Governance for the elite or for the people: can you tell the difference? The Governing for the People "Behind-the-News" Letter exposes the differences and guides you to "think outside the politically correct box" about future possibilities.    


Western-Islamic Confrontation: A Scorecard

Now that a full decade of frontal military confrontation between the West and Islam has passed with no sight of any resolution of the disagreement or, sadly, even of much improvement in mutual understanding, a moment of contemplation of that which we have wrought and its implications is long overdue.

Great attention is paid by all participants in the global confrontation between the West and Islam to the tactical details of which side may be winning the battle of the day, but the really important question of where this confrontation is taking the world seldom gets the attention it deserves.

Now that we are a decade into the depths of a confrontation that perhaps was in some sense unavoidable but should never have been so mismanaged as to descend to the level of Fallujah 2004, Somalia 2007, Lebanon 2006, or Gaza 2008-9—much less the oft-threatened nuclear attack on Iran, we humans desperately need to take a deep breath and contemplate our position and the direction that our behavior is propelling us in.


Iraq. The current state of affairs in Iraq does not constitute progress, even for the U.S., because the soldiers and the violence are merely being transferred to the much more dangerous Afghan front. Shifting the location but continuing the violence is not progress.

Afghanistan. The American invasion of Afghanistan, often justified as a war to protect Afghan women, is (eight years later) turning out so badly that major Afghan women's rights leaders are saying they would rather fight alone for justice than do so with American "help." And Afghanistan is metastasizing into Pakistan, thus sucking in both India and Iran.

Pakistan. Within Pakistan, for the past month the conflict has been killing an astonishing several hundred people a week, as combat heats up in one area as soon as it cools off in another--from Swat to Bajaur to Malakand to Waziristan and all coming against the ominous background of constant political violence in Karachi, undermining any argument that progress is being made. Signs of the improvement in local level governance that would seem the minimal requirement for making such progress are hard to discern.

Iran. However one views the Iranian front, it is hard to see any progress. From the perspective of the Iranian people, the behavior of the regime this summer evokes memories of the worst oppression of the Shah and, in the 1930s, his father. If one's goal is Iranian power projection, the existential threat being posed by Israel should be more than enough reason to lie awake at night. If one accepts Israeli propaganda about a coming Iranian threat, Iran's steady growth in power gives little reason for joy. And if one sees Israeli propaganda as a cynical effort to distract attention from its anti-Palestinian campaign by tricking Washington into an unnecessary war with Iran, despite the almost certainly disastrous consequences for all, then there is definitely no reason for joy.

The smaller fronts. The problems on “minor” (no insult to the endangered inhabitants is intended) fronts such as Somalia and Gaza remain completely unresolved. The retreat of the U.S. proxy Ethiopian intervention force left Somalia much worse off than before their arrival, having spread destruction and further radicalized and factionalized Somali politics. Israel’s attack on Gaza in December 2008 only taught Hamas the lesson that offering to compromise will get it nowhere. Worse, new “minor” fronts, most obviously in Yemen and Baluchistan (which ominously involves Iran) but perhaps also Xinjiang and Uzbekistan, continue to open.

Entanglement with other issues. Moreover, the longer the confrontation with Islamic societies continues, the greater is the risk of its entanglement with other international political disagreements. Israeli arming of Georgia, thus encouraging their rash adventure in Ossetia and thus aggravating Russian-American relations, is one case that has already occurred. The links to Russia, however, go far beyond just Georgia, as dangerous as that pocket crisis seemed for a while. Other links, whose significance is a dark cloud on the horizon, go through former Soviet Central Asia, where the combination of left-over Soviet-style dictatorships and domestic political grievances create a combustible mixture that the Taliban can hardly be expected to overlook forever.

The confrontation with Islam also provides all manner of enticements for a Moscow that surely recalls the days when it was a major Mideast player. First, the booming narcotics trade out of Afghanistan is becoming and, more to the point, is beginning to be perceived in Moscow, as a threat to Russian national security. Second, nuclear threats against Iran make it hard for Moscow to resist selling Iran the world-class defensive missiles that Iran would so happily pay for. Third, Israel’s hard-line attitude toward Syria fairly begs for a renewed policy of Russian military support to Syria. It might well be good for the world were Moscow to play a more proactive Mideast role, but to the degree that Moscow’s participation takes the form of providing military support to the side Washington opposes, it risks complicating the situation—as in the Cold War days—by adding a layer of big power competition to an already near incomprehensible political morass.


The above considerations all point to the conclusion that a decade of vicious war that has caused the death of countless tens of thousands of innocent civilians and wrecked several societies has left the world worse off than it was at the start. Moslems have hardly made any progress in gaining a sympathetic ear for what they understandably perceive as unjust treatment at the hands of Western governments. The security of all in the Mideast, including Israelis, has declined: multinational conflicts threaten to engulf the region around Afghanistan, the region around Iran, and the region around Israel-Palestine. The U.S. has suffered a major strategic defeat: having both lost its aura of moral superiority and demonstrated the uselessness of all its military superiority for actually creating secure, stable, friendly societies in the region, the U.S. is less secure than it was on 9/11.

It thus seems time to move a bit less quickly, to insult less, to surge less, to shoot less, to scrutinize more carefully the motives of so-called friends, to give so-called enemies a bit more benefit of the doubt. It seems time to think a bit more about the long-range implications of our actions.

[Full article.]

[Palestine as the "epicenter."]

Turkey Moves Toward Regional Leadership

In a Mideast region being ripped apart by greed, short-sightedness, arrogance, refusal to compromise, a growing addiction to violence, and the virtual absence of wise leadership, Turkey appears to see itself as the leader of a new moderate regional coalition. Can Washington maintain pace?

On October 30, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu held a joint press conference in Iraqi Kurdistan, saying:

It is time for Arabs, Turks, Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis to rebuild the Middle East. Therefore, it is time for everyone to take brave steps.

This does not automatically mean equality for Turkish Kurds, of course, and yet, it seems an improvement over the Turkish military attacks of last winter and suggests a real openness in Turkey to questioning sensitive political taboos.

: Mideast Peacemaker?

At the same time as Turkey was negotiating the shoals of its Kurdish question, Prime Minister Erdogan was in Iran criticizing nuclear powers for imposing “arrogant sanctions” against Iran. Turkey is positioning itself to be the agent of a possible historic regional realignment. If any genuine willingness can be found in the West to follow through on Obama’s conciliatory message of understanding that came in the early, optimistic months of his administration, then it could be Erdogan who will end up earning the Nobel Peace Prize by facilitating a Western-Islamic compromise.

Although Erdogan may yet face domestic opposition to his effort to move Turkey away from its traditional foreign policy subservience to Washington, Turkey has much to gain from flexibility. If it can succeed in moderating Tehran’s treatment of its people and reach agreement with Iran on a joint activist stance supporting Muslim democracy combined with resistance to Arab dictators, resistance to al Qua’ida terrorism, and resistance to Israeli expansion, it will transform regional affairs. Turkey and Iran together have the power to provide real regional leadership, should they be able to agree on the way forward, and moderate Islamic activism is a position that currently has a very large vacancy.

Erdogan spelled out part of what a Turkish-led moderate bloc would mean a few days before his late-October visit to Iran, telling al Jazeera:

We are not in favor of presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iran and in our region. But it is not fair and unjust to put pressure on Iran while someone else in the region has such weapons. The world must assume a fair attitude. In that case a totally different environment of confidence will emerge.

The vision of a single set of rules to govern regional nuclear rights would fundamentally shift interstate relations, where the region is currently dominated by Israel’s exclusive possession of nuclear weapons.

Going beyond nuclear rights, Erdogan laid out a general principle that could, if accepted in Washington, go far toward resolving its conflict with Iran:

Iran has a long-standing political tradition of its own. You cannot ignore Iran and any attempt to encourage negative approaches to Iran will damage efforts to ensure peace in the region.

The new warmth in Turkish-Iranian relations signifies a shift toward acceptance of Iran as a legitimate player combined with a hint that Iran might facilitate its acceptance by some unspecified shifts of its own. In noting politely that “Iran has always been a key actor in regional peace and stability because of what it has done and what it will not do,” [emphasis added] Erdogan seemed to be telling Washington to accept Iranian prominence and telling Iran to avoid destabilizing behavior.

It is not yet clear whether either side will be willing to accept Erdogan’s advice. After all, it was Larijani who only two weeks ago reaffirmed Iran’s commitment to defending the rights of Muslims. Whether or not Tehran and Istanbul can come to agreement on how that should be accomplished remains to be seen.

Western Calculus.

But a Turkish-sponsored Western-Islamic compromise remains far in the future, for such a compromise would entail a highly uncharacteristic voluntary Western pullback from its current aggressively militant stance. The astonish shortsightedness of the West in refusing to participate in NATO war games in NATO partner Turkey without the presence of non-NATO Israel and the hostile reaction to the U.N. report on Israel’s war crimes in Gaza bode ill for Erdogan’s hopes to be a regional peacemaker.

Iranian Calculus.

Erdogan’s hopes of success also hinge on his ability to persuade Iran to play ball. Domestic Iranian politics and the career plans of its politicians pose a real obstacle, but Iran can only gain by a conciliatory attitude toward Turkey. Israel’s hard-line attitude makes triangular relations a zero-sum game, affording Iran a golden opportunity to enhance its regional position at Israel’s expense by pulling Turkey away from its close ties to Israel. Turkey also represents the route for Iran to break out of the West’s economic embargo and improve ties with Europe. Not content to wait for the future Nabucco pipeline, Turkey and Iran have, according to Iran’s PressTV, signed an agreement for Turkish aid in constructing an oil refinery that directly undermines Western economic sanctions and thus offers Tehran a powerful incentive to compromise with Turkey on other issues. Beyond this, for Iran to receive sympathetic attention from NATO member Turkey puts a serious crack in the anti-Iranian Western front that Tehran would be very foolish to spurn. Washington risks being overtaken by events.

Ahmadinejad  would be well advised to take advantage of his opportunity and provide a substantive package of security compromises to his Turkish mediator.

Can Washington Compromise?

If Iran has good reason to play ball with Turkey, the West also stands to gain, both by obtaining an additional source of gas and by using Turkey to promote regional moderation. Whether or not the West will come in sufficient time to appreciate the opportunity Turkey is offer, however, remains unclear. Will the West shoot itself in the foot to the extent of alienating Turkey in order to pander to the Israeli rightwing? Or, to put it differently, will Washington’s regional ambitions prevent it from accepting the idea of an independent and regionally powerful Iran?

If Washington is indeed determined to learn from the Dec. 2008 Gaza experiment the lesson that the right way to deal with the Muslim world is military suppression of those who refuse to subordinate themselves to Western preferences plus obdurate refusal to allow independent Muslim entities to participate as equals in the global political system, then that may indeed be the result.

Before the Israeli right wing cheers too loudly, it might contemplate the implications of a Mideast in which Turkey and Iran are jointly leading an international movement in opposition to Israel and, simultaneously, managing a future Nabucco gas pipeline keeping West Europe warm. While Washington empire-builders may extrapolate from tiny Gaza that military force can repress larger Islamic societies, it seems clear that Erdogan has learned something very different—that the chaos resulting from Western/Israel military suppression of Muslim desires for independence is simply becoming too dangerous to continue tolerating. Maybe Greater Israel advocates in Israel and the Washington elite should rethink the lessons of their Gaza Laboratory.


War, Recession, Health Care: What Can We Do?

What can we do about the war with Islam, the recession, the health care debacle, and other national emergencies in the U.S.? Quite a bit, actually, but it all starts with attitude.

“Oh, dear. What can we do?”

That, in essence, is the national debate…whether the subject is the recession that we needlessly provoked, the endless “chickens coming home to roost” war with Islam, the national shame of our health care industry, the steady degradation of the environment, or the wave of corruption among the commercial-financial-government elite.

The idea of reacting to these fundamental national problems with a sigh of “what can we do?” is of course to imply that these evils came from “somewhere else” and are by definition something beyond our control and, most importantly, NOT OUR FAULT!

  • It is thus “not our fault” that some Muslims finally got fed up after years of Western mistreatment and decided on a global campaign of terrorism to send us a message. We didn’t get the message. Hence, our old behavior continues, and we remain utterly unable to understand why military force is not working in Afghanistan…or Gaza or Somalia or Iran.
  • It is of course also “not our fault” that the two factions of the national party-for-the-conservation-of-elite-privilege cooperated back under Clinton (!) to destroy the New Deal safeguards against financial terrorism by big banks and thus paved the way for the recession. Hence, the members of that elite in Washington rewarded the members of that elite on Wall Street, the guys on Wall Street are happily gambling on life insurance derivatives (the old real estate-based derivatives having been, ah, “discredited”), and more guys on Main Street are unemployed every month.

OK. You get the idea.

So, what if we took responsibility and looked for solutions? One word on health care and another on the recession.

Health Care. The problem with the health care industry in the U.S. is that Americans, and particularly elite Americans (who profit), accept that phrase—health care industry—as legitimate. Health care cannot, in a decent society, be viewed as an “industry,” i.e., a business. Businesses are supposed to make profits. And that is exactly the purpose of the business of providing health care to Americans.

To repeat, health care in America is highly successful; it does exactly what it is designed to do: it generates fat profits for the practitioners (insurance companies, drug companies, friendly politicians who get campaign funds).

These profits are generated by methods with which every American is very familiar: by preventing the sick from getting insurance, by pushing the sick out of hospitals as fast as possible, by utterly ignoring elderly patients with cognitive problems and throwing them on the mercy of their untrained and probably working relatives (thus wrecking family after family).

At least the wave of unemployment in the recession will give many more family members the time to care for these aged parents! Fixing the health care system requires throwing away the idiotic and immoral idea of a health care business and replacing it with the concept of universal health care as a basic human right.

The Recession. At a certain level, the problem is too little money in the hands of consumers because of too few jobs. We happen in the U.S. to have a crumbling infrastructure, inhumane central cities, and collapsing main streets in small towns. Hiring the 15 million unemployed to rebuild the country would resolve all the above problems, but that takes money. Where can we get it from? The answer is pretty simple: tax the most lucrative business in the U.S. (no, I don’t mean illegal narcotics): Wall Street gambling. Tax profits on derivatives (my thanks to Ralph Nader for advocating this idea).

The law Congress should pass is provided below in its entirety:

All financial transactions of the general form known as “derivatives trading” or related transactions shall be taxed at a rate at least 50% greater than the income tax rate of the mean American worker, as calculated annually by the Congressional Budget Office.

In a very basic sense, the U.S. really is a democracy: we Americans have the system we designed. It does what we designed it to do. If we do not want a system that rewards political corruption; creates enemies; wrecks our environment; and generates obscene profits from the premature sickening, aging, and death of American citizens, then we have the option of designing a different system. Truly, we do. We have the skills; Americans frankly are rather badly educated, but we have the best academic establishment in the world and could choose to educate ourselves better. We have the money: although the average American is having an increasingly tough time, the total amount of money in the society is enormous (needing only to be spread more equitably and used for serious things like productivity rather than gambling on Wall Street, conspicuous consumption, and bombing everyone we don’t like). We have the resources. We have voted for corruption, recession, imperial conquest, bad capitalist (for profit) rather than good socialist (for society) health care, and dirty drinking water. We could, if we so chose, vote for the opposite and pay for its achievement.


Ef you take a sword an' dror' it
An' go stick a feller thru,
Guv'ment aint to answer for it.
God 'll send the bill to you. 

[James Russell Lowell, from All On Fire by Henry Mayer]

Simple Plan for American Exit from Afghanistan
  1. Washington announces that it will vacate any region of Afghanistan that is either -
    • peaceful and drug-free or
    • guarded by an international force, preferably from Muslim societies
  2. the international force will have two duties -
    • preventing the use of force to resolve conflict
    • eliminating illegal narcotics, with emphasis on destruction of the refinement business.


Site Author: William deB. Mills 

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