Cosmic cataclysm of nuclear madness

By Ameen Izzadeen
The Nobel Committee by awarding this year’s Peace Prize to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) has reiterated the danger nuclear weapons pose to life on earth. The message is timely, given the fact that the world is at the brink of a nuclear war over the North Korean issue.
ICAN won the Nobel for drawing attention to the “catastrophic humanitarian consequences” of using nuclear weapons and for its efforts to work out a nuclear ban treaty. Yet, total nuclear disarmament is still an elusive dream of an idealist. Anything short of total nuclear disarmament is only a charade.
Take the story of a baby left in the wolves’ lair. Whether the den is inhabited by one wolf or a pack of thousand wolves, the infant will be devoured. To save the baby, we need to eliminate all the wolves. To save the planet and its billions of people, we need to dismantle all nuclear weapons. At present nine countries are said to possess some 15,000 nuclear weapons, each weapon 30 to 3,000 times more powerful than the atom bomb fell on Hiroshima. The actual number is much more and increasing. All nuclear powers continue research to take their nuclear weapons to the next destructive level.
The possession of nuclear weapons enhances a country’s military power. Some say nuclear weapons deter invasions. North Korea’s nuclear weapons have deterred the US from “unleashing” what President Donald Trump described as the ‘fire and fury… the likes of which this world has never seen before.” On Monday, Trump tweeted to say “Our country has been unsuccessfully dealing with North Korea for 25 years, giving billions of dollars [and] getting nothing. Policy didn’t work!” He was warning of a military response, but all what he could do was to send two B-1B bombers on Wednesday close to North Korea’s borders as part of a joint military exercise with South Korea and Japan.
The argument that nuclear weapons deter invasions condones such weapons and promotes proliferation and, therefore, is the anti-thesis of total nuclear disarmament. Nuclear weapons and the perverted mind of a popular leader form a calamitous combination.
No one knows how many millions or billions will die immediately if a full scale nuclear war takes place. Even if we were fortunate enough to survive the immediate impact of the nuclear holocaust, the secondary effect will make us walking dead or crawling dead. Dying of cancer, we will be facing fire storms, a prolonged nuclear winter and extreme starvation. There will be total breakdown of our social and economic life, as we plunge headlong into extinction. Sick and feeble, we won’t be able to inscribe our story on rocks before we die to let any intelligent alien, who will be on a transit through this destroyed planet in the future, know that nuclear weapons are evil and we brought our own destruction.
Despite the warnings the dreaded nuclear holocaust holds out and the efforts of organisations such as ICAN to create a nuclear-weapons free world, most human beings blinded by humanism-killing patriotism take pride in their nuclear weapons. In the United States, a country of more than 300 million people, the support for the use of nuclear weapons during a war is still high, 70 years after the country dropped two atomic bombs on the highly populated Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. A Stanford University study released in August this year says a majority of Americans would support the use of such weapons to kill millions of civilians if the US found itself in a similar wartime situation.
Professor Scott Sagan, who co-authored the study with Benjamin A. Valentino, noted, “The most shocking finding of our study is that 60 percent of Americans would approve of killing 2 million Iranian civilians to prevent an invasion of Iran that might kill 20,000 US soldiers.”
The professors conducted a similar survey in India, a country of 1.3 billion people, and the results were equally shocking. When presented with a hypothetical case where the terror group Lakshar-e-Taiba holed up in a secret bunker in Lahore, Pakistan, is preparing to launch a nuclear attack on India, a majority of the Indians who generally supported the government’s no-first-strike doctrine prefer the use of nuclear weapon to destroy the terrorists’ bunker even if it meant that some 50,000 Pakistani civilians will die.
The support for nuclear weapons is also high in neighbouring Pakistan, which figuratively ate grass to produce its first nuclear bomb. China, like India, has made a no-first-strike declaration. One can presume that the public support for nuclear weapons in this country of 1.5 billion people should be overwhelming; given the security threats it is facing over multiple territorial disputes in the South China Sea and across its borders.
It is also the same story in other nuclear weapon states — Russia, France, Britain, Israel and North Korea. One can assume that more than half the world’s people want nuclear weapons to defend themselves.
But when asked in general terms, a majority of the earthlings will call for the elimination of nuclear weapons. In Japan, which ironically takes shelter under the nuclear umbrella of the US, only 5 percent of the people back nuclear weapons. They rejected Trump’s campaign trail proposal that Japan and South Korea should develop their own nuclear weapons to counter the threat from North Korea.
Why cannot nuclear powers follow the example of Nelson Mandela’s South Africa and do away with the weapon of the wicked. The ex-Soviet nations Kazakhstan and Ukraine have also done this, but there was no altruism. Instead of dismantling the weapons, they handed them over to Russia, soon after they became independent.
Probably sooner than later, there will come a time, when nuclear powers themselves will rush to dismantle their nuclear arsenals. That is when nations master the technology to hack into each other’s the nuclear power systems and destroy rival nuclear arsenals. It is not science fiction. In 2010, Stuxnet, believed to be an American-Israeli cyberweapon, sabotaged Iran’s nuclear programme.
Until such time, no nuclear power wants to see a nuclear-weapons-free world. Last month, ICAN realised one of its objectives when leaders of 120 nations signed a United Nations treaty to ban nuclear weapons. None of the nine nuclear power states was among them. Understandable! But why was Sri Lanka, which supported the resolution for the treaty, not among them? Sri Lanka’s absence was mysterious and conspicuous. After all, the country in the 1970s spearheaded a campaign to declare the Indian Ocean a peace zone, free of nuclear weapons. Did Sri Lanka wilt under the pressure from nuclear powers? Certainly, the failure to sign the treaty amounts to a serious omission and a crime against humanity. In an apparent attempt to mitigate the blame, the Government last week published regulations declaring Sri Lanka a nuclear-weapons free country. A lame act!
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Sons of guns behind the Las Vegas killer

By Ameen Izzadeen
Violence begets violence. Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword. It does not mean that the 59 people who died at the Las Vegas concert shooting and those who were injured in the worst ever mass shooting in the United States, were promoters of violence. But the collective soul of the United States is.
This collective soul given to violence manifested itself last Sunday in Stephen Paddock, the gunman who, from his 32nd floor room in a nearby hotel, sprayed bullets aimlessly at the country music fans for some ten minutes. Perhaps, this was the first ever mass shooting incident where the killer did not know why he killed and the killed did not know why they were killed. Isn’t this a sign of much worse chaos to come?
Simply put, the motive for this massacre remains an unknown riddle. The 64-year-old millionaire killer was a caring person. He enjoyed the company of family and friends. Fun-loving, he was not known to have held any extreme political or religious views. Besides, he was not a Muslim, an identity that prompts law enforcement authorities to slap a terrorism motive on a killer. Then why did he commit this gruesome crime before he took his life?
Perhaps, an answer to this riddle will never be found. Until the motive is found, the United States’ collective soul stands accused, for it is willingly or unwillingly has been living with violence, since long before it came into being as a political entity.
More than 500 years ago, America was a land of peace. Its native people lived in harmony with nature. But since Christopher Columbus’s west ward drift that exposed the hidden continent to the Europeans, America’s history has been one of violence, chaos and lawlessness. Millions of Native Americans were killed in clod-blooded genocide by the land and gold hungry European invaders. They even came in the guise of humanitarians to kill the Native Americans by distributing to them chickenpox-infected blankets, in what could be described as history’s first germ warfare.
When the Native Americans resisted the nasty white man’s evil designs and launched surprise attacks on White European settlements, the European invaders armed themselves with guns. The invader thought his survival depended on his ownership of a gun, a weapon superior to the Native Americans’ arrow. This was the beginning of America’s gun culture, which found itself a niche in American society during the War of Independence in the 18th century. In the American psyche, there appears to be an emotional link with the violence-ridden past. Soon, the right to bear arms was constitutionally guaranteed under the Second Amendment. “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed,” it says.
Since then, the gun culture, apart from accounting for millions of deaths, has taken the lives of four US Presidents: Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield, William McKinley and John F. Kennedy. President Ronald Reagan almost became the fifth. Yet the call for gun control in the United States has only been a whimper. Voices that were heard every time a shocking gun crime took place went unheard in the bang from the barrel of the powerful gun lobby coordinated by the National Rifles Association.
In the aftermath of the ghastly killing of 20 primary class children and six teachers in Sandy Hook in what was described as the worst school gun crime in US history, the then US President, Barack Obama, pushed for strict gun control measures through a congressional bill, but his effort was shot down by the powerful gun lobby, which carried out a virulent campaign against the bill. An angry Obama hit out: “The gun lobby and its allies willfully lied about the bill.”
Unlike President Obama, who at least made some efforts aimed at gun control, President Donald Trump is a son of a gun. During the campaign, Trump wooed the gun lobby and won its support as he defended the Second Amendment and criticised Obama for his gun control efforts.
How many mass shootings and victims should it take to check this gun culture in the United States where mass murderer Paddock could own an arsenal of 42 firearms, including automatic weapons, and thousands of rounds of ammunition in addition to explosives?
A staggering 300 million guns are now in circulation in the US, giving the United States the dubious honour of being the world’s number one country of armed civilians. There are 88 guns for every one hundred Americans, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. Yemen, a war-ravaged nation, comes a distant second with its gun ownership figure being 55 for every 100 civilians.
Firearms account for some 68 percent of all killings in America or more than 30,000 Americans are killed with guns each year — about two-thirds of those being suicides. The number of Americans who are shot at tops 100,000 a year. This year alone, there have been 50,000 gun crimes. Gun control advocates say Americans are “25 times more likely to be killed with a gun than people in other developed countries.”
Gun control measures have succeeded elsewhere. In 1996, Australia, in response to a mass shooting incident, bought back more than 600,000 firearms and introduced gun laws that have succeeded in halving gun deaths. Similar measures have succeeded in Britain, too.
In the US, if gun control measures are to succeed, the Second Amendment, which is part of the American bill of rights, should be amended without any room for ambiguity that has given rise to judicial interpretations in defence of gun ownership. For this to happen, civil society should carry out a campaign similar to what forced the US government to end the war in Vietnam.
As a further measure, the US foreign policy should not be one based on wars. There is more war than peace in the US foreign policy, an aggressive instrument, through which the president promotes the interest of American capitalism, the arms lobby and the financial mafia. US President Donald Trump calls this policy ‘America First’. But this is what America has been doing since the end of World War II, despite such policy has failed in the Korean peninsula, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and elsewhere. America’s wars, just as its movies, glorify and romanticize violence.
At global level, the United Nations’ measures are apparently as ineffective, despite the Arms Trade Treaty that came into force in 2004 to check illegal transfer of small arms and light weapons. A review conference is long overdue in view of the fact that it is small arms and light weapons that sustain terrorism and killers like Paddock. The bottom line is that if we deny killers and terrorists the access to weapons, then we can at least save some lives.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Kurdistan referendum: Another flashpoint in West Asia

By Ameen Izzadeen
In what could be a trigger for another major conflict in West Asia, Kurds in Iraq on Monday voted overwhelmingly for separation. More than 92 percent of the people – Kurds and non-Kurds in the autonomous Kurdistan region in Iraq – voted yes, delivering a powerful message to Iraq and its neighbours that the Kurds’ dream of finally achieving a state of their own will soon be a reality.
The Iraqi Kurds’ victory at the non-binding referendum was greeted with a virtual declaration of war by Iraq, Turkey, and Iran. The preparation for the war has already begun. If the separation takes place, it will cause a cataclysmic upheaval in West Asia’s geopolitics. The referendum will be remembered as another disastrous byproduct of the United States’ Iraq war. As though the millions of deaths, destruction and displacement were not enough, the US war for oil and military contracts is now set to drag the bloodied region into another dark period of uncertainty and violence. This is happening at a time when the region is just witnessing the end of a long haul battle against the Islamic State terror group.
There has already been a lot of bad blood between the Kurds and Iraq’s Arabs, both the Sunnis and the Shiites. It was with the help of the Kurds that the US troops first broke into Iraq in 2003 from the north of the country. Being the Americans’ fifth columnists, the Kurds have, in the new federal constitution gained more political rights, much to the chagrin of the Iraqi Arabs.
In terms of the US-guided constitution, the country’s presidency goes to a Kurd. The constitution recognises the right to return of those Kurds who have expelled from the oil-rich Kirkuk area during Saddam Hussein’s arabisation programme. It allows the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to conduct foreign relations and maintain its own security forces, known as Peshmerga, which played a key role in the defeat of the IS. The region has its own President, Prime Minister and parliament.
In addition to these and many more constitutional rights, the Kurds have arrogated upon themselves the right to sell oil to foreign companies in contravention of Iraq’s laws.
The only factor that has prevented them from declaring a separate state is their fear that their landlocked Kurdistan would not survive if the neighbours turn hostile. Already Turkey has warned of an economic blockade if the Kurds declare their independent state.
Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is livid that his request to Kurdish leaders to cancel the referendum has gone unheeded. The Kurds had committed a historic mistake, he said on Tuesday and warned that Iraqi troops would take over the region’s international airport at Arbil today if it is not handed over to the state before the deadline. Iraq yesterday called on international airlines to avoid the airport. Abadi also ordered the KRG to send all oil revenue to the centre.
Abadi said he was ready for a dialogue for greater autonomy within Iraq’s constitution.
But on Wednesday, a defiant Abadi told Iraq’s parliament, which is being boycotted by Kurdish members, that there was no question of using the result of the referendum as the basis for talks. “We will impose Iraqi law in the entire region of Kurdistan under the constitution,” he said, while parliament urged him to take “all necessary measures to maintain Iraq’s unity”.
Sensing the growing international apprehension over Kurdistan becoming a flashpoint for a region-wide conflict, KRG leader Massud Barzani in a referendum victory speech tried to allay the fears of Baghdad and neighbouring countries. He said the vote would not lead to an immediate declaration of independence and should, instead, open the door to negotiations.
Meanwhile, Iran extending its support to the Iraqi government, has, moved artillery batteries to the border with Kurdistan, while Turkey, armed with parliamentary approval for cross border incursion, has amassed tanks and troops on its border with Iraq’s Kurdistan.
Turkey, Iran and Syria fear that an independent Kurdistan state out of Iraq could give a boost to Kurdish separatist movements in their countries. In Turkey and Iraq, Kurds make up 18 percent of the population; in Iran and Syria they are seven percent, in Armenia about 5 percent. Overall, more than 32 million Kurds live in a contiguous region spreading over these five countries. All these countries have attempted to de-Kurdise the Kurds. Saddam Hussein used military force and even chemical weapons to crush the Kurdish struggle for autonomy. In Syria, a Kurd cannot be given a Kurdish name. In Turkey, Kurds are not recognised as Kurds. They are called “mountain Turks”. It is illegal to use the Kurdish language in Turkish schools and public offices.
For the past four decades or so, Turkey has been fighting a separatist war against the Kurdistan Workers Party or the PKK, which has been declared a terrorist organisation by Turkey and its Nato allies.
In Iran, however, the Kurdish question has been, to a great extent, settled, with the Kurds integrating into the mainstream society. Teheran fears that an independent Kurdistan across the border will disturb this harmony and could turn the Iranian Kurds into a US and Israeli partner for an attack on Iran. Teheran has slammed the independent Iraqi Kurdistan as an ally of Israel.
It is not clear what the US position on the Kurdish issue is. A US State Department statement said the US “is deeply disappointed” that the regional government held the vote but that the “historic relationship with the people of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region will not change.” It also reiterated its belief that the referendum “will increase instability and hardships for the Kurdistan region and its people”.
But the Pentagon, which maintains close military ties with the Iraqi and Syrian Kurds apparently holds a different view that goes with the policy of Israel, the only country which has welcomed Kurdistan’s independence bid. It is no secret that Israel wanted to balkanize every country in the region to weaken them and maintain its military superiority. In 2006, the Zionist friendly US Senate passed a resolution supporting the division of Iraq into three states – an Arab Shiite state, an Arab Sunni state and Kurdistan. The resolution was moved by Joe Biden, who later became president Barack Obama’s vice president.
Kurds are an ancient people with Indo-Iranian roots. They follow Sunni Islam, though some of them are adherents of Shiism. The great Islamic hero Salahuddin al-Ayyubi (Saladin) who recaptured Jerusalem from the Crusaders was a Kurd.
In 1920, two years after World War I ended, the creation of an independent Kurdish state emerged during the deliberations of the Treaty of Sèvres. Though the defeated Ottoman sultan agreed to the proposal, his Military chief Mustafa Kemal Ataturk opposed it, prompting the allied powers to launch a military campaign against Turkey. This war came to be known as Turkey’s war for independence. With the Turks’ victory in this war, the best chance the Kurds had to carve out an independent state disappeared.
The Kurds have got another opportunity 97 years later. But it is unlikely they can achieve independence without a fight.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Trump’s devilry at the UNGA

By Ameen Izzadeen
Traditionally, the United Nations Secretary General’s office informs ambassadors that their heads of state should confine their speeches to about 15 minutes when they address the General Assembly’s annual session. On Tuesday, the UN General Assembly president reiterated this position. The first to speak was Brazil’s President. Why Brazil first, some may ask. This is because, in terms of a tradition followed in international fora, when no one wanted to speak first, Brazil always offered to speak first. Thus this South American nation earned the right to speak first at the General Assembly. Brazil has done so since the 10th UNGA in 1955.
On Tuesday, the opening day of the UNGA’s 72nd annual sessions, Brazil’s President Michel Temer spoke first and kept his speech to about 15 minutes. The next slot was for the United States. In walked President Donald Trump to deliver his debut speech at the United Nations, an institution he, during the campaign, slammed as a weak and incompetent organisation and even threatened to cut funds. Throwing aside the UNGA president’s 15-minute rule, he spoke for 43 minutes.
True, many world leaders pay little attention to this 15-minute rule. US President Barack Obama, delivering his last UNGA speech in 2016, spoke for 47 minutes. The record for the longest UNGA speech belongs to Fidel Castro for his 269 minute-speech in 1960. It is said that the UN at the 50th anniversary sessions introduced a red light which would start flashing after the 15th minute. Sri Lanka’s former President Ranasinghe Premadasa, it is said, took out his handkerchief, put it on the flashing light and continued to speak. Castro did the same two years later.
The lack of respect for the 15-minute rule, however, brings out a universal truism: On the one hand, it shows most world leaders do not care two hoots about a rule-based order and, on the other, it exposes the United Nations inability to rein in the violators of the rule. The UN is powerless even to switch off the microphone if a world leader violates the 15-minute rule. Perhaps, in UN parlance, the timidity is called diplomatic niceties.
Length of speeches apart, what about the content? There is little to cheer about in Trump’s UN speech. He spoke about the United States’ resilience in the face of devastation caused by the two recent hurricanes, but deliberately avoided climate change, although it is more serious a matter than the North Korean nuclear missile threat. How many natural disasters do world leaders like Trump require for them to understand that it is the damage that we cause to our environment that revisits us in the form of natural disasters with catastrophic consequences?
As expected, Trump’s ‘America first’ speech was mere bombast of gung-ho militarism. Usually, most US presidents in recent time, including Nobel peace prize winner Obama, have held out threats to nations that have challenged the US-dominant world order. But Trump appeared rhetorical and frighteningly fascist. His understanding of world affairs appeared wanting. He turned the world body’s podium into a stage for the burning of the UN Charter, which in its opening paragraph declares “We the peoples of the United Nations are determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war…”
His speech was virtually a declaration of war on North Korea. Is he as reckless — and ruthless — as North Korean leader Kim Jung-un? Instead of embracing war and declaring he was ready to “totally destroy” North Korea, shouldn’t he have spelt out plans to sort out the dispute with the reclusive nation? So bankrupt, he has no peace formula to end the dispute with North Korea or the wars in Syria, Libya, Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan, or bring peace to Palestine. War and more war appear to be his policy. Going by the response of North Korea, it appears Trump is expediting World War III. Trump has made the world more dangerous a place than it was before he addressed the UN.
North Korea said it would prepare a resolute and pre-emptive strike if the US showed any slight sign of provocation. “In case the US opts for confrontation and war at last… it will meet horrible nuclear strike and miserable and final ruin,” North Korea’s official news agency KCNA warned yesterday.
It was hardly surprising that Trump drew not much applause during his speech. An air of disapproval appeared to pervade the assembly. The only leader who was nodding in approval of Trump’s tirade was Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, an oppressor, to whose delight Trump said nothing about peace in Palestine.
Trump was also selective in his condemnation of terrorism. While he whitewashed his Gulf allies who funded myriad terrorist groups in Libya, Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, he singled out Iran to project it as the only nation that was promoting terrorism in the world.
Can Trump show a single incident where Hezbollah or any other Iran-backed group has been accused of committing terror attacks in the United States or Europe? Since 9/11, almost all the terror attacks that have taken place in the West are linked to al-Qaeda and ISIS, which have nothing to do with Iran, but are ideologically connected with the United States’ Gulf allies.
In another move that undermined world peace, Trump denounced the world powers’ deal with Iran to dissuade that country from pursuing a nuclear programme. On this score, even Trump’s western allies are not with him.
Iran’s President Hasan Rouhani, addressing the UN, said, “The ignorant, absurd and hateful rhetoric, filled with ridiculously baseless allegations… was not only unfit to be heard at the United Nations — which was established to promote peace and respect between nations— but indeed contradicted the demands of our nations from this world body to bring governments together to combat war and terror.”
Trump must thank Rouhani for not being a Hugo Chavez, the late president of Venezuela, one of the countries that Trump lambasted in his speech. Chavez through his socialist measures brought prosperity to millions of his people who were languishing in poverty. Addressing the UN in 2006 a day after the war mongering US President, George W. Bush, addressed the UNGA, Chavez said, “Yesterday, the devil came here… And it smells of sulfur still today….”
Trump’s Tuesday speech also stinks. The height of absurdity was when Trump, being one of the world’s biggest capitalist bandits, scorned socialism. Whether socialism has succeeded or not in its effort to achieve income equality, it is certainly better than capitalism which has created a United States where those in the top one percent earn 40 times more income than the bottom 90 percent. The world’s 10 richest billionaires, according to Forbes, own US$505 billion in combined wealth, a sum greater than the total goods and services most nations produce on an annual basis – or more than six times the size of Sri Lanka’s US$ 80 billion economy. Something is not correct, isn’t it? Can someone tell Trump that godless socialism is much better than capitalism that sells even religion and morality?
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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War on terror: The deception and real agendas

By Ameen Izzadeen
Sixteen years ago on September 11, the way the world revolved changed drastically, politically speaking. Just, a second before the terror strike on New York’s World Trade Centre at 8.46 am Eastern Time, the world was moving on a positive direction with human rights and democracy dominating the political discourse. Then it all stopped, with the then United States President George W. Bush launching a war on terror.
Exploiting a wave of sympathy following the shocking terror attacks that the world witnessed live on television, Bush vowed to “smoke ‘em out of their holes”, referring to al-Qaeda terrorists. But, instead, he implemented a neocon white paper titled the Plan for New American Century. In the face of signs that the US-scripted global order was undergoing change to the detriment of the US national interest, the plan spelt out a strategy for the US to continue its military and economic dominance of the world.
The five years before 9/11 were perhaps the most enlightened period in post-World War II history, with world leaders taking many positive steps to ensure a rule-based world order in the aftermath of the horrible war crimes in Rwanda and Bosnia.
World leaders in 1998 adopted the Rome Statute that established the International Criminal Court to try war criminals. The same year, the European Court of Human Rights became a full time institution. During this period, hectic diplomacy was on course to make the toothless United Nations Human Rights Commission into a powerful Human Rights Council. US President Bill Clinton was close to working out a permanent peace deal between Israel and Palestine. He even signed the Kyoto protocol on climate change. On Iraq, the Clinton administration introduced the oil-for-food programme for Baghdad to sell oil to buy food and medicine, after it became clear that the US-sponsored international sanctions had killed a half a million children. The world was seemingly moving towards a fair global order, but the war on terror brought a halt to the march.
Such a rule-based global order is anathema to disaster capitalists. Peace will deal a death blow to the military industrial complex — and also to the oil industry which profits from panic-driven price hikes.
Looking back down 16 years, the war on terror’s biggest beneficiaries were the arms manufacturers, Big Oil, and companies dealing in construction, insurance and private security. Disaster capitalism drives the war on terror.
Way back in the 1950s, George Kennan, a US State Department expert on foreign policy, would advise new diplomats before they took up their postings: “…we have about 50 per cent of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3 per cent of its population… Our real task is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity….”
Although, by the turn of this century the US share of the global wealth has declined to 26 per cent and its population accounted for 4.6 per cent of the global population, there is hardly any indication that the US has moved away from Kennan’s advice. The war on terror is a means by which the US maintains this inequality and ensures the survival of greedy capitalism that thrives on other people’s misery.
When the war started, the enemy was al-Qaeda. But later, al Qaeda has become enemy in some places friend in other places. Today, there is another enemy — ISIS, which owes its birth to the failed US policies.
The war on terror began in Afghanistan in October 2001, ostensibly to fight al-Qaeda and the Taliban, but later the war assumed different names in different places with different goals. Ostensibly, regime change was one such goal, but in hindsight, it appears that the war was for oil on behalf of Shell, Chevron, and Exxon. It was also a war to set up more US military bases all over the world – and a war to provide construction companies such as Bechtel and Halliburton, where Bush’s Vice President Dick Cheney was once the CEO, multibillion dollar contracts.
Bush’s mad war, which Barack Obama continued, has devastated Iraq, Somalia, Libya, Syria, Yemen and parts of Pakistan, among other countries. What has Syria and Libya got to do with the terrorists who took part in the 9/11 attacks? Fifteen of them were from Saudi Arabia, which, according to a New York Post article this week, had allegedly financed a dry run of the terror attack.
The twists and turns reached ludicrous heights when Washington allied itself with al-Qaeda elements to oust Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi. In a botched attempt to overthrow Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime, the US even armed and trained rebels who subsequently joined al-Qaeda and ISIS. In addition, underscoring the adage that one’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter, the US is in an open alliance with Syrian Kurdish rebels, whom Nato ally Turkey has branded terrorists.
Lies and deception is the name of the game. Bush deceitfully took the war to Iraq claiming that Saddam Hussein was possessing weapons of mass destruction and behind the 9/11 terror attacks. The American public, still recovering from the 9/11 terror shock, overwhelmingly supported Bush.
Although Bush could not find a single weapon of mass destruction even after the US invasion or a single piece of evidence to show Saddam’s links with the 9/11 attacks, the American voters re-elected him for a second term, provoking the British Daily Mirror to ask in a headline, “How can 59,054,087 people be so DUMB?” It is a sad indictment on all Americans, though a substantial section of them were to later slam Bush for putting the country on a never-ending war that has tarnished America’s image.
Probably the same lot which elected Donald Trump in November last year reelected Bush in 2004. And perhaps to placate these neo-fascist voters that Trump has decided to send more troops to Afghanistan – a climb down from his campaign promise to end the US military role in that country.
The war on terror is today being waged for anything but to combat terrorism. It has only made the world a worse place than it was before. Post-World War II Europe was a peaceful continent, but it is today caught in the grip of ISIS terror. Pakistan was a terror-free nation before 9/11. Today it is paying a huge price for joining Bush’s war, in terms of loss of lives, economic growth and opportunity costs.
After more than 1.5 million civilian deaths, more than 8,000 US and Nato troop casualties in an expenditure of more than 1.7 trillion US dollars, the war on terror is far from over. Its biggest achievement was the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Its miserable failure in ridding the world of terrorism is rooted in its hidden objective of maintaining US military and economic dominance across the globe. It appears that the so-called war on terror will go on forever.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Geopolitics allows Myanmar to cover up Rohingya massacre

By Ameen Izzadeen
A humanitarian crisis of near genocidal proportions is taking place in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, yet the world’s reaction is confined to mere condemnation instead of sanctions or direct intervention. Although international journalists are not allowed to visit the troubled province that has for the past five years been witnessing state-sponsored terror against the hapless Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority living in Rahkine bordering Bangladesh, information pours in through social media. It indicates that another Rwanda or Srebrenica or Darfur is in the making.
If the international community and the United Nations had reacted at the first signs of the troubles, one million minority Tutsis would not have been massacred by the Hutu dominated regime in Rwanda from April 7 to mid-July 1994, more than 8,000 Bosnian men and boys would not have been executed by Ratko Mladic’s Serb army in Srebrenica a year later, and more than 300,000 people would not have perished in Darfur from 2003 to 2010.
Post-conflict measures such as taking the perpetrators to war crime tribunals may serve as a warning to killer regimes. Post-conflict UN reports lamenting the world body’s failure to protect civilians caught up in war cannot bring back to life the innocent people killed for the simple reason that they had a different identity to that of the majority within a state.
But immediate intervention under the responsibility to protect (R2P) principle can save life though the concept is highly abused. Powerful states have taken cover behind R2P to justify their self-centred interventions. Yet, a UN-led R2P initiative is the best option available to save the Rohingyas.
The Rohingyas have faced severe persecution and violence at the hands of the state for decades. They have been stripped of their nationality in terms of a 1982 law, though they have been living in Myanmar for generations. They have no access to state education and employment. Successive Myanmar governments have denied the existence of the Rohingya as an ethnic group, calling the most oppressed people on Earth “illegal Bengalis” instead. However, Bangladesh strongly disputes Myanmar’s claim.
Myanmar’s strategic importance gives it licence to violate international humanitarian laws with impunity and still call itself a fledgling democracy. In other words, geopolitics undermines R2P.
The United States, China and India are in a competition to bring Myanmar under their sphere of influence. They were like three men on their knees proposing to one damsel. They would not mind that she has reddened her lips by sucking the blood of Rohingyas and darkened her eyebrows with charred remnants of Rohingya’s wooden huts.
Geopolitics is why the US condemnation is not commensurate with the crime being committed against 1.3 million Rohingyas. Myanmar during the latter part of military strongman Than Shwe’s administration (1992-2011) adopted an equidistance policy vis-à-vis China, the US and India, after being under China’s economic protection for decades. The visit of the then US President Barack Obama to Myanmar took bilateral relations to a new level where human rights abuses are largely ignored, and if they warrant a mention, the criticism appeared mere routine. With the aim of reducing Myanmar’s economic dependency on China, the US has increased economic aid to Myanmar following the country’s transition to democracy.
Entangling the Rohingya case in big power politics is China’s bid to build a deep sea port at Kyauk Pyu in the troubled Rahkine state – close to Maungdaw — and an oil pipeline extending from there across Myanmar upto China’s hinterland – a shorter energy supply route that circumvents the arduous Malaca Strait. China has won the contract for the port, but is negotiating for an 85 percent stake in the project instead of the 50 percent that formed the basis of the negotiations. The Chinese port project together with an industrial park has ruffled feathers in India’s security circles as the port is overlooking India’s northeast. Also, Rahkine is believed to be rich in resources, including natural gas.
It was to counter China’s strategic foothold in Myanmar that India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in Myanmar this week. This is why India has not condemned Myanmar’s atrocities against the Rohingyas. Throwing human rights principles into the dustbin of self-centred politics, Modi during his visit sought to enhance cooperation on intelligence sharing amid politically motivated s claims that linked Rohingya rebels with ISIS terrorists following the August 25 rebel attack on police posts. India and Myanmar are also to ink a deal on a 1640 km highway project that would connect India with Myanmar and Thailand – a highway which India describes as its gateway to Southeast Asia and its response to China’s One-Belt-One-Road initiative.
With big powers in a scramble to improve relations with Myanmar, the new government which came to power promising to strengthen democracy and uphold human rights, finds itself in a comfort zone from where it could spurn international criticism on the armed forces’ oppression against the Rohingyas, whom Pope Francis in a speech in February described as “our brothers and sisters”, while calling on Myanmar to stop the persecution.
It is while sitting in this comfort zone of crime that Myanmar is counting on China to block moves to bring the Rohingyas issue before the UN Security Council, and Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi could dismiss international criticism and irrefutable video evidence as “fake news”. The story being churned out by the Suu Kyi’s government is that the Rohingyas killed Rohingyas. Journalists who were taken on a guided tour on Wednesday under police escort were told the Rohingyas fled because the Rohingya rebels were burning their villages. The hard-to-believe story does not provide answers to questions over refugees who bore gunshot wounds, women who were raped and mutilated bodies found in Rakhine jungles.
Suu Kyi’s government has blocked UN aid agencies from delivering vital supplies of food, water and medicine to the besieged Rohingyas. A few months ago, a dozen Nobel peace prize winners signed a petition calling on fellow Nobel laureate Suu Kyi to protect the Rohingyas. This week, the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai, in a statemnent called Suu Kyi to condemn the “tragic and shameful treatment” of the Rohingyas.
But Suu Kyi’s conduct is unbecoming of a Nobel laureate. On the one hand she refuses to defy the military, which is the ultimate power in Myanmar — a situation that makes the so-called transition to democracy a charade. On the other, if she acts against the perpetrators, she runs the risk of being labelled unpatriotic by the military and extremists led by monk Ashin Wirathu. She failed to act against the extremists, though she had an opportunity in May this year when the Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee, Myanmar’s highest Buddhist authority, issued a declaration ordering Wirathu and his Ma Ba Tha organisation to end their activities. Unperturbed, Wirathu continues his hate campaign, while Suu Kyi plays politics with the lives of the Rohingyas.
The Rohingyas crisis is a humanitarian issue. It is not a Muslim issue, though Myanmar’s persecution of the Rohingyas has triggered a series of protests in the Islamic world, with Turkey, Pakistan and other Muslim countries issuing strong statements.
Humanitarianism is beyond race, religion and other considerations. If Myanmar cannot solve the Rohingya crisis in a civilized manner, then the international community should intervene. Let the R2P initiative begin with an international conference on the Rohingya crisis.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Despite Trump’s racism, let’s have a dream that all are created equal

By Ameen Izzadeen
Race-based politics wins votes and politicians know that well. Nothing can assert this political truism than the much criticised response of the United States President Donald Trump to Saturday’s clashes at Charlottesville in West Virginia. The controversy indicates that race-based politics or identity politics, however contemptible it is, has come to stay even in so-called liberal societies.
If identity politics is defined as a tendency for people of a particular religion, race or social background to form exclusive political alliances, moving away from traditional broad-based party politics, such politics is present not only in the United States, but also in every country that is ethnically diverse and seemingly democratic. Countries such as Britain, France, Germany and Australia are blighted by this reprehensible racist politics practised by far-right extremists.
Sri Lanka is no exception. Can a Tamil or Muslim become the President or Prime Minister of Sri Lanka? Technically, yes. But practically it is a tall order, given the racial prejudices found in every society. Or it can happen only in a dream within a dream of those whom dream of the dawn of a liberal Sri Lanka where differences based on race, religion, caste or social status do not play a role in the election of a legislator or a leader. The closest the country went in that direction was when the then President Chandrika Kumaratunga in 2004 mulled the appointment of Lakshman Kadirgamar as prime minister. But she succumbed to racism-driven political pressure and let principles lose the race.
Besides race and religion, Sri Lanka is also beset by caste-based identity politics. It is disheartening to note that in this age of enlightenment, caste still plays a key role in nominations to elections and in deliberations on delimitations.
In India, the world’s biggest laboratory for identity politics, people from minority communities have become presidents. Manmohan Singh from the Sikh community, which forms just two percent of India’s population, was Prime Minister of India from 2004 to 2014.
Though India’s examples are praiseworthy, identity politics’ undercurrents are apparent behind the façade of secularism. The political tolerance seen among the majority community towards the occasional election of a minority community member – a Muslim, a Sikh or a Dalit– to the office of the president probably stems from the fact that India’s president wields no real powers. He or she is only a titular head and acts on the advice of the Cabinet.
The choice of Manmohan Singh as prime minister came as a compromise in the face of a wave of racial outrage against Italian-born Sonia Gandhi. Among those found refuge in racism to oppose Sonia Gandhi becoming the prime minister were the leaders of the Bharatiya Janatha Party, the main partner in the present ruling coalition. The real victory for India’s secularism will be when a Muslim or a Dalit – the so-called untouchable — becomes the prime minister and when communal politics that killed even Mahatma Gandhi is dumped in the dustbin of history.
Electing legislators and leaders on the strength of their racial, religious or caste identity is the anti-thesis of meritocracy or merit-based democracy where the leaders are elected not because of their race, religion or caste, but because of their qualifications, capabilities, expertise and experience.
Mahinda Rajapaksa, like Trump, thrived on race-based politics. He believed that by projecting himself as the protector of Sinhala Buddhist interests and by wooing at least 75 percent of the Sinhala Buddhist votes, he could remain president forever. This explained his failure to crack the whip on racist elements who, encouraged by his regime’s patronage, took the law into their hands and attacked Muslims and Christian places of worship. But at the same time, the Rajapaksa victories at the 2005 and 2010 presidential elections and many other elections in between are no indication of a reflection of racism in the Sinhala Buddhist polity.
Similarly, in the United States, the election of Trump as president does not mean all those 62 million people who voted for him were racists, though it is a fact that white supremacists overwhelmingly campaigned for him and voted for him.
Trump’s victory was to the racists what blood was to Count Dracula. His victory has woken up the racist vampire. His repugnant tweets this week expressing tacit support to neo-Nazi groups on the pretext of protecting heritage and history have given a new lease of life to the dying wizards of Ku Klux Klan.
At an impromptu news conference in New York on Tuesday, a dark day in US history, Trump said, “I think there’s blame on both sides”. He added there were “very fine people” among the fascists and claimed that “not all of those people” at the rally were neo-Nazis or white supremacists “by any stretch.”
Then, referring to Saturday’s clashes in which one anti-fascist protester was killed when a white racist rammed his car into the crowd, Trump asked, “What about the alt-left that came charging at?” The outrageous remark was tantamount to equating Hitler with the Jews whom he gassed. No US President has stooped to such low levels in defending racists. But Trump has, because he counts on their support for his 2020 reelection. To his credit, the US economy has performed relatively well, and Trump believes that the white vote formula which worked in 2016 will also work in 2020.
The fact that alt-right supporters carried symbols of racism without any compunction, shouted racist slogans and clashed with those who stood against racist politics casts serious doubts on the United States’ ability to emerge as an enlightened society. It is a slur on the US Constitution, regarded as the best man-made document the world has ever seen. There were, however, hopes in the First Amendment that kept the church and the state separate, in Abraham Lincoln’s declaration abolishing slavery in 1864 even at the cost of a civil war, in Martin Luther King’s historic speech asserting that all men are created equal, and in Barack Obama election as the country’s first black president (in 2008) and his reelection (in 2012).
But at the same time, we also saw in recent years ‘black lives matter’ protests in the US in the wake of the killings of several unarmed black people by white police officers. Islamophobia, which has been on the rise since 9/11 terror attacks, has more or less become official policy after Trump’s travel ban on Muslims. Since Trump’s election, even anti-Semitism has been on the rise, despite Trump’s open Israeli bias. What’s more, Trump has also brought former Breitbart News head Stephen Bannon, an alt-right advocate, into the White House as chief strategist.
It appears that Trump is fast losing the legitimacy to be the President of the United States, if he has already not lost it. Should we remind that Trump won the 2016 election because of the Electoral College system not due to popular votes, which was won by Hillary Clinton by nearly a three million majority?
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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