Thursday, May 29, 2008

Scott McClellan's non-event: All this was already broadly known

The new dust-up over Scott McClellan’s new book declaring that the Bush administration “oversold” the Iraq situation in order to justify a “pre-emptive” attack is really a non-event. What McClellan is saying has been known for a long time. The problem for the Bush administration – which has hastened to reject MeClellan’s claims – is that this news comes from one of its own, one of the inner circle. Everyone in that group could not have missed the deliberate attempt by the administration to sell the attack in the face of world opposition and in the absence of concrete evidence for its claims. Those claims – now clearly known to be false – were reiterated many times.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The new book by Rein Mullerson on Central Asia

It seems that Central Asia inspires books that are not only long but great, in the sense of a broad compass covered with erudition. The books that have awed me and helped me understand the historic processes in Central Asia are not numerous but have provided, for me, a basic education in how to think about social processes over a long trajectory. The most notable one was Lattimore’s Inner Asian Frontiers of China, which I had to teach several times in order to have felt I comfortably had internalized Lattimore’s sense of the sweep of history. From Lattimore I learned all the more how valuable Marx is for the understanding of history. Grosset’s Empire of the Steppes is of course another awesome work. And, even though much more modest in size but no less seminal, were the several works on Central Asia [“the world island”] by Halford MacInder. Another work that few would connect with Central Asia that has given me a sense of the impact of the Central Asia “hordes” has been Marc Bloc [Feudal Society, about a medieval world that regularly prayed for protection against “the arrows of the Hungarians,” p 41]. [Eric Wolf’s Europe and the People Without History, for all its coverage of the world elsewhere, says little about Central Asia per se.] And I am awed, even cowed, by the recent work of Djalili and Kellner, Géopolitique de la nouvelle Asia centrale: De la fin de l”URSS à l’après-11 septembre.

But the discovery of Rein Mullerson’s Central Asia : A Chessboard and Player in the New Great Game [Kegal Paul] has humbled me all the more. Mullerson displays a broad grasp of the literature of the region, including of course that in Russian, as well as a rich sophistication in the great works of the English speaking world. The price, however, is outrageous : $144.00. Such is the value of the dollar now.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Signs of yet another crisis in Lebanon

The wars all across the so-called "Muslim world" in our times are violent manifestations of a series of critical issues powerfully at work in the region. There are now, or recently have been, wars -- mostly civil wars -- in Chad, Sudan, Somalia, the Middle East, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. And the wars in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Chechnya and Lebanon have only recently calmed down.

And now there is reason to worry about Lebanon -- again -- and as usual there isn't much reliable information about it. Or rather there isn't much analysis that would give outsiders a sense of how complex the issues are there now. Today's New York Times has an article about the disruptions in Beirut.

I am thankful that friends of ours have been willing to clue us occasionally to the slow tortuous decline toward another possible civil war. The note we got today was that the blog, "The Angry Arab News Service" by As'ad is a good summary of the situation there. Written hurredly and with verve, this site reveals how convoluted the alliances there are and how many crosscurrents are at work. And if not in his text itself then in the reactions to it by other Arabs, you can see how intense the opinions are. We need to be watching.
Click on the title for a link to that blog.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Torture in our name: An embarrassing library of evidences

[addenda and corrections 5/7/08, 5/15/08, 6/9/08]

Nicholas Kristof’s comment about prisoner abuse in our military facilities [NYTimes 5/4/08], notably in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, prompts me to wonder how many cases we know about. Here are the cases he mentions that are not as yet published:

  • Kristof says, “On Thursday, America released Sami al-Hajj, a cameraman for Al Jazeera who had been held without charges for more than six years. … [He] was beaten…” Arrived “so frail when he arrived that he had to be carried off the plane and into an ambulance.”
  • Also: Murat Kurnaz, a German citizen of Turkish descent, has just published a memoir of his nearly five years in Guantánamo. He describes prolonged torture that included interruptions by a doctor to ensure that he was well enough for the torture to continue.”
  • Also: "Italian Trial of CIA Operatives Begins with Torture Testimony." [NYTimes 5/15/08] A Muslim cleric's wife testifies of the capture and "extraordinary rendition" of her husband to Egypt by the CIA, where he was tortured.

I went looking on the web for recent publications on torture. There are more than I thought. How many more books will have to be published before the American people internalize what has been done to other human beings in their name? None of us believes that torture is consistent with the ideals of our country and yet the practice persists -- and few voices have been raised about it. When our country realizes what has been done in its name, many of us will be tempted to feign ignorance.

The sad thing is that our country, like so many others, is enveloped in fairly sealed "information worlds.” Like people elsewhere -- many Germans during WW II, like the Serbs under Miloshivich and in fact the populations of most countries -- most Americans cannot believe that our people could have done what they did (our troops), or authorized what they authorized (e.g., John Yoo), organized what they organized (our generals), and carried out the abuses they carried out. Witness the attitude of the Serbs, many of whom to this day believe their people were not guilty of the well documented abuses during the recent wars in Yugoslavia; witness also the Iranians and the Pakistanis, who reject all accusations of abuse. In fact, they are unaware of them. What has been going on in those countries has remained invisible to the common public as many abusive practices seem to be (but are not) invisible in our country.

One of our problems is that despite the presumed superiority of our media, the American people remain informed only of those events that are presentable on TV; what we know is limited to the moving images that someone has been able to get, and essentially only those that are current, of what is happening in the world.

In chronological order, from the newest to the oldest, I list here those works documenting instances of torture perpetrated by our government. This is what I could find easily; there must be more.

  • Steven Wax. (June 3) 2008. Kafka Comes to America. Other Press.

  • Philip Gourevitch and Errol Morris. 2008 [May 15]. Standard Operating Procedure. Penguin. [Reviewed, along with film of the same name, by Ian Buruma, New York Review June 26, 08, p 6,8]
  • Eric Lichtblau. 2008. Bush's Law: The Remaking of American Justice. Pantheon.
  • Philippe Sands. 2008 [May 13] Torture Team: Rumsfeld's Memo and the Betrayal of American Values. Palgrave.

  • Mahvish Rukhsana Khan. 2008. My Guantánamo Diary. Public Affairs. [A pediatrician who returned to Afghanistan in 2003 to help rebuild his country was then arrested by Americans, beaten, doused with icy water and paraded around naked. Finally, after three years, officials apparently decided he was innocent and sent him home.]
  • Darius Rejali. 2007. Torture and Democracy. Princeton University. [880 pp. “the most compendious and the most rigorous treatment of the subject yet written.”]
  • Tony Lagouranis and Allen Mikaelian. 2007. Fear Up Harsh: An Army Interrogator's Dark Journey Through Iraq. NAL. [A developed version of a story widely available in the media and on the Internet. Lagouranis became a central figure to Iraq war opponents by describing his role as an army interrogator at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere.]
  • Stephen F. Eisenman. 2007. The Abu Ghraib Effect. Reaktion Books. [“Scholarly, succinct, and flush with photos, Eisenman's analysis is art history at its most compelling.”]
  • Tara McKelvey. 2007. Monstering: Inside America's Policy of Secret Interrogations and Torture in the Terror War. Basic Books. [[A]buses at Abu Ghraib, in particular the abuses visited upon women prisoners]
  • Bob Brecher. 2007. Torture and the Ticking Bomb (Blackwell Public Philosophy Series). Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Jack L. Goldsmith. 2007. The Terror Presidency: Law and Judgment Inside the Bush Administration. Norton.
  • Joseph Margulies. 2007. Guantanamo and the Abuse of Presidential Power. Simon & Schuster
  • Alfred McCoy. 2006. A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror. Holt Metropolitan Books. [“From the start of the Cold War to the early nineteen-sixties, the C.I.A. spent billions of dollars developing psychological tools for interrogation. … [Documentation] from the Phoenix program in Vietnam—which was designed to ferret out high-level Vietcong, although of the more than twenty thousand people it killed most were civilians—to the actions of agency-trained secret police in Honduras in the nineteen-eighties, and the treatment of hooded detainees at Abu Ghraib.]
  • Tara McKelvey (Editor). 2006. One of the Guys: Women as Aggressors and Torturers. Seal Press.
  • Stephen Grey. 2006. Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Torture Program. St. Martin's.
  • Sanford Levinson (ed). 2006. Torture: A Collection. Oxford University Press, USA. [Sections on "Philosophical Considerations"; "Torture as Practiced"; "Contemporary Attempts to Abolish Torture Through Law"; and "Reflections on the Post 9-11 Debate About Legalizing Torture.]
  • Stephen Grey. 2006. Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Torture Program. St Martin’s Press.
  • Steven Miles. 2006. Oath Betrayed: Torture, Medical Complicity, and the War on Terror. Random House. [ … the work of the Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (known as BSCTs, or "biscuits") active in Iraq and Guantanamo: groups of psychiatrists and psychologists who used detainees' medical charts and test data to devise "physically and psychologically coercive interrogation plans" designed to break their resistance. In at least one camp in Iraq, all harsh interrogations reportedly were first approved by the medical team.]
  • Jennifer K. Harbury. 2005. Truth, Torture, and the American Way: The History and Consequences of U.S. Involvement in Torture. Beacon. [A "wink and nod" approach, sending clear signals to the Salvadoran team that the abductions, tortures, and kidnappings were to continue. ..."]
  • Dianna Ortiz.2004.Blindfold's Eyes: My Journey From Torture To Truth.Orbis.["... going through the court proceedings mirrored the situation of the torture, perhaps asserting myself and having a team of people with me to support me would be a ..."]
  • Karen J. Greenberg, Joshua L. Dratel, and Anthony Lewis (Eds). 2005. The Torture Papers: The Road to Abu Ghraib. Cambridge University Press. [Bush administration officials and top military brass continue to maintain that the well-documented abuses of prisoners at Abu Ghraib were the isolated actions of a few rogue guards. … [The editors] believe the abuses at Abu Ghraib and the claimed abuses at Guantanamo are the direct result of administration policies. … [A] compilation of administration documents … clearly reveal that, at the highest levels, the Bush administration sought legal justification to circumvent both the Geneva Convention and other international accepted norms regarding the interrogation and treatment of military detainees.]
  • Karen J. Greenberg, ed. 2005. The Torture Debate in America. Cambridge University. [The documents, memoranda, and reports that comprise the material in The Torture Papers.]
  • Michael Ignatieff. 2004. The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror. Princeton University.
  • John Conroy. 2001. Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People: The Dynamics of Torture. University of California Press. [His question: How is it that otherwise normal people can become part of the institutionalized practice of torture? … He investigates the "five torture techniques" (hooding, noise bombardment, food deprivation, sleep deprivation and forced standing against a wall) inflicted on 12 Irish prisoners in 1971; a late 1980s round-up on the West Bank of Palestinians, who were bound, gagged and beaten; and Chicago's notorious John Burge case, in which police officers systematically beat and electrocuted (on the head, chest and genitals) a man suspected (and later convicted) of killing a police officer.]
Addendum, August 5, 2008
  • Jane Mayer. 2008. The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How The War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals. New York: Doubleday. "What Woodward and Bernstein's book "All the President's Men" did to the Nixon administration, Jane Mayer's book "The Dark Side" will do to George Bush's administration: blow away, like a piece of straw, the last sliver of credibility that the few remaining supporters of George Bush desperately cling to. "We don't torture", said the President, and Jane Mayer has responded with this book, as if to say: "That is a lie"."

Friday, May 02, 2008

"Greater Central Asia," the new geopolitically reified region

The term Greater Central Asia seems to have caught on. I used the term in an article written as the Soviet Union seemed to be weakening and was published shortly after it expired.

  • Restructuring in Greater Central Asia: Changing Political Configurations,” Asian Survey, Vol. 32, No. 10 (Oct., 1992), pp. 875-887.

Two years later the Russian political scientist Vyacheslav Ya. Belokrenitsky used the term again in the same journal:

  • Russia and Greater Central AsiaAsian Survey, Vol. 34, No. 12 (Dec., 1994), pp. 1093-1108.

The term seemed to me useful even though its meaning was at that point somewhat imprecise, including the several nations (different ones, depending on how you count) that were liable to link up together, once the Soviet Union had expired.

It's interesting to track what has happened to the term since then.

The term was used in a paper written in January, 1996, and published in 2000:

The Environmental and Social Impacts Group used the term in 2002 in its proposal but they referred to a more easterly sector of the region (Xinjiang) than Belokrenitsky and I had in mind (see also their ESIG Alert # 1 report).

  • “Development of a Desert Affairs Center in Western China,” ESIG Alert #2, November, 2002.

In 2003 Rajan Menon used the term in a sense more consistent with our usage:

· “The New Great Game in Central Asia” by Rajan Menon. Survival, Volume 45, Number 2, 2003 , pp. 187-204(18).

Menon defined “Greater Central Asia” as “the region consisting of the five Central Asian states, plus Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Xinjiang, and Afghanistan” and he argued that it had been “strategically transformed” by the American commitment to the region after the attack of September 11, 2001. During that time the several authoritarian governments of the region were trying to take advantage of the new American interest in their neighborhood to escape the historic Russian hegemony. But they would be frightened by the “Rose Revolution” in Georgia (2003), the “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine (2004) and the government of Kyrgyzstan would itself be overturned by a similar movement (“Tulip Revolution”) in 2005. Also in 2005 the Americans clashed with President Karimov over the massacre of hundreds of Uzbek citizens in Andijan, and were forced to evacuate their airbase at Karshi-Khanabad.

It was not long before the political exigencies and economic possibilities of the time were being recognized in the term “Greater Central Asia.” Now the term stood for a new region of geopolitical interest, to the United States and to those becoming alarmed by its rising hegemony there. S. Frederick Starr promoted the importance of the region in his article,

Starr advocated the formation of a Greater Central Asia Partnership for Cooperation and Development in which, of course, Washington would be central. “Recent progress in Afghanistan,” he said, “has created a remarkable opportunity . . . . The United States now has the chance to help transform Afghanistan and the entire region into a zone of secure sovereignties sharing viable market economies, enjoying secular and open systems of government, and maintaining positive relations with the United States.” This was the hubristic language of that time, which like so many of the grand aspirations of sounds quaint and dated now. A reference to Greater Central Asia appeared in a report of the Rand Corporation in the same year.

· “Faultlines of Conflict in Central Asia and the South Caucasus,” by Olga Oliker and Thomas S. Szayna. Rand Corporation, 2005.

The new American interest in the region worried the Chinese, as reflected in another publication in 2005 that used the term:

And it had a similar impact on the Russians.

  • “Russian foreign policy experts debate interaction with America in Greater Central Asia,” by Igor Torbakov, Volume 2, Number 196, Friday, October 21, 2005. Eurasia Daily Monitor. [Jamestown Foundation.]

Greater Central Asia was now becoming a region of trade. A conference of “experts and officials from throughout Greater Central Asia” was convened in Kabul on April 1-2 of 2006 on a topic of:

At this conference Kassymzhomart Tokaev, Kazakhstan’s Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan said his Government “supports the idea of a a Greater Central Asia as a way to promote intra-regional trade and development and reconnect Afghanistan to the regional and global economy.”

Representatives of the United States government also participated and indicated an interest in “partnering” with the states of the region on matters of trade, and a panel discussion took place in Washington, DC, on July 18, titled “The New Silk Roads: Transport and Trade in Greater Central Asia.” It was sponsored by the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute (CACI). One wonders if the drug trade was given much attention in either of these conferences, but clearly it was already a powerful source of wealth for some of the countries of the region. In fact, Svante E. Cornell was sounding an alarm at about this time.

  • “The Narcotics Threat in Greater Central Asia: From Crime-Terror Nexus to State Infiltration?” China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly, Volume 4, No. 1 (2006) p. 37-67.

And Richard Weitz was warning that a “great game” was taking form like that of the nineteenth century.

  • “Averting a New Great Game in Central Asia.” The Washington Quarterly • 29:3 pp. 155–167. 2006.

And M. K. Bhadrakumar was suggesting that South Asia already being caught up in the geopolitical “game” of earlier times.

Indeed it was clear that the Russians were bothered by American meddling in their backyard:

  • Moscow making Central Asia its own.” M K Bhadrakumar. Asia Times Online, Aug 25, 2006.

All of these articles referred to the region as “Greater Central Asia”.

The new geopolitical focus prompted research activity. In 2006 the Social Science Research Council announced that it would provide teaching tools on the history of Greater Central Asia.

In 2007 an important work was published, firmly anchoring the terminology for the region in the strategic discourse.

With chapters by S. Frederick Starr (overview), Masood Aziz (Afghanistan), councilor at the Afghanistan Embassy in Washington, D.C., Aftab Kazi (Pakistan), professor of international and comparative politics at American University in Bishkek, Abbas Maleki (Iran), director general of the Institute for Caspian Studies in Tehran, Niklas Norling (China), project director of the Silk Roads Studies Program, Taleh Ziyadov (Azerbaijan), deputy executive director of the U.S.-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce, and others.

Robert M. Cutler has delimited the region precisely, distinguishing “Central Asia” from “Greater Central Asia” from “Central Eurasia” from “Greater Southwest Asia” from “Greater South Asia.”

So the term “Greater Central Asia” is now a real place, having been reified by geopolitical policy and debate. Some recent works using the term are the following:

  • “Political Development and Organized Crime: The Yin and Yang of Greater Central Asia?” Niklas Swanström. China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly, Volume 5, No. 4 (2007) p. 83-101.

· U.S. Aims in Central and South Asia Challenged by Russia and China,” by Richard Weitz World Politics Review Exclusive, 27 Jul 2007.

· “Eurasian Trade And Transport: New Silk Roads Or Old Pipedreams?
Richard Weitz. Eurasianet 7/24/07

· “Americans Still Think All Stans Are Same,” Adam Kesher. Politics, Foreign Affairs, April 16th, 2008

  • [seminar proposal] Security in Greater Central Asia, Tensions and possibilities of destabilization from Astana to Islamabad. Didier Chaudet. http://www.sciences-