Wednesday, December 29, 2004

openDemocracy 57 (Dec 2004)

Edition 57 of the openDemocracy webzine (only posher) contains much of interest.

Another ('Chronicle of a War foretold' Dec 23rd) of Paul Rogers' regular analyses of the 'War on Terror' gives a sense of how deep the hole the US has dug for itself in its occupation. He recounts the detailed analyses coming from US security policy think-tank insiders: Bruce Hoffman of the sinister Rand Corporation and Anthony Cordesmann of Centre for Strategy and International Studies.

The Hoffman piece ('The Changing Face of Al Quaeda and Global War on Terrorism' in Studies in Conflict and Terrorism Vol 27,6 (Nov-Dec 2004, see also his Rand study 'Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in Iraq') points yet again to Al Quaeda being vastly strengthened by the war on Iraq and subsequent occupation; and in terms of his description of it as:
'more of an idea or a concept than an organization; an amorphous movement tenuously held together by a loosely networked transnational constituency rather than a monolithic international terrorist organization with either a defined or an identifiable command and control apparatus.'
And which has become,
'a vast enterprise, an international movement or franchise operation with like-minded local representatives, loosely connected to a central ideological or motivational base, but advancing their common goals independently of each other.'
This is an organisation that the US state is going to find harder and harder to defeat with its current strategy.

The Cordesmann piece, 'The Developing Iraqi Insurgency: Status at End 2004' points to the depth of Iraqi antagonism to the occupation and the fantasyland of American strategic planners in not understanding this. It looks like the Mosul canteen suicide-bombing on Dec 20th was 'an inside job'! The most pessimistic part of the analysis from Cordesmann is that there is little chance of early US withdrawal.

Another analysis on Open Democracy 'Iraq's Dangerous Elections' by Zaid Al-Ali looks at different complex and contradictory currents in those political forces that are participating in the January elections. This means a focus on the United Iraqi Alliance, basically Sh'ite forces dominated by Sistani and including SCIRI and the Dawa party. Al-Sadr's forces were part of this alliance, but he seems to have left over the question of the immediate withdrawal of American occupation forces. The UIA seems to have fractured, partly over issues inside the Sh'ite community about the alleged extent of Iranian influence - Sistani himself was born in Iran, SCIRI was formed in Iran and backed Iran against Saddam Hussein in the 80s!

Some informed commentators (including the estimable Robert Fisk) have cast doubt on whether the election will even take place. Many others have either called for their postponement or cast doubts on the political wisdom of sticking to the set date. What seems like the intransigence of the Bush regime in sticking to their election timetable needs explaining.

Anyway, the conclusion of this piece is worth considering:
"In any event, and assuming the elections do indeed go ahead, the critical point will come when Iraq's newly-elected representatives seek to use their mandate to impose unpopular policies on those Iraqi citizens who neither participated nor were represented in the elections. In such circumstances, the reaction of people who are now advocating a boycott - including the powerful Sadrist movement as well as the majority of the Sunni community - could lead to a disastrous outcome, one that may even amount to civil war."

'Why the Democrats lost: an interview with Todd Gitlin' (Dec 22nd 2004 ) I've still got a regard for Gitlin based on his long ago role in SDS and excellent book about the media (The Whole World is Watching 1982) and the anti-war protests of the '60s; a lot of radicals find him a contemptible turncoat and asshole. In this interview Gitlin generally commends the Kerry campaign (even the 'reporting for duty' business, his strongest criticism is of how weakly the Swift veterans anti-Kerry wedge got handled), puts it down to the continuing effect of 911 and clearly looks forward to finding ways of reviving the Democratic Party. An accompanying interview with Colin Greer of the New World Foundation is also focused on the ways that the Democratic Party might be transformed from the 'message and money machine' that it has been in recent decades, but from the perspective of grassroots organisation by 'Community-Based Organizations' (CBOs).

There is reference to an important report (also referred to by Tom Mertes in his New Left Review article about Frank's book) about the Democratic effort in Ohio ('Okay, We Lost Ohio. The Question Is, Why?' by Steve Rosenthal, Washington Post Dec 5, 2004) in which the state organiser for 'America Coming Together' reports on a post-election poll which challenges what the author considers to be myths about the result: it wasn't won by the mobilization of churchgoers on a moral agenda, it wasn't superior organisation by the Republicans; it was really because Bush won support on the basis of the occupation of Iraq being a justified component of the 'war on terror' (with around a 55-42% split on this). Rosenthal mentions a failure to win on economic issues, but the verdict here is that the legacy of 9/11 still hung over the election and massively affected the result. Doesn't mention the effect of putting safe-sex marriage on the ballot in Ohio though.

On the other hand openDemocracy is organising an international conference about the threat of terrorism to democracy involving those members of international Great and Good and ex-statespeople that brings that combination of boredom and nausea ('International Summit on Democracy, Terrorism and Security'). This is going to be held in Madrid to mark '11-m', but will include much on-line discussion. Mary Kaldor in an agenda-setting discussion of this, predicated on the soundly liberal idea that both terrorism and the fear of terrorism and political measures that employ the fear of terrorism, manages to this say about terrorism:

"First, classical terrorist groups usually used it to further political goals of left or right (Trotskyism, Anarchism, Fascism)."
Hmm, doesn't inspire me with confidence. Who are these Trot terrorists?


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