Tag Archives: sanctions

We can walk away from the table

Trigger Warning: war, sanctions, imperialism, medical violence

It’s easy to dismiss the rejection of the new accords between Iran and the US as a sort of simplistic radicalism. Actually, with people like former congressional representative Michele Bachmann, saying that these terrible deals are ushering in the end times but are also great because its, again, ushering in the end times, it’s difficult not to conclude that it’s a mix of strange eschatology and hypernationalism that has led to members of both nations to speak out against the deal.

To be fair, that isn’t an entirely unrealistic depiction of the case in Iran, where the government has “suspended” one newspaper for stating that Iran’s negotiators gave away too much ground in this deal. Support for the deal, which would end the international sanctions which have devastated Iran’s economy and restricted access to critical medical supplies and other necessities, is clearly something that many people are willing to show. The dangers and difficulties to be faced by the majority of Iranians if the deal doesn’t go through – the threat of invasion, of war, of economic hardships – are visible, known, and actually a coercive factor in pushing all but the most fiercely militaristic into supporting the deal.

That isn’t the lived experience for most residents of the United States, however. Involvement in some sort of war in broader Middle East and southern Central Asia has been on-going, a part of American life for more than a decade now. But for all but the small minority of people in the US military, it’s a distant reality. War is something that happens somewhere else to someone else. The tiny fraction of the population engaged directly in the conflict is only shrinking further, for that matter, as new military policies and practices replace ground troops with (increasingly automated) drones. There are of course the people who under those conditions are rather jingoistic, and in a Bachmann-esque manner call for an apocalyptic war they won’t have to fight.

iranian protest favor of dealAn Iranian family supportive of the deal hold up a sign welcoming the end of sanctions which reads “Hello, World!” From here.

But there are also numerous “moderates” for whom a rejection of the deal is more than not political toxic, at times politically viable and even useful. Much has been made of Senator (D-NY) Chuck Schumer’s planned rejection of the deal. He was joined yesterday by Bob Menendez (D-NJ). Neither of those Senators are particularly known for voting with the more reflexively militaristic Republicans, and yet, they have found themselves on that side of the vote on this. The processes influencing that are multiple and complex, but fundamentally, there is the reality that the US and Iran come to the negotiating table unequally. We have the ability to reject the deal in a way that they do not. We cannot overlook and equate our critics of negotiation with theirs, because we aren’t them and we don’t have a stake in this the way they do.

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Cluelessness abounds – a Dan Savage update

TW: heterosexism, cissexism, racism, coerced sterilization

In case you’ve missed my previous coverage of it, the longstanding problems of heterosexist and cissexist violence in Russia have become pretty apparent to just about everyone, even those who weren’t following the slow change within the LGBT communities of Russia in terms of how visibility and activism were understood and valued. Naturally enough, Dan Savage, with his history of shoddy activist projects, has organized a twitter campaign (#dumpstoli) to respond to the actions of the Russian government, by boycotting a company legally based in Cyprus, effectively centered in Luxembourg, and with its primary production centers in Latvia. Because it has a Russian name and some of its production is still based in Russia. (Funny isn’t it, how Swedish vodka, in spite of all the extreme cissexism in Sweden, isn’t bothering Savage?)

Given that Dan Savage has now taken to posting links to videos like this, we can effectively conclude that much like his racist reaction to the passage of Proposition 8 in California, he’s decided that to be Russian is to be bigoted, as previously he assumed that to be Black was to be bigoted. Because there are never queer people who are also Black or Russian.

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(Speaking of terrible politics, his current twitter icon makes clear just how central straight and cisgender allies are to his conception of activism.)

Of course, if you actually talk to just about anyone in Russia, this whole effort seems first farcical in terms of identifying this bizarre boycott as a solution and then patently offensive in that it’s seriously considered as a substitute for actually helpful behavior. Contrary to the pushback I’ve seen peddled on a few parts of the internet (namely that Russians just don’t understand boycotts – while more radical members of the political opposition have been calling for boycotts of actually Russian products), many Russians have very effectively explained their disinterest and annoyance with this campaign in pretty clear terms.

Simply read what one Russian correspondent for Gay Star News wrote on #dumpstoli: “It will impact anyone except the companies involved a little bit. [… W]hat is the aim of this boycott? The producers, even if they become bankrupt because of the boycott (which is unlikely) will not be able to influence Russian politics and President Putin as well as the decisions of the State Duma [legislature]”. Given how the Putin government has lobbied for these many new laws (as an extension, arguably, to his use of patriarchal imagery while in office) and the federal Duma voted unanimously in favor of them, the necessary change here is pretty clearly political, not necessarily economic.

Particularly given how Western “assistance” in the past largely resulted in the restructuring of the Russian economy in favor of a very small number of elites, the wariness of Russians to receive incomprehensible Western help seems rather on point. In some sense, our governments forced their society to recreate itself in a way that relies on exports and international trade, and now we’re calling for boycotts on products simply associated with them?

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Broader skepticism towards some

TW: islamophobia, impact of sanctions, Iraq war, Bush-era impunity, drone strikes in Pakistan

One of the amazing turns of a phrase from Ta-Nehisi Coates’ seminal article published a few weeks ago spoke to the very core of systemic bias. His examination of the continuing anti-Black racism in the US even into the Obama era questions the idea of racism as an easily challenged certainty in certain people’s inferiority, speaks instead of a racism that’s a “broad sympathy toward some and broader skepticism toward others”. A similar dynamic has become painfully obvious since early September with regard not only to race, but also religion, with a groundswelling of anti-Islamic bias.

Just over two weeks ago, it was reported that Dr. Shakir Hamoodi, an Iraqi American, was sentenced to three years in prison for violating the United States sanctions against Saddam Hussein’s former regime in Iraq. During the mid and late 1990s and first two years of the Bush administration, Shakir began sending funds through an intermediary bank account in Jordan to relatives who remained in Iraq, who were unable to buy basic medical supplies and trapped in cyclic poverty. He organized similar transfers for his wife’s family and families of close friends, ultimately funneling close to a quarter million dollars over a decade to at least fourteen Iraqi families, allowing them to access necessary goods from antibiotics to having greater food security. It’s worth noting, as reported, “[n]obody, including the US government, claims that these amounts were intended for anything other than humanitarian assistance”.

But as a person who prominently criticized the looming Iraq War while Muslim, Dr. Hamoodi fell under suspicion and was investigated by the FBI. He plead guilty to having sent funds into Iraq during the years the sanction was in effect, and consequently is now serving multiple years in prison. In contrast, other individuals who participated in economic exchanges with Iraqis during those years, including former Vice President Dick Cheney, have not been charged with the same crime, despite clear documentation of it (under the section labeled “Halliburton”). Purportedly the fact that Cheney’s a Methodist, rather than a Muslim, has no bearing on the issue.

Over the past year, similar stories of major discrepancies have surfaced repeatedly. Most shockingly, the United States has silently (and rightly) stood behind the government of Israel for shooting down a drone in its airspace with unclear but almost undoubtedly unsavory intentions. It was an entirely different story for Pakistan, and when the origin of the drones established to have killed non-combatant civilians was known to be the United States. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta insisted earlier this year that the drone strikes were legitimated by Americans’ need “to defend ourselves” which connects worryingly with the common practice of categorically labeling all casualties as among combatants. The only way to be sure they weren’t terrorists apparently was to kill them. Many of Israel’s neighbors would undoubtedly feel the same concern for their security and consequently justification for drone strikes on Israel (just read the section in this report titled “Threat perceptions”). Does the mere suspicion of intent to kill justify preemptive strikes across borders? Or only if the targets are presumably Muslim? There’s many key differences that could be seen between these situations, but it seems salient that one country is predominantly Muslim and another is predominantly Jewish.

Drone strike wreckage in Janikhel, Pakistan
(Wreckage from a drone strike in Janikhel, Pakistan, from here.)

Why is the right of Pakistani civilians to not have death ran down on them from above up for discussion? Why is circumventing US sanctions only important if the criminal is Muslim? Why do we hold broader skepticism towards Muslims around the world, compared to broader sympathy for others?

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What do you do with a country like Russia? And who can and should do it?

TW: political killings, electoral rigging, silencing protesters

If you have a good memory, you’ll recall the on-going indications from the Romney campaign that as possible future President, Romney would reignite the Cold War with Russia. I’m curious to see if the recent crackdown on foreign-funded (including US-funded) non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Russia, will elicit US pundits to proclaim him to be a visionary who foresaw the coming conflict with Putin’s Russia. The obvious problem is how this is necessarily an issue of American foreign policy and furthermore one that requires decisive action on the part of the President. Russia’s problems so far have been internal in nature, even with the constant talk of “foreign agents.” Charging the opposition with being foreign collaborators or lackeys has been Putin’s response to the protests since they began almost a year ago against blatantly fraudulent parliamentary elections. This is not a strategy unique to Russia, nor even the eastern hemisphere.

This newly proposed policy has everything to do with domestic politics in Russia, especially those pertaining to civil liberties and transparent political processes. The electoral system is fundamentally fixed – for years violence against journalists has shut down effective reporting in the country, advocates of democracy and transparency have long alleged that domestic donors are threatened with arrests or violence, and last minute “fixes” from ballot stuffing to voter intimidation have become common. As demonstrations late last year and early this year continued – alleging all sorts anti-democratic efforts – the protest band Pussy Riot stormed the altar of Moscow’s main Russian Orthodox cathedral, calling on the Virgin Mary to protect them from Putin. The performance was filmed and distributed online after their arrest for hooliganism and insulting the Russian Orthodox faith (as one band member put it “I’m Orthodox but hold different political views” from church officials who urged the country to reinstate Putin as President).


(The original protest with the now famous song “Punk Prayer: Mother of God Drive Putin Away”)

The problem for Putin is clear – anarchist and feminist critiques of the de facto one party rule of Russia are getting a lot of attention and going mainstream. With the clear evidence of electoral rigging provided by better-funded NGOs like Голос (translatable as “Vote” or “Voice”), which had navigated the attacks on domestic financial supporters by looking for international support, popular movements hostile to the Putin presidency are developing.

Protests in Perm
(Protesters for the release of Pussy Riot in Perm, Russia, holding up a sign saying “the arts are the territory of freedom.” Originally from here.)

In a country where the bureaucracy is explicitly manipulated to invalidate most challengers’ candidacies and protesters are threatened with lengthy jail sentences, it’s unclear exactly what a Romney-led United States could do to help. Most of the population of Russia isn’t threatened with political killings – so a military intervention seems to be not only tactical nonsense but an ethically impractical solution. Sanctions are well-established non-starters. The EU has far more in the way of economic and political ties to Russia, and so far they’ve been leading the charge with all the diplomatic pushes they can.

If Romney honestly wants to help the people of Russia, and this isn’t empty posturing to make the US vote like it’s the 1980s again, he should be specific about what powers he sees the American presidency having which could be used to assist efforts to reinstate democratic and transparent governance in Russia. As with many other issues, he needs to be specific, if he’s going to speak up on this topic again.

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