Friday, May 4, 2012

Beware, Hillary Clinton is a warmonger!

THE US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, is coming to Dhaka today, on a two-day visit. Press reports inform us that her initial itinerary had involved attending the fourth round of US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Beijing on May 3-4. That the decision to visit Bangladesh (May 4-5) and India (May 7-8) was ‘sudden’. A ‘surprise stopover’.

Ms Clinton’s visit to Beijing was preceded by the Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng’s escape from house arrest to the US Embassy; while the western media furore has abated somewhat after US officials stepped in and brokered a deal on his behalf with the Chinese government, deep concern in western circles over his safety and security continues to be expressed.

Forty-year-old blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng — who has suffered intimidation, beatings, jail and extralegal house arrest — escaped from being confined at home on April 22, 2012 and took refuge in the US embassy. He has since been escorted to a Beijing hospital where he was reunited with his family. The deal was brokered by US officials with the Chinese government. Chen’s release led Hillary Clinton to state, ‘I am pleased that we were able to facilitate Chen Guangcheng’s stay and departure from the US embassy in a way that reflected his choices and our values’ (May 2, 2012).

After being released, Chen, on May 3, phoned into a Congressional hearing to detail his predicament. He has also ‘begged’ that he wants to leave China with his family ‘for the US on Hillary Clinton’s plane.’ This has been followed by a Chinese foreign affairs ministry statement on its website which says that the blind human rights activist may apply to ‘study abroad’. Interestingly, his dramatic journey to the US embassy — described as ‘mission impossible’ — was aided by US officials. The Guangcheng story has generated international headlines; while China experts, journalists and human rights activists discuss how the conflict may be further resolved, Chen has expressed his desire to meet Ms Clinton in person. To seek ‘more help from her’. To ‘thank her face to face’. The New York University, meanwhile, has been kind enough to extend an invitation to Chen (ABC News, May 4, 2012).

When Ms Clinton mouths ‘our values’, one is forced to ask, pray, what may these be? Or, more pointedly, how far do these extend? Whom do they exclude?

Obviously not to the Palestinians, in whose case, as Philip Weiss reminds us, the US chooses its ‘interests’, over its (purported) ‘values’. Former State Department official Anne-Marie Slaughter had said this spring, ‘Whenever I send out a [twitter] message about the suffering, the detention without trial, civilian deaths by armed force in all these countries, I now get messages back that say to me, What about the Palestinians?’

Scores of Palestinian prisoners are on hunger strike presently but not a peep out of the US embassy there. No dramatic ‘mission impossible’ rescue efforts either. Nor do State Department officials dare write about the rights of the Palestinians, when they are in its employ.

Clinton’s ‘our values’ statement also reminds us, writes Weiss, that Israel has blocked the investigation of the massacre of 21 members of the al-Samouni family during the 2009 Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. That the US has helped Israel by quashing the UN’s Goldstone Report which had characterised the attack on the family as a ‘war crime’.

According to the B’Tselem’s summary of the events that led to the family’s massacre:

‘On 4 January 2009, soldiers gathered about 100 members of the extended a-Samuni family in the house of Wael a-Samuni, in the a-Zeitun neighborhood of Gaza City. The next morning, at 6:30 A.M., when a few members of the family tried to leave the house, the military fired a missile or shell at them, killing Muhammad a-Samuni and wounding two other persons. A few seconds later, the military fired two more shells or missiles that hit the house directly. The house collapsed on its occupants, killing 21 persons, including many women and children, and injuring dozens of other family members.’

The Red Cross, B’Tselem and other human rights organisations had repeatedly requested that they be allowed to help remove injured persons, but permission had been granted two days later. By then, four wounded family members had bled to death. Of the 21 killed, nine were children, ranging in ages from 6 months to 16 years (Richard Silverstein, ‘IDF Closes Book on al-Samouni Killings, Whitewashes Massacre’, May 3, 2012).

On May 2, 2012 the Israel Defence Forces informed B’Tselem that it intended to close the investigation. 

While ‘mistakes [had been] made [which had] led to unfortunate consequences,’ these had been ‘inadvertent’. In other words, ‘not culpable’.

Similar bouts of amnesia which exclude people selectively from ‘our values’ occurred when Ms Clinton, while testifying before a senate committee on February 28, 2012, stated that Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad could be branded a ‘war criminal’.

‘Based on definitions of war criminal and crimes against humanity, there would be an argument to be made that he [Assad] would fit into that category.’

But this is part of the American political and media establishment’s rhetoric, writes Bill Van Auken, aimed at winning western public support for ‘yet another imperialist intervention in the Middle East.’ A regime change venture dressed up as a ‘crusade for human rights.’

When the US secretary of state speaks of war criminals and war crimes, which definition does she rely on? It could well be the International Criminal Court’s legislation, largely drawn from the Nuremberg tribunal, where war crimes are defined as a number of acts — including murder, extermination, torture, imprisonment and enforced disappearance of persons — knowingly ‘committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population…’ (Bill Van Auken, ‘Hillary Clinton and Middle East War Crimes’, Global Research, March 3, 2012).

Further, it could well be that the urge to define Assad as a war criminal gained ground after the 27-day siege of the Baba Amr neighbourhood of Homs, seized by armed militias, who, it must be noted, abducted and murdered non-Sunni residents of the city, had ended. The US-backed rebels were forced to pull out on March 1, since Syrian military strength had proven to be superior.

Hundreds of Syrians were undoubtedly killed in the month-long siege. Many of them had been unarmed civilians.

But when twenty times as many unarmed civilians had been killed over a shorter period, only 400 miles away from Homs, had similar outrage been expressed by Ms Clinton?

When the entire city of Fallujah in Iraq had been turned into a free-fire zone? When inhabitants had been warned to leave but men and boys had been turned back? Had been ‘forced to face an onslaught of napalm, cluster bombs, white phosphorus shells and other munitions’ which had incinerated their victims? Had brought their homes crashing down on them?

Of the 50,000 Fallujans who had been either unwilling or unable to flee, more than 6,000 died.
Seven years on, Fallujans suffer an ‘epidemic of birth defects, childhood cancers and other ailments caused by depleted uranium shells and other ordnance dumped on the city.’

There are greater war criminals around than Syria’s Assad. Before you start pointing fingers, make sure your hands are clean.

While it is true that the Bush administration was in power when the Falluja massacre had taken place, it is also true that one woman had agreed with all the lies uttered by president Bush, as a YouTube video available here demonstrates .

Bush: [the] Iraqi regime possesses biological and chemical weapons (July 10, 2002).

Hillary Clinton: Saddam Hussein has worked, rebuilt his chemical and biological weapon stock (October 10, 2002).

Bush: Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists including members of al-Qaeda (January 28, 2003).

Hillary Clinton: He [Saddam] has also given aid, comfort and sanctuary to terrorists including al-Qaeda members (October 10, 2002).

Bush: [the] regime is seeking a nuclear bomb (January 28, 2003).

Hillary Clinton: and [Saddam] will, keep trying to develop nuclear weapons. So, it is with conviction that I support this resolution as being in the best interest of our nation, it is a vote that puts awesome responsibility in the hands of our President (October 10, 2002).

Bush: this war will end in the defeat of totalitarians (August 31, 2006).

Hillary Clinton: any vote that might lead to war should be hard. But I cast it with conviction (October 10, 2002).

It is also true that Hillary Clinton later lied. That, as a Democratic contender for the post of president in the 2008 elections, she had said, ‘If I had been president in October of 2002, I would never have asked for authority to divert our attention from Afghanistan to Iraq and I certainly would never have started this war.’
Hillary Clinton’s feminism has been called to question as well, for, when servile commentators gush over her ‘feminist foreign policy’, over how she ‘has gone out of her way to press feminist issues’ — the growing gender imbalance in China because of the high abortion rate of female foetuses, sexual violence as a weapon of war (Democratic Republic of Congo), the need to provide clean cooking stoves to save women from smoke inhalation which kills 1.9 million per year (Madeleine Bunting, ‘Clinton is proving that a feminist foreign policy is possible — and works’, Guardian, January 16, 2011), others point out how, over 4 million Iraqis, mostly women and children, have been turned into refugees. How, Ms Clinton seems gung-ho ready to do it to Iranian women as well, having recently warned Iran that time is ‘running out for diplomacy’ (Guardian, March 31, 2012).

Despite the fact that the IAEA’s latest reports on Iran’s nuclear programmes, and congressional testimony from the director of National Intelligence, asserts that ‘there is no strong evidence that Iran has decided to restart its nuclear program’ (Reuters, March 23, 2012).

Warmonger, or, maybe, as some insist, a war criminal? I leave it to you to decide.

BY :   Rahnuma Ahmed.

Hilary Clinton and her new ‘Asia Pacific’ agenda

THE US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, is gracing us with a short visit as part of her tour of the Asia Pacific to bolster what has been described as a giant stride to cement US relations with the countries in the region. Her visit coinciding with that of the senior Indian minister Pranab Mukherjee may not be taken at its face value. The two visits must have been planned in tandem and observers are prone to believing that there might be some common purpose. She was in Beijing this week and from Dhaka she will hop to Kolkata and Delhi onwards. Curiously, all US high dignitaries visiting Bangladesh in recent days have been doing the same — either coming to Dhaka via Delhi or leaving Dhaka with a stopover in Delhi. Almost as a routine. Dhaka appears to be on the sidelines of the Washington-Delhi axis.

However this time Delhi seems to be keeping a relatively low profile, the centre stage will be obviously around the ‘second-most powerful lady’ on earth.

Official pronouncement from the US embassy here shows no specific agenda for the visit. However, the grand agenda of the Obama administration for the Asia Pacific has already been detailed by Clinton herself in the following few words:

‘The future of politics will be decided in Asia , not in Afghanistan or in Iraq, and the United States will be right at the centre of action.’

No wonder she is on her trail in that very pursuit. And she enunciates her government’s policy in this regard further:

‘...We are ... expanding our alliance with Australia from a Pacific partnership to an Indo-Pacific one ... How we translate the growing connection between the Indian and Pacific oceans into an operational concept is a question that we need to answer if we are to adapt to new challenges in the region. Against this backdrop, a more broadly distributed military presence across the region will provide vital advantages.’

It is therefore not unlikely that her current visit might be part of that endeavour to ‘translate’ the said growing connection into an ‘operational concept’. It is all the more plausible in the wake of China’s multifaceted effort to shortcut Malacca through Myanmar and the Bay of Bengal, thereby the Bay of Bengal, including Bangladesh at its heart, attaining newer geopolitical nodality.

Myanmar’s ascendancy in the priority list of both the US and India is unmistakably clear. In spite of the bitter relations over decades India is seen to be waving olive towards Myanmar since the beginning of the nineties. And the US also after decades of hard fisting is now in a completely new mood.

On November 30 Clinton reached Myanmar for the first official visit by any US secretary of state to that country in last several decades. The country, which was so far being treated as a pariah, appears to have suddenly emerged as a coveted destination for the West. However, her historic encounter with the pariah was not as warm as it was expected to be. The reception was too cool not to be kept unnoticed. As per reports from her entourage, at the newly built majestic Nay Pye Taw airport, the grand lady received much less attention than the prime minister of Belarus arriving there the same day. Moreover, the official mouthpiece of the ruling party of Myanmar, The New Light of Myanmar, gave her a sleek second-page treatment, while the latter received a ‘lavish front page treatment.’ Her meeting with the Myanmar president was limited to diplomatic formality as reported in the press. She had to be satisfied with a bare feet walk around the statue of Lord Buddha in the Shwedagon pagoda, the ‘cultural epicentre’ of the country near Yangon and a friendly meeting with the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the ‘democracy icon’ of the West, in a country severely handicapped due to economic and diplomatic sanctions for decades.

In spite of that, in the light of the new game plan of the Obama administration to hop from the sandy deserts of Middle East over to the lush green of the Asia Pacific, this pilgrimage certainly opens up a new chapter in the geopolitics of our region.

The game plan succinctly pronounced by Clinton in her Hawaii speech and her write up for the Foreign Affairs Quarterly last year captioned — ‘America’s Pacific Century’ — is being read and reread all around the globe and especially in this part of the world.

Her agenda is clear:

‘As the war in Iraq winds down and America begins to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan, the United States stands at a pivot point. Over the last 10 years, we have allocated immense resources to those two theatres. In the next 10 years, we need to be smart and systematic about where we invest time and energy, so that we put ourselves in the best position to sustain our leadership, secure our interests, and advance our values. One of the most important tasks of American statecraft over the next decade will therefore be to lock in a substantially increased investment — diplomatic, economic, strategic, and otherwise — in the Asia-Pacific region.’

This is how she starts and then she goes on:

‘...just as our World War II commitment to building a comprehensive and lasting transatlantic network of institutions and relationships has paid off many times over — and continues to do so. The time has come for the United States to make similar investments as a Pacific power, a strategic course set by President Barack Obama from the outset of his administration and one that is already yielding benefits.’

It is now clear that the Indian Ocean-Bay of Bengal region will be under floodlight in the coming days. China has already inked a deal with Myanmar to build an 850-kilometre super highway with rail-road-pipeline, connecting mainland China from Yunnan to Kyauk Phyu in the Arakan coast of the Bay of Bengal. With super high speed trains plying at 200-350 kilometres per hour, the time distance over this stretch of land coming down to 4-5 hours only, the geopolitical scenario changes dramatically. According to the Times of India this will provide the missing link to China’s ‘String of Pearls’ strategic construct starting from East Africa through Seychelles, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar.

In this backdrop the recent verdict of ITLOS in the Bangla-Myanmar tussle over the Bay waters attains greater significance. Although it was an unfortunate retreat by Myanmar from her 1974 commitments on the maritime boundary and Bangladesh had to swallow the bitter pill (of course with victory celebrations to hoodwink its own people!), the verdict, nevertheless, brings peace and stability in the Bangla-Myanmar water front, at least for oil and gas exploration. Ironically, all the contractors now sharing the blocks on either side are from the US, India and South Korea, birds of the same feather! Secretary Clinton and Pranab Mukherjee’s visit may not be out of context in this regard also.

When Clinton says, ‘Just as Asia is critical to America’s future, an engaged America is vital to Asia’s future’, or ‘the region is eager for our leadership and our business — perhaps more than any time in modern history’, some of her readers quip: ‘No Madam, Asian countries ... have their own fish to fry. It is high time that Monroe was buried, dead and forgotten.’

Monroe buried or not, we may remind ourselves that even during the last century America was at the heart of the Indian and Pacific Ocean region for more than fifty years. It chased and destroyed the Japanese navy in the 1940s, started a war in Korea that hasn't ended as yet. A massive military engagement in Vietnam lasted nearly 25 years, not to mention the ending.

Therefore a ‘new American century’ in this region is perhaps not as new as it is being projected. US alliances with Japan, South Korea, Australia, the Philippines, and Thailand are already there. Clinton considers those as the ‘fulcrum’ for her ‘strategic turn to the Asia-Pacific’, to leverage the regional presence and enhance the regional leadership of US at a time of ‘evolving security challenges’.

What are those security challenges? Obviously the biggest challenge comes from the dragon on other side of the Himalayas, including the few recalcitrant still on the ‘wrong’ side. And Clinton is fairly open. Apart from the oft-repeated prescription to China, she reprimands the recalcitrant minnows:

‘As we deepen our engagement with partners with whom we disagree on these issues, we will continue to urge them to embrace reforms that would improve governance, protect human rights, and advance political freedoms. We have made it clear, for example, to Vietnam that our ambition to develop a strategic partnership requires that it take steps to further protect human rights and advance political freedoms. Or consider Burma, where we are determined to seek accountability for human rights violations. We are closely following developments in Nay Pyi Taw and the increasing interactions between Aung San Suu Kyi and the government leadership. We have underscored to the government that it must release political prisoners, advance political freedoms and human rights, and break from the policies of the past.’

Huntington left India as the ‘grey area’ in his global divide between the so-called ‘Western civilisation’ and the ‘coalition of the Islamic and Sinic civilisation’. It is not yet clear whether India has shed that ‘grey’ contour and sealed her fate finally with the so-called West.

With the Bay of Bengal turning turbulent in the foreseeable future, Bangladesh needs to put her steps cautiously and be prudent in playing her dimes, to ensure that there is no free ride.

BY :   Dr Ferdaus Ahmad Quarishi.

Crackdown brings BNP, Jamaat closer

The government's crackdown on BNP bigwigs seems to be helping bridge the gap that developed between the main opposition BNP and its key ally Jamaat-e-Islami after the last parliamentary polls. 

Jamaat leaders now plan to exploit the latest political developments in their favour, as they believe the crackdown on BNP leaders has given them an opportunity to get closer to BNP. 

Jamaat that opposed the country's independence has been facing a serious crisis following the arrests of its top leaders on charges of committing crimes against humanity during the 1971 Liberation War.

The latest situation has prompted BNP policymakers to reassess the party's strategy for reshaping ties with Jamaat to intensify anti-government agitations from June after the expiry of the 90-day deadline for the government to restore the caretaker government system. 

Jamaat, a key component of the BNP-led electoral alliance, is likely to be in a much better position to improve its relations with BNP in this fast-changing political situation. 

"We all nationalist forces including components of our alliance are now uniting to resist the government's repression. We will face it unitedly," ASM Hannan Shah, member of BNP standing committee, told The Daily Star yesterday. 

Police last week filed cases against opposition leaders and raided houses of some top BNP men in connection with hartal violence. Most BNP bigwigs went into hiding following the crackdown. 

Talking about the present political situation, Jamaat leader Mujibur Rahman said: "Our relation with BNP was strained but now it will take a solid shape." 

Mujibur, assistant secretary general of Jamaat, told The Daily Star yesterday that the relation between the two parties strengthens either when they both face repression or during the election. 

Asking not to be named, a BNP policymaker said the party had distanced itself from its major ally Jamaat since the debacle in the December 2008 parliamentary polls. There had been an anti-Jamaat opinion before the election for its role in the Liberation War. 

BNP gave a mild response when the government cracked down on top Jamaat leaders in mid-2010.
"The government should have respected BNP's strategy for maintaining distance from Jamaat. But the latest crackdown on our senior leaders will compel the party to get closer to Jamaat to resist the government's repression," said the BNP leader. 

Mahbubur Rahman, member of BNP standing committee, holds the government responsible for the present “volatile” political situation. 

"We do not have any alternatives but to gear up street agitations, along with the components of our alliance," Mahbub told The Daily Star. 

Jamaat Chief Motiur Rahman Nizami, its Secretary General Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed and three other senior leaders had been arrested on charges of committing crimes against humanity, since the government's crackdown on Jamaat leaders in mid-2010. 

The embattled Jamaat then turned to BNP for launching a joint movement. But BNP did not respond, and Khaleda reportedly refused to meet Jamaat leaders. 

Matiur Rahman Akanda, assistant publicity secretary of Jamaat, said yesterday that BNP had only sympathised with Jamaat at that time. 

"But BNP did not stand by us when the government launched a crackdown on our leaders. BNP's cold attitude towards us had created a gap between grassroots-level leaders of the two parties. The changed political situation will now close the gap," Akanda told The Daily Star. 

Leaders of other Islamic parties also echoed the views of Jamaat leaders. 

Abdul Latif Nezami, secretary general of Bangladesh Nezam-e-Islam Party, said the ties between BNP and other components of the alliance strengthened following the government's crackdown. 

"Communication between the alliance leaders has increased. We are now putting our heads together to devise a strategy to gear up anti-government movement," Nezami told The Daily Star. 

Ahlullah Wasel, press secretary of Islami Oikya Jote, said the activity of the BNP-led alliance was limited to holding meetings. But the recent political developments have given them the opportunity to get united against the government.