EUROPEAN governments are allegedly wringing their hands in concern over a new Pentagon report on how the United States is gearing up to fight a “Long War” against Muslim extremists and which recommends beefing up Special Forces, more use of sophisticated drones to assassinate opponents and the establishment of a new long-range bombing fleet.
The Guardian ran a front page story on it on Tuesday, complete with a two-page inner spread showing US forces around the world and the various menaces waiting to attack American interests.
Unsurprisingly, the bulk of the looming menaces are in Africa, the Middle East and all of Asia. The Pentagon is asking for $513 billion in funding for 2007 to help pay for these new measures, but it is also calling on its European allies and moderate Muslim regimes to “share the risks and responsibilities of today’s complex challenges.” In other words: Cough up some money, and fast.
The US also wants NATO to help with its efforts, something that its secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer seems disinclined to do even though NATO was originally formed as a bulwark of protection against the Soviet Union. “NATO is not a global policeman but we have increasing global partnerships,” he told the Guardian.
A significant part of America’s “Long War” spending is going to be on propaganda efforts. But if the US is going to keep pouring millions of dollars into such ineffective propositions as the satellite television station Al-Hurra and the Arabic magazine Hi, it is going to be a waste of US taxpayers’ dollars. No one seriously watches Al-Hurra because it is so boring and viewed as a blatant propaganda tool for the US government. It has no credibility whatsoever in the Middle East. Sure it has a fabulous studio, flashy graphics and telegenic Lebanese news readers, but please that’s not enough to win people’s hearts.
Likewise for Hi magazine. I see it all the time on newsstands in Saudi Arabia, but I never see anyone leafing through it, let alone buying it. It’s printed on nice glossy paper in Lebanon but hey it’s so boring and full of advertorials for the American way of life that no one can stand reading it.
And the sad truth is that Al-Hurra can actually get democracy activists in trouble. A Syrian judge recently told me that he had sent one such activist to jail for three months after watching a DVD of the activist’s remarks on Al-Hurra in which he criticized the Syrian government for lack of freedom.
I argued with the judge that the activist had been forced to seek Al-Hurra to speak out since he couldn’t do so in Syria, but the judge was adamant that he deserved to go to jail because he had broken a law that said it was illegal to criticize the government abroad. To which I replied that perhaps it would be wise for the Syrian regime to decriminalize such acts given the fact that one activist’s comments could hardly destabilize an entire country.
But coming back to the military aspects of the “Long War”, it seems obvious that with so much fierce disagreement in Europe with the US over its invasion and continued occupation of Iraq, that increased cooperation in fighting extremists is likely to be hard to come by if it involves invading other countries or assassinating too many people.****
THE shooting of a hunting buddy by US Vice President Dick Cheney last Saturday on a Texas ranch raises several questions, apart from the obvious jokes of a well-known Bush administration hawk being so overtaken by bloodlust that he ended up blasting away not only Al-Qaeda militants but even his 78-year-old friend.
First, why did the vice president wait 14 hours before talking to the police about what had happened? Surely that constitutes special treatment that no other mere mortal would be afforded in the US.
Second, why did Cheney leave his Texan host, Katherine Armstrong, with the responsibility to reveal to the press what had happened and that Cheney was involved? Was this to put some distance between himself and his dirty deed? Seems like an odd and vaguely cowardly way to achieve it.
Harry Wittington has now suffered a minor heart attack after a piece of birdshot from the fired rifle moved into his heart. All Cheney could say, from Washington no less, was that he was ready to do anything to help Wittington.How nice. The least he could have done was remain in Texas in the hospital until his friend was declared out of danger. But not for the high and mighty Cheney. A friend indeed!****
AN interesting story and picture in my local newspaper the Nottingham Evening Post last week caught my eye because of my recent experience of a 2 a.m. fire alarm.
The article was about an 80-year-old woman who had managed to escape from her house with only minor injuries after she started heating up oil to fry some chips (French fries for Americans) and mysteriously fell asleep only to awaken to her chip pan ablaze.
Don’t ask me to explain how someone can put oil on to heat and then decide to go to their bedroom for a lie down. It just doesn’t make sense. But in any event, the picture that accompanied the story showed the beaming old lady throwing away her chip pan, the caption informing us that she urged everyone else to do the same.If I were the paranoid type I might believe that the whole story had been planted by anti-chip campaigners or by chip shop owners bent on stopping people from making their own chips at home.
According to Nottingham police, 80 percent of all house fires are started by oil catching fire on unattended stovetops. So the message is clear: Never fill your chip pan more than a third full of oil; don’t leave it unattended on a lit stove and never ever throw water on an oil fire as it will cause the hot oil to literally explode into a fireball which is, needless to remind you, very dangerous.****
Next week: My trip to Bergen, Norway, and my visit with fellow blogger Charles of Bend It Like a Banana.