Archive for June, 2010

14
Jun
10

Stephen Kinzer on US Policy in the Middle East

This is taken from Democracy Now! Click here for the link and full transcripts of the video below.

Part 1: Stephen Kinzer, author of All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror, looks at the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company’s role in the 1953 CIA coup against Iran’s popular progressive prime minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh:

Part 2: Award-winning journalist and bestselling author Stephen Kinzer is out with a new book–Reset: Iran, Turkey, and America’s Future–that looks back into history to make sense of some of these shifting alliances in the Middle East and to chart a new vision for US foreign policy in the region. Here’s Kinzer on the US’s changing role in the Middle East:

Part 3: Continued from above.

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12
Jun
10

Hallowed ground

A row over a planned Muslim community center near Ground Zero

This article was taken from The Economist. Click here for the link.

A man with a sign that said “All I need to know about Islam I learned on 9/11” was among several hundred people protesting this week about the plan to build a Muslim community centre two blocks away from Ground Zero. The rally was organised by “Stop Islamisation of America”, a group which holds that the centre would be disrespectful to those who died that day. Despite the abundance of American flags and the patriotic rhetoric used by the demonstration’s speakers—who included candidates on the campaign trail, a former firefighter and human-rights activists—the mood quickly turned thuggish. Two Egyptian men had to be protected by the police when some of the crowd threatened them after hearing them speak Arabic. The frightened men were Christian and were at the rally to oppose the project.

Cordoba House, the proposed centre, is to be a place of tolerance. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who will run it, hopes it will help improve relations between Muslims and the West. The 13-storey building will house a 500-seat auditorium, a swimming pool and an exhibition space as well as shops, restaurants and a place for prayers. Imam Feisal sees the 92nd Street Y, a community centre guided by Jewish principles but serving all faiths, as his model. Mark Williams, a tea-party leader, blogged last month that the centre would be a “13-storey monument to the 9/11 Muslim hijackers”. He was roundly condemned. “We are moderate. We are the anti-terrorists,” says Mr Rauf.

Fortunately, Cordoba House has many supporters in the neighbourhood. The local community board voted 29-1 to support the plan, and it has the backing of Michael Bloomberg, New York’s mayor. Construction, though, will not begin for a few years yet; the plans are not completed, and the centre’s funding is not in place.

Mohammed Ali warily watched the protest. He used to deliver food to the World Trade Centre. He still carries in his wallet his pass from Cantor Fitzgerald, a company that lost 658 people on September 11th. Today he operates a hotdog cart across the street from where the towers once stood. The demonstrators, some carrying anti-mosque placards, seemed to have no trouble buying water from a Muslim from Bangladesh.

10
Jun
10

How to end the blockade of Gaza

by Stephen M. Walt

This was taken from Foreign Policy. Click here for the link.

Back in May 1967, the Egyptian government led by Gamal Abdel Nasser ordered a blockade of the Straits of Tiran, cutting off Israeli shipping in the Gulf of Aqaba. This action crossed a “red line” for Israel, and was a major escalatory step in the crisis that led to the Six Day War. President Lyndon Johnson considered sending U.S. warships or some sort of international flotilla to challenge the blockade and defuse the crisis. But even though the United States had previously given Israel certain assurances about protecting freedom of navigation in the straits, Johnson ultimately declined to take decisive action to defend Israel’s navigation rights. The United States was already bogged down in Vietnam and Johnson feared getting trapped in another volatile conflict. So he dithered, and Israel ultimately chose to go to war instead.

Had Johnson used U.S. naval forces to challenge the blockade, the Six Day War might not have occurred. Egypt would not have dared to challenge U.S. warships, of course, and sending a U.S. fleet to break the blockade would have given Nasser a way to back down but save face (i.e., he would have been backing down to a superpower, and not to Israel). And had the Six Day War been averted, many of the problems we are wrestling with now — including the disastrous occupation of the West Bank — might never have arisen.

Remembering this previous failure got me thinking: why doesn’t the United States use its considerable power to lift the blockade of Gaza unilaterally? It’s clear that the blockade of Gaza is causing enormous human suffering and making both the United States and Israel look terrible in the eyes of the rest of the world. It has also failed to achieve any positive political purpose, like defeating Hamas. So why doesn’t the United States take the bull by the horns and organize a relief flotilla of its own, and use the U.S. Navy to escort the ships into Gaza? I’ll bet we could easily get a few NATO allies to help too, and if money’s the issue, we can get some EU members or Scandinavians to help pay for the relief supplies. And somehow I don’t think the IDF would try to stop us, or board any of the vessels.

The advantages of this course of action seem obvious. The United States has been looking both ineffective and hypocritical ever since the Cairo speech a year ago, and many people in the Arab and Islamic world are beginning to see Barack Obama as just a smooth-talking version of George W. Bush. By taking concrete steps to relieve Palestinian suffering, Obama would be showing the world that the United States was not in thrall to Israel or its hard-core lobbyists here in the United States. What better way to discredit the fulminations of anti-American terrorists like Osama bin Laden, who constantly accuse us of being indifferent to Muslim suffering? The photo ops of U.S. personnel unloading tons of relief supplies would go a long way to repairing our tarnished image in that part of the world. Remember the Berlin airlift, or our relief operations in Indonesia following the Asian tsunami? Doing good for others can win a lot of good will.

Second, having the U.S. and NATO take charge of a relief operation would alleviate Israel’s security concerns. The Israeli government claims the blockade is necessary to prevent weapons from being smuggled into Gaza. That is surely a legitimate concern, but if the United States and its allies are bringing relief aid in, then we can determine what goes on the ships and we obviously won’t bring in weaponry.

But wait a minute: wouldn’t bringing relief aid to Gaza end up strengthening Hamas? Not if we arrange for the relief aid to be distributed through the United Nations or other independent relief agencies. Some of it might end up in Hamas’s hands indirectly but most of it won’t, and reducing the level of deprivation and suffering would undercut the influence Hamas gains as a provider of social services.

It’s true that a relief operation of this sort will probably require some U.S. officials to have some minimal dealings with Hamas, but this would actually be a good thing. If the United States is really serious about a genuine two-state solution, it is going to have to bring Hamas into the political process sooner or later and this is a pretty low-key, non-committal way to start. And while we’re at it, we can tell them to get busy fixing that Charter of theirs and take a humanitarian gesture or two of their own, such as releasing captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

In short, using American power to end the blockade of Gaza could be a win-win-win for everyone. The United States (and Obama himself) would demonstrate that we really did seek a “new beginning” in the Middle East, and correct the impression that the Cairo speech was just a lot of elegant hooey. Israel’s security concerns would be addressed, it would look flexible and reasonable, and we would be providing Netanyahu with an easy way to extricate himself from a position that is increasingly untenable. (It’s one thing for him to lift the blockade himself, but quite another to do it at Washington’s behest). And of course the long-suffering population of Gaza would be much better off, which should make us all feel better.

The more that I think about it, the more attractive this approach looks. All it takes is an administration that is willing to take bold action to correct a situation that is both a humanitarian outrage and a simmering threat to regional peace. That probably means that it has zero chance of being adopted. And of course you all know why.

Stephen M. Walt is the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international affairs at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. He is the author of Taming American Power: The Global Response to U.S. Primacy (W. W. Norton, 2005), and, with coauthor J.J. Mearsheimer, The Israel Lobby (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007). He presently serves as faculty chair of the international security program at the Belfer Center for Science and international affairs and as co-chair of the editorial board of the journal International Security. He is also a member of the editorial boards of Foreign Policy, Security Studies, International Relations, and Journal of Cold War Studies, and coeditor of the Cornell Studies in Security Affairs.

08
Jun
10

Did a North Korean Torpedo Really Sink That South Korean Military Vessel?

Doubts emerge over South Korea and the US’s version of events.

(Editor’s Note from Empires to Ashes: This is a reposting from Alternet. This is posted not as fact but as to question the official line, noting that this information has not appeared much–if at all–in the US press, nor has the findings of the South Korean or US governments been adequately scrutinized by media or other sources.)

This article was taken from Alternet. Click here for the link.

June 4, 2010– Editor’s Note from Alternet: It’s emerging that the South Korean and US Government’s official story that North Korea torpedoed the Cheonan may not be entirely true. The following is a compilation of a blog entry from the blog Brewerstroupe that discredits the official line, and a recent article posted on New America Media that explores whether the Cheonan was sunk by an American mine.

The sinking of the Cheonan: Accident, false flag or enemy attack? — from Brewerstroupe

On March 26 this year, the Cheonan, a South Korean Corvette, sank in waters off Baengnyeong Island. Initial reports from Naval and Intelligence chiefs ruled out foul play:

Won Se-hoon, director of the National Intelligence Service, was quoted as saying during a parliamentary committee session that to his knowledge, there was no direct link between North Korea and the sunken ship.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg said that he had heard nothing to implicate any other country in the incident.
“Obviously, the full investigation needs to go forward. But to my knowledge, there is no reason to believe or to be concerned that that may have been the cause,” he said.

Lee Ki-sik, head of the marine operations office at the Joint Chiefs of Staff, ruled out the possibility, saying, “No North Korean warships have been detected, and there is no possibility of their approaching the waters where the accident took place.”….
“We closely watched the movement of the North’s vessels, including submarines and semi-submersibles, at the time of the sinking,” said Commodore Lee Gi-sik, chief of information operations under the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Seoul, during a media briefing. “But [the South’s] military did not detect any North Korean submarines near the countries’ western sea border.”

“If a single torpedo or a floating mine caused a naval patrol vessel to split in half and sink, we will have to rewrite our military doctrine,” said Baek Seung-joo of the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses. Instead, he believes an accident within the vessel is to blame…….
Former Navy Chief of Staff Adm. Song Young-moo, said, “Some people are pointing the finger at North Korea, but anyone with knowledge about the waters where the shipwreck occurred would not draw that conclusion so easily.” Experts say those waters are only 25 m deep and characterized by rapid currents, making it very difficult for North Korean submarines or semi-submersible vessels to operate.

Members of the right wing* Government of Lee Myung Bak took a different tack:

A torpedo is among the “most likely” causes for a South Korean naval ship that sank close to the disputed border with North Korea last month, killing at least 40 sailors, South Korea’s defense minister said.

At this point, Lee’s government put a clamp on speculation, gagging official spokesmen.

On May 20 the South Korean government announced that it has overwhelming evidence that one of its warships was sunk by a torpedo fired by a North Korean submarine. The World’s press trumpeted that the “International Inquiry” had unanimously agreed that a North Korean torpedo was the culprit.
This was a slight exaggeration. The committee was not “international” in any bi-partisan sense, it comprised North Korean adversaries America, Australia, Britain and neutral Sweden. Neither was it “unanimous. CBS news reported”

Only Sweden, which also sent investigators, is a reluctant partner in blaming the North Koreans.

The “evidence” of North Korean involvement does not pass the sniff test. If indeed the remains of a torpedo was found in the waters near the sinking, there is nothing that links it to the incident and much spent ordnance lies in the area. Compare the condition of the torpedo with that of the sunken ship.

Dissent within South Korea, unnoticed by the Western Press, is growing.
Mr S.C.Shin, one of the original inspectors of the wreck, has written an open letter to Secretary of State Clinton. He maintains that the ship grounded in the shallows of Baengnyeong Island and suffered a collision, probably with a vessel sent to her aid, then sank. Shin is now being prosecuted for “spreading false rumours.”

Shin is not alone:

Prime Minister Chung Un Chan ordered the government to find a way to stop groundless rumors spreading on the Cheonan’s sinking, the JoongAng Daily said yesterday. Prosecutors questioned a former member of the panel that probed the incident over his critical comments, the paper said. The Joint Chiefs of Staff sued a lawmaker for defamation after she said video footage of the ship splitting apart existed, a claim the military denies, Yonhap News reported.

Almost one in four South Koreans say they don’t trust the findings of the multinational panel, according to a poll commissioned by Hankook Ilbo on May 24.

Park Sun-won has also been threatened with prosecution for voicing dissent:

Gagging the South Korean public has already been taking place openly. The Ministry of National Defense and the military have pressed defamation charges against former Cheong Wa Dae (the presidential office in South Korea or Blue House) National Security Strategy Secretary Park Sun-won.

South Korean religious leaders question conclusions of the Cheonan sinking investigation

Why have the survivors been strictly separated and controlled since the tragedy happened? Why are they not allowed to say anything about it, though they know the truth best?

It is interesting to note that the Japanese Prime Minister has cited this incident when delivering his unpopular decision to the people of Okinawa:

“TOKYO — Washington and Tokyo agreed Friday to keep a contentious U.S. Marine base in Okinawa, with Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama highlighting the importance of the Japanese-American security alliance amid rising tension on the nearby Korean peninsula. “I am sincerely sorry for not being able to keep my word, and what is more, having hurt Okinawans in the end,” he said. “In Asia, there still remain unstable and uncertain factors, including the sinking of a South Korean warship by North Korea,” he said.

Japan’s Social Democratic Party, SDP, has decided to leave the ruling coalition government amid a row over the controversial presence of the US military in the country.

The political fortunes of Lee Myung Bak have improved dramatically.

“The investigation results will likely emerge as a key issue, pushing aside all other factors ahead of the elections,” said Lee Chul-hee of the Korea Society Opinion Institute. “The increased attention on national security could drive younger voters away from polls while uniting the older, right-wing voters – the exact effect the ruling party is hoping for.”

*Lee is a North Korea-phobe who prefers a confrontational stance toward his neighbor to the north to the policy of peaceful coexistence and growing cooperation favored by his recent predecessors (and by Pyongyang, as well. It’s worth mentioning that North Korea supports a policy of peace and cooperation. South Korea, under its hawkish president, does not.)

Updates:

BUCHEON, South Korea — The sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan, apparently by a North Korean torpedo, has provoked an international crisis that has embroiled big powers like the United States and China. But here in South Korea, it has had another effect: buoying the country’s once embattled conservative, pro-American president, Lee Myung-bak.

Soon after taking office two years ago, Mr. Lee appeared at risk of losing public support, as he faced mass demonstrations on the streets of Seoul against the import of United States beef. Now, political experts are talking of the “Cheonan effect,” as polls show more than half of voters approve of the president and his tougher line toward the North.

Did an American Mine Sink South Korean Ship?by Yoichi Shimatsu, New America Media

BEIJING – South Korean Prime Minister Lee Myung-bak has claimed “overwhelming evidence” that a North Korean torpedo sank the corvette Cheonan on March 26, killing 46 sailors. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton claimed that there’s “overwhelming evidence” in favor of the theory that North Korea sank the South Korean Navy warship Cheonan. But the articles of proof presented so far by military investigators to an official inquiry board have been scanty and inconsistent.

There’s yet another possibility, that a U.S. rising mine sank the Cheonan in a friendly-fire accident.

In the recent U.S.-China strategic talks in Shanghai and Beijing, the Chinese side dismissed the official scenario presented by the Americans and their South Korean allies as not credible. This conclusion was based on an independent technical assessment by the Chinese military, according to a Beijing-based military affairs consultant to the People Liberation Army.

Hardly any of the relevant facts that counter the official verdict have made headline news in either South Korea or its senior ally, the United States.

The first telltale sign of an official smokescreen involves the location of the Choenan sinking – Byeongnyeong Island (pronounced Pyongnang) in the Yellow Sea. On the westernmost fringe of South Korean territory, the island is dominated by a joint U.S.-Korean base for anti-submarine warfare (ASW) operations. The sea channel between Byeongnyeong and the North Korean coast is narrow enough for both sides to be in artillery range of each other.

Anti-sub warfare is based on sonar and acoustic detection of underwater craft. Since civilian traffic is not routed through the channel, the noiseless conditions are near-perfect for picking up the slightest agitation, for example from a torpedo and any submarine that might fire it.

North Korea admits it does not possess an underwater craft stealthy enough to slip past the advanced sonar and audio arrays around Byeongnyeong Island, explained North Korean intelligence analyst Kim Myong Chol in a news release. “The sinking took place not in North Korean waters but well inside tightly guarded South Korean waters, where a slow-moving North Korean submarine would have great difficulty operating covertly and safely, unless it was equipped with AIP (air-independent propulsion) technology.”

The Cheonan sinking occurred in the aftermath of the March 11-18 Foal Eagle Exercise, which included anti-submarine maneuvers by a joint U.S.-South Korean squadron of five missile ships. A mystery surrounds the continued presence of the U.S. missile cruisers for more than eight days after the ASW exercise ended.

Only one reporter, Joohee Cho of ABC News, picked up the key fact that the Foal Eagle flotilla curiously included the USNS Salvor, a diving-support ship with a crew of 12 Navy divers. The lack of any minesweepers during the exercise leaves only one possibility: the Salvor was laying bottom mines.

Ever since an American cruiser was damaged by one of Saddam Hussein’s rising mines, also known as bottom mines, in the Iraq War, the U.S. Navy has pushed a crash program to develop a new generation of mines. The U.S. Naval Mine and Anti-Submarine Warfare Command has also been focused on developing counterparts to the fearsome Chinese naval “assassin’s mace,” which is propelled by a rocket engine.

A rising mine, which is effective only in shallow waters, rests atop a small platform on the sea floor under a camouflage of sand and gravel. Its detection system uses acoustics and magnetic readings to pick up enemy ships and submarines. When activated, jets of compressed air or solid-fuel rockets lift the bomb, which self-guides toward the magnetic center of the target. The blast rips the keel, splitting the ship or submarine into two neat pieces, just as was done to the RKOS Cheonan.

A lateral-fired torpedo, in contrast, “holes” the target’s hull, tilting the vessel in the classic war movie manner. The South Korean government displayed to the press the intact propeller shaft of a torpedo that supposedly struck the Cheonan. Since torpedoes travel between 40-50 knots per hour (which is faster than collision tests for cars), a drive shaft would crumble upon impacting the hull and its bearing and struts would be shattered or bent by the high-powered blast.

The initial South Korean review stated that the explosive was gunpowder, which would conform to North Korea’s crude munitions. This claim was later overturned by the inquiry board, which found the chemical residues to be similar to German advanced explosives. Due to sanctions against Pyongyang and its few allies, it is hardly credible that North Korea could obtain NATO-grade ordnance.

Thus, the mystery centers on the USNS Salvor, which happened to be yet right near Byeongyang Island at the time of the Cheonan sinking and far from its home base, Pearl Harbor. The inquiry board in Seoul has not questioned the officers and divers of the Salvor, which oddly is not under the command of the 7th Fleet but controlled by the innocuous-sounding Military Sealift Command. Diving-support ships like the Salvor are closely connected with the Office of Naval Intelligence since their duties include secret operations such as retrieving weapons from sunken foreign ships, scouting harbor channels and laying mines, as when the Salvor trained Royal Thai Marine divers in mine-laying in the Gulf of Thailand in 2006, for example.

The Salvor’s presence points to an inadvertent release of a rising mine, perhaps because its activation system was not switched off. A human error or technical glitch is very much within the realm of possibility due to the swift current and strong tides that race through the Byeongnyeong Channel. The arduous task of mooring the launch platforms to the sea floor allows the divers precious little time for double-checking the electronic systems.

If indeed it was an American rising mine that sank the Cheonan, it would constitute a friendly-fire accident. That in itself is not grounds for a criminal investigation against the presidential office and, at worst, amounts only to negligence by the military. However, any attempt to falsify evidence and engage in a media cover-up for political purposes constitutes tampering, fraud, perjury and possibly treason.

Yoichi Shimatsu, former editor of the Japan Times, is an environmental consultant and a commentator on Asian affairs for CCTV-9 Dialogue.

05
Jun
10

Obama’s Expanding Covert Wars

by Jeremy Scahill

This article is taken from The Nation. Click here for the link.

The Washington Post is reporting that the Obama administration has substantially expanded the role of US special operations forces across the globe as part of what the paper calls Washington’s “secret war” against al Qaeda and other radical organizations. Obama, according to the paper, has increased the presence of special forces from 60 countries to 75 countries. US Special Forces, the paper reports, have about 4,000 people in countries besides Iraq and Afghanistan. “The Special Operations capabilities requested by the White House go beyond unilateral strikes and include the training of local counterterrorism forces and joint operations with them,” according to the Post. “Plans exist for preemptive or retaliatory strikes in numerous places around the world, meant to be put into action when a plot has been identified, or after an attack linked to a specific group.”

The expansion of special forces includes both traditional special forces, often used in training missions, and those known for carrying out covert and lethal, “direct actions.” The Nation has learned from well-placed special operations sources that among the countries where elite special forces teams working for the Joint Special Operations Command have been deployed under the Obama administration are: Iran, Georgia, Ukraine, Bolivia, Paraguay, Ecuador, Peru, Yemen, Pakistan (including in Balochistan) and the Philippines. These teams have also at times deployed in Turkey, Belgium, France and Spain. JSOC has also supported US Drug Enforcement Agency operations in Colombia and Mexico. The frontline for these forces at the moment, sources say, are Yemen and Somalia. “In both those places, there are ongoing unilateral actions,” said a special operations source. “JSOC does a lot in Pakistan too.” Additionally, these US special forces at times work alongside other nations’ special operations forces in conducting missions in their home countries. A US special operations source described one such action where US forces teamed up with Georgian forces hunting Chechen rebels.

One senior military official told The Washington Post that the Obama administration has given the green light for “things that the previous administration did not.” Special operations commanders, the paper reports, have more direct access to the White House than they did under Bush. “We have a lot more access,” a military official told the paper. “They are talking publicly much less but they are acting more. They are willing to get aggressive much more quickly.”According to the Post: “The clearest public description of the secret-war aspects of the doctrine came from White House counterterrorism director John O. Brennan. He said last week that the United States ‘will not merely respond after the fact’ of a terrorist attack but will ‘take the fight to al-Qaeda and its extremist affiliates whether they plot and train in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and beyond.'”

Sources working with US special operations forces told The Nation that the Obama administration’s expansion of special forces activities globally has been authorized under a classified order dating back to the Bush administration. Originally signed in early 2004 by then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, it is known as the “AQN ExOrd,” or Al Qaeda Network Execute Order. The AQN ExOrd was intended to cut through bureaucratic and legal processes, allowing US special forces to move into denied areas or countries beyond the official battle zones of Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The ExOrd spells out that we reserve the right to unilaterally act against al Qaeda and its affiliates anywhere in the world that they operate,” said one special forces source. The current mindset in the White House, he said, is that “the Pentagon is already empowered to do these things, so let JSOC off the leash. And that’s what this White House has done.” He added: “JSOC has been more empowered more under this administration than any other in recent history. No question.”

The AQN ExOrd was drafted in 2003, primarily by the Special Operations Command and the office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict and was promoted by neoconservative officials such as former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone as a justification for special forces operating covertly–and lethally–across the globe. Part of the order provides for what a source called “hot pursuit,” similar to how some state police are permitted to cross borders into another state to pursue a suspect. “That’s essentially what they have where they’re chasing someone in Somalia and he moves over into Ethiopia or Eritrea, you can go after him,” says the source.

“The Obama administration took the 2003 order and went above and beyond,” says the special forces source. “The world is the battlefield, we’ve returned to that,” he adds, referring to the Obama administration’s strategy. “We were moving away from it for a little bit, but Cambone’s ‘preparing the battlefield’ is still alive and well. It’s embraced by this administration.”

Under the Bush administration, JSOC and its then-commander Stanley McChrystal, were reportedly coordinating much of their activity with vice president Dick Cheney or Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. Under the Obama administration, that relationship seems to have been more formalized with the administration as a whole. That’s a change, as the Post notes, from the Bush era “when most briefings on potential future operations were run through the Pentagon chain of command and were conducted by the defense secretary or the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.” As a special operations source told The Nation, “It used to be the strategy was to insulate the president, now they directly interface with these people regularly.”

Sources say that much of the most sensitive and lethal operations conducted by JSOC are carried out by Task Force 714, which was once commanded by Gen. McChrystal, the current commander of the war in Afghanistan. Under the Obama administration, according to sources, TF-714 has expanded and recently changed its classified name. The Task Force’s budge has reportedly expanded 40% on the request of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, and has added additional forces. “It was at Mullen’s request and they can do more now,” according to a special forces source. “You don’t have to work out of the embassies, you don’t have to play nice with [the State Department], you can just set up anywhere really.”

While some of the special forces missions are centered around training of allied forces, often that line is blurred. In some cases, “training” is used as a cover for unilateral, direct action. “It’s often done under the auspices of training so that they can go anywhere. It’s brilliant. It is essentially what we did in the 60s,” says a special forces source. “Remember the ‘training mission’ in Vietnam? That’s how it morphs.”

Jeremy Scahill, a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute, is the author of the bestselling Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, published by Nation Books. He is an award-winning investigative journalist and correspondent for the national radio and TV program Democracy Now!. You can read his blog on TheNation.com here.

01
Jun
10

“Sex and the City 2″‘s Stunning Muslim Clichés

It’s hard to overstate the offensiveness of the fabulous four’s exquisitely tone-deaf trip to Abu Dhabi

By Wajahat Ali

This article originally appeared on Salon.com. Click here for the link.

I’m a heterosexual, Muslim dude who until recently thought pleated khakis and loafers were “hip” and mistook Bergdorf Goodman for an expensive Swiss chocolate. So it is not surprising that 40 minutes into “Sex and the City 2,” a 150-minute cotton candy fantasy accessorized with materialism and fashion porn, I was comatose with boredom.

But I was defibrillated by the film’s detour into Abu Dhabi (really Morocco and studio sets) and what can only be described as an Orientalist’s wet dream. After discovering they will visit the Middle East, the ladies whip out hall-of-fame Ali Baba clichés: References to “magic carpet” (a double entendre, naturally), Scheherazade and Jasmine from “Aladdin” come in rapid succession. Upon hearing a stewardess give routine flight instructions in Arabic, Samantha behaves like a wild-eyed child hearing a foreign language for the first time. “I wonder what she’s saying. It sounds so exotic!”

Michael Patrick King’s exquisitely tone-deaf movie is cinematic Viagra for Western cultural imperialists who still ignorantly and inaccurately paint the entire Middle East (and Iran) as a Kubla Khan in desperate need of liberation from ignorant, backward natives. Historian Bernard Lewis, the 93-year-old Hall of Fame Orientalist and author of such nuanced gems as “The Arabs in History” and “Islam and the West,” would probably die of priapism if he saw this movie. It’s like the cinematic progeny of “Not Without My Daughter” and “Arabian Nights” with a makeover by Valentino. Forget the oppressed women of Abu Dhabi. Let’s buy more bling for the burqa!

Our four female cultural avatars, like imperialistic Barbies, milk Abu Dhabi for leisure and hedonism without making any discernible, concrete efforts to learn about her people and their daily lives. An exception is Miranda, whose IQ drops about 100 points as she dilutes the vast complexities of a diverse culture into sound bites like this: “‘Hanh Gee’ means ‘yes’ in Arabic!”

Only it doesn’t — it’s Punjabi, which is spoken by South Asians.

She also incorrectly tells the audience that all women in the Middle East have to cover themselves. And, yes, nearly every single Middle Eastern female character in “SATC 2’s” imaginative rendition of “Abu Dhabi,” is veiled, silent or subdued by aggressive men.

Like curious visitors staring at an exotic animal in the zoo with equal doses of horror and fascination, the four “girls” observe a niqabi female eating French fries by carefully lifting her veil for each consumed fry. After witnessing this “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” event, Samantha declares, “It’s like they don’t want [women] to have a voice.”

If our cultural ambassadors truly cared about saving Muslim women, they surely would try to help them during the film’s interminable two and half hour running time, no? Sadly, instead, these incredibly shallow mock-feminists can’t even bother to have one decent conversation with a Muslim woman, because they’re too immersed in picnics on the desert and singing Arab disco karaoke renditions of “I Am Woman.” In fact, Abu Dhabi is just peachy when it’s a fantasy land where they ride around in limos and get comped an extravagantly vulgar $22,000 hotel suite. However, only when that materialism is taken away do they worry, in only the most superficial way, about sexual hypocrisy and women’s oppression.

Meanwhile, the perpetually self-absorbed Carrie finds enlightenment in the simple, wise words of her Indian manservant Gaurav, who functions as the movie’s life-changing, magical minority. And Samantha, our “Western” avatar of freedom and liberation, offers a juxtaposition to the silent, oppressed Muslim women by making immature puns like “Lawrence of my Labia” and performing fellatio on a sheesha pipe in public.

The movie uses only two broad colors to paint the Middle East: One depicting an opulent Eden for our blissfully ignorant protagonists to selfishly use as a temporary escape, and the other showing an oppressive dungeon populated by intolerant men that cannot comprehend cleavage or bare shoulders.

Consider the film’s painful climax, in which Samantha, now wearing shorts and a low-cut top, spills dozens of condoms from her purse in the middle of a crowded market. Right before the condom explosion, the Islamic call to prayer, the Adhan, is conveniently heard for no discernible reason. The angry, hairy men, overwhelmed by anger and shock, decide to abandon their daily activities and busy life to encircle Samantha and condemn her as a harlot and slut, but not before Samantha proudly holds the condoms up high and dry humps the air telling the men she uses them to have sex. Because they cannot tolerate a sassy, back-talking, condom-using female baring her legs, they decide en masse to spontaneously chase all four women. Appearing like an oasis in the desert, two mysterious women in a burqa silently nod to the four girls, who subsequently follow the women into a secret room revealing the existence of a secret book club attended by a dozen niqabi women, who disrobe to reveal their hidden designer clothes, fashionable shoes and makeup.

OK, a bubble gum approach to reality is to be expected from “SATC2.” And one could imagine a scenario in which the frothy light comedy could be used to erase mutual misunderstandings. After all, Muslim women around the world, who religiously watched the show, would love a strong, empowered Muslim female “SATC” character who could enlighten Western audiences about the complex, and at times oppressive, reality of Middle Eastern women while simultaneously rocking Ferragamos. Instead, the film exists in a wacky cultural vacuum blissfully unaware of its own arrogance and prejudices.

Apparently, we’re meant to believe Muslim women in the Middle East are equally self-absorbed, vain and materialistic. After completely dissing the Middle East, its people, its religion and its culture, it’s “Sex and the City” that truly insults the Muslim women, by silencing them entirely.

Wajahat Ali is the author of “The Domestic Crusaders,” a play about Muslim Pakistani Americans that will be published by McSweeney’s in the Fall 2010. He blogs at Goatmilk.