July 2003

2003 07 31
Sure he’s going to hell, but is that that reason?


Now Jean Cretien is being threatened with eternal hell-fire for his position on same-sex marriage.

Really, now, isn’t the Church busy enough these days protecting sex-offenders?

I suppose that there’s nothing wrong, in itself, with a religious organization appealing to a political leader to act on presumably shared principles which include a recognition of the religious organization’s authority. But the idea that the Church has any legs left to stand on when it comes to moral authority seems outrageous.

I suppose that they’re free to say what they want, and I’m free to withhold any respect I might have had for them.


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2003 07 29
A risky bet?


I’m widely known among my friends as a pretty gullible guy, but even I did a doubletake this morning as I read about the new plan at the Pentagon to establish a commodity style future’s market on Middle East events.

The idea here is to have experts bet money on certain outcomes. This market in future’s will work just as well, so the thinking goes, as the regular market. That is, just as the regular market always reflects the cumulative wisdom among all buyers and sellers about the value of various goods and companies, so to, this future’s market will reflect the cumulative wisdom among experts who are betting their own money.

Apparently I’m not the only one who mistook this for a joke. On the front page of the times, a Senator fumes about having trouble convincing people that he’s serious. All the stories note that John Poindexter of Iran-Contra fame is behind this.

Now . . . is this a good idea? Well, it’s obviously troubling from an “optics” point of view. Poindexter has shown that, once again, he is almost completely lacking in media savvy (among other things, including, it seems, a conscience). Things are a bit touchy with the Saudi’s these days, but oh how much touchier they will be if the U.S. government is taking bets on the removal from power of the Hause of Saud! And if you want further evidence that the people at the Pentagon haven’t thought through how this might appear to others, I invite you to visit the official web page, already the subject of hillarious mockery this morning in Slate. Quick, someone tell Poindexter that he’s not as smart as he thinks!

The idea also seems a touch optimistic about the wisdom of the markets. No one who has watched irrational exuberance even second hand – and we all have recently, haven’t we – should get away with the idea the what markets demonstrate is “wisdom”. The pitfalls and follies of groupthink are well-documented by pointyheaded economists much smarter than me, so I will merely note them in passing.

And yet . . . and yet. The idea appeals to me somehow. After all, don’t I spent a lot of time on this blog attempting to predict the future of the middle east? And if (and only if) I had any money wouldn’t I want to put it where my mouth was? Wouldn’t such a market be . . . well, fun?

A future’s market of the kind that the Pentagon is apparently planning has all kind of potential for abuse. There’s not only the worry about insider trading (! – Don’t let Richard Perle play!), and the obvious difficulty of explaining it to the public and anxious foreign dignitaries. There’s also the worry that the same knee-jerk right wing love of all things market-based will lead to an uncritical acceptance of the market’s predictions.

But it needn’t be abused in this way. If it is added to the mix of (non-faith-based) intelligence and reporting, I see no reason why it couldn’t be an interesting source of potenial insights into matters. And because you either have to buy or sell, it evades all the tricky, weasly qualifications that pointy-heads always add to their predictions. And it provides a quicker summary of expert opinions than you could get by skimming several thousand reports and trying to sum them up.

I anticipate a lot of criticism of this idea, but I suspect the criticism will derive more from the fact that it’s easy than from any attempt to appreciate the totally bizarre but interesting idea here.

Where do I sign up?

(A question for any readers: I know that bookies in Vegas often bet on real events in the same way. Does anyone know whether the bets placed and the odds offered are at all revealing of what actually does happen? I seem to recall seeing something in Slate about this, but it’s slipped my mind.)


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2003 07 24
Who can break the law and who can’t?


Meanwhile, I’ve been astonished at one of the subplots developing around the Uraniumgate story. Wilson, the former ambassador who very publicly embarassed the admin by publishing his account of the uranium story has evidently been the target of a smear job against his wife. Apparently, somebody in the admin was spreading the word that his wife was a CIA agent. Guess what’s happened to her career? Yup: Either it’s true or it’s not. If it’s true, her cover is blown. If it’s not, no one in the energy industry, where (I believe) she works, will believe her denials.

David Korn has been on top of this lately. See his latest column, Capital Games, for smarmy details. And Paul Krugmann picked it up yesterday, thus ensuring that it would stay an issue.

I want more details! This is against the law. Who broke the law? Is the White House curious to know who broke the law? If not, why not?

Stay tuned. I’m guessing this one has legs.


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2003 07 24
Liberia, again


Things have gotten steadily worse, worse in Liberia, just when you might have concluded that they had nowhere to go but up.

Bush is taking heat for this. This is surprising, to say the least. A few weeks ago, no one was paying any attention to the conflict at all – now it’s in the New York Times almost every day.

I think that questions about intervention and moral responsibility are complicated. Some cases of intervention may be permissible without being obligatory, and if that’s the case, a country isn’t necessarily being hypocritical when it intervenes in one case but not another.

So does this get the U.S. off the hook? Well, I remain undecided about whether the U.S. specifically has a moral responsibility to intervene. Surely if it does, it’s not alone. Europe has the means to intervene as well. And so, apparently, do other African countries – though this may lead to more unhappiness in the long run.

Suppose we decide that the U.S. has no moral responsibility to intervene. Matters are further complicated by the fact that it hinted it would intervene. The hint seems to have been prompted by a desire to look good while touring Africa. It’s inconceivable to me that the hint was sincere: I just can’t imagine the admin giving a shit about Liberians. Or if it was sincere, it was sincere in the very minimal sense that they thought it might be feasible to send a few military trainers or a very small support force.

The hint has played an important role in the way events are now unfolding on the ground. Actors on the ground, to be sure, bear primary moral responsibility for the chaos and death currently being unleashed. But by dropping the hint, the U.S. injected itself into events, because an actor itself in this drama.

If they had no intention of going in the first place, they shouldn’t have dropped the hint.

The admin has gotten itself into a real pickle. Now everyone is watching to see what the U.S. will do. And they’ve started to perk up to the horrors on the ground that made intervention seem desirable. I’m not sure where the story will go, but for Liberians, I doubt it will go well.


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2003 07 24
Iran


I haven’t commented yet on the outrageous story of the death of the Canadian journalist in Iran recently. The whole thing is disgusting, and a confirmation that Iran has a long way to go.

Or rather, what has happened since the death of the journalist has confirmed that Iran has a long way to go. People die in custody as a result of poor treatment in a lot of places. This is not to deny that different countries have very different records, but even in the best of circumstances elements within a criminal justice system can get out of control and behave very badly. What distinguishes different systems after something like this has happened is the reaction to it – in the press, and in the government ultimately responsible for the incident.

Unfortunately, the response from Iran has been terrible, and it implicates not just an out of control interrogator, but rather the entire governing class in Iran. The latest outrage is that Iran has now decided to turn the tables and accuse Canada of killing an Iranian.

See? Everyone does it.

I hope the Canadian government makes a stink about it. They’ve been taking a fairly soft line in public so far, but clearly they’re not making progress. I want a damn international campaign over this. I want to see Canada get tough.


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2003 07 24
How stupid is William Kristol?


And the answer is . . . very. Check out this piece (Bush Suckers the Democrats) in the Weekly Standard. Josh Marshall has already had a good crack at the piece but I’ve just gotten around to it.

Some people really will say anything. Here’s a wonderful bit:

On January 28, the president said in his State of the Union address that “the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” Perhaps he should have said “the British government believes” rather than “has learned.” But this statement was unremarkable at the time, and remains unremarkable today. And, contrary to the implications of George Tenet’s disingenuous press release of July 11, the president said nothing that the Central Intelligence Agency had retracted or controverted in the months between the distribution of their October estimate and the State of the Union address.

Oh really? Tell me, please, why exactly the President should have said “believes” rather than “has learned”. Isn’t it because it wasn’t credible? And they should have known that? If that’s the case why should he have reported the view at all?

Moreover, as a friend pointed out to me the other day, lots of people are missing the point that even the original CIA report was obviously produced under heavy political pressure, most notably from the NSA and the VP’s office. So it’s no excuse to say that the President was just following the current CIA line. That line was itself a flawed product for reasons traceable to the administration.

Here’s another nice little bit:

It now turns out the CIA had its doubts–though they were less than definitive.

Woah! Less than definitive. Isn’t there some point at which Kristol just gets too ashamed to go on? Nope! The suspicions were based on crudely forged documents and there was apparently a broad consensus that they were crap. But for Kristol crap is “less than definitive”. I don’t think this is arch understatement. I think it’s basically dishonest.

Kristol goes on:

The White House now acknowledges, in retrospect, that the matter didn’t merit mention in the State of the Union.

There’s your “scandal.”

Not quite, Billy boy. The Whitehouse should have known at the time that its intelligence was bullshit on this. The way Kristol presents the issue, the problem is that the matter wasn’t somehow important enough to make it into such an important speech. But the reason it shouldn’t have made it into the speech is that the evidence for it stunk. And they should have known that at the time.

And finally:

George W. Bush’s one great and unforgivable sin, it seems, was to have acted on the judgment that Saddam Hussein was a present danger–acted, as Clinton and Gore repeatedly threatened but failed to do, the way a serious president must. At his moment of decision, the American people supported Bush. They support him still. And the fact of that support–as the Democrats’ hysterical attack on a 16-word sentence in the State of the Union suggests–is driving one of our two major political parties…stark, raving mad.

Kristol is right, I think, if he means that the case for invasion rested on more than simply the evidence cited in the State of the Union speech. As I’ve insisted repeatedly, the anti-war movement needed and still needs to give a coherent alternative to the war that takes S.H. seriously as a long term threat.

But if you can’t get yourself to care that the President made the case for war, put the nation’s credibility on the line, in a deeply dishonest way – and the uranium nonsense is only a part of this larger pattern of dishonesty – then I don’t think you really care about the democratic process. I think in this case you’ve only placed importance on outcomes, and neglected entirely the question of how they come about.


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2003 07 19
Keeping score


Just to try and tidy up my thoughts on the recent debate over Iraq evidence:

1. Before the war, there was excellent indirect evidence that Saddam Hussein posed a long term threat to U.S. interests in the Gulf.

2. It would have been irresponsible for Bush, or anyone else, to ignore this threat. There were lots of different ways in which the threat might have been addressed, but unless you take the threat seriously, I can’t take you seriously.

3. Nothing has surfaced since the war that should change our minds about this. Even if Iraq’s capabilities were more degraded than we guessed, Saddam Hussein nevertheless retained an obvious interest in someday dominating the region with nuclear weapons.

4. Before the war, there was precious little evidence that Saddam Hussein posed an immediate, or even medium term, threat to U.S. interests in the Gulf.

5. Nothing has surfaced since the war that should change our minds about this.

6. The failure to discover WMD stockpiles or capabilities has the following significance: It provides excellent evidence that the Bush admin lied repeatedly and/or deluded itself about the immediate risk Saddam Hussein posed.

7. Success, however improbable at this point, in the search for significant WMD stockpiles would have the following significance: It would reset the debate to about March, at which time many sensible people rejected the war even though they thought that Saddam Hussein did have serious nuclear ambitions. Finding WMD now would not vindicate the Bush admin’s approach. The whole debate was about whether that approach was necessary to deal with WMD presumed to be in Iraq.

8. Before the war, there was precious little evidence of significant ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda.

9. Nothing has surfaced since the war that should change our minds about this.

10. This has enormous significance for our assessment of the truthfulness of the Bush admin about the reasons its waged a major war.

11. Before the war, there was unimpeachable evidence that Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator, with no regard for human life.

12. Nothing has surfaced since the war that should change our minds about this.

13. Further confirmation of Saddam Hussein’s brutality has the following significance:
a) It means that little of value was lost when his regime was toppled – except security of a sort (not security against torture, or injustice, but better than what Iraq is – I hope temporarily – now experiencing).
b) It means that we ought to bear in mind that Iraq would have been awful in the absense of war, as well. That is, the current suffering of the people of Iraq needs to be weighed in the balance, but part of the balance is a judgement about what life would have been like for them in the absense of the war.
d) It does NOT mean that the people of Iraq have been liberated. It does NOT provide retrospective vindication for the war. Retrospective vindication for the war depends on a judgement as to whether the war stood a plausible chance of delivering the people of Iraq from misery. You can’t cite humanitarian concerns as a basis for intervention unless – at a minimum – it’s plausible to think that your strategy might address those concerns. Only success on the ground in Iraq now can vindicate the U.S.’s behaviour: pointing to further evidence of Saddam Hussein’s evil won’t cut it here.
d) It does provide us with further evidence, though none is needed, of the character of a man who was once a U.S. ally. Until the admin comes to terms with this, and makes an honest accounting for its past alliances, it has no right to point to these abuses. This means more than simply admitting past mistakes. It means attempting to avoid current ones: They can start to prove they’re serious by cutting Turkmenistan loose.

14. The clear evidence that most of the major players in the Bush admin lied repeatedly in the buildup to war has the following significance:
a) It should not change our assessment of long or short term risk. It does not relieve us, in the anti-war movement, of the responsibility of explaining how we would have dealt with the long-term threat posed by Saddam Hussein to the region.
b) It does mean that this country went to war after being told lies by its own government. It does justify cynicism about the motives and claims of every single member of the admin for as long as they’re around.

I said yesterday that Bush lied. That’s probably not the right way to frame it. Bush may well be a liar. But he appears so stupid, so gullible, so cut off, so indifferent to outside sources of information, that it’s quite possible he meant what he said. His crime may be gross negligence, rather than lying. One quite widespread, but nonelessless curious, convention we have is to punish lying (of a certain sort – the kind easily caught and incompetently performed) far more brutally than gross negligence. I wish that this whole episode convinced people to reject the convention, but if Reagan couldn’t convince people to drop it, I doubt anything can.


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2003 07 18
What’s a big deal and what’s not?


Daniel Drezner makes a remark typical of the but-I-supported-the-war-for-other-reasons crowd:

I can’t get exercised about it, however. My reasons for supporting an attack on Iraq had little to do with the WMD issue. The uranium question was part of one rationale among many the administration gave for pushing forward in Iraq. I’m not saying this should be swept under the rug, but the level of righteous indignation that’s building up on the left is reaching blowback proportions.

It seems absurd to have to say it, but the point isn’t whether you supported the war or why. The point is that the president lied – yes, lied – about a matter of the highest seriousness in the most important of settings. Is this not a matter of concern? If you can’t get exercised about this, what can you get exercised about? Is the underlying view here that, of course, State of the Union speeches aren’t the sort of thing we should be taking seriously?

In the leadup to war, you were looked at as some kind of conspiracy nut if you didn’t believe the president. Would all the people who took this line before the war please apologize?


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2003 07 15
Followup on Yesterday


For anyone who doubted the utter idiocy of Bush’s recent remarks in Uganda, the following will either clear the matter up or confirm their own idiocy. By the way, the point here isn’t that Bush was mallicious or anything like that. The point is that if you’re going to be an idiot, the least you can do is get someone smart to write your speeches.

Uganda: Sharp Decline in Human Rights

(Kampala, July 15, 2003) – Abductions, torture, recruitment
of child soldiers, and other abuses have sharply increased
in the past year in northern Uganda due to renewed fighting
between Ugandan government forces and rebels, a coalition of
national and international organizations said in a report
released today.

The 73-page report, “Abducted and Abused: Renewed War in
Northern Uganda,” details how a slew of human rights abuses
have resulted in a humanitarian crisis. Since June 2002, the
rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has abducted nearly 8,400
children and thousands more adults, a sharp rise from 2001.
The LRA has also escalated the seventeen-year war against
northern Uganda’s civilians by targeting religious leaders,
aid providers, and those living in internally displaced
persons (IDP) camps.

“Child abduction, murder, and mutilation are the signatures
of the LRA in this war,” said Lloyd Axworthy, former
Canadian minister for external affairs. “This is a war that
has been fought primarily against the children and people of
northern Uganda.” Axworthy is CEO and executive director of
the Liu Institute for Global Issues in Vancouver, which
issued the report together with the Peace and Human Rights
Center in Kampala, Human Rights Focus in Gulu, and Human
Rights Watch in New York, of which Axworthy is a board
member.

The seventeen-year conflict between the LRA and the Ugandan
government intensified in March 2002, when the government
army, the Ugandan People’s Defence Forces (UPDF), launched a
military offensive, “Operation Iron Fist,” against LRA bases
in southern Sudan. The offensive failed to accomplish its
aim of destroying the LRA, which evaded the UPDF and in June
2002 returned to northern Uganda. The renewed conflict is
taking its highest toll ever:

– Since June 2002, the LRA abducted 8,400 children, the
highest rate of abductions ever in seventeen years of war.
– Fear of LRA abduction has driven approximately 20,000
children to escape nightly into Gulu and other towns. These
children sleep on verandas, on church grounds and at local
hospitals, returning home each morning, becoming locally
known as “night commuters.”
– An estimated 800,000 northern Ugandans are internally
displaced due to LRA attacks and government orders-
approximately 70 percent of the entire population of the
three war-affected districts in northern Uganda.
– Respective Mortality Rate (for three months in 2003)
for children under five in two IDP camps near Gulu was
5.67/1,000, where 4/1,000 is considered an emergency. This
rate was the highest recorded in five years, yet it was not
caused by any outbreak of disease, leading the agency
conducting the survey to raise the possibility that the
children had simply “died of hunger.”
– Although overall HIV prevalence in Uganda has
reportedly declined substantially in recent years, there is
lingering high prevalence in the north: Gulu reportedly has
the second highest rate of HIV prevalence after Kampala,
attributed among other things to the higher rate of HIV
among combatants. Among expectant mothers tested at one of
two hospitals in Gulu, the rates of HIV prevalence were 11-
12 percent, where 5 percent is the national rate.

The report draws on interviews with recently abducted
children who escaped from the LRA. It gives voice to
internally displaced persons living in the IDP camps that
have been attacked by the LRA, and the aid workers
attempting to reach these victims despite frequent LRA
ambushes on relief convoys.

While the Ugandan government is obligated to intervene to
stop these violations, its own forces have committed gross
abuses, including torture, rape, underage recruitment, and
arbitrary detention. The government has also increased the
suffering of northern Uganda’s population through the forced
displacement of civilians into IDP camps, which have little
or no protection. But UPDF soldiers and other government
forces accused by civilians of serious crimes such as
murder, torture, or rape often escape trial or sanction,
creating the public perception of impunity.

“Not only has the Ugandan government failed to protect its
citizens adequately,” said Samuel B. Tindifa, director of
the Human Rights and Peace Centre. “They have also actively
violated their rights, detained them for long periods
without showing cause, and recruited children into the army
and home guards.”

The UPDF in northern Uganda arrests civilians on suspicion
of rebel collaboration with little or no evidence, often
holding them for rough interrogation or torture before
turning them over to the police for prosecution. The
prosecutors then charge the suspects with treason or
terrorism, which allows the government to hold them for up
to 360 days without bail and without having to present any
evidence.

“The United Nations and members of the international
community need to take a more active role to end this
desperate state of affairs in northern Uganda,” said Jemera
Rone, counsel for the Africa division of Human Rights Watch.
“The government and LRA peace talks have ended and the war
is continuing at a heightened pace, with worse impact than
ever on the entire population of Acholiland.”

The organizations urged the U.N. Secretary-General to
appoint a special representative for northern Uganda to
secure the release of abducted children by conducting
“shuttle diplomacy” between the LRA and the Ugandan
government. They also called upon the Sudanese government to
end its support of the LRA and upon donor countries to
monitor military assistance to Uganda to ensure that the
government observes human rights standards.

The four organizations called on the LRA to end its attacks
on civilians, to stop abducting children and adults, and to
release the abductees. The organizations also urged the
government of Uganda to:
– End impunity for human rights violations by government
security and armed forces;
– Review all cases of treason and terrorism suspects to
ensure that sufficient evidence exists to justify detention;
– Cease using treason or terrorism charges as a holding
charge for those arbitrarily detained in areas in which
rebels are active;
– Take effective measures to protect civilians; and
– Permit those living in internally displaced persons
camps to move wherever they wish, except for extreme
circumstances of insecurity.


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2003 07 14
An extraordinary omission


Here’s the final graf in a recent WaPo piece on Bush in Uganda:

[Bush] also praised President Yoweri Museveni for using his “prestige and . . . position to help solve [regional] disputes.” His choice of words surprised human rights leaders and Ugandan journalists who were hoping that Bush would use tough language about Uganda’s involvement in the five-year civil war in neighboring Congo. The president made no mention of the political crisis brewing in Uganda as Museveni moves to change the constitution and clear way for a possible third term

This is absurd. Uganda has done an extraordinary amount of damage in The DRC. Everyone’s talking these days about who vetted Bush’s State of the Union speech. I think someone oughta ask Ari who vetted this speech (by the way, Condi Rice accompanied Bush on the trip). Find this person, and then fire her (or him, if it’s not Rice).


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2003 07 14
I’m back


I was occupied – very occupied! – over the last few days attending my brother’s wedding. He was marrying an East Indian woman, and so the wedding was an exhausting, though pleasant, 3 day marathon of eating and dancing, etc.

So I’m a bit behind in my news as a result of all this, and have only just begun to get revved up again. While I was away, TPM was on fire! Check him out if you want a series of brilliantly pointed critiques of various idiotic statements coming out of the admin these days.

I was struck by a change in tone in the coverage over the last few days. A huge amount of evidence has been accumulating for some time that most of the members of Bush’s administration are complete liars. But the press in the country has been extraordinarily apathetic for the most part, failing repeatedly to really hold people’s feet in the fire when they were obviously lying. This afternoon, I read two transcripts of appearances Rumsfeld made on the Sunday talk shows, and they are actually quite brutal. There is a new readiness to needle him, and he obviously finds it a bit unsettling. I hope that the press holds Bush and co. to account for all their bullshit.

Reason this may not happen: It’s still the same spoiled, lazy press who coddled Bush shamelessly for years.

Reasons to be hopeful:
a) The evidence of deliberate deception on the part of the admin in the months leading up to war with Iraq is so blatant, even the Washington Press corp seems to be having trouble ignoring it.
b) The situation in Iraq sucks – if things were going well there would be much less attention paid to the question of how the U.S. got there in the first place.
c) Polls show the Prez slipping. The Press loves to flex its muscles.
d) The admin is violating a cardinal rule: if you’re gonna lie, stick to your story. My jaw dropped when I saw the current line: that, of course, those 16 words should never, never have made it in – though they are technically accurate! Madness! They clearly can’t make up their minds what the lie is supposed to be, and it’s getting ugly. There’s no easy way out of this.
e) Tensions are obviously running quite high in the admin between the various players. Rice’s attempt to stick the blame on Tenet, the CIA leaks to the press implicating Cheney’s office, etc. all have an effect on how much info gets to the press. Prediction: The admin is gonna get leakier and leakier. This always encourages journalists, who are inclined to take the path of least resistance. Nothing could be easier than sitting back and letting the stories write themselves as disgruntled people all over the admin take their revenge.
f) The admin’s excuses are now so transparent that they represent an affront to reporter’s intelligence. That sometimes stirs up reporters when other things, like plain old lying, don’t really move them.


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2003 07 07
What a frickin embarrassment


This is from a recent Central Asia Report (produced by Radio Free Europe):

HUMAN RIGHTS CONCERNS, CORRUPTION ALLEGATIONS OVERSHADOW KAZAKH
LEADER’S VISIT TO CANADA… On 27 June, Kazakh President
Nursultan Nazarbaev wrapped up a five-day trip to Canada. The visit
showed Canada trying to balance concerns about Kazakhstan’s
worsening democracy and human rights record, which is too egregious
to disregard, and its interests in Kazakhstan’s hydrocarbon
resources, which are too vast to ignore.
Strengthening bilateral economic cooperation was the main
subject of talks between Nazarbaev and Canadian Prime Minister Jean
Chretien in the Canadian capital Ottawa, Khabar news agency reported
on 27 June. Chretien pledged to consider increasing investments in
Kazakhstan, especially in the high-technology sector, and to help
develop its small and medium-sized enterprises. Bilateral agreements
were signed on strengthening economic partnership and on mutual legal
assistance in civil and criminal cases. Furthermore, Nazarbaev
obtained Canadian agreement to assist in reforming his country’s
judicial system and training Kazakh peacekeeping specialists (see
“RFE/RL Newsline,” 27 June 2003).
According to state-controlled Khabar TV, Chretien praised
Kazakhstan’s economic and political reforms and opined that they
should serve as models for other post-Soviet republics. If true, such
remarks set the prime minister painfully at odds with critical voices
among Canadian human rights groups, local press, and even some
politicians. Jason Kenney, shadow finance minister of the opposition
Canadian Alliance, protested in a 19 June letter to Chretien that it
was “unacceptable that the government of Canada intends to welcome
this man [Nazarbaev] to our nation’s capital with open arms. The
only result of this visit will be to strengthen the dictator’s
rule by providing him with another useful propaganda tool.” A
statement by Human Rights Watch’s Toronto Committee was similarly
scathing about Ottawa’s friendly reception of Nazarbaev.
“Kazakhstan’s vast energy wealth has made it an important
geo-strategic partner for many countries, but it has not made the
country more democratic,” the statement said. “As the country’s
wealth grows, the government is misusing revenue, consolidating
power, and closing political space. Kazakhstan is starting to look
like another case study in how oil windfalls bolster dictatorships
rather than foster democracy.”
On a side note, Kazakh Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev
was also pressed on the need for human rights, press freedoms, and
election reforms during a meeting in Washington on 1 July with U.S.
Secretary of State Colin Powell, Reuters reported. Kazakhstan was
urged to redress “last year’s downturn” in the field of democracy
and human rights, according to a senior State Department official.
Toqaev said his country was committed to go forward, but “to go
forward probably slowly…. We cannot do things overnight while the
democratic build-up in some countries took more than 200 years.
It’s not so easy.”
The Canadian government clearly shared some of the concerns
about Nazarbaev. According to the Russian daily “Vremya novostei” on
27 June, the Kazakh president was received in Ottawa at a lower level
than would have been expected for a foreign head of state. He was
granted a “working visit,” rather than a “state visit” due to
Canadian reservations about Kazakhstan’s human rights record and
the so-called “Kazakhgate” scandal, the newspaper commented (see
“RFE/RL Newsline,” 27 June 2003). The scandal encompasses allegations
that Mobil Oil Corp. (now ExxonMobil), which obtained a 25 percent
stake in Kazakhstan’s Tengiz oil field in 1996 for $1.05 billion,
arranged for bribes totaling $78 million to be paid into the bank
accounts of two unnamed top Kazakh officials, generally assumed to be
Oil Minister Nurlan Balgymbaev and Nazarbaev himself. Merchant banker
James Giffen, chairman of the New York-based Mercator Corporation,
stands accused of handling the payments. He was arrested on 30 March
and charged with violating the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. A
pretrial conference with prosecutors has been scheduled for 5
September, eurasianet.org reported on 1 July, adding that the
arraignment of Giffen is only part of a wider corruption probe by
U.S. law-enforcement agencies to investigate the dealings of oil
conglomerates in Kazakhstan.


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2003 07 04
More on Liberia


Amazing that reporters can still pass on news of Taylor’s resignation offers with a straight face. This piece on the CBC’s website suggests that Taylor is willing – again – to step down.

I think I see Taylor’s strategy. He’s making his resignation conditional on a U.S. peacekeeping force. Why a U.S. force? Why not some other well-meaning country? Because, I suspect, Taylor suspects that the U.S. won’t bite. The U.S. has hinted that it will go in, but only if Taylor resigns. I think Taylor is calling their bluff.

At least I’m assuming it’s a bluff. I find it very, very hard to imagine the U.S. sending in troops – unless it’s a very small group devoted to military training of their officer corps.


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2003 07 04
Tell me he didn’t say that . . . please


When I first read news reports that Bush’s response to attacks in Iraq was “bring it on,” I assumed that he had been misquoted or . . . something.

I suppose that it is possible to see something good in this gesture. It at least indicates that Bush still sees Iraq as a priority. It would be far worse if Bush started making wobbly statements about the U.S. committment in Iraq.

It’s also questionable for reporters to portray attacks after Bush’s statement as a response to it, as they started doing almost immediately. That’s a little too pat. After all, attacks are all too frequent these days, and I very much doubt that the reporters are interviewing the irregular fighters to untangle what is a response to what.

Still, one wonders if he had to make American resolve clear in quite the way he did. This is, after all, a President who was the worst sort of draft dodger: the kind who gets his daddy to get him out of danger and then doesn’t even bother to show up for all of the cop out he’s arranged for himself (Bush apparently can’t account for his second year in the National Guard.) It’s easy for Bush to issue taunts. He’s not in danger the ways troops getting killed almost every day in Iraq are.

What an ass.


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2003 07 04
Why? Why? Why?


“Arab countries are stuck in the middle ages because they don’t have an open society.” That seems to be the line among neo-Conservatives who push the notion of cultural superiority along with global domination. (Actually, if we’re going to get comparative, I do have a strong preference for the Western political tradition. I wish that the neo-cons had the same respect in practice for this tradition that they express in their rhetoric. The hypocrisy is grating – and dangerous.)

Why would you want to squander high ground, then, with a reconstruction process in Iraq marred by serious problems with transparency? Here’s a recent Public Citizen press release:

Public Citizen Appeals U.S. Army’s Denial of Paper Trail
on Post-War Iraq Contracts

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Public Citizen has appealed the U.S. Army’s denial
of its Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for written
justifications and approvals of decisions that limited competitive bids
for reconstruction contracts in post-war Iraq. In denying Public
Citizen’s March 25 request, the Army asserted that no relevant
information was available.

The Army awarded at least one contract in Iraq to Kellogg Brown & Root
Services (KBR), a division of Halliburton, to repair and rebuild Iraq’s
petroleum production, refining and distribution systems. Letters from
the Army Corps of Engineers to Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) state that
the Corps awarded the KBR contract following approval by Army
headquarters. However, in the FOIA denial, the Army attested that it
has no documents concerning the approval of the contract.

“The Army’s determination that no responsive records exist is plainly
erroneous,” Public Citizen’s appeal letter states. “The only possible
explanation for this determination is either that an inadequate search
was conducted or that the search was unreasonably restricted to exclude
the bodies of records that would be expected to contain the records
requested.”

Public Citizen appealed the Army’s denial of relevant records due to
the clear conflict between the information provided by the Army to
Congress about KBR’s contract in Iraq and the Army’s claim that it lacks
information on how that company landed the contract. Public Citizen made
its original FOIA request after media reports suggested that the
Department of Defense was circumventing competitive bidding procedures
in awarding procurement contracts to rebuild post-war Iraq.

This is one of two outstanding Public Citizen FOIA requests pending
regarding the awarding of contracts in post-war Iraq. Public Citizen
filed a second FOIA with the U.S. Agency for International Development
(US AID), which has awarded a number of no-bid contracts. US AID
continues to process Public Citizen’s request.

The letter of appeal can be read online at

http://www.citizen.org/documents/armyfoiaappeal.pdf.

The original Freedom of Information Act request can be read online at
http://www.citizen.org/documents/DoDFOIAiraq.pdf. Two Army letters
rejecting the FOIA can be read online at
http://www.citizen.org/documents/armyfoia.pdf and

http://www.citizen.org/documents/armyfoia2.pdf.

The issue here is the transparency of the process, not the companies involved. It’s no excuse to say that these companies are uniquely suited for the job of reconstruction. The U.S. govt was supposed to be uniquely suited to bring democracy to the region.


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