can’t see the forest

Yes, but if it happened here…

Posted in activism, Iran, Obama, Politics, U.S. News, World News by Curtis on 6/23/09

U.S. President Obama has issued more statements condemning the government crackdown on Iranian protesters angry with the possibly fraudulent re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the presidency.

The BBC reports:

Mr Obama said: “The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats, beatings, and imprisonments of the last few days.

“I strongly condemn these unjust actions, and I join with the American people in mourning each and every innocent life that is lost.”

He said: “The United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and is not at all interfering in Iran’s affairs. But we must also bear witness to the courage and dignity of the Iranian people, and to a remarkable opening within Iranian society.”

Mr Obama said of the allegations of meddling: “This tired strategy of using old tensions to scapegoat other countries won’t work anymore in Iran.

“This is not about the United States and the West. This is about the people of Iran, and the future that they – and only they – will choose.”

Obama has already endured copious criticism on this issue from the GOP, whose leaders say the President has been too ‘soft’ on Iran since taking office. And the Supreme Leader of Iran has accused both London and Washington of meddling in Iran’s affairs and seeking to foment unrest for political gain.

The U.S. government finds itself in a delicate position with regards to the situation in Iran; from the outset, the Obama White House has pledged to take a less bullish, trigger-happy approach to negotiations with Tehran than the preceding administration. The U.S., already embroiled in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan for which stateside support is rapidly dwindling, is struggling through its worst financial crisis in nearly a century. Even if Washington were sure that the Iranian election is fraudulent, it could offer little real support to Ahmadinejad’s opponents. Therefore, we can be relatively sure that what the President has to say about Iran will have scant resonance beyond the Beltway.

One thing that bothers me about diplomatic grandstanding on this issue is the question: What if it happened here? What if, rather than calmly accepting the Supreme Court-mandated first inauguration of George W. Bush, thousands of protesters had taken to the streets in New York, Washington, San Francisco, and elsewhere? Would the U.S. government had been as restrained as it now feels compelled to ask of Tehran? Judging by the harsh civic responses on record to political protests in places like Seattle and Chicago, the answer is probably ‘no.’ It seems unlikely that such questions will ever be other than hypothetical, as the U.S. fosters a society in which copious creature comforts tend to ensure merely theoretical interest in political developments among much of its population.

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Iran to Obama: Change in words not enough

Posted in foreign policy, Iran, Israel, middle east, Obama, Politics, U.S. News, US, World News by Curtis on 3/21/09

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In a video message to Iran delivered to coincide with the spring holiday of Nowruz, U.S. President Barack Obama may have departed significantly from Bush-era policies by opening the door to constructive dialog between the two nations. But his overtures disappointed many and were less than warmly received by the government in Tehran largely because they seemed to embody a continuation of carrot-and-stick diplomacy oriented toward rewarding a sovereign nation for “good behavior” rather than truly engaging it as an equal.

The BBC reports on the response from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini:

Speaking to a large crowd in the holy city of Mashhad, Ayatollah Khamenei said Iran had “no experience with the new American government and the new American president.”

“We will observe them and we will judge,” he said.

“If you change your attitude, we will change our attitude.”

In the speech, which was carried live by Iranian television, he said Iran was yet to see such a change.

“What is the change in your policy?” he asked.

“Did you remove the sanctions? Did you stop supporting the Zionist regime? Tell us what you have changed. Change only in words is not enough.”

Matters were not helped, perhaps, in that Obama preceded his address by extending certain sanctions against the Islamic republic for one year, citing threats to U.S. national security.

Iran is due to hold presidential elections this summer. Former President Mohammed Khatami, a figure widely viewed as more open to reconciliation with the West, was at one point slated to run for reelection but then withdrew from the race. Whether or not current President Amahdinejad, seen as a foreign policy hardliner, is ousted from office, the U.S. and Israel need not expect the election to bring any major changes to the political climate.

It is good that the new White House is willing to engage in dialog with Tehran, but the fact remains that, if the U.S. wishes genuinely to create goodwill and a sense of cooperation with Iran, it must itself take steps toward enacting several policy changes:

  1. First and foremost, the U.S. must openly rethink its complete and unmitigated support for the government of Israel, particularly as it pertains to the occupation of the Palestinian territories. Since the U.S. is largely responsible for the arming and funding of Israeli military operations, and has traditionally backed Israel diplomatically against all odds, it is seen as a de facto partner in the blockades and military offensives which have recently crushed millions of innocent Palestinians in response to rocket fire from a relatively small number of militants. The U.S. could help matters by intensifying its commitment to a political solution for Palestine.
  2. The U.S. must recognize Iran’s right to develop peaceful nuclear energy, and must adopt a policy of “innocent until proven guilty” towards its suspicions that Iran might be seeking to develop nuclear weapons. There remains no concrete evidence that Iran is working towards a bomb, but the hysteria over the idea continues to mount as Israel considers using missiles to destroy enrichment efforts. Iran may be willing to accept reliance on fuel enriched outside its borders, but not for nothing in return.
  3. The U.S. must work to end U.S. and U.N. sanctions against Iran. This could be made dependent on eliciting cooperation from Tehran on security issues in Iraq and Afghanistan, which the government may or may not be willing to give. But as long as such sanctions are in place, Iran is justified in feeling that it is being addressed as less than an equal, and little progress is likely.

In return, the U.S. should expect Iran to soften its support of Hezbollah and Hamas, to tone down its anti-Israeli rhetoric and provocative missile tests, and to become more receptive to cooperation in Iraq and Afghanistan. But, to keep realism on the table, we must remember that Iran reasonably views itself as a state under threat, surrounded on both sides by ongoing U.S. military operations and continually threatened by talk of missile attacks from Israel.

Obama’s latest move certainly signifies the hope of change, but it is not yet, for many, change we can believe in.

Jeff Halper on Obama and the Israel-Palestine conflict

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From Counterpunch, an article by Jeff Halper of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions which sums up nicely the need for Israel to take responsibility for the 60-year-old refugee situation, and what incoming U.S. President Obama could do to help bring peace to the region:

Addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an urgent priority. It is a conflict with global ramifications in a part of the world crucial to Western, and especially American, political and economic interests. The Israeli Occupation fuels anger and alienation among Muslims – as well as among peoples beyond the Muslim world, including in Europe – towards the US and its European allies. And the Palestinians are the gatekeepers that cannot be by-passed. No matter what peace plan is devised or how much pressure is exerted on the Palestinian leadership to accept it, until the Palestinian people everywhere, including the refugee camps, say that the conflict is in fact over, it’s not over. This is their ultimate clout. Only when a just solution is reached that genuinely addresses their grievances and needs will they signal to the rest of the Arab and Muslim worlds that the time has come to normalize relations with Israel and its American and Western patrons. This reality is obliquely acknowledged by Scowcroft and Brzezinski when they write: “Not everyone in the Middle East views the Palestinian issue as the greatest regional challenge, but the deep sense of injustice it stimulates is genuine and pervasive.”

Yet every peace initiative since 1967 has been stymied – let’s be honest – by Israel’s determination to make permanent its control of the land “between the river and the sea.” Why compromise if you can have it all? Israelis today enjoy a high degree of security (Gaza being little more than a nuisance), the settlement project proceeds unhindered, the economy (based on diamonds, arms and security) is sound and their country’s international status only rises. The status quo, far better, more predictable and more manageable than any “peace” might be, can be maintained indefinitely, especially given US support which, because of the bipartisan support Israel enjoys in Congress, does not seem threatened by the incoming Obama Administration. The problem is framing. However much Israel undermines what would otherwise be a straightforward negotiating process, it cannot be publicly criticized lest one appears to be “anti-Israel” – or worse. And non-critical engagement with Israel has never succeeded in eliciting a single meaningful concession.


The climate changes, but not much else

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While European leaders congratulate themselves at the close of a two-day Brussels summit on climate change, their numerous critics are left shaking their heads in dismay.

An agreement was reached whereby EU nations will be required, by 2020, to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20% as compared to 1990 levels. Additionally, the pact calls for a 19% reduction in CO2 emissions from automobiles by 2015, and for measures to increase the use of renewable energy and to improve on overall fuel efficiency in the coming years. Also laid out was a carbon emissions trading scheme, perhaps the most comprehensive of its kind yet put into place in the world economy.

The Guardian reports that the product of the talks represents a major victory for French President Nicolas Sarkozy, as he nears the end of his six-month tenure as President of the EU. The European Parliament is set to write the decisions into law next week.

“This is a major advance,” said [UK] prime minister, Gordon Brown. “Europe after these decisions remains the leader on climate change.”

coal-plantBut critics complained that the package was too little too late, that EU leaders had capitulated to fierce lobbying from European industry, that the loopholes in the system and the awarding of pollution permits free to most non-energy firms in the scheme would trigger a bonanza in windfall corporate profits.

“Industry has to do next to nothing,” said Claude Turmes, a leading Green MEP from Luxembourg, who helped to draft part of the legislation. “If they are honest, these leaders know they haven’t agreed something really ambitious.”

“This could have been one of Europe’s finest moments,” said Robin Webster, climate campaigner for Friends of the Earth. “But huge loopholes allow big energy-users to carry on polluting.”

Barroso admitted that the terms of the deal could bring windfall profits for industry, reversing the logic of the polluter pays principle that is supposed to underpin the carbon trading scheme.

In particular, critics feel the accords go incredibly soft on certain industries, such as coal processors—which, although among the very worst emissions offenders, will be given generous discounts in the carbon trading arena—and steel refineries. Industries such as these will hardly flinch in the wake of this “major advance.”

arctic-ice-melt

CSMonitor: Projected Arctic melting

According to the New York Times, President-Elect Barack Obama has placed confronting climate change second only to the revitalization of the U.S. economy on his to-do list, and in its acknowledgement of the issues at hand, his administration is sure to represent a marked improvement over the Bush years. Indeed, on Tuesday Obama met privately with 2007 Nobel Prize winner Al Gore to discuss climate change and energy policy, though the Obama camp denies a potential role for Gore in the new White House. But environmentalists are skeptical as to just how far the impassioned rhetoric will carry over into reality come January; if European leaders consider the kind of agreement just reached in Brussels to be a colossal step forward, one wonders if substantiation of the change Obama has in mind is bound to prove commensurately disappointing. Obama’s plans are ambitious, but his ability to enforce them remains unproven.

Political leaders tend to shy away from forcing stringent environmental standards on industry because such measures can have significant front-end overhead and can make certain products at least initially unpalatable to consumers. This wariness is only amplified in times of economic crisis. Americans can expect the new President to be far more forthright and engaging on environmental policy than his predecessor, but should not harbor illusions. Lobbyists are still lobbyists, capitalism is still capitalism, and automobiles still run—mostly—on gasoline.