Iraqi children play in the wreckage of a car bomb that was part of a coordinated attack against U.S. troops guarding Baghdad's infamous Abu Ghraib prison over the weekend. 44 U.S. soldiers were wounded in the attack, and 13 detainees were killed. Analysts see a shift in strategy favoring direct assaults against U.S. personnel
NATURAL DISASTER HOTSPOTS
Columbia University's Earth Institute and the World Bank have just published a comprehensive analysis, “Natural Disaster Hotspots: A Global Risk Analysis,”detailing some of the riskiest places on earth. In 2004, more than 600 natural hazards resulted in $145 billion in damages, and nearly a quarter million deaths--considerably more than 2003. Natural disasters are apparently on the upswing. The idea of the report is to identify the areas that are most likely to need disaster relief so that international agencies can act proactively rather than reactively. In at least 35 countries, one out of 20 people live in danger of dying from three or more hazards. More than a third of the U.S. lives in hazard-prone areas, but only 1% of U.S. territory ranks in the highest life-threatening risk zone. Taiwan ranks as the most dangerous place to live, with 75% of its population exposed to three or more natural hazards. (Columbia Earth Institute and the World Bank, March 29, 2005)
-Synopsis of the Report
-Televised News Conference with Q&A
MILLENIUM ECOSYSTEM ANALYSIS
Approximately 60 percent of the ecosystem services that support life on Earth – such as fresh water, capture fisheries, air and water regulation, and the regulation of regional climate, natural hazards and pests – are being degraded or used unsustainably. Scientists warn that the harmful consequences of this degradation could grow significantly worse in the next 50 years.“Any progress achieved in addressing the goals of poverty and hunger eradication, improved health, and environmental protection is unlikely to be sustained if most of the ecosystem services on which humanity relies continue to be degraded." (MEA, March 30, 2005)
OIL AT $60 A BARREL?
Last week, Goldman Sachs released a report predicting that oil prices may stay above $50 per barrel for several years. Oil prices obliged by jumping. On Monday April 4th, light crude hit $58 for the first time ever.
OPEC has responded by promising to open the taps. The oil cartel’s acting secretary-general, Adnan Shihab-Eldin, said on Monday that it was ready to produce another 500,000 barrels per day (bpd) if prices stay high. But according to experts, the market is so tight that this may be of little help. Oil prices, remember, barely paused for breath following OPEC’s last production hike, of 500,000 bpd, on March 16th...(Economist, April 4, 2005)
IRAQ INSURGENCY SHIFTS TO DIRECT ATTACKS AGAINST U.S. INSTALLATIONS
The attack, claimed by Abu Musab Zarqawi's organization, may mark a turning point in the insurgents' strategy. It involved rocket barrages which forced Marine guards to abandon a prison watchtower. Mortars, rockets, ground assaults and a car bomb were also employed. The battle wounded 44 American troops and 13 of the more than 3,000 detainees held at the prison. (Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, April 5, 2005)
U.S. GENERAL GAVE GREEN LIGHT FOR USING ATTACK DOGS TO TERRORIZE PRISONERS
Andrew Buncombe reports in the Independent: "...Documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reveal that Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez authorized techniques such as the use of dogs to intimidate prisoners, stress positions and disorientation. In the documents, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, Gen Sanchez admits that some of the techniques would not be tolerated by other countries. When he appeared last year before a Congressional committee, Gen Sanchez denied authorizing such techniques. He has now been accused of perjury..."
(Andrew Buncombe, Independent, April 3, 2005)
-Sanchez memo (photocopy in pdf format)
HAARETZ: U.S. WANTS ISRAEL TO SURRENDER ITS NUCLEAR WEAPONS
This is the second time in about two weeks that officials in the Bush administration are putting the nuclear weapons of Israel, India and Pakistan on a par. The officials called on the three to act like Ukraine and South Africa, which in the last decade renounced their nuclear weapons. The similar phrasing used by the officials refers to Israel's military nuclear capability, as distinct from "nuclear option," which is to be rolled back, although not necessarily in the "foreseeable future."The rare use of these terms contradicts the custom of senior administration officials to avoid any possible confirming reference to Israeli nuclear weapons. (Amir Oren, Haaretz, April 3, 2005)
WHO IS TO BLAME FOR FAULTY INTELLIGENCE ON IRAQ'S WEAPONS?
The latest report on faulty U.S. intelligence is the only study directly commissioned by President Bush, and it will undoubtedly be used as an argument to support President Bush's efforts to reshape U.S. intelligence operations. While the report is likely to carry some weight with a Republican dominated Congress, it looks less impressive overseas. The Japanese daily Asahi Shimbum notes acidly," Whether or not many nations agreed with the idea of invading Iraq, they believed the United States had based its momentous decision to go to war on reliable, credible information. It is simply astounding to hear that the country's intelligence agencies failed so completely in their duty. The allies who followed the U.S. lead and sent their troops to Iraq must be shocked at the report's conclusions.There is now serious question about U.S. intelligence capabilities, and the resulting analyses and judgments that were made based on that wrong information.Now, the international community faces difficult decisions on how to deal with allegations of nuclear development in North Korea and Iran, but can we trust the intelligence data? The latest report creates great anxiety in Japan and other allies that depend on data from the United States government.The commission's nearly 700-page report lists numerous outrageous blunders. In addition, it criticizes the Central Intelligence Agency for collecting too little information or data that was meaningless and irrelevant.Before invading Iraq, Bush received daily intelligence assessments at the White House. However, the recent findings concluded that the reports lacked calm judgment and were disastrously one-sided. Questions also have arisen as to whether government pressure on the CIA resulted in biased assessments. The report, however, didn't even touch that issue, saying it lay beyond its authority.Bush talked as if it was not his responsibility that the decision to go to war was made..."(Asahi Shimbum, April 4, 2005)
--Read the report
ISLAMIST TERRORISM IN THE SAHEL?
Mali, Niger, Chad and Mauritania, are increasingly referred to by the U.S. military as "the new front in the war on terrorism". There are enough indications, from a security perspective, to justify caution and greater Western involvement. However, the Sahel is not a hotbed of terrorist activity. A misconceived and heavy handed approach could tip the scale the wrong way; serious, balanced, and long-term engagement with the four countries should keep the region peaceful. An effective counter-terrorism policy there needs to address the threat in the broadest terms, with more development than military aid and greater U.S.-European collaboration. (International Crisis Group, March 31, 2005)
WHO REALLY MAKES THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION'S FOREIGN POLICY?
An increasingly bitter philosophical debate pits the supporters of the policies of former President George H.W. Bush and many of his one-time team of foreign-policy experts, led by former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, against those who back views embraced by President George W. Bush and his team, led by Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. What Scowcroft calls the “traditionalists” of the Bush 41 team are pitted against the “transformationalists” of the Bush 43 team, pragmatists vs. neocons, internationalists vs. unilateralists, the people who oversaw the end of the Cold War against those who oversaw the beginning of the War on Terror. Of course, the irony is that many of these people were not too long ago seen as parts of a whole. All are or once were close. What happened?(By David J. Rothkopf, March/April 2005)
BEREZOVSKY AND THE UKRAINE'S POLITICALLY EXPLOSIVE TAPES
Russian emigre tycoon Boris Berezovsky claims that he has the tape recordings made by Mykola Melnychenko, the fugitive former bodyguard of former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, in Kuchma's office in 1999-2000. Many observers believe the recordings may shed light on the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze and secret sales of Ukrainian arms to rogue states such as Iraq and Iran. Berezovsky, ahead of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko's visit to the United States, has accused Kyiv of being unwilling to solve the Gongadze puzzle. He also hinted that the recordings might cast a shadow on Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Eurasia Daily Monitor, April 4, 2005)
Social and economic changes at home are forcing China to modify its approach to international relations. In the 21st century, Beijing may be forced to depart from the Bandung spirit and the strategies put forward by Deng Xiaoping to "never take the lead" (bu chu tou) and "bide our time, build our capabilities" (taoguang yanghui)... It is becoming clear that China's leaders feel that they must capitalize on strategic opportunities to ensure that national interests are protected...Depending upon your viewpoint, this is either alarming evidence of China's pending economic "threat" or a natural process stemming from China's economic development and "peaceful rise." (Jamestown Foundation, China Brief, March 31, 2005)
CHINA BUYING INTO U.S. TECHNOLOGY TO LEAPFROG OVER EUROPE AND JAPAN
The recent acquisition of a part of America's iconic IBM by a Chinese company, Lenovo, has been seen by many as a turning point – a symbol of China's rise and America's decline. The significance of the event, however, lies elsewhere. The Chinese acquisition of IBM's faltering PC division represents a fundamental in shift the global IT industry, a new division of labor in which the successful players – the United States, China, and India – adopt a more complementary than confrontational approach. The rise of Lenovo in the international scene also helps to underline Japan and Europe's diminished role.(Jean-Pierre Lehmann, April 1, 2005)
HUGO CHAVEZ CRANKS UP A "BOLIVARIAN REVOLUTION"
With power passing to the State Department, Washington has woken up to threats to its perceived interests around the world that had been festering since the Iraq intervention diverted attention from them. Despite the fact that Iraq continues to be an obstacle to fresh initiatives, Washington has decided to move to restore its global influence, including in South America, where left and center-left governments have taken control in the southern cone and a cycle of political instability has taken hold in the Andes.
Washington sees Chavez to be its greatest problem in South America, because he is the most radically leftist regional leader and the only one offering a clearly alternative and opposed model to Washington's scenario of a Free Trade Area of the Americas (F.T.A.A.) composed of market democracies led by the United States.
At the same time that Washington has become more assertive, Chavez has sensed an opportunity to implement his vision of a united South America that acts in accordance with its own interests, independent of Washington, and a "new socialist society" based on cooperatives that would eliminate poverty and subordinate private business to broader social aims. Although the "Bolivarian" vision is utopian -- and Chavez knows it -- it provides a framework for more practicable policies that put him on a collision course with Washington. The tensions between Washington and Caracas reflect Chavez's judgment that the hemispheric balance of power has shifted against the United States and that Washington is not in a position to stop him from acting against its wishes. Since it is not clear that Chavez is correct, the conflict between Caracas and Washington has become a test of their relative influence in South America...
(Michael Weinstein, Power and Interest Report, April 4, 2005)
Inspired by President Bush's calls for liberty and democracy in the Middle East, Egypt's Muslim Brothers hit the streets of Cairo, demanding genuine political reform.
ARAB DEMOCRACY--THE DJINN IN THE BOX
Uri Avner, writing in Counterpunch notes: We were gazing over the roofs of Cairo through the windows of an elegant, modern office. My companion was a scion of the local aristocracy and one of the founders of Egyptian Marxism.
"We must ally ourselves with the Muslim Brotherhood," he said.
I was amazed. "But you are a completely secular person!" I exclaimed. "You are striving for a modern society. What do you have in common with those religious fanatics?"
"We Marxists have no roots among the masses," he sighed. "The Muslim Brothers do. We must ally ourselves with them in order to reach the masses."
I remarked that this had already failed in Iran, where, for the very same reason, the left-wing Tudeh party had allied itself with Khomeini before the revolution, only to be liquidated by him once he was in power.
"We have no choice," he said.
This conversation took place more than twenty years ago. I was reminded of it this week, when I saw what is happening in Egypt now.
The Western (and, of course, Israeli) media publish enthusiastic reports about the demonstrations for democracy and against the regime of Husni Mubarak. Some of the demonstrators are leftists, but most of them are Islamic militants and their sympathizers. The police have made extensive arrests of political activists, most of them Muslim Brotherhood leaders.
There are no signs that the Mubarak regime is about to fall. He did promise that in the coming presidential election other candidates may stand, but that was said mostly to placate President Bush, who is desperately claiming that his invasion of Iraq inspired a democratic awakening throughout the Arab world. In practice, there is no chance at all that the situation in Egypt will change. No serious candidate will be allowed to stand against Mubarak...But let us assume for a moment that Mubarak is compelled to give up his intention of having himself reelected, and that truly democratic elections take place. In this hypothetical situation, who would win?
One of the plausible answers: the Muslim Brotherhood. They have, as mentioned, deep roots among the people. Their infrastructure has a history of fifty years and more. The Egyptian upper class, which is secular, liberal and open to the world, may find itself suddenly under the yoke of religious fanatics.
This dilemma exists in most of the Arab countries: in truly democratic elections, the Islamic forces will win forces that completely reject the vision of a secular, democratic and liberal state that Bush talks so much about. Such an experiment has already taken place. Algeria had democratic elections. In the first round, it became clear that the Islamic forces were poised to win a resounding victory. The army intervened and prevented the second round. This resulted in a vicious civil war with hundreds of thousands of victims. Now, years later, some compromise is being sought.(Uri Avner, Counterpunch, April 4, 2005)
WHEN THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD IS THE DEMOCRATIC OPPOSITION
The Muslim Brotherhood, some holding the Qur'an, demonstrate in downtown Cairo on Sunday
When Mohamed Mahdi Akef, the Muslim Brotherhood's supreme guide, told a press conference last Wednesday that the group was planning to hold a rally to protest the current political stalemate, one reporter asked whether he was apprehensive of the authorities' reaction.
"We have become fearless," Akef said.
The group's decision to take their case for political reform to the street -- it is the first time the Brotherhood has organized a rally to address a domestic issue -- created havoc in downtown Cairo...The security arrangements turned parts of Cairo into an almost citizen-free fortress...
(Omayama Abdel-Latif, Al Ahram Weekly, March 31, 2005)
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