A Reply to Stephen Gowans’ False Allegations against Stephen Zunes

[Stephen Gowans has written an article, “Stephen Zunes and the Struggle for Overseas Profits.” This is Zunes’ reply.]

Stephen Gowans’ February 18 article, “Stephen Zunes and the Struggle for Overseas Profits,” is filled with demonstrably inaccurate and misleading statements about both me and the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC), with whom I serve as chair of the board of academic advisors. Below is a 13-point refutation which only begins to challenge the lies and misinformation.

1) I never have and do not “defend U.S. government meddling in the affairs of other countries.” This is a complete lie. I’ve dedicated most of my academic and activist life to opposing U.S. interventionism in all its forms. I have written whole books and scores of articles opposing U.S. interference in the affairs of other countries, spoken at and taken part in numerous protests and rallies, and have even been arrested on a number of occasions protesting U.S. imperialism. If there are any doubts whatsoever to my categorical opposition to U.S. interventionism, please check out my website: www.stephenzunes.org.

2) ICNC has not been “heavily involved in successful and ongoing regime change operations, including in Yugoslavia,” nor was Yugoslavia an example of a revolution “Zunes and his colleagues assist.” Neither I nor ICNC had anything to do with the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic, which took place prior to ICNC being founded in 2001. It is totally false, therefore, to claim that Serbia was a place that “ICNC considers to be the site of one of its most successful engagements” since ICNC was never engaged there prior to the 2000 uprising.

Nor, contrary to Gowans’ assertion, did I or ICNC have any contact whatsoever with Georgians or Ukrainians before the popular nonviolent uprisings in those countries.

3) Gowans’ claim that

“Wherever Washington seeks to oust governments that pursue economically nationalist or socialist policies, you’ll find Helvey (and perhaps Zunes as well) holding seminars on nonviolent direct action: in Belarus, in Zimbabwe, in Iraq (before the U.S. invasion) and in Iran”

is a complete lie. Neither Helvey nor I (who have met each other only on handful of occasions and only in the United States) have ever held seminars in any of those countries. Furthermore, I have absolutely no interest in supporting — and have always strenuously opposed — Washington’s agenda to “oust governments that pursue economically nationalist or socialist policies.”

4) One of the most bizarre quotes from Gowans is as follows:

“Zunes would be a more credible anti-imperialist were he organizing seminars on how to use nonviolent direct action to overthrow the blatantly imperialist U.S. and British governments. With the largest demonstrations in history held in Western cities on the eve of the last conspicuous eruption of Anglo-American imperialism, it cannot be denied that there’s a grassroots movement for peace and democracy in the West awaiting Zunes’ assistance. So is he training U.S. and British grassroots activists to use nonviolent direct action to stop the machinery of war? No. His attention is directed outward, not on his own government, but on the governments Washington and ruling class think-tanks want overthrown.”

As a matter of fact, for more than thirty years I have indeed been “training U.S. … activists to use nonviolent direct action to stop the machinery of war,” working with Peace Action, War Resisters League, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Ruckus Society, Direct Action Network, Direct Action against the War, and other groups through which I have led trainings for sit-ins, blockades and other forms of nonviolent direct action against the Pentagon, military recruiters, military contractors and other targets in the military-industrial complex. Regarding the “largest demonstrations in history held in Western cities on the eve of the last conspicuous eruption of Anglo-American imperialism,” I happened to have been a speaker at the February 2003 rally in San Francisco, in which I explicitly called upon the half million people gathered to support mass nonviolent direct action to stop the invasion and other manifestations of U.S. imperialism.

My background in strategic nonviolent action is rooted in my involvement in the late 1970s in Movement for a New Society, a revolutionary cadre decidedly anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist in orientation. Of the more than one hundred seminars, trainings, workshops and related events designed to educate people on nonviolent action with which I have been involved subsequently, only three have primarily consisted of participants from countries with governments opposed by the United States, approximately a dozen have consisted primarily of those from foreign countries with governments supported by the United States, and the remaining 85% or more have been for Americans struggling against U.S. government and corporate policies.

For Gowans to claim, therefore, that I have never trained American anti-war activists or that my “attention is directed [toward] governments Washington and ruling class think-tanks want overthrown” is totally and demonstrably false.

Indeed, in the final chapter of my book Nonviolent Social Movements (Blackwell, 1999), I write:

“As militarism and corporate capitalism has become global, so must nonviolent movements. For nonviolence to continue being an effective force, it must be within the context of transnational movements which struggle not just at where the worse manifestations of institutional violence occur, but at their source — which is often in the advanced industrialized countries, particularly the United States… Those of us with an appreciation for nonviolence should … be more … willing to use it ourselves.”

5) Gowans is completely wrong to claim that “the governments Zunes really seems to be concerned about (Zimbabwe, Iran, Belarus and Myanmar) are hostile to the idea of opening their doors to unrestricted U.S. investment and exports.” Indeed, anyone who bothers to look at the extensive writings on my web site and elsewhere will note that 95% of my criticisms of dictatorships and other autocratic regimes and human rights abusers are in reference to U.S.-backed governments that adopt a U.S.-backed neo-liberal agenda and not governments opposed by the United States or those which adopt a more progressive economic agenda.

As I have observed in numerous writings, public speeches, and media interviews, the United States remains the world’s number one supporter of repressive regimes and I have repeatedly criticized the ways in which the U.S. government places so-called economic “freedom” above political freedom and human rights. Therefore, Gowans’ claim that “Zunes’ rhetoric is reminiscent of Bush’s” is completely false, since I support freedom and democracy universally (with particular emphasis on repressive U.S.-backed regimes), whereas the Bush administration speaks out for “freedom and democracy” highly selectively, targeting only regimes that challenge American hegemony. Also, unlike the U.S. government, I believe that social and economic rights — which are routinely denied under capitalism — are just as important as civil and political rights.

Gowans is also completely inaccurate in insisting that the government of Zimbabwe is “one of Zunes’ and the U.S. government’s favorite bêtes noire.” That is certainly true of the U.S. government, which hypocritically singles out Zimbabwe’s dictatorship for criticism, sanctions, and subversion while supporting similar dictatorships in Equatorial Guinea, Cameroun, Chad and other African nations. In my case, however, in the scores of articles, book chapters, public lectures, and interviews of mine in which I have expressed my opposition to repressive regimes around the world, I have never written or said anything — except in passing — about Zimbabwe. To claim, then that Zimbabwe is one of my favorite bêtes noire is a total fabrication.

Having said this, I fully acknowledge my distaste for the repressive and autocratic regimes in Zimbabwe, Belarus, Iran, and Burma. The “elections” in these countries that Gowans cites to counter charges that they are dictatorships — like similar “elections” staged by such U.S.-backed dictatorships as Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan — can hardly be considered free and fair. And just because the governments of Zimbabwe, Belarus, Burma and Iran oppose U.S. imperialism, it does not mean that they are therefore progressive or democratic, nor does it mean they are not guilty of corruption and repression.

Even though the U.S. government opportunistically and hypocritically criticizes these regimes for their lack of freedom and democracy, it does not mean that progressives like me who also criticize these regimes’ human rights abuses are therefore, in Gowans’ words, “mimicking State Department press releases.”

Gowans is also incorrect to allege that I deny that the U.S. is attempting to subvert the Zimbabwean government. Such destabilization efforts — which focus upon an institution-building advancement of the U.S. agenda — are very real and I oppose them. This is very different, however, from the solidarity work provided by independent progressive non-profit groups in foreign countries to independent progressive movements in Zimbabwe and elsewhere working for justice and human rights, which focus on popular empowerment.

6) Gowans is also completely inaccurate and misleading in claiming that the “revolutions Zunes admires (Yugoslavia, Georgia, Ukraine) have brought pro-U.S., pro-foreign investment governments to power.” First of all, while there are certain aspects of those revolutions in Serbia, Georgia and Ukraine that I do admire, I was frankly more excited and hopeful about earlier socialist revolutions in Nicaragua, Mozambique, Vietnam, and elsewhere that brought anti-U.S., anti-foreign investment governments to power.

More to the point, to claim that these Eastern European governments are all more “pro-foreign investment” than their predecessors as a result of their nonviolent revolutions is overly-simplistic. For example, despite enormous pressure from the United States and international financial institutions, the post-Orange Revolution government in Ukraine maintains the strongest state role in the economy of all but one of Europe’s 42 countries.

Like most people on the left, I have been very disappointed regarding capitalist encroachment in Eastern Europe. The examples Gowans cites, however, are terribly misleading:

a) Kosovo came under Western tutelage not as a result of a nonviolent struggle, but as the result of the 11-week NATO bombing campaign in 1999; the earlier Kosovar nonviolent struggle between 1990 and 1998 was largely ignored by the United States and other Western governments.

b) The 1999 NATO bombing campaign of Serbia — which I and most of those subsequently associated with ICNC strenuously opposed — was completely unrelated to the overthrow of Milosevic more than a year and a half later. The leaders of Otpor — the student-led movement which led the popular nonviolent uprising against the regime in October 2000 — were largely left-of-center nationalists who strongly opposed the bombing, which seriously set back their efforts as the Serbian people united against the foreign aggression. Indeed, Otpor suspended their anti-Milosevic campaign for the duration of the war and joined their fellow Serbs in opposition to the NATO attacks.

c) Capitalist penetration of Serbia and Georgia really got underway under the old Milosevic and Shevardnadze regimes, not the governments which came to power following those countries’ nonviolent revolutions. It should also be noted that the United States actually backed the Shevardnadze regime in Georgia because of its friendly relations with American oil companies and related economic interests, withdrawing its support just hours before the Rose Revolution toppled him. And, as recent events have reminded us, the post-Milosevic government of Serbia can hardly be considered a puppet regime of the United States.

7) It is simply untrue to claim that what “the ICNC and Stephen Zunes are all about” is “nonviolent direct activism in the service of US foreign policy goals.” My work through ICNC in educational projects on strategic nonviolent action has included support of Egyptians struggling against the U.S.-backed Mubarak regime, Palestinians struggling against the U.S.-backed Israeli occupation, Sahrawis struggling against the U.S.-backed Moroccan occupation, Maldivians struggling against the U.S.-backed Gayoom regime, West Papuans struggling against the U.S.-backed Indonesian occupation, and Guatemalan Indians struggling against the ramifications of U.S.-backed neo-liberal economic policies, among others. How could working with progressive activists struggling against U.S.-backed governments and policies possibly be construed as being “in the service of US foreign policy goals”?

Similarly, ICNC has provided educational materials on strategic nonviolent action to such American antiwar leaders as Medea Benjamin of Code Pink, Kathy Kelly of Voices in the Wilderness, as well as such peace groups as the Fellowship of Reconciliation and Peaceworkers, among others. I have also been involved in ICNC-facilitated workshops on strategic nonviolence for immigrant rights groups and progressive unions here in the United States. How is working with progressive activists explicitly struggling against U.S. policies be considered as being “in the service of US policy goals”?

I would also challenge Gowans to find any evidence whatsoever to back up his charge that I have ever supported “fifth columnists” or any other opposition movement dependent upon and beholden to “U.S. and Western governments and Western ruling class foundations.”

8) ICNC is not “Wall Street-connected.” There has never been any coordination, meetings, dialogue or any other connections between ICNC and any Wall Street company or organization.

9) ICNC does not “promote nonviolent activism in the service of destabilizing foreign governments.” ICNC provides generic information and educational forums on the history and dynamics of strategic nonviolent action for indigenous struggles and NGOs concerned with human rights abuses, the oppression of women and minorities, corruption, and other abuses of power. In fact, ICNC’s legal charter explicitly prohibits the organization from initiating actions relative to any country.

ICNC provides its educational material and seminars for grass roots activists struggling for freedom and justice regardless of the ideological orientation or foreign policy of the ruling regimes in their countries. As mentioned above, virtually all of my work with ICNC — and most of ICNC’s work with foreign pro-democracy activists in general — have been with those struggling against governments supported by the United States, not governments opposed by the United States.

10) Gowans claims that I say that “nonviolent activists are pursuing ‘freedom and democracy’ in the same way [as] the U.S. invasion of Iraq was a project in bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East.” In reality, I never said anything like that. I was a leader in the U.S. movement against the invasion of Iraq and I have consistently challenged the myth that that war of aggression had anything to do with advancing freedom and democracy. Again, check out my web site.

11) Despite Gowans’ claims to the contrary, I have no associations with “dodgy U.S. ruling class foundations that hide the pursuit of U.S. foreign policy objectives behind a high-sounding commitment to peace.” The unfortunate reality in capitalist societies is that most non-profit organizations — from universities to social justice organizations to art galleries to peace groups (and ICNC as well) — depend at least in part on donations from wealthy individuals and from foundations which get their money from wealthy individuals. Just because the ultimate source of funding for various non-profit groups is from members of the ruling class, however, does not mean that ruling class interests therefore set the agenda for every such non-profit group; they certainly do in some cases, but not in many other cases, including that of ICNC.

For example, Gowans reports ominously that “Zunes has received at least one research grant from the United States Institute of Peace (USIP),” which receives U.S. government support, “and has served as a fellow of the organization,” the purpose of which he describes as “the pursuit of U.S. corporate and investor interests abroad.” I did receive one research fellowship from USIP back in 1989 — which is what makes one a USIP “fellow” — to study the role of the Organization of African Unity and the United Nations in efforts to resolve the Morocco-Western Sahara conflict. The conclusions of that research — which is finally being published later this year as a book from Syracuse University Press — put the blame for the irresolution of the conflict largely on the United States, France and other imperialist powers for supporting the Moroccan occupation. Indeed, my USIP-funded research was openly sympathetic to the struggle of the Polisario Front and the Sahrawi people for self-determination. I would be quite willing to provide Gowans or anyone else a summary of my USIP-funded research to demonstrate that there is absolutely nothing in it that could possibly be construed as being supportive of “the pursuit of U.S. corporate and investor interests abroad.”

Gowans is also incorrect to claim that I am “busy applying for grants from a phony U.S. government institute of peace.” I have not applied for a grant from USIP or any other government foundation for well over a decade.

And, despite Gowans’ claim to the contrary, ICNC president Jack DuVall has had no personal connection whatsoever to USIP, except for speaking there as part of a couple of public panel discussions.

12) Gowans’ claims that the son of ICNC’s founding director used “bombs and bullets, not nonviolent activism, to change Iraq’s regime.” In reality, Peter Ackerman’s son, a U.S. Marine, did not take part in the U.S. invasion of Iraq. (His unit, like most American combat units, was later rotated in and out of the country.) Dr. Ackerman, like everyone else I know affiliated with ICNC, personally opposed the invasion and argued that regime change in Iraq, as needed elsewhere, should come through nonviolent struggle by the subjected peoples themselves, not from foreign invaders.

13) In addition to the factual errors above, there are a series of seriously misleading statements which need to be addressed:

a) Many of Gowans’ attacks consist of guilt-by-association. For example, because ICNC founding director Peter Ackerman happens to sit on various boards which include, among others, some rather notorious neo-conservatives and other imperialists, Gowans wants readers to believe that this somehow makes me and ICNC part of their imperialist agenda. Gowans’ is certainly correctly to point out that, in the cases of many of these people, “the only freedom they’re interested in is the freedom of U.S. corporations and investors to accumulate capital wherever and whenever they please,” but they are not the ones who set ICNC’s policies. They happen to sit in the same room a few times a year with Dr. Ackerman, with whom I’ve had relatively little contact, and who has severed his operational ties with ICNC since becoming the chair of Freedom House. Yet Gowans wants readers to think that these degrees of separation are somehow a more significant indication of where I come from than my critical writings against corporate globalization, my facing down the WTO on the streets of Seattle in 1999, my repeated arrests in protests against various nefarious manifestations of corporate capitalism, and other activities. Similarly, Gowans tries to link their imperialist agenda with me because simply because I “share” their “rhetorical commitment to ‘freedom and democracy,'” ignoring everything else I have said or written which challenges such imperialist pursuits of overseas profits.

b) Referring to ICNC President Jack DuVall as a “former air force officer” is a highly-selective summary of his career prior to the founding of ICNC. DuVall served for slightly more than two years in the air force nearly 40 years ago at a time when American males were subjected to military conscription. He enlisted into a non-combat position as a young lieutenant to avoid serving in Vietnam in a war which he strenuously opposed, was glad when he was discharged, and has had no involvement with the U.S. military since then.

c) No one at ICNC was aware of Bob Helvey’s 2003 trip to Venezuela until well after the fact; I only found out about it last week. In any case, whatever he did there had nothing to do with me or ICNC. I certainly oppose any U.S-backed efforts to subvert the democratically-elected government of Venezuela. Gowans is not telling the truth, however, when he refers to Helvey’s “work in Serbia before Milosevic’s fall” where he “briefed students on ways to organize a strike and how to undermine the authority of a dictatorial regime.” That allegation has long since been refuted. Helvey was never in Serbia prior to Milosevic’s overthrow. The full extent of his involvement with the opposition student movement prior to the uprising was when he met with some Otpor activists in Budapest in a half-day meeting in April 2000, well after Otpor had already become a powerful dissident organization, had already engaged in a series of nonviolent action campaigns, and the Milosevic regime had already arrested more than 400 of their activists. In any case, Helvey has no formal association with ICNC. His book On Strategic Non-Violent Conflict is featured on ICNC’s web site, but there is absolutely nothing in it promoting U.S. intervention, imperialism, capitalism, or any other aspect of the U.S. foreign policy agenda.

http://www.zcommunications.org/a-reply-to-stephen-gowans-false-allegations-against-stephen-zunes-by-stephen-zunes

Kosovo and the Politics of Recognition

Even among longstanding supporters of national self-determination for Kosovo, the eagerness with which the Bush administration extended diplomatic recognition immediately upon that country’s declaration of independence on February 17 has raised serious concerns. Indeed, it serves as a reminder of the series of U.S. policy blunders over the years that have compounded the Balkan tragedy.

This is not the first time Kosovo has declared its independence. In 1989, Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic revoked the province’s autonomous status, allowing the 10% Serb minority to essentially impose an apartheid-style system on the country’s ethnic Albanian majority. The majority of ethnic Albanians in the public sector and Serbian-owned enterprises were fired from their jobs and forbidden to use their language in schools or government.

In response, the province’s ethnic Albanians – consisting of over 85% of the population – declared an independent republic in 1990, establishing a parallel government with democratic elections, a parallel school system, and other quasi-national institutions. The movement constituted one of the most widespread, comprehensive and sustained nonviolent campaigns since Gandhi’s struggle for Indian independence. In response, Serbian authorities engaged in severe repression, including widespread arrest, torture, and extra-judicial killings.

For most of the 1990s, the Kosovar Albanians waged their struggle nonviolently, using strikes, boycotts, peaceful demonstrations, and strengthening their parallel institutions. This was the time for Western powers to have engaged in preventative diplomacy. However, the world chose to ignore the Kosovars’ nonviolent movement and resisted the consistent pleas by the moderate Kosovar Albanian leadership to take action. By the end of the decade, the failure of the United States and other Western nations to come to the support of the Kosovars’ nonviolent struggle led to the rise of a shadowy armed group known as the Kosovo Liberation Army, ultra-nationalists with links to terrorism and the drug trade, who convinced an increasing number of the province’s ethnic Albanians that their only hope for national liberation came through armed struggle.

By waiting for the emergence of guerrilla warfare before seeking a solution, the United States and other Western nations gave Milosevic the opportunity to crack down with even greater savagery than before. The delay also allowed the KLA to emerge as the dominant force in the Kosovar nationalist movement. Rejecting nonviolence and moderation, KLA forces murdered Serb officials and ethnic Albanian moderates, destroyed Serbian villages, and attacked other minority communities. Some among its leadership even called for ethnic cleansing of the Serb minority to create an ethnically pure Albanian state.

Tragically, former KLA leaders and their supporters now dominate the newly-declared independent Kosovo Republic.

Western Dithering

The United States and other Western nations squandered a full eight years when preventative diplomacy could have worked. The United States rejected calls for expanding to Kosovo the UN and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) missions set up in Macedonia or to bring Kosovo constituencies together for negotiations. Though many Kosovars and others expected that the U.S.-brokered 1995 Dayton accords would include an end to the Serbian occupation and oppression of Kosovo, the United States and other parties decided it did not merit attention.

When Western powers finally took decisive action toward the long-simmering crisis in the fall of 1998, a ceasefire was arranged where the OSCE sent in unarmed monitors. However, they were given little support. They were largely untrained, they were too few in number, and NATO refused to supply them with helicopters, night vision binoculars, or other basic equipment that could have made them more effective.

As Serb violations of the cease fire, including a number of atrocities, increased, Western diplomatic efforts accelerated, producing the Rambouillet proposal that called for the restoration of Kosovo’s autonomous status within Serbia. While such a political settlement was quite reasonable, and the Serbs appeared willing to seriously consider such an agreement, it was sabotaged by NATO’s insistence that they be allowed to send in a large armed occupation force into Kosovo along with rights to move freely without permission throughout the entire Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

Also problematic was that is was presented essentially as a final document without much room for negotiations. One of the fundamental principles of international conflict resolution is that all interested parties are part of the peace process. Some outside pressure may be necessary — particularly against the stronger party — to secure an agreement, but it cannot be presented as a fait accompli. A “sign this or we’ll bomb you” attitude also doomed the diplomatic initiative to failure. Few national leaders would sign an agreement under such terms, which amount to a treaty of surrender: allowing foreign forces free rein of your territory and issuing such a proposal as an ultimatum.

Smarter and earlier diplomacy could have prevented the war. Instead, the U.S.-led NATO allies began bombing Serbia in early 1999, prompting a brutal ethnic cleansing campaign against ethnic Albanians by Serbian forces, resulting in nearly one million refugees. After 11 weeks of bombing, a compromise was reached in which Serbian forces would withdraw and the province would be placed under a UN trusteeship.

Though initially set back by the nationalist reaction to the NATO bombing of their country, pro-democracy Serbs were able to gain enough support to mobilize a popular nonviolent insurrection in October of 2000 that ousted Milosevic. Serbia has been under a democratic center-left coalition ever since. Meanwhile, UN administrators and a multinational peacekeeping force have tried to keep peace in Kosovo, even as KLA remnants and their supporters have continued to harass the ethnic Serb minority, forcing nearly half of its population to flee.

U.S. Support for Independence

Despite widespread sympathy for Kosovo independence, many in the international community had hoped for a compromise settlement that would grant the province genuine autonomy under nominal Serbian sovereignty. As with Taiwan and Iraqi Kurdistan, most nations have had to balance their support for the right of self-determination with concern over the threat of the violence and regional instability that could result if the country’s de facto independence became official. In this case, however, no such balance was found, and the fallout from Kosovo’s declaration of independence and recognition by the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, and other countries could be serious.

Any effort by Kosovo to join the UN will be unsuccessful in the foreseeable future given the certainty of a veto by Russia and China. Both countries have their own “autonomous regions” composed of national minorities – a number of which have dreams of formal independence – and thus fear the precedent such international recognition could establish. Kosovo is the only state recognized by the United States not also recognized by the United Nations.

Ironically, the United States refuses to join the more-than-75 nations that have recognized the independence of Western Sahara, originally declared back in 1976. Indeed, the Bush administration is on record supporting Morocco’s call for international recognition of its unilateral annexation of Western Sahara as an “autonomous region” of that kingdom. This double standard is particularly glaring in light of the fact that Kosovo had been legally recognized as part of Serbia whereas Western Sahara is legally recognized as a non-self-governing territory under belligerent military occupation, a status confirmed by the UN Security Council and the International Court of Justice.

The United States has rejected proposals that would allow Serbia to annex a small strip of land in the northern part of Kosovo with a predominantly ethnic Serbian population and several sites that the Serbs consider to have important historical significance. At the same time, however, the United States is on record supporting Israeli proposals to annex strips of Palestinian land on the West Bank populated by Israeli Jews and other areas considered by Israelis to be of important historical significance. Ironically, the Kosovar Serbs have mostly lived on their land for centuries while the Israelis in the West Bank are virtually all colonists occupying illegal settlements built recently and in direct defiance of international law and a series of UN Security Council resolutions.

Such double standards help expose the fallacy of U.S. claims that its recognition of Kosovo is based upon any moral or legal basis.

Potential Problems

Recognition of Kosovo independence by the United States and some Western European nations under these circumstances could lead to a number of potential problems.

In Serbia, radical national chauvinists – in large part due to the incipient threat of Kosovar independence – came very close to defeating the moderate democratic coalition in the recent national elections. Hostility toward the United States and Europe as a result of what most Serbs see as a renegade province could retard the country’s efforts at European integration, worsening its economy and further strengthening reactionary forces. Though the government appears unwilling and unable to try to resolve through force what they see as a secessionist movement and the initial response from most Serbs appears to be more that of resignation than defiance, fears of rekindling Serbian national chauvinism are real. Masked Serb arsonists setting fire to UN and NATO border check posts in recent days is one such sign of looming unrest.

Another potential problem could emerge in the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia. Here, a restless Albanian minority concentrated along its western border with Kosovo could be inspired to resume an armed secessionist movement in an effort to join with its newly independent Albanian-populated neighbor.

There is potential for fallout in the Caucasus region, with the possibility that the autonomous South Ossetia region in Georgia could declare itself independent and be immediately recognized by its neighbor Russia and its allies. With the Kosovo precedent, the Georgian government could do little diplomatically to garner support and, with Russian troops already in the territory, little militarily either.

The impact of Kosovo’s independence and recognition by the United States and other Western nations could also seriously worsen U.S.-Russian relations, exacerbating differences that hawks on both sides are warning could evolve into a “new Cold War.”

It is also quite possible that there will not be any serious negative long-term impact of these recent events and, with its legacy of nonviolent struggle and democratic self-governance, an independent Kosovo could prove itself worthy of universal recognition. Nevertheless, U.S. policy has contributed a great deal to the tragic political climate in this corner of the Balkans, a climate so poisoned that the international community is greeting Kosovo’s long-awaited independence with more apprehension than joy.

http://www.fpif.org/articles/kosovo_and_the_politics_of_recognition

Strategic Dialogue: Kosovo

Was the United States too hasty in recognizing the new state of Kosovo? Ian Williams and Stephen Zunes have different takes in this strategic dialogue. To see the original essays, follow these links to Williams and Zunes.

Ian Williams

Stephen Zunes is quite right to point out the inconsistencies of U.S. policy in the Balkans, which has been fairly consistently wrong! Beginning when James Baker declared that the United States had no dog in the fight in the Balkans. Contrary to what some far leftists claim, U.S. policy in the beginning depended on keeping Yugoslavia together even though it was clear that Milosevic’s power grab had effectively dissolved the fragile federation. Once Slovenia declared independence, that was the end.

The United States and the European Union (EU), and indeed Russia in its various avatars, should have laid down the rules and effectively supervised the Yugoslav successor states. Guaranteeing boundaries and rights for minorities, establishing dual or even common citizenship, were all possibilities that could have ensured a soft landing for the wreck of Tito’s enterprise.

The hands-off U.S. policy in effect removed the only threat that would have curbed Milosevic’s excesses. Left to their own devices, the Europeans failed badly. Both Britain tacitly and France overtly, acted on the principle that the Serbs would win, and if it were done, then best t’were done quickly.

When the United States did intervene, it quickly produced results. Richard Holbrooke, the architect of the Dayton Accords that produced an agreement among the warring factions in Bosnia, emulated Kissinger in realpolitik. Honoring promises to Milosevic, the Republika Srpska was effectively rewarded for successful ethnic cleansing, which encouraged Milosevic.

But while the State Department maintained close back-channel relations with Rugova’s shadow administration in Kosovo, bringing him and other leading figures to meet opinion formers, it was back-burner as well as back channel. One thing was clear: whenever Milosevic saw a clear and present danger of intervention, he backed down. But U.S. and Western policy was consistently unclear.

We should not exclude Russia from this. Russian diplomats at the time of the Kosovo crisis told me that what the Serbs were doing was unconscionable, but effectively the United States was not consulting them, and was being arrogant. This was true, but did not make Moscow’s role much more moral or constructive.

Clinton then fatally refused even to consider UN authorization for intervention, for fear of a Russian veto, and refused to take the issue to the General Assembly, where he would have won support. He then began the campaign by effectively ruling out the one option that Milosevic feared: a ground invasion. Instead, Clinton launched a bombing campaign, which was all the more foolish for being conducted from on high to avoid the political embarrassment of American casualties abroad. (The now-interventionist Republicans were then quite the opposite of course). The mounting “collateral damage” allowed Milosevic to crawl to the moral high ground in some quarters. Notably, the day that NATO decided on a ground invasion, Milosevic ran up the white flag and pulled out of Kosovo – as he would have done months earlier if he had seen a real threat of ground attack.

The UN trusteeship of Kosovo has not been an unmitigated success. Despite the efforts of some, the mission was colonial and condescending to the Albanians, and in my experience, many of the UN staff had no appreciation for what had happened to the Kosovars earlier. It is difficult to know what Washington could do at the end of a trail of so many mistakes. Mostly, constructive engagement with Moscow may have averted the latter’s amoral and expedient support for Serbian nationalism.

Insofar as I disagree with Stephen Zunes at all, it is over American responsibility for the declaration of independence and for the nature of the Serb governments since Zoran Djindjic’s assassination. They have been much more center-right than center-left and are strongly nationalistic.

That is why the United States was once again reacting rather than initiating events. The Kosovars were determined, and gave Thaci’s government a popular mandate to declare independence. The Kosovars were calling the shots. The trade-off with the United States and EU was to postpone the declaration from last year until now, after the elections in Belgrade, in return for recognition.

Looking back in history, and indeed at the Serb mobs and gangs at the border now acting with the same quasi-governmental backing that the paramilitary murder squads had a decade before, recognition and NATO back-up were essential to stop yet another Balkan War from breaking out. The Czech/Slovak dissolution could serve as a model here. But that presupposes realism and democracy on both sides. Every action the Belgrade government took showed the taint of old-style Balkan nationalism. And it showed no appreciation, let alone contrition, for what so many of its citizens had perpetrated back in 1999.

Negotiation is fine, but there comes a point when it is delaying the inevitable and keeping the wound open. That point was reached last year. Russia could make a precedent out of it for its various adventures in the near-abroad, in Moldova and Georgia, but it would be very foolish to do so. Chechnya and many other autonomous republics inside the Russian Federation would be delighted to cite it right back at them. Moscow would be better to join the EU chorus of how Kosovo is a one off.

Stephen Zunes

I have little fundamental disagreement with Ian William’s response to my article or in his original article, but I would like to challenge him on a couple of minor points.

My interpretation of what led to the end of the fighting in 1999 was not the threat of a NATO ground invasion, which was fraught with dangers and the prospects of which produced serious internal divisions within the alliance. Nor did Milosevic “run up the white flag.” Instead, it appears that it was the United States and NATO that were also forced to compromise due to the failure of the 11-week bombing campaign to coerce the Serbs to give in. If one looks at the original U.S./NATO proposal at Rambouillet and the counter-proposal presented by the Serbian parliament immediately thereafter, and then compares both of them with the text of the final cease-fire agreement, the agreement that ended the fighting pretty much splits the difference, perhaps even coming a tad closer to the Serb position. In other words, the United States and NATO had to compromise at least as much as did Milosevic. This raises the possibility that the Western nations could have worked out a similar deal without the tragic decision to go to war, a war that not only resulted in enormous human, economic, and environmental damage to Serbia, but led to Serbian repression in Kosovo that escalated dramatically into full-scale ethnic cleansing.

The Serbs agreed to the ceasefire on the condition that while Kosovo’s autonomous status and right to self-government would be restored, the province would not be allowed to secede. Indeed, UN Security Council resolution 1244 (1999), while calling for “substantial autonomy and meaningful self-administration for Kosovo,” also reaffirmed “the commitment of all Member States to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the other States of the region.” It is not surprising, therefore, that the Serbs feel betrayed by the international community.

I certainly agree with Kosovo’s right to independence on a moral level, for reasons spelled out in Ian’s original article. It would have been better, however, to have pressured the Kosovars to put off their declaration until after Serbia’s entrance into the European Union (and provide whatever combination of pressure on and assistance to the Serbian government to make that happen sooner rather than later.) When a country becomes part of the EU, national boundaries and what constitutes an independent nation-state become far less significant. Supporting Kosovo’s secession beforehand, however, has strengthened hard-line nationalists in both Serbia and Kosovo and will likely delay both nations’ integration into Europe.

Finally, I would have been thrilled if the United States had recognized an independent Kosovo a decade ago, when the Serbs were led by the autocratic and militaristic Milosevic and the Kosovar Albanians were led by the pacifist and democratic Rugova. Today, however, the roles are partly reversed, with Serbia led by democratic moderates, Kosovo led by national chauvinists, and the Kosovar Serbs being subjected to attacks and (small-scale) ethnic cleansing by Kosovar Albanians. Most of the Serbs governing in Belgrade today, while strongly nationalistic, were not responsible for and in most cases were strongly opposed to Milosevic’s brutal repression of Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority. Indeed, they supported – and, in some cases, participated in – the nonviolent democratic revolution in October of 2000 that ousted Milosevic. With Kosovo’s secession having been recognized by the United States and other key Western states on their watch, however, these democrats will likely get the blame for having “lost” Kosovo. This will thereby create the conditions for a comeback by some of the hard-line Serbian nationalists responsible for the innumerable war crimes of the 1990s.

http://www.fpif.org/articles/strategic_dialogue_kosovo

Teachers and the War

Many Americans would be surprised to learn that among the most important constituencies backing the Bush administration’s disastrous agenda in the Middle East and promoting anti-Arab policies has been the one million-strong American Federation of Teachers (AFT). The AFT leadership has gone so far as to make a series of public statements and push through resolutions with demonstrably inaccurate assertions in its defense of administration policy. A key constituent union of the AFL-CIO, the AFT – which also represents a significant number of health care and other public service workers – gives over $5 million in contributions to congressional candidates each election cycle.

In January 2003, as anti-war activists were scrambling to prevent a U.S. invasion of Iraq war by challenging the Bush administration’s claims about Iraq having reconstituted its chemical and biological weapons capability, offensive delivery system, and nuclear weapons program, the AFT’s executive council decided to weigh in on the debate.

The AFT executive council issued a public statement claiming that Iraq at that time posed “a unique threat to the peace and stability of the Middle East” and “to the national security interests of the United States.” This decision to parrot the Bush administration’s rhetoric regarding Iraq’s alleged military capabilities flew in the face of substantial evidence gathered from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN Special Commission on Iraq, and the UN Monitoring and Verification Commission. In addition, testimony by former UN arms inspectors, articles in scholarly journals by arms control experts, reports by investigative journalists, and analyses by independent research institutes available at that time cast serious doubts on such allegations.

The vote for this resolution was not unanimous. A number of members of the executive council – such as Barbara Bowen, president of AFT’s large local at City University of New York (CUNY) – raised concerns over the credibility of the claims made by war supporters in the administration and on Capitol Hill regarding the alleged Iraqi threat. These dissenters were overwhelmed, however, by those on the council who fell in line with the Bush administration. Instead, the majority of the AFT executive council relied exclusively on the opinions of current and former government officials.

At the subsequent biannual convention in 2004, members passed a resolution strongly condemning the Bush administration for misleading the American public on Iraq. However, AFT officials have quietly acknowledged that it was actually the testimony of Senator Hillary Clinton before a meeting of labor leaders in 2002 that played a major role in convincing them that there was still an ongoing Iraqi threat. Her misleading claims notwithstanding, however, the AFT has gone on to actively support her presidential campaign.

Despite admitting they were wrong about Iraq’s supposed military threat, the AFT leadership has refused to apologize for making such false and reckless statements and, despite demands from the rank-and-file, have refused to make public any change of procedure so to minimize the risk of issuing such false statements on important national security issues in the future. Indeed, the union leadership’s eagerness to back the Bush administration’s phony claims of an “Iraqi threat” was only the beginning of its support for the Bush Middle East agenda.

Continued Support for the War

Once U.S. forces invaded and occupied Iraq and the Bush administration admitted that Iraq had not failed to disarm, it became apparent that the AFT leadership’s expressed concern about Iraqi WMDs was not the only motivation for supporting a U.S. conquest and occupation of that oil-rich country.

In a 2004 resolution at the AFT’s biannual convention, the AFT rebuked anti-war elements of the union by passing a resolution declaring, in part, that “we urge the Bush administration, the Congress and the American people to reject calls for the precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces.” They did not define what “precipitous” meant and the resolution listed no criteria for when or under what conditions they believed U.S. forces should come back home, a choice of words widely interpreted to mean support for an indefinite U.S. military occupation. The majority of AFT’s political contributions (funded from the union dues of its members) in 2004 went to candidates who supported the Iraq war. This hawkish stance was in sharp contrast to the AFL-CIO as a whole and most of its other member unions, which had gone on record in opposition to the U.S. war in Iraq and in support of the withdrawal of American troops from that country.

The AFT rank and file opponents of the resolution raised questions about the impact of the occupation on the people of Iraq, including Iraqi trade unionists. They also wanted to know why a union supposedly backing public education would support spending hundreds of billions of dollars worth of taxpayers’ money to fight such a war in the face of huge cutbacks in federal aid to education. A number of statewide affiliates, such as Wisconsin and California, went on record opposing the war even as the national union continued to support it.

Eventually, a rank-and-file effort to pass a resolution at the AFT’s national convention in 2006 calling for a withdrawal of American troops from Iraq was successful, though the leadership successfully beat back an amendment to ban union endorsement of war supporters.

A Politically Inspired Deception?

In the 1980s – when Iraq actually did have WMDs, advanced WMD programs and sophisticated delivery systems and really did pose a unique threat to the region and to U.S. national security interests – the AFT did not pass a single resolution raising such concerns. Only after the country had completely disarmed did the AFT pass a resolution claiming Iraq was a threat. If the union had really been interested in going on record reflecting the actual situation, it would have passed a resolution warning of Iraq’s danger and its need to disarm back in the 1980s and would not have passed such a resolution in early 2003.

This doesn’t make any sense until one considers that the Reagan administration supported Iraq in the 1980s while the Bush administration in 2003 wanted an excuse to invade that country. When the Reagan administration wanted the AFT to keep mum about Iraq back when it really was a threat, the union dutifully kept mum. But when the Bush administration wanted the AFT to claim Iraq was still a threat when that country no longer was, the union dutifully passed a resolution.

It appears, then, that the AFT leadership – despite its criticism of these two Republican administrations’ domestic policy agenda – was more interested in doing what these Republican administrations wanted it to say than it was in providing its members with an honest assessment of Iraq’s military capabilities.

Backing Bush on Lebanon

Even as a rank-and-file effort to rescind AFT support for the Iraq war succeeded at the 2006 convention, the leadership was able to push through a resolution defending another aspect of the Bush administration’s agenda in the Middle East. The convention passed a resolution supporting Israel’s war that summer in Lebanon – which took the lives of hundreds of Lebanese civilians, destroyed billions of dollars worth of that country’s infrastructure and caused widespread environmental damage – as well as Israel’s assault on heavily populated areas of the besieged Gaza Strip.

As with the decision by the AFT leadership in 2003 to repeat the Bush administration’s false claims about Iraq, the 2006 resolution repeated a series of false claims by the Bush administration regarding the Lebanese Hezbollah movement and the Palestinian Hamas movement.

For example, the resolution claimed that Hezbollah “proudly takes credit for the 1983 bombing of the Beirut barracks” that killed 258 U.S. Marines. In reality, Hezbollah has denied their involvement in the attack (though some individuals who later became part of Hezbollah may have indeed been involved.) Requests from AFT to provide evidence to back their claim that Hezbollah “proudly took credit” have remained unanswered.

The resolution also claims that Hezbollah and Hamas were “holding the people of Lebanon and the Palestinian in Gaza hostage” by putting civilian in harm’s way, backing the Bush administration’s insistence that these Palestinian and Lebanese militias were ultimately responsible for the deaths of their fellow countrymen, not the indiscriminate bombardments by U.S.-supplied Israeli forces into civilian areas. However, a detailed study published at the end of the fighting in August by Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that it had found “no cases in which Hezbollah deliberately used civilians as shields to protect them from retaliatory IDF attack.” Similarly, Amnesty International, in a well-documented report published in November observed, “While the presence of Hizbullah’s fighters and short-range weapons within civilian areas is not contested” it was “not apparent that civilians were present and used as ‘human shields.’” The resolution went on to claim that the aims of Hezbollah and Hamas in that summer’s fighting were to “carry out the agendas of Iran and Syria.” But the provocative actions of these indigenous Islamic groups were based on their own issues, and neither the Iranian nor Syrian governments – despite some financial and military support – had any operational control over these militias. Passing a resolution claiming that these Lebanese and Palestinian militias were somehow being directed by foreign governments – governments that happened to be targeted by the Bush administration for sanctions, diplomatic isolation, and possible military action – appears to have been part of an effort by the AFT leadership to give credence to the administration’s efforts to further its broader Middle East agenda.

Similarly, in an apparent effort to undermine Syrian efforts to re-open negotiations with Israel and the United States, the AFT resolution claimed that “both Hezbollah and Hamas” were attacking “Israeli cities and civilians with rockets, mortars, and other heavy weapons supplied to them by… Syria.” In reality, the Hezbollah rockets fired into Israel were exclusively of Iranian origin and the smaller, less-sophisticated Hamas rockets fired into Israel were largely homemade, with components smuggled in from Egypt. In any case, the resolution made no mention of the U.S.-supplied ordnance to Israel, which killed more than 900 Lebanese and Palestinian civilians during that period. The resolution also charges that Hamas “initiated” the crisis that summer by attacking an Israeli border post and kidnapping an Israeli corporal. A strong case could also be made, however, that that the attack and kidnapping were actually in response to weeks of Israeli bombardment of populated areas of the Gaza Strip that had killed over a dozen Palestinian civilians.

A History of Militarism

In many respects, the AFT’s right-wing foreign policy agenda is nothing new. The union’s long-time and influential founding president Albert Shankar was an outspoken supporter of the Vietnam War in the 1960s and of U.S. military intervention in Central America 1980s, as well as of President Reagan’s dangerous escalation of the nuclear arms race and dramatically increased military spending.

Shankar was also virtually the only prominent trade unionist to join the Committee on the Present Danger during the late 1970s and 1980s, the influential right-wing group that included a number of neo-conservatives who would later serve in the current administration. Shankar and his colleagues claimed that Soviet Russia and its allies were somehow getting stronger than the United States and its allies and that the Soviets posed a clear and present danger to America’s national security. Just as with the AFT’s more recent exaggerated claims about an Iraqi threat, however, this charge was nonsense. In reality, the Soviets and their allies were actually falling behind the West in their strategic capabilities, and their decrepit system was actually collapsing.

In short, the AFT is continuing its longstanding role of being the principal shill for U.S. militarism within the labor movement, even to the point of ignoring the facts in order to advance its right-wing foreign policy agenda and demonizing those who challenge assumptions justifying U.S. policy in the Middle East. Indeed, among the AFL-CIO leadership, the AFT was the only union not to oppose on principle the Bush Doctrine of “preventive war.” Support for such policies by the leadership of a major labor union – AFT President Edward McElroy and Secretary-Treasurer Nat LaCour serve as AFL-CIO vice-presidents – gives important credibility to those advancing the Bush’s administration’s foreign policy agenda.

It is particularly ironic that a union representing educators would base its foreign policy agenda not on empirical evidence, but simply on statements by right-wing political leaders. Indeed, the significance of the AFT’s hawkish foreign policy agenda is not just its influential role in Democratic Party politics and in formulating the national debate on important policy issues, but the fact that it represents the people who educate America’s youth.

Rank-and-File Challenge

The AFT leadership’s positions are being increasingly challenged by the rank-and file, particularly those involved in the AFT Peace and Justice Caucus and the multi-union U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW.) More than two dozen AFT affiliates have formally joined USLAW – more than from any other union. This includes the statewide chapters from California, Oregon, and Wisconsin as well as some of the AFT’s largest locals, including those representing public school teachers in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Milwaukee, as well as the New York State United University Professions, the AFT’s largest higher education affiliate. A significant precedent took place when the largest AFT local, the New York City Federation of Teachers, began endorsing demonstrations against the Iraq war, as have the large public school teachers locals in Philadelphia and other cities.

A willingness to challenge the AFT leadership’s right-wing foreign policy agenda has been growing. A resolution at the 2002 AFT convention opposing a U.S. invasion of Iraq was soundly defeated. At the next convention in 2004, a resolution calling for the withdrawal of U.S. forces lost only narrowly. By 2006, the resolution calling for a rapid withdrawal from Iraq was adopted overwhelmingly.

The AFT is no longer monolithic. There is a strong and growing tendency within the AFT to change directions. And, given the AFT’s important role politically, this could not come too soon.

http://www.fpif.org/articles/teachers_and_the_war

Behind Obama and Clinton

Voters on the progressive wing of the Democratic Party are rightly disappointed by the similarity of the foreign policy positions of the two remaining Democratic Party presidential candidates, Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama. However, there are still some real discernable differences to be taken into account. Indeed, given the power the United States has in the world, even minimal differences in policies can have a major difference in the lives of millions of people.

As a result, the kind of people the next president appoints to top positions in national defense, intelligence, and foreign affairs is critical. Such officials usually emerge from among a presidential candidate’s team of foreign policy advisors. So, analyzing who these two finalists for the Democratic presidential nomination have brought in to advise them on international affairs can be an important barometer for determining what kind for foreign policies they would pursue as president. For instance, in the case of the Bush administration, officials like Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and Richard Perle played a major role in the fateful decision to invade Iraq by convincing the president that Saddam Hussein was an imminent threat and that American forces would be treated as liberators.

The leading Republican candidates have surrounded themselves with people likely to encourage the next president to follow down a similarly disastrous path. But what about Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton? Who have they picked to help them deal with Iraq war and the other immensely difficult foreign policy decisions that they’ll be likely to face as president?

Contrasting Teams

Senator Clinton’s foreign policy advisors tend to be veterans of President Bill Clinton’s administration, most notably former secretary of state Madeleine Albright and former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger. Her most influential advisor – and her likely choice for Secretary of State – is Richard Holbrooke. Holbrooke served in a number of key roles in her husband’s administration, including U.S. ambassador to the UN and member of the cabinet, special emissary to the Balkans, assistant secretary of state for European and Canadian affairs, and U.S. ambassador to Germany. He also served as President Jimmy Carter’s assistant secretary of state for East Asia in propping up Marcos in the Philippines, supporting Suharto’s repression in East Timor, and backing the generals behind the Kwangju massacre in South Korea.

Senator Barack Obama’s foreign policy advisers, who on average tend to be younger than those of the former first lady, include mainstream strategic analysts who have worked with previous Democratic administrations, such as former national security advisors Zbigniew Brzezinski and Anthony Lake, former assistant secretary of state Susan Rice, and former navy secretary Richard Danzig. They have also included some of the more enlightened and creative members of the Democratic Party establishment, such as Joseph Cirincione and Lawrence Korb of the Center for American Progress, and former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke. His team also includes the noted human rights scholar and international law advocate Samantha Power – author of a recent New Yorker article on U.S. manipulation of the UN in post-invasion Iraq – and other liberal academics. Some of his advisors, however, have particularly poor records on human rights and international law, such as retired General Merrill McPeak, a backer of Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor, and Dennis Ross, a supporter of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.

Contrasting Issues

While some of Obama’s key advisors, like Larry Korb, have expressed concern at the enormous waste from excess military spending, Clinton’s advisors have been strong supporters of increased resources for the military.

While Obama advisors Susan Rice and Samantha Power have stressed the importance of U.S. multilateral engagement, Albright allies herself with the jingoism of the Bush administration, taking the attitude that “If we have to use force, it is because we are America! We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall, and we see further into the future.”

While Susan Rice has emphasized how globalization has led to uneven development that has contributed to destabilization and extremism and has stressed the importance of bottom-up anti-poverty programs, Berger and Albright have been outspoken supporters of globalization on the current top-down neo-liberal lines.

Obama advisors like Joseph Cirincione have emphasized a policy toward Iraq based on containment and engagement and have downplayed the supposed threat from Iran. Clinton advisor Holbrooke, meanwhile, insists that “the Iranians are an enormous threat to the United States,” the country is “the most pressing problem nation,” and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is like Hitler.

Iraq as Key Indicator

Perhaps the most important difference between the two foreign policy teams concerns Iraq. Given the similarities in the proposed Iraq policies of Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama, Obama’s supporters have emphasized that their candidate had the better judgment in opposing the invasion beforehand. Indeed, in the critical months prior to the launch of the war in 2003, Obama openly challenged the Bush administration’s exaggerated claims of an Iraqi threat and presciently warned that a war would lead to an increase in Islamic extremism, terrorism, and regional instability, as well as a decline in America’s standing in the world.

Senator Clinton, meanwhile, was repeating as fact the administration’s false claims of an imminent Iraqi threat. She voted to authorize President Bush to invade that oil-rich country at the time and circumstances of his own choosing and confidently predicted success. Despite this record and Clinton’s refusal to apologize for her war authorization vote, however, her supporters argue that it no longer relevant and voters need to focus on the present and future.

Indeed, whatever choices the next president makes with regard to Iraq are going to be problematic, and there are no clear answers at this point. Yet one’s position regarding the invasion of Iraq at that time says a lot about how a future president would address such questions as the use of force, international law, relations with allies, and the use of intelligence information.

As a result, it may be significant that Senator Clinton’s foreign policy advisors, many of whom are veterans of her husband’s administration, were virtually all strong supporters of President George W. Bush’s call for a U.S. invasion of Iraq. By contrast, almost every one of Senator Obama’s foreign policy team was opposed to a U.S. invasion.

Pre-War Positions

During the lead-up to the war, Obama’s advisors were suspicious of the Bush administration’s claims that Iraq somehow threatened U.S. national security to the extent that it required a U.S. invasion and occupation of that country. For example, Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security advisor in the Carter administration, argued that public support for war “should not be generated by fear-mongering or demagogy.”

By contrast, Clinton’s top advisor and her likely pick for secretary of state, Richard Holbrooke, insisted that Iraq remained “a clear and present danger at all times.”

Brzezinski warned that the international community would view the invasion of a country that was no threat to the United States as an illegitimate an act of aggression. Noting that it would also threaten America’s leadership, Brzezinski said that “without a respected and legitimate law-enforcer, global security could be in serious jeopardy.” Holbrooke, rejecting the broad international legal consensus against offensive wars, insisted that it was perfectly legitimate for the United States to invade Iraq and that the European governments and anti-war demonstrators who objected “undoubtedly encouraged” Saddam Hussein.

Another key Obama advisor, Joseph Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment, argued that the goal of containing the potential threat from Iraq had been achieved, noting that “Saddam Hussein is effectively incarcerated and under watch by a force that could respond immediately and devastatingly to any aggression. Inside Iraq, the inspection teams preclude any significant advance in WMD capabilities. The status quo is safe for the American people.”

By contrast, Clinton advisor Sandy Berger, who served as her husband’s national security advisor, insisted that “even a contained Saddam” was “harmful to stability and to positive change in the region,” and therefore the United States had to engage in “regime change” in order to “fight terror, avert regional conflict, promote peace, and protect the security of our friends and allies.”

Meanwhile, other future Obama advisors, such as Larry Korb, raised concerns about the human and material costs of invading and occupying a heavily populated country in the Middle East and the risks of chaos and a lengthy counter-insurgency war.

And other top advisors to Senator Clinton – such as her husband’s former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright – confidently predicted that American military power could easily suppress any opposition to a U.S. takeover of Iraq. Such confidence in the ability of the United States to impose its will through force is reflected to this day in the strong support for President Bush’s troop surge among such Clinton advisors (and original invasion advocates) as Jack Keane, Kenneth Pollack, and Michael O’Hanlon. Perhaps that was one reason that, during the recent State of the Union address, when Bush proclaimed that the Iraqi surge was working, Clinton stood and cheered while Obama remained seated and silent.

These differences in the key circles of foreign policy specialists surrounding these two candidates are consistent with their diametrically opposed views in the lead-up to the war.

National Security

Not every one of Clinton’s foreign policy advisors is a hawk. Her team also includes some centrist opponents of the war, including retired General Wesley Clark and former Ambassador Joseph Wilson.

On balance, it appears likely that a Hillary Clinton administration, like Bush’s, would be more likely to embrace exaggerated and alarmist reports regarding potential national security threats, to ignore international law and the advice of allies, and to launch offensive wars. By contrast, a Barack Obama administration would be more prone to examine the actual evidence of potential threats before reacting, to work more closely with America’s allies to maintain peace and security, to respect the country’s international legal obligations, and to use military force only as a last resort.

Progressive Democrats do have reason to be disappointed with Obama’s foreign policy agenda. At the same time, as The Nation magazine noted, members of Obama’s foreign policy team are “more likely to stress ’soft power’ issues like human rights, global development and the dangers of failed states.” As a result, “Obama may be more open to challenging old Washington assumptions and crafting new approaches.”

And new approaches are definitely needed.

http://www.fpif.org/articles/behind_obama_and_clinton