Friday, 27 September 2013

Why Rouhani Is a Nightmare for Israel's Mossad

by Uri Avnery           The Progressive              Common  Dreams            September 27, 2013

(The new Iranian President Hassan) Rouhani is the very opposite of his predecessor. If the Mossad had been asked to sketch the worst possible Iranian leader Israel could imagine, they would have come up with someone like him.  An Iranian who recognizes and condemns the Holocaust!  An Iranian man who offers sweetness and light!  An Iranian who wishes peace and friendship on all nations – even hinting that Israel could be included, if only we give up the occupied Palestinian territories!  Could you imagine anything worse?
I am not joking. This is deadly serious!  Even before Rouhani could open his mouth after his election, he was condemned outright by Binyamin Netanyahu.  A wolf in sheep’s clothing!  A real anti-Semite!  A cheat out to deceive the whole world!  A devious politician whose devilish aim is to drive a wedge between Israel and the naive Americans!  This is the real Iranian bomb, far more threatening than the nuclear one that will be built behind the smokescreen of Rouhani’s sweet talk!  A nuclear bomb can be deterred by another nuclear bomb. But how do you deter a Rouhani?
Yuval Steinitz, our failed former Minister of Finance and at present responsible for our “strategic thinking” (yes, really!), exclaimed in despair that the world wants to be deceived by Iran. Binyamin Netanyahu called it a “honey trap. Commentators who are hand-fed by official circles” (i.e., the Prime Minister’s Office) proclaim that Rouhani is an existential threat. All this before he had uttered a word.
When Rouhani at long last made his Grand Speech at the UN General Assembly, all the dire forebodings were confirmed.  Where Ahmadinejad had set off a stampede of delegates from the hall, Rouhani packed them in. Diplomats from all over the world were curious about the man. They could have read the speech a few minutes later, but they wanted to see and hear for themselves. Even the United States sent officials to be present. No one left.  No one, that is, except the Israelis. The Israeli diplomats were instructed by Netanyahu to leave the hall demonstratively when the Iranian started to speak.
That was a stupid gesture, as rational and as effective as a little boy’s tantrum when his favorite toy is taken away.  Stupid, because it painted Israel as a spoiler, at a time when the entire world is seized by an attack of optimism after the recent events in Damascus and Tehran.  Stupid, because it proclaims the fact that Israel is at present totally isolated.  Netanyahu and his crew behave exactly as the Arab diplomats used to do a generation ago. Meaning, they are stuck in the past. They don’t live in the present.
Living in the present needs something politicians are loath to do: thinking again.  Things are changing. Slowly, very slowly, but perceptibly.  It is far too early to say much about the Decline of the American Empire, but one does not need a seismograph to perceive some movement in that direction.
How does Israel fit into this changing scene?  First of all, we must start thinking, much as we would prefer to avoid it. New circumstances demand new thoughts.  In his own US speech, Obama made a clear connection between the Iranian bomb and the Israeli occupation. This linkage cannot be unlinked. Let’s grasp it.
The US is today a bit less important than it was yesterday. Russia is a bit more important than it was. As its futile attack on Capitol Hill during the Syrian crisis shows, AIPAC is also less powerful.  Let’s think again about Iran. It’s too early to conclude how far Tehran is moving, if at all. But we need to try. Walking out of rooms is not a policy. Entering rooms is.              [This is the concluding segment of a long article]
Uri Avnery, a founding member of the independent peace movement Gush Shalom, is a peace activist, journalist, and writer.    

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Poison Gas and Our Poisoned Values

by Robert C. Koehler                           Common  Dreams                  September 26, 2013

The 1925 Geneva Protocol, in response to the horrors of World War I, banned the use of asphyxiating and poisonous gases in war, but not, incredibly, their development or manufacture. It took the civilized world another seven decades to do that. In the meantime, there was plenty of manufacturing, developing and stockpiling of poison gas weaponry going on, including in the United States, up to and well beyond World War II.
One factual tidbit I find fascinating is that Otto Ambros, a Nazi scientist and co-inventor of Sarin, convicted of crimes against humanity at Nuremberg, came to the US 1951, after serving half his term, and began advising the U.S. Army on its own chemical weapons program in the ’50s. Could the reality of geopolitics be exposed in starker relief? For all the moral pretenses of war and militarism, the game has no moral boundaries whatsoever.
The fact that the initial U.S. response to the Syrian government’s alleged use of poison gas was to bomb the country simply indicates the reckless irresponsibility of thinking in terms of military solutions to anything. Of course the moral issue was just a pretext to go to war, but even on its own terms, this was a preposterous “solution”: Bombing storage facilities could easily release the toxic substances being stored.
Poison gas is lethal whether it’s used or not. Consider the U.S. stockpile of around 30,000 tons of it, stored or buried, hastily and temporarily, in sites all over the country. The 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention treaty banned its manufacture and stockpiling and gave signing nations a decade to get rid of their stockpiles. “As a rule, chemical weapons are easier to make than to destroy,” the New York Times reported recently.“ Everybody forgets that none of these weapons were designed to be peacefully disassembled,” the Times quotes an Army spokesman as saying. “It was always assumed that they’d be used.”
Why is that not a surprise? This kind of cynicism is all we ask of military planners, quick as they are to invoke moral rectitude as a pretext for using their lethal toys. And remember, most of our stockpiled weapons were manufactured in the wake of the 1925 Geneva Convention banning their use. Much as we imagine that our nation has a cornerstone of moral values, I fear it’s an illusion.
And of course we’re reaping the consequences of that illusion. Consider that, for many decades prior to the onset of environmental consciousness, the U.S. military, tasked with getting rid of what it no longer needed, simply buried it, burned it or dumped it in the ocean, long-term consequences be damned.
Eight years ago, John M. R. Bull wrote an extraordinary investigative piece for the Daily Press of Hampton Roads, Va., detailing the extent of the Army’s jettisoning of obsolete poison gas canisters and other toxic trash. Summing up his findings afterward, I wrote: “Turns out, according to Army documents the paper obtained, from the end of World War II until 1970, the Army jettisoned 64 million pounds of nerve and mustard agents, 400,000 chemical-filled bombs, land mines and rockets and more than 500 tons of radioactive waste into the coastal waters off 11 states that virtually ring the country; has only a vague idea where these dump sites are; has made only haphazard stabs at monitoring a few of the sites even though leakage and container breakdown are inevitable; and has not bothered to inform the affected states or other agencies about the dumping.”
Add to all this our nuclear stockpiling and ongoing development, our use of white phosphorous and depleted uranium, our complicity in Iraq’s use of poison gas against Iran and Iraqi Kurds back in the ’80s, and I’m wondering how we can ever atone for what we’ve done, let alone clean up the leftovers.   [Abridged]
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Let’s Be Honest About Israel’s Nukes

By VICTOR GILINSKY and HENRY D. SOKOLSKI:      Sept.18, 2013    New York Times
 THE recent agreement between the United States and Russia on Syria’s chemical weapons made clear what should have been obvious long ago: President Obama’s effort to uphold international norms against weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East will entangle the United States in a diplomatic and strategic maze that is about much more than Syria’s chemical arsenal.

President Bashar al-Assad of Syria insists that the purpose of his chemical arsenal was always to deter Israel’s nuclear weapons. If Syria actually disarms, what about Egypt and Israel? Egypt (about whose chemical weapons the United States has been strangely silent) points to Israel. And Israel of course has its own chemical weapons to deter Syria’s and Egypt’s, and it is not about to give them up.  A headline in the Israeli daily Haaretz a few days ago stated: “Israel adamant it won’t ratify chemical arms treaty before hostile neighbors.”These three countries have not adhered to the Biological Weapons Convention either. And Israel is not a member of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, despite having developed a formidable nuclear arsenal of its own, which will soon become the central fact in this drama, whether the United States likes it or not.
An obstacle of America’s own making has long prevented comprehensive negotiations over weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. While the world endlessly discusses Iran’s nuclear capabilities and the likelihood that it will succeed in developing an atomic arsenal, hardly anyone in the United States ever mentions Israel’s nuclear weapons.  Mr. Obama, like his predecessors, pretends that he doesn’t know anything about them. This taboo impedes discussions within Washington and internationally. It has kept America from pressing Egypt and Syria to ratify the chemical and biological weapons conventions. Doing so would have brought immediate objections about American acceptance of Israel’s nuclear weapons.
What sustains this pretense is the myth that America is locked into covering up Israeli nuclear bombs because of a 1969 agreement between President Richard M. Nixon and Israel’s prime minister, Golda Meir. For Mr. Nixon, it was mainly about gaining Israeli support in the cold war. He and Mrs. Meir understood the need to discourage the Soviets from providing their Arab allies with nuclear weapons. A declared Israeli nuclear arsenal would have led to pressure for Moscow to do so. But such cold war reasons for America to stay mum evaporated decades ago. Everyone knows the Israelis have nuclear bombs. Today, the main effect of the ambiguity is to prevent serious regional arms-control negotiations.
All other countries in the region are members of the nonproliferation treaty, but there are still unresolved issues. Syria was caught building an illicit nuclear reactor in 2007, which Israel swiftly bombed. Mr. Assad still has not allowed international inspectors to fully investigate that obliterated reactor site. And Syria’s ally Iran is suspected of trying to assemble its own weapons program to challenge Israel’s nuclear monopoly. Indeed, many analysts believed that Mr. Obama’s decision to issue a “red line” barring the use of chemical weapons in Syria was in fact driven by the perceived need to demonstrate that he was prepared to use force against Iran if it moved further toward nuclear weapons.
This witches’ brew was supposed to become the subject of an international conference, mandated in 2010 by the unanimous vote of the members of the nonproliferation treaty, including the United States. But that conference hasn’t happened, in part because of White House ambivalence about how it might affect Israel.
In April, the American assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, Thomas M. Countryman, expressed hope that the conference would be held by this fall. And earlier this month, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, urged all parties to set a conference date “as quickly as possible.” He also argued that it should include Israel and Iran. Russia attempted to include the conference in last week’s agreement, but Secretary of State John Kerry resisted. It is not going to go away.
If Washington wants negotiations over weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East to work — or even just to avoid making America appear ridiculous — Mr. Obama should begin by being candid. He cannot expect the countries participating in a conference to take America seriously if the White House continues to pretend that we don’t know whether Israel has nuclear weapons, or for that matter whether Egypt and Israel have chemical or biological ones.
And if Israel’s policy on the subject is so frozen that it is unable to come clean, Mr. Obama must let the United States government be honest about Israel’s arsenal and act on those facts, for both America’s good and Israel’s.
Victor Gilinsky, a former member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, is an energy consultant. Henry D. Sokolski, a former deputy for nonproliferation policy in the defense department, is executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center.

Syria's senior cleric pardons the rebels who killed his son

The Grand Mufti of Syria preaches a message of forgiveness

Robert  Fisk                        International/UK                            23 September 2013

 ‘I met those men who assassinated my own son – and they told me they didn’t even know whom they were killing.” Sheikh Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun, the Grand Mufti of Syria, sits in a straightbacked chair, his immaculate white turban atop a narrow, intelligent and very troubled face. “He was only 21, my youngest son. On that day, he was to be betrothed to his future wife.  I said to the two men ‘I forgive you’ and I asked the judge to forgive them. But he said they were guilty of 10 times as many crimes and must be judged.”
 “All the men involved were Syrians, from Aleppo. They said they received their command from Turkey and Saudi Arabia, that they were each paid the equivalent of £350; Saria Hassoun’s life was worth a total of just £700.
Sheikh Hassoun is, you might say, government-approved – he prayed beside Bashar al-Assad in a Damascus mosque after a bomb warning – and his family, let alone he himself, was an obvious target for Syria’s rebels. But his courage and his message of reconciliation cannot be faulted. In whatever new Syria arises from the rubble, Sheikh Hussein should be there even if his President has gone.  And he speaks with remarkable frankness. When I tell him that I fear the mukhabarat intelligence service in Syria contaminates all it touches, including the institutions of government, he does not hesitate for a moment before replying.
“I suffered from the mukhabarat. I was taken from my post as a preacher from 1972 until 2000. I was taken from my position as Friday speaker in the Aleppo mosque and from lecturing on four occasions. The intelligence services all over the world are the same: they never look after the interest of the human being – they only look after their own institution. And he asks whether it is not also true that the American intelligence services do not also spy on Americans and all of Europe, a difficult question – it must be said – to deny. “Let us put aside the Prophet Mohamed, Jesus and Moses – all the rest of the world are controlled by intelligence services.”
Unlike most Syrians, the Mufti looks forward rather than back. He prays for a Geneva 2 conference. “I am the Mufti of all Syrians – Sunni Muslims, Christians, Alawites, Druze – of all the diversity of sects we had before the war. There is no choice other than reconciliation; it is the only way back. But to offer reconciliation, we must eliminate the ‘external hand’ first.”
“And if the neighbouring countries like Turkey, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon don’t try to make this same reconciliation, the fire of crisis will flow to them, especially Turkey. For all Syrians, we are open for them to come back. The problem is those who came from outside Syria – especially from Iraq and Turkey – who came without visas over smugglers’ trails either to meet death or to overthrow the authorities here.”
. And on the question of sarin gas, he takes the government’s side of the story. He quotes Bashar al-Assad as saying he would never use gas against Syrians - that if he had used it, the war would not have gone on for two and a half years.  The first major use of gas came in March at Khan al-Assal in Aleppo province, near the Mufti’s residence, when at least 26 civilians suffocated to death. This is his version of what happened.
“Some of the farm labourers reported to me that all the terrorists in the area had suddenly left – the night before the attack – and had evacuated all their people. So the civilians were happy – they were civilians and many were the wives and children of soldiers – and so they went back at last to their homes. Then came the chemical missile attack. I said at that time, in March, that this event is just an experiment, that gas will be used again in other places.”
This, of course, is not a story the Americans want to hear. Five months ago, the Mufti was invited to speak at George Mason and George Washington Universities in the United States and he travelled to Jordan for his visa. He says he was asked to go to the US embassy in Amman where he was interrogated by a woman diplomat from behind a glass screen.  “I was so insulted that I decided not to go and I left for Damascus the next morning.”
The Mufti is a most secular man – he was even once an Assembly MP for Aleppo. “I am ready to go anywhere in the world to say that war is not a sacred deed,” he says. “And those who have fought under the name of Jesus, Mohamed or Moses are lying. Prophets come to give life, not death…. Let us cease the language of killing. Had we paid all the funds of war to make peace, paradise would exist now. This is the message of my Syria.”

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Robert Fisk in Damascus

Independent/UK                         18 SEPT. 2013

And so the war goes on. Missile alerts may be over but the killing fields remain, untouched by Obama’s pale threats or Sergei Lavrov’s earnestness. The Syrian army fights on in the rubble and the shells fly over Damascus and the road from Lebanon is still littered with checkpoints. Only when you reach the city do you notice how many people have now built iron guard doors before their homes and iron gates on car parks. The claim that 40-50,000 rebels surround the capital is probably untrue but there are up to 80,000 security men and soldiers inside Damascus and, on this battlefront, they may well be winning.

It’s a campaign that started long before the use of sarin gas on 21 August and continued long afterwards. But on that fateful night, the Syrian army did mount one of its fiercest bombardments of rebel areas. In 12 separate attacks, it tried to put special forces men inside the insurgent enclaves, backed up by artillery fire. 

I was chatting yesterday to an old Syrian friend, a journalist who used to be in the country’s special forces and he – quite by chance – said he was embedded with Syrian government troops on the night of 21 August. These were men of the Fourth Division – in which the President’s brother Maher commands a brigade – and my friend was in the suburb of Moadamiyeh – the site of one of the chemical attacks. He recalls the tremendous artillery bombardment but saw no evidence of gas being used. This was one of the areas from which the army was attempting to insert bridgeheads into rebel territory. What he does remember is the concern of government troops when they saw the first images of gas victims on television – fearing that they themselves would have to fight amid the poisonous fumes.

Frontline Syrian forces do carry gas masks but none was seen wearing any. “The problem,” my friend said, “is that after Libya there are so many Russian weapons and artillery pieces smuggled into Syria that you don’t know what anybody’s got any more. The Libyans can’t produce enough of their oil but they sure can export all Gaddafi’s equipment.” But that doesn’t necessarily include sarin gas. Nor does it let the Syrian government off the hook. The protocols on the use of gas and missiles are said to be very strict in Syria so, of course, we come back to the old question: who ordered those missiles fired during the awful night of 21 August?

Some questions are familiar. Why use gas when so much more lethal weaponry is being flung at rebel forces across the country? If the government wanted to use gas, why not employ it north of Aleppo where not a single government soldier or official exists? Why in Damascus? And why wasn’t gas used on this scale in the previous two years? And why employ such a dreadful weapon when the end result is that Syria – by giving up its stocks of chemical weapons – has effectively lost one of its strategic defences against an Israeli invasion? Wasn’t Israel the real winner in all this?

Most probably Israel is also the winner in Syria’s civil war, as its once great neighbour is smashed and pulverised by a conflict which may continue for another two years. Syria was never a wealthy nation, but rebuilding its smashed cities and railways and roads is going to take many years. Rumours in Damascus are thicker than the smoke which envelops part of the city. Among the latest is an allegedly secret Western demand that a new Syrian government be formed of 30 ministers – 10 of them regime figures and at least 10 others independents – and that there must be a total restructuring of the army and security services. Since the West no longer has the means of enforcing such ambitious plans, all this sounds unlikely. Unless the Russians are also supporting the idea.

North of Damascus, the Jabhat al-Nusra forces are now way back from the ancient, partly Christian town of Maaloula which was recaptured by the Syrian Third Armoured Division. But this poses another question. Why on earth did the Nusra fighters take Maaloula if they had no intention of holding it? Did they think that the Syrian regime would be so distracted by the thought of an American attack that it would lack the will to drive them out? Sadly both sides have ceased to care about the weapons they use or the immorality of using them. When an Islamist fighter can film himself eating the flesh of a dead soldier, all scruples have gone.

Not long ago, rebels in Damascus murdered a woman in Harasta. One of her sons is now serving in the Syrian army. He has never touched or fired gas in his life. But as a member of his family said to me, “if he was ordered to, he would not have the slightest hesitation. He would love to revenge himself on those who killed his beloved mother.”

A message to the West from the man who wants to bring Iran in from the cold

The new President of Iran explains why his overtures to the West deserve a fair hearing
HASSAN ROUHANI           Independent/UK             21 SEPTEMBER 2013

 Three months ago, my platform of “prudence and hope” gained a broad, popular mandate. Iranians embraced my approach to domestic and international affairs because they saw it as long overdue. I’m committed to fulfilling my promises to my people, including my pledge to engage in constructive interaction with the world.  The world has changed. International politics is no longer a zero-sum game but a multidimensional arena where co-operation and competition often occur simultaneously. Gone is the age of blood feuds. World leaders are expected to lead in turning threats into opportunities.

The international community faces many challenges in this new world – terrorism, extremism, foreign military interference, drug trafficking, cybercrime and cultural encroachment – all within a framework that has emphasised hard power and the use of brute force.We must pay attention to the complexities of the issues at hand to solve them. Enter my definition of constructive engagement. In a world where global politics is no longer a zero-sum game, it is – or should be – counterintuitive to pursue one’s interests without considering the interests of others.

A Sadly, unilateralism often continues to overshadow constructive approaches. Security is pursued at the expense of the insecurity of others, with disastrous consequences. More than a decade and two wars after 9/11, al-Qa’ida and other militant extremists continue to wreak havoc. Syria, a jewel of civilisation, has become the scene of heartbreaking violence, including chemical weapons attacks, which we strongly condemn. In Iraq, 10 years after the American-led invasion, dozens still lose their lives to violence every day. Afghanistan endures similar, endemic bloodshed.

The unilateral approach, which glorifies brute force and breeds violence, is clearly incapable of solving issues we all face, such as terrorism and extremism. I say all because nobody is immune to extremist-fuelled violence, even though it might rage thousands of miles away. Americans woke up to this reality 12 years ago.

At their core, the vicious battles in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria are over the nature of those countries’ identities and their consequent roles in our region and the world. The centrality of identity extends to the case of our peaceful nuclear energy programme. To us, mastering the atomic fuel cycle and generating nuclear power is as much about diversifying our energy resources as it is about who Iranians are as a nation, our demand for dignity and respect and our consequent place in the world. Without comprehending the role of identity, many issues we all face will remain unresolved.

I am committed to confronting our common challenges via a two-pronged approach. First, we must join hands constructively to work toward national dialogue, whether in Syria or Bahrain. We must create an atmosphere where peoples of the region can decide their own fates. As part of this, I announce my government’s readiness to help facilitate dialogue between the Syrian government and the opposition.

Second, we must address the broader, overarching injustices and rivalries that fuel violence and tensions. A key aspect of my commitment to constructive interaction entails a sincere effort to engage with neighbours and other nations to identify and secure win-win solutions. We and our international counterparts have spent a lot of time – perhaps too much time – discussing what we don’t want rather than what we do want. This is not unique to Iran’s international relations. In a climate where much of foreign policy is a direct function of domestic politics, focusing on what one doesn’t want is an easy way out of difficult conundrums for many world leaders. Expressing what one does want requires more courage. After 10 years of back-and-forth, what all sides don’t want in relation to our nuclear file is clear. The same dynamic is evident in the rival approaches to Syria.

This approach can be useful for efforts to prevent cold conflicts from turning hot. But to move beyond impasses, whether in relation to Syria, my country’s nuclear program or its relations with the United States, we need to aim higher. Rather than focusing on how to prevent things from getting worse, we need to think – and talk – about how to make things better. To do that, we all need to muster the courage to start conveying what we want – clearly, concisely and sincerely – and to back it up with the political will to take necessary action. This is the essence of my approach to constructive interaction.

As I depart for New York for the opening of the UN General Assembly, I urge my counterparts to seize the opportunity presented by Iran’s recent election. I urge them to make the most of the mandate for prudent engagement that my people have given me and to respond genuinely to my government’s efforts to engage in constructive dialogue. Most of all, I urge them to look beyond the pines and be brave enough to tell me what they see – if not for their national interests, then for the sake of their legacies, and our children and future generations.             

This article appeared originally in the Washington Post    [Abbrev.]

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Worldview by Ian Harris Otago Daily Times Sept. 13, 2013

Most people probably give only a passing thought to the worldview through which they interpret the world around them. It’s simply there, a basic orientation of mind and heart absorbed from their culture, shared by their peers, and confirmed or modified by experience.  For people of faith, good religion will inform and enhance their worldview, bad religion will distort it. That’s also true for those who reject religion: their worldview will be shaped by whatever takes its place.
Till recently, two distinct religiously-based worldviews have moulded westerners’ view of the relationship between human beings and the planet that sustains them.

The first is that the world is there for humans to use to their advantage, a stance rooted in the opening chapter of Genesis. There God is depicted as a divine being over and beyond creation, a supernatural artist, superb designer, supreme craftsman, inventive physicist, masterful chemist, innovative biologist – in sum, maker of all that is.
The chapter is a resounding poem of praise, affirming the world as good in every part, from the sun and stars to plants and trees, birds and fish, beasts and humans.

Then Adam and Eve, symbolic of men and women in every age, messed up. Despite that, it was to humankind that God had given dominion over every other creature. They were to fill the earth and subdue it (though always within the constraint of their responsibility to God). That was the natural order of things.

By the Middle Ages, however, this rosy view of the world and humanity’s place in it had gone sour. In stark contrast to that emphasis on Earth blessed by the goodness of God, the church had burdened everyone with the appalling horror of sin. Earth had become a vale of woe, a sink of iniquity, the basest part of the universe.  One medieval writer lamented that we humans are “lodged here in the dirt and filth of the world, nailed and riveted to the worst and deadest part of the universe”. Human fulfilment lay not here, but in the soul’s release from this squalid dump into the everlasting bliss and purity of heaven. Of course Earth had its uses in providing food, clothing and shelter, but beyond that, why bother?

In the modern world that grim view has faded, but it hasn’t disappeared. Some fundamentalist Christians, especially in the United States, have given it new life. They see the biblical injunction to exercise dominion over nature as the green light for exploiting it without restraint. By way of example, an American Secretary of the Interior during Ronald Reagan’s presidency, James Watt, wanted to give developers unlimited access to national parks and resources. His reasoning was that the earth “is merely a temporary way station on the road to eternal life. It is unimportant except as a place of testing to get into heaven. The earth was put here by the Lord for his people to subdue and to use it for profitable purposes on the way to the hereafter.” That is execrable theology.

More recently, President Obama gave the green light to take advantage of the retreating northern icecap by drilling for oil in Arctic waters. European companies are also staking out oil and mineral prospecting interests in ice-bound Greenland and the surrounding sea.  Meanwhile the New Zealand Government has approved research to establish what mineral resources lie buried in our national parks. It would be naive to imagine this is simply to add to the sum of human knowledge.  

Of course the big mining and manufacturing companies don’t rely on a theological argument to pursue their interests. Making money for their shareholders is reason enough. But common to both the medieval attitude and that of many international corporates is the view that nature has no intrinsic value: it is there to be exploited and serve its human masters in whatever ways they wish. In today’s world, that mindset is dangerous. Earth is suffering from massive population growth, portentous climate change, the pollution of air, land and water, and extinction of species. Unprecedented technological power is being applied to achieve exponential industrial growth. This is making a few people unbelievably rich, while depleting Earth’s resources and threatening not only our human future, but the earth’s.  

Lump all this together, and it is obvious that the relationship of the human species to the earth has changed radically – and in the new environment, those old Christian perspectives that helped produce the crisis are overdue for a paradigm shift.

That is happening: more next time.

Iran's Rouhani may meet Obama at UN

First meeting of US and Iranian leaders since 1979 revolution could open way to diplomatic end to Iranian nuclear standoff

Julian Borger, Diplomatic editor             Guardian/UK                 15 September 2013

An exchange of letters between Barack Obama and the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, has set the stage for a possible meeting between the two men at the UN next week in what would be the first face-to-face encounter between a US and Iranian leader since Iran's 1979 revolution. Britain's foreign secretary, William Hague, is also due to meet his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, at the UN general assembly meeting in New York, adding to guarded optimism that the June election of Rouhani, a Glasgow-educated moderate, and his appointment of a largely pragmatic cabinet, has opened the door to a diplomatic solution to the 11-year international standoff. Tehran took the Foreign Office by surprise, tweeting on Rouhani's English-language feed that the president would also be prepared to meet Hague, something the UK had not even requested.

Diplomats said that the tweet reflected the new Iranian government's eagerness to make diplomatic headway on the nuclear issue, which has been at an impasse for several years. A Hague meeting with either Rouhani or Zarif could clear the way to restoring full diplomatic ties, which have not existed since the British embassy in Tehran was ransacked by a mob in November 2011.
On Sunday, Obama made clear that there was a diplomatic opening with Iran, not only over the nuclear question but also over Syria. He confirmed earlier reports that he and Rouhani had "reached out" to each other, exchanging letters. Speaking on ABC's This Week, Obama raised the prospect of Iran getting involved in broader talks on Syria if Tehran recognised "that what's happening there is a train wreck that hurts not just Syrians but is destabilising the entire region". He said the Geneva deal could pave the way for more general talks involving Russia and Iran aimed at "some sort of political settlement that would deal with the underlying terrible conflict".

In the same interview, Obama also urged Iran's leadership not to draw the wrong lessons from his decision to draw back from air strikes on Syria in pursuit of a diplomatic solution to the chemical weapons crisis. He said it showed that it was possible to resolve the standoff over Iran's nuclear aspirations peacefully, but insisted it did not indicate a weakening of US resolve to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.  "I think what the Iranians understand is that the nuclear issue is a far larger issue for us than the chemical weapons issue, that the threat against … Israel that a nuclear Iran poses is much closer to our core interests. That a nuclear arms race in the region is something that would be profoundly destabilising," Obama said in the ABC interview.
After meeting John Kerry, US secretary of state, the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, stressed the same point. "Iran must understand the consequences of its continued defiance of the international community by its pursuit toward nuclear weapons," he added.

However, Obama insisted: "What they should draw from this lesson is that there is the potential of resolving these issues diplomatically. Negotiations with the Iranians are always difficult. I think this new president is not going to suddenly make it easy. My view is that … if you have both a credible threat of force, combined with a rigorous diplomatic effort, that, in fact you can strike a deal."

There is something deeply cynical about this chemical weapons ‘timetable’

Syrians will be left to kill each other as before - only without sarin

Robert  Fisk                    Independent/UK                        15 September 2013

What on earth was going on in Washington and Geneva last week?  The Obama administration is still getting weirder and weirder.  Obama last year was really, terribly, awfully worried that Syria’s chemical weapons would “fall into the wrong hands”. In other words, into the hands of al-Qa’ida or the al-Nusra front. Seemingly they were still, at that moment, in the “right hands” – those of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. But now Obama and the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, have decided that they are in the wrong hands after all, since they are now accusing the “right hands” of firing sarin gas shells at civilians. And that crosses the infamous “red line”.

And then – wait for it – as the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, suggested an international collection of all the rusty old chemical shells in Syria, Pentagon “sources” said it would need up to 75,000 armed troops to protect the chemical inspectors. Seventy-five thousand! If that isn’t boots on the ground, I don’t know what is.
Of course, Putin and Lavrov kept clear of references to the Second World War. Russia suffered too grievously from Hitler for that. I’ve said this before, but I really do suspect that leaders who have no experience of war – I am excepting McCain and the indefatigable UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi here – actually thought they were making a Hollywood movie. Kerry’s preposterous “unbelievably small” strike is obviously a low budget film for recession-hit America. Obama promises wide-screen drama. Think Steven Spielberg. And then the Russians, who can spot a dead cat when they see one, zap the whole project.

None of the above should cheapen the tragedy of Syria. The world, I suspect, is not totally convinced that the regime was responsible for using chemical weapons in Ghouta on 21 August – though I bet the Russians know who did. Now we’ve got rebels chopping off prisoners’ heads, I’m not sure what scruples they’d have about using sarin. But it was interesting to see the Syrian government agreeing to put their chemical weapons in international hands – I couldn’t help noticing that they didn’t demand the same of the insurgents…

Let’s have a closer look at the Kerry-Lavrov timetable. The Syrians have to come up with a list of their nasties within a week. Inspectors are to be on the ground by mid-November. Then every chemical weapon has got to be destroyed (or “secured”) by the middle of next year. And this amid a civil war! Peace in our time.

Of course, while the inspectors are battering their way through the front lines the Syrians continue to kill each other, the Syrian government goes on trying to break the rebels and the Islamist insurgents go on attacking Christian towns and chopping off the heads of captives. Put bluntly, they can use rifles, shells, knives and swords to slaughter each other – but absolutely no sarin. There is something deeply offensive and deeply cynical about all this. Russia re-enters the Middle East, Obama is off the hook after playing World War 2 – and the Syrians go on dying.

I do hope that we will have a “Geneva 2” conference at last, and that America and Russia will no longer spat over the Syrian bloodbath. But I am not at all sure the rebels will go along with this, because Assad is clearly not leaving power. Not now, anyway. And the Saudis? And the Qataris? And any other Gulf Sunnis who’ve been funding and arming the rebels? The whole timetable seems so hopelessly optimistic.

However, there is another story going on here, and that’s Iran. For now, the leader of Iran appears to be a wise and sane man, Putin can surely resurrect his own ideas on Iranian nuclear material, and the Iranian-Syrian alliance could be hooked up together to end the whole miserable failure of politics and perhaps even the war in Syria. Then Obama can claim a world-shaking political victory (brought about only by his threat to use force, of course) and Kerry can go back to making peace between Palestinians and Israelis.         [Abridged]

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Obama's Rogue State Tramples Over Every Law It Demands Others Uphold

by George Monbiot                       Guardian/UK                September 10, 2013

You could almost pity these people. For 67 years successive US governments have resisted calls to reform the UN security council. They've defended a system which grants five nations a veto over world affairs, reducing all others to impotent spectators. They have collaborated with the other four permanent members (the UK, Russia, China and France) in a colonial carve-up, at the expense of peace and global justice. Never have Obama or his predecessors attempted a serious reform of this system.

In 1997 the US agreed to decommission the 31,000 tonnes of sarinVXmustard gas and other agents it possessed within 10 years. In 2007 it requested the maximum extension permitted– five years. Again it failed to keep its promise, and in 2012 it claimed they would be gone by 2021. Russia yesterday urged Syria to place its chemical weapons under international control. Perhaps it should press the US to do the same.
The US used millions of gallons of chemical weapons in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. It also used them during its destruction of Falluja in 2004, then lied about it. The Reagan government helped Saddam Hussein to wage war with Iran in the 1980s while aware that he was using nerve and mustard gas. (The Bush administration then cited this deployment as an excuse to attack Iraq, 15 years later).

Smallpox has been eliminated from the human population, but two nations – the US and Russia – insist on keeping the pathogen in cold storage. They claim their purpose is to develop defences against possible biological weapons attack, but most experts in the field consider this to be nonsense. While raising concerns about each other's possession of the disease, they have worked together to bludgeon the other members of the World Health Organisation, which have pressed them to destroy their stocks.

In 2001 the New York Times reported that "the Pentagon has built a germ factory that could make enough lethal microbes to wipe out entire cities". The Pentagon claimed the purpose was defensive.  Looming over all this is the cover the US provides for Israel's weapons of mass destruction.  It's also that, as the Washington Post points out: "Syria's chemical weapons stockpile results from a never-acknowledged gentleman's agreement in the Middle East that as long as Israel had nuclear weapons, Syria's pursuit of chemical weapons would not attract much public acknowledgement or criticism." Israel has developed its nuclear arsenal in defiance of the non-proliferation treaty, and the US supports it in defiance of its own law, which forbids the disbursement of aid to a country with unauthorised weapons of mass destruction.
 Looming over all this is the cover the US provides for Israel's weapons of mass destruction.  Israel has developed its nuclear arsenal in defiance of the non-proliferation treaty, and the US supports it in defiance of its own law, which forbids the disbursement of aid to a country with unauthorised weapons of mass destruction.

As for the norms of international law, let's remind ourselves where the US stands. It remains outside the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, after declaring its citizens immune from prosecution. The crime of aggression it committed in Iraq – defined by the Nuremberg tribunal as "the supreme international crime" – goes not just unpunished but also unmentioned by anyone in government.

Obama's failure to be honest about his nation's record of destroying international norms and undermining international law, his myth-making about the role of the US in world affairs, and his one-sided interventions in the Middle East, all render the crisis in Syria even harder to resolve. Until there is some candour about past crimes and current injustices, until there is an effort to address the inequalities over which the US presides, everything it attempts will stoke the cynicism and anger the president says he wants to quench.
Copyright 2013 The Guardian             [Abridged]      

Monday, 9 September 2013

Stopping a War Before It Starts

by Robert C. Koehler                   Common  Dreams               September 5, 2013

This is the time, as the next war strains to be born, amid the same old lies as last time, amid the same urgency and pseudo-debate and pretensions of seriousness:
The government of Syria has crossed a “red line.” It has used poison gas, killing hundreds of innocent people and committing a heinous war crime. And suddenly, clear as a bell, we have good vs. evil. Our only course of action, President Obama and his spokespersons tell us, is to “carry out a punitive strike against the Syrian government.”
This is the abstraction of warspeak, which summons a deeply satisfying mythology of righteous vengeance while making the action sound so clear and logical. President Bashar al-Assad committed a “moral obscenity.” It’s up to us to punish him by firing off some Tomahawk missiles. There’s no messiness in this action, no possibility of disastrous consequences, no hint that our intelligence might be compromised, no wink at our hypocrisy or past failures, and certainly no dead civilians — no random innocents lying just as still in the wake of our rain of thousand-pound warheads as those Assad may have killed in his alleged act of moral obscenity.
War, of course, always starts out like this: as bright and hopeful as the sunrise. It’s almost beyond belief to me that we can have such a clean, bloodless national conversation about a new war in the Middle East while the old wars continue to fester and our moral wounds still haunt us. The image of George Bush on the aircraft carrier in his padded flight suit, proclaiming “mission accomplished,” is one the 21st century’s most bitterly ironic icons.
Yet we’re about to bomb Syria — engage, if Obama gets his way, in some “intervention-lite,” as Simon Jenkins of the Guardian put it. This will almost certainly trigger not good behavior but furious retaliation, alienating not just Syria but its allies, including Iran and Russia. How will the U.S. respond when one of our “enemies” strikes back at us? There’s no telling how far it could go.

Almost as blatantly MIA in the media and political discussion about attacking Syria over possible poison gas usage is any acknowledgement of the hypocrisy of our moral outrage. Think Agent Orange and napalm, white phosphorous and depleted uranium, among many other toxic substances we have thoughtlessly unleashed on “the enemy,” innocent civilians and our own troops in the wars of the last two generations. How many red lines have we crossed? How many lies have we told maintaining the harmlessness of these poisons? How many unborn babies have we poisoned over the years? How many square miles of Planet Earth are uninhabitable because of our righteous battles for the good of humankind?

This is the early part of a longer article by Robert Koehler.

Friday, 6 September 2013

The Strange Thing About Cluster Bombs

by Jim Naureckas        Published September 6, 2013 by FAIR        Common  Dreams

The New York Times has an article today (9/5/13) about a Human Rights Watch report charging Syria's government with the use of  cluster bombs, a "widely prohibited weapon."  Cluster bombs are munitions that release hundreds of miniature explosives; as the Times'Rick Gladstone writes, "Each bomblet detonates on impact, spraying shrapnel in all directions and killing, maiming and destroying indiscriminately.  [Photo shows U.S.plane dropping cluster bombs. Caption:"These are not the bad kind of cluster bomb, because they are dropped on and not by official enemies). 

Gladstone quotes a Human Rights Watch spokesperson calling cluster bombs "insidious weapons that remain on the ground, causing death and destruction for decades." The reporter goes on to cite the Cluster Munitions Coalition peace group on the deadly effects of these weapons:

The coalition said that children make up one-third of all casualties caused by cluster munitions. It said 60 percent of the total casualties caused by the weapons are civilians going about normal activities.
There's a Convention on Cluster Munitions signed by 112 countries who have agreed not to use or possess these weapons. Who wouldn't agree to such a thing? Well, aside from Syria, the article does mention:
There are 85 countries that have not signed the convention, including three permanent members of the Security Council–China, Russia and the United States. Most countries in the Middle East have not signed, including Syria, Israel and Jordan.
Huh–so the country that the New York Times is based in, where most of its readers live, is one of the countries that refuses to sign the treaty banning these horrific weapons? Maybe that's worth a mention before the eighth of 11 paragraphs.

In fact, readers might be interested to know that not only does the U.S. not ban cluster bombs, it actually uses them–they've been used by US forces in SerbiaAfghanistan and Iraq, with the most recent target being Yemen. As the Human Rights Watch report notes in a portion not quoted by the Times:

The last reported US use of a cluster munition was in Yemen on December 17, 2009, when one or more TLAM-D cruise missiles loaded with BLU-97 bomblets struck the hamlet of al-Majala in southern Abyan province, causing more than 40 civilian casualties.
But that's the strange thing about cluster bombs: When they're used by official enemies, they're weapons of indiscriminate terror (FAIR Blog4/16/111/2/13). When they're used by the United States, they're not much worth talking about.
Copyright 2013 FAIR

Jim Naureckas is editor of EXTRA! Magazine at FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting).