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Central America’s Other Refugees

By , October 23, 2014 10:37 pm
eritrean-refugees-central-america

(Photo: Charles Roffey / Flickr)

Central Americans are not the only ones risking their lives to get to the United States through Mexico. Tucked in among this northward flow are hundreds of migrants and asylum seekers from Africa and Asia.

They include hundreds from the troubled northeast African state of Eritrea.

Eritreans have been taking this perilous route for more than a decade to escape the repressive police state their new nation has become. Many have traveled halfway around the world or more just to get to the starting point of this leg of their journey: Quito, Ecuador.

Wode Alem, 39, is one of them. His story is typical.

Wode’s Story

Wode Alem fled Eritrea after he was accused of destroying an army truck in a welding accident and was brutally beaten for three months on suspicion he’d done it on purpose. He swears he didn’t. When the beatings stopped, he disappeared into Eritrea’s draconian prison system with no release—or trial—in sight.

He escaped by hiding in a pile of hay on a plantation where he and other prisoners were forced to work and then dashing through a hail of bullets to a nearby forest. He paid smugglers to get him out of the country, whose border guards have shoot-to-kill orders for anyone trying to leave. He, like others I interviewed, asked that his name be changed out of fear of retribution against his family in Eritrea.

Wode was born in Addis Ababa, but his parents were Eritreans who had gone to the Ethiopian capital for work in the 1970s. Ethiopia had annexed Eritrea, a former Italian colony, in the early 1960s, but lost it three decades later after a protracted liberation struggle.

Newly independent Eritrea went back to war with Ethiopia over unresolved border issues in 1998—following similar confrontations with each of its other neighbors—and Wode’s family, along with 75,000 other Eritreans, was deported to Eritrea.

Months later, Wode was conscripted into the Eritrean army, first to fight in the Border War, then to work in a military motor pool earning 70 nakfa per month ($ 4.70 at official rates). This is typical for those in Eritrea’s “national service,” which can last a decade or longer. Because the border dispute has never been laid to rest, the country is in a perpetual and ambiguously defined state of emergency.

I’ve been researching and writing about these issues for more than two years, interviewing Eritreans in refugee camps and communities in Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt, and Israel. Over the past three months, I spoke with more than 100 recent arrivals in seven cities in Canada and the United States about why they left and how they got here.

Unlimited national service factored into the decision to leave for the overwhelming majority, though political or religious factors often played a role. Some described incidents of punishment that provided a “last straw.” For example, some were beaten for asking questions at a public meeting, others for getting “caught” praying while in uniform. Others cited accusations of acts of defiance that they insisted they had not committed, and a subsequent fear of detention and torture.

Few appeared to have had much information on what to expect in either the United States or Canada, so “pull” factors were rarely in evidence. Often the determining factor in where they went was the presence of family or friends who could help them.

Many came through personal sponsorship or structured resettlement programs, especially those who went to Canada. But the largest share who came unannounced did so by flying to South America and traveling overland to the Texas or California border. Some crossed with coyotes in small boats or swam the Rio Grande. Others walked across bridges and announced themselves when they got here. Until now, their stories have not been reported.

Out of Eritrea

Wode was already on the outs with his superiors when the garage incident took place in 2006. His commanding officer, a colonel, had been bullying him for months after nicknaming him “Amhara,” one of Ethiopia’s dominant ethnic groups, because of his Ethiopian birthplace. He said that one day an oxygen bottle apparently leaked and caught fire from a spark, causing a major explosion in which a fellow worker was killed and the car on which they were working was destroyed. The colonel blamed Wode without an inquiry and called soldiers to take him to prison immediately.

He was driven to a prison in the nearby Ala Valley where he was beaten each day, week after week, as they interrogated him over why he had “sabotaged” the garage by causing the explosion. Each time, he said, he answered the same way: “It was an accident. I don’t know how it happened.” But they kept beating him, using a variety of instruments including fists and feet.

At the end of three months, the beatings suddenly stopped. Eight months later, guards took him out of the holding cell and put him to work on a state-owned farm, along with other detainees. Together they weeded, watered, harvested, and hoed fields of tomatoes and cabbage in a strictly enforced silence.

One afternoon when the guards were some distance away, he crawled inside a large pile of hay and hid. When he saw the detainees lined up for roll call, he slipped out and made a run for the forest, zigzagging as several guards shot at him with AK-47 assault rifles (which are not very accurate at long distance). Once he felt safely away he hid again and waited until midnight to move. Then he slipped away. A smuggler arranged his escape to Sudan, from where he flew to Kenya with papers purchased in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum.

The Refugee Business

Wode spent close to two years in Nairobi taking odd jobs as a mechanic until he secured a full-time job in a garage. He saved virtually all he earned beyond his rent and meals until he had $ 16,000. With these savings and help from members of his extended family, he came up with the $ 40,000 smugglers demanded to get him to the United States.

The trip was managed by a smuggler based in Dubai, the headquarters for much of the clandestine movement of refugees from the region. This smuggler had lieutenants in most major East African cities and many in Europe and the Americas. It is a thriving global business. He, or someone working for him, sent Wode a passport with a visa to Dubai, where he spent five days getting the rest of his papers in order. Then he was put on a flight to Moscow, where he picked up a flight to Havana with three other Eritreans in similar circumstances.

As instructed, they took a taxi to a small seaside hotel that housed 15-20 Eritreans, Ethiopians, and Somalis, all traveling on forged documents. I asked if he’d gone into the sea, but he said they all stayed close to the hotel in fear of being picked up by local authorities. All he remembers is the inside of his room and the sight of other anxious refugees.

During this interlude, the smuggler at the next port of call—Quito—had arranged visas for him and the other three Eritreans with whom he was traveling and sent them by fax. However, on the second day a Cuban solder came and collected all their passports, telling them to fetch them again in the morning. “Everybody was scared,” said Wode. “No one was sleeping.”

When they went to the police station to get their passports, they were asked where they were coming from and where they were going. They said they were drivers on their way from Kenya to jobs in Ecuador. At the end of the questioning, they were dismissed and went back to the hotel, frightened that they’d be sent back to Africa. But several hours later a messenger arrived with their passports. “Everybody slept that night,” Wode said.

After three tense days, they boarded the flight for Quito, where they were met at the airport by an Eritrean smuggler who took them to his home and immediately burned their passports. From then on they would travel without papers. He gave them new bags and new clothes but no identification. They were warned they would have to cross each border illegally. That night they left.

Latin American Odyssey

Sometime around 8 or 9 p.m., according to Wode, they got out of the car and set off into the jungle on foot, following a Colombian guide hired by the smuggler. Once over the border, they boarded a second-class bus and rode to within several miles of Panama. Again, they set out on foot through the bush. It took them three days this time.

“You couldn’t see even the sky,” said Wode, describing chest-deep river crossings and blind plunges through mosquito-infested thickets. At some point, their guide left them to return to Bogotá, and they were on their own. Perhaps not surprisingly, the track they were following led to a military camp. When the soldiers saw them, they ordered them to undress completely for a full-body search. The refugees, none of whom understood Spanish, were convinced they were being robbed. But once the search was done, they were allowed to put their clothes back on and taken into the camp where they spent a relatively comfortable night, relieved but anxious about what would come next.

From there, they traveled by foot, boat, and bus to Panama City, where they stayed five days at another hotel crammed with refugees and migrants headed north. Local authorities interviewed Wode and his companions to ascertain their status and then gave them temporary papers to transit the country. When they neared Costa Rica, they again descended from the bus and walked around the border post, destroying their Panamanian papers.

On the other side they caught a bus to San José, where they again went to the local immigration office to plead their case. And again they were given transit papers to the next frontier, which they crossed on foot out of sight of those authorities. They repeated this across Nicaragua and El Salvador until, by pre-arrangement, they met a boat that took them to Guatemala on a turbulent five-hour trip that left most of them wretchedly ill. Again they walked.

Another smuggler guided them into Mexico and hired a taxi to take them to the immigration office in the Chiapas capital, Tapachula, where they were put in a United Nations-supplied refugee camp that mostly housed other East Africans—some 300-400 by Wode’s count. After 21 days, they were given 30-day transit visas.

Bound for America

Five days later, they left for Reynosa just south of the Texas border. They were met there by a Mexican smuggler known to them only as “Tiger,” whom they had to pay another $ 500 each. After five more days they boarded a boat under cover of darkness and tried to cross the Rio Grande.

“We were not lucky,” said Wode. The boat leaked badly and soon sank. One migrant from India drowned, he said. The others made it back to the Mexican shore as U.S. Border Patrol officers arrived on the opposite side.

The next day they tried again with a larger group of 14 people, including six Eritreans, an Indian, and several Mexicans and Somalis. They were divided between two boats this time, both of which made it. Once across, they set out on foot on a road close to the town of Hidalgo. At about 8 a.m., a small plane passed overhead. Soon afterward Border Patrol officers showed up, sending the frightened travelers in all directions.

“I dove into the water,” said Wode. “It was too dirty!”

“One officer yelled, ‘Come out! I see you,” he said. “The Mexicans were crying. Finally, I came out.”

The Africans were questioned separately.

“‘You guys are from Eritrea or Ethiopia or Somalia, right?’” Wode said they asked, clearly familiar with the influx from the Horn. Wode said they took down the details of who they were, where they’d come from and how they did it before being taken to another prison. He spent 45 days there, but he is not complaining. By contrast to what he’d already been through, this was a vacation—and he knew it would end.

Today, Wode lives in a poor working class suburb of Atlanta, along with scores of other recent arrivals from Eritrea. Shortly after his arrival there, he got a driver’s license and found work as a driver for a small company. When he had saved enough, he got a used, long-haul truck from another friend on a lease-to-buy arrangement. Now he drives for himself. Meanwhile, he sends what he can to his family in Eritrea.

Foreign Policy In Focus

Inside Mosul’s Demolished Churches: Video

By , October 23, 2014 10:34 pm

Rudaw has obtained an exclusive video, shot in recent days, showing the ruins of a church in Mosul destroyed by Islamic State (ISIS) militants.

“Until this very moment, the destroyed churches have remained untouched since Daash blew them up,” says the person who filmed the site, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.

ISIS leveled the Church of the Virgin Mary in late July, a month and a half after they topple Mosul and pushed on to control much of northern and central Iraq.

The Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights announced days later that ISIS had loaded the church with improvised explosive devices and successfully detonated the church.

Since its destruction “no one is allowed to get close to it,” the reporter added, but he was able to film the site because “no people can be seen around the churches and the city in general.”

Graffiti has been written on the walls, stating that “these places are destroyed under ISIS order,” among other jihadi slogans and directives. The Assyrian International News Agency reports that all 45 Christian churches or institutions in Mosul are now destroyed or occupied by the group.

Days before blowing up the church, ISIS decreed strict new laws for the Christian population, marking the homes of Christians with red spray paint. Residents were given the option to convert to Islam, pay the ‘jizya’ — a historic tax levied on non-Muslim populations since the first years of the religion–go in to exile, or face execution.

Most opted to leave the city, and most were systematically robbed of any valuables, goods, or livestock at ISIS checkpoints.

This was a shock Mosul’s Christians, who were promised protection when the city fell into ISIS hands. In the first days of their administration, they went house to house in Christian neighborhoods, offering their phone numbers in case locals were harassed by Sunni militias or neighbors.

The Archbishop Giorgio Lingua, the Pope’s envoy to Iraq, had previously confirmed that priests were allowed to come and go from the city and administer the sacraments to Christians in their homes.

But blowing-up churches sent a strong message to the Christian community, virtually all of which subsequently left Mosul for the Kurdistan Region or the surrounding Nineveh plains, home to a number of Christian villages.

Thousands more came to Kurdistan after ISIS pushed further into Nineveh and Shingal in early August, where they massacred Christians, Yezidis, and other religious minorities, with reports of other crimes such as rape and selling women as slaves.

Today the majority of Iraq’s internally displaced Christians live in Kurdish camps or within the region’s cities, with a high concentration in Erbil’s Christian quarter, Ainkawa. Fundamentalist salafists in Mosul have also destroyed a number of Muslim shrines, including the 14th century mosque containing the tomb of the biblical prophet Jonah, sacred to all Abrahamic traditions.

Assyrian International News Agency

Ayatollah Khomeini May Have Been Savage, But He Drew the Line at Nukes

By , October 23, 2014 4:57 pm
To Ayatollah Khomeini, nuclear and chemical weapons were haram (forbidden). (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

To Ayatollah Khomeini, nuclear and chemical weapons were haram (forbidden). (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Iranian politicians sometimes refer to the United States as the Great Satan. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of the Iranian Revolution, used the term iblis (a devil in Islam) to characterize the United States. But to many Americans, Khomeini, Iran’s first supreme leader, was a demon himself. Not only did he preside over the hostage crisis, he executed thousands of political prisoners not long after he assumed power, and he empowered terrorist acts by Hezbollah.

But when it came to state-sponsored violence, the Supreme Leader definitely had his limits. In his book Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare (Just World Book, 2014), Gareth Porter wrote about Khomeini’s reservations about chemical and nuclear weapons. In a recent article for Foreign Policy titled When the Ayatollah Said No to Nukes, he expanded on that.

While in Tehran recently, Porter interviewedMohsen Rafighdoost, who served as minister of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps during the Iran-Iraq War. When Iraq used chemical weapons against Iran,

The supreme leader was unmoved by the new danger presented by the Iraqi gas attacks on civilians. “It doesn’t matter whether it is on the battlefield or in cities; we are against this,” [Khomeini] told Rafighdoost. “It isharam [forbidden] to produce such weapons. You are only allowed to produce protection.”

Invoking the Islamic Republic’s claim to spiritual and moral superiority over the secular Iraqi regime, Rafighdoost recalls Khomeini asking rhetorically, “If we produce chemical weapons, what is the difference between me and Saddam?”

… Khomeini also repeated his edict forbidding work on nuclear weapons, telling him, “Don’t talk about nuclear weapons at all.”

Previously, Rafighdoost had

… told Khomeini [of] “a plan to produce nuclear weapons.” That could only have been a distant goal in 1984, given the rudimentary state of Iran’s nuclear program. At that point, Iranian nuclear specialists had no knowledge of how to enrich uranium and had no technology with which to do it. But in any case, Khomeini closed the door to such a program. “We don’t want to produce nuclear weapons,” Rafighdoost recalls the supreme leader telling him.

In short

Rafighdoost understood Khomeini’s prohibition on the use or production of chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons as a fatwa – a judgment on Islamic jurisprudence by a qualified Islamic scholar. It was never written down or formalized, but that didn’t matter, because it was issued by the “guardian jurist” of the Islamic state — and was therefore legally binding on the entire government. “When Imam said it was haram [forbidden], he didn’t have to say it was fatwa,” Rafighdoost explained.

Foreign Policy In Focus

General Petraeus: People Saw ISIS Coming

By , October 23, 2014 4:54 pm

General David Petraeus.Retired Army Gen. David Petraeus jumped into civilian life with the same determination and drive that helped him build a formidable military career. The former director of the CIA is now chairman of the KKR Global Institute and teaching at Harvard, the University of Southern California and Macaulay Honors College at CUNY. His nearly four decades in the Army included a post as commander of coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and commander of the U.S. Central Command. He is the guest speaker at the American Middle East Institute’s seventh annual lecture Oct. 28 at 8 p.m. at Carnegie Music Hall, Oakland.

What attracted you to a military life?

I think you pursue various courses in life because you admire others who have done that. Growing up in a village 7 miles from West Point, [N.Y.,] we had a number of West Point graduates, active officers, teachers who had taught at West Point. Our soccer coach had actually coached the national championship team at West Point. Our Sunday school teacher was one of the ski coaches. I delivered newspapers as a kid and probably a quarter of the people I delivered to were connected in some fashion to West Point. I developed a love and admiration for a number of these folks and decided I wanted to be like them.

Was there anyone you modeled your military career after, such as Eisenhower or Patton?

No, that would almost be presumptuous. I don’t think in the beginning you are consciously trying to be the next whatever. I think the role models for me were those who served in Vietnam, frankly. It was the captains and majors who were our instructors and tactical officers.They were the role models for my generation.

Do you miss being in the loop as CIA director or combat general?

It was the greatest of privileges to have the responsibilities that I had in uniform and at the agency. But I’m very fortunate to have a portfolio of activities now which are very intellectually stimulating, even the speaking circuit and serving on boards of advisers for six veterans organizations. These fit the definition of Teddy Roosevelt’s greatest gift in life, which is hard work worth doing.

Was there any intelligence on ISIS when you were CIA director?

ISIS in a sense is the evolution of an organization that we did defeat, Al-Qaeda in Iraq. Some of the very hard work we did to help reestablish the fabric of Iraqi society — to bring the Sunni Arabs back into Iraqi society and give them an incentive to support the new Iraq rather than to oppose it — was undone. It created fertile ground once again for the planting of the seeds of extremism and alienated the Sunni Arab component of Iraqi society.

What really revived Al-Qaeda in Iraq and turned them into the Islamic State [ISIS] was the civil war in Syria. They grew, gained experience and could identify competent leaders and then begin to capture arms, funding and generate significant resources to enable their expansion. People saw ISIS coming, even out of the intelligence world, it was well-known what ISIS was doing in Syria.

You worked so hard with your men and helped reopen the university in Mosul.

It is very, very sad to watch. It has been frustrating. But having said that, I don’t think the surge was in vain. We accomplished the mission that was set out for us. That was to give the Iraqis a new opportunity, to drive the level of violence down, to help reconnect elements of Iraqi society and to build forces and institutions and the rest so we could transition to them. We helped them rebuild their energy industry so they could fund all this.

What happened to the Iraqi security forces we trained?

You can trace the collapse in the north in particular to the fact that the population in which they were serving — Sunni Arabs –was alienated over the past 2 ½ years by a variety of actions taken by the Iraqi government. So that population was no longer receptive to Iraqi security forces. In fact, it actually welcomed the Islamic State elements when they first came in.

Competent Iraqi leaders, many of whom I still e-mail and with whom we fought in Iraq, were replaced over time by sectarian loyalists who proved to be largely incompetent. Worst of all, the chain of command for these forces was disrupted enormously by the insertion of the so-called office of the commander-in-chief into very tactical measures.

They fought for a while when they came under attack in the north. Then they realized there was nobody coming to the rescue. They watched their commander turn tail and leave and in many cases they followed. Then it becomes an epidemic. We saw it during the fight for Baghdad. You fight very, very hard for a matter of days and then all of a sudden the resistance just collapses. That is the dynamic of combat.

What was combat like for you the first time you were under fire?

Combat is just flat hard. Combat is about loss of life. It’s about damage and destruction. War is terrible. It is what the military trains for and it is our responsibility to execute. Even when you are making exceptional progress and advancing, it is very tough.

People would ask what is it like to be the commander in Iraq or Afghanistan and I would say, “It is the most awesome of experiences on a good day. There just aren’t many good days.” A good day is no casualties, military or civilian.

Does the training and conditioning help elevate the fear of dying?

When [combat] starts, training kicks in. You have trained, in some cases, your entire professional life. I was not in the Gulf War. I saw the damage done after the fact. But in the very first combat, there is an intensity there that is, I think, unique. The first call you get on the radio when you have lost one of your soldiers, there is a chill to your blood.

In light of your experiences, do you think personal issues have any bearing on leadership abilities?

There are various qualities, attributes, capabilities that are essential in leadership. At the very senior levels what I look for … is a quality of strategic judgment. It’s the ability to get the big ideas right.

Frankly, you see it in business just as you see it in the military. What matters most, as we used to say, was not the surge of forces. It was the surge of ideas. It was the change in strategy. It was the complete reversal of some of the actions. If you don’t get the big ideas right and by the way, keep them right. Because it is not enough to have one great big idea which can power you for quite a long time. You have to keep refining and adapting the big ideas, in some cases discovering new ones.

Look at Kodak. It had an extraordinarily big idea but ultimately did not keep up with the times and the transition to digital. A truly strategic leader is somebody who can chart the path for a large organization. That is the quality and capability you are looking for in a leader.

Assyrian International News Agency

As Casualties Mount, Scientists Say Global Warming Has Been “Hugely Underestimated”

By , October 23, 2014 3:10 pm

Published on Truthout, 20 October 2014.

As we look across the globe this month, the signs of a continued escalation of the impacts of runaway anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) continue to increase, alongside a drumbeat of fresh scientific studies confirming their connection to the ongoing human geo-engineering project of emitting carbon dioxide at ever-increasing rates into the atmosphere.

A major study recently published in New Scientist found that “scientists may have hugely underestimated the extent of global warming because temperature readings from southern hemisphere seas were inaccurate,” and said that ACD is “worse than we thought” because it is happening “faster than we realized.”

As has become predictable now, as evidence of increasing ACD continues to mount, denial and corporate exploitation are accelerating right along with it.

The famed Northwest Passage is now being exploited by luxury cruise companies. Given the ongoing melting of the Arctic ice cap, a company recently announced a 900-mile, 32-day luxury cruise there, with fares starting at $ 20,000, so people can luxuriate while viewing the demise of the planetary ecosystem.

This, while even mainstream scientists now no longer view ACD in the future tense, but as a reality that is already well underway and severely impacting the planet.

It is good that even the more conservative scientists have come aboard the reality train, because a recent National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-led (NOAA) study published by the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society has provided yet more evidence linking ACD with extreme heat events.

To provide perspective on how far along we are regarding runaway ACD, another recent study shows that the planet’s wildlife population is less than half the size it was four decades ago. The culprits are both ACD and unsustainable human consumption, coupling to destroy habitats faster than previously thought, as biodiversity loss has now reached “critical levels,” according to the report. More than half of the vertebrate population on the planet has been annihilated in just four decades.

Let that sink in for a moment before reading further.

Continue reading the full story at Truthout.

Dahr Jamail

The Pentagon Comes Up Short on Climate

By , October 23, 2014 3:10 pm

800px-National_Guard_trucks_ford_flood_in_MinnesotaThe Pentagon recently released a new report sounding the alarm on the national security threats posed by climate change. Like previous reports on the subject, this one makes clear that Department of Defense (DoD) planners believe that global warming will seriously challenge our nation’s military forces.

The report finds that, “rising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, climbing sea levels, and more extreme weather events will intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict. They will likely lead to food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees and resources, and destruction by natural disasters in regions across the globe.” Such outcomes will mean, according to the report, that U.S. troops will be increasingly deployed overseas. The report also warns that many U.S. naval bases are vulnerable to flooding from sea-level rise and from more frequent and increasingly severe tropical storms.

At a time when climate denialism still exerts an influence over U.S. politics, it’s important that the DoD is raising awareness that global warming is real and is profoundly consequential. The Obama administration also seems to have timed the release of this report, which does not itself include much new information, to build broader domestic support for a new global climate treaty.

Nonetheless, the recent report also shows just how limited the Pentagon’s thinking is about the subject, and how militarism itself poses its own roadblocks to creating a more sustainable society that can exist within the bounds of our climate system.

The Missing Piece

The clear consensus among climate scientists is that accelerating global reductions in greenhouse gas emissions is the only way we can limit the severity of climate change. Yet amid all of its grave warnings about projected climate impacts on national security, the new DoD report leaves this point untouched. On the contrary, the Pentagon seems instead to be planning for, rather than working to avoid, a warming and more dangerous world.

The report, for instance, describes how the DoD is “beginning work to address a projected sea-level rise of 1.5 feet over the next 20 to 50 years” at the Norfolk naval base. It also states that the DoD is “considering the impacts of climate change in our war games and defense planning scenarios,” and that plans are being made to deal with diminishing Arctic sea ice, which will create new shipping lanes and open up new areas for resource extraction.

The Pentagon’s efforts to promote climate adaptation are understandable in the sense that some warming has been “locked in” to our atmosphere, and that no matter what we do now we will be feeling the impacts of climate change. But it’s also true that reports like this miss the larger point: the extent of global warming and the severity of its consequences has everything to do with whether or not we act now to aggressively cut emissions. But these cuts just aren’t possible right now without a massive public investment to create a low-carbon economy.

Think Big, Think Green

Although it might go by many different names—a Big Green Buy, a New Green Deal, or a Marshall Plan for the Environment—a serious plan to address global warming would require serious investments into creating more light rails, bullet trains, and bus systems while reorienting our communities to bicycles and walking. We will need to increase the energy efficiency of our homes and fund the creation of new power systems that do not rely on fossil fuels.

In her new book, Naomi Klein provides a number of possible sources of finance for these public investments—including the elimination of subsidies to fossil fuel companies, a carbon tax, small taxes on financial transactions, or a billionaire’s tax. Additionally, she argues that if the world’s ten biggest military spenders cut 25% of their defense budgets, it would free up an additional $ 325 billion to spend on green infrastructure every year.

Similarly, when Miriam Pemberton and Ellen Powell compared climate spending to military spending in the United States, they found that the nation puts only a tiny fraction of money—4% in comparison to the total DoD budget—into efforts that would cut carbon emissions. Just by eliminating unneeded and dangerous weapons systems, the U.S. government would have significant new sources of funding for green projects. For example, the U.S. government could change its plans to purchase four more littoral combat ships—which the DoD itself doesn’t want—in order to double the Department of Energy’s funding for energy efficiency and renewable energy efforts. Likewise, our government could continue paying for 11 aircraft carrier groups to patrol the globe until 2050, or it could retire two groups and put the savings into solar panels on 33 million American homes.

No Roadmap

This sort of spending—and much more—is what will be required to meaningfully reduce carbon emissions. But the U.S. government currently has no such plans. When pressed, officials typically mention a lack of funding and the importance of “fiscal restraint” to explain why this need goes unmet. Meanwhile our resources continue to be invested in militarism rather than sustainability.

The Pentagon’s new climate change report, then, demonstrates just how severely limiting it is to speak of global warming as a “national security threat,” rather than thinking about it as a planetary emergency or in terms of environmental and intergenerational justice. Looking at climate change through a militarized lens of “national security” can only diminish our collective political imagination at the very time when we need all the innovation we can muster to meet one of the defining challenges of our time.

Eric Bonds is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Mary Washington, in Fredericksburg, VA. He teaches and studies topics related to militarism, human rights, and the environment.

Foreign Policy In Focus

ISIS Sells Smuggled Oil to Turkey and Iraqi Kurds Says US Treasury

By , October 23, 2014 3:10 pm

[unable to retrieve full-text content]A makeshift oil refinery in the Syrian province of Hasakah, Syria.The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) is earning as much as $ 1m a day through the sale of oil to some of its biggest enemies: middlemen from Turkey, Iraq’s Kurdish community and the regime of Bashar al-Assad, according to the US Treasury.
Assyrian International News Agency

Bashing Obama to Make Way for Hillary

By , October 16, 2014 8:11 am

Three years ago, during the height of the Occupy movement, I was ejected from a congressional hearing for allegedly “assaulting” Leon Panetta, then Secretary of Defense and former Director of the CIA. He was testifying to the House Armed Services Committee about “lessons learned by the Department of Defense over the preceding decade.” I jumped out of my audience seat to tell him that young people were paying the price of those “lessons,” and we were sick of the government funding war instead of education. The baseless assault charges against me were ultimately dropped.

A few years and trillions of dollars later, I found myself sitting in front of Leon Panetta once again, this time for his book talk at George Washington University, where he was gunning for more war. Just when we thought the United States was finally leaving Iraq alone, the world was hit with a paranoid media frenzy: showcasing Islamic State beheadings ad infinitum, hysterical congresspeople claiming that they were “coming for us all,” paving the way to more war, war, war––no questions from the public, no congressional debate. Bombs started falling on Iraq and Syria, innocents are dying, the Islamic State is gaining traction, yet the White House is declaring the whole operation so far “successful.”

Don’t be fooled: this operation has indeed been a success for some. The weapons-making company Raytheon just signed a $ 251-million Pentagon contract to produce the Tomahawk missiles the United States is dropping on Iraq and Syria. Some media pundits speculate U.S. involvement for a few months, some a few years, but Panetta said we better count on closer to 30 years.

Despite Panetta’s reputation for being a relatively “liberal” Democrat, his legacy is now associated with the expansion of President Obama’s killer drone program––covertly bombing countries that the United States wasn’t, and still isn’t, at war with, killing countless civilians with total impunity.

Without acknowledging America’s role in creating the Islamic State, or how counterproductive and economically draining over a decade of war has been, Panetta has generated national attention recently for bashing President Obama for not going hard enough on the Islamic State. In his new book Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace, and during an interview with Susan Page of USA Today timed to coincide with the release of his book, Panetta revealed his true feelings: that President Obama is deficient of leadership skills, indecisive, and weak when it comes to national defense and militarism.

Apparently this revelation, which Dana Milbank of the Washington Post described as “stunning disloyalty,” comes as no surprise since Panetta has been jumping the gun to criticize President Obama since his time as Secretary of Defense. While in office, Panetta wanted to leave some residual troops in Iraq after the withdrawal in 2011, a deal he says could have been negotiated with more effort. He also wanted to arm the Syrian rebels as early as 2012, and frowned upon Obama’s “failure to act” after seeking congressional authorization to bomb Assad in Syria in 2013.

So what does Panetta have to gain from attacking President Obama, a fellow Democrat, with so much time left until the next presidential election? Some media outlets think it’s no coincidence that he’s on a book tour at the same time as Hillary Clinton, touting the same hawkish foreign policies that will appeal to independent-leaning Republicans in 2016. As one right-wing outlet put it, “he’s flying the same exact anti-Obama flag that the hawkish Clinton wing of the party has been flying all year trying to position themselves for the next stage in their own political careers by stepping on President Obama’s neck.”

Like Panetta, Clinton has made claims that the blame for the Islamic State’s sudden power grab lands squarely on Obama’s failure to intervene in the Syrian civil war. In an interview with the Atlantic, Clinton said America must develop an “overarching” strategy to confront the growing threat of the Islamic State, and she went so far as to equate this struggle to the one the United States waged against Soviet-led communism. It seems like these now-former Washington insiders are ganging up on the president to pave the way for a dangerous future foreign policy framework.

On October 14, Panetta spoke at an event at George Washington University about his new book. CODEPINK teamed up with the George Washington Progressive Student Alliance to host a protest outside of the event. We passed out hundreds of fliers about the killer drone program under Panetta, and hollered over the megaphone about war criminals not being welcome on campus.

I made my way into the event and took a seat in the front row. The university president fawned over Panetta, who entered the room to a standing ovation.

Panetta bemoaned miniscule cuts to the massively bloated defense budget, saying that it is harmful to our national security. When he mentioned the sequester in that context, I couldn’t stay in my seat any longer. “We need more cuts to the Pentagon’s budget!” I said loudly, trying to move toward the stage so he would be able to hear me. “We don’t want money for war spending, we need that money here at home,” I continued. “Stop pushing the President to go deeper into war. Young people are sick of it, and the opinions of war criminals like yourself are not welcome here!” As I was talking, a large security guard plucked me up by my jacket and quickly yanked me out of the room.

Three years after my first disruption of Panetta, more than ever I stand by my words. I would do it again, and honestly, I probably will do it again. Whether it’s Leon Panetta, or Hillary Clinton. I’m horrified at the prospect of Clinton being the more “liberal” presidential choice in 2016. If President Obama campaigned for hope and change, but ultimately enshrined some of Bush’s most egregious foreign policies, what are we in store for next from explicitly pro-war candidates?

Many young people are sick of these war-mongers running the United States (and I know plenty of older folks who are too!). Over the summer of 2014, the youth wing of CODEPINK launched a Youth Manifesto to declare that there is No Future in War. Using that as a resource, we’ve launched a youth outreach campaign to help support student groups organize and mobilize. In a very short amount of time we’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response from students who are sick of being robbed of their futures. It’s time for the old, worn out politicians, who have dragged us into more war just to get elected and fatten their wallets, to step aside. We deserve better than the broken two-party system that routinely forces us to choose the “lesser of two evils.”

I, for one, am certainly not “ready for Hillary.”

Alli McCracken is the National Coordinator for the peace group CODEPINK, based in Washington, DC. You can follow her on Twitter at @AlliMcCrack

Foreign Policy In Focus

ISIS Desecrates Ancient Assyrian Monastery in Iraq

By , October 16, 2014 8:09 am

ISIS Desecrates Ancient Assyrian Monastery in Iraq

Posted 2014-10-16 04:36 GMT

St. Behnam Monastery.Militiamen from the self-proclaimed ‘Islamic Caliphate’ have removed the crosses and burned ancient manuscripts in the historic Monastery of Mar Behnam, ten minutes from the city of Qaraqosh, that they have occupied since last July.

Confirmation of the desecration came from a former village chief who lives near the monastery. He told Syriac Catholic priest Fr Charbel Issa, who was in charge of the Monastery until three years ago.

“Anything can happen with the terrorists of the Islamic State. They will destroy everything, if not stopped”, said Syriac Catholic priest Fr Nizar Semaan in a conversation with Fides. As reported by the website lankawa.com, the walls of the monastery now carry the inscription: ‘property of the Islamic State’.

ISIS threatened to kill, and then threw out the monks last July 20. Families living at the Monastery were also expelled.

The ancient Monastery, dating from the fourth century is dedicated to Assyrian Martyr Prince Behnam and his sister Sarah. Many ancient books and artefacts were kept there. It is one of the oldest and most venerated places of worship of the Syriac Christianity.T he monastery was renovated in 1986, and until the war, was visited by thousands of Christian and Muslim pilgrims each year.

Assyrian International News Agency

IS Sent Warning Letters to Middle East Embassies

By , October 16, 2014 2:27 am

IS Sent Warning Letters to Middle East Embassies

By Arash Karami

Posted 2014-10-16 08:34 GMT

Deputy Iranian Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Hossein Amir Abdollahian said that after the self-styled Islamic State (IS) took over Mosul in early June, it sent letters to the embassies of countries in the region warning them not to take action against the group.

“After the fall of Mosul, this terrorist group stressed in a letter to all of the embassies that they are a revolutionary group that was formed to attain the rights of Sunnis and for other countries to not attack them, and they will leave the citizens of those countries alone,” Abdollahian said.

He did not say what else was in the letter. Iran was one of the first countries to assist the Iraqi military and Kurdish forces in Iraq in the fight against IS. The United States is also leading an anti-IS coalition that includes a number of Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, conducting air strikes against IS positions in Iraq and Syria.

US President Barack Obama met with defense officials from 20 different countries to discuss IS on Oct. 14. He said that there are about 60 countries in the coalition, which he described as a “long-term campaign.”

Read the full story here.

Assyrian International News Agency