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A new feature to the MillerCircle

Posted on July 31st, 2010 in Culture,General,Religion,Science,War by Robert Miller

I have added a new feature to themillercircle; when you are at the millercircle.org home page, you can click on the option “power point slides” or go here where you can then select a PowerPoint presentation to view slide by slide. To view slides in a more expanded view click on the slide to view it within a “lightbox” (to get out of that mode his esc). At the present time, the only PP available is the “Republicans Against Science,” which was presented in the pre-Obama years (2007), so its not quite relevant for the Presidency, but remains highly relevant for the Republican Party of today and serves as a reminder about the fix we will be in should a Congressional Republican majority and a Republican Presidency converge with the public option of destroying our planet. More PP presentations will be added in the future. When viewed in the static mode in the light box, what’s missing is the animation components. To see those you need to play the PowerPoints themselves on a PP player that is the 2007 version.

The insidious growth of our post-9/11 intelligence system

Posted on July 29th, 2010 in Culture,Government by Robert Miller

No sooner did WikiLeaks disclose thousands of classified documents outlining the tragedy of the war we are conducting in Afghanistan, but we got a double whammy when the Washington Post published a headline story about the growth of our “intelligence system” since 9/11 (“Top Secret America”). I was out of the country when this story hit, so I am just catching up with it and undoubtedly most of you are ahead of me. But, in case you haven’t read the article, here are a few facts that should astonish even the most pessimistic anti-government observer: currently, 854,000 people in America now have top-security clearance (this is not easy to get); 1200 government organizations and 2000 private companies contribute to our intelligence operations, yet no one seems to know how costly it is, who has what responsibility or if there is overlap and/or duplication of assigned intelligence gathering responsibilities. WP reporters Dana Priest and Bill Arkin have been working on this story for two years and provided enough clarity that the best PBS program on the air today, Frontline, is preparing to feature this material in a future broadcast. If you go to the Post website for this story you can watch a brief video,narrated by Dana Priest and Bill Arkin, read the articles or learn more about the details of this “why am I not overly surprised, but very bothered” story of an intelligence system that is now nation-wide, grew unchecked out of public fear following 9/11 and GW Bush’s insistence on privatizing government functions for fun, profit and the ever-present Republican “starve the beast” syndrome. Except with this iteration of “starve the beast,” it’s war profiteering that has helped create our modern “predator state,” in which things like no-bid contracts and excessive, secret growth occur because Congress does not live up to its constitutional responsibility and review the budget. This growth has taken place because the black budgets that fund these operations are never checked or questioned and still aren’t. Our intelligence apparatus, now looks like something that we should perhaps turn over the the “Men in Black.” Has this secret genetic inbreeding of our intelligence functions produced mutations that actually make us less secure and more vulnerable to our own intelligence operations? Somehow the military industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us about seems tame and at least open, even if excessively large for its mission, especially after the Cold War ended. It’s just that we can’t shut it off,  quite likely because of our perceived protective mission for safe access to oil. Now we have an intelligence apparatus that we couldn’t possibly shut off because we don’t know where it is or how it’s organized. Where’s the head of the beast? Apparently, even the President of the United States does not know about the magnitude of this intelligence largess. What have we turned loose on ourselves?


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How to get peace in the Middle East

Posted on July 26th, 2010 in Biography,Books,Culture,History,Religion,War by Robert Miller

As the world attempts to diminish the global conditions that breed conflict and warfare, the Middle East remains as the seemingly insoluble obstacle, one for which no one has a solution–certainly not those who are currently in charge of trying to find one. Nations are flocking to the region, as the whole energy-hungry world knows that the Persian Gulf  has the largest reserves of oil in the world, accounting for more than 60% of the known global supply, coupled to about 40% of the known supply of natural gas. No other region comes close to the huge reserves that lie below the sand scape of the region. One would hope that a region sitting on such critical energy reserves would be strongly encouraged into forming harmonious relationships with neighboring states, if for no other reason than to create a safe environment for oil extraction and transportation. But, the region has been so dominated by Western interventions and exploitation, that peace at the moment seems well out of reach. Perhaps in no other region of the world do the forces of colonialism, exploitation, nationalism, authoritarianism and greed still have their visible stamps, all on display at the same time. The presence of American troops to stabilize the region, at least from our point of view,  seems to be more like the heal of a hard boot on the neck of the countries we occupy, providing a sense of resentment and hostility that evokes acts of terrorism against trespassing. Consistent with the theme of exploitation, the region has not uniformly shared the oil wealth with its own citizens and fights against nationalistic movements that emerge in the form of sabatoge against oil wells and pipelines, particularly in Iraq, are far more common place than reported in the U.S.  media. Then, as if the conflicts over oil weren’t sufficient to create a full dose of volatility in the area, we have the flip side of the  coin of conflict insolubility in the struggle between Israel and many of its neighbors.  Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians seems as remote as ever, as the two sides exchange hostilities, rockets and intermittent warfare, all of which speaks to the insoluble nature of the conflict. There is no evidence that any of the major players in the region, including the United States, are serious about making the kinds of concessions or forcing a position that stimulates the beginning of a serious peace dialog. Yet its hard not to imagine that the right kind of peace, in a region that can expect increased prosperity from oil revenues, could prove anything other than beneficial to the entire region, if done in the right way. There is after all, hope.

In  Stephen Kinzer’s recent book “Reset: Iran, Turkey and America’s Future,” the author, writing as a regional expert in Middle East  history and politics, has attempted to formulate a new pathway for reconciliation in the Middle East, one that advocates a lasting peace and insures prosperity for the region, by reducing the tensions through recruiting two new players in the peace process that heretofore have not been inserted as major partners for a settlement. This new vision for peace, includes the participation of  Turkey and Iran as major players, two countries that would probably not be on the top of the list drawn up by most Americans. We are still locked in a mode in which we think negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel can lead to a magical formula for peace, but only if thousands of clauses and sub-agreements get adopted as conditions for talks or preconditions for peace. But Kinzer argues that until all the major players in the region are included, such negotiations are all destined to fail. He argues that a negotiation strategy between two partners only is completely naive and that the United States needs to more maturely step up to the plate and insist on a peaceful solution involving all those in the region, because the stakes are too high for the economies of the world to continue taking oil in exchange for arming every country to the teeth, in order to protect the national interests of each new nation that comes to the area looking for black gold. Furthermore, Kinzer argues that bringing in Iran and Turkey will make the peace process easier, though the United States will have to deal with Iran more effectively than what we have done to date, and a big step forward for that objective could be achieved if the U.S. stopped behaving like an emotional child towards Iran and finally recognized the fact that Iran is a major player, not a minor leaguer, and that our invasion of Iraq helped to make it that way. Are you listening Dick Cheney?

Continued conflict in the Middle East increasingly risks the danger of evoking a wider conflict between any number of countries that are increasingly competitive with one another in hopes of establishing oil contracts in the new cutthroat game of searching for scarce new oil and gas leases, as China, India, Japan, South Korea and many other countries have become and will continue to insist on being players in the region. The history of the United States in viewing Persian Gulf oil as something that it owns, sparked in part by the “Carter policy,” and preceded by FDR’s secret agreement with Saudi Arabia, forged in 1945, to provide their protection in exchange for rights to the Saudi oil fields–all that history seems to be the policy mantra that we are moving forward with, which cannot help but evoke serious conflicts in the future: not that the region needs any new ones. It wasn’t just 9/11 that changed things for us, it was the emergence of a new world-wide panic that we are headed for “global peak oil.”

Kinzer has written several books about the Middle East. One of my favorites is “All the Shah’s Men: an American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror,” published in 2003 that explains how the CIA, at the request of the British Government, overthrew the democratically-elected Prime Minister, Mossadegh, in 1953 because he had nationalized what was then known as the Anglo-Iranian Oil company (today’s BP); the United States replaced him with the Shah (Mohammad Reza, the son of Reza Pahlavi), who in turn, was overthrown in the 1979 coup that led to the Islamic cleric Khomeini as Iran’s new leader.   The success the CIA had in overthrowing Mossadegh, served as the U.S. template for eliminating other democratic governments in favor of installing autocratic despots, especially in South American countries, beginning with Guatemala in 1954. The point of all this CIA intrigue was supposedly based on an assault against communism, but every American should know by now that it was really all about securing a favorable climate for American corporate interests. The Truman administration refused to act on the British outrage (Truman apparently admired Mossadegh), of the nationalized oil company, as they demanded return and control of Iranian oil. In fact, they had an embargo against Iran.   But, a few years later, during the Eisenhower years, when the CIA and the Secretary of State positions were occupied by  Allen Dulles and his brother John Foster Dulles (each of whom favored American corporate interests over the sanctity of internal nationalist movements), they agreed to help the British re-establish their control of Iranian oil. According to Kinzer, we are still paying the price for what we did in overthrowing Moassadegh in 1953. When the Iranians revolted against the Shah, the Mossadegh story was the first one they mentioned to their American captives. Americans didn’t find out about the CIA overthrow until 2000, when the New York Times got hold of a secret CIA document and published the details of the story.

In his book “Reset,” Kinzer takes us through the early 20th century history of Turkey, the first democratic Muslim state and Iran, a more troubled country, but one with deep democratic instincts, as we all witnessed by the turmoil that took place following last year’s presidential election. In the 1920s, both Turkey and Iran generated leadership who were committed to advancing their countries through a pathway of secular modernity. In the case of Turkey, it was Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, made famous by his military success at Galipoli,  who led Turkey from its planned destruction and occupation by the victors of WW I, through a decisive military victory over the Greek army,  followed by the consolidation of modern Turkey into a secular state. For Iran, the new leader to emerge was Reza Pahlavi who wanted to help modernize Iran through the formation of a secular state, using the Turkish model he admired. However, Reza had to settle for a new monarchy in which he was crowned king, as the 132 year old Qajar dynasty was abolished. The difference between the two countries was that Mustafa Kemal was successful in unseating the power of the clerics in Turkey, whereas Reza had to accommodate the religious leaders, which remains today as one of the fundamental differences between the two countries. But, as Kinzer points out, we need to form relationships with large countries that are committed to peace and democratic reforms. Turkey is already there and could be the first Muslim country admitted to the European Union. They also have good relationships with Israel and they have gained experience in their diplomatic dealings with neighboring countries. Iran right now is a conflicted state, but one that cannot be ignored as a major player in any peace settlement for the region. Kinzer suggests that it may not be possible to deal with Iran right now, but our hardline attitude towards the country only insures that hardliners within Iran will have the advantage of leadership, much like how our attitude towards the Soviets during the Cold War extended the lifespan of their dictatorship; we surely prolonged the life of the Soviet Communist state through our obsessive confrontational, Cold War policies.

Now is the time to recognize that the primary result of our invasion of Iraq was to strengthen the hand of Iran, who has become a far more important player in the region in the post-Iraq invasion world; our actions served to push Shiites in Iraq into leadership positions, and they have established friendly relationships with Iran. That’s as it should be and there’s no getting around it.  That train left the station the moment we entered Iraq and declared war on the Bathists (Saddam Hussein). Today, we continually tell ourselves that our main fear is that Iran may be enriching Uranium on its way to building nuclear weapons. But there is very little evidence supporting that view and Iran is a signatory of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which,  neither Israel nor India has signed.  In reality, what we are worried about with Iran is having a hostile country that is too close to our prized partner in oil production–Saudi Arabia. We had relied on the Shah of Iran, whom we armed to the teeth with American weapons, to serve as our surrogate army in the Middle East. But with the overthrow of the Shah in 1979, something that dumbfounded our State Department,  together with the humiliation we endured when our embassy workers were kept hostage for more than a year, Iran quickly converted from friend to foe and ever since we have reacted like an emotional child to Iran, insuring that they in turn react emotionally towards us. Bush calling Iran a member of the “axis of evil” was hardly realistic or knowledgeable about our mutual history. But any realist can see that no peace settlement in the Middle East is possible without the inclusion of Iran as a major player and we have to recognize that our best partner for approaching the peace process is  Turkey. So we should be doing everything we can to facilitate Iran’s conversion to a more cooperative partner, and engaging Turkey as a full partner, not a messenger boy.

Few Americans are aware that Iran has been very cooperative with America in the post-9/11 era. Iran is a bitter enemy of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. In the months following 9/11,  Iran and American officials met constantly. At the request of the U.S., Iran expelled hundreds of foreigners within its borders that the U.S. believed were connected to the Taliban or al-Qaeda.  Iran connected the U.S. to the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan,  which we engaged to fight a proxy war in that country. In early 2003, after Bush’s silly “axis of evil” speech,  Iran tried to approach the United States in a cooperative mode. They proposed comprehensive talks and laid out an agenda in which the United States would end its “hostile behavior” towards Iran, lift the economic sanctions, guarantee Iran access to peaceful nuclear technology and recognize its legitimate security interests. In exchange, Iran offered to do the two things demanded of them by the U.S.: full transparency in its nuclear program and the elimination of any material support for militant groups in the Middle East, specifically referring to Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. This was the most forward-looking proposal that the U.S. had received from Iran in a quarter century and quite astonishingly (maybe not so surprising when you think about the American actors on the stage at the time), Bush turned the offer down because he and his cohorts wanted to destroy Iran not compromise with it. It is is simply mind-boggling to think that GWB would  turn down the Iranian offer for negotiations on the very issues we claimed were important to us, and all of this took place after he had given his axis of evil speech. It is sometimes hard to know whether the destructive hard line attitudes that prevent reproach between the two countries belong to the U.S. or Iran. Perhaps a little of both. But if our objective is that of establishing peace rather than dominance, we must recognize that Iran cannot be left out of the equation. I haven’t done justice to Kinzer’s book “Reset,” but it’s a fascinating read and brings a whole new perspective to the  equation table that we will need before we have a legitimate and just fix for the Middle East. One of the problems we face in confronting issues of the Middle East is that of basic competency and judgment on the part of our State Department. Kinzer talks about the acute need for sage officials among our diplomatic corps, and stresses a time when we did have a better, more informed State, which had a more longitudinal view of the world. As he talks about the need for more cultural knowledge of Iran, he quotes Nassir Ghaemi who is knowledgeable about both countries. Ghaemi points out that i) Americans are willing to compromise principle for results; Iranians are willing to sacrifice results to principle; ii) Americans worship the future, Iranians the past; iii) Americans value forthrightness and simplicity while Iranians prefer complexity and iv) Americans have imbibed science while Iranians have done the same with literature. Yet, despite these cultural differences, Americans and Iranians have far more in common and it is this larger, common set of values that should bring Iran and America into a much closer alignment, particularly when thinking about the gravity of the issues that must be solved if more serious conflict is to be avoided.


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