates our hearts and our souls.

Yesterday, the President of Venezuela and one of the greatest revolutionaries in the history of mankind – Hugo Chavez – passed away, and the world is still moving by inertia. Buildings did not collapse, continents did not sink, and the wars and misery ravaging many parts of the world did not stop.

Yet something changed. Three beautiful muses that have been inspiring so many millions all over the world, turned into widows, at least for one day or two. Their names are: Love, Faith and Hope.

Some ask: is it really wise to make an entire country, an entire revolution dependent, and reliant on one single man?

My answer is simple: people like Chavez are born infrequently, too rarely. It would be a historical anomaly for two giants of his size to live in the same period of time, in the same city, and even in the same country.

* * *

Yet his words and deeds were simple and pragmatic: poor people have to be housed, fed, educated and given medical care, and above all, they have to be armed with dignity. And the wealthy world, which became rich through plunder, colonial expansions and unmatchable brutality, has to stop terrorizing and looting; the countries of Europe and North America have to be forced to behave like members of the international community consisting of states with equal rights, instead of what they have been accustomed to for decades and centuries: a bunch of thugs living above the law.

Hugo Chavez was a man who appeared to come from a different era, where Western propaganda, indoctrination and surveillance had not yet broken the free spirit of men and women. He stood tall, spoke loudly and coherently, naming names, and pointing fingers. He was not afraid of his own people: he drank gallons of coffee and talked to them from the balcony of the Presidential Palace, and at street corners.

“And it smells of sulfur still today,” he laughed, at the UN, after George W. Bush left the stage. He was not the only one who smelt it, but he was the only one who dared to say it.

In his universe, no tyrant, no hypocrite was above the law, and immune from his attacks. He was not scared to say what he believed, publicly, even about such characters like the King of Spain, or the President of the United States of America.

* * *

Not everybody liked him, not all ‘natural allies’ stood by him.

It is mainly because he spoke the truth when others did not dare to. It is because he was constantly taking action while most of the others who were ‘resisting’ the global regime, were content with shouting at the television and exchanging conspiracy theories through electronic chats, while taking no risks. It is because, in a way, he became the bad conscience of those who have been playing it both ways: simultaneously criticizing power and collaborating with it.

Those who were morally bankrupt hated him the most. Western mainstream media, and Arab mainstream media like Al-Jazeera, detested him relentlessly.

Chavez wrote history as one writes an epic and daring poem – with his own mind, heart and flesh. He lifted the flag with his own hands; he straightened his back, shouted a few essential words to the wind, and walked forwards. He was always at the front. He never hid behind the backs of others. This is how the legendary Samurais fought, or closer home – the great warriors of the Andes.

How few, how very few now dare! One can make a list that would fit into handful of pages. And most of those who do dare –often fall, silently and anonymously. And those who fall even for one single moment, from exhaustion or suffering from wounds, are chased and bayonetted by the regime; bayonetted mercilessly, to death.

President Hugo Chavez to the people of Venezuela, or Commander Chavez to some brave men and women all over the world, wrote his poem while standing on thin ice. Decisions he made were never simple; never comfortable. His life was always in danger.

To be a young officer, a paratrooper/philosopher, and to attempt a coup in a country locked in a horrible embrace with the North was not easy. But his country, his beloved la patria, was like a woman who had been raped and then forced to offer her body to the same men who ravished her. To free her, that beloved land of his, from such misery and humiliation, one had to fight decisively, with all the means available. There was no time to theorize.

And he fought. And was captured and imprisoned. But his courage gained him admiration and support unknown in his country for centuries.

That suffering woman he was ready to die for – Venezuela – finely opened her arms; decided to believe again, to hope, to dream one more time. She embraced him, pressed him against her body with all her strength. And then, with one powerful stroke she broke the walls of his prison, and elevated him, almost literally, on the outstretched arms of her people, to the Presidential Palace.

Three muses, three celestial beings, stood by him throughout that mortal fight for genuine freedom of Venezuela and Latin America; during those endless days and nights he was locked in a dungeon:

Love – for Venezuela, for Latin America, for humanity itself.

Faith – in justice, in his strength and in the vigor and determination of his people.

Hope –which whispered in his ear, relentlessly, that the present brutal arrangement of the World is not final; that it could be fought and changed.

And they won!

Venezuela washed tears from her face; she put on her modest but clean dress, and stood up, at the northern tip of South America, stunningly beautiful and despite the past, proud and daring.

Chavez and his people won. His three Muses won. Entire Latin America fell silent. Then it cheered. Hundreds of years of servitude were over. All unified, this beautiful continent was finally liberated. Because, as we all know by now, people when united and inspired, when aiming at great goals and ideals, are always victorious, no matter how immense is the sacrifice!

* * *

Optimism, enthusiasm and determination: there could be no more dangerous or deadlier enemies to the present inhuman global dictatorship, which is imposed on the world by the Western colonial and neo-colonial nations.

The Empire is spreading nihilism, fragmentation, financial and moral corruption, fear, and compliance with mainstream thoughts and ‘ideas’, manufactured by its ideologues, propagandists and the advertising industry. Life is reduced to a form, which devours all substance. A depressing breed of individualism, egotism, passivity, and obedience is constantly promoted and advertised.

The Venezuelan Revolution offered exactly the opposite: optimism, solidarity, hope, and a great opportunity to fight for, to create and to live for humanity as a whole. Against some callous Hollywood-style horror movie, it placed simplicity and beauty, against Armageddon, a few simple flowers and the promise to return to the essence of humanism.

* * *

I write this dispatch in Nairobi, in Kenya; in Africa, which is being ravaged and chained once again. Every word causes me pain and I know that the pain is coming unmistakably from the direction of Venezuela. The pain is sharp; it is immense. Only love can hurt like this; only true love.

But there is no time for laments and tears. One false step, one month, even one day of letting down our guards, and everything that Chavez and Venezuela fought for, everything that we fought for, may disappear in one simple instant.

Evo Morales, the President of Bolivia, declared: “Chavez is More Alive than Ever”.

That is true. But our determination to support, to defend the Latin American Revolution, should also be more alive than ever. Chavez did not believe in goals only, he believed in journey, in the process – en el proceso. That is what the revolution is: determined, selfless, an optimistic journey; it is the indefatigable fight against fascism – for a better world, and for justice.

During that long but beautiful journey, some people fall, but then others rise and lift up the banners. Those who fall will be never left behind: they will be carried in our hearts and in our songs, because their achievements are everlasting.

So back from where I began: when we lose a person who appeared indispensible, we may double from pain. It is only human. But then it is our duty to straighten our backs again, remembering the way Hugo Chavez did. There is Caracas, Havana, La Paz, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Quito, Managua and so many other beloved cities behind us; depending on us for their defense. Asuncion in Paraguay has already fallen, and so has Tegucigalpa, Honduras. We cannot afford to lose more!

Human life is short, but dreams of humanism, and the love for humanity, are eternal. And one can only love humanity and fight for it with a straight back; never doubled over, and never on ones knees.

The man who freed Venezuela is no more. But she will go forward, no doubt, with him inside her heart, with his words on her lips.

Yesterday, a true hero of the Latin American Revolution, President Hugo Chavez, has fallen. And long live freedom, long live Venezuela, long live Latin America, and the Revolution, damn it!

Andre Vltchek
is a novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. His book on Western imperialism in the South Pacific – Oceania – is published by Lulu. His provocative book about post-Suharto Indonesia and market-fundamentalist model is called “Indonesia – The Archipelago of Fear” (Pluto). After living for many years in Latin America and Oceania, Vltchek presently resides and works in East Asia and Africa. He can be reached through his website.

A Yearning for Human Community

The Longing For Community

by Carolyn Baker

People use drugs, legal and illegal, because their lives are intolerably painful or dull. They hate their work and find no rest in their leisure. They are estranged from their families and their neighbors. It should tell us something that in healthy societies drug use is celebrative, convivial, and occasional, whereas among us it is lonely, shameful, and addictive. We need drugs, apparently, because we have lost each other. - Wendell Berry

As I travel throughout the United States, as I engage in life coaching with clients, and as I read emails and blog comments sent to me by readers, the bedrock issue that continues to emerge is the longing for community. I often hear remarkable success stories of how a community of individuals has come together to accomplish a milestone project or support each other in disaster. And while my heart is warmed by these stories, my heart is more often broken by the litany of complaints I hear about failed attempts to create community.

I need not remind the reader of our history as inhabitants of Western civilization, founded as it was on the mythology of rugged individualism, Horatio Alger, and the American Dream. Nor is it necessary to list examples of indigenous communities where people have harmoniously lived together for thousands of years.

What may be necessary, however, is to clarify the definition of community in order to modify our expectations and strive more realistically to achieve it.

It may be useful to first notice what community is not.

  • Community should not be narrowly defined as a group of people living together sharing space and resources. “Community” is not synonymous with “eco-village” although it can be.

  • Community is not a context in which everyone must agree. A healthy community consists of diverse people and divergent opinions.

One’s community may be defined as a circle of close friends who over time have consistently given and received support. Likewise, a community may be a group of neighbors who care deeply about each others’ well being and who may or may not engage in community projects together. One may or may not have personal contact with the rest of the community on a regular basis but may be confident that if one is in need, the community will be there to provide support. The structure of some communities consists of an annual or semi-annual gathering in which members have face-to-face contact at those times with much more email or phone contact between gatherings.

For those readers seeking to inhabit or establish an eco-village, Diana Leafe Christian has written extensively about creating healthy living communities in her two remarkable books, Finding Community and Creating A Life Together. Her work offers magnificent tools for creating intentional communities and dealing effectively with conflict.

What I’m exploring here is not so much the exact structure of a community, but rather, the deeper sense of community that humans crave and create as a foundation for the literal manifestations of community they may ultimately devise. In other words, what does community mean to the soul, the psyche, the deeper self within us? If we do not attend to this aspect of community, for all of the ostensible successes the community may have achieved, its members may feel vaguely unsatisfied or in some cases, may divest their energy from the community and move on.

It is possible to be in agreement intellectually and philosophically on any number of issues but still not be connected. In fact, this may be one reason why many experiments in community fail. People are connected in a horizontal manner with one another, but they are not connected to the depths of something more profound and expansive than the individual ego. The issue that any community must address, consciously or unconsciously, is whether or not they desire to be connected on a soul level. In many communities such as a group of neighbors who are working together to eliminate litter and beautify their streets, the desire for soul-level connection may not be a priority. Their intention is highly focused and possibly time-limited.

In other contexts a community may consciously seek a connection with the depths. Invariably, this opens the way for intimacy through opening the heart not only to each other but to something greater than any individual or the group itself. However, a longing for connection with the depths is both enchanting and edgy because when people are interacting with one another, not to mention swimming in the depths together, they will invariably be triggered by their interactions and by whatever a connection with the deeper self evokes for them. This is another way of saying that when our hearts open, so does another part of us, the shadow.

The shadow is a word first used by psychologist Carl Jung to describe an unconscious part of the psyche that we disown or insist is “not me.” It consists of aspects of ourselves of which we are unaware—some of which may range from unequivocally repugnant to virtually angelic. A majority of communities fail because they do not grasp the necessity of doing shadow work or lack the skills for doing it. The shadow eventually emerges, or perhaps erupts, in all meaningful human relationships, and shadow work must be done both internally and externally whenever people are interacting or living in community.

When someone says or does something with which we feel some discomfort, we must check in with ourselves and first of all notice the feelings we experience—disappointment, anger, hurt, fear, or any other emotion. Before blaming the other person or becoming offended, it is useful to ask oneself what one’s own part in the interaction might be. For example: How might I have participated in creating this interaction? This requires an honest effort to look within and ponder the situation, and the answer may not come through the intellect. However, if we are willing to stay with the feelings and the question of “what is my part?” we may discover a significant piece of the shadow that is asking for our attention.

Usually, our first reaction when we experience a mis-communication or an uncomfortable exchange is to attempt to “fix” it by dialoging with the person(s) involved. While communicating directly with the other about the exchange may be necessary at some point, we rarely engage ourselves in the process first. That is to say, it is generally more useful to explore what is happening inside of ourselves first before dialoging further with the other person. We can do this by simply staying with the question: What is my part in this? To facilitate our exploration, we can journal about the interaction, we can utilize some form of art such as drawing or painting, or we can go more deeply within through meditation or some type of inner listening.

Whenever conflict arises, something is trying to be created within us and within the other person, or both. As our indigenous ancestors have always known, as painful as it may be, conflict should be welcomed as a wise teacher in our lives and our communities. Soul often generates conflict in order to create something more expansive and to empower us to become larger persons. Relationships without conflict are usually boring and lifeless whereas conflict in relationships breathes vitality and wisdom into the individuals involved, and if allowed, revered, and listened to, can transform a single life as well as an entire community.

The Earth Community

In our discourse on community we often omit the earth community as the principal ally, mentor, and role model for establishing and maintaining a community of human beings. David Korten, author of The Great Turning and Agenda For A New Economy contrasts the models of empire and earth community in his Yes Magazine article, “From Empire To Earth Community”:

We face a defining choice between two contrasting models for organizing human affairs. Give them the generic names Empire and Earth Community. Absent an understanding of the history and implications of this choice, we may squander valuable time and resources on efforts to preserve or mend cultures and institutions that cannot be fixed and must be replaced.

Empire organizes by domination at all levels, from relations among nations to relations among family members. Empire brings fortune to the few, condemns the majority to misery and servitude, suppresses the creative potential of all, and appropriates much of the wealth of human societies to maintain the institutions of domination.

Earth Community, by contrast, organizes by partnership, unleashes the human potential for creative co-operation, and shares resources and surpluses for the good of all. Supporting evidence for the possibilities of Earth Community comes from the findings of quantum physics, evolutionary biology, developmental psychology, anthropology, archaeology, and religious mysticism. It was the human way before Empire; we must make a choice to re-learn how to live by its principles.

In this reference to the earth community, Korten’s focus is on the model that the earth community provides humans who move away from hierarchical models toward partnership. Yet perhaps there is even more to glean from the earth community than the partnership model applied to human community.

Mathematical cosmologist, Brian Swimme prolifically writes and teaches the necessity of being in relationship with the earth community. What does this mean? According to Swimme:

What’s necessary is for us to understand that, really, at the root of things is community. At the deepest level, that’s the center of things. We come out of community. So how then can we organize our economics so that it’s based on community, not accumulation? And how can we organize our religion to teach us about community? And when I say “community,” I mean the whole earth community. That’s the ultimate sacred domain—the earth community.

How do you organize your technology so that as you use the technology, the actual use of it enhances the community? That’s a tough one. So long as we have this worldview in which the earth itself is just stuff, empty material, and the individual is most important, then we’re set up to just use it in any way we like. So the idea is to move from thinking of the earth as a storehouse to seeing the earth as our matrix, our fundamental community. That’s one of the great things about Darwin. Darwin shows us that everything is kin. Talk about spiritual insight! Everything is kin at the level of genetic relatedness. Another simple way of saying this is: Let’s build a civilization that is based upon the reality of our relationships. If we think of the human as being the top of this huge pyramid, then everything beneath us is of no value, and we can use it however we want. In the past, it wasn’t noticed so much because our influence was smaller. But now, we’ve become a planetary power. And suddenly the defects of that attitude are made present to us through the consequences of our actions.

A student of Thomas Berry, Swimme came to understand that the story of every human being parallels in some fashion, the story of the universe. For example Swimme notes:

Walt Whitman had an intuition about this when he said, ‘A leaf of grass is no less than the journeywork of the stars.’ And you think, how did he come up with that? Well, that’s called self-knowledge. In other words, a star gave birth to the elements that then assembled themselves in the form of Walt Whitman. So you could say that Walt Whitman had a deep memory of where he came from.

Likewise, when Einstein discovered the general theory of relativity, he discovered it from within. There was no data on the expansion of the universe or anything else. He said he just went into his own visceral movements—a strange way of thinking about creativity—and he paid attention to what was going on within, and he gave birth to the gravitational equations we use now. This is what I think Whitman did. He penetrated the depth of his own bodily reality and had this intuition about stars. And we’ve now discovered the empirical details about this. I just love that—everybody comes out of the stars.

What then is the soul of community?

It is a desire to be connected with something greater than the egos of other people and the projects in which we might engage with them. Fundamentally, a successful human community is the unfolding of a spiritual dynamic. It cannot be contrived or made to happen. Rather, it erupts from our desire for the depths, and that desire is certain to constellate the shadow in ourselves and the other. If we follow our longing for community, we must be prepared to do our own shadow work and support others as they do theirs. Ultimately, we touch the soul of community when we savor our own personal story as the story of the universe and the earth community. The journey of authentic community is also a journey of healing which is guaranteed to take us deep into the inner world of our own demons and angels as well as those in the psyches of our community companions. For as Wendell Berry notes, “To be healed we must come with all the other creatures to the feast of Creation.”

While all of this may sound tedious and laborious, and in fact it often is, the potential rewards are too momentous to ignore—being genuinely seen and lovingly held by the human and more than human community. Argue as we may that that would be too good to be true, fundamentally, this is the soul of community, and something in us refuses to stop longing for it.

Carolyn Baker, Ph.D., was an adjunct professor of history and psychology for 11 years and a psychotherapist in private practice for 17 years. (She is not, and never has been, a licensed psychologist.) Her latest book Sacred Demise: Walking The Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilization’s Collapse, is unique in its offering of emotional and spiritual tools for preparing for living in a post-industrial world. Carolyn’s forthcoming book is Navigating The Coming Chaos: A Handbook For Inner Transition. Her other books include: Coming Out From Christian Fundamentalism: Affirming Sensuality, Social Justice, and The Sacred (2007) , U.S. History Uncensored: What Your High School Textbook Didn’t Tell You (2006) and The Journey of Forgiveness, (2000) All may be purchased at this site. She is available for speaking engagements and author events and can be contacted at . Her blog is

Unhappy Remembrances for the War that Never Ends

Mission Unaccomplished: Why the Invasion of Iraq Was the Single Worst Foreign Policy Decision in American History

by Peter Van BurenTomDispatch 

I was there. And “there” was nowhere. And nowhere was the place to be if you wanted to see the signs of end times for the American Empire up close. It was the place to be if you wanted to see the madness -- and oh yes, it was madness -- not filtered through a complacent and sleepy media that made Washington’s war policy seem, if not sensible, at least sane and serious enough. I stood at Ground Zero of what was intended to be the new centerpiece for a Pax Americana in the Greater Middle East.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the invasion of Iraq turned out to be a joke. Not for the Iraqis, of course, and not for American soldiers, and not the ha-ha sort of joke either. And here’s the saddest truth of all: on March 20th as we mark the 10th anniversary of the invasion from hell, we still don’t get it. In case you want to jump to the punch line, though, it’s this: by invading Iraq, the U.S. did more to destabilize the Middle East than we could possibly have imagined at the time. And we -- and so many others -- will pay the price for it for a long, long time.

Tomgram: Peter Van Buren, One Day Even the Drones Will Have to Land

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: For those of you who are still so generously donating $100 for a signed, personalized copy of Nick Turse’s bestselling book, Kill Anything that Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, just know that your copies are coming. We’re simply waiting in line for a new shipment of the book. For those of you who still have the urge to support TomDispatch -- always needed and appreciated -- and so get your copy of his book or any of the other signed books we offer, check out our donation page. Tom]

We don’t get it. We really don’t. We may not, in military terms, know how to win any more, but as a society we don’t get losing either. We don’t recognize it, even when it’s staring us in the face, when nothing -- and I mean nothing -- works out as planned. Take the upcoming 10th anniversary of George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq as Exhibit A. You could describe what happened in that country as an unmitigated disaster -- from the moment, in April 2003, U.S. troops first entered a Baghdad in flames and being looted (“stuff happens”) and were assigned to guard only the Interior Ministry (i.e. the secret police) and the Oil Ministry (well, you know what that is) to the moment in December 2011 when the last American combat unit slipped out of that land in the dead of the night (after lying to Iraqi colleagues about what they were doing).

As it happened, the country that we were going to garrison for a lifetime (to the thankful cheers of its inhabitants) while we imposed a Pax Americana on the rest of the region didn’t want us. The government we essentially installed chose Iran as an ally and business partner. The permanent bases we built to the tune of billions of dollars are now largely looted ghost towns. The reconstruction of the country that we promoted proved worse than farcical, as former State Department official Peter Van Buren, author of the already classic book We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, reminds us. And an outfit proudly carrying the al-Qaeda brand name, which did not exist in Iraq before our invasion, is now thriving in a still destabilized country. Consider that just the start of a much longer list.

For Americans, however, a single issue overwhelms all of the above, one so monumental that we can’t keep our minds off it or on much of anything else when it comes to Iraq. I’m talking, of course, about “the surge,” those five brigades of extra combat troops that, in 2006, a desperate president decided to send into an occupied country collapsing in a maelstrom of insurgency and sectarian civil war. Admittedly, General David Petraeus, who led that surge, would later experience a farcical disaster of his own and is in retirement after going “all in” with his biographer. Still, as we learned in the Senate hearings on Chuck Hagel’s nomination as Pentagon chief, the question -- the litmus test when it comes to Iraq -- remains: Was the surge strategy he implemented a remarkable success or just a simple, straightforward success in essentially buying off the Sunni opposition and, for a period, giving the country a veneer of relative -- extremely relative -- calm? Was it responsible for allowing us to leave behind a shattered Iraq (and all of Washington’s shattered imperial dreams) with, as President Obama put it, our “heads held high”? Oh, and lest you think that only right-wing Republicans and the rest of the crew that once cheered us into Iraq and refused to face what was happening while we were there find the surge the ultimate measure of our stay, check out Tom Powers’s recent admiring portrait of the surge general in the New York Review of Books.

Here’s at least one explanation for our inability to look defeat in the face and recognize it for what it is: like the proverbial horseman who prefers not to change mounts in midstream, we have an aversion to changing experts in mid-disaster, even when those experts have batting averages for pure wrongness that should stagger the imagination. In fact, you could say that the more deeply, incontrovertibly, disastrously wrong you were about Iraq, the more likely the media was in the years after, on one disaster “anniversary” after another, to call on you for your opinion. At the fifth anniversary of the invasion, for example, the New York Times rounded up a range of "experts on military and foreign affairs" to look back. Six of them had been intimately involved in the catastrophe either as drumbeaters for the invasion, instigators of it, or facilitators of the occupation that followed. Somehow, that paper could not dig up a single expert who had actually opposed the invasion.

In other words, we’re talking here about a country that, for wisdom, regularly consults the walking dead, the zombies of our Iraq experience. And don’t think that, in the coming days, some of them won’t be back again to offer their balanced thoughts on what it all meant. Only one kind of expert has been noticeably missing all these years in the mainstream media when it comes to assessing our Iraq experience: those benighted, misguided types in their millions who, before March 2003, were foolish enough to go out into the streets of global cities and oppose the invasion entirely.

To inoculate you against the coverage in the anniversary week to come, and against the spirit of our American times, TomDispatch offers Peter Van Buren, who had a ringside seat at part of our Iraqi follies, on what these 10 years from hell actually meant for us as well as others. Tom


Mission Unaccomplished: Why the Invasion of Iraq Was the Single Worst Foreign Policy Decision in American History

by Peter Van Buren


The Madness of King George

It’s easy to forget just how normal the madness looked back then. By 2009, when I arrived in Iraq, we were already at the last-gasp moment when it came to salvaging something from what may yet be seen as the single worst foreign policy decision in American history. It was then that, as a State Department officer assigned to lead two provincial reconstruction teams in eastern Iraq, I first walked into the chicken processing plant in the middle of nowhere.

By then, the U.S. “reconstruction” plan for that country was drowning in rivers of money foolishly spent. As the centerpiece for those American efforts -- at least after Plan A, that our invading troops would be greeted with flowers and sweets as liberators, crashed and burned -- we had managed to reconstruct nothing of significance. First conceived as a Marshall Plan for the New American Century, six long years later it had devolved into farce.

In my act of the play, the U.S. spent some $2.2 million dollars to build a huge facility in the boondocks. Ignoring the stark reality that Iraqis had raised and sold chickens locally for some 2,000 years, the U.S. decided to finance the construction of a central processing facility, have the Iraqis running the plant purchase local chickens, pluck them and slice them up with complex machinery brought in from Chicago, package the breasts and wings in plastic wrap, and then truck it all to local grocery stores. Perhaps it was the desert heat, but this made sense at the time, and the plan was supported by the Army, the State Department, and the White House.

Elegant in conception, at least to us, it failed to account for a few simple things, like a lack of regular electricity, or logistics systems to bring the chickens to and from the plant, or working capital, or... um... grocery stores. As a result, the gleaming $2.2 million plant processed no chickens. To use a few of the catchwords of that moment, it transformed nothing, empowered no one, stabilized and economically uplifted not a single Iraqi. It just sat there empty, dark, and unused in the middle of the desert. Like the chickens, we were plucked.

In keeping with the madness of the times, however, the simple fact that the plant failed to meet any of its real-world goals did not mean the project wasn't a success. In fact, the factory was a hit with the U.S. media. After all, for every propaganda-driven visit to the plant, my group stocked the place with hastily purchased chickens, geared up the machinery, and put on a dog-and-pony, er, chicken-and-rooster, show.

In the dark humor of that moment, we christened the place the Potemkin Chicken Factory. In between media and VIP visits, it sat in the dark, only to rise with the rooster’s cry each morning some camera crew came out for a visit. Our factory was thus considered a great success. Robert Ford, then at the Baghdad Embassy and now America's rugged shadow ambassador to Syria, said his visit was the best day out he enjoyed in Iraq. General Ray Odierno, then commanding all U.S. forces in Iraq, sent bloggers and camp followers to view the victory project. Some of the propaganda, which proclaimed that “teaching Iraqis methods to flourish on their own gives them the ability to provide their own stability without needing to rely on Americans,” is still online (including this charming image of American-Iraqi mentorship, a particular favorite of mine).

We weren’t stupid, mind you. In fact, we all felt smart and clever enough to learn to look the other way. The chicken plant was a funny story at first, a kind of insider’s joke you all think you know the punch line to. Hey, we wasted some money, but $2.2 million was a small amount in a war whose costs will someday be toted up in the trillions. Really, at the end of the day, what was the harm?

The harm was this: we wanted to leave Iraq (and Afghanistan) stable to advance American goals. We did so by spending our time and money on obviously pointless things, while most Iraqis lacked access to clean water, regular electricity, and medical or hospital care. Another State Department official in Iraq wrote in his weekly summary to me, “At our project ribbon-cuttings we are typically greeted now with a cursory ‘thank you,’ followed by a long list of crushing needs for essential services such as water and power.” How could we help stabilize Iraq when we acted like buffoons? As one Iraqi told me, “It is like I am standing naked in a room with a big hat on my head. Everyone comes in and helps put flowers and ribbons on my hat, but no one seems to notice that I am naked.”

By 2009, of course, it should all have been so obvious. We were no longer inside the neocon dream of unrivaled global superpowerdom, just mired in what happened to it. We were a chicken factory in the desert that no one wanted.

Time Travel to 2003

Anniversaries are times for reflection, in part because it’s often only with hindsight that we recognize the most significant moments in our lives. On the other hand, on anniversaries it’s often hard to remember what it was really like back when it all began. Amid the chaos of the Middle East today, it’s easy, for instance, to forget what things looked like as 2003 began. Afghanistan, it appeared, had been invaded and occupied quickly and cleanly, in a way the Soviets (the British, the ancient Greeks…) could never have dreamed of. Iran was frightened, seeing the mighty American military on its eastern border and soon to be on the western one as well, and was ready to deal. Syria was controlled by the stable thuggery of Bashar al-Assad and relations were so good that the U.S. was rendering terror suspects to his secret prisons for torture.

Most of the rest of the Middle East was tucked in for a long sleep with dictators reliable enough to maintain stability. Libya was an exception, though predictions were that before too long Muammar Qaddafi would make some sort of deal. (He did.) All that was needed was a quick slash into Iraq to establish a permanent American military presence in the heart of Mesopotamia. Our future garrisons there could obviously oversee things, providing the necessary muscle to swat down any future destabilizing elements. It all made so much sense to the neocon visionaries of the early Bush years. The only thing that Washington couldn’t imagine was this: that the primary destabilizing element would be us.

Indeed, its mighty plan was disintegrating even as it was being dreamed up. In their lust for everything on no terms but their own, the Bush team missed a diplomatic opportunity with Iran that might have rendered today’s saber rattling unnecessary, even as Afghanistan fell apart and Iraq imploded. As part of the breakdown, desperate men, blindsided by history, turned up the volume on desperate measures: torture, secret gulags, rendition, drone killings, extra-constitutional actions at home. The sleaziest of deals were cut to try to salvage something, including ignoring the A.Q. Khan network of Pakistani nuclear proliferation in return for a cheesy Condi Rice-Qaddafi photo-op rapprochement in Libya.

Inside Iraq, the forces of Sunni-Shia sectarian conflict had been unleashed by the U.S. invasion. That, in turn, was creating the conditions for a proxy war between the U.S. and Iran, similar to the growing proxy war between Israel and Iran inside Lebanon (where another destabilizing event, the U.S.-sanctioned Israeli invasion of 2006, followed in hand). None of this has ever ended. Today, in fact, that proxy war has simply found a fresh host, Syria, with multiple powers using “humanitarian aid” to push and shove their Sunni and Shia avatars around.

Staggering neocon expectations, Iran emerged from the U.S. decade in Iraq economically more powerful, with sanctions-busting trade between the two neighbors now valued at some $5 billion a year and still growing. In that decade, the U.S. also managed to remove one of Iran’s strategic counterbalances, Saddam Hussein, replacing him with a government run by Nouri al-Malaki, who had once found asylum in Tehran.

Meanwhile, Turkey is now engaged in an open war with the Kurds of northern Iraq. Turkey is, of course, part of NATO, so imagine the U.S. government sitting by silently while Germany bombed Poland. To complete the circle, Iraq’s prime minister recently warned that a victory for Syria's rebels will spark sectarian wars in his own country and will create a new haven for al-Qaeda which would further destabilize the region.

Meanwhile, militarily burnt out, economically reeling from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and lacking any moral standing in the Middle East post-Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, the U.S. sat on its hands as the regional spark that came to be called the Arab Spring flickered out, to be replaced by yet more destabilization across the region. And even that hasn’t stopped Washington from pursuing the latest version of the (now-nameless) global war on terror into ever-newer regions in need of destabilization.

Having noted the ease with which a numbed American public patriotically looked the other way while our wars followed their particular paths to hell, our leaders no longer blink at the thought of sending American drones and special operations forces ever farther afield, most notably ever deeper into Africa, creating from the ashes of Iraq a frontier version of the state of perpetual war George Orwell once imagined for his dystopian novel 1984. And don’t doubt for a second that there is a direct path from the invasion of 2003 and that chicken plant to the dangerous and chaotic place that today passes for our American world.

Happy Anniversary

On this 10th anniversary of the Iraq War, Iraq itself remains, by any measure, a dangerous and unstable place. Even the usually sunny Department of State advises American travelers to Iraq that U.S. citizens “remain at risk for kidnapping... [as] numerous insurgent groups, including Al Qaida, remain active...” and notes that “State Department guidance to U.S. businesses in Iraq advises the use of Protective Security Details.”

In the bigger picture, the world is also a far more dangerous place than it was in 2003. Indeed, for the State Department, which sent me to Iraq to witness the follies of empire, the world has become ever more daunting. In 2003, at that infamous “mission accomplished” moment, only Afghanistan was on the list of overseas embassies that were considered “extreme danger posts.” Soon enough, however, Iraq and Pakistan were added. Today, Yemen and Libya, once boring but secure outposts for State’s officials, now fall into the same category.

Other places once considered safe for diplomats and their families such as Syria and Mali have been evacuated and have no American diplomatic presence at all. Even sleepy Tunisia, once calm enough that the State Department had its Arabic language school there, is now on reduced staff with no diplomatic family members resident. Egypt teeters.

The Iranian leadership watched carefully as the American imperial version of Iraq collapsed, concluded that Washington was a paper tiger, backed away from initial offers to talk over contested issues, and instead (at least for a while) doubled-down on achieving nuclear breakout capacity, aided by the past work of that same A.Q. Khan network. North Korea, another A.Q. Khan beneficiary, followed the same pivot ever farther from Washington, while it became a genuine nuclear power. Its neighbor China pursued its own path of economic dominance, while helping to “pay” for the Iraq War by becoming the number-one holder of U.S. debt among foreign governments. It now owns more than 21% of the U.S. debt held overseas.

And don’t put away the joke book just yet. Subbing as apologist-in-chief for an absent George W. Bush and the top officials of his administration on this 10th anniversary, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair recently reminded us that there is more on the horizon. Conceding that he had “long since given up trying to persuade people Iraq was the right decision,” Blair added that new crises are looming. “You’ve got one in Syria right now, you’ve got one in Iran to come,” he said. “We are in the middle of this struggle, it is going to take a generation, it is going to be very arduous and difficult. But I think we are making a mistake, a profound error, if we think we can stay out of that struggle.”

Think of his comment as a warning. Having somehow turned much of Islam into a foe, Washington has essentially assured itself of never-ending crises that it stands no chance whatsoever of winning. In this sense, Iraq was not an aberration, but the historic zenith and nadir for a way of thinking that is only now slowing waning. For decades to come, the U.S. will have a big enough military to ensure that our decline is slow, bloody, ugly, and reluctant, if inevitable. One day, however, even the drones will have to land.

And so, happy 10th anniversary, Iraq War! A decade after the invasion, a chaotic and unstable Middle East is the unfinished legacy of our invasion. I guess the joke is on us after all, though no one is laughing.

Peter Van Buren, a retired 24-year veteran of the State Department, served in Iraq. A TomDispatch regular, he writes about Iraq, the Middle East, and U.S. diplomacy at his blog, We Meant Well. He is the author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. He is currently working on a new book, The People on the Bus: A Story of the 99%.

Copyright 2013 Peter Van Buren