– 2007-02-11 09:54:08
Putin Blasts US for ‘Very Dangerous’ Foreign Policies
‘Unilateral, illegitimate actions have not solved a single problem: they have become a hotbed of further conflicts.’
—Russian President Vladimir Putin
MOSCOW (February 10, 2007) — Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the United States of making the world a more dangerous place by trying to impose its will through an “almost uncontained, hyper use of force.”
US foreign policies are prompting countries around the world to develop nuclear arms, Putin told a security conference in Munich on Saturday in what many observers said were the strongest verbal attack that Putin has made on Washington.
Putin, speaking through a translator, said countries were “witnessing the almost uncontained, hyper use of force in international relations.”
“One state, the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way. This is very dangerous. Nobody feels secure anymore because nobody can hide behind international law,” Putin told the annual Munich Conference on Security Policy.
“It is a world of one master, one sovereign.… It has nothing to do with democracy,” he told the gathering of senior security officials from around the world.
“This is nourishing the wish of countries to get nuclear weapons.”
Putin did not directly refer to the US-led war in Iraq, which was launched without United Nations’ sanction, nor the US-led invasion of Afghanistan that toppled the Taliban government in late 2001. However, Putin said: “Unilateral, illegitimate actions have not solved a single problem: they have become a hotbed of further conflicts.
He also criticized a US plan to to deploy a missile defence system in eastern Europe and its support of a United Nations plan that would grant autonomy to the Serbian province of Kosovo.
A White House spokesman said in response that the US government was “surprised and disappointed” by Putin’s remarks.
“His accusations are wrong,” said Gordon Johndroe, the national security spokesman for US President George W. Bush.
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, who was attending the conference, said the Russian leader had been “very candid.”
Senator John McCain, a Republican from Arizona who was also attending the conference, said Putin’s comments were “the most aggressive speech from a Russian leader since the end of the Cold War.”
During his speech at the security conference, Putin also expressed concern about plans by NATO to expand.
“The process of NATO expansion has nothing to do with modernization of the alliance or with ensuring security in Europe,” Putin said. “On the contrary, it is a serious factor provoking reduction of mutual trust.”
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said he was disappointed by Putin’s remarks.
“I see a disconnection between NATO’s partnership with Russia as it has developed and Putin’s speech,” he said._ _Dmitry Peskov, a spokesperson for the Kremlin, told Reuters news agency that Putin was not trying to upset Washington in his speech.
“This is not about confrontation. It’s an invitation to think,” he said.
With files from the Associated Press
In Europe, Pushback against US ‘War on Terror’
Robert Marquand / The Christian Science Monitor
PARIS (February 5, 2007) — Reaction in Germany was hardly neutral when a prosecutor in Munich indicted 13 CIA officials last week for kidnapping a German of Lebanese descent and interrogating him in Afghanistan before apparently realizing they had the wrong man. Germans solidly backed the prosecutor.
Since Christian Schmidt-Sommerfeld took the unprecedented step, both the right and left in Germany have supported the “rule of law” principles he articulated.
The media have been unified as well. Typical is the centrist Süddeutsche Zeitung: “The justice system has stood up for the rule of law. Whether the government will do so is a different matter. Berlin must push for the kidnappers to be extradited, or … tried in the USA. But it is unlikely to have that much courage.”
The solidarity underscores a shifting tone in Europe. As changes of leadership loom in Britain and France, and capitals contemplate relations with a post-Bush US, Uncle Sam may expect stronger “pushbacks” from Europe, experts here say. Public disapproval of the US-led “war on terror” is also growing, spurring the change.
“There is a deep gap between government policy and public opinion in Europe, and that opinion may be shaping the direction here right now,” says Frederic Bozo, professor of European Studies at the Sorbonne in Paris. “Europe doesn’t want to upset the careful balance with the US. I don’t think there is a united opposition against the US at all. But Europe is setting the groundwork for its own identity.”
Gordon Brown, who is shortly expected to take over as prime minister in Great Britain, opposed the Iraq war from the start, and has made no secret that he plans to carve out an independent line on the venerable “special relationship” with the US. Many anticipate that British troops will leave Iraq by the end of the year.
In France, even the avidly pro-American Nicolas Sarkozy, current front-runner in the French elections this spring, stated in an interview taped in New York last week that Americans need to “get interested in the world, and the world will learn to love you.”
To be sure, European cooperation with the US on a wide range of areas, including counterterrorism, is extremely strong, even in France, where the Chirac government has steadily gone it alone in Europe in opposition to the Iraq campaign.Yet Europeans have steadily refused to accept the concept and phrase, “war on terror,” a sentiment that extends to its application to Iraq.
Last week, European Union officials in Brussels sought to reduce the amount of information given to US agencies on air passengers leaving Europe. An official in charge of data protection for the European Central Bank similarly advised that millions of pieces of financial information being sent regularly to the US after Sept. 11 were in violation of EU privacy codes.
The “secret, routine, and massive access” by US agencies to banking SWIFT codes — needed to transfer in and out of European financial institutions — is “unacceptable,” stated Peter Hustinx, the Brussels official responsible for EU data oversight.
Boosting this sentiment is Europeans’ recognition that the US is also in flux with an election season starting up, and that President Bush’s term appears to be winding down with the United States in a vulnerable position overseas.
The US legal basis for conducting interrogation centers at Guantánamo Bay, for example, has long rankled in Europe.
“Most of the French opinion, many of the German people, a large share of the Labor constituency in the UK, the Spanish, and now Italy, don’t just oppose the policy, but the basis of US policy,” says Georges Le Guelte, of the Institute for International and Strategic Relations in Paris. “You can’t have renditions and Guantánamo and talk human rights at the same time. That is more clear to many of us.”
In Italy, prosecutors put out warrants several months ago for 25 members of a CIA team that abducted a Muslim cleric in Milan.
Nor is Europe alone in its willingness to speak more pointedly to the White House about its foreign affairs. On page 1 of last Thursday’s People’s Daily, a newspaper of record in China, a Chinese official criticized Mr. Bush for inflammatory rhetoric that turned the war in Iraq into a “religious war.”
The comment was unprecedented in a state where official decorum is rigidly maintained. (For nearly a decade, China has conducted a brutal campaign of summary executions of Muslims in its far-west Xinjiang region, as documented in human rights reports.)
In the case of the Munich renditions, announced Jan. 31, 13 American CIA operatives allegedly apprehended German citizen Khaled el-Masri in Macedonia in 2004 and whisked him to an Afghan prison called “the Salt Pit.” Realizing he was the wrong man, they left him on a hillside in Albania five months later, warning him never to talk of his experience. Mr. el-Masri instead filed suit in a Virginia court. Masri’s case was dropped in Virginia after arguments that a trial would jeopardize US security operations.
But with help from Spanish police, the Munich prosecutors discovered the identity of the operatives through flight and hotel records in Palma de Mallorca, where they stopped to relax.
On Friday, in Washington, German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that the Munich warrants were only valid in Germany at present, but that Berlin felt the local court might issue an international warrant, according to German papers.
Ms. Rice said the warrants would not harm US-German relations. Justice Department officials have not responded to approaches by the German prosecutors.
France’s Jacques Chirac Dispels Lies about Iran Nuke Plan
Gwynne Dyer / Georgia Straight
(February 8, 2007) — For more than two years, all the big western powers have insisted that Iran’s nuclear-power program is secretly intended to produce nuclear weapons, and that the minute it gets them, it will launch them at Israel. But last Thursday, France’s President Jacques Chirac said something very different. He said that Iran would never use them first.
“I would say that what is dangerous about this situation is not the fact of [Iran] having a nuclear bomb,” Chirac said in reply to a journalist’s question during an interview that was originally meant to be about climate change. “[Iran] having one [bomb], or perhaps a second bomb a little later, well, that’s not very dangerous.”
Shock! Horror! Chirac is bucking the party line, which is that Iran is run by a bunch of fanatical crazies who would immediately use their new nuclear weapons against Israel. Didn’t Iran’s own president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, say that Iran would wipe Israel from the map? (No, he didn’t, actually, but a little creative licence in the translation of his speech from Farsi can make it sound like he did.)
“Where will [Iran] drop it, this bomb?” Chirac asked scornfully. “On Israel? [The missile] would not have gone two hundred metres into the air before Tehran would be razed to the ground.” He spoke as if deterrence would work even against Iran. As if the country were run by sane human beings who don’t want their children to be burned, crushed, and vaporized by Israeli and American nuclear weapons. He’s not supposed to talk like that in public.
“Chirac gave us a moment of honesty,” said Alireza Nourizadeh, chief researcher at the London-based Centre for Arab-Iranian Studies. “His comment was basically what I believe to be the position of Britain, the United States, and much of the West: if Israel is attacked, there will be no hesitation to bring retaliation and destruction to Iran.” And that, Chirac concluded, meant that Iran would not use its nuclear weapons to attack Israel, should it ever acquire them.
In Chirac’s view, the danger is not that Iran would be irresponsible with its nuclear weapons but that they would lead to a general proliferation of such weapons in the Middle East. “Why wouldn’t Saudi Arabia do it?” he asked. “Why wouldn’t it help Egypt to do it as well? That is the real danger.”
But he’s not supposed to say that either. Those are the West’s allies, the very countries that the United States is currently trying to mobilize as the leaders of an anti-Iranian alliance of Sunni Arab countries.
Chirac was simply stating the truth as he (and many others) see it, but his comments completely undermined the joint western position, so the following day he was forced to retract them. He still didn’t say that he was wrong, however, just that he had thought he was “off the record” when discussing Iran, as the interview was originally about climate change.
France is clearly very worried by the drumbeat of anti-Iranian propaganda in Washington, which sounds alarmingly similar to the campaign of misinformation waged by the Bush administration before it attacked Iraq. Last month, Chirac was forced to cancel a planned visit by French foreign minister Philippe Douste-Blazy to Tehran because his allies did not trust France to stick to the party line. They were doubtless right in their suspicions-but France is right, too.
France is right to argue that Iranian nuclear weapons, if they existed, would be primarily defensive in nature and would not be used to attack Israel, because nuclear deterrence still works and Iranians do not want their country to commit suicide.
It is also right to worry that an Iranian bomb would create pressures for further proliferation, as Arab countries that have lived under the threat of Israeli nuclear weapons for 40 years decide that living under the threat of Iranian nuclear weapons as well, with no means of deterrence or retaliation, is simply intolerable.
France is utterly hypocritical in worrying about Middle Eastern countries owning nuclear weapons when it has had them itself for almost half a century, but that is equally true for all the other great powers. And it is jumping to conclusions when it assumes that Iran’s stated (and quite legal) desire to enrich uranium for nuclear-power generation conceals a drive to get an actual nuclear weapon as soon as possible.
The truth may be that Iran is for the moment seeking only a “threshold” nuclear-weapons capacity: a level of technological expertise from which it could, in an emergency, develop actual nuclear weapons in only six months or so. Such a position is entirely legal, and some 40 countries currently occupy it.
The truth may also be that the nuclear-armed neighbour Iran really worries about is not Israel but Pakistan, whose 1998 nuclear tests scared Iranian strategists half to death. They don’t worry about the intentions of Pakistan’s current dictator, General Pervez Musharraf, but they know that it is a one-bullet regime and they worry a great deal about what kind of fanatics might succeed him in power.
So maybe Chirac’s gaffe was not as accidental as it seemed. Maybe he wanted people to reexamine all the lies and half-truths we are told about Iran as Washington seems to be gearing up for another attack. And maybe we should.
Pre-Emptive Strike Against Chirac
Frenzy in France Over “Iranian Threat”
Diana Johnston / CounterPunch
Paris (February 6, 2007) — Four years ago, French President Jacques Chirac saw the Iraq disaster looming and openly warned against it. It was by far the best thing he ever did in his political life, and he is not to be allowed to do it again.
Today another, potentially even greater disaster is looming as Israel and the United States ostentatiously prepare to bomb Iran on the pretext of preventing “a second holocaust.” But this time around, there is a curious absence of the public opposition and mass protest demonstrations that preceded the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
In France, where people pay a lot of attention to words, the denunciation of verbal heresy even goes so far as enacting laws punishing politically incorrect speech.
But the more commonplace type of censorship was illustrated this week by an essentially trivial incident. During a presidential press briefing at the Elysée palace devoted to the Paris conference on climate change, a New York Times journalist changed the subject to ask the French President about the Iranian nuclear threat.
Chirac began with the standard official “International Community” line — namely that Tehran’s refusal to give up its uranium enrichment program was “very dangerous”. But then, Chirac (thinking, he explained later, that he was speaking off the record) gave in to the temptation to speak honestly.
For Iran to have a nuclear weapon was not really so dangerous, he said. To make his point, he asked rhetorically what good it would do Iran to have a nuclear bomb, or even two. “Where would it fire that bomb? At Israel? It wouldn’t have traveled 200 meters through the atmosphere before Tehran would be razed.”
The real danger was nuclear proliferation, he added.
Chirac even went so far as to suggest that Iran had a motive for its nuclear research, including its fear of being “challenged or threatened by the international community. And the international community, who is that? It’s the United States.”
The alarm bells went off. The “scandal” of Chirac’s politically incorrect remarks was the top front page news story in both U.S. and French newspapers.
In themselves, Chirac’s remarks hardly merited such a fuss. But the reaction was significant.
First of all, it showed that the French President, a lame duck in the midst of an election campaign to replace him, is too isolated to be able to oppose war against Iran as he opposed war against Iraq. The media are there to shoot him down before he gets off the ground, first of all the newspapers that continue to enjoy the label “leftist”, “left-leaning” or “center-left” — mainly Libération and Le Monde — but which in reality have become the guardians of Atlanticist orthodoxy (devotion to a “European unity” closely tied to the United States).
Chirac’s own political party was snatched away from him by his ambitious enemy Nicolas Sarkozy, who has publicly criticized Chirac’s departure from the American fold over the war against Iraq. Sarkozy’s demonstrations of devotion to Washington and Tel Aviv have won him the enthusiastic support of the organized Jewish community, increasingly inspired by the U.S. pro-Israel lobby.
Deeply distrustful of Gaullism, the French Jewish community has traditionally been close to the Socialists. It was indeed a Socialist government whose secret cooperation with Israel’s nuclear program was discovered, and terminated, by de Gaulle when he took office in 1958. But Ségolene Royal was not the Socialist Party candidate favored by major Jewish organizations (they preferred the very pro-Israel Dominique Strauss-Kahn) and will have a hard time competing with Sarkozy for their favors on the Middle East issue, even though she has declared that Iran has “no right” not only to a nuclear bomb, but even to civilian nuclear power plants.
The Socialists can find nothing better to do than to crow over Chirac’s “blunder.” The French Left, in general, has never seen the point of supporting Chirac’s action in keeping France out of the Iraq quagmire. From the viewpoint of the sectarian left (and the French left, in its countless splinters, is incurably sectarian), what matters is not to do the right thing but to do whatever one does for the right motives — and a conservative politician like Chirac is by definition incapable of doing anything for the right motives.
Four years ago, there were huge demonstrations against the impending war against Iraq. Today, as Israel and the United States gear up to attack Iran, nothing.
Four years ago, the German Chancellor was Social Democrat Gerhard Schroeder who did the right thing, for whatever motives, so that the core of “old Europe” (Germany, France and Belgium) was able to take a united stand against the U.S. war plans. Today, the German Chancellor is Angela Merkel, who is as devoted to Washington as she was to Moscow when she began her political career in East Germany before the wall came down.
No Debate on Iran
Not only is there no audible or visible movement of opposition to war against Iran, there is no real debate or discussion that does not rest on the officially approved assumption that Iran’s nuclear program is a “threat”. If there were such a discussion, it could include reference to the following elements:
1. Possible Iranian motives for nuclear development other than unleashing a holocaust. These would be similar to those of the late Shah of Iran, an ally of Israel, who was eager to develop nuclear power. Iran might well wish to use its oil revenues to prepare for power needs once the oil boom is over. This is all the more plausible amid recent reports of declining output in the Iranian oil industry. And today, faced with global warming, nuclear power, like it or not, can be defended as ecological.
2. The role of nuclear deterrence. Chirac’s remarks were merely a reminder of France’s own nuclear defense doctrine: deterrence. The old Cold War doctrine of “mutually assured destruction” (MAD) was never a popular favorite, but it nevertheless worked. Since Israel possesses a considerable nuclear arsenal, if Iran had nuclear weapons too, Israel would lose its advantage, but the result would reasonably be merely another case of mutual deterrence. That is what Chirac was driving at. But this cannot be discussed.
3. The significance of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s “threats to Israel”. This has two sides, the actual meaning of Ahmadinejad’s words, and the way they are exploited by Israel and its champions.
(1) The first part has been thoroughly analyzed by the Iranian artist Arash Norouzi, a political opponent of Ahmadinejad, on his web site The Mossadegh Project. The statement and its word for word English translation are as follows:
“Imam (Khomeiny) ghoft (said) een (this) rezhim-e (regime) ishghalgar-e (occupying) qods (Jerusalem) bayad (must) az safheh-ye ruzgar (from page of time) mahv shavad (vanish from).”
So, Ahmadinejad was quoting a statement made by his mentor Imam Khomeiny, who died in 1989 without ever lifting a finger to destroy Israel. It should be obvious that the statement is an opinion, not a threat, and addresses not the people who live in Israel but the Zionist “regime” which occupies Jerusalem. Coming from a Muslim religious leader, this opinion is doubtless based on objection to Jewish monopoly of a city considered holy by all three of the Abramic monotheisms.
Ahmadinejad seems to enjoy verbal provocation, but words, however offensive, are only words. The fact is that Iran has not attacked another country in over 250 years and shows no interest in doing so. As for the United States and Israel…
(2) Now to the second part: the receiving end of these “threats”. Ahmadinejad is portrayed as the latest “Hitler” determined to wipe poor little Israel off the map in order to kill all the Jews and then, who knows, conquer the world. A little bit more uranium enrichment, and we’ll all be dead.
It is difficult to believe that anyone takes this seriously, but just about everyone in public life in the West feels obliged to act as if this were real.
A cynical answer could be that U.S. and Israeli leaders are looking for another pretext to start another war aimed at renovating the Middle East in ways that ensure eternal control of petroleum resources as well as the regional supremacy of Israel as the only country in the neighborhood still left intact.
A Dangerous Persecution Complex
This may be a factor, but there is another factor, less material and more psychological, that increasingly invades political life in Europe and the United States: a certain spreading pathology of persecution in what is called “the Jewish community”, meaning a part of the Jewish population, and in particular the organizations that claim to represent it.
The Jewish population of France, which has played an important role in the country’s intellectual, economic and political life for centuries, has been shifting politically from the left to the right, mainly because of its attachment to Israel. Given the community’s vitality and influence, this has an impact on the political life of the country as a wholeThis mutation is noticeable at all levels of society.
It is a cause for concern among many who do not dare to mention it, for fear of being stigmatized as anti-Semitic. But is it “anti-Semitism” to try to tell Jewish people that they are not hated, that they are appreciated and even loved, and that the notion that non-Jews are just waiting for the next opportunity to exterminate them is both unjust to others and harmful to themselves?
The hysteria over Iran, which may lead to a disastrous war that will be lost by everyone, reminiscent of the First World War of 1914-1918, is visibly fed by the dominance within the Jewish community, and indeed beyond it in the West as a whole, of the “duty of memory”, meaning, to be precise, a constant, repetitive recollection of the holocaust as the defining moment of the twentieth century, and perhaps even of human history.
It is enough to attend a meeting of moderate, middle class Parisian Jews to perceive this transformation. The same sort of educated, well-to-do people who not so long ago were at the forefront of universal social concern, are now centering their political preferences on the question: what is best for Israel? The terrible irony is that the more brutal Israel’s policies become, provoking growing hostility to Israel, the more these good people feel not only that they must defend Israel tooth and nail, but that every criticism of Israel is a threat against themselves.
This is dividing French society itself. The vast majority of the non-immigrant French population, especially on the left, feel close to Jewish friends, admire the many outstanding Jewish people in all fields, consider Jewish people so much a part of France that they usually neither know nor care who is Jewish and who is not — and if ever they retain an atavistic trace of ancestral anti-Semitism, this is extinguished by reminders of guilt for the holocaust.
Reminders of guilt abound. As a recent example, although the majority of French Jewish children were saved from Nazi deportation, plaques are being placed on schools as a reminder of the number of Jewish children who were deported. In these same schools, the commemorations of the annual holocaust day become increasingly elaborate.
What is the effect on the children? This sets Jewish children apart in a way that is likely to give them a sense of insecurity and distrust. As for the children of immigrants from African and Arab countries, this stimulates an unhealthy competition in victimism.
The reflection is almost inevitable: so Jews suffered over sixty years ago, but today, Arabs are suffering in Palestine and in Iraq, and who cares? Why are some people eternal victims while others don’t count?
As the official Jewish community has moved to the right, the right has moved toward the community. On the far right, the “vieille France” candidate Philippe de Villiers attempts to outdo Jean-Marie Le Pen by denouncing “the Islamization of France” and ardently courting the Jewish community, whose right wing also benefits from the flattering attentions of Le Pen’s daughter and possible successor Marine. Such positioning stimulates anti-Jewish resentment among immigrant youth in the disinherited banlieues. One form of paranoia leads to another.
What is the Danger?
To get back to the supposed threat to Israel from Iran, a most interesting comment from Israeli Deputy Defense minister Ephraim Sneh was cited by Seymour Hersh in his November 21, 2006 piece in The New Yorker on the possibility of a U.S. attack on Iran. Expressing skepticism about the possibility of influencing Iran by diplomatic means, Sneh said:
“The danger isn’t as much Ahmadinejad’s deciding to launch an attack but Israel’s living under a dark cloud of fear from a leader committed to its destruction… Most Israelis would prefer not to live here; most Jews would prefer not to come here with families, and Israelis who live can live abroad will… I am afraid Ahmadinejad will be able to kill the Zionist dream without pushing a button.”
This is truly an amazing statement that deserves careful attention. The Israeli official is suggesting that a war should be launched against a country, not because of what it may do, but because the fear of what it may do risks “killing the Zionist dream”. This suggests that the fear of another holocaust, which has been the main argument for Zionism for half a century, is turning around to destroy Zionism itself.
But are we to plunge the world into war to “save the Zionist dream”? Isn’t there some other way for Jews to live in the world without fear of genocide? Indeed, hasn’t Zionist Israel become the greatest threat to Jews, by attaching them to the fate of a brutal state which is arousing the growing indignation of the world by its treatment of the Palestinians?
For a long time, there has been an unwritten law that only Jews (at risk of being called “self-hating”) may criticize Zionism. But things have gone too far. This aggressive paranoia of Israel is not just a “Jewish question”, it is dragging the whole world into disaster. Those of us who are not Jewish also have to speak up and say to our Jewish friends:
“We don’t want to kill you, but we don’t want to die for your Jewish State either. We are all human beings, and we refuse to plunge the world into war to preserve distinctions of identity that may mean a lot to you, but don’t mean much of anything to us.”
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