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The Kenyan Massacre’s Roots in America’s Somalia Policy
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Blog, Commentary and Articles - Foreign Policy, Military and War
Written by Sheldon Richman   
Tuesday, 24 September 2013
The Kenyan Massacre’s Roots in America’s Somalia Policy
by Sheldon Richman
 
Last weekend’s hostage-taking — and the murder of at least 62 people — at the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, has its roots in the U.S. government’s intervention in Somalia, which began in the 1990s. Although there is no justification for killing innocents, it is fair to point out that al-Shabaab, the Islamist group that committed the attack on the mall and that controls parts of Somalia, would probably not be in power if not for the United States.
 
As Scott Horton, host of a nationwide radio program focusing on foreign policy, points out in the September issue of Future of Freedom (which I edit), the U.S. government has intervened directly in Somalia and backed repeated invasions by neighboring African states, including Kenya. In the process, a relatively moderate government was overthrown, resistance to invaders was radicalized, and the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab gained partial control, which would have been unlikely without that intervention.
 
Horton, drawing on firsthand reporting by journalist Jeremy Scahill, notes that after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Bush administration compiled a list of countries “ripe for ‘regime change,’” including Somalia, “none of which had any involvement whatsoever in the attacks or any real ties to those who did.… Luckily for the Pentagon and CIA, it was not very difficult to find cutthroat warlords willing to accept their cash to carry out targeted assassinations and kidnappings against those they accused of being Islamists — or anyone else they felt like targeting.”
 
A backlash followed. Somalia’s Islamic Courts Union, a coalition of a dozen groups, put down the warlords and the U.S.-sponsored Transitional Federal Government. “The ICU then declared the reign of Islamic law,” Horton writes. “That, of course, was none of America’s business, and even if it had been, the Somali regime lacked the power to create an authoritarian religious state like, say, U.S. ally Saudi Arabia.… And Somalia’s traditional Muslim beliefs were much more laid-back and tolerant than those in Arabia.”
 
This was unacceptable to the Bush administration, so in late 2006 it had Ethiopia, its Christian client state and an old Somalia antagonist, invade and overthrow the ICU, “with CIA and special-operations officers leading the attack.” In 2008, however, Somalis kicked the Ethiopians out. Helping in the effort was, in Horton’s words, “the youngest and least influential group in the ICU, al-Shabaab (‘the youth’).” On its way out of power the Bush administration, seeking to save face, got the “old men of the ICU” to agree to “accept the form of the Transitional Federal Government.” This only inflamed al-Shabaab, which accused them of being American agents.
 
“It was only then — years after the whole mess began — that it declared loyalty to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda. It started acting like al-Qaeda too, implementing Arabian-style laws and punishments in the areas they dominated, such as cutting off the hands of those accused of stealing,” Horton writes.
 
Unfortunately, the Obama team has continued along the same disastrous path:
After the Ethiopians withdrew, [the administration] sent in the armies of Uganda and Burundi under the auspices of the African Union to hunt down and destroy al-Shabaab. Then came the Kenyans, who apparently panicked after luxury resorts near their border had come under attack. In 2011 the Ethiopians reinvaded. Kenyan forces took the port city of Kismayo from al-Shabaab in 2012 and loudly declared victory when the rebels melted away. But the stubborn insurgency continues the fight.
The Americans, for their part, continue to back the invading forces, as well as what passes for the “government” in Mogadishu, with hundreds of tons of weapons and tens of millions of dollars.
The CIA and the U.S. military still take a direct hand, not only by helping the nominal government, but also by attacking Somalis with helicopters, cruise missiles, and drones — and, Horton writes, “by overseeing at least two different torture dungeons.”
 
The horrendous attack in Nairobi has the news media abuzz over possible terrorist threats to “soft targets” such as shopping malls, not only in Africa but also in the United States itself. As we think about this, we should realize that this is a threat made in Washington, DC.
 
How many times do we have to experience what the CIA calls “blowback” before the American people cry, “Enough!”
 
Sheldon Richman  is vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation in Fairfax, Va. (www.fff.org).
 
Talking with Men, Not at Men Makes A Difference
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Blog, Commentary and Articles - Rape, Sexual Assault and Abuse
Written by James Landrith   
Sunday, 22 September 2013

The Women's Resource Center at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee asked the following question

 

If you come across someone who laughs at the idea of teaching men not to rape, what's the best way to explain things to them(without exploding in frustration)?

 

I'd start by remembering that 1 in 6 males experience sexual violence by age 18, not including those of us hurt as adults. I'd start by viewing us as more than potential allies, but as survivors in our own right. Talk with us, not down to us, or at us. The condescension and arrogance of some advocates - especially toward male survivors - makes it harder for many men to trust. Listen to us as well if you value our buy-in and desire our participation in your campaigns and advocacy efforts. We are actual human beings, not targets to be converted. You should expect to receive some pushback when you tell a male survivor of rape that they need to be taught not to rape.

 
We Must Not Be the World’s Policeman
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Blog, Commentary and Articles - Foreign Policy, Military and War
Written by Sheldon Richman   
Wednesday, 04 September 2013
We Must Not Be the World’s Policeman
by Sheldon Richman
 
Even if everything Secretary of State John Kerry says about chemical weapons in Syria were true, the evidence would prove only that Bashar al-Assad committed crimes against civilians. It would not prove that the U.S. government has either the moral or legal authority to commit acts of war.
 
These issues must be kept separate. We have reason to be skeptical of Kerry’s case — why did President Obama try to stop the UN inspection? — but if it were otherwise, the case for U.S. military intervention still would not have been made — even if authorized by Congress.
 
No one appointed the United States the world’s policeman. The government’s founding document, the Constitution, does not and could not do so. Obama and Kerry have tried hard to invoke “national security” as grounds for bombing Syria, but no one believes Assad threatens Americans. He has made no such statements and taken no threatening actions. He is engulfed in a sectarian civil war. Inexcusably, Obama has taken sides in that civil war — the same side as the Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate — but still Assad poses no danger to Americans. Bombing would make him more — not less — of a threat.
 
As it interferes in other people’s conflicts, a self-appointed world policemen will breed resentment and a lust for revenge. No one likes a bully, especially when it’s a presumptuous superpower armed with nuclear warheads and monstrous conventional weapons. (By the way, Assad's conventional weapons have killed far more people than sarin gas has.)
 
You might ask, How could U.S. punishment of Assad be equated with being a bully? Isn’t he the bully? To be sure, Assad is a criminal. But the U.S. government’s record on the world’s stage hardly qualifies it for any merit badges. It rails against Assad’s brutality, but it backed Iraq’s late president Saddam Hussein, even when he used chemical weapons in the 1980s. It condoned the Egyptian military’s mowing down of over a thousand street demonstrators after the recent coup, and it has more than tacitly approved Israel’s string of onslaughts against the Palestinians and Lebanese. In these cases, American presidents could have properly responded by ending military aid  — but they refused.
 
Similarly, the U.S. government for decades provided advanced weaponry to brutal and corrupt monarchies in the Arab world and autocrats in Asia and Latin America. More often than not, when a government represses its population, it uses equipment made in the USA.
 
America’s selective outrage is not lost on the world. The U.S. government is neither an honest broker nor an avenger of the victims of injustice. It is the world’s ham-handed hegemon, with overriding geopolitical and economic interests that determine what it does in any circumstance.
 
Assad is a suitable foe, not because he is uniquely cruel — hardly — but because Russia and Iran are his allies. American foreign policy in the Middle East has long been dedicated to guaranteeing that no country can challenge U.S./Israeli hegemony. American presidents have no problem with strongmen who crush their people’s dreams of freedom, as long as those rulers do what they are told. But if they don’t toe the line, watch out.
 
Saddam Hussein and Libya’s Muammar Qadaffi learned that the hard way. Now it’s Assad’s turn (earlier in the “war on terror,” the CIA outsourced torture services to him), even if that means helping al-Qaeda in Syria.
 
It’s not just that no one appointed the United States the world’s policeman. By assuming that role, the U.S. government — no matter who’s president — undermines the values we claim to uphold, such as freedom, justice, privacy, and peace. The invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan left hundreds of thousands dead, many more gravely wounded, and corrupt authoritarian governments in control of the social wreckage. The law of unintended consequences cannot be repealed, and the risk is no less with interventions that begin modestly, because no one can say what the other side -- which includes Iran and Russia -- will do.
 
At home, a perpetual war footing drains our pockets, puts us at risk of retaliation, violates our privacy, and distorts our economy through the military-industrial complex.
 
James Madison understood well: “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”
 
Sheldon Richman  is vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation in Fairfax, Va. (www.fff.org).
 
U.S. Has No Moral Standing to Condemn Assad
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Blog, Commentary and Articles - Foreign Policy, Military and War
Written by Sheldon Richman   
Wednesday, 28 August 2013
U.S. Has No Moral Standing to Condemn Assad
by Sheldon Richman
 
Whether or not Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons, President Obama has no legitimate grounds to intervene.
 
U.S. airstrikes, intended to punish and deter Assad and degrade his military but not overthrow his regime, would deepen the U.S. investment in the Syrian civil war and increase the chances of further intervention. Obama’s previous intervention is what has brought us to this point. Instead of steering clear of this regional conflict, he declared that Assad must go; designated the use of chemical weapons as a “red line” the crossing of which would bring a U.S. response; and armed and otherwise aided Assad’s opposition, which is dominated by al-Qaeda-style jihadists who have no good feelings toward America. Once an American president does these things, further steps are almost inevitable if for no other reason than that “American credibility” will be said to be at stake.
 
One can already hear the war hawks berating Obama for his “merely symbolic” punitive airstrike that had no real effect on the civil war. Once he’s taken that step, will Obama be able to resist the pressure for imposing a no-fly zone or for more bombing? He and the military seem unenthusiastic about getting in deeper, but political pressure can be formidable. Will the American people maintain their opposition to fuller involvement when the news media turn up the volume of the war drums? How long before the pictures from the war zone create public approval for “humanitarian intervention,” which the hawks will then point to in support of their cause?
 
Make no mistake: the United States would be committing an act of war against Syria — and judging by the 2011 Libyan intervention, it would be doing so unconstitutionally, without congressional authorization. If history teaches us anything, it is that war is unpredictable. Even limited “surgical” strikes can have unintended consequences (civilian deaths and American losses) and could elicit unanticipated responses, including from Syria’s allies Iran and Hezbollah.
 
Exploiting unsubstantiated allegations about chemical weapons also runs the risk of repeating the blunder of a decade ago, when dubious intelligence was used to justify an unlawful war of aggression against Iraq. Are there grounds for confidence in the claims that Assad’s forces used chemical weapons? Maybe they did, but something does not add up. Assad has much to lose by their use, while the rebels have much to gain: Western intervention on their behalf. (In May a member of the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria concluded that the rebels may have used chemical weapons at that time.) As Peter Hitchens writes,
What could possibly have possessed [Assad] to do something so completely crazy? He was, until this event, actually doing quite well in his war against the Sunni rebels. Any conceivable gains from using chemical weapons would be cancelled out a million times by the diplomatic risk. It does not make sense.
Hitchens urges caution:
It seems to me that there are several reasons to be careful. The first is that we seek to believe evil of those we have already decided to be enemies, especially in democracies where voters must be persuaded to sign the vast blank cheque of war.
Finally, it is grotesque to see officials of the U.S. government, such as Secretary of State John Kerry, condemning anyone’s war tactics as something “morally obscene” that should “shock the conscience of the world.” Since 1945, the U.S. government has launched aggressive wars in violation of international law. It has tortured prisoners detained without charge. It has dropped atomic bombs on civilian centers, and used napalm, Agent Orange, depleted-uranium shells, and white phosphorus incendiary weapons. It has carpet bombed and firebombed cities. America’sunexploded landmines and cluster bombs still threaten the people of Vietnam and Cambodia. (Tens of thousands have been killed or injured since the war ended in 1975.)
 
Today the U.S. government cruelly inflicts suffering on Iranian men, women, and children through virtually comprehensive economic sanctions — just as it did to the Iraqi people from 1990 to 2003. It also threatens aggressive war against Iran.
 
And while it selectively laments the humanitarian crisis in Syria, the Obama administration bankrolls Egypt's military government, which massacred over a thousand street demonstrators, and Israel's repression of the Palestinians.
 
The U.S. government should get its own house in order and quit lecturing others.
 
Sheldon Richman  is vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation in Fairfax, Va. (www.fff.org).
 
Delete the Fed
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Blog, Commentary and Articles - Economics and Financial Services
Written by Sheldon Richman   
Tuesday, 20 August 2013
Delete the Fed
by Sheldon Richman
 
Who should run the Federal Reserve System when chairman Ben Bernanke’s term expires next year: Vice Chair Janet Yellen or former Obama adviser Lawrence Summers?
 
Neither.
 
Who then?
 
No one.
 
The fact is, we need the Federal Reserve like we need a hole in the head. Contrary to folklore, the Fed is not needed to stabilize the economy or to prevent unemployment. As the Fed heads into its second century, we ought to realize that its record is terrible. Even if we don’t count the interwar period (which some economists call the new Fed's practice round), America’s central bank is a flop. Monetary economists George A. Selgin, William D. Lastrapes, and Lawrence H. White wrote in “Has the Fed Been a Failure?”:
Drawing on a wide range of recent empirical research, we find the following: (1) The Fed’s full history (1914 to present) has been characterized by more rather than fewer symptoms of monetary and macroeconomic instability than the decades leading to the Fed’s establishment. (2) While the Fed’s performance has undoubtedly improved since World War II, even its postwar performance has not clearly surpassed that of its undoubtedly flawed predecessor, the National Banking system, before World War I.
The authors support that generalization with details. On inflation: “Far from achieving long-run price stability, [the Fed] has allowed the purchasing power of the U.S. dollar, which was hardly different on the eve of the Fed‘s creation from what it had been at the time of the dollar’s establishment as the official U.S. monetary unit, to fall dramatically” — by 95 percent.
 
Selgin, Lastrapes, and White also show that the central bank has given us longer recessions and slower recoveries.
 
But without the Fed, who would set interest rates to guide the economy? The first answer is that government policy and Fed manipulations can create the very recessions that the Fed then tries to reverse. If the politicians and their court economists would get over their hubristic belief that they are stewards of the economy, macroeconomic crises would disappear.
 
Besides, the Fed cannot set interest rates, not even its narrow federal-funds rate for overnight interbank loans. At most, it targets that rate by buying and selling government securities, but it doesn’t always hit its target. The idea that the Fed can even heavily influence mortgage and other interest rates ignores important facts.
 
First, the Fed’s operations are small compared to the complex U.S. and world economies. Writes monetary economist Richard Timberlake,
Traditional economics properly teaches that many complex market forces — countless investment and savings decisions not dependent on monetary factors — are essential in determining interest rates. The Fed funds rate that Fed policy can influence through its monopoly over the quantity of money is inconsequential in shaping most short-term and long-term rates in capital markets, unless that moneymaking power subsequently promotes a pervasive price inflation. [Emphasis added.]
Second, the Fed can’t lower rates through monetary inflation beyond the very short run. Why not? Because lenders will respond by raising their rates to avoid being screwed by price inflation – unless the Fed prevents the inflation, as it’s been doing, by effectively borrowing back the new money from the banks at interest.

Moreover, as monetary economist Jeffrey Rogers Hummel points out,
Globalization, with the corresponding relaxation of exchange controls in all major countries, allows [investors] easily to flee to foreign currencies, with the result that changes in central-bank policy are almost immediately priced by exchange rates and interest rates. Add to this the ability to purchase from many governments securities that are indexed to inflation, and it becomes highly unlikely investors will be caught off guard by anything less than sudden, catastrophic hyperinflation (defined as more than 50% per month) — and maybe even not then.
While inflation is not the threat it once was, the Fed is not harmless. “Bernanke has so expanded the Fed’s discretionary actions beyond merely controlling the money stock that it has become a gigantic, financial central planner,” Hummel writes.
 
No one should have such power.
 
Money was not invented by government. It was the spontaneous creation of people trying to ease exchange in the marketplace. Central banks like the Fed only messed money up, robbing the people while facilitating warfare and welfare spending through irresponsible large-scale government borrowing.
 
Thus the Fed should be deleted.

Sheldon Richman  is vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation in Fairfax, Va. (www.fff.org).
 
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