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by George Lakoff, Marc Ettlinger and Sam Ferguson with AlterNet
Bush's bumbling folksiness causes progressives to disregard him -- but he has been overwhelmingly competent in advancing his harmful conservative agenda.
Progressives have fallen into a trap. Emboldened by President Bush's plummeting approval ratings, progressives increasingly point to Bush's "failures" and label him and his administration as incompetent. For example, Nancy Pelosi said "The situation in Iraq and the reckless economic policies in the United States speak to one issue for me, and that is the competence of our leader."
Self-satisfying as this criticism may be, it misses the bigger point. Bush's disasters -- Katrina, the Iraq War, the budget deficit -- are not so much a testament to his incompetence or a failure of execution. Rather, they are the natural, even inevitable result of his conservative governing philosophy. It is conservatism itself, carried out according to plan, that is at fault. Bush will not be running again, but other conservatives will. His governing philosophy is theirs as well. We should be putting the onus where it belongs, on all conservative office holders and candidates who would lead us off the same cliff.
To Bush's base, his bumbling folksiness is part of his charm -- it fosters conservative populism. Bush plays up this image by proudly stating his lack of interest in reading and current events, his fondness for naps and vacations and his self-deprecating jokes. This image causes the opposition to underestimate his capacities -- disregarding him as a complete idiot -- and deflects criticism of his conservative allies. If incompetence is the problem, it's all about Bush. But, if conservatism is the problem, it is about a set of ideas, a movement and its many adherents.
The idea that Bush is incompetent is a curious one. Consider the following (incomplete) list of major initiatives the Bush administration, with a loyal conservative Congress, has accomplished:
* Centralizing power within the executive branch to an unprecedented degree
These aren't signs of incompetence. As should be painfully clear, the Bush administration has been overwhelmingly competent in advancing its conservative vision. It has been all too effective in achieving its goals by determinedly pursuing a conservative philosophy.
It's not Bush the man who has been so harmful, it's the conservative agenda.
The Conservative Agenda
Conservative philosophy has three fundamental tenets: individual initiative, that is, government's positive role in people's lives outside of the military and police should be minimized; the President is the moral authority; and free markets are enough to foster freedom and opportunity.
The conservative vision for government is to shrink it - to "starve the beast" in Conservative Grover Norquist's words. The conservative tagline for this rationale is that "you can spend your money better than the government can." Social programs are considered unnecessary or "discretionary" since the primary role of government is to defend the country's border and police its interior. Stewardship of the commons, such as allocation of healthcare or energy policy, is left to people's own initiative within the free market. Where profits cannot be made -- conservation, healthcare for the poor -- charity is meant to replace justice and the government should not be involved.
Given this philosophy, then, is it any wonder that the government wasn't there for the residents of Louisiana and Mississippi in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina? Conservative philosophy places emphasis on the individual acting alone, independent of anything the government could provide. Some conservative Sunday morning talk show guests suggested that those who chose to live in New Orleans accepted the risk of a devastating hurricane, the implication being that they thus forfeited any entitlement to government assistance. If the people of New Orleans suffered, it was because of their own actions, their own choices and their own lack of preparedness. Bush couldn't have failed if he bore no responsibility.
The response to Hurricane Katrina -- rather, the lack of response -- was what one should expect from a philosophy that espouses that the government can have no positive role in its citizen's lives. This response was not about Bush's incompetence, it was a conservative, shrink-government response to a natural disaster.
Another failure of this administration during the Katrina fiasco was its wholesale disregard of the numerous and serious hurricane warnings. But this failure was a natural outgrowth of the conservative insistence on denying the validity of global warming, not ineptitude. Conservatives continue to deny the validity of global warming, because it runs contrary to their moral system. Recognizing global warming would call for environmental regulation and governmental efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Regulation is a perceived interference with the free-market, Conservatives' golden calf. So, the predictions of imminent hurricanes -- based on recognizing global warming -- were not heeded. Conservative free market convictions trumped the hurricane warnings.
Our budget deficit is not the result of incompetent fiscal management. It too is an outgrowth of conservative philosophy. What better way than massive deficits to rid social programs of their funding?
In Iraq, we also see the impact of philosophy as much as a failure of execution.
The idea for the war itself was born out of deep conservative convictions about the nature and capacity of US military force. Among the Project for a New American Century's statement of principles (signed in 1997 by a who's who of the architects of the Iraq war -- Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Zalmay Khalilzad, I. Lewis Libby among others) are four critical points:
* we need to increase defense spending significantly if we are to carry out our global responsibilities today and modernize our armed forces for the future
It also indicates that the real motive behind the Iraq war wasn't to stop Iraq's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, but was a test of neoconservative theory that the US military could reshape Middle East geo-politics. The manipulation and disregard of intelligence to sell the war was not incompetence, it was the product of a conservative agenda.
Unfortunately, this theory exalts a hubristic vision over the lessons of history. It neglects the realization that there is a limit to a foreign army's ability to shape foreign politics for the good. Our military involvement in Vietnam, Lebanon, the Philippines, Cuba (prior to Castro) and Panama, or European imperialist endeavors around the globe should have taught us this lesson. Democracy needs to be an organic, homegrown movement, as it was in this country. If we believe so deeply in our ideals, they will speak for themselves and inspire others.
During the debate over Iraq, the conservative belief in the unquestioned authority and moral leadership of the President helped shape public support. We see this deference to the President constantly: when Conservatives call those questioning the President's military decisions "unpatriotic"; when Conservatives defend the executive branch's use of domestic spying in the war on terror; when Bush simply refers to himself as the "decider." "I support our President" was a common justification of assent to the Iraq policy.
Additionally, as the implementer of the neoconservative vision and an unquestioned moral authority, our President felt he had no burden to forge international consensus or listen to the critiques of our allies. "You're with us, or you're against us," he proclaimed after 9/11.
Much criticism continues to be launched against this administration for ineptitude in its reconstruction efforts. Tragically, it is here too that the administration's actions have been shaped less by ineptitude than by deeply held conservative convictions about the role of government.
As noted above, Conservatives believe that government's role is limited to security and maintaining a free market. Given this conviction, it's no accident that administration policies have focused almost exclusively on the training of Iraqi police, and US access to the newly free Iraqi market -- the invisible hand of the market will take care of the rest. Indeed, George Packer has recently reported that the reconstruction effort in Iraq is nearing its end ("The Lessons of Tal Affar," The New Yorker, April 10th, 2006). Iraqis must find ways to rebuild themselves, and the free market we have constructed for them is supposed to do this. This is not ineptitude. This is the result of deep convictions over the nature of freedom and the responsibilities of governments to their people.
Finally, many of the miscalculations are the result of a conservative analytic focus on narrow causes and effects, rather than mere incompetence. Evidence for this focus can be seen in conservative domestic policies: Crime policy is based on punishing the criminals, independent of any effort to remedy the larger social issues that cause crime; immigration policy focuses on border issues and the immigrants, and ignores the effects of international and domestic economic policy on population migration; environmental policy is based on what profits there are to be gained or lost today, without attention paid to what the immeasurable long-term costs will be to the shared resource of our environment; education policy, in the form of vouchers, ignores the devastating effects that dismantling the public school system will have on our whole society.
Is it any surprise that the systemic impacts of the Iraq invasion were not part of the conservative moral or strategic calculus used in pursuing the war?
The conservative war rhetoric focused narrowly on ousting Saddam -- he was an evil dictator, and evil cannot be tolerated, period. The moral implications of unleashing social chaos and collateral damage in addition to the lessons of history were not relevant concerns.
As a consequence, we expected to be greeted as liberators. The conservative plan failed to appreciate the complexities of the situation that would have called for broader contingency planning. It lacked an analysis of what else would happen in Iraq and the Middle East as a result of ousting the Hussein Government, such as an Iranian push to obtain nuclear weapons.
Joe Biden recently said, "if I had known the president was going to be this incompetent in his administration, I would not have given him the authority [to go to war]." Had Bush actually been incompetent, he would have never been able to lead us to war in Iraq. Had Bush been incompetent, he would not have been able to ram through hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts. Had Bush been incompetent, he would have been blocked from stacking the courts with right-wing judges. Incompetence, on reflection, might have actually been better for the country.
Perhaps the biggest irony of the Bush-is-incompetent frame is that these "failures" -- Iraq, Katrina and the budget deficit -- have been successes in terms of advancing the conservative agenda.
One of the goals of Conservatives is to keep people from relying on the federal government. Under Bush, FEMA was reorganized to no longer be a first responder in major natural disasters, but to provide support for local agencies. This led to the disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina. Now citizens, as well as local and state governments, have become distrustful of the federal government's capacity to help ordinary citizens. Though Bush's popularity may have suffered, enhancing the perception of federal government as inept turned out to be a conservative victory.
Conservatives also strive to get rid of protective agencies and social programs. The deficit Bush created through irresponsible tax cuts and a costly war in Iraq will require drastic budget cuts to remedy. Those cuts, conservatives know, won't come from military spending, particularly when they raise the constant specter of war. Instead, the cuts will be from what Conservatives have begun to call "non-military, discretionary spending;" that is, the programs that contribute to the common good like the FDA, EPA, FCC, FEMA, OSHA and the NLRB. Yet another success for the conservative agenda.
Both Iraq and Katrina have enriched the coffers of the conservative corporate elite, thus further advancing the conservative agenda. Halliburton, Lockhead Martin and US oil companies have enjoyed huge profit margins in the last six years. Taking Iraq's oil production off-line in the face of rising international demand meant prices would rise, making the oil inventories of Exxon and other firms that much more valuable, leading to record profits. The destruction wrought by Katrina and Iraq meant billions in reconstruction contracts. The war in Iraq (and the war in Afghanistan) meant billions in military equipment contracts. Was there any doubt where those contracts would go? Chalk up another success for Bush's conservative agenda.
Bush also used Katrina as an opportunity to suspend the environmental and labor protection laws that Conservatives despise so much. In the wake of Katrina, environmental standards for oil refineries were temporarily suspended to increase production. Labor laws are being thwarted to drive down the cost of reconstruction efforts. So, amidst these "disasters," Conservatives win again.
Where most Americans see failure in Iraq - George Miller recently called Iraq a "blunder of historic proportions" - conservative militarists are seeing many successes. Conservatives stress the importance of our military -- our national pride and worth is expressed through its power and influence. Permanent bases are being constructed as planned in Iraq, and America has shown the rest of the world that we can and will preemptively strike with little provocation. They succeeded in a mobilization of our military forces based on ideological pretenses to impact foreign policy. The war has struck fear in other nations with a hostile show of American power. The conservatives have succeeded in strengthening what they perceive to be the locus of the national interest --military power.
It's Not Incompetence
When Progressives shout "Incompetence!" it obscures the many conservative successes. The incompetence frame drastically misses the point, that the conservative vision is doing great harm to this country and the world. An understanding of this and an articulate progressive response is needed. Progressives know that government can and should have a positive role in our lives beyond simple, physical security. It had a positive impact during the progressive era, busting trusts, and establishing basic labor standards. It had a positive impact during the new deal, softening the blow of the depression by creating jobs and stimulating the economy. It had a positive role in advancing the civil rights movement, extending rights to previously disenfranchised groups. And the United States can have a positive role in world affairs without the use of its military and expressions of raw power. Progressives acknowledge that we are all in this together, with "we" meaning all people, across all spectrums of race, class, religion, sex, sexual preference and age. "We" also means across party lines, state lines and international borders.
The mantra of incompetence has been an unfortunate one. The incompetence frame assumes that there was a sound plan, and that the trouble has been in the execution. It turns public debate into a referendum on Bush's management capabilities, and deflects a critique of the impact of his guiding philosophy. It also leaves open the possibility that voters will opt for another radically conservative president in 2008, so long as he or she can manage better. Bush will not be running again, so thinking, talking and joking about him being incompetent offers no lessons to draw from his presidency.
Incompetence obscures the real issue. Bush's conservative philosophy is what has damaged this country and it is his philosophy of conservatism that must be rejected, whoever endorses it.
Conservatism itself is the villain that is harming our people, destroying our environment, and weakening our nation. Conservatives are undermining American values through legislation almost every day. This message applies to every conservative bill proposed to Congress. The issue that arises every day is which philosophy of governing should shape our country. It is the issue of our times. Unless conservative philosophy itself is discredited, Conservatives will continue their domination of public discourse, and with it, will continue their domination of politics.
George Lakoff is the author of Don't Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate' (Chelsea Green). He is professor of linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley and a Senior Fellow of the Rockridge Institute.
Comments about the above article.
Sorry, but the message of competance just doesn't fly on this one. Bush is absolutely incompetant, and further, he isn't a conservative, rather a neoconservative with a whole new set of rules.
The author discusses all of the "feats" that Bush has "managed" to accomplish, such as pushing through the pre-emptive war on Iraq, tax cut for the rich during a time of war, domestic wiretapping, and a few other gems. Well...he didn't accomplish anything that anyone else couldn't have with the massive lies he has used to accomplish his "achievements." He betrayed the trust given him by the people of this country, plain and simple. He portrayed himself as a man of "God", boasting of his "faith" in Christianity, and duped the majority of "Christians" in this country. They gave their trust, he violated that same trust. His only accomplishment during his time in office is to have pulled the wool over his most trusted follower's eyes. Wow!!! What a remarkable accomplishment. Just one little thing...because he IS so inept, he has gotten caught on numerous occasions. What a genius.
Corporate profits...yeah, he helped the top 1/2% of the population the most, the top 10% sort of, but the rest of us have gotten screwed. So you might ask, how did he get elected twice? The answer...he didn't, not even once. He, with a little help from his oh so honest friends managed to steal two elections. And it appears he may be in the process of being caught on this also.
Bush, competant? I think not!!!
But this is partly out of necessity. The historical record has been whitewashed, so you've stuck to that as it's been promulgated by the mainstream media. A closer examination reveals a far more dire state of affairs.
Conservatism is not really individualistic; it's monarchistic. The populace has a duty to the divinely-ordained sovereign, who has no obligations to them. Direct appeals to aristocracy are too anachronistic for any but Dominionists or Christian Reconstructionists. However, the indirect appeals to it play out in the general resurrection of the Führerprinzip in the guise of the "Unitary Executive," the wholesale giveaways of public assets and utilities to those within the financial aristocracy in keeping with "Those who own the country ought to run it," and wealth condensation policies in general. As for divine ordination, witness William G. Boykin's commentary. For the duty to the divinely ordained sovereign, witness patriotism and the President in a time of war.
Portraying such affairs as Katrina as mere malign neglect in turn gives the benefit of the doubt where it's undeserved. For instance, the ethnic cleansing of New Orleans via the Katrina evacuation turned a blue state red and thoroughly appealed to the Republicans' racist, reactionary base. "Starve the beast" is far too passive a stance to describe actual economic policy. For instance, every blue state pays more in federal taxes than it receives in federal spending, and overall blue states paid $193 billion more in federal taxes than they received in federal spending in 2001. Red states, on the other hand, received over $85 billion more in federal spending than they paid in federal taxes for the same time period. The wealth transfer extends far beyond this grim statistic to the orchestration of federal programs so as to prevent funding from finding its ways to "Democratic strongholds." The right-wing economic policy is more properly called economic warfare and destabilization.
Conservatism also entails belligerent militarism both at home and abroad. Political policing in the same vein as COINTELPRO is demonstrably ongoing, and less widely-accepted analyses indicate even more sinister developments (c.f. Wellstone, Carnahan). Iraq is not just a demonstration of power, or a porkbarrel project for military contractors, or a Cold War revivalist effort. It's all those things in addition to another instances of the worst offenses of the right wing. The Iran-Contra crew is back in the government. Death squad leader John Negroponte was made ambassador to Iraq; death squads are now operating in Iraq. Michael Ledeen, Montecarlo Comite member and Propaganda Due associate was involved in the drive for war via the Niger Yellowcake affair. Now the strategy of tension is in use in Iraq; "undercover soldiers" from the SAS were caught with carbombs and witnesses sighted American soldiers planting bombs in mosques.
Torture, despite feigned outrage, is another longstanding right-wing practice. Roberto "Blowtorch Bob" d'Aubisson and effectively all major torturers in Latin America were trained at the School of the Americas by US intelligence officers or soldiers. Far from milquetoast allegations of loud rock music, Koran desecration, or even drilled kneecaps coming out of Iraq or Guantánamo, the Latin American precedents are replete with tales of Green Berets dissecting live 13-year-old girls, real-life chainsaw massacres in Central and South American jungles, and Dan Mitrione's handiwork.
I've left out so much in the interest of brevity and in part out of resignation at ever being able to properly convey the sheer evil of the right-wing project that it does very little justice to the effort. The question, then, is how to convey the depth of this evil in the face of a literal alternate history and alternate reality so vigorously defended by those duped into believing in them.
by Cindy Williams
Since September 2001, federal budgets for national security have climbed more than 50 percent in real terms. Unfortunately, much of the added money reflects "business as usual" rather than programs aimed at making the nation safer from today's threats.
Compared with past decades, national security spending makes up a relatively small share of the U.S. economy. Nevertheless, with the federal debt growing rapidly and as large numbers of baby boomers approach retirement age, many observers expect future federal budgets to be tight. Thus it is critically important to ensure that national security funds go to projects that make the nation more secure. This article examines broad changes in national security budgets since September 2001. It first reviews the three categories of federal spending for national security. It then examines how budgets in those categories have changed since September 2001. It ends with a look at alternatives that seem more relevant in an era of international mass-casualty terrorism.
Three ways to improve security
Three categories of federal spending are closely related to national security. The first is national defense -- the offensive element. National defense includes funds for the Department of Defense (DoD), nuclear activities of the Department of Energy, and smaller military-related programs in other agencies. The national defense budget pays to raise, equip, train and maintain the armed forces, conduct military operations, and deter attacks on the United States and its allies. It also pays about 80 percent of the nation's intelligence bills. The second category is homeland security -- the defensive element. This category includes law enforcement to track down terrorists and bring them to justice, border and aviation security, physical and cyber protection of critical facilities and systems, improvements to the public health infrastructure, and preparations to respond to and mitigate the consequences of attacks should they occur.
The third category is international affairs -- the preventive element. International affairs includes the conduct of foreign affairs and diplomacy through the State Department, economic and military aid to foreign countries, contributions to international organizations like the United Nations, and foreign information and exchange programs.
The Bush administration's national security strategy calls for bringing to bear all the tools of statecraft and security, including elements of offense, defense and prevention. Of course, no simple formula can tell U.S. leaders how spending should be divided among the three categories. National security policy serves multiple objectives: protecting U.S. sovereignty and territorial integrity, and sustaining a suitable level of relative power in the world, as well as keeping people and infrastructure safe from the threat of direct attack. To those ends, the United States needs a strong military, regardless of the terrorist threat. It also devoted efforts to homeland security even before the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001. Moreover, even if terrorism were not a problem, international diplomacy and aid programs would be crucial to sustaining national security.
Achieving U.S. security objectives in the future will require continued substantial investment across all three categories. Nevertheless, U.S. resources for national security are not inexhaustible.
Setting priorities and explicitly considering tradeoffs among the competing demands of offense, defense and prevention are crucial for the nation to get the most out of its sizeable financial investment in security.
National security spending since 2001
Between 2001 and 2006, annual budget authority for national security (including operations in Iraq and Afghanistan) rose by 79 percent in nominal terms and more than 50 percent after adjusting for inflation (see Table 1). The national defense budget grew by about 50 percent in real terms. Homeland security experienced the largest percentage rise, nearly tripling in real terms. Much of that increase occurred within DoD, however, in part due to recent accounting changes; homeland security spending outside DoD grew by a factor of 2.5. International affairs budgets grew by nearly 40 percent in real terms. Across the three categories, national security budgets for fiscal year 2006 come to $630 billion, more in real terms than at any time in at least five decades. As in 2001, the lion's share goes to the offensive element. In 2006, the federal government will spend about 15 times as much for offense as for defense, and about 17 times as much for offense as for prevention. One possible reason for such disparities is that defense and prevention are inherently less expensive than offense. If that is the case, then modest investments in those areas should yield greater payoff than marginal added investments in offense.
Much of the rise is unrelated to terrorism
Unfortunately, much of the post-9/11 real increase in national security budgets goes not to make the United States safer from the threat of catastrophic terrorism, but to operations in Iraq and business as usual in the Department of Defense. Of the $279 billion nominal increase from 2001 to 2006, the largest single share -- some $98 billion -- goes for military operations in Iraq. The Bush administration argues that the war in Iraq is a necessary element of the fight against terrorism. Yet the existence of weapons of mass destruction or of pre-war links between Iraq and Al Qaida have not been demonstrated, casting doubt on the importance of the war to countering terrorism.
More than $50 billion of the budget rise goes to increased investment in military equipment. Unfortunately, much of that money is not for the exploration of new technologies that might help to counter today's threats, but for technically troubled missile defense systems and for ships, aircraft and ground vehicles better suited to conventional combat. Some $8 billion will go to replace equipment worn out by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Budgets for science and technology -- the basic and applied research and advanced technology work that could lead to systems better suited to the new strategic environment -- barely kept pace with inflation.
A large share of the post-9/11 rise in DoD's budget is for military pay and benefits, which climbed by about $40 billion during the five-year period. Unfortunately, much of this new compensation does not go to the men and women who are risking their lives in Iraq. Instead, it pays for new entitlements for military retirees -- the 15 percent of service members who choose to stay in the military for the 20 or more years required to become eligible for military retirement benefits.
As a result, much of the new spending doesn't improve the military's ability to compete as an employer in American labor markets, a crucial concern as the Iraq war drains the enthusiasm of young people and their parents for service. About $38 billion of the $279 billion increase in annual spending is devoted to homeland security, the defensive component.
A healthy share of that money, however, is for protection of facilities and forces inside DoD. The rise in homeland security spending outside DoD contributed just $25 billion to the $279 billion increase. Roughly $10 billion of that rise goes to improvements in border and transportation security. Another $4 billion goes toward emergency preparedness and response, much of it for grants to state and local governments to improve public health capacity or to prepare and equip local first responders. Only a few billion dollars of the increase go toward non-DoD research and development into technologies for homeland security. In particular, just $1.8 billion of the increase goes toward developing medical countermeasures to chemical, biological, nuclear or radiological threats; a scant $300 million pays for crucial research and development into technologies to detect and report on nuclear and radiological materials.
Funding for international affairs, the preventive element, accounts for only $12 billion of the $279 billion increase in national security budgets between 2001 and 2006. Some $2 billion of that is for President Bush's Global HIV/AIDS initiative. Another $1.8 billion is for the Millennium Challenge Account, a program started by President Bush in 2002 to help certain developing nations improve their capacity for economic growth. Some $1.8 billion, included in the president's emergency supplemental request this year, is to defray the wartime costs of the State Department's embassy in Baghdad and the war-related costs of USAID in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, roughly $2 billion of the new international affairs money goes to help U.S. allies in the fight against terrorism, including Afghanistan, Jordan, Pakistan and the Central Asian republics.
Reallocating for greater security
Reallocating even relatively small amounts of the money devoted to offense could go a long way toward bolstering either prevention or defense. For example, for just half of the $10.4 billion DoD plans to spend on missile defense programs in fiscal year 2007, the nation could triple spending for port security (planned at $2 billion) and double spending to recapitalize the Coast Guard (planned at $935 million). For what DoD spends on Iraq each month (currently $8.1 billion, according to the Congressional Research Service), the federal government could double planned FY 2007 spending for emergency preparedness and response ($5.5 billion); nuclear detection ($536 million); medical countermeasures to chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear threats ($2 billion); and enhancements to FEMA's alert and early warning systems ($70 million).
Alternatively, for the $2.8 billion the administration plans to invest in F-22 fighter planes built for dogfights with Soviet aircraft that were never produced, the nation could nearly double the administration's planned 2007 budget for Millennium Challenge. For the $3.7 billion now allocated to the Army's technologically risky, increasingly costly Future Combat System, the nation could double foreign information and exchange activities ($1.2 billion), double efforts to halt proliferation of nuclear materials and knowledge ($1.2 billion), and still have money left over to improve resources for diplomacy ($6 billion).
Today's spending for national security is about half again as great as before the terrorist attacks of 2001. The rapid infusion of such large sums offered an important opportunity to reshape the way the nation provides for security -- an opportunity that was missed. Indeed, spending for offense, defense and prevention are all substantially higher today than they were five years ago. But the lion's share of new money goes toward the war in Iraq and for Defense Department programs that reflect the needs of the Cold War rather than today's realities. Even small shifts of funding from offense into defense and prevention could go a long way toward making the nation more secure.
Cindy Williams is a principal research scientist in the Security Studies Program at MIT and the editor of "Filling the Ranks: Transforming the U.S. Military Personnel System" (MIT Press, 2004).
by Jan Frel, an AlterNet staff writer
A Nuremberg chief prosecutor says there is a case for trying Bush for the 'supreme crime against humanity, an illegal war of aggression against a sovereign nation.'
The extent to which American exceptionalism is embedded in the national psyche is awesome to behold.
While the United States is a country like any other, its citizens no more special than any others on the planet, Americans still react with surprise at the suggestion that their country could be held responsible for something as heinous as a war crime.
From the massacre of more than 100,000 people in the Philippines to the first nuclear attack ever at Hiroshima to the unprovoked invasion of Baghdad, U.S.-sponsored violence doesn't feel as wrong and worthy of prosecution in internationally sanctioned criminal courts as the gory, bload-soaked atrocities of Congo, Darfur, Rwanda, and most certainly not the Nazis -- most certainly not. Howard Zinn recently described this as our "inability to think outside the boundaries of nationalism. We are penned in by the arrogant idea that this country is the center of the universe, exceptionally virtuous, admirable, superior."
Most Americans firmly believe there is nothing the United States or its political leadership could possibly do that could equate to the crimes of Hitler's Third Reich. The Nazis are our "gold standard of evil," as author John Dolan once put it.
But the truth is that we can, and we have -- most recently and significantly in Iraq. Perhaps no person on the planet is better equipped to identify and describe our crimes in Iraq than Benjamin Ferenccz, a former chief prosecutor of the Nuremberg Trials who successfully convicted 22 Nazi officers for their work in orchestrating death squads that killed more than one million people in the famous Einsatzgruppen Case. Ferencz, now 87, has gone on to become a founding father of the basis behind international law regarding war crimes, and his essays and legal work drawing from the Nuremberg trials and later the commission that established the International Criminal Court remain a lasting influence in that realm.
Ferencz's biggest contribution to the war crimes field is his assertion that an unprovoked or "aggressive" war is the highest crime against mankind. It was the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 that made possible the horrors of Abu Ghraib, the destruction of Fallouja and Ramadi, the tens of thousands of Iraqi deaths, civilian massacres like Haditha, and on and on. Ferencz believes that a "prima facie case can be made that the United States is guilty of the supreme crime against humanity, that being an illegal war of aggression against a sovereign nation."
Interviewed from his home in New York, Ferencz laid out a simple summary of the case:
"The United Nations charter has a provision which was agreed to by the United States formulated by the United States in fact, after World War II. Its says that from now on, no nation can use armed force without the permission of the U.N. Security Council. They can use force in connection with self-defense, but a country can't use force in anticipation of self-defense. Regarding Iraq, the last Security Council resolution essentially said, 'Look, send the weapons inspectors out to Iraq, have them come back and tell us what they've found -- then we'll figure out what we're going to do. The U.S. was impatient, and decided to invade Iraq -- which was all pre-arranged of course. So, the United States went to war, in violation of the charter."
It's that simple. Ferencz called the invasion a "clear breach of law," and dismissed the Bush administration's legal defense that previous U.N. Security Council resolutions dating back to the first Gulf War justified an invasion in 2003. Ferencz notes that the first Bush president believed that the United States didn't have a U.N. mandate to go into Iraq and take out Saddam Hussein; that authorization was simply to eject Hussein from Kuwait. Ferencz asked, "So how do we get authorization more than a decade later to finish the job? The arguments made to defend this are not persuasive."
Writing for the United Kingdom's Guardian, shortly before the 2003 invasion, international law expert Mark Littman echoed Ferencz: "The threatened war against Iraq will be a breach of the United Nations Charter and hence of international law unless it is authorized by a new and unambiguous resolution of the Security Council. The Charter is clear. No such war is permitted unless it is in self-defense or authorized by the Security Council."
Challenges to the legality of this war can also be found at the ground level. First Lt. Ehren Watada, the first U.S. commissioned officer to refuse to serve in Iraq, cites the rules of the U.N. Charter as a principle reason for his dissent.
Ferencz isn't using the invasion of Iraq as a convenient prop to exercise his longstanding American hatred: he has a decades-old paper trail of calls for every suspect of war crimes to be brought to international justice. When the United States captured Saddam Hussein in December 2003, Ferencz wrote that Hussein's offenses included "the supreme international crime of aggression, to a wide variety of crimes against humanity, and a long list of atrocities condemned by both international and national laws."
Ferencz isn't the first to make the suggestion that the United States has committed state-sponsored war crimes against another nation -- not only have leading war critics made this argument, but so had legal experts in the British government before the 2003 invasion. In a short essay in 2005, Ferencz lays out the inner deliberations of British and American officials as the preparations for the war were made:
U.K. military leaders had been calling for clear assurances that the war was legal under international law. They were very mindful that the treaty creating a new International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague had entered into force on July 1, 2002, with full support of the British government. Gen. Sir Mike Jackson, chief of the defense staff, was quoted as saying "I spent a good deal of time recently in the Balkans making sure Milosevic was put behind bars. I have no intention of ending up in the next cell to him in The Hague."
Ferencz quotes the British deputy legal adviser to the Foreign Ministry who, in the lead-up to the invasion, quit abruptly and wrote in her resignation letter: "I regret that I cannot agree that it is lawful to use force against Iraq without a second Security Council resolution … [A]n unlawful use of force on such a scale amounts to the crime of aggression; nor can I agree with such action in circumstances that are so detrimental to the international order and the rule of law."
While the United Kingdom is a signatory of the ICC, and therefore under jurisdiction of that court, the United States is not, thanks to a Republican majority in Congress that has "attacks on America's sovereignty" and "manipulation by the United Nations" in its pantheon of knee-jerk neuroses. Ferencz concedes that even though Britain and its leadership could be prosecuted, the international legal climate isn't at a place where justice is blind enough to try it -- or as Ferencz put it, humanity isn't yet "civilized enough to prevent this type of illegal behavior." And Ferencz said that while he believes the United States is guilty of war crimes, "the international community is not sufficiently organized to prosecute such a case. … There is no court at the moment that is competent to try that crime."
As Ferencz said, the world is still a long way away from establishing norms that put all nations under the rule of law, but the battle to do so is a worthy one: "There's no such thing as a war without atrocities, but war-making is the biggest atrocity of all."
The suggestion that the Bush administration's conduct in the "war on terror" amounts to a string of war crimes and human rights abuses is gaining credence in even the most ossified establishment circles of Washington. Justice Anthony Kennedy's opinion in the recent Hamdan v. Rumsfeld ruling by the Supreme Court suggests that Bush's attempt to ignore the Geneva Conventions in his approved treatment of terror suspects may leave him open to prosecution for war crimes. As Sidney Blumenthal points out, the court rejected Bush's attempt to ignore Common Article 3, which bans "cruel treatment and torture [and] outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment."
And since Congress enacted the Geneva Conventions, making them the law of the United States, any violations that Bush or any other American commits "are considered 'war crimes' punishable as federal offenses," as Justice Kennedy wrote.
George W. Bush in the dock facing a charge of war crimes? That's well beyond the scope of possibility … or is it?
Jan Frel is an AlterNet staff writer.
by Germain Dufour
The Global Community condemns Israeli attacks on Gaza and South Lebanon and calls for an end to U.S. support of the Israeli occupation. On Saturday, July 15, Israelis killed 35 civilians , including 15 children, in air strikes meant to punish Lebanon for letting Hizbollah guerillas menace the Jewish state's northern border.
Hizbollah rockets struck deeper into Israel than ever, wounding eight people in the Sea of Galilee town of Tiberias, and wounding 15 other people across northern Israel.
Israel's bombing of Lebanese roads, bridges, ports and airports, as well as Hizbollah targets, is its most destructive onslaught since a 1982 invasion to expel Palestinian forces.
For the first time, ports in Christian areas were bombarded and a helicopter missile hit a lighthouse on Beirut's seafront.
Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora demanded an immediate U.N.-backed cease-fire, denouncing Israel for turning his country into a "disaster zone." He appealed for foreign aid.
Israel said the way out would be for Lebanon to implement a U.N. resolution demanding Hizbollah disarmed. The Beirut government, led by an anti-Syrian coalition, lacks the unity and firepower to disarm Hizbollah, the only Lebanese faction to keep its guns after the 1975-90 civil war.
President Bush, who has declined to urge Israel to curb its military operations, said Syria should tell Hizbollah, also backed by Iran, to stop cross-border attacks.
An Israeli missile incinerated a van in southern Lebanon, killing 20 people, among them 15 children, in the deadliest single attack of the campaign launched by Israel after Hizbollah captured two of its soldiers and killed eight on Wednesday.
Police said the van was carrying two families fleeing the village of Marwaheen after Israeli loudspeaker warnings to leave their homes. Many of the bodies were charred.
Other raids on north, east and south Lebanon killed 15 people and wounded 37, security sources said.
At least 104 people, all but four of them civilians, have been killed in Israel's four-day-old assault, which has choked Lebanon's economy and prompted tourists and foreigners to flee.
Four Israelis, including a five-year-old child, have been killed and 300 wounded by about 700 rockets fired since Wednesday at more than 20 towns.
Israel has deployed Patriot missile batteries in the northern city of Haifa to intercept rockets. The government gave authorities the power to shut schools, factories and public institutions in the north, a Defense Ministry source said.
Lebanon's main commercial ports of Beirut and Tripoli came under Israeli fire, as well as ports in the Christian towns of Jounieh and Amsheet, security sources and witnesses said.
One Lebanese soldier was killed when an army radar station was hit in Batroun north of Beirut. Israel warned the Lebanese army against shooting at its planes.
In Beirut, Israeli warplanes flattened Hizbollah's nine-story headquarters and destroyed the office of a Hamas leader, Mohammed Nazzal. Hamas said Nazzal had survived.
Israeli planes fired rockets near a Lebanese-Syrian border crossing, heightening fears it could extend its campaign to Syria, which along with Iran is Hizbollah's main ally.
Israel said it had attacked targets only in Lebanon. A Syrian official also said Israel had not struck Syria.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose troops ended a two- decade presence in Lebanon in 2005 under international pressure, pledged to put his country's resources at Lebanon's disposal.
At a joint news conference with President Vladimir Putin at a G8 summit in Russia, Bush said: "The best way to stop the violence is for Hizbollah to lay down its arms. ... And therefore I call upon Syria to exert influence over Hizbollah."
The European Union, in a statement at the summit, said Israel's assault on Lebanon was disproportionate.
Italy began evacuating nationals from Lebanon. Other Western and Arab countries made plans to pull out their citizens. Thousands of people streamed to the Syrian border and safety.
Israel aims not just to force Hizbollah to free the soldiers, whom the Shi'ite group wants to trade for prisoners in Israel, but to destroy its ability to fire rockets into Israel.
Israel's campaign in Lebanon coincided with an offensive it launched in the Gaza Strip on June 28 to try to retrieve another captured soldier and halt Palestinian rocket fire.
Israeli aircraft attacked the Palestinian Economy Ministry in Gaza and a house where a Hamas militant was killed and eight people were wounded. Israel has killed about 85 Palestinians, around half of them militants since the offensive was launched.
Ten months ago Israeli military forces withdrew from the Gaza Strip, part of the Palestinian lands long occupied by Israel. On Tuesday, June 27th, the Israeli military launched an all-out assault on the people of Gaza, and there seems to be no end in sight.
The destruction of vital bridges and power stations, which led to the cut off of electricity and water for well over 1 million people, is nothing short of collective punishment imposed on a civilian population. Israel has also taken nearly 100 elected officials and leaders of the Hamas party as prisoners in the last few days.
Israel's massive military assault on Gaza is clear evidence that Israel remains the occupying power of the Gaza Strip, despite its unilateral withdrawal of settlements last year. Israel has been seeking to bring down the Palestinian government by bringing pressure to bear on the civilian Palestinian population, and is using the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier as a pretext to do that. (More background information below.)
United for Peace and Justice condemns this brutal attack and calls for an end to U.S. support for the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, including the Gaza Strip.
The Global Community calls for:
1) An immediate end to the assault on Gaza by the Israeli military forces.
During the month of June the Israeli military forces carried out several deadly attacks in Gaza. On June 9th, 8 Palestinians were killed and 32 injured when a beach was shelled (see report from Human Rights Watch for more information on this incident); on June 13th a missile attack on a highway in Gaza killed 11 people and wounded another 30; and on June 20th another missile attack from Israeli forces killed 3 children and wounded 15 more people.
In retaliation, Palestinian militants raided Israeli military positions near Gaza on June 25th, during which 2 soldiers were killed and Israeli Cpl. Gilad Shalit was captured. Israel then threatened an attack if he was not freed and began deploying tanks along the border. Their attack began after Israel rejected Shalit's captors' demand for the release of all Palestinian women and Palestinians younger than eighteen in Israeli prisons. (There are some 9,800 Palestinians being held: 335 of them are children and several dozen are women.)
Just before midnight on June 27th a large scale military assault on Gaza was launched by Israel. Fighter planes hit three bridges along the main north-south highway in Gaza. Another strike hit Gaza's main power plant and knocked out the electricity in densely populated Gaza City. This power plant provided 42% of the power to Gaza's 1.3 million residents, and now Gaza is completely dependent on Israel for power. It could take as long as a year to get the plant operational again. Israelï¿½s deliberate targeting of civilian infrastructure is a violation of its obligations under the Geneva Conventions and a war crime. Israelï¿½s use of U.S. taxpayer-supplied weapons to target civilian infrastructure is also a violation of the U.S. Arms Export Control Act; UFPJ calls upon the White House and Congress to investigate these violations of U.S. law and take appropriate action to shut off future weapons transfers to Israel as a result.
At about 2:30 in the morning the Israeli military forces started to move into Gaza and take control of areas east of the city of Rafah. A little after 5am fighter plans flew low over Gaza, causing intentional sonic booms which reportedly shattered windows. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said their goal was "not to mete out punishment but rather to apply pressure so that the abducted soldier will be freed. We want to create a new equation -- freeing the abducted soldier in return for lessening the pressure on the Palestinians." Such deliberate collective punishment of a civilian population is also a violation of the Geneva Conventions and a war crime.
According to the June 29th edition of the NY Times, the Israeli forces have expanded their assault: "In the West Bank city of Ramallah this morning, Israeli forces detained 20 lawmakers and 8 ministers in the 24-member cabinet, including Deputy Prime Minister Nasser Shaer and Labor Minister Mohammed Barghouti, security officials said. Today, an Israeli warplane fired a missile in Gaza City that an Israeli spokeswoman said hit a soccer field near the pro-Hamas Islamic University. Reuters reported that the missile hit inside the university .... The Israelis also detained about 20 Hamas members of the Palestinian parliament as they made arrests in Ramallah, Jenin, East Jerusalem and elsewhere." And the shelling and sonic booming has continued over these past few days.
The Times went on to say, "On Wednesday, the crisis seemed to be tipping toward escalation as Israeli tanks hunkered down inside southern Gaza at the airport after warplanes had knocked out half of Gaza's electricity and pounded sonic booms over houses. Also on Wednesday, Israel battered northern Gazan towns with artillery and sent warplanes over the house of the Syrian president [in northwest Syria], who is influential with the Palestinian leader believed to have ordered the kidnapping."
According to reports in the Syrian press, the 4 Israeli fighter planes were forced out of the airspace by Syria's military. As bad as the situation is, things could get even worse if Israel does not stop its assaults. But the Israeli government is taking an extremely hard line: Prime Minister Olmert, as quoted in the NY Times, said, "We won't hesitate to carry out extreme action to bring Gilad back to his family."
All of this comes in the midst of a severe economic, humanitarian crisis throughout Gaza and the West Bank. In January of this year international aid to the Palestinians was cut off after the Hamas party won the elections, leading to extreme shortages of food and medicine, as well as other supplies and necessities. Last week, the Senate passed its version of the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act, which proposes additional economic and diplomatic sanctions against the Palestinian people for exercising their right to vote. The Senate bill, which was approved by unanimous consent, comes on the heels of the House passing its version of the bill last month. UFPJ has signed a statement to Congress, organized by the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, calling on it not to impose sanctions on the Palestinian people for voting.
by Germain Dufour
by Amy Goodman
Download full WORD document of this Research Paper
If President Bush had stood on the steps of the White House with a megaphone when he set out to sell the Iraq War, he might have convinced a few people about the imminent threat posed by Saddam Hussein. But he had something far more powerful that convinced far more people: He had a compliant press corps ready to amplify his lies. This was the same press corps that investigated and reported for years on President Clinton's lying about an extramarital affair. The difference here was that President Bush's lies take lives.
American news reporters in general are concerned not with bringing truth to the readers but with selling the product of big corporations, no matter how detrimental such a product may prove to be to people everywhere. They refer to American weapons that destroy the infrastructure of society and massacre tens of thousands of innocent people as "national defense and security!" They allude to the turmoil that US military creates in a nation with an installation of a puppet government as "democracy!" They describe the hardships that have been inflicted on an entire nation as "promotion of freedom!" The prayer that many are reciting runs something as follows: "Oh God! You have been kind to us when you let us see the end of communism that has made millions of people suffer so mercilessly. We ask you to hasten the day when we will also see the end of capitalism that has made millions of people suffer so brutally in no lesser way. Amen."
On June 29, the Israeli Occupation Forces launched a massive attack on 1.25 million Palestinian inhabitants of the besieged Gaza Strip. Artillery shells and warplanes destroyed the power plant in Gaza, blocked access to fuel, and demolished central roads. Leaders of Palestine's ruling Hamas Party have been taken hostage or forced from their homes in Jerusalem. The Israeli government is compelling the population to live without electricity, water, or the gasoline needed to power generators—in a desert climate!
The Palestinian people have been under brutal, illegal occupation for almost 40 years. During that time they have struggled against their oppression through diplomatic, military, and grassroots means. But Israel, inspired by separatist, Zionist ideology, is continuing its ethnic cleansing and the Israeli military has escalated its assault upon the Palestinian people with renewed savagery.
Nearly three dozen Palestinian children were killed in the first half of 2006 alone. Many other people, including pregnant women, were killed or wounded in recent months. The excuse for the current horror is the capture of a single Israeli soldier by a guerilla group.
Currently, Israel holds nearly 9,000 Palestinians prisoner, all jailed, tortured, or held hostage. Since 1967, over 650,000 Palestinians have been detained, amounting to 40% of the male population of the Palestinian territories. The Israeli government is in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and countless UN resolutions and other norms of international law.
These atrocities take place with the explicit support of the U.S. government, which gives Israel billions of dollars a year, and protects the country from international criticism. The instruments of war that Israel is employing are U.S.-made: helicopters to murder people in crowded streets, warplanes to bomb villages, bulldozers to demolish homes and uproot olive trees—all are part of the aid package extended to Israel by Congress.
By murdering increasing numbers of Palestinians, assassinating their leaders, destroying their homes and agricultural lands, starving them, and forcing families to leave their homes to find refuge elsewhere, the actions of the Israeli government show that its only “solution” to the conflict is the extermination or utter submission of the Palestinian people. The only real solution is the formation of a bi-national state of Arab and Jewish people, a socialist state that would remove itself from the war-driven economies of capitalism.
We call on all forces that fight for justice around the world to support the brave Palestinian struggle against Israel’s savage aggression. Please fax or email key government officials of Israel at the addresses below:
Demand of the Israeli government:
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
Defense Minister Amir Peretz
Foreign Minister Tzippy Livny
The Knesset – Parliament
Freedom Socialist Party
by Guy CREQUIE
I have the honor, to inform you of the organization in Paris from 19 to September 23, 2007 of the first festival of the poets of the world on the topic of peace.
Our capital so rich in culture is the place chosen for this bold company which one owes with the engagement of a poet: Yvan TETELBOM, organizer of association “poets in Paris”. This festival, dice its decision, was sponsored by “Poets of the world” and its founder: Shine ARIAS MANZO. Recently, Mr Maurus YOUNG, secretary-general of the world Academy of the culture and arts and the world congress of the poets, gave his support for this initiative.
For my part, like poet and writer, I will take part in this festival.Celles and those which know my engagement for peace since many years, will include/understand the reasons of my engagement to the service of the success of this demonstration.
Yvan TETELBOM, has put in practice what wrote Victor HUGO, when it indicated that “those which fight, it is those which live”. It conceived a program of which you will find herewith, the presentation. You will discover the aspect creative and diversified of this canned which, we hope for it, will be supplemented by a reception of poets of the world by representatives of the State in a symbolic system place of the national representation.
Whereas the capacities of the money, of the individual success by all the means, became the dominant criteria of too many individuals, the poets remain an important vector of humanistic engagement, for the créatiion of values: to perpetuate the emotions, to fight the injustices, to promote solidarity, magnifier symbiosis with nature, to develop the woman: “Future of the man”, to support the combat for peace and the dialog between civilizations.
If Yvan had a dream like celebrates it Pasteur Martin LUTHER - KING, it into practice put it within the meaning of an active production of reality expensive at Rene TANK. Can one consider a more beautiful prospect, than that to bring together poets of the 5 continents on the topic of peace? Whereas poetry (as if it did not have anything any more to say to us) is ignored or marginalized by many media and institutions, to join together, like wrote the poet Louis ARAGON “those which believe in the sky and those which do not believe in it “with such a prospect is a major act of our time.
The inscription for the poets is of 30 euros: the check is to be established with the order of “poets of the world” to address to Poètes in Paris in Yvan TETELBOM, residence Potters, 06220 VALLAURIS. This entrance fee, allows including the presence the international day of the poetic book.
It was necessary to be a poet in the large heart as Yvan to imagine this adventure, whereas currently, this festival is not given any institutional aid, nor sponsors and patrons, the poets, at present, will have to come to the festival to their load. This is why, a help of sponsors and patrons would contribute to the expenses of organization, and could possibly according to received volume, to help of the poets in difficulty in particular those and those which come from the most distant continents.
For the private individuals, it is enough to make a check or a CPC, free and possible amount with “Poets of the world” to the address indicated. To specify: contribute to the festival. Concerning: associations, organizations, institutions, it is possible for you to make a direct transfer with the mention (contribution to the festival) according to bank account number's (bank account number according to)
Cash on your support and participation. Later on the national and international press will be advised of this first international festival of the poets for peace.
The financial participation sponsors, patrons, and other institutions will be mentioned on the presentation of the program on Internet site, in the documents transmitted to the poets, to the institutions with the press.
French poet and writer
Member of the Steering Committee of this first world festival of the poets for peace
Messenger of the peace of the proclamation 2000 of UNESCO
Universal ambassador of peace
prize winner of the European Academy of arts
Honorary doctor of the world Academy of the culture and arts
by Cham Toik
Palean is a Mon village community of extended families located in western Ye of Mon State and was a good representation of Mon culture. This way of life formed the basis of Theravada Buddhism in Southeast Asia that delivered a message of peace transmitted from generation to generation in not only the Mon culture but also was adopted by the Burman and Thai cultures.
The Palean community is a perfect example of how people can live within self-sustained communities on fertile and productive land according to a traditional life style. The people enjoyed a peaceful life and felt no fear and left their doors unlocked at night, their farms were un-fenced, and the women hung their day’s laundry outside. Following Mon rural culture, a visitor dropping by is always offered fruit or vegetables, fresh water to drink or betel nut to chew and a wholesome dessert.
The whole village helps to ensure that a ‘Haeng’ is built behind their homes for the long-term storage of rice paddy for the coming year, enough to feed family members and visitors. The women go to the Haeng only when paddy is needed where it is pounded by hand to remove the rice husks, a long and labour intensive process that makes the most delicious and nutritious rice. This has been their way of life since Mon language was first recorded in 500 A.D. and which verifies Mon’s existence as a people. Mon culture was born from the village community and is the foundation of a unique language and has been since the advent of sedentary rice agriculture in Southeast Asia for at least two thousand years.
Today throughout the area, the Palean community faces the loss of their traditional way of life brought on not only by the demands of the global economy in which Mon leave to Thailand, but to the ever increasing threat of Burman domination.
Day after day, villagers have reported their rice and their clothing being stolen and indiscriminate attacks by Burmese migrants. Human rights violations such as murder, loss of land and disruption of agriculture practices, cultural repression and the continued migration of young Mon to neighboring countries add to the growing threats of the Mon culture. However it may be regarded elsewhere, the political crisis in Burma, it is fair to say, has been devastating for the ethnic peoples.
On May 6, 2006, a passenger on his way from Azin to Ye stabbed and killed a Mon taxi motorcyclist from behind and along with his gang stole the victim’s motorcycle. In another similar incident, a motorcyclist on his way to Zobbu town from northern Ye was beaten by a passenger. The passenger, a Burman worker with his gang, thought the owner of the motorcycle was dead and took the motorcycle.
Burman robbers attacked, robbed, and beat Ms. Mi Hla, aged 43, on her way back from her farm in Durae. Another lady from Lamine sub-town said she is scared of the Burmese migrants who come around as a gang intruding her farm at night stealing anything they can get their hands on leaving scattered debris in their wake. “They don’t respect local laws and our way of life, we don’t dare complain because they will destroy our garden plots. Some of our gardens were burned down after we complained,” said the villager.
A border trader says more migrants have moved into her community and comments on the loss of peace in the village, “In the past we could leave our belongings outside, now everything is stolen.”
The village headman of Andaeng who organizes festivals said petty crimes such as pick pocketing and looting often occur and children have their jewelry stolen when they walk around in public gatherings. Most of the criminals are Burmese speaking men and women and no efforts on part of the Burmese government to address these crimes and its threat to Mon culture have been made.
New settlers and migrants to the Ye area have committed several crimes these days. Many believe the main cause for these crimes is due to poverty and lawlessness, but Mon political leaders, as well as local people, say that the population transfer from the north is the main factor behind the high crime rate.
In need of a labour force
Faced with a rapid loss of labourers after thousands of Mon left to Thailand to escape human rights violations and economic poverty by the Burmese military, the local communities rely on internal migrant workers from upper Burma and Kyaik Hto of northern Mon State to come to southern Mon State to work on farms, rice fields, and rubber plantations.
Nai Khin, a local businessman from Durae told Kaowao that he was quite happy about having a migrant housemaid in his house to do the work. Young people including boys and girls from his village have left to Thailand where they can earn more money than they do in Mon State.
The daily wages for a farm laborer are about 3000 Kyat a day (about 2.5 US dollars) in Ye Township, while wages in the north are considerably lower at 1000 Kyat per day in upper Burma. With such economic disparity as well as milder weather in Mon State, many adults and young people from other areas flock down south to work in the fishing and agriculture industries.
“They are hard working people and much easier to deal with. Even though I was advised by a monk to hire local workers, it is impossible to find anyone nowadays,” said Nai Dut from Mawkanin.
Tighter government control
While the military regime regularly checks the household registration in the remote areas, its sole purpose is to monitor the movement of opposition groups. No information related to the internal immigration has been released to the general public in Mon State and no consultation with the local people has ever been put on the table.
The Burmese Army classifies the remote areas as black, brown and white in its war on controlling the ethnic population. The black area is where most of the non-Burman people live and is under the opposition-armed group’s control. The brown area falls within both government and rebel control depending upon influence, while white is under the government control. The black and brown areas have seen the worst human rights violations including forced labour, execution, rape and extortion.
Particularly in southern Mon State, the brown area has become the major goal for the SPDC government. If it controls the rural area, through displacement and land confiscation, it can undermine the political leadership of the ethnic peoples and hence be well on its way to control the whole country.
The ceasefire between the military government and the New Mon State Party was to produce political stability and a future of peace, but all it did was open the doors to more abuse of power including land confiscation and the relocation of civilians from the north. The ceasefire agreement proved to be a hidden motive of assimilation policy by the ruling Burmese junta to exercise complete control over land previously held by the Mon and other ethnic nationalities, aptly referred to as the “Population Transfer Policy.”
“There is no fighting and we don’t have to flee but slowly many outsiders have arrived, this is different from the past,” said Nai Zin, a betel nut gardener from Andaeng, northern Ye.
The Burmese Army confiscated thousands of acres of land in Mon State without paying compensation. In total about 10,000 acres of land had been taken out of farming production and turned into land used to develop for the government projects, and as claimed by the authorities, to promote economic prosperity. Forcing to give up their land, thousands of farmers have been made destitute or migrated to Thailand. In the mean time, the Burmese government has launched an undeclared population transfer policy, moving in its own people, for example, retired military officers, their families and friends into the black areas of southern Mon State to live and work in the projects run by the Burmese Army on confiscated land.
Nyan Saik, of Mon Environmental Group, reported that the Burma Army operates 3 brick factories on confiscated land in Ye Township and about 300 Burmans are employed with a wage paying 2000 Kyats per day. According to a local source from Zobbu, “the BA is coloring it white and needs Burmans to speak the same language or who understand Burmese for military instruction during security patrol.”
The source from the New Mon State Party said a military base in Mokanin village, northern Ye, was built for the sole purpose of relocating retired military personnel and disabled war veterans. The military camp is near local Mon villages where the Burman soldiers are free to engage in social activities and mix with the local girls and women in the community, while many Mon farmers have left their homes to escape human rights violations perpetuated by these people and economic impoverishment brought on through land confiscation.
“We are powerless and will soon become the minority in our land. The Burmese authorities favor those (Burmese migrants) for the well paying jobs and use them in their divide and rule tactics. Many strangers are appointed as militia and some have become the village headmen and interfere in our daily affairs,” said a leader of Mon Youth Association.
Nine years ago at the 50th Golden Anniversary of Mon National Day sponsored by the Palean community in 1997, a Mon community leader Nai Sadao Htow said that villagers should stay close to their homeland to live a traditional way of life rather than leaving their homes to seek jobs in Thailand. He delivered a speech in front of 10,000 participants on the auspicious occasion. Not many people were worried about population transfer at that time since only a handful of outsiders were working in their community and were warmly welcomed.
The situation rapidly changed within nine years with a significant increase of Burman settlers into the area. Most villages in southern Mon State are now filled with Burmese migrant workers or strangers due to lack of human resources in their community.
In local teashops, their morning gathering place, Burmese conversation controls the crowd. Some villages have a Burmese abbot in their monastery. This situation has alarmed Mon nationalists and Rehmonya Nikaya Buddhist monks in examining the increase of non-native people mixing in their villages. They say the concern now is not only with increasing crime, but also the threat of loosing their traditional way of life, an issue that may take on negative consequences and which is a matter of concern for all. They share the general feeling that the ceasefire agreement between the NMSP and the Burmese military government, land confiscation and population transfer are connected to each other and that it may create problems with Mon and Burman alike.
The serious threat for the Mon led to disturbances between the Mon and Burmese and, unfortunately, resulted in a negative aspect in the community. Being accused as robbers, some Burman migrants were killed by a Mon armed group last year. As a result, the Burman are often looked down upon by the local community.
During the 3rd Mon National Conference held in Nyisar hosted by the New Mon State Party (NMSP) in April this year, the delegates discussed a policy paper prepared by overseas Mon organization regarding the population transfer into Mon State. Nevertheless, there is as yet no clear resolution on how to deal with this issue and many feel that instability and crime are likely to get worse unless some action plans by the government and local people are drawn up to establish a political dialogue to work together in mutual respect.
Population transfer as a global issue
Population transfer for the Mon community is a case for international human right’s law. While travelling around the world during the past ten years raising awareness about the plight of the Mon, this writer was extremely shocked to learn about the obstacles faced by other indigenous peoples in their struggles for peace and justice. I was able to participate in several meetings related to the rights of minority people and indigenous populations including the United Nations Draft Declaration on Indigenous Peoples and Working Group on Indigenous Populations. During these occasions, indigenous friends raised the issue of the population transfer and reports were sent to the High Commissioner for Human Rights (HCHR) in Geneva, Switzerland.
The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization, which serves the interests of unrepresented indigenous peoples and minorities (UNPO) in which the Mon people are members, held a Conference on Human Rights of Population Dimension of Population Transfer in Tallinn, Estonia in 1992 that sought to raise concern on the problems of population transfer faced by its members around the world.
The population transfer is defined as the movement of people as a consequence of political or economic processes in which the State government or State authorized agencies participate. The International Law, in Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 states, “The occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies” and Article 85, paragraph 4 of the Additional Protocol 1 80 states, “... the following shall be regarded as grave breaches of this protocol, when committed willfully and in violation of the Convention or Protocol: (a) the transfer by the occupying power of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies... in violation of Article 49 of the Fourth Convention”.
While the state organizes the population transfer policy, the local people fall under the hand of the majority people in all spheres of economic, social and political life that will undermine and displace our way of life.
Interestingly, the British colonial rule had at least some degree of protection for the minority people or the population transfer. Article 52 of the Chittagong Hill Tracts protected the Jumma people in Bangladesh and 1900 Regulation prohibits settlement of “non-hill men” or outsiders.
However, the situation changed under independent Bangladesh rule, the military administrators transferred an estimated half a million plain settlers by providing inducements between 1979 and 1983. In the first week of June 2005, the government of Bangladesh placed a proposal to continue to provide “free food rations” to Muslim plain settler families. These settler families were brought under the government sponsored transmigration programmes and the government has been providing free food rations to these plain settlers. In five years, the military governments settled an estimated 500,000 plain settlers by providing inducements in order to make indigenous Jumma people a minority in their own land.
According to Mr. Suhas Chakma, Director of Asian Centre for Human Rights, if the present population transfer programmes are carried out, the populations in the CHTs will increase by over 25% the total population of the CHTs and all of them are mainstream plains people. This will destroy the distinct identity of indigenous peoples. Similarly, the issue on transmigration of Indonesia’s Javanese people to West Papua, Moluccas and Aceh is raised by indigenous peoples on its threat to their way of life.
In the case of Tibet, China has transferred its population into Tibet since the invasion in 1949. According to the report of the Tibet Government in Exile, there are over 7.5 million non-Tibetan settlers of Chinese and Hui Muslims while Tibetans inside Tibet comprise only 6 million. The increasing Chinese population transfer into Tibet has also reduced the Tibetan people to a minority group in their own land.
A new era of Burman domination
The new global economy has been the other driver behind diverse populations moving across borders to seek secure employment and the Mon have constituted the biggest population to journey across the southern Thai Burma border. However, Burmese settlers and the military government have again challenged the Mon’s existence as a people.
For over two hundred years, the Mon people have migrated from and into Thailand to escape famine, disease, war and Burman domination from the north and have survived. Some of the inhabitants, of the Thai Mon villages in central Thailand and Sangkhlaburi on the Thai Burma border, are the descendents of Mon who sought exile, refuge and economic security in Thailand.
Since Burma gained independence from Britain, the centralization of the Burmese government has continually threatened the lives and cultures of all peoples. The non-Burman communities are systematically targeted and have been deprived of their birthright to teach in their own languages and prevented from producing creative literature to preserve their cultural heritage.
The military repression of the entire population has taken a heavy toll on the people who suffer continually from economic poverty, from forced labour and armed conflict. The Burmese Army has intensified its military offensive over the past decade in the ethnic nationalities areas forcing thousands to flee to neighbouring countries to maintain its grip on power. As a consequence, Arakanese, Karen, Shan, Mon and others have left their villages. Sooner or later, the Burmese Army with its administrative staff and their families will relocate to these areas and Burmese settlers from central Burma will fill the vacuum in these areas.
The relocation of the Burmese population to the ethnic areas today is done with little thought to the consequences and is carried out within the context of greed, ignorance, mismanagement and lack of a political will. Unless the SPDC makes an effort to work with the ethnic nationalities and democratic forces to solve the country’s political crisis, the cultures of the ethnic nationalities will disintegrate and the diversity of Burma’s peoples will be lost forever.
Discussion on Population transfer threatens Mon community: By Cham Toik
Thank you for this article. It reports details about what's going on in Mon State. It is a part of systematic invasion and part of the strategy of SPDC regime.
Thanks for pointing out a very important issue, population transfer of Burmese migrants into Mon areas and threatening our Mon communities. The writer closed the well written article with "Unless the SPDC makes an effort to work with the ethnic nationalities and democratic forces to solve the country’s political crisis, the cultures of the ethnic nationalities will disintegrate and the diversity of Burma’s peoples will be lost forever." I afraid that this is the only thing SPDC really want it to happen, to kick all non-Burman people out of the country and reserve the vacant land for Burman, if not to assimilate them all. And I don't believe that SPDC will do anything to stop population transfer, because it intends to do so.
What we can do about it? Let's put it into few practical steps;
1. Stop complaining about it and do something. You and I know very well that there is strength in unity, it is high time that the Mon get together and unite, but we have got to have a clear plan on how we can build unity among us and really implement the plans.
2. Ask NMSP to reconsider its unsigned ceasefire agreement. You and I also know very well that the ceasefire agreement was never signed, it is just a trick of Burmese Junta to fool NMSP and Mon people, why the hell do we have to keep it?
3. Form a Mon National Government, because the Burmese Junta will never protect our population, why don't we form our own government to protect our own people instead?
4. Get the UN Security Council to really act. Why don't we put our heart and soul into getting the UNSC to solve the problems in Burma? You and I also know very well that one of the reasons for Burmese Junta to move its capital from Yangon to Pyinmana was to avoid the risks of being attack by US-led UN forces. UNSC is our only hope, but Burmese Junta's only fear.
5. Talk to our Burmese friends that they are not our enemy and that they can help us for the benefit of all people in Burma. They have to pay the debts of their ancestors' bad deeds. The Burmese have got to take the responsibility if Burman is to survive as a race.
With these 5 simple steps, I believe that the situation will positively change. These ideas are just basic strategies; we can work together to have a more effective one.
In unity and solidarity,
I am very impressed with Cham Toik's well written article "Population Transfer Threatens Mon Community" itself, and with responses and comments made by Mon patriots around the globe. It is very encouraging to see that everyone is aware and concerned about the issues that could threaten the survival and the very existence of our Mon even though there are differing views on this issue.
Yes, as the author mentioned in his article, population transfer is an important issue and, frequently used by many governments as a strategy to dominate ethnic minorities areas and territories. As a consequence, an article on this issue has been drafted and ratified in the Internal Law. The article 49 of International law prevents a large scale and systematic transfer of civilian population by the states and governments. If this happened to any ethnic nationalities inclusive of our Mon, all measures have to be taken in order to stop it. However, regarding population transfer to our Mon state, there is still differing views whether it is a "Population Transfer" or, "Population Movement". In its very definition, population transfer is the large scale transfer of civilian population conducted by the governments in order to dominate politically, economically and socially.
With regard to our Mon State, my personal view is that of "population movement" not in a state of "population transfer" yet. Even though increasing numbers of battalion and infantry are sent to our Mon states, it is hard to say that there is a large scale transfer of civilian population into our Mon areas. In addition, in making a large scale population transfer into our Mon state in order to dominate us, the Burmese military government has to have a stronger support, control and cooperation from its own Burmese people. In current political situation, even Burmese people themselves are against Burmese military government and it has no control and cooperation whatsoever from its own people.
Even the Burmese military government has to move and try to secure its power base from Rangoon to Pyinmanar for afraid of revolt by its own people. So, I would rather put that it is an economic migration and a population movement based on economic conditions. In this age of globalization and global economy, there is a population movement across territories and borders of nation states. For instance, Mon from Mon states move to Thailand, Thai people move to Singapore, and Singaporean move to more developed nations in search of a better pays and working conditions. At the same time, people from upper Burma and other states and divisions move to our Mon state in search of works.
These movements are temporary and cannot be categorized as permanent population transfer as Mon will come back to Mon State, Thais will come back to Thailand and Singaporean will come back to Singapore after the termination of employments. However, it will affect, one way or another, our ways of life in our Mon states or else by the presence of people from different cultures and people from other states and countries. We used to hear complaints frequently made by Thais local peoples and Thai authority by the presence of our Mon economic migrants in Thailand. However, as the Thai cannot prevent and stop our Mon economic migrants, they have alternatively to find a solution to register and control it.
So, in our Mon case too, we better find a realistic and a practical solution to tackle the issue of population movement in our Mon state. It does not necessarily mean that it is not an important issue and we do not need to worry and be concerned about a threat to our Mon national identity as a result of the presence of other nationalities in our land. As Mon, we all have to constantly keep it in mind and prepare how to deal with it if it happen to us. However, we should separate our worry from the reality. Worry is based on subjective analysis, our assumption and our feeling. The reality is based on the unbiased situation analysis and then make an informed decision. It should be realistic and practical. The major concern among us are about the domination on our Mon by Burmese or others culturally, socially, economically and politically. So in order to prevent the domination of other people on our Mon, we better build a stronger Mon civil society and encourage the awareness of, and attachment to our Mon culture and Mon identity. We all are well aware that national identity cannot be overwhelmed by the other nationalities as long as we are aware and strongly attached to our national identity. National identity and national culture are not confined to a geographic location or a territory.
Population movement across borders of nation states is very common in this age of globalization. So we have to strengthen our national unity, national awareness and attachment to our national identity wherever we are. As long as we can manage to strengthen the awareness and attachments to our Mon national culture and identity no matter whether we are in our Mon state, in Karen state, Rangoon division or abroad we can maintain our Mon national identity and can survive as Mon in the world.
Siri Mon Chan
I really enjoy reading your article and agree that the SPDC’s population transfer is a threat for the Mons and other ethnic. Burma is a diverse and complex state, population transfer is not only between the Burman and non-Burman; as I have heard Wa people in northern Shan State are brought to the south. Even though the SPDC may not directly involve in the larger scales, all of these chaos are due to the SPDC’s centralization policy.
Min Min (UK)
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