The Record U.S. Military Budget

imperialism-is-the-problemStop criticising Turkey – Get your own house in order! I’m reblogging this:

To listen to the Republican candidates’ debate last week, one would think that President Obama had slashed the U.S. military budget and left our country defenseless. Nothing could be farther off the mark. There are real weaknesses in Obama’s foreign policy, but a lack of funding for weapons and war is not one of them. President Obama has in fact been responsible for the largest U.S. military budget since the Second World War, as is well documented in the U.S. Department of Defense’s annual “Green Book.”

These figures do not include additional military-related spending by the VA, CIA, Homeland Security, Energy, Justice or State Departments, nor interest payments on past military spending, which combine to raise the true cost of U.S. militarism to about $1.3 trillion per year, or one thirteenth of the U.S. economy.

The U.S. military receives more generous funding than the rest of the 10 largest militaries in the world combined (China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, U.K., France, Japan, India, Germany & South Korea). And yet, despite the chaos and violence of the past 15 years, the Republican candidates seem oblivious to the dangers of one country wielding such massive and disproportionate military power.

ATW2015frontWhen President Obama took office, Congressman Barney Frank immediately called for a 25% cut in military spending. Instead, the new president obtained an $80 billion supplemental to the FY2009 budget to fund his escalation of the war in Afghanistan, and his first full military budget (FY2010) was $761 billion, within $3.4 billion of the $764.3 billion post-WWII record set by President Bush in FY2008.

There was significant opposition to the First Gulf War – 22 Senators and 183 Reps voted against it, including Sanders – but not enough to stop the march to war. The war became a model for future U.S.-led wars and served as a marketing display for a new generation of U.S. weapons. After treating the public to endless bombsight videos of “smart bombs” making “surgical strikes”, U.S. officials eventually admitted that such “precision” weapons were only 7% of the bombs and missiles raining down on Iraq. The rest were good old-fashioned carpet-bombing, but the mass slaughter of Iraqis was not part of the marketing campaign. When the bombing stopped, U.S. pilots were ordered to fly straight from Kuwait to the Paris Air Show, and the next three years set new records for U.S. weapons exports.

Read the whole article

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Towel-heads, MOP Heads and a 30% Peace-loving President

Yeh, I know I’m on shaky ground here. I haven’t voted in a New Zealand parliamentary election since 1993 – and I only did then because the government had finally bowed to public pressure and agreed to hold a binding referendum on electoral reform at the same time. For the record, supporters of PR – where seats in the legislature are allocated more or less according to the proportion of votes a party wins – achieved a notable victory. Sad to say, nothing much has changed in the country since then. As some wise guy (or maybe girl) once said, ‘If voting actually changed anything, they wouldn’t let you do it.’

Barack Obama accepts the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions

Barack Obama accepts the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions

So I have to tell Obama-voters in the United States of America that I was I was just a tad cynical about all the euphoria surrounding the election of that nation’s first African-American President. To be fair, I don’t think it would have made a great deal of difference if Hillary R-C had got the Democratic nod instead. First African-American President, first woman, first Mormon, first bona fide card-carrying member of the Cherokee nation . . . In the end, they do what they’re allowed (or instructed) to do. I’m not a conspiracy theorist. If you want my opinion, there’s no ‘theory’ involved. It’s a stone-cold certainty.

But I know some people are reluctant to accept it, and I can understand that. When your last illusion is shattered, what are you going to do? Pretend it’s all a dream? Act locally and f**k the ‘globe’? Jump off the Tallahatchee Bridge? Not an attractive range of options really. May as well give this guy (or girl) a chance and see if he/she can’t do a little better.

And what happened? Bailed out Wall Street after about a month in office! I’m telling you now, it’s not a matter of ‘Too big to fail’. What it’s all about is the transnational banker/financier fraternity have got those politicians by the short and curlies. They knew they were lending to people who could never pay back their debts. They knew they were packaging up worthless loans and selling them as sound investments to retirement fund managers etc. And when the loans went bad, as of course they would, the government stepped in and covered their losses – with what money? Anyway, the government was already trillions in the red. According to the latest figures I can find, the USA has an external debt[1] of $18.5 trillion (that’s TRILLION!); and The Economist tells me that the US government alone owes $15.2 trillion. Who to, you might ask. Well, China apparently owes $3 trillion itself, so it can’t be them.

Pretty clearly, that money is not actually being put up by the beleaguered tax-payer, whatever Angela Merkel is telling her German constituents. Those tax dollars have already been spent, and then some. So, in a nutshell, the government is borrowing from the private bankers to cover the bad debts of those same bankers, and the rest of us will be paying interest unto the third and the fourth generation, and probably well beyond that, if the world survives that long. And where do those bankers get their money from? Don’t tell me it’s all petro-dollars.

But back to Barack Hussein Obama II. You’d think, with a name like that, he’d at least have some sympathy for Muslims. Time Magazine informed us, on 8 July, that the ‘US air force [is] primed and ready to attack Iran’s nuclear sites.’ Dear God! Are we back to this again? Is this what Obama-voters thought they were getting after George Dubya departed the scene?

‘The U.S. has made it clear,’ according to the Time people, ‘that it will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon to threaten Israel or its other neighbors in and around the Persian Gulf. If the atomic talks break down—and U.S. intelligence decides Iran is on the verge of becoming a nuclear-armed state—look for the Air Force’s Massive Ordnance Penetrator to get the assignment to try to destroy that capability.’

USAF B2 stealth bomber loading up a MOP

USAF B2 stealth bomber loading up a MOP

So, if I’ve got this right, the USA is ‘talking’ with Iran about its nuclear programme, while making an open threat to smash them if the ‘talks’ don’t go the way the USA wants. The main aim of the US policy is to ensure that Israel remains the only country in the region with nuclear weapon capability. The only country in the region that is allowed to threaten its neighbours is Israel. And who will decide if Iran is cooperating or not? US ‘intelligence’. Now I don’t want to be unkind here. As I remember, when it came to Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq, the US finally went with George Dubya’s intelligence – not a characteristic he had hitherto been especially renowned for. Mr Obama is reputed to be a few points higher up the IQ scale, but . . .

Anyway, wading through the Pentagon-speak in that Time article, I learnt a new acronym: MOP. As you see, it stands for Massive Ordnance Penetrator, and, apparently, it’s the next best thing to a nuclear bomb if you’d prefer not, at least in the short-term, to actually drop an honest-to-God nuclear bomb. One problem is, we just don’t trust those guys. United Nations inspectors repeatedly checked and found no sign of WMDs or development installations in Iraq, but George the Son and Tony ‘Poodle’ Blah went and shocked and awed them anyway. I’d like to hope we can rely on Barack Obama’s superior intelligence this time, but I’m not sure.

Another problem is the United States economy is pretty heavily dependent on arms manufacturing – and these MOPs are serious hardware, designed to drive though 80 metres of rock-solid mountain to reach the Iranian government’s nuclear facility at a place with the unlikely name of Fordow. From a purely technical point-of-view, it sounds pretty sweet, with ‘GPS-guided lattice-type fins, its alloy steel hull – some 80% of its weight – is designed to remain intact as it drills through rock or reinforced concrete before setting off its 5,300-pound warhead.’ That’s a 12-ton bomb, if you need help with the calculation, costing $15 million per bang.

Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was quoted as saying ‘It’s a hammer that might have to be used repeatedly if Iran refuses to back down and continues to work on its nuclear program’ – so the Pentagon reportedly went ahead and ordered 20 of those mothers, at a cost of $314 million. But the politicians are still talking, you understand.

Well, America’s first black president has about a year left in office. Who are you going to try next, guys? Maybe Hillary ‘Dove’ Clinton will be the one to save the planet. Wimin assure me the world will be a better place when more of them hold key positions. Sad to say, I find myself feeling some empathy with the 46% of eligible American voters who didn’t even bother making their way to a polling place for the last presidential election.

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[1] Total public and private debt owed to nonresidents repayable in internationally accepted currencies, goods, or services

Turkey catches Fire? Who to blame for ISIS?

The post-modern news media inhabit and project a fascinating virtual world. Friends and family abroad email or text me saying: ‘We heard there was a terrible earthquake in Turkey – are you all right?’ ‘Well, yes,’ I reply. ‘It was an awful thing for the people on the spot, but that spot is nearly 2000 km from Istanbul, so we ourselves only read about it in the newspaper. But I hear the USA is engulfed in race riots and street violence – I hope you guys are all safe.’ ‘Oh sure,’ they say. ‘Ferguson, Mississippi is a long way from our house.’

But we know it's not happening in your part of America

But we know it’s not happening in your part of America

So when you read a headline in Time proclaiming ‘Turkey Catches Fire as ISIS burns Kobani’ I’d like you to bear that in mind. Turkey covers a land area approximately three times that of Japan, New Zealand or the United Kingdom. There are fires from time to time, but I have to tell you, at this stage, the sub-editor at Time seems to have had a rush of blood to the head. One of my students comes from the city of Şanlıurfa, some 40-50 km from the Syrian border. Out of interest I asked him how things are down there. Pretty normal, he assured me.

On the other hand, the situation in parts of Iraq and Syria near Turkey’s southeastern border seems rather dire. Civil war has been ongoing in Syria for three years with no end in sight – and an estimated 1.5 million refugees have crossed into Turkey, overflowing government camps and increasingly finding their way to urban centres in the west. A mysterious new entity labeled ‘ISIS’ by Western media, seemingly unaffiliated to any particular Middle East state, yet remarkably well-trained and equipped with artillery and other modern military hardware, is raging through the region, burning towns, massacring locals and beheading visiting journalists.

A CNN poll in early September allegedly found that a majority of Americans was ‘alarmed’ by ISIS and in favour of bombing them. Incidentally, the poll also found that 83% were in favour of providing humanitarian aid to refugees, but I haven’t heard much more about that. 61% were clear that they didn’t want to see US troops on the ground in Syria or Iraq. The proportion supporting airstrikes is around 2:1 according to a more recent poll. Keith Helser, a ‘commodities trader from suburban Chicago’ is quoted as saying ‘He [President Obama]’s got to do something.’ He said most people he talks with don’t care much about the U.S. airstrikes. ‘It’s a long way away. As long as we’re not letting our own people get killed, I don’t think they care that much.’

Syrian Kurds crossing the border into Turkey

Syrian Kurds crossing the border into Turkey

Well, excuse me, but I don’t see that. Why exactly does President Obama have to do something? And if he genuinely feels he does, why does it have to be dropping bombs from a great height on countries with whom his own government is not officially at war? The United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement on August 22 saying that more than 191,000 people had been killed in Syria between March 2011 and April 2014, and 2.9 million had fled the country. ‘It is scandalous,’ he said, ‘that the predicament of the injured, displaced, the detained, and the relatives of all those who have been killed or are missing is no longer attracting much attention, despite the enormity of their suffering.’

Western news media, especially in the USA, have made much of the admittedly gruesome deaths of two or three foreign nationals at the hands of ISIS executioners. We also read and see much about Yezidis, Chaldean Christians and Kurds being massacred. Again, I’m sorry, but I don’t see the deaths of those journalists as sufficient reason for large-scale military invasion of a sovereign state with whom we are not actually at war. And I don’t believe Barack Obama does either. I also have serious doubts (along with Mr ‘Chicago commodities trader’ Helser) that most Americans care a great deal about Yezidis or Chaldean Christians, even if they knew what they were. I suspect that there has been a concerted campaign by opinion leaders in the US (political, industrial and financial) using the news media to instill fear into their fellow citizens so that they will support further military action. And the real question, in my opinion, is why?

Bringing peace to the Middle East

Bringing peace to the Middle East

Getting back to recent events in Turkey referred to in that Time article about that country catching fire, it is true that several cities have been experiencing violent street demonstrations where Kurdish citizens are allegedly demanding that the government send military aid to the residents of the Syrian town of Kobani, apparently about to be overrun by ISIS forces. A news item on Thursday in little old New Zealand announced that the US and its allies were ‘chafing at Turkish inaction on Syria.’ It seems that ‘the US and its allies’ want the Turkish government to send troops and tanks across the border into Syria to engage ISIS forces and try to save the town of Kobani – this in spite of the fact that US and its allies are pretty clear in their reluctance to commit ground forces of their own to the conflict. Sitting up there in a bomber at a safe altitude, or at an even safer distance at the controls of an unmanned drone dropping explosive ordinance is apparently ok – but putting US lives at risk . . . Uh, uh. Get those Turks to do it. They’re good at that kind of stuff.

But the Turkish government is being uncooperative, as indeed they were when George W Bush and his allies went a-hunting Saddam Hussein. The line being taken by the US-controlled news media is that Turkey is happy to see ISIS killing Kurds; that they don’t seem to be viewing the threat of ISIS with the appropriate degree of seriousness; and that they are claiming to be worried about PKK Kurdish terrorism when we want them to care more about ISIS.

In fact, in the last two weeks, 160,000 Syrian Kurds fleeing ISIS forces have been permitted to cross the border into Turkey, adding to the 1.5 million Syrians mentioned above. Who will be responsible for feeding, housing and providing gainful employment for these people? The Turkish government is understandably nervous that sending troops into Syria with aggressive intent will provoke a similar response within its own borders. President Erdoğan and Prime Minister Davutoğlu have also made it clear that they are unwilling to commit Turkish troops until the US and its allies clarify their long-term objectives for Syria.

Front page of 'Sözcu' - I suspect the USA is behind it

Front page of ‘Sözcu’ – I suspect the USA has some interest in stirring up protests

Banner front page headline in Turkey’s main anti-government newspaper ‘Sözcu’ this morning announced, over graphic photographs of masked protesters hurling Molotov cocktails and brandishing clubs and sawn-off shotguns: ‘İşte Tayyip’in Eseri’‘This is Tayyip’s [the Turkish president’s] handiwork.’ This in a country where there is, allegedly, no freedom of the press. I couldn’t help wondering what would have happened in the USA if a newspaper had carried a headline, in the days after 9/11, saying ‘This is the Bush family’s handiwork.’ But leave that aside. What I am interested in is, who is actually responsible for the current chaos in the Middle East.

I’m not going to say anything about Israel. I’m not going to enter into a discussion of the extent to which American and British determination to establish a Jewish state in Palestine drastically altered the dynamics in the region, and their commitment to propping it up has created a situation where peace is virtually impossible. No, I’m not.

What I am going to do is direct your attention to a pair of articles written by Alastair Crooke, according to Wikipedia, a British diplomat, a former ranking figure in British Intelligence (MI6) and European diplomacy, and now a vocal advocate for dialogue between militant Islam and the West. Crooke is apparently somewhat unpopular with the neo-conservative club, but what he says makes a lot of sense to me. The first article provides a historical survey of the rise of Wahhabi Islam and its connection with the foundation of Saudi Arabia and its ‘royal’ dynasty. The second proposes the thesis that ‘The real aim of ISIS is to replace the Saud family as the new Emirs of Arabia’.

Crooke argues that Wahhabism was a purist Islamic doctrine originating in the 18th century, strenuously opposed by the Ottomans when they controlled the region, but accepted by the British when, for reasons of their own, they saw fit to settle the Saud family on the Arabian throne after the First World War. Since then there has been an uneasy relationship between the Wahhabist clerics with their Shariah regime, and the Saudi royals pursuing a lavish lifestyle funded by a symbiotic relationship with the USA and its insatiable thirst for oil.

My good friend Abdullah. He doesn't personally flog anyone

My good friend Abdullah. He doesn’t personally flog anyone 😉

In all fairness to the George Bushes and Barack Obama, they probably weren’t/aren’t entirely comfortable with the amputating of hands, stoning of adulteresses and public flogging of women for drinking a glass of beer or driving a car. Sucking up to the Saudi royals involves a certain sleight of mind whereby you pretend you are a persuasive force for modernisation while your weapons factories supply them with state-of-the-art military hardware and you finance their purchases by buying their oil. As Alastair Crooke points out, however, there is a price to pay by King Saud and his family too: an increasing alienation of the Wahhabi believers on whom they depend for their privileged existence. Osama bin Ladin, founder of Al Qaeda, came from a wealthy Saudi family with close ties to the Saudi royals – but his religious principles led to his disillusionment and subsequent exile.

The sad fact for America is that few countries in the world, and probably none in the Middle East (apart from Israel) have much sympathy for their interest in preserving the obscenely opulent lifestyle of the Saudi royals. A Time article today reports that it is not only Turkey that sees Bashar al-Assad as a more important target than ISIS. Neighbouring Lebanon and Jordan are also having to absorb vast numbers of refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria – and other Arab states have reasons of their own for wishing to see the back of Assad. The article suggests that the US government’s reluctance to confront the Syrian dictator stems from the fact that his main ally in the region is Iran. The USA is desperate to get Iran to agree to limit its nuclear development programme (so that Israel can continue to be the only nuclear power in the Middle East), and stepping in to oust Assad will very likely put an end to any hope of success in that struggle.

A symbiotic relationship

A symbiotic relationship

I will give the last word here to Alastair Crooke: ‘Here is the difficulty with evolving U.S. policy, which seems to be one of “leading from behind” again — and looking to Sunni states and communities to coalesce in the fight against ISIS.

‘It is a strategy that seems highly implausible. Who would want to insert themselves into this sensitive intra-Saudi rift? And would concerted Sunni attacks on ISIS make King Abdullah’s situation better, or might it inflame and anger domestic Saudi dissidence even further? So whom precisely does ISIS threaten? It could not be clearer. It does not directly threaten the West (though westerners should remain wary, and not tread on this particular scorpion).’

The Entire World is Appalled? So who are we bombing?

‘The entire world is appalled’ by the killing in Iraq of US journalist James Foley. President Obama was quoted by a number of news agencies, so I guess it’s probably true – that he said it, I mean. According to reports, the President was ‘visibly angry’ – and I can understand that. I haven’t watched the video of the ‘execution’ but beheading someone with a knife, filming it and posting the video online is pretty nasty. But then there’s a lot of pretty nasty stuff circulating on the web these days, so probably we shouldn’t be awfully surprised. I have a suspicion that what is making Mr Obama especially angry, in addition to the murder of one of his citizens, of course, is the fact that the killing was an act of defiance against the United States Government and its Chief Executive Officer. The guys responsible apparently made it clear that it was in revenge for the US’s bombing of their people.

The man's got a point

The man’s got a point

Of course two wrongs don’t make a right. But you need to understand, in that part of the world the blood feud is an important aspect of traditional culture. Retaliation for a perceived wrong is intimately tied up with family honour and masculine self-concept. I know the USA is more civilised these days, but it’s not so long ago that George W Bush was justifying his destruction of Iraq by saying ‘This is the guy [Saddam Hussein] who tried to kill my dad.’ As far as I’m aware, no Islamic extremists tried to kill Barack Obama’s dad, but still, the man was angry, so it’s understandable that, in the heat of the moment, he may have been carried away by his own rhetoric.

Take a look at that statement again. ‘The entire world is appalled.’ It’s hard to get an exact count because at the moment of writing, the net increase today has been around 150 thousand, but according to worldometers.info, there are 7,255,485,065 people in the world. The twenty largest countries by population (in descending order) are China, India, The United States, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Russia, Japan, Mexico, The Philippines, Vietnam, Ethiopia, Egypt, Germany, Iran, Turkey, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, and France, among them accounting for seventy percent of the total. Now I want to ask you, in all honesty, how many of those people do you think care deeply enough about American news media to be appalled by this incident? How many of them have even heard of James Foley? I suspect most of them are too busy worrying about where their next meal is coming from; how they will feed the kids; or maybe dying from some dreadful disease caused by lack of access to clean drinking water.

I have in front of me an article from BBC News dated 5 June 2014 reporting that Israel has advanced plans for 1,460 new homes in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank’. The West Bank, as you probably know, is a small land-locked territory established by international agreement as a kind of reservation for Palestinian Arabs after the creation of Israel in 1949. According to Wikipedia, ‘the international community considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, illegal under international law.’ In spite of this, the United States Government provides moral support, financial backing, military hardware and technical know-how to support the Israeli Government as it carries out a virtual genocide of Palestinians in Gaza for their effrontery in standing up for their rights. I wouldn’t presume to claim that the entire world is appalled by that, but quite a lot of educated, intelligent, sensitive people are – and I have to tell Mr Obama that his actions are not endearing America to the Muslim world, whose people make up around twenty-five percent of the global total.

I'll tell you what we're gonna do, people. We're gonna bomb those mothers!

I’ll tell you what we’re gonna do, people. We’re gonna bomb those mothers!

A lot of people were actually appalled that the United States military bombed the living bejabers out of Iraq so that they could kill Saddam Hussein. They were appalled that the US did this on the pretext that Saddam Hussein was a threat to the world because he had stocks of WMDs – nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Quite a few people were appalled that the United Kingdom went in with them – and it turned out to be a big lie! And what’s more, those guys knew all along it was a big lie! According to what I heard, a fair number of citizens of the USA and the UK were subsequently appalled when they learnt the truth.

Now the US Government is back in Iraq again bombing people, and many of the world’s citizens are appalled again. For quite some time they have been appalled that the US President can murder anyone anywhere on the planet using unpiloted drones and guided missiles. He can invade and bomb the sovereign territories of other people without even declaring war on them – and without getting the go-ahead from his own people. Maybe some of those people are a little appalled too.

Much of the world is appalled that US spies have been using advanced technology to listen in on the conversations of leaders of allied countries – though Angela Merkel is not as appalled as she at first made out, since it seems she has been doing the same thing. Some people have doubts about the morality of President Obama’s offering $10 million reward for four Pakistani guys he doesn’t like. Apparently they are leading lights in yet another Islamic ‘extremist’ group (the Haqqani family) who have been organising strikes against American military personnel going about their lawful business in Afghanistan.

Like me, you may have been surprised when you heard that the US military was back in Iraq carrying out bombing attacks. Didn’t they pull their forces out at the end of 2011? Of course, as a friend rightly told me, we have a responsibility to interfere when innocent women and children are being murdered, wherever it’s happening. Unfortunately, such issues are rarely so black and white. Northern Iraq holds a large share of the country’s oil reserves and a majority Kurdish population, many of whom are adherents of the Yazidi religion. The United States Government, in a spirit of brotherly love (or whatever) has been supporting the Peshmerga (Kurdish freedom fighters) with military training and hardware for years. Their assistance is said to have been crucial in the capture and execution of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. Some non-Kurdish Iraqis are apparently not happy with all this, and their forces, lumped together under the latest bogey term IS, ISIL, ISID or whatever, are the ones who have been besieging Yazidis on mountain tops, capturing dams etc, thereby attracting the bombs of US airplanes.

Listen to the children

Listen to the children

So who’s right and who’s wrong? America’s population, large though it be, is less than a half of one percent of the world’s total. And probably some of them have more on their mind than the fate of a photojournalist in Iraq. I’m not sure, for example, how high it would rank in the concerns of the good people of Ferguson, Missouri. And the world’s glitterati, though not large in number, seem more interested in pouring buckets of iced water over themselves and each other. I know he’s not a US citizen, but he did buy the most expensive house in America for his daughter a year or two back. World Formula One Grand Prix mogul Bernie Ecclestone just bought off the courts in Germany with a $100 million payout to avoid being tried in court for bribing a senior officer of Bayern LB (Bavarian State Bank) back in 2006 – and I suspect most of the transnational world citizens in Bernie’s income bracket are more concerned with making money for themselves than with who’s killing who in the Middle East, as long as the oil keeps flowing.

I was interested to read that James Foley had previously been captured by supporters of the late Muammar Gaddafi in Libya back in 2011. Apparently Foley is a good Catholic and he attributed his release after forty-four days in captivity to the prayers of folks back home in Milwaukee. So what happened this time? Possibly God and the people of Milwaukee felt that Foley was putting the Almighty to an unfair test by heading into the middle of the Syrian civil war. Anyway, it seems that Barack Obama is planning to give Divine Justice a little assistance in case it’s not up to the job. ‘No just God,’ he said in the same angry speech, ‘would stand for what they did yesterday or every single day.’ So we’re bombing them again. Wouldn’t you think it’s about time the most powerful and inventive nation on Earth came up with a more creative (and maybe less appalling) solution to the planet’s problems?

Into the Valley of Death – Another Crimean War?

What a strange education I had, or so I think now on looking back. When I was a lad in New Zealand there were still people referring to England (or Britain) as ‘Home’. My first primary school headmaster used to visit classes occasionally to brandish a leather strap he referred to as his ‘medicine’, and get us kids piping ‘Rule Britannia’ in our reedy little antipodean voices. Having pupils memorise chunks of poetry was a popular pedagogical technique. Alfred Lord Tennyson’s ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’ added to our sense of belonging to an empire on which the sun was still struggling to set, defended by men, any one of whom was worth ten or twenty of any other race on earth, and capable, when the chips were down, of staggering out into an Antarctic blizzard uttering a self-sacrificing epigram in ringing tones.
British lion defends Ottoman ‘turkey’ against
imperialist Russian bear
Well, there was one line in that immortal poem suggesting that ‘someone had blundered’, but most of it was clearly written to perpetuate the myth of men committed to facing, if necessary, overwhelming odds, and fighting or dying in defence of Empire. I have checked again and found one reference to the opposition – ‘Cossack and Russian’ – but no explanation of what those noble Light Brigade horsemen actually hoped to gain by charging into ‘the mouth of Hell’, other than death and/or glory.
In fact, the famous charge was little more than a futile sideshow in the Battle of Balaklava, the first major engagement in the Crimean War (1853-56). One might even think the whole war itself was a pretty questionable venture. I have no special reason to love Russians, but I have some sympathy for their plight, locked up in the largest, coldest most inhospitable and inaccessible land mass in the world. As the state of Russia (centred on Moscow) expanded from 1500 CE, one of its main driving forces was the need for access to warm water ports for shipping, trade and military purposes – and sandy beaches for summer holidays. Check your atlas. What would you have done if you were a Peter or a Catherine with Great ambitions?
For the Russians, it was pretty obvious that they had to have access to the Black Sea and if possible, a direct route to the Aegean or the Mediterranean. This involved fighting and conquering, or otherwise neutralising whoever was in the way – mostly Muslim Crimean Tatars, Ottomans and Circassians. An important tool in the Russians’ box of strategies was the Orthodox Christian religion which they used to enlist the support of allies, justify expansion and clear out unfriendly resistance.
Expansion as far as the Black Sea was pretty much accomplished during the 18th century, culminating in a victorious war against the Ottomans (1768-74). The Russian government formally annexed Crimea (not just the peninsula in those days) in 1783.
Again, however, a glance at the map will show that even possessing ports on the northern Black Sea coast doesn’t circumvent all your problems from a Russian point-of-view. Your ships still have to negotiate the Istanbul Bosporus and the Dardanelle Straits past the hostile eyes and guns of your resentful Ottoman neighbours. Wouldn’t it be nice to possess Constantinople/Istanbul itself, or drive a corridor through eastern Anatolia, emerging down in the northeast corner of the Mediterranean around the port of Alexandretta/Iskenderun? Of course both of these will involve further wars with those pesky Ottomans – though by now, the middle of the 19th century, they are not the fearsome military power they once were.
Still, you need a pretext for picking a fight, and what better than religion? How can good Christians allow those heathen Turks to control the holy places where Christ suffered and died? And there are Christian communities all through the region, Armenians and Syrian Orthodox for example, clearly in need of protection from the oppression and persecution of their Muslim overlords, never mind that they had all been co-existing in relative peace and harmony for centuries. Well, that protection idea caught on in Europe later, but at this stage, France and especially Britain were not about to let the Russians control the eastern Mediterranean and endanger their interests in that region and further afield in India. Hence the Crimean War. Let’s get over there, was the plan, and help our dear Muslim Ottoman friends defeat those dastardly Cossacks and Russians and keep them bottled up in their frozen wastes.
Well, international treaties and alliances make fragile bonds, and it wasn’t too many years before Britain and France were joining forces to finally erase the Ottoman Empire from the geo-political scene. Previously, however, in the 1850s and 60s, their sympathies lay more with Muslim populations suffering genocide and expulsion as a result of Russian expansion.
EGO | European History Online has this to say:Taking advantage of the favourable anti-Turkish sentiment, the Tzarist army conducted a military offensive against the Ottoman Empire in 1877/1878 which ended with the defeat of the Ottomans in the Balkans and the re-establishment of Russia in the Black Sea. In the Russo-Turkish War, Russian and Bulgarian soldiers and francs-tireurs killed 200,000–300,000 Muslims and about one million people were displaced.  After the war, more than half a million Muslim refugees from the Russian Caucasus and the areas south of the Danube, which were under Russian protection, were settled in the Ottoman Empire.’ (Paragraph 3, 2014.03.10)
But who remembers that now? Apart from the Crimean Tatars and the Circassians themselves, that is. As far as I am aware, the XXII Winter Olympic Games in Sochi went off with little disruption despite hopes held by the ex-patriate Circassian community of using the occasion as a stage to draw the world’s attention to the above-mentioned  ‘resettlement’. ‘The world’, sadly, for the most part, doesn’t want to know. It’s got enough problems of its own, and anyway it’s hard to know which plaintive cries of genocide to take seriously these days. Add to that the fact that most First World countries have ethnic cleansing skeletons in their own historical closets, and you can see why they are reluctant to risk their glass houses by throwing stones at each other.
Of course there has to be a certain amount of posturing. Our local Istanbul newspaper published pictures of the US destroyer Truxton steaming through the Bosphorus on its way to wave the Stars and Stripes in the Black Sea. President Obama, according to reports, has been having stern words over the phone with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin; and Republican Presidential hopeful, Senator Rand Paul says that ‘if he were President, he would take a harder stance against the Russian President for his actions.’

The sad fact of the matter is that it is extremely unlikely Russia will let Ukraine and Crimea go their own independent way. About as likely as the United States handing Hawaii back to the native Polynesians, or Texas back to Mexico. Probably the best Crimean nationalists can hope for is more conciliatory gestures from Mother Russia along the lines of renaming Stalingrad as Volgograd, recognising that the earlier name had bad associations for locals who remember the mass expulsion of Crimean Tatars to Siberia in 1944.

The Nepalese Don’t Understand Capitalism

Surfing through the TV channels on a laid-back New Year’s Day I chanced upon a tennis match involving my favourite Spanish left-handed World No 1. It seems one of the tournaments warming players up for the Australian Open Grand Slam in Melbourne this month is being held in Doha, capital city of that well-known tennis-playing nation, Qatar.
Spot the tennis-players. ExxonMobil tournament in Qatar
Excuse me if a little cynicism crept into that last sentence. You can’t really blame the players, I know, because after all, tennis is their job, and there’s $US 1,096,910 in prize money up for grabs in that Doha tournament. Still, I felt some admiration for Roger Federer, who is apparently doing his warm-up in Brisbane, Australia.
You are perhaps aware that the hereditary absolute monarchy of Qatar is also scheduled to host the FIFA World Cup in 2022, but has been attracting some unwelcome media attention for alleged mistreatment of labourers working on the associated huge construction projects. The tiny Arab state is, according to Wikipedia, ‘the world’s richest country [by per capita GDP]and achieved the highest human development in the Arab World and 36thhighest globally . . . and also the 19th most peaceful country in the world’.  Qatar has a population of 1,903,447 of which, sadly for male Qataris, only 498,283 (or 26 percent) are female. In fact, however, only 15 percent of those nearly two million residents are actually citizens – the vast majority being expatriate male labourers from India, Nepal, the Philippines, Bangladesh and other nations not ranked quite so high on lists of per capita wealth and/or peacefulness.
One assumes, then, given the high level of peace in Qatar, that Qatari males have better odds of finding a girl than the overall statistic might lead us to think. Similarly, since wages for migrant workers, according to Human Rights Watch, ‘typically range from $8 to $11 for between nine and eleven hours of gruelling outdoor work each day’, one must further assume that per capita income stats and measurements of human development only reflect the situation of actual Qatari nationals.
The Guardian ran an article on 29 December pointing out the shocking fact that, in spite of ‘brutal working conditions and flagrant abuse of workers’ rights’, thousands of impoverished Nepalese men queue up each day for the chance to work in Qatar and other Gulf states. Their hope is that they will earn $200 a month for a couple of years, pay back the fee charged by employment agencies back home, and perhaps start a small business or send their children to school on their return.
Protest against treatment of
migrant workers in Gulf States
Living conditions in Nepal are so bad that stories of over-crowded accommodation, starvation rations and non-payment of wages are not sufficient to shorten those queues. The Wikipedia entry mentions Nepal in the same sentence as Rwanda and Bangladesh, stating that nearly 60 percent of the people live on less than $2 a day, with unemployment and underemployment approaching half of the working-age population. More than one third of households do not have a toilet in their house, and less than half have running tap water. ‘Leading diseases and illnesses include diarrhea, gastrointestinal disorders, goiter, intestinal parasites, leprosy, visceral leishmaniasis and tuberculosis.’ Malnutrition is a serious problem: ‘about 47 percent of children under five are stunted, 15 percent wasted, and 36 percent underweight.’ Another Guardian article in June this year described the death of a 12-year-old girl in Kathmandu. The girl, working as a domestic slave for a higher-caste family to repay a debt incurred by her father, had apparently ‘doused herself in kerosene and then set herself alight.’ Such slavery, the article continues, is not at all uncommon.
It’s a sad story, but what can you do? Time ran an article in their Business and Money section last week entitled: ‘How a Starbucks Latté Shows China Doesn’t Understand Capitalism’. The gist was that Chinese are unreasonably complaining because Starbucks charges more for a coffee in Taiyuan than it does in downtown Manhattan – with similar charges made against Nestlé and Danone. The writer says, in essence, that the Chinese should shut up. The answer, as usual, comes down to ‘the bottom line’, which is: Companies will price their products based on what the consumer is willing to pay’ – and if you don’t like the price, don’t buy the product. Big talk, but in this case I suspect capitalism may find its bottom line rationale clashing with its need to tap into the one-and-a-half billion Chinese consumer market.
Nevertheless, that headline did raise another question in my mind: Who actually does understand capitalism? Getting back to that tennis tournament in Doha, the major sponsor is the American multinational oil and gas corporation ExxonMobil – not surprising, I guess, since little old Qatar has the world’s third largest natural gas reserves, as well as a good supply of petroleum. According to Wikipedia, ExxonMobil’s largest shareholder is that paragon of international philanthrocapitalism, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Two members of the current board are a professor of economics at Stanford University and another of management practice at Harvard Business School. Well, that trio at least should have a pretty good grasp of how capitalism works. Certainly their baby looks in rude financial health. As of July 1, 2010, ExxonMobil occupied eight out of 10 slots for Largest Corporate Quarterly Earnings of All Time. Furthermore, it occupies 5 out of 10 slots on Largest Corporate Annual Earnings’.
On the other hand, you yourself may not be as well versed in the philosophy that drives the world economy as the Gates couple and those disinterested academics, so let me give you a couple of pointers. The ExxonMobil bottom line, not surprisingly, does not attach great importance to the environmental health of Planet Earth. That Wikipedia entry lists six major oil spills within continental United States for which the corporation was responsible and whose seriousness they tried to downplay: apart from the Exxon Valdez disaster of March 1989, more recently there have been oil spills in Brooklyn and the Yellowstone River in July 2007, a pipeline spill and benzene leak at Baton Rouge Refinery in April and June 2012 and another oil spill at Mayflower in March 2013. ExxonMobil have been accused of funding organisations disseminating misinformation about the part fossil fuels play in causing global warming. Even the people at Forbes, not generally known for caring about the downtrodden masses, have raised questions of company executives bribing and/or taking kickbacks from the dictatorial regimes of oil-rich nations such as Angola and Kazakhstan.
You might think that, if only out of cynical self-interest, the board of ExxonMobil might want to throw a few of those All Time Highest Quarterly Earnings in the direction of Nepal and its enslaved girl children. Even Rafael Nadal, if he knew what was going on, might be persuaded to donate a portion of his winner’s purse. But clearly the sponsors of tennis and the football World Cup are happy to have their company names and logos broadcast to television sets around the world and accept at face value the Qatari royal family’s hype about the wealth and standard of living of their people. Whatever spin its most ardent proponents try to put on it, capitalism is largely about short-term profit; and concern for future generations, or disadvantaged present-day ones is not a major factor in bottom line accounting.
Another example is the financial sector, in particular, the denizens of Wall St who were credited with causing the global crisis of 2008. In February 2009 President Barack Obama appointed Former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker to chair a board tasked with advising the administration on matters affecting economic recovery. In January 2010 the board came back with a set of proposals aimed at preventing banks from engaging in the kind of dodgy trading and investing that had led to the financial meltdown. Those proposals, popularly known as the Volcker Rule, and officially as the Dodd-Frank Wall St Reform and Consumer Protection Act (!!!), have been doing the rounds of various ‘agencies’ for the past four years, and are now scheduled to go into effect on 1 April 2014 (any significance in that date, I wonder?).
Clearly those ‘agencies’ have had plenty of time to play with the proposals. According to an articlein Time’s Business pages, the original relatively simple recommendations have been tampered with and expanded to such an extent that ‘The Volcker rule . . . has been turned into Swiss cheese by bank lobbyists’ – on whom their employers spend nearly half a billion dollars a year. The article goes on to say that ‘the biggest banks are even bigger now than they were before the crisis: the eight largest financial institutions in the U.S. control nearly $15 trillion worth of assets, or about 90% of GDP’.
It seems to me one of the big differences between post-modern economies and those in the developing world is the sophistication level of their corruption; the capacity for burying their dirty activities in a legal labyrinth, or exporting them offshore. In between, of course, are the oil-rich newcomers, who just snow the soiled underwear with money and defy the world to criticise.
Take Dubai. I resent it intensely when my plane stops there on the way to Auckland or Sydney. If I want to go there, I’ll buy a ticket – which I will never willingly do. This year I’m going via Malaysia – not lily-white, for sure, but less objectionable than its Middle Eastern Muslim cousin.
The population of that desert oasis is similar to Qatar, with more or less the same ratio of males to females, for pretty much the same reason – more than 70 percent are poor migrant workers from Asia. Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation says,‘Most companies are forcing their workers to live in squalor. An unconscionable number of workers die due to unsafe conditions.’ Workers are ‘effectively living in 21st century slave states,’ she says. According to Al-Jazeera, unions and strikes are illegal. Annual per capita income of citizens in the United Arab Emirates is $48,158, but only 20 percent of the 7.9 million residents have citizenship – almost impossible to get if you can’t prove a paternal blood relationship to the original inhabitants. Women’s rights are reportedly beyond medieval. In Dubai, a woman who reports being raped can be sentenced to over a year of time in prison for ‘engaging in extramarital relations.’
On the other hand, thousands of Western ex-pats, including tennis and rugby players, choose to live, work and play in the UAE, lured by high salaries and a lifestyle they could not afford in their own countries. Apparently adjudicators from the Guinness Book of Records were on hand in Dubai on New Year’s Eve to officially witness the world’s largest ever fireworks extravaganza. The six-minute display is said to have exploded half a million fireworks spread over nearly 100 kilometres of coastline, provided employment for 200 technicians (from US firm Fireworks by Grucci) using 100 computers, and cost $6 million.

In the end, perhaps that’s the real secret of capitalism’s success: blind the ‘haves’ with lavish displays of pyrotechnics, and keep the self-immolating Nepalese slave-girls well out of sight.

Neo-con-spiracy: Egypt, Turkey and the spirit of true democracy

‘Egypt’s February 28’ran the headline in our local newspaper. If you don’t live in Turkey, or you are not a student of the country’s affairs, that date won’t mean much to you – so I’d better tell you that it was the day in 1997 when senior military commanders had a quiet word in the ear of Turkey’s Prime Minister, Necmettin Erbakan, resulting in that gentleman’s resignation from office. It has become known as Turkey’s ‘post-modern coup’, to distinguish it from the three military coups that had taken place between 1960 and 1980 and were more orthodox in terms of martial law, executions, torture and civilian disappearances.

Older Turks, then, are familiar with the pattern, and some, including the current Turkish government, raised their voices in protest when, on July 3, Egypt’s military ousted elected President Mohammed Morsi and installed an ’interim’ replacement more supportive of their aims and objectives.

Now I do not know, and I certainly cannot prove that the United States Government or its operatives abroad had any involvement in last Wednesday’s events in Egypt. What I can say with some certainty, however, is that successive US administrations were strong supporters of Hosni Mubarak, unseated in 2011 by Egypt’s Arab Spring uprising after a 29 year military dictatorship– to the extent that they had provided him with sufficient weaponry to make Egypt the world’s 10th largest military machine. I can also say that, under Mubarak’s tutelage, Egypt had become a friendly supporter of Israel – somewhat surprisingly given that from its beginning in 1948, they had fought several wars with their emergent Middle Eastern neighbour, again in 1956, 1967, 1969, 1970, and 1974, and had consistently refused to recognise its right to exist.

Whatever the truth of the matter, it is evident that Western ‘democracies’ are not unhappy with the current military ‘intervention’ in Egypt. US and European spokespersons are tying their tongues in knots trying to avoid labelling it a military coup, since doing so would require them to cut off financial aid to the illegal regime. It also seems clear that Egypt’s economic problems under the Morsi administration were, at least in part, caused by reluctance on the part of Western countries to lend their support to the democratically elected president.

Still, it’s also interesting to note that Egypt’s Middle Eastern Arab neighbours (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates), whom you might have expected to approve of the Morsi government, seem also to be supportive of the military takeover. Clearly their own vested interests and their dislike of democracy per se override what sympathy they may have felt for a Muslim brother.


Well, enough of Egypt. My wife and I just returned from a visit to the USA. We had a great time. My stepdaughter got married in a delightful celebration, and I caught up with a couple of old friends in New York City from way back when. As you may imagine, I didn’t do a lot of reading, but I did glance at a newspaper occasionally. My Turkish friends and readers will be proud to know that their country is in the news over there. No publicity is bad publicity, goes the saying – though they might be a little concerned at the nature of the exposure Turkey is getting in some sections of the US media.


My attention was drawn to an opinion piece in the New York Post by one Amir Taheri. OK, the Post is probably not a shining example of journalistic objectivity and integrity, but people over there read it, and their world view may well be influenced by what they see in its pages. Just a quick sample selection from Mr Taheri’s piece:


When Ottoman Sultans failed on the battlefield they sought glory in building a mosque – and now Sultan Tayyip Erdoğan is doing the same. Taheri claims that the government plans to build, on thirty square miles of prime urban land in the Taksim area, a mosque whose minaret will be the world’s highest man-made structure. Prime Minister Erdoğan, he asserts, is turning Istanbul into the largest building site in the world, giving contracts to supporters and making the AKP administration the most corrupt since the fall of the caliphate. One of his projects is a canal to be named after Sultan Selim, known in English as ‘the Bloodsucker’.


Erdoğan united twenty different Islamic groups and got himself elected by a majority of Turks while sneakily making no mention of Islam. The policies of his AK Party government are an ideological hodgepodge.


Hard to know where to start demolishing such a breath-taking collection of misrepresentations, distortions and downright untruths, but let’s start with the minaret. Currently the world’s tallest minaret is in Casablanca, Morocco, and stands 210 metres (689 feet) tall. By contrast, the world’s tallest man-made structure is the Burj Khalifa, a non-religious edifice in Dubai. It will take a miraculous feat of engineering and architecture to construct a minaret able to exceed that building’s 830 metres (2,722 feet). As for the building site in ‘downtown’ Istanbul, one square mile is equal to 640 acres, or 2.6 km2. Thirty square miles means an area not quite as large as the entire island of Manhattan, but almost! I can’t imagine the most absolute of military dictators managing to demolish that much of the city.


Undoubtedly there is a major construction boom taking place in Turkey at present, and not only in Istanbul. I don’t know how it would compare to the activity that transformed New York City in the first half of the 20thcentury – but few Americans would argue that that was a bad thing. Certainly there is a plan to build a canal allowing foreign shipping to bypass the urban centre of Turkey’s largest city – but it will not be named after Sultan Selim (whose name is mooted for a third bridge being built across the Bosporus Strait– not river, Mr Taheri).


The principal architectural feature of old Istanbul is its domed and minaretted skyline, its monumental mosques built by extremely successful conquering sultans in the glory days of the Ottoman Empire. One of these was Selim (reigned 1512-1520) known to Turks as Yavuz(the Tough, or Ferocious) and in English usually as Selim the Grim. I hadn’t come across the Bloodsucker nickname before, but very likely some of those his armies conquered would have been less than overjoyed and may have attached less flattering names to him. Erdoğan’s AK Party Government, however, has indeed managed to win and retain the support of a majority of Turks, largely as a result of policies with a broad appeal to a cross-section of the voting public – so the term hodgepodge may be a trifle unfair. Would Mr Taheri have preferred a more overt Islamic agenda?


Anyway, after reading his piece on Turkey, I felt I had to check out Amir Taheri’s credentials as a journalist, and let me share with you some of my findings. Wikipedia informs us that he is Iranian by birth, and was quite a high-profile chap in the last years of the Shah’s regime, filling, among other roles, the position of executive editor-in-chief of the pro-Shah propagandist daily, ‘Kayhan’. Needless to say, his services were no longer required after the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and he sought refuge in the United States who had installed the Shah in the first place.


Since taking up residence in the USA, Taheri has authored a number of books and written columns for many prestigious newspapers, where his ‘Bomb Iran’ and general anti-Islamic opinions have made him a popular commentator in certain circles – a popularity seemingly undiminished by his reputation for fabricating false stories, distorting facts and citing nonexistent sources. One reviewer of his 1988 book ‘A Nest of Spies’ wrote that it is ‘the sort of book that gives contemporary history a bad name.’ Jonathan Schwarz, writing for Mother Jones, called Taheri ‘one of the strangest ingredients in America’s media soup.’ He went on to say, ‘There may not be anyone else who simply makes things up as regularly as he does with so few consequences.’


Just why the guy gets away with the nonsense he writes may be explained by his primary audience and his connections. According to Wikipedia, Taheri has a PR agent by the name of Eliana Benador whose company, now apparently defunct, was particularly active publishing the writings of leading neo-conservatives during the George W Bush presidency. According to Source Watch, Ms Benador hails from Peru, but lives in the United States and acts as a ‘sort of theatrical agent for experts on the Middle East and terrorism’. Many of her clients, it seems, are associated with the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI), ‘an extremely influential, pro-business, conservative think tank which promotes the advancement of free enterprise capitalism, and succeeds in placing its people in influential governmental positions. It is the center base for many neo-conservatives’. Taheri himself has been associated with two Islamophobic organisations, the Gatestone Institute and the Hudson Institute, founded and funded by Sears Roebuck heiress Nina Rosenwald, a lady labelled the ‘Sugar Mama of Anti-Muslim Hate’ by journalist Max Blumenthal.


Well, on the subject of guys who have made themselves unpopular with their own governments seeking refuge elsewhere, it seems the United States operates a double standard. Probably, like me, you have been following the case of Edward Snowden, former contractor to the National Security Agency and CIA employee who made a name for himself by leaking details of top-secret US and British mass surveillance programmes to the press.


Most of the current media attention seems to be focused on US attempts to get Snowden back from Moscow where he has apparently been holed up in the airport for a couple of weeks. The guy has been applying to a number of countries for political asylum, but his task has been complicated by the fact that the US Government has revoked his passport, and used its diplomatic muscle to dissuade others from sheltering him. Bolivian President, Evo Morales was evidently suspected of sneaking Snowden out of Moscow on his private plane – which was forced to land in Vienna and be searched by authorities. France, Spain, Portugal and Austria denied bowing to US pressure in refusing passage through their airspace – but you’d have to wonder if they had their fingers crossed behind their backs.


Anyway, as of today, it seems that Venezuela and Nicaragua have offered asylum to the American whistle-blower, perhaps adding a third party to that interesting duo of Julian Assange and Kim Dotcom. Evidently the spirit of Hugo Chavez lives on in Venezuela – and clearly some states in South America continue to have misgivings about their large northern neighbour.


In the midst of all the excitement about whether US law enforcement agencies will be able to snatch Snowden or not, it is easy to lose sight of what all the fuss is actually about. Last month the Guardian and Washington Post newspapers published a series of articles containing revelations that the United States and UK governments were using high tech surveillance systems to spy or eavesdrop on supposedly friendly allies like France, Italy, Japan and South Korea. As a result, Germany’s Andrea Merkel and Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu have been seeking clarification from high-ups in the United States about the true nature of their friendship. I wish them luck. A White House spokesman announced that ‘The president assured the chancellor that the United States takes seriously the concerns of our European allies and partners’ – politician-speak for ‘Calm down, Angie baby, and don’t get your knickers in a twist!’

I hear what you’re saying, Angie
President Obama himself offered more honesty, if little consolation, ‘Every intelligence service, not just ours . . . is going to be trying to understand the world better and what’s going on in world capitals around the world from sources that aren’t available through the New York Times or NBC News’– president-speak for ‘Calm down, Angie baby, and don’t get your knickers in a twist!’
Well, when all’s said and done, we kind of knew that, didn’t we? That’s what spying’s all about, isn’t it? It has recently emerged that some delegates to the G20 conference in London in 2009, including Turkey’s Finance Minister Ahmet Şimşek and his delegation, had their phone calls and emails monitored by UK authorities. So far there has been no response from the British Government to official Turkish demands for an explanation.
In the end, as President Obama implied in his response to Chancellor Merkel, everybody’s doing it, and sometimes they get caught. There will be a bit of a fuss, some red faces, and then it’ll be back to business as usual. Nevertheless, there are two serious moral dilemmas that emerge. The first is the responsibility of an employee who learns that his or her employer is up to some skullduggery. The Nuremburg Trials after the Second World War established the principle that following orders is not a defense for crimes against humanity. So what should a guy like Snowden do when he sees his employer (the United States Government) carrying out actions that would outrage the international community?
The second is on a much larger scale and with far more serious implications. To what extent is a government justified in involving itself in the internal affairs of another sovereign state when it considers its own interests are threatened? When Iranian Prime Minister Mossadegh planned to nationalize his country’s oil industry in 1953, Britain persuaded the US to overthrow his government and reinstall the Shah. When Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal in 1956, Britain felt justified in sending troops – though this time the Americans didn’t play along.
For the United States, there are two crucial issues in the Middle East – oil supplies and the existence of Israel. Anything that threatens US interests here will provoke a strong response. In terms of preserving the status quo, in spite of all the rhetoric about democracy, it is much easier to deal with autocratic governments than with administrations answerable to the changeable will of the local people. We must hope that recent events in Turkey and Egypt are, in fact, expressions of popular sentiment in those countries, and not a result of cynical outside interference. In the final analysis, however, it may be merely a matter of how big you are and what you believe you can get away with.