News Abroad News Abroad articles brought to you by History News Network. Wed, 16 Jan 2019 10:12:59 +0000 Wed, 16 Jan 2019 10:12:59 +0000 Zend_Feed_Writer 2 ( Trump’s Bullshit-Savant Moment on Afghanistan

Once again, the President put his factually-challenged relationship with the past on public display. In a January 3rd Cabinet meeting, Trump offered a tour de force with a fanciful alternative history of Afghanistan. According to him, the Soviets invaded in late 1979 because of cross-border terror attacks. The subsequent decade-long war, the President insisted, bankrupted the USSR and led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Trump clearly had no idea what he was talking about. If the past is a foreign country, then in Trump’s parlance, he is an illegal immigrant trespassing upon it. 


To briefly correct the President’s (mis)understanding of Afghan history: The Soviet Union invaded the country on December 26, 1979, ostensibly to support a friendly communist government under threat from a domestic insurgency provoked by unpopular reforms and the violent suppression of political dissent. Fearing the collapse of an allied regime on its southern border, the Soviets replaced the Afghan communist leadership with a more moderate and pliable cadre. Though initially planning for a swift withdrawal, Soviet forces soon found themselves sucked into a quagmire which proved impossible to escape. Over the next decade, they deployed roughly 100,000 troops, losing 15,000 of them, in a bloody counter-insurgency against the so-called mujahideen– American supported ‘freedom fighters’. The war forced over 7 million to flee as refugees, created an unknown number of internally displaced persons, and killed, maimed and wounded an untold number of Afghans. The Soviet war ended with the Geneva Accords in 1988, allowing the USSR to feign ‘peace with honor’ which covered an ignominious retreat. 


The United States and its allies immediately denounced the Soviet invasion, which made Afghanistan a battleground in the increasingly hot Cold War. American policy-makers saw the potential of turning Afghanistan into the Soviet Vietnam. Beginning with the Carter administration, and significantly ramped up under Reagan, the US secretly funneled $3 billion to the Afghan mujahideen. By bleeding the soft underbelly of the beast, American Cold Warriors hoped to strike a mortal wound to the evil empire. Following the end of the Cold War, some conservative commentators characterized the Soviet defeat as a consequence of Reagan’s tough stance which forced them to spend an incessant, and unsustainable amount on defense. These analysts contend that the Afghan war, along with the cost of Soviet military aid to Central America and the US deployment of Pershing missiles in Europe, bankrupted the Soviet Union and led to its collapse. 


It was this interpretation of history which Trump’s stream of consciousness soliloquy rather clumsily tipped his hat to. Nevertheless, the President’s alternative history almost immediately earned him a scathing rebuke from a no-less august stalwart of the right than the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal. The Journal’s willingness to take him to task for a position loosely held by many on the American right over the years is notable. Doubly so for a publication which has repeatedly proven reticent to fact-check the man. 


Yet the Journal’s response is a non-sequitur. What has been lost in the consternation provoked by the President’s remarks is the fundamental question which remains unanswered – namely, what the hell is the US doing in Afghanistan? Though he got his facts wrong – Trump does not seem to care about them anyway, and is thus the bullshitter-in-chief in the Harry Frankfurt sense – the essence of his question is correct. The US has lacked a clear policy on and purpose in Afghanistan since the early 2000s, making the President’s rambling, historically uninformed remarks something of a bullshit-savant moment. 


Now entering its eighteenth year and one of the costliest wars in American history, the President has reportedly grown frustrated with a continuing conflict which he seemingly does not understand. While his ignorance provides fodder for detractors and evokes the concern of the national security establishment, it also allows him to ask basic questions regarding the purpose of that war which have long been considered settled within Washington circles of power. The President’s ignorance of Afghanistan, though extreme, is far from unique amongst the American policy establishment. Such ignorance is the consequence of a larger failing of American policy in the country – the lack of a clear publicly pronounced purpose and end-goal for the continued American presence in Afghanistan. 


Despite nearly two decades of war in the country, American policy is largely driven by a noxious combination of inertia and sunk costs. A large part of the problem is that America’s civilian political leadership long ago abdicated its war-fighting responsibilities regarding Afghanistan. It is the role of civilian elected officials to formulate, articulate and communicate the fundamental purpose of an armed conflict and to direct the military and security apparatus of the government to execute that vision. But this has not been the case with Afghanistan. Since the quick victory over the Taliban in 2001, America’s political attentions quickly wandered elsewhere, most importantly Iraq. This meant that the Afghan war has largely been farmed out to the generals to fight a war whose aims and purpose they have not been instructed in. The military has thus continued to do what the military knows best – fight a war. It is no wonder then this conflict goes on, with no end in sight. 


What the hell is the US doing in Afghanistan? The President clearly does not know. But this is the central question. The one the President himself, along with the other elected officials of the US Government, needs to answer. It is neither the responsibility nor the place of the US military leadership to do so. In his bullshit-savant moment, Trump has set himself a challenge. Sadly, it is one he has demonstrated little interest in or ability to rise to. 


Wed, 16 Jan 2019 10:12:59 +0000 0
A Century Ago We Came Up with an Imaginative Way of Dealing with Refugees

Learning from the First Modern Refugee Crisis

Currently over 65 million people worldwide are forcibly displaced from their homes and that number is on the rise. Wars in the Middle East, political unrest in Latin America, and violence in Africa are contributing to this modern refugee crisis. Against this disaster, the world is hardening its heart. American President Donald Trump capped the number of refugees to be resettled in the U.S. in 2019 at a record low. The European Union is increasing patrols to stop rafts of refugees from Africa and Turkey reaching European shores. In the search for answers to this depressing reality, one perspective is to look back at the 20th century’s first refugee crisis at the end of World War I and the Nansen Passports that became the solution. 

At the End of the Great War

The idea of restrictions on freedom of movement extends back to ancient times. Even the Bible includes references to permission to travel internally and internationally. However, without firm borders or modern technology, it was difficult to actually enforce restrictions on the movement of peoples for any place larger than a walled city. It was only in the late 19th century that countries had the technological ability to impose and actually enforce strict immigration restrictions. 

This ability and the realities of war came to a head following World War I. With millions of displaced persons in Europe and the Middle East, the newly formed League of Nations had to take action. It was particularly concerned about those who were now stateless following the reshuffling of borders and regimes following World War I. Chief among those, and the one that perhaps elicited the most sympathy as the former ally of the victors of World War I, were the White Russians. 

Russians Without a State

The Russian Civil War fractured the Russian Empire. When Vladimir Lenin’s Bolshevik forces had all but triumphed by the end of 1921, over 800,000 anti-Bolshevik White Russians, whose constituents included both tsarists and republicans, had already fled the country. Lenin then revoked Russian citizenship from anyone who had fled Russia during the civil war. Nearly a million people, already destitute, were now left without even a state to their name.

Yet neighboring countries recoiled at the thought of taking in thousands of poor Russian refugees. After all, these countries were still recovering from the ravages of World War I and some had even fought against Russia during that war. On the other hand, if they sent the Russian expatriates back, they would likely be persecuted or executed by the Bolsheviks. Especially considering that the White Russians were former allies with Great Britain and France, it would be a permanent stain on the victors of World War I to not assist them.

The Solution of the Nansen Passports

Enter Fridtjof Nansen. Nansen was a Norwegian artic explorer turned diplomat turned human rights advocate who contributed to the founding of the League of Nations. The League now placed him in charge of assisting those displaced by conflict through the High Commission for Refugees. Nansen initially tried to repatriate the White Russians, but the obvious consequences of going back to a state controlled by their bitter enemies rendered this a nonstarter. He then tried to broker individual deals with countries to take groups of stateless persons, but the sheer amount of stateless persons required a more macroscopic effort. 

To this end, Nansen proposed an international passport for stateless persons to the Council of the League of Nations in March 1922. The “Nansen Passport” did not grant citizenship, but it did give holders basic rights, including the ability to cross borders to find work and protection from deportation. Its basic purpose was facilitating onward movement. By 1923, 39 countries had recognized it, with more to follow in the next decade. 



Meanwhile, many of the White Russians had retreated to the Black Sea coast under the protection of General Pyotr Wrangel, but with the Red Army approaching and all hope lost, they had to abandon their possessions in the ports and hurriedly set sail to save their lives. Wrangel’s large flotilla of refugees made for Istanbul, which, following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, was an international zone under Allied occupation. 

Allied protection established a safe space for this largest single group of Russian expatriates to begin to reestablish their lives. Istanbul played host to over 150,000 Russians, who established camps in the Beyoğlu neighborhood and acquired jobs as entertainers, restaurateurs, and laborers in the cosmopolitan city. In response, Nansen established a refugee office in Istanbul, which was ideally placed to assist Russian refugees with Nansen Passports, especially after the Bolshevik-friendly Turkish government of Kemal Atatürk took over the city. In the end, thousands of Nansen Passports were issued to Russians in Istanbul.

Expansion of the Nansen Passports

After assisting Russians in Istanbul, the Nansen Passport was further expanded into the Middle East. Although the original mandate of the High Commissioner was just to cover Russian refugees, it was later expanded to include Armenians, Assyrians, and Chaldeans. These groups had been subjected to genocide by the late Ottoman government. The Ottomans had killed hundreds of thousands, leaving shattered and orphaned communities in their wake. The disintegration of the Ottoman Empire and the acrimonious war between Atatürk and Greece had also displaced large numbers of people and left them without state protection. The Nansen Passport once again provided some protection to those who were left without a state. 

In total, over 450,000 displaced persons received Nansen Passports, including writer Vladimir Nabokov and composer Igor Stravinsky. As contemporary journalist Dorothy Thompson put it, “the Nansen certificate is the greatest thing that has happened for the individual refugee . . . it returned his lost identity.”

Lessons for Today

The definition of a refugee was expanded beyond just stateless persons during and after World War II, becoming crystalized in the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. Instead of focusing on the group of stateless persons, the new refugee definition focuses on individual considerations about whether a person will face a well-founded fear of being persecuted if they return to their country. But while the refugee definition has advanced, the story of the Nansen Passports provides a valuable lesson for the refugee crisis in 2018. In fact, 1922 and 2018 share several parallels: both refugee crises were triggered by Western war efforts destabilizing other countries, a significant number of the refugees are in Turkey, and countries were initially reluctant to accept the refugees.

In 1922, Nansen created an innovative solution that garnered international support for stateless Russians and Armenians. Today, countries are still shutting their doors against refugees. Although the Nansen Passport itself is not necessarily a solution, the spirit of international cooperation and dedication to protecting displaced persons that it embodied most certainly is desired in 2018. 

Wed, 16 Jan 2019 10:12:59 +0000 0
What Could Be the Consequence of Trump’s Decision to Intervene in the Arrest of that Chinese National in Canada?

— Huawei Technologies (@Huawei) December 6, 2018


There are times it is obvious the world has changed. Dallas 1963, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Brexit. There are times when it is not immediately obvious. Archduke Franz Ferdindand’s driver taking a wrong turn in Sarajevo in June 1914. It is the consequences that make us realize how important the initial moment was. One such moment was last week. It was not the arrest, on a US request in Canada over alleged breaches of Iranian sanctions, of the Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou that was so significant. Nor her bail. What changed the world was the admission by the US president that she was a hostage to fortune. Trump achieved something incredible, judicial equivocacy with China. 

China retaliated by arresting two Canadians, not confirming exactly why except using the catch-all phrase involving “national security.’’

US President Donald Trump said that he could use his power as president to intervene in the case of Meng. Intervention, he added, might help serve the interest of US national security or enhance the prospects of a trade deal with China. 

“If I think it’s good for the country, if I think it’s good for what will be certainly the largest trade deal ever made – which is a very important thing – what’s good for national security, I would certainly intervene if I thought it was necessary,” he said. Presidential interference has sent the wrong message though one they would understand in China; subordinating due process.

Beijing saw Meng’s arrest as a flagrant abuse of such a process. Detaining an individual to be used as a pawn on trade deals leaves the world a more dangerous and unpredictable place. The art of the deal? What deal worth its salt could emerge by holding someone hostage as a trade negotiation ploy.

Meng’s seizure, and the retaliatory arrest of Canadians in China, has everything to do with US-China economic rivalry and precious little to do with international law. Trump’s intervention – rebuked by the US justice department – cast an unfavorable light on the US legal system and made it look no more just than Beijing’s. The Justice Department’s top national security official last week insisted his prosecutors will not be influenced by what the White House does. “We are not a tool of trade when we bring the cases,” Assistant Attorney General John Demers told a Senate panel. 

“What we do at the Justice Department is law enforcement. We don’t do trade,” he added. But a trade-off is exactly how it looks in Beijing. 

Both sides appear guilty of what amounts, in effect, to hostage-taking. Breaching Iran sanctions, imposed by the US, is what Meng is being held for but the background is pertinent. Huawei is the world’s largest supplier of telecommunications network equipment and second-biggest maker of smartphones. It is considered an agent of the Chinese state. But is the US blameless in this regard? "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist." So warned Eisenhower just before leaving the White House in January, 1961.

Hostage taking seems to be an intricate part in the art of the deal.

The archduke’s car has just taken a wrong turn. We await the consequences.

Wed, 16 Jan 2019 10:12:59 +0000 0
We’ve Helped Starving People Before. We Need to Do It Now.

Christmas is when we hope and pray for miracles, big and small.  In late 1944, the people of Finnmark in Northern Norway needed a holiday miracle in the worst way. Finnmark had been burned to the ground by the retreating Nazi German army as World War II raged. The News of Norway reported that "the population was brought literally to the point of starvation, and lack of housing, adequate clothing and other commodities caused considerable sickness, particularly among children."   Help would come from the Allied forces and charities. General Andrew Thorne of the Scottish Command said the Allies would "render all assistance" for the relief of Finnmark. U.S. Colonel Boyd, who according to an Allied document, traveled on December 6 to Kirkenes, Norway with "urgently needed civil affairs medical supplies."

Journalists Olav Rytter and Jorgen Juve visited Finnmark that December to survey the destruction. The arrival of humanitarian aid brought hope and small miracles including a Christmas party in one town. The News of Norwayprinted, “The kids drank milk and consumed cookies to their hearts’ content, danced around the Christmas tree and played games almost like in peacetime.” Charities, including American Relief for Norway, sent food packages and clothing to Finnmark. Juve recounted seeing a child near the Tana River who was so excited to get a new blue coat. Her name was Liv. She reached in her coat and pulled out a note that read “R. Minneapolis.” She said, “Now, I am dressed for the winter. Help would be needed for years to come for Finnmark to recover. That is where many more miracles occurred with the help of charity. CARE food packages were sent to Finnmark. The Save the Children federation launched programs where people could adopt a school to rebuild the classrooms and provide school lunches. As this new year approaches we need many more miracles, especially for children. The US Famine Warning system just sent out an alert stating "Across 46 countries, 83 million people require emergency food assistance in 2019, 75% more than in 2015."   War and hunger is escalating rapidly around the globe. Conflicts in South Sudan, Yemen, Syria, and the Sahel of Africa are among the many tragedies causing displacement and food shortages.    We have not seen such widespread suffering from conflict since World War II. Relief agencies including the World Food Program, Save the Children, UNICEF, Mercy Corps, Norwegian Refugee Council and others need our help as they try to bring relief to the suffering.  You can help them provide food and other supplies to war victims. The U.S. Food for Peace and McGovern-Dole school lunch program need more funding. Catholic Relief Services, with McGovern-Dole funding, is providing school lunches in war-torn Mali, We need to ensure these meals are continued and expanded.   We can provide humanitarian aid to relieve suffering, but the international community must also bring an end to conflicts that cause food shortages. 

The world needs more peace treaties. On Christmas Eve night in 1814 there was a treaty signed ending The War of 1812 between Great Britain and the United States. It led to more peace agreements including the Rush-Bagot pact of 1817 that disarmed the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain. It helped build the peaceful border between the U.S. and Canada. Yemen desperately needs its own peace treaty this Christmas to end the civil war which has left 20 million people needing life-saving food aid. South Sudan likewise needs to build peace treaties and agriculture so their people can live free from hunger and fear. This holiday think of ways you can help those left hungry and homeless by war. Your actions create the miracles to those who need it most.

Wed, 16 Jan 2019 10:12:59 +0000 0
One Thing We Know for Sure About Brexit Is the Effect It’s Having on British Political Identity


The holiday season in Britain is traditionally one of pantomime. In theatres across the country washed-up television actors, alleged comedians, and middle of the road pop stars whose salad days long ago wilted offer bawdy, farcical takes on fairy tales like Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, or The Ugly Duckling. But this Brexmas, the farce at Westminster gets top billing. 

Britain is just fourteen weeks from leaving the EU, but what Brexit means is no clearer than it was in July 2016, when prime minister Theresa May declared “Brexit means Brexit.”

This past week’s confidence vote on May’s leadership by Conservative MPs merely prolongs the befuddlement and misery. May’s 200-117 victory was neither a significant endorsement of her leadership nor a fatal blow to her premiership. May limps on, as does the four-decades long civil war over the European Union in the Conservative Party.

The reverberations of Brexit will be long lasting. The economic folly is becoming clearer: by 2035, British GDP will be between 2.5% and 9.3% smaller than it would have been if Britain remained in the EU. For perspective, GDP in 2017 was just over £2tn or between $2.5 and $2.6tn. But Brexit may have long-term political consequences as well. 



A recent study for NatCen Social Research by John Curtice, a political scientist at Strathclyde University, shows that fewer people are distinguishing themselves through party affiliation. Instead, the firmest indicator of political identity is whether one supports leaving or remaining in the EU. Seventy-seven percent of survey respondents possess a strong or fairly strong Brexit identity, but only 37% similarly identify with a political party.

This identification is shaping how people view the consequences of Brexit itself.

For instance, 71% of those who identify as very strong leavers believe that Brexit will have only minimal effect on the economy and may well leave Britain better off. By contrast, 89% of remainers worry that the economic damage wrought by Brexit will prove catastrophic. Sweeping majorities of remainers think Britain should allow for free movement of EU citizens in exchange for British firms selling goods and services in the European Union. A broad majority of leavers want the opposite. Indeed, the only point of agreement between the two camps is that the British government has badly mishandled negotiations.

So why do these findings matter?

They matter because the divisions in the nation are becoming more and more apparent in parliament.

The Conservative coalition is fracturing. A majority of backbenchers – those who do not hold a ministerial position and so are not required to vote with the government – expressed no confidence in May. Most did so because they believe her commitment to Brexit is not firm enough. What they want is unclear. May has hardened her position considerably, warning in recent weeks that if her deal is not accepted Britain might not leave the EU. 

Labour is similarly divided. Most Labour MPs would prefer to remain in the European Union, but the leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has other ideas.

Corbyn represents a far-left faction of the party who believe that the EU serves only the interests of bankers, business, and bureaucrats. A reluctant campaigner for remain in 2016, Corbyn has also stated – against evidence to the contrary– that EU rules prevent Labour from planned investment in industry, the railways, and public utilities

Corbyn argues that Labour should respect the will of the voters. His intent is to negotiate a better Brexit, even if the contours of his cunning plan remain a secret. Party members and voters are uneasy, however; a recent poll suggested 86% want a second referendum

The result is that the Conservatives and Labour both reflect the leave side of the argument. A commitment to Brexit remains their default position. But with the deal May recently negotiated with the EU in limbo, the danger that Britain will crash out of the EU on March 29 of next year is alive.

Remainers in parliament are much more disparate, comprising of a smattering of backbench Conservative MPs and most of the Labour, Liberal Democrat, and Scottish National Party (SNP) delegations. Impetus for this group has come from grassroots movements like the People’s Vote campaign, who have, over the past year, gradually increased pressure on remain supporting MPs. 

The result has been a constitutional standoff. The government cannot bring legislation forward in parliament, but the support of Corbyn for Brexit makes it hard to force the government to change course. A Labour led vote of no-confidence could offer a solution. The problem is that wavering Conservatives will be reluctant to bring down their own government. Even if there were an election, opinion polls suggest another hung parliament. Labour might end up the largest party, but it would have to rely on the SNP and the Liberal Democrats for support. No doubt their price would be close ties with the EU, a so-called soft Brexit. Would Corbyn accept this?

Another option is the growing demand for a People’s Vote: a second referendum. Voter remorse and demographic churn means support for leave is declining. Any referendum would likely have to include the option of staying in the EU or leaving without any deal. This would be clarifying and might divide the leave vote, giving remainers a path to victory. A growing consensus in parliament and in the country is beginning to swing behind this option. If parliament cannot find a solution, it may make sense to go to the voters. But will voters make a sensible decision? 

British historical memory is largely one of collective endeavor: religion, war, empire, industrialization and trade, demands for greater political representation, and the construction of a universal welfare state. The emerging trends evident in the British body politic erase this perspective. Another referendum is necessary, but if it consolidates emerging political identities it also runs the risk of a “stab in the back” myth emerging.


Wed, 16 Jan 2019 10:12:59 +0000 0
We Need to Revive the Nuclear Disarmament Movement Now

In late November 2018, Noam Chomsky, the world-renowned public intellectual, remarked that “humanity faces two imminent existential threats: environmental catastrophe and nuclear war.”  

Curiously, although a widespread environmental movement has developed to save the planet from accelerating climate change, no counterpart has emerged to take on the rising danger of nuclear disaster.  This danger is clear enough, exemplified by the collapse of arms control and disarmament agreements (note the Trump administration’s recently announced plan to withdraw the United States from the landmark INF Treaty with Russia), vast nuclear weapons “modernization” programs by the United States and other nuclear powers, and reckless threats of nuclear war.  Yet it has stirred remarkably little public protest within the United States and even less public debate during the recent U.S. midterm elections.

Of course, there are U.S. peace and disarmament organizations that challenge the nuclear menace.  But they are fairly small and usually pursue their own, separate antinuclear campaigns.  Such campaigns―ranging from cutting funding for a new nuclear weapon, to opposing the Trump administration’s destruction of yet another disarmament treaty, to condemning its threats of nuclear war―are certainly praiseworthy.  But they have not galvanized a massive public uprising within the United States against the overarching danger of nuclear annihilation. 

In these circumstances, what is missing is a strategy that will rouse the general public from its torpor and shift the agenda of the nuclear powers from nuclear confrontation to a nuclear weapons-free world. 



The Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign, launched decades ago in another time of nuclear crisis, suggests one possible strategy.  Developed at the end of the 1970s by defense analyst Randy Forsberg, the Freeze (as it became known) focused on a simple, straightforward goal:  a Soviet-American agreement to stop the testing, production, and deployment of nuclear weapons.  As Forsberg predicted, this proposal to halt the nuclear arms race had great popular appeal (with polls showing U.S. public support at 72 percent) and sparked an enormous grassroots campaign.  The Reagan administration, horrified by this resistance to its plans for a nuclear buildup and victory in a nuclear war, fought ferociously against it.  But to no avail.  The Freeze triumphed in virtually every state and local referendum on the ballot, captured the official support of the Democratic Party, and sailed through the House of Representatives by an overwhelming majority.  Although the Reaganites managed to derail it in the Senate, the administration was on the defensive and, soon, on the run.  Joined by massive antinuclear campaigns in Europe, Asia, and other parts of the world, the Freeze campaign forced a reversal of administration priorities and policies, leading to previously unthinkable Soviet-American nuclear disarmament treaties and an end to the Cold War.

How might a comparable strategy be implemented today?

The campaign goal might be a halt to the nuclear arms race, exemplified by an agreement among the nuclear powers to scrap their ambitious nuclear “modernization” plans.  Although the Trump administration would undoubtedly rail against this policy, the vast majority of Americans would find it thoroughly acceptable.  An alternative, more ambitious goal―one that would probably also elicit widespread public approval―would be the ratification by the nuclear powers of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.  This UN-brokered treaty, signed in July 2017 by the vast majority of the world’s nations and scorned by the governments of the United States and other nuclear-armed countries, prohibits nations from developing, testing, producing, acquiring, possessing, stockpiling, using, or threatening to use nuclear weapons.

The second stage of a current campaign strategy, as it was in the strategy of the Freeze, is to get as many peace groups as possible to endorse the campaign and put their human and financial resources behind it. Working together in a joint effort seems feasible today.  Some of the largest of the current organizations―such as the American Friends Service Committeethe Nuclear Age Peace FoundationPeace ActionPhysicians for Social Responsibility, and Veterans for Peace―are already thoroughly committed to building a nuclear weapons-free world.

The third stage of an effective strategy is winning the battle for public opinion.  In the case of the Freeze, this entailed not only distributing crucial information to members of the general public, but introducing Freeze resolutions at local gatherings or national conventions of religious denominations, unions, professional associations, and the vast panoply of voluntary organizations, where they almost invariably passed.  

A final stage involves turning the objective into government policy.  The Freeze campaign found that many politicians were quite willing to adopt its program.  Similarly, at present, some key Democrats, including the chair of the incoming House Armed Services Committee and likely Democratic presidential candidates, are already attacking the Trump administration’s nuclear “modernization” program, its withdrawal from disarmament treaties, and its eagerness to launch a nuclear war. Consequently, if a major public campaign gets rolling, substantial changes in public policy are within reach. 

To be fully effective, such a campaign requires international solidarity—not only to bring domestic pressure to bear on diverse nations, but overseas pressure as well.  The Freeze movement worked closely with nuclear disarmament movements around the world, and this international alliance produced striking results in both East and West.  Today, a new international alliance, enhanced by the current strong dissatisfaction of non-nuclear nations with the escalation of the nuclear arms race and the related dangers of nuclear war, could help foster significant changes in public policy.

Of course, this proposal suggests only one of numerous possible ways to develop a broad nuclear disarmament campaign.  But there should be little doubt about the necessity for organizing that public mobilization.  The alternative is allowing the world to continue its slide toward nuclear catastrophe.

Wed, 16 Jan 2019 10:12:59 +0000 0
What Has Wheaties – Yes, the Breakfast Cereal – Got to Do with Nuclear Disarmament?

November 1951 nuclear test at the Nevada Test Site, from Operation Buster, with a yield of 21 kilotons. It was the first U.S. nuclear field exercise conducted on land; troops shown are 6 mi (9.7 km) from the blast.

The longest journey begins with a single step. One of the first steps toward eliminating nuclear weapons was 65 years ago on December 8 when President Dwight Eisenhower gave his "Atoms for Peace" speech. 

This history can inspire us today for getting rid of all nukes worldwide. 

But first have some breakfast. That is what Ike’s assistant C.D. Jackson and Atomic Energy Commission director Lewis Strauss did when writing “Atoms for Peace.” 

Eisenhower said in his memoirs "to work on the draft of the speech on this subject, Strauss and Jackson met again and again at the Metropolitan Club in Washington for breakfast, appropriately, the project took on the code name Wheaties." 

Admiral Strauss wrote of the breakfast club, “Our standing order started with a cereal advertised as Wheaties. We began to refer to the enterprise as “Wheaties” when necessary to talk about it on the telephone or elsewhere.” It is the breakfast of champions and nuclear disarmament. 

Their goal was to alert the American public about the growing threat of nuclear weapons. The Soviet Union had recently tested a hydrogen bomb and the Cold War nuclear arms race was accelerating rapidly. The nukes were vastly more powerful than the weapons of World War II combined. 

The technology to make nuclear weapons was no longer a secret just for the United States. The Soviets had long had it and many others were likely to as well. 

Eisenhower wanted the speech to provide hope for escaping this nuclear nightmare. He made last minute edits on the plane ride to New York where he would deliver the speech before the UN General Assembly. There were two major proposals made by Eisenhower in "Atoms for Peace." 

The first plan was for the Cold War rivals to divert nuclear technology away from military use. Instead atomic energy should be used for peaceful purposes like fighting disease and hunger or providing energy.  

As Eisenhower said in his speech, "The United States would seek more than the mere reduction or elimination of atomic materials for military purposes. It is not enough to take this weapon out of the hands of the soldiers. It must be put into the hands of those who will know how to strip its military casing and adapt it to the arts of peace…. [I]f the fearful trend of atomic military build-up can be reversed, this greatest of destructive forces can be developed into a great boon, for the benefit of all mankind.”

C.D. Jackson pointed out that the press totally overlooked the second major proposal Eisenhower had made in the speech. The President invited the Soviets and others for negotiations “to seek an acceptable solution to the atomic armaments race.” Arms control and disarmament would not happen overnight, but we must pursue it through diplomacy. 

Atoms for Peace led to the creation of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 1957. As the agency’s current director Yukiya Amano explains, “We work to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, and we help countries use nuclear science and technology to produce more food, generate more electricity, treat cancer and respond to climate change.” 

These are the critical issues that bind all nations. But as we sit here today there are still 15,000 nuclear weapons globally, most of these held by the United States and Russia. Think of all the precious resources lost in making these nukes that would have been better served in peaceful applications.  

As Eisenhower said we need diplomacy “if the world is to shake off the inertia imposed by fear and is to make positive progress towards peace.” The United States could start by finally ratifying the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, a goal first pursued by Eisenhower. We should promote disarmament and more peaceful uses of nuclear technology. 

Every person can make their voice heard on eliminating nuclear weapons. Breakfast anyone?

Wed, 16 Jan 2019 10:12:59 +0000 0
Trump Has Achieved the Nearly Impossible: He's Brought China and Japan Together

Strange. A White House never shy about proclaiming its achievements, real or imagined, has been uncharacteristically reluctant to inform the world about one of its major successes:  Easing the hostility between China and Japan.

Modesty? No, more likely those who toil on Pennsylvania Avenue were probably blindsided by the speed with which China and Japan overcame their mistrust and decided to trade insults for, well, more trade. 

The rapprochement occurred before the Papua New Guinea APEC summit that ended in rancor after its failure to produce a joint communiqué because of tensions between the United States and China over trade and security issues. This was the first time that APEC leaders were unable to agree on a formal written declaration. Officially, this was because the US wanted the declaration to call for the World Trade Organization to be reformed, putting China in the position of championing the status quo. Unofficially, the two countries view each other with growing mistrust. They were never going to agree.

Both view the Indo-Pacific region as their battleground. At the moment the battle is for ideas and influence but could at some future date live up, literally, to its description.

Mike Pence, the US vice-president demanded at APEC that China “change its ways” on trade, intellectual property and human rights, and ridiculed Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “one belt, one road” multinational infrastructure initiative as a “debt trap” for the greedy and unsuspecting.

But Xi will not be too bothered. Unlike Barack Obama, who “pivoted” to Asia, China realizes Trump is pivoting on the golf course. His commitment to Asia is less than wholehearted.

No one knows this better than Xi who has gone out of his way to improve relations with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

At the end of October Abe was wined and dined by Xi after an elaborate reception at the Great Hall of The People in Beijing. It was of huge significance.

It is not an exaggeration to say that these two countries came close to conflict on a number of occasions in the past six years over disputed islands. Neither was it unusual, especially at this time of year, for anti-Japanese criticism to be given full volume in China as the anniversary of the Nanjing Massacre approaches. 

The massacre and mass rape occurred in Dec 1937 and the first indication that a new diplomatic front was being opened appeared last December when the level of anti-Japanese commentary in the Chinese media was far less than in previous years. We know now that discussions were well underway for Abe’s visit and that there would be no repeat of his visit in 2014 when Xi did nothing to hide his displeasure, distaste even, at shaking Abe’s hand in front of the world cameras.

So, why the shift?

With the clogging of the trade pipes to the US it was vital that China lock in and secure Japanese trade, not least its supplies of precision tools and know-how. No one in Beijing expects ties with America to improve any time soon, regardless of the press releases focusing on a common future, win-win situations, the usual guff, that are bound to emerge from the G20 in Buenos Aires next month. 

Japan too, is feeling bruised by Washington. When Trump came to office he withdrew the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This trade agreement, covering 12 countries would cement US involvement in the area. And Trump has treated North Korea and Russia as erstwhile friends while shunning or criticizing America’s proven allies. 

But doesn’t Abe risk being crushed by the panda’s embrace?

Japan wants to invest. Its central bank is sitting on assets greater than the value of the Japanese economy. It needs to place it somewhere and China Belt and Road is crying out for Japanese cash and expertise. 

Greater investment opportunities in China will lessen maritime tensions but not so much that Japan’s defense budget of c. $46 billion will stall for the first time in seven years. The hawks in Tokyo are happy. From Beijing’s viewpoint, APEC does not matter, at least not that much. Washington is distracted, its allies in the region are not exactly putting up a united front and better relations with Japan and an increase in investment from Tokyo are a real possibility. Early skirmishes on the new battleground of the 21st century are going well for China.

Wed, 16 Jan 2019 10:12:59 +0000 0
Is Thanksgiving Thanksgiving If We Are No Longer Welcoming Refugees?

On Thanksgiving Day in 1956 a group of families sat down to a feast at Camp Kilmer in New Jersey. Almost none of them had ever heard of the Thanksgiving holiday. But it quickly became a favorite! 

These were refugees from Hungary who had just arrived in the United States. They had escaped the assault by Soviet Union troops after an uprising against Communist rule. These refugees were finding safety, freedom and hope in America. 

As reported by journalist Claire Cox in the Washington Post, the refugees received a wonderful Thanksgiving meal of turkey, stuffing, cranberries, mashed and sweet potatoes, corn, carrots, rolls with butter and even Pumpkin Pie. This is how you greet refugees, especially after a long journey. 

Eighteen year old Kamel Gabos said "I don't understand the meaning of Thanksgiving. But I am thankful to be here. I don't have to be told what kind of country we are in. I saw that the minute I stepped off the airplane."

Imre Heidert, who was part of the uprising against the Communists in Budapest, said "I had forgotten there was such a thing as turkey. I ate it when I was a child, before World War II, when Hungary was still Hungary, but no one has it anymore."

Some refugees had arrived the night before. Josef Mate, a priest who had been imprisoned five years by the Communists, exclaimed "I am saying to President Eisenhower and all the American people Thank you and God bless you."

TheNew York Times reported that refugees were thrilled to be asked their opinion. Under communist rule, that was never welcomed. Some received Thanksgiving dinner at the United Hias Service shelter. Others were sponsored by Catholic Relief Services and received assistance. 

At a speech welcoming the refugees Army Secretary Wilber Brucker said, "The Stars and Stripes floating here today is the flag not only of America, but of all humanity."

Tens of thousands of refugees would be welcomed to America from Hungary. And for those still under Soviet oppression in Hungary aid was sent. With U.S. support the Red Cross provided feeding programs for mothers and infants plus daily hot meals for Budapest school children.  

Today, as a caravan of migrants fleeing violence and poverty in Central America approaches, we should ask ourselves are we still the same country, at least in terms of our leadership. President Trump seems to have forgotten what makes America great, our compassion for refugees. He has ordered troops to the border to prevent the migrants from entering. Trump has also ordered an overall limit of 30,000 refugees to be allowed into the United States for fiscal year 2019.This is an alarming low figure when you consider the massive number of displaced persons from conflicts in Syria, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Myanmar and many other trouble spots. There are 68 million people worldwide who have been forced from their homes according to the UN Refugee Agency.Trump is reducing support for refugees at a time when it's needed the most. According to Catholic Relief Services (CRS) the 30,000 cap would "be the lowest it’s been in the history of the U.S. refugee admissions program, which was established more than 30 years ago."CRS says "This new refugee ceiling, along with the administration’s proposals to cut poverty-reducing foreign assistance, risks marring America’s moral leadership."The United States can do better. As President Dwight Eisenhower once said "The response of the American people to the needs of the homeless and the outcast has always been generous and timely.....With charity and understanding, the American people have welcomed these refugees to our shores."

Our refugee admission program should expand during a time of crisis. Our food and humanitarian aid programs to refugees overseas should likewise increase. 

Instead so much focus from Trump is placed on wild spending to build a wall on the Mexican border to keep out people escaping violence and hunger in Central America. Helping those who come in peace and addressing the root causes of why people flee would be a more humane approach. 

What makes America great is our compassion. It is welcoming those who come here seeking safe haven. It is sending food to the family overseas who has been displaced by war. It is seeking to build peace everywhere so such tragedies of displacement and hunger do not occur in the first place.

Thanksgiving Day should remind us of how we greeted refugees in the past and how we should treat those who need our help today. 

Wed, 16 Jan 2019 10:12:59 +0000 0
The Militarization of the US-Mexico Border is Not a New Idea

President Trump has said that as many as 15,000 U.S. troops could be deployed to the border with Mexico as approximately 3,500 migrants from mainly Honduras make their way north. His critics were incensed, saying he was playing politics with the immigration issue as elections fast approached. House Armed Services Committee ranking member Adam Smith (D-WA), for example, said that “the president’s (decision) is fundamentally wrong and a political act at a time when leadership is needed. We should not be militarizing the border, and President Trump has offered no clear idea of what our forces are going to do there.” 

There are legitimate reasons to be skeptical of Trump’s motive for deploying troops to the southern frontier. His claim that the migrant caravan has been infiltrated by terrorists and gang members has raised eyebrows, as no evidence has been presented to suggest that such a thing has occurred. Still, it is important to remember that the “militarization” of the border is not a new idea. In fact, Richard Nixon started a process of militarization in 1969 that has continued until today. 

On September 21, 1969, the Nixon administration shut down the U.S.-Mexico border in an effort to stop the flow of drugs coming into the states. Border crossings along the 2,500-mile divide were clogged as American customs agents searched land vehicles and pedestrians traveling on foot. Radar-equipped government planes circled overhead in pursuit of rogue aircraft, and Navy patrol boats of the kinds used to hunt Viet Cong in Vietnam stalked suspicious sea vessels.The operation continued for several weeks, gravely affecting businesses which relied on customers from both sides of the border and preventing Mexican workers from getting to their jobs in the U.S. “I’ve heard of the Berlin Wall, but I never thought I’d see it” said an exasperated young man whose mother was detained for trying to carry prescription medication across the border.2

Operation Intercept was finally lifted in mid-October – a major relief for the many Americans and Mexicans who traversed the divide each day. A report from the American consulate in Tijuana said that residents “loudly cheered” when border traffic was allowed to move again, though their “cheers soon turned to grumbling when border inspections, while eased, did not revert to superficial pre-Intercept standards.”In fact, those standards would never return. From that point on, the U.S. government prioritized Latin America’s role in the drug trade. The U.S.-Mexico border had become a flashpoint in the emerging drug war, and would be subject to increasingly intense scrutiny from then onwards. 

By 1972, the drug war had reached the top of Washington’s domestic agenda. A Time article written in September of that year noted that “the Bureau of Customs, charged with policing thousands of miles of wide-open frontier,” was “due to add 330 new men to its hard-pressed 532-man border patrol force.” It went on to describe a scene that resembled the Berlin Wall, the Korean 38th Parallel, or some other heavily-monitored barrier, reporting that “Nixon ordered the Air Force to help out by installing new extra-low-level radar at sites in Texas and New Mexico, where it will be used to track the airborne smugglers who scoot across the Mexican border in light planes, avoiding detection by flying at cactus level.” In addition to the radar installations, Air Force and Air Guard squadrons were “ordered to maintain their F-102 and supersonic F106 interceptors on alert status, ready to scramble in five minutes.” Indeed, Timenoticed that officials with the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs talked “as if their job is to tear up the Ho Chi Minh Trail, not the international drug trade.”4

Efforts to step up border security intensified in 1973 and into 1974, especially as the national conversations about drug trafficking and, increasingly, illegal immigration grew louder. An electronic fence, which some Border Patrol officers compared to the system (known as the “McNamara line”) used in Vietnam to detect North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troop and supply movements, was installed along the border in order to detect both illegal immigrants and drug smugglers.This type of barrier included pressure-sensitive devices, buried wires, and infrared detection equipment, and was designed to provide “intrusion prevention.” The construction of an actual physical fence had progressed very little (27 miles total) by this time, but the foundation for future border barrier projects had been laid.6

Troops on the U.S.-Mexico border may well be a rare occurrence. But the U.S. has maintained a major Border Patrol presence there for decades. And, from 1969 onwards, the border was transformed from an open area where movement was relatively easy to an increasingly fortified frontier that has drawn more than one comparison to some other infamous international security crisis zones. In a 2011 Foreign Policy article, “The World’s Most Dangerous Borders,” the U.S.-Mexico divide was listed alongside such foreboding places as the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and the Korean Demilitarized Zone. 

The migrant caravan traveling to the U.S. is making headlines primarily due to apprehensions about illegal immigration – an issue that has dominated the Trump administration’s agenda. But before that topic became a cause for national concern, the militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border had already commenced. The drug war has been the catalyst for this effort longer than the immigration issue has, and the latter cannot be understood without first acknowledging how closely the two are interlinked. 


Dial Torgerson, “Drive on Border Smuggling Begun,” The Los Angeles Times, September 22, 1969. 

Ruben Salazar, “Mexican Border Life and Trade Hit Hard by Operation Intercept,” The Los Angeles Times, September 28, 1969. 

Memo from American Consulate in Tijuana to US State Department, “Operation Intercept/Cooperation,” October 17, 1969. Mexico-United States Counternarcotics Policy, 1969-2013, The Digital National Security Archive.

“Narcotics – Search and Destroy, the War on Drugs.” TIME, 9/4/72, vol. 100, 10. 

David A. Andelman, “U.S. Implanting an Electronic ‘Fence’ to Shut Down Mexican Border to Smuggling, The New York Times,July 14, 1973,

Letter from Unknown Member of Nixon’s Administration to Alfredo Garza, WHCF, FG 17 (DOJ), Box 5, Folder EX FG 17-6, Immigration and Naturalization Service, The Richard Nixon Presidential Library. 

Wed, 16 Jan 2019 10:12:59 +0000 0
What’s More Deadly to Mexicans than the Drug War? Diabetes.

While the details of the US, Mexico, Canada Trade Agreement (USMCA), informally known as NAFTA 2.0, are still being analyzed, some are breathing a sigh of relief that their interests appear to remain protected. For dairy producers, soy and corn growers, automobile manufacturers, and corporations, the new deal either retains or expands the access to markets they enjoyed under the earlier trade agreement, NAFTA, which went into effect in January 1994. But “we” are not those interests. Few of us own consolidated commodity grain farms, large scale dairy lots, or corporations. Most of us, the working people in the US, Mexico, and Canada who are not directly engaged in those industries, may have a sense that what President Trump has called a win will have a vaguely positive impact on jobs, prices, and the economy in our country, but we probably think it has nothing, really, to do with us personally. However, USMCA, and NAFTA before it, actually have a very crucial role in determining what is on our plates, and our overall health and well-being. 

Globalization around the world has been associated with a rise in noncommunicable chronic diseases. Every major trade deal results in higher rates of obesity, diabetes, heart and kidney disease. The number one killer today in Mexico is diabetes, with the disease claiming as many lives each year as the drug war has claimed all together. But lest we think only Mexico is paying the price, diabetes and obesity rates have also risen in the US and Canada since NAFTA, along with rates of other noncommunicable diseases. This is not only because trade deals make some things cheaper (soda, snacks, ultraprocessed foods), they also make other, healthier things more expensive. Growers of so-called “specialty crops,” such as fruits and vegetables, and makers of anything produced in small scale operations, tend to find themselves at a disadvantage when global trade expands. 

Deals like the USMCA favor large scale production. Not only car parts and computer components are produced in factories, global trade favors the production of tomatoes, cucumbers, pork and corn in factory-like conditions, often with lots of chemicals, patented inputs, and technology. The environmental and health impacts of massive proliferation of pesticides, herbicides, diversion of water, and reduced biodiversity as a result of industrialized food are wide and still being understood. Sustainable, small-scale agriculture withers without distribution channels, subsidies, or favorable market conditions, their products relegated to small, sometimes elite farmers’ markets, higher priced and harder to get than the processed foods favored by trade deals and expanded transnational distribution. Our food system pushes us toward eating more and more processed foods, and fewer local products, not only losing the health benefits of fresh foods, but missing out on the rich diversity that formerly characterized regional diets.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue praises the way the USMCA agreement “cracks open” some of the remaining protected markets in North America. The new trade deal expands dairy production and distribution in North America: exactly the kind of accelerated consolidation and mechanization that has triggered a wave of suicides among US dairy farmers. USMCA makes it easier for US corn to reach Mexican markets, even though Mexico already imports $3.2 billion of US corn each year, and 41% of its food overall—a trend that pushed 10% of Mexico’s population, many of them corn growers, to migrate to the US in the first fifteen years after NAFTA 1.0 went into effect.

But there is nothing inevitable about the shape that trade takes. USMCA and NAFTA before it are largely a product of corporate wish lists and specifications. These deals are hammered out behind closed doors by negotiators appointed by the executive branch, and armed with “Fast Track” authority. This arrangement is a response to the idea that if every member of Congress had a chance to weigh in, the deals might never be made and they would be padded with special protections for powerful members’ noisiest constituents, threatening the logic of free trade. But corporations through their lobbying efforts and massive PR machines make their wishes known. Logics of free trade and the expansion of markets should not trump democracy, and its logic: the common good. Because most of us think trade deals have nothing to do with us, we don’t demand a seat at the table or question the legitimacy of fast-track, closed-door negotiating in a democracy. Now, even though the deal has been outlined, it still has to go before Congress, our elected representatives, for a vote. If we realize that our health is at stake, we might want to know what’s going into the deal and whether anyone at the table considered our health, environmental sustainability, and well-being. A better trade negotiation would include people like us at the table, citizens whose health is on the line.

Wed, 16 Jan 2019 10:12:59 +0000 0
The Fascinating Backstory to Jordan’s Decision to Stop Israelis from Farming Its Land

The Palestine Electric Company Ltd in the early 1920s.

On Sunday, King Abdullah II of Jordan canceled an annex of the 1994 Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty that gave Israeli farmers access to fields located on Jordanian territory. In doing so, Abdallah was responding to a groundswell of anti-Israel feeling brought on by a number of recent controversies, from the violence in Gaza to the shooting last year in Amman of two Jordanian citizens by an Israeli security guard.

Although the story has received extensive press coverage, including in international outlets like the New York Times and the Washington Post, the reporting so far has not offered any answer to a question that must have occurred to many readers: How, in a region known for its fraught borders, did Israeli farmers come to own and farm Jordanian land? 

The answer goes back to the fall of the Ottoman Empire, and reveals a story of tremendous political power hidden inside another kind of power – that of a hydroelectrical powerhouse.

In 1920, after having captured the area from the Ottoman Empire in World War I, Great Britain was charged by the League of Nations with governing Palestine until, as the League Charter put it, the inhabitants could “stand by themselves under the strenuous conditions of the modern world.” To that larger civilizing mission, the British famously added a commitment to build “a Jewish national home in Palestine.”

But where, exactly, was Palestine? 

That might seem like an odd question. The external borders of Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories – an area sometimes referred to as “historic Palestine” – are fairly well established (even if there is significant ambiguity with respect to internal borders): Lebanon and Syria bound it to the north, the Red Sea to the south, the Mediterranean to the west, and the Jordan River to the east. 

Because of the inordinate attention we pay to Palestine and Israel today, we tend to assume it’s always been what – and where – it is today. Even most scholars have taken Palestine’s borders for granted through a kind of circular reasoning: they are where they are because that’s where Palestine is.

As late as 1921, however, things were not so obvious. 

When Britain took on the mandate for Palestine, the area had no established borders and no precedent of being governed as a single unit. And when the Great Powers got together in San Remo on the Italian Riviera to allocate Middle Eastern mandates, they were none too bothered with geography. It was vaguely assumed that borders and other details would be worked out later on. 

Whatever the precise borders, in 1920 British Palestine included land on both sides of the Jordan River, running through the area from north to south. But in 1921, the British decided to divide the area in two, and to make the Jordan River the boundary between them. The land west of the river would remain Palestine, while the land to the east would become an Arab kingdom. Because the land was across the Jordan River from Palestine, the British decided to name the kingdom, simply, Trans-Jordan. Abdallah bin al-Husayn, the son of a regional British ally, was installed on the throne. Today, we know the country as the Kingdom of Jordan, and the current ruler, Abdallah II, is the great grandson of Abdallah I.

So far, the story is a familiar one. History is filled with tales of British colonial officials divvying up lands and installing clients. What is surprising, however, is that British colonial machinations were not what ultimately decided the borders. It was something else entirely, namely the establishment of a modern electrical system in the territory. 

In 1921, the new British government in Palestine contracted with the Russian-Jewish engineer Pinhas Rutenberg to build the country’s first electric grid. Rutenberg envisaged harnessing the motive force of the entire riparian system of the Jordan basin, as the water traveled down from the Anti-Lebanon range to its efflux into the Dead Sea. The power of the falling water would be channeled into a gargantuan powerhouse located south of the Sea of Galilee, just below where the Jordan intersects with another river, the Yarmuk. High-tension wires would ring the country, bringing cheap abundant power and light to every home, street, and business.

In what is surely a unique case in history, Rutenberg’s electrification proposal specified his vision not only for the electric grid but also for the state fit to contain it. In his proposal, he stated that his plans were “defining the boundaries of Palestine” because “this work cannot be accomplished on territory that is not under Palestinian control.”

To accommodate Rutenberg, the British departed from the notion that the Jordan would constitute the border between Palestine and Transjordan. A large triangle of land on the river’s eastern bank was retained for Palestine. Curiously, this triangle didn’t include the powerhouse itself, which ended up in Transjordanian territory, while the remainder of the installation – canals, dams, etc. – were located on Palestinian territory. 

The British also accommodated Rutenberg’s vision in the north. Through drawn-out negotiations with the French, who held a mandate for Syria and Lebanon, they were able to push Palestine’s borders significantly north and east to include more of the Jordan tributaries. The British met strenuous resistance not just from their French interlocutors, but also from their own chief negotiator, who in a letter to the Colonial Office fumed that the inclusion of the Sea of Galilee in Palestine was “an obnoxious intrusion, or an irritant boil.”

The secret behind Rutenberg’s success was an extraordinary ability to capture the imagination of colonial officials and the international community, by making his technological project appear essential to a colonial apparatus that saw centralized, large-scale technological projects as the engines of economic development and civilizational advancement. In great technical detail, he demonstrated how his project would spur economic development, generating “moral and material” progress in Palestine while boosting global commerce.

The crown jewel in Rutenberg’s projected power system was the hydroelectrical powerhouse on the Jordan, which promised to produce electricity ten times above current demand. In another time and place, this would have stoked fears of overproduction. But Rutenberg, following the training he’d received at the St Petersburg Polytechnical Institute, sold the project’s scale based on the promise of an industrialized – and therefore civilized – Palestine. 

It took years before it dawned on the British that by making these border concessions they had created a situation rife with complications. In 1924, Hubert Young, a Middle East Department official, took a closer look at the situation and concluded that what the British had done was tantamount to “throwing a part of Transjordan into Palestine.”

Changing the border to include east bank land in Palestine soon came to be regarded as a serious blunder. Yet in typical British imperial fashion, this did not prompt any effort to rectify the situation. Instead, the British and its mandatory subjects muddled through as best they could until the situation deteriorated beyond repair.

Rutenberg, the quick-footed systems entrepreneur that he was, flourished in this uncertain environment. In 1927, the cash-strapped Abdallah agreed to sell him 1,500 acres of land across the Jordan River. Rutenberg paid Abdallah twice what he’d paid on the Palestinian side, but in return the king also promised to clear the land of Arab cultivators. It proved the start of a beautiful friendship. For the rest of their lives, Abdallah and Rutenberg exchanged cards on important occasions, and the Arab ruler often summered with his family in Rutenberg’s white villa by the powerhouse. 

Not only was Rutenberg’s technical plan the single most important influence in determining Palestine’s borders; he had also managed what no other Jewish or Zionist body had, by buying a substantial plot of land across the Jordan River, an area that was supposed to be out of bounds of Zionist activity. As soon as the deal was finalized, Rutenberg sold part of the land to a Zionist settlement agency. “The colonists who will live in these houses,” Rutenberg promised, “will be, of course, in exceptionally good conditions, having at their disposal electricity and water as much as they like and very cheap.” For Rutenberg, this was a two-birds proposition: it established a Zionist beachhead across the Jordan and it created a protective buffer of Jewish settlements around his works. 

A few years later, David Ben-Gurion, the secretary general of the Zionist labor union and later Israel’s first prime minister, described the land deal as “the first breach in the artificial partition that was carried out by the mandatory government of the land into two parts.” Ben-Gurion recognized Rutenberg’s project for what it was: a tremendous political resource and a way of expanding and cementing Zionist presence in the region. 

Clearly, Rutenberg and his electrification vision had an outsize influence on Middle Eastern geopolitics in ways that reverberate into the present. By some measures, at least, he was the most effective operator of late British imperialism. The continued influence of his grid made it a chief force behind Zionist state building, anticipating both Jewish statehood and Palestinian statelessness.

Not long after Rutenberg’s death in 1942, however, the power company’s close relations with Abdullah were overtaken by events. In the war that followed Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948, Jordan reclaimed most the territory on the eastern bank of the Jordan.

The powerhouse and most of the farmland surrounding it remained in Jordan after the conclusion of an armistice the following year. But some 200 acres (820 dunams) of east bank land remained under Israeli control and continued to be farmed by Israelis. A half-century later, in 1994, Israel recognized Jordanian sovereignty over this land as part of the Jordanian-Israeli peace agreement. In exchange, Jordan granted the Israeli farmers continued access to the land. Most mornings for the past 24 years, some 150 Israeli farmers have passed through a small gate in the middle of the desert into Jordanian territory and an area named after Rutenberg’s powerhouse to grow peppers, flowers, and dates. This is the concession the king has now canceled.

In the aftermath of the 1948 War, power company officials repeatedly approached Abdallah with proposals for a jointly run power system servicing both territories. Such a venture, they promised, would ensure “stable neighborly relations, economic and otherwise.” Much like Abdullah II today, however, Abdullah I was compelled by popular hostility toward Israel to reject the entreaties. This was hardly surprising given that the king’s constituency had grown in the course of the war to include hundreds of thousands of Palestinians driven out of Palestine – by force or from fear of it – ahead of advancing Israeli troops. 

Yet both episodes, and the history that links them, also shows that there is an undercurrent to such rejection, a codependency underwritten by great vulnerabilities, real and perceived, on both sides. 

Since its founding Jordan has had to rely on great power sponsors for as much as half its national revenue. The US currently contributes over $1.2 billion a year, a sum second only to the amount received by Israel. Historians have documented longstanding close cooperation between the two countries, even in wartime, and today there is extensive cooperation involving business ventures, water, and energy. 

Indeed, if energy infrastructure created the current conditions, then energy infrastructure may also be the real reason the old arrangement has just been terminated. Even as Abdallah is making his concession to anti-Israeli sentiment at home, work is underway to build a 40-mile natural gas pipeline that stands to make Jordan the first country to buy gas from Israel’s newly discovered Leviathan gas field. The pipeline, heavily backed by the US, will convey $10 billion worth of natural gas over the next 15 years and promises to save the recession-stricken kingdom upwards of $300 million a year. The deal is hugely unpopular domestically. The descendants of the Palestinians who arrived in Jordan as refugees after 1948 now number over 2 million. Last summer saw several protests that included members of parliament and the labor union, which has redlined any project connected with the pipeline.

But if history is any guide, we know that powerlines are not inclined to respect political boundaries. More often, they make them.

Wed, 16 Jan 2019 10:12:59 +0000 0
The Trump Administration Nuclear Weapons Policy Could Lead Us to Disaster

In July 2017, by a vote of 122 to 1, with one abstention, nations from around the world attending a United Nations-sponsored conference in New York City voted to approve a treaty to ban nuclear weapons.  Although this Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons received little coverage in the mass media, its passage was a momentous event, capping decades of international nuclear arms control and disarmament agreements that, together, have reduced the world’s nuclear weapons arsenals by approximately 80 percent and have limited the danger of a catastrophic nuclear war.  The treaty prohibited all ratifying countries from developing, testing, producing, acquiring, possessing, stockpiling, using, or threatening to use nuclear weapons.

Curiously, though, despite official support for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons by almost two-thirds of the world’s nations, the Trump administration―like its counterparts in other nuclear-armed countries―regarded this historic measure as if it were being signed in a parallel, hostile universe.  As a result, the United States and the eight other nuclear powers boycotted the treaty negotiations, as well as the final vote.  Moreover, after the treaty was approved amid the tears, cheers, and applause of the UN delegates and observers, a joint statement issued by the UN ambassadors of the United States, Britain, and France declared that their countries would never become party to the international agreement.

One clear indication that the nuclear powers have no intention of dispensing with their nuclear arsenals is the nuclear weapons buildup that all of them are now engaged in, with the U.S. government in the lead.  Although the Trump administration inherited its nuclear weapons “modernization” program from its predecessor, that program―designed to provide new weapons for nuclear warfare, accompanied by upgraded or new facilities for their production―is constantly increasing in scope and cost. In October 2017, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported that the cost for the planned “modernization” of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex over the next three decades had reached a staggering $1.2 trillion.  Thanks to the Trump administration’s plan to upgrade the three legs of the U.S. nuclear triad and build new cruise and ballistic missiles, the estimated cost of the U.S. nuclear buildup rose in February 2018 to $2 trillion.     

In this context, the Trump administration has no interest in pursuing the nuclear arms control and disarmament agreements, discussed or signed, that have characterized the administrations of all Democratic and Republican administrations since the dawn of the nuclear era.  Not only are no such agreements currently being negotiated, but in October 2018 the Trump administration, charging Russian violations of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, announced a unilateral U.S. withdrawal from it.  Signed in 1987 by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, the treaty removed all medium range nuclear missiles from Europe, established a cooperative relationship between the two nations that led to the end of the Cold War, and served subsequently as the cornerstone of U.S.-Russian nuclear arms controls.  

Although some Allied leaders joined Trump in questioning Russian compliance with the treaty, most criticized the U.S. pullout, claiming that treaty problems could be solved through U.S.-Russian negotiations. Assailing the U.S. action, which portended a nuclear weapons buildup by both nations, a spokesperson for the European Union declared:  “The world doesn’t need a new arms race that would benefit no one and on the contrary would bring even more instability.”  Nevertheless, Trump, in his usual insouciant style, immediately announced that the U.S. government planned to increase its nuclear arsenal until other nations “come to their senses.”

Of course, as Daniel Ellsberg has noted in his book, The Doomsday Machine, nuclear weapons are meant to be used―either to bully other nations into submission or to wage a nuclear war.  Certainly, that is President Trump’s view of them, as indicated by his startling nuclear threats.  In August 2017, angered by North Korea’s nuclear missile progress and the belligerent statements of its leaders, Trump warned that “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States” or “they will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”  In January 2018, referring to North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, Trump boasted provocatively that “I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger and more powerful one than his.” Fortunately, largely thanks to the skillful diplomatic maneuvers of South Korean President Moon Jae-in―Trump’s threats of nuclear war against North Korea have recently ground to a halt, at least temporarily.

But they are now being redirected against Iran.  In May 2018, Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, an agreement with Iran that had been negotiated by the governments of the United States and other major nations. Designed to ensure that Iran did not develop nuclear weapons, the agreement, as UN inspectors reported, had been strictly complied with by that nation.  Even so, Trump, angered by other actions of the Iranian regime, pulled out of the agreement and, in its place, instituted punitive economic sanctions on Iran, accompanied by calls to overthrow its government.  When, in July, the Iranian president cautioned Trump about pursing policies hostile to his nation, the U.S. president tweeted, in bold capitals: “NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE.”  Just in case Iranians missed the implications of this extraordinary statement, Trump’s hawkish national security advisor, John Bolton, followed up by declaring:  “President Trump told me that if Iran does anything at all to the negative, they will pay a price like few countries have ever paid.”

This obsession of the Trump administration with building nuclear weapons and threatening nuclear war underscores its unwillingness to join other governments in developing a sane nuclear policy.  Indeed, it seems determined to continue lurching toward unparalleled catastrophe.

Wed, 16 Jan 2019 10:12:59 +0000 0
JFK's Humanitarian Halloween

When Halloween came around in 1960 John F. Kennedy, while campaigning for president, came across a unique trick or treat event. This ghoulish party was not about collecting candy but instead raising money for the UN agency fighting child hunger and disease-UNICEF. JFK loved it! Kennedy remarked at a shopping plaza in Willow Grove where the UNICEF party took place, "I think that is in the best tradition of this country’s humane and sympathetic effort." Kennedy continued speaking about fighting hunger and disease in his short speech.  In fact, when JFK became president he even issued a statement from the White House in support of Halloween trick or treat for UNICEF. Kennedy said "UNICEF has caught the imagination of our people--especially our nation's children whose Halloween collections have become a symbol of concern and an expression of tangible aid."

Kennedy thought it was a great way for children to spend Halloween, helping others by collecting donations for the poor. Let hope this year's trick or treaters also have an epiphany like JFK and support a Humanitarian Halloween. On Halloween we could fight child hunger at home or abroad. Halloween brings about great creativity with costumes and ways to celebrate the ghostly occasion. Think what a difference it could make if that same innovation goes toward fundraising to fight world hunger on Halloween night. There are plenty of places that need help. Syria, Yemen, the Sahel Region of Africa and other regions with extreme food shortages from war and natural disasters. Think of South Sudan where 6.1 million people are facing an extreme hunger emergency. The UN World Food Program (WFP), UNICEF, and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recently sent out a warning about the East African nation.  South Sudan is bordering on starvation because of a civil war. Pierre Vauthier, of the FAO, says “The only thing standing between the people of South Sudan and widespread starvation right now is the massive humanitarian assistance.”Any chance of a peace deal to end the war will have to be supported by food aid. You cannot win peace on empty stomachs. WFP, UNICEF and FAO have rapid response teams that bring food to hungry South Sudanese. Catholic Relief Services partners with WFP on school feeding and air drops of food into hard to reach areas. Donor support from the public and government is critical to make this life-saving food aid possible. Even a tiny portion of Halloween spending could ensure food for South Sudan in the year to come. One part of Halloween night is the famous Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. When you see it, think of another peanut product called Plumpy'Nut. This enriched peanut paste is given to starving children in developing countries. It saves them from deadly malnutrition. 

Halloween could be used to collect donations so every malnourished child can receive life-saving food. If you fight hunger on Halloween you can also make a powerful statement to encourage others, including government leaders, to do the same.JFK was inspired as president to do more with foreign aid. Kennedy expanded the U.S. Food for Peace program as a major part of his foreign policy. Whereas President Trump has done the opposite, threatening to eliminate Food for Peace in his first two budgets submitted to Congress. Trump has tried to reduce funding for overall food aid. Instead a better plan would be to follow JFK’s lead and increase food aid to fight hunger around the globe.  Halloween night can actually be part of this effort, to raise money for humanitarian agencies and influence others to join the struggle. Show that you care. Halloween’s night of fun can mean so much more if we make fighting hunger a part of the celebration. By using your imagination you can make a difference in ending the scariest of threats-world hunger. 

Wed, 16 Jan 2019 10:12:59 +0000 0
The Trouble with Gypsies

Whenever I told anyone that I was writing a history of Gypsies they would offer an anecdote, a memory, or an opinion about modern Gypsies blighting the English countryside, begging and pick-pocketing in European cities, or otherwise causing a nuisance. The views I heard were largely hostile, a mixture of myths and confused impressions about traditional Romani Gypsies, Irish Travellers, and newly-immigrant Roma in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Some also had romantic notions about Gypsy freedom and exotica, that made the Gypsies enviable and attractive, in galleries, boutiques, and fashion-styles with names like ‘The Gypsy’s Secret’.

Missing from popular notions is a sense of history. Too many of us have been persuaded that the Gypsies are a people without history, or outside of history, for whom the passage of time is irrelevant. A related idea, prevalent among some Romani activists, is that Gypsy history is complete, that enough is known about past persecutions, so that further research is unnecessary. The work presented in my new book, Gypsies: An English History, proves both propositions to be wrong. The history of Gypsies in England and Europe is closely bound up with social changes and the powers and policies of the state over several hundred years. Explorations in English archives yield dozens of fresh stories of interactions with Gypsies that require a reassessment of ideas about their visibility, status, identity, criminality, neighborliness, and victimhood. Gypsies are part of English history, and their treatment over time reveals much about that society’s dealings with its minorities.

Three observations about Gypsies need emphasis: First, that they constitute a people, not a lifestyle (deserving a capital ‘G’), whose history in Europe can be traced back six hundred years; second, that Gypsies have long occupied a niche in the rural economy, as itinerant traders, makeshift craftsmen, entertainers, and fortune tellers; and third, that prejudices against them are persistent, deep-rooted, and generally wrong.

Gypsies first appeared in England in the early sixteenth century, as part of a Europe-wide migrant diaspora that originated in India. (The linguistic and genetic evidence is irrefutable.) Tudor governments tried to expel them, and piled on punishments, but Gypsies – generally known as Egyptians – continued to flourish. A statute of 1563 that threatened Gypsies with hanging was only briefly enforced, though not repealed until 1783. The Gypsies mostly kept to themselves, outside the official frameworks of church and state, which made them all the more suspicious. Among their distinctive characteristics was their language – apparently an incomprehensible “uncouth gibberish,” that was later recognized as Romani, with Sanskrit roots. Nineteenth-century scholars tried to learn Anglo-Romani before it disappeared, and traces remain to the present. Estimates of Gypsy numbers are imprecise, but there may have been 30,000 in England by the end of the eighteenth century, and more than twice that number by the end of the nineteenth. They were joined in the twentieth century by Irish Travellers, and more recently by Roma from eastern Europe, the three groups together now including a quarter of a million people.

Gypsies engaged with their settled neighbors in multiple ways, but mostly entered historical record when they got into trouble, as petty thieves, deceitful fortune tellers, or incorrigible wanderers. Witnesses mentioned them dealing in horses, making baskets, mending tin wares, operating fairgrounds, and selling clothes and trinkets. There is very little evidence before the twentieth century to associate Gypsies with begging. Though officialdom was largely hostile to Gypsies, and attempted to move them along, ordinary people were much more sympathetic, trading and socializing with Gypsies, provided they didn’t stay too long. The cases reviewed in Gypsies: An English History reveal Gypsies sharing meals, attending dances, and performing work with local villagers, as well as sometimes purloining silverware and stealing poultry. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries Gypsies have faced harassment for camping on common land, or even on land they own, and have occasionally experienced violent expulsions.

Though one strain in popular culture finds Gypsies romantic, without the cares of the taxed and employed, the predominant opinion has been hostile. One of the surprises of this work on the history of Gypsies is the recurrence of prejudicial commentary from the sixteenth century to the present. The Elizabethan pamphleteer Thomas Harman accused those “rowsey, ragged rabblement of rakehells” of “deep dissimulation and detestable dealing,” and condemned all Gypsies as “thieves and whores.” Attorney General Sir John Popham described the Gypsies as “lewd, vagrant, idle, seditious, disordered, and tumultuous,” and wanted them punished. The same sentiments could be heard in the eighteenth century, when writers described Gypsies as a “race of vermin,” and denounced them for “stealing people’s goods and spoiling their servants.”

Condemning Gypsies at the Quarter Sessions in 1819, one reverend magistrate gave his opinion that “this atrocious tribe of wandering vagabonds ought to be made outlaws in every civilized kingdom and exterminated from the face of the earth.” Officials in Nazi Germany and elsewhere would share this view. An English newspaper editorial in 1931 deemed Gypsies a “shiftless, worthless people ... whose presence in a civilized community is a most doubtful asset.” More recently the Sun newspaper railed against the Gypsy “nuisance,” with a campaign to “stamp on the camps.” Even one reviewer of Gypsies: An English History added comments of her own about their “antisocial behavior” and “damage to fields and wildlife,” eliciting the online response that Gypsies were “undesirables … that spread chaos and distress wherever they happen to invade.”

Throughout their history Gypsies have provoked sharp responses, in politics, policing, administration, opinion, and law. These responses reveal the anxieties of the powerful, and the concerns of the mainstream, about outsiders who do not “belong.” Generalizations about them are mostly ignorant, stereotypical, and wrong. A better- informed treatment allows them to be named as individuals, and finds amongst them every variety of wealth and poverty, honesty and dishonesty, probity and deceit. It recognizes that Gypsies have adapted and survived, while the environment in which they lived became more urban, industrialized, bureaucratized, and cosmopolitan.

Paying attention to Gypsies over five centuries reveals much more about English history than about the Gypsies themselves. We learn more about us than them. The interior of Gypsy culture remains opaque, not least because Gypsy voices and testimony are missing, and no source before the modern era offers any Romani writing. Nonetheless, the history of their dealings and interactions has proven to be retrievable from sources that are surprisingly abundant. If there is any truth in the observation that “the past is negated” in modern popular culture, and that the history of Gypsies in England had been “deleted from national memory” this book is a step toward its restoration.

Wed, 16 Jan 2019 10:12:59 +0000 0
Why the Middle East Studies Association Raised Concerns About the Publication of Stolen Iraqi Documents

In an article published in HNN on October 8, 2018, Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi criticizes the Middle East Studies Association for the concerns it expressed regarding the partnering of theNew York Times with George Washington University (GWU)’s Program on Extremism (POE) to “produce a public archive of thousands of Islamic State (ISIS) documents the newspaper retrieved from northern Iraq.”He notes the importance of access to materials to write the history of this period, and reports that he himself has not only assembled his own archive of ISIS documents, but has also provided assistance to Times reporter Rukmini Callimachi, who “obtained the [ISIS] collection for the newspaper.”

The controversy over these documents began when, on April 4, 2018, the Times published “The ISIS Files,” the first in a series of articles and podcasts by reporter Rukmini Callimachi based on more than 15,000 documents that she and her team took from Iraq without permission of the relevant Iraqi authorities. The article featured a number of these documents, all of which were published in unredacted form. In response, members of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA)’s Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) undertook consultations with a number of Iraqi academics, other academics familiar with the controversial housing by the Hoover Institution of the millions of Ba’thi documents taken from Iraq by US forces in the wake of the 2003 invasion, professional archivists, as well as Ambassador Fareed Yasseen, the Iraqi ambassador in Washington. The result of our discussions with this range of concerned professionals strengthened our initial concerns, and we sent a letter to the Times detailing the myriad legal, professional, ethical and moral issues involved in both the removal and unconsidered, if not cavalier, use of these materials by Callimachi and the Times.1

Our concerns focused on two sets of issues: the conditions under which these documents were obtained and then taken from the country; and the conditions surrounding their subsequent publication and use.

Regarding the conditions of their removal, there is a large body of international customary law which Callimachi and her team violated: the prohibition of pillage under the 1907 Hague Convention; the protection of cultural heritage under the 1943 London Declaration; the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict; and the 1920 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export, and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. In addition, following the looting of the Iraqi National Museum and National Library in the wake of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, the principle of the protection of cultural heritage, including the prohibition of the transfer of such items, was reaffirmed by UN Security Council Resolution 1483 (2003). As for initiatives from the Iraqi government, a recent article in the Washington Post substantiates the fact that Baghdad also demanded the return of these documents. The Times now appears to have complied—which itself speaks volumes—but not before making digital copies for itself of all these materials. 

Al-Tamimi argues that there were no “legally designated representatives” of the Iraqi government in the north at the time Callimachi took the documents; indeed, the only forces there were security forces, who sometimes granted permission for document removal. He further argues that had Callimachi not taken possession of these documents, they would likely have been destroyed or lost. Both of these claims may well be correct, but they miss the most important point. Neither the absence of a governmental authority beyond the security services nor the possibility of the destruction of these documents justified Callimachi’s removal of them from Iraq. There was another clear option that neither Al-Tamimi nor the Times seems to have contemplated: taking these materials to Baghdad where archival authorities could have been contacted and consulted about future disposition and access. Al-Tamimi’s out-of-hand dismissal of the possibility of Iraqis’ creating a repository for ISIS documents demonstrates a shocking ignorance of and disdain for indigenous professional archivist capacity. 

As for the use of these documents, our concerns are both ethical and professional. Like Al-Tamimi we understand and support the desire to document the story of the period of ISIS control in parts of Iraq; but we want to ensure that proper oversight and controls are in place regarding who will have access to these documents and under what conditions they will be made available. The initial installment in Callimachi’s series, which featured documents in unredacted form, made clear that she and her editors at the Timeswere either unaware of or unconcerned about the security or ethical issues involved in publishing them in this way. As we wrote in our May 2 letter, “allowing materials containing personal information about Iraqi citizens to be made public without careful prior review and redaction risks putting their lives in danger.” We reiterated this concern in a September 25, 2018 letter to the president and provost of GWU after its Program on Extremism (POE) announced on September 20, 2018 that it would be partnering with the Times to “digitize the documents and publish original Arabic and translated English versions on an open, searchable website” thus allowing “researchers throughout the world to access a wide array of documents.”Before issuing our letter we consulted with a number of colleagues at GWU about the POE. These consultations led to serious questions regarding proper oversight and administration of these materials, particularly given that Callimachi herself, who is not a scholar and knows no Arabic, has been made a non-resident visiting scholar whose role is to help POE experts make the ISIS files available to the general public. Thus, as our letter stated, “Any university that accepts to house these documents has the responsibility to ensure that they will be housed within institutions that employ professional archivists who can guarantee that any researcher who uses these materials abides by ethical rules and by Institutional Review Board (IRB) regulations.”We also noted the extremely strict guidelines that the Hoover Institution imposed on access to the Ba’thi archive, which require that a researcher adhere to IRB regulations. Equally important, the public at large is not granted access to the archives at Hoover.

Al-Tamimi does concede that MESA’s concern regarding the need to redact names of civilians from the documents” is legitimate, but, in his desire to justify his support for an on-line archive available, unrestricted, to all, he simply ignores the importance of this critical privacy and security concern in the rest of his piece.

The charges leveled by Al-Tamimi that MESA’s concerns, as expressed in our carefully researched letters, constitute “self-righteous fulminations,” or that they reveal an anti-Western bias because the Times, of which we are critical, is a Western organization, are without substance. For evidence that MESA has never shied away from criticism of institutions in the Middle East and North Africa, Al-Tamimi need only consult the hundreds of interventions about violations of and threats to academic freedom in the region that CAF has produced over the years. Similarly, our failure—which he notes—to have written to protest his own collection of 1000 documents is hardly evidence of an anti-Western bias. Given the additional information about his attitudes toward use of and work with such documents that he revealed in the HNNarticle, we would urge him to reconsider the legal, moral, professional and ethical questions the CAF letters on the ISIS documents have raised. Research in and on the Middle East can pose myriad issues—logistical, linguistic, cultural, etc. However, in the desire to uncover truths and open new paths of discovery, it is often the ethical and moral ones that require the most serious reflection. 

For other articles providing additional details on this story see:

Wed, 16 Jan 2019 10:12:59 +0000 0
Why Is the Middle East Studies Association Trying to Stop the Online Publication of Islamic State Documents?

Why would the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), the primary umbrella organization for the field of Middle East studies, oppose the New York Times partnering with George Washington University (GWU)’s Program On Extremism to produce a public archive of the thousands of Islamic State (ISIS) documents the newspaper retrieved from northern Iraq? Analysis based on solid evidence, after all, is far superior to speculation and guesswork that may be proven erroneous. While there are many media articles about ISIS and propaganda material from the group itself, there is a deficiency of internal documents in the open-source realm for researchers to use in order to understand the inner workings of ISIS’s state project during the peak of its power. I have a personal stake in this debate: as a researcher of Iraqi origin, I have aimed to help scholars and others with my own archive of over 1,000 ISIS documents. My work inspired Times correspondent Rukmini Callimachi, who obtained the collection for the newspaper, and I helped her verify many of the documents in question.Yet MESA has launched self-righteous fulminations against the Times and Callimachi. Initially, it sent a letter to the paper criticizing it for referring to the documents in its articles, declaring that creating a public database of them is “unacceptable,” and insisting the documents be returned immediately to “the appropriate Iraqi authorities.” After the Times and GWU’s Program on Extremism announced their partnership, MESA sent a letter to GWU dubbing the project “problematic” and repeating its opposition to an open access database.While MESA’s letters raised a legitimate point about the need to redact names of civilians from the documents, its main critique revealed deep-seated anti-Western biases. The Western identity of the reporter, newspaper, and institution working on the documents were unacceptable. MESA went so far as to characterize Callimachi’s obtaining the documents as a pillaging of cultural heritage in violation of international law, because “only legally designated representatives of the Iraqi state” should “control the disposition of any documents.” Similarly, MESA objected to the paper’s plans to create a public database of the documents partly because there are “no clear plans to return them to a repository that will be accessible to all Iraqis.”MESA’s narrative is simplistic and short-sighted and unjustly implies that the Times engaged in criminal activity. There have been no “legally designated representatives” of state entities in the field to authorize or reject the collection of ISIS documents by journalists. In Northern Iraq, the de facto authority was the Iraqi security forces with whom the Times’s reporter was embedded. On occasion those forces granted permission to take papers simply because they did not deem them vital for intelligence efforts. Documents listing names of ISIS personnel, for instance, are of far more interest to security forces than those outlining the structure of a dismantled ISIS bureaucracy in a liberated area. Furthermore, some documents would have been destroyed had there been no third-party interest in collecting them. In other instances, documents were recovered from locales and buildings that had otherwise been overlooked. Were it not for the New York Times’s efforts, those documents would likely have been lost forever.In my case, I collected as many ISIS documents as possible from the group’s former zone of control in the North Aleppo countryside in Northern Syria. That area is now controlled by local Syrian rebels under a Turkish occupation force. Should I give my collection to the Syrian government in Damascus, or perhaps the Turkish government in Ankara?It is unclear how MESA thinks a repository accessible to all Iraqis will be created if there is no publicly accessible online database. Owing to the outcry from MESA and others, the paper is giving the original documents to the Iraqi government, at the latter’s request. Yet we are not dealing with a government known for bureaucratic efficiency. Beset with problems such as reconstruction in liberated areas and protests in the south against poor public services, the Iraqi government is very unlikely to create a repository of ISIS documents accessible to all Iraqis. An open-access online database addresses this problem, yet MESA decries this obvious solution. Why should the study of these documents online be restricted? Considering the enormous media attention their fate has garnered, why should the general public be denied the right to examine the materials to determine for themselves how sound the original reporting and analyses were? MESA should drop its affectation of moral superiority and carefully examine the documents for itself so as to pose legitimate research questions. Did the Times, for instance, select certain documents to support favored conclusions? Was the paper taking the documents too much at face value? These and other important questions can be addressed only by a transparent and open debate. But MESA would rather restrict access to a privileged elite of researchers, as was the case with the Ba’ath Party documents taken from Iraq after 2003.It is unlikely MESA would have protested had a regional Middle Eastern news outlet taken the ISIS documents from Iraq and reported on them. (Their failure to protest my own work also illustrates this selective outrage.) MESA’s real objection is that a Western outlet tracked down the documents and published the reports—an intellectually vacuous form of identity politics reflecting MESA’s biases that have gained far too much currency in academia. However MESA spins it, the Times and Callimachi have greatly contributed to our ability to research the history of ISIS. The planned public archive of documents will only strengthen that contribution.

Wed, 16 Jan 2019 10:12:59 +0000 0
We’ve Known since the 1940s that Kids Don’t Do Well in School When They’re Hungry

National School Lunch week is here (October 15-19), a time for shining the spotlight on this essential program that feeds hungry children. For just a moment, let’s take a step back in time to see what President Harry Truman and the United States Army were doing about school lunches in the fall of 1946. Truman had recently signed the National School Lunch Act, which provided meals for needy children.  This meant free or reduced price school lunches for children of families living in poverty. The school lunches meant better health and education.“The well-nourished school child is a better student. He is healthier and more alert. He is developing good food habits which will benefit him for the rest of his life” explained the President. Truman sought to spread the initiative as far as possible. This was vital for the health of children, and of the nation. President Truman proclaimed “The school lunch program provides a cooperative means of assuring adequate nutrition for millions of our children who otherwise might be denied this basic need.”But Truman also cautioned that more needed to be done. Hunger is relentless.  We must keep advancing school feeding. Truman said “This is a splendid start, but we must look forward to the day when the lunches are available in every community in every State and territory.”Our National School Lunch Program has been expanded in the decades since Truman. Thirty million children depend on these meals during the school year today. But the fight against child hunger is not over. We need more weekend and summer feeding programs for kids. These are the times when impoverished children don’t have access to the free lunches because school is closed. Hunger never takes a day off. So we must fight hunger year round. In 1946, President Truman was doing so. The United States Army was too. The Second World War had just ended and U.S. forces were occupying part of Austria after the defeat of Nazi Germany. Child hunger was a crisis, particularly in the capital city of Vienna.  Hunger is always the aftermath of war.  The Army sprang to action. Food supplies from U.S. forces grew the school lunch program in Vienna in September, 1946 to a record 125,000 children. This was a 12 percent increase from the year before!  In Land Salzburg and Land Upper Austria the Army also restarted school feeding with the help of Catholic Relief Services, a charity founded during World War II.  Army supplies also provided malnourished infants a daily milk punch in Vienna. This food was so important to save children from potentially deadly malnutrition.  Two school lunch programs making a difference in the United States and far away in Austria. School lunches don’t often get headlines. But they do change the world. They made the United States a stronger country. They saved nations in the aftermath of World War II including Germany, Italy and Japan. Today, U.S support of school lunches worldwide should increase.  Catholic Relief Services is partnering with the UN World Food Program (WFP) giving school meals to children in conflict-torn South Sudan. The WFP provides school feeding in Syria to help children who have suffered during the seven year civil war. These school meals depend on the generosity of donors.   If every child in the world could receive school meals, we could lift an entire generation with nutrition and education. At home we can do this through the school lunch and breakfast program, weekend and summer feeding.  Overseas the McGovern-Dole global school lunch program, named after former senators George McGovern and Bob Dole, can feed school children in developing countries. This depends if Congress provides enough funding and has the imagination to expand it to reach more children.  We can be the generation that ends hunger and poverty, and it starts with a school meal.

Wed, 16 Jan 2019 10:12:59 +0000 0
Trump’s Ignoring Latin America. We Do that at Our Peril.

In the run-up to World War II, Latin America was up for grabs and countries that would become the Axis held the upper hand. Latin skies were ruled by airlines owned by German immigrants, some still loyal to the fatherland. Or by Italians, who flew a route that transported spies back and forth and delivered contraband vital to the war effort, like industrial diamonds and platinum, to the heart of the Reich. Mexico sent oil to Hitler and Mussolini, Germany and Japan bought up Brazilian rubber. 

Today the United States is dismissing Latin America as our backyard in a way it has not done since those dangerous pre-war years, allowing other countries, especially China, to wield new influence. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, most Latin nations eventually declared for the Allies. But not before a delay that favored the enemy, jeopardizing U.S. security. It is worth remembering that volatile period of the late 1930s and early 1940s now when hemispheric solidarity is on the rocks.

President Trump’s vow to build an impenetrable wall on the southern border of the United States is a campaign promise run amok but also a signal to Latin countries that they will be kept at a distance. Earlier this year the president failed to attend the eighth Summit of the Americas, held in Lima, Peru, the single gathering where regional heads of state can talk face to face. Held every three years since 1994, the summits are a venue where Washington can push its policy objectives in a collegial way – this would have been a good year to shape a regional response to Venezuela; Trump was the first U.S. president to absent himself. Meanwhile, Washington is unraveling the Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, and after more than two years of insulting our closest southern neighbor, slapped crippling tariffs on metals from friendly countries including Mexico. Peru, Chile and Mexico are members of the twelve-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership; Trump pulled the United States out of the TPP on his third day in office. 

As Washington cedes political leadership worldwide, Asia – especially China -- has stepped into the vacuum in Latin America with loans, infrastructure projects, a charm offensive. China is importing record amounts of iron ore from Brazil, while Chile and Peru now supply half of its copper imports. China has replaced the United States as the major trading partner of Brazil, South America’s largest economy, and of Chile and Peru. As the administration unsettles NAFTA, Mexico too is likely to turn more to China.

Beyond diplomacy and balance sheets, alienation from the United States grows again in the Latin American street. The aftermath of Barack Obama’s election in 2008 was the first time in more than thirty years as a journalist in Latin America that I saw American flags in the windows of ordinary houses, a sign of friendship. Rapprochement with Cuba (later reversed by Trump) was enormously popular. A Rio lunch spot offered an “Obama Special” on its sidewalk sandwich board. When Trump was elected his image appeared in local markets in the shape of piñatas, those papier-mâché figures that party-goers like to hang on a string and strike with a stick until they tear apart.

In May, the administration announced it would end protected status (TPS) for 450,000 persons from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras and Haiti who fled natural disasters – some have lived in this country for more than twenty years. Their deportations will break up families here but also wreak unbearable pressure on the largely poor Latin countries to which they return. The way we treat immigrants resonates quickly throughout the continent on television and social media, like the photo of a mass trial of immigrants wearing orange prison jumpsuits in a Pecos, Texas, courtroom, uncomfortably recalling the mass trials of dictatorships. Or like stories of the dark practice of separating children from their undocumented parents to deter immigration. 

And what could resound more hideously than the spread of dehumanizing language, coming from the top, about some Latin immigrants? Mexico sent “rapists” to the United States, Trump said, on the day he announced his presidential campaign. In a Nashville rally he “worked his audience…into a frenzy” by evoking the term he has used for certain undocumented immigrants including members of criminal gangs, the New York Times reported.

“What was the name?” Trump baited. 

“ ‘Animals!’ his cheering supporters screamed back.”

Eighty years ago, in July 1938, President Roosevelt called for an international conference to address the resettlement of hundreds of thousands of Jews being forced out of the Reich. The Evian Conference, held at a splendid hotel on sparkling Lake Geneva, failed miserably; except for the Dominican Republic, no country, including the United States, agreed to take refugees. “NOBODY WANTS THEM” gloated a headline in the German newspaper Volkischer Beobachter. Scholars have called Evian “Hitler’s green light for genocide.”

Migrants forced to return to Latin America do not face death camps. But they face death threats. The civil wars that took hundreds of thousands of lives three decades ago continue to percolate with political and random violence. Yet the atmosphere that prevailed at Evian seems to be repeating itself, at least in the United States. In April and May, a Pew Research Center Poll determined that 43 percent of Americans (68 percent of Republicans) said the country had “no responsibility” to admit refugees, for instance. Washington accepted more than 15,000 refugees fleeing Syria in 2015, eleven in 2018. Migrants and refugees have become the undesirables of our day.

The Washington trend toward nativism and withdrawal from the world stage mirrors pre-war U.S. conditions that complicated relations with Latin America, a necessary -- natural-- ally then and now. “From this day forward, it’s going to be only America First,” Trump said on inauguration day, echoing the name of the isolationist mass movement that threatened FDR’s presidency and, had it succeeded, would have kept the United States out of World War II. 

“The vast resources and wealth of this American Hemisphere constitute the most tempting loot in all the round world,” Roosevelt told a national radio audience in his Arsenal of Democracy speech on December 29, 1940, addressing those who assumed the United States and Latin America would be left in peace if we kept to ourselves. His words set off a debate about America’s role in the world that begs to take place again. 

Wed, 16 Jan 2019 10:12:59 +0000 0
The Russians Are Weaponizing Health Information

A Russian vaccine disinformation campaign targeting the United States and Western Europe described in a recent study is part of a chain of Russian and Soviet medical disinformation campaigns that stretches back for decades. During the Cold war the KGB fanned the flames of conspiracy theories in stories planted in obscure foreign newspapers and disseminated on shortwave radio broadcasts. Russian intelligence has updated its playbook to incorporate Twitter bots and trolls, but the motives and effects haven’t changed. The anti-vaxx project, like a global effort in the 1980s that blamed the U.S. military for the AIDS epidemic, is aimed at undermining confidence in democratic institutions and normalizing belief in irrational conspiracy theories. 

Another thing hasn’t changed: spreading lies about the causes and treatment of deadly diseases causes deaths and illnesses that could have been prevented. The health of innocents is treated as collateral damage in an undeclared and unnecessary conflict. 

Russia didn’t invent the vaccine controversy, but it is adapting it to its own goals. The Internet Research Agency has used the #VaccinateUS hashtag to send political messages, for example with tweets like At first our government creates diseases then it creates #vaccines.what’s next?! #VaccinateUS.

The AIDS disinformation campaign of the 1980s serves as a template for weaponizing health information and a guide to the likely course and potential impacts of the current vaccine campaign. The operation started on July 17, 1983, with a letter printed in the Patriot, a low-circulation Indian newspaper that had been set up two decades earlier with KGB funds and stayed in business through covert Soviet subsidies. The letter claimed to be from an anonymous American scientist but was actually written by the KGB. It asserted that AIDS was the result of U.S military biological warfare experiments.

Slipping disinformation into the Patriot wasn’t an unusual tactic. During the Cold War, both the KGB and the CIA coopted newspapers in the developing world, as well as in European countries including Italy and Greece, as vectors for spreading what today would be called “fake news.” 

Compared to the lightning speeds of social media, AIDS disinformation spread glacially. It took two years, until October 1985, for the lies in the Patriot letter to be replicated in print, this time in Moscow’s Literaturnaya Gazeta newspaper. At that point something absolutely critical happened. In the 20th century’s version of going viral, hundreds of newspapers and magazines around the world with no obvious connections to the Soviet government began reporting and embellishing the story. Dozens of variants appeared, all claiming that AIDS was a deliberate plot or an accidental byproduct of U.S. biological war research. Many pushed the notion that HIV didn’t cause the disease, and that AIDS drugs were a conspiracy by big pharma and the CIA to impoverish and poison poor people in developing countries. 

These ideas took hold in the American Left. For example, CovertAction Information Bulletin, a magazine published in Washington, DC by allies of a Philip Agee, a CIA defector, promoted pseudo-scientific arguments about the provenance of AIDS. 

From the KGB perspective, the high point of the campaign came on March 30, 1987, when CBS News anchor Dan Rather reported Soviet claims that AIDS had been developed in a U.S. military lab – and did not include any rebuttal from the U.S. government. 

The propaganda contributed to a massive public health disaster. South African President Thabo Mbeki cited Soviet sources when he rejected the scientific consensus that the HIV virus caused AIDS. Mbeki’s decision to reject the use of effective drugs led to over 300,000 preventable deaths.

Facing its own AIDS epidemic, the Soviet Union eventually discontinued the AIDS propaganda campaign. It was impossible, however, to reverse the harm it had caused, or to recall AIDS myths that had taken on a life of their own. 

Similarly, even if Russia’s intelligence services instructed the Internet Research Agency and other Kremlin-directed propaganda operations to switch off the vaccine disinformation campaign, it would be impossible to reverse the damage that has already been done. Measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases are on the rise in Western Europe, and parts of the U.S. are at great risk because the number of vaccinated children has fallen below levels required to maintain population immunity. 

In addition to Twitter and Facebook, the Russian government has deployed its television network, RT, to spread and legitimize messages from anti-vaxxers. While RT has a small audience, its programs are archived on YouTube, where they are only a click away from anxious parents seeking information about vaccine safety. 

Beyond the use of the Internet, there are important differences between Russia’s vaccine propaganda and the USSR’s AIDS campaign. While the AIDS initiative clearly originated in Moscow, and the outbreak of fake news can be traced to a specific point in time, vaccine skepticism has a long history that is independent of Russian intelligence. 

In another departure from the AIDS disinformation campaign, Russia is playing both sides of the controversy, matching vitriolic anti-vaxx messages with equally blunt pro-vaccine tweets. This makes sense because Russia’s goals have nothing to do with vaccines or health. The idea is to tear apart Russia’s adversaries by creating false controversies that pit citizens against each other. As more people are drawn into believing in irrational conspiracies they turn away from the fundamental institutions that are the foundations for democratic societies.

Wed, 16 Jan 2019 10:12:59 +0000 0