• All governments lie, but disaster lies in wait for countries whose officials smoke the same hashish they give out.

  • I.F. Stone

zaterdag 5 januari 2013

The Neoliberal Religion 60


Secret and Lies of the Bailout

The federal rescue of Wall Street didn’t fix the economy – it created a permanent bailout state based on a Ponzi-like confidence scheme. And the worst may be yet to come

January 4, 2013 4:25 PM ET
national affairs secrets of the bailout taibbi
Illustration by Victor Juhasz
It has been four long winters since the federal government, in the hulking, shaven-skulled, Alien Nation-esque form of then-Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, committed $700 billion in taxpayer money to rescue Wall Street from its own chicanery and greed. To listen to the bankers and their allies in Washington tell it, you'd think the bailout was the best thing to hit the American economy since the invention of the assembly line. Not only did it prevent another Great Depression, we've been told, but the money has all been paid back, and the government even made a profit. No harm, no foul – right?
Wrong.
It was all a lie – one of the biggest and most elaborate falsehoods ever sold to the American people. We were told that the taxpayer was stepping in – only temporarily, mind you – to prop up the economy and save the world from financial catastrophe. What we actually ended up doing was the exact opposite: committing American taxpayers to permanent, blind support of an ungovernable, unregulatable, hyperconcentrated new financial system that exacerbates the greed and inequality that caused the crash, and forces Wall Street banks like Goldman Sachs and Citigroup to increase risk rather than reduce it. The result is one of those deals where one wrong decision early on blossoms into a lush nightmare of unintended consequences. We thought we were just letting a friend crash at the house for a few days; we ended up with a family of hillbillies who moved in forever, sleeping nine to a bed and building a meth lab on the front lawn.
But the most appalling part is the lying. The public has been lied to so shamelessly and so often in the course of the past four years that the failure to tell the truth to the general populace has become a kind of baked-in, official feature of the financial rescue. Money wasn't the only thing the government gave Wall Street – it also conferred the right to hide the truth from the rest of us. And it was all done in the name of helping regular people and creating jobs. "It is," says former bailout Inspector General Neil Barofsky, "the ultimate bait-and-switch."
The bailout deceptions came early, late and in between. There were lies told in the first moments of their inception, and others still being told four years later. The lies, in fact, were the most important mechanisms of the bailout. The only reason investors haven't run screaming from an obviously corrupt financial marketplace is because the government has gone to such extraordinary lengths to sell the narrative that the problems of 2008 have been fixed. Investors may not actually believe the lie, but they are impressed by how totally committed the government has been, from the very beginning, to selling it.
THEY LIED TO PASS THE BAILOUT
Today what few remember about the bailouts is that we had to approve them. It wasn't like Paulson could just go out and unilaterally commit trillions of public dollars to rescue Goldman Sachs and Citigroup from their own stupidity and bad management (although the government ended up doing just that, later on). Much as with a declaration of war, a similarly extreme and expensive commitment of public resources, Paulson needed at least a film of congressional approval. And much like the Iraq War resolution, which was only secured after George W. Bush ludicrously warned that Saddam was planning to send drones to spray poison over New York City, the bailouts were pushed through Congress with a series of threats and promises that ranged from the merely ridiculous to the outright deceptive. At one meeting to discuss the original bailout bill – at 11 a.m. on September 18th, 2008 – Paulson actually told members of Congress that $5.5 trillion in wealth would disappear by 2 p.m. that day unless the government took immediate action, and that the world economy would collapse "within 24 hours."
To be fair, Paulson started out by trying to tell the truth in his own ham-headed, narcissistic way. His first TARP proposal was a three-page absurdity pulled straight from a Beavis and Butt-Head episode – it was basically Paulson saying, "Can you, like, give me some money?" Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio, remembers a call with Paulson and Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke. "We need $700 billion," they told Brown, "and we need it in three days." What's more, the plan stipulated, Paulson could spend the money however he pleased, without review "by any court of law or any administrative agency."
The White House and leaders of both parties actually agreed to this preposterous document, but it died in the House when 95 Democrats lined up against it. For an all-too-rare moment during the Bush administration, something resembling sanity prevailed in Washington.
So Paulson came up with a more convincing lie. On paper, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 was simple: Treasury would buy $700 billion of troubled mortgages from the banks and then modify them to help struggling homeowners. Section 109 of the act, in fact, specifically empowered the Treasury secretary to "facilitate loan modifications to prevent avoidable foreclosures." With that promise on the table, wary Democrats finally approved the bailout on October 3rd, 2008. "That provision," says Barofsky, "is what got the bill passed."
But within days of passage, the Fed and the Treasury unilaterally decided to abandon the planned purchase of toxic assets in favor of direct injections of billions in cash into companies like Goldman and Citigroup. Overnight, Section 109 was unceremoniously ditched, and what was pitched as a bailout of both banks and homeowners instantly became a bank-only operation – marking the first in a long series of moves in which bailout officials either casually ignored or openly defied their own promises with regard to TARP.
Congress was furious. "We've been lied to," fumed Rep. David Scott, a Democrat from Georgia. Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Democrat from Maryland, raged at transparently douchey TARP administrator (and Goldman banker) Neel Kashkari, calling him a "chump" for the banks. And the anger was bipartisan: Republican senators David Vitter of Louisiana and James Inhofe of Oklahoma were so mad about the unilateral changes and lack of oversight that they sponsored a bill in January 2009 to cancel the remaining $350 billion of TARP.
So what did bailout officials do? They put together a proposal full of even bigger deceptions to get it past Congress a second time. That process began almost exactly four years ago – on January 12th and 15th, 2009 – when Larry Summers, the senior economic adviser to President-elect Barack Obama, sent a pair of letters to Congress. The pudgy, stubby­fingered former World Bank economist, who had been forced out as Harvard president for suggesting that women lack a natural aptitude for math and science, begged legislators to reject Vitter's bill and leave TARP alone.
In the letters, Summers laid out a five-point plan in which the bailout was pitched as a kind of giant populist program to help ordinary Americans. Obama, Summers vowed, would use the money to stimulate bank lending to put people back to work. He even went so far as to say that banks would be denied funding unless they agreed to "increase lending above baseline levels." He promised that "tough and transparent conditions" would be imposed on bailout recipients, who would not be allowed to use bailout funds toward "enriching shareholders or executives." As in the original TARP bill, he pledged that bailout money would be used to aid homeowners in foreclosure. And lastly, he promised that the bailouts would be temporary – with a "plan for exit of government intervention" implemented "as quickly as possible."
The reassurances worked. Once again, TARP survived in Congress – and once again, the bailouts were greenlighted with the aid of Democrats who fell for the old "it'll help ordinary people" sales pitch. "I feel like they've given me a lot of commitment on the housing front," explained Sen. Mark Begich, a Democrat from Alaska.
But in the end, almost nothing Summers promised actually materialized. A small slice of TARP was earmarked for foreclosure relief, but the resultant aid programs for homeowners turned out to be riddled with problems, for the perfectly logical reason that none of the bailout's architects gave a shit about them. They were drawn up practically overnight and rushed out the door for purely political reasons – to trick Congress into handing over tons of instant cash for Wall Street, with no strings attached. "Without those assurances, the level of opposition would have remained the same," says Rep. Raúl Grijalva, a leading progressive who voted against TARP. The promise of housing aid, in particular, turned out to be a "paper tiger."
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'Deskundigen' 74


De Amerikaanse soft power is dan ook, hoewel aangetast, nog altijd sterk aanwezig. En daarmee bedoel ik niet alleen de affiniteit die miljarden wereldburgers koesteren met de Amerikaanse muziek, literatuur en andere culturele uitingen, en ook niet enkel de aantrekkingskracht van de Amerikaanse consumptiemaatschappij. Soft power is, in de kern, de overtuigingskracht van een staat, de kracht om het debat naar zich toe te trekken, om de agenda van de wereldpolitiek te bepalen.
Geert Mak. Pagina’s 522 en 523. Reizen zonder John.

Nu de werkelijkheid. Beperk ik me tot Mak zelf dan blijkt uit de literatuurlijst van zijn reisboek dat het  tegenvalt wat betreft zijn ‘affiniteit‘ met ‘de Amerikaanse… literatuur.’ Er staan opmerkelijk weinig Amerikaanse literaire werken in vermeld. En wat betreft zijn bewering dat ‘miljarden wereldburgers’ ‘affiniteit…voelen’ met ‘de Amerikaanse… literatuur,’ ook dat is in al zijn stelligheid een onjuiste bewering, al was het maar omdat de helft van de ‘wereldbewoners’ van rond de twee dollar per dag ieder moet zien te overleven en dus geen geld voor Amerikaanse literatuur heeft, en dat degenen die er wel geld voor hebben in een beeldcultuur leven waar sprake is van ‘ontlezing.’ Daarentegen zien ‘miljarden wereldburgers’ wel de melige Amerikaanse soaps en platte televisieseries met veel geweld, maar juist die vermeldt Mak niet. Zonder overdrijving kan men stellen dat ‘de echte doorsnee Amerikaan,’ waar Mak het over heeft, opgroeit met geweld. De volgende feiten:

The average American watches more than 4 hours of TV each day (or 28 hours/week, or 2 months of nonstop TV-watching per year). In a 65-year life, that person will have spent 9 years glued to the tube.
Number of murders seen on TV by the time an average child finishes elementary school: 8,000
Number of violent acts seen on TV by age 18: 200,000
Percentage of Americans who believe TV violence helps precipitate real life mayhem: 79
Number of 30-second TV commercials seen in a year by an average child: 20,000
Number of TV commercials seen by the average person by age 65: 2 million
Percentage of survey participants (1993) who said that TV commercials
aimed at children make them too materialistic: 92

Eveneens zonder overdrijven kan men stellen dat de ‘de echte doorsnee Amerikaan’ is gehersenspoeld zodra hij de adolescentie heeft bereikt, want de reclame verkoopt niet in de eerste plaats een product maar een illusie, een mens- en wereldbeeld, een model hoe de consument zich dient te gedragen, net zoals het zogeheten amusement dit doet, van soaps tot politieseries. Vandaar dat ook presidenten en oorlogen via dezelfde reclametechnieken worden verkocht, met kleine, inhoudsloze, vaak onderling tegenstrijdige soundbites. Daarom voelde Reagan zich als een vis in het water. De oud-filmster kon met evenveel gemak verklaren dat het zijn ‘highest priority’ was ‘to deter and prevent’ een nucleaire oorlog, als het met flair voeren van een campagne voor de extreem rechtse Barry Goldwater die pleitte voor ‘defoliation of the forests [in Vietnam] by low-yield atomic weapons.’ En dat natuurlijk met ‘God On Our Side’ en ‘God Bless America.’ Wat dat betreft handelde ook George Bush junior in een traditie toen hij op 30  januari 2002 tijdens zijn eerste State of the Union Address het Congres en het Amerikaanse volk liet weten dat ‘God is near,’ en dat er weliswaar sprake was van ‘our nation’s grand story’ maar dat ‘We are not this story’s author, who fills time and eternity with his purpose… And the angel still rides in the whirlwind and directs this storm.’  Dit geloof is zo diep geworteld dat ‘de echte doosnee Amerikaan’ deze doctrine klakkeloos aanneemt en ook niet verbaast opkeek toen Bush junior het volgende opmerkte over de speciale ‘missie’ die hun land zou hebben:

+ The Inaugural Address, January 20, 2001
After the Declaration of Independence was signed, Virginia statesman John Page wrote to Thomas Jefferson: 'We know the race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong. Do you not think an angel rides in the whirlwind and directs this storm?' This work continues. This story goes on.
+ Speech to Joint Session of Congress and theCountry, September 20, 2001.
The course of this conflict is not known, yet its outcome is certain. Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at war, and we know that God is not neutral between them.
 + President's Remarks to the Nation, September 11, 2002
We cannot know all that lies ahead. Yet, we do know that God had placed us together in this moment, to grieve together, to stand together, to serve each other and our country. And the duty we have been given -- defending America and our freedom -- is also a privilege we share.
+ The State of the Union Address, January 28, 2003
As our nation moves troops and builds alliances to make our world safer, we must also remember our calling as a blessed country is to make this world better.
+ State of the Union Address, January 20, 2004
America is a nation with a mission, and that mission comes from our most basic beliefs. We have no desire to dominate, no ambitions of empire. Our aim is a democratic peace -- a peace founded upon the dignity and rights of every man and woman. America acts in this cause with friends and allies at our side, yet we understand our special calling: This great republic will lead the cause of freedom.

Toen hij door zijn partij voor de tweede maal werd voorgedragen als presidenteskandidaat verklaarde Bush junior dat ‘America is called to lead the cause of freedom’ omdat vrijheid ‘is the Almightry God’s gift to every man and women in the world,’ en bovendien bezat de VS ‘a calling from beyond the stars to stand for freedom,’ een boodschap die met intstemming werd ontvangen. Net als zijn voorgangers was Bush er van doordrongen dat ‘We’ve been called to a unique role in human events.’ En de illegale meedogenloze bezetting van Irak werd verdedigd met de bewering dat ‘The advance of freedom is calling our time… It is the calling of our country.’ Het messianisme is nooit verdwenen, het is de basis waarop het militair industrieel complex rust en de Amerikaanse buitenlandse politiek zo onevenwichtig en gevaarlijk maakt. The Chosen Peoples:

George W. Bush might have been original in the extravagance of his certitude, in the extremity of his doctrine, and in the clumsiness of his articulation of it – not to mention his execution – but he was not original in the general contours of his idea of America’s divinely inspired passion. America was founded with a messianic mission it can neither free itself from nor comfortably settle into. Sometimes the mission has been construed as divinely granted; sometimes it has been framed as a secular myth; sometimes it has dangled in ideological space, without definite provenance. Sometimes it has emphasized freedom, sometimes prosperity. But the power of the idea throughout all its variants may be measured by its endurance – a tribute to its success in binding together a nation of disparate origins, unrepentant individualism, and clashing ideals. The mission’s partisans and antagonists alike have agreed that only forward momentum in some common direction could keep the disparate elements from flying apart in centrifugal motion. For much of American history, that common direction has been outward – into the wilderness, against enemies.
Het Amerikaans messianisme dient inderdaad als de rechtvaardiging van het expansionisme, het veiligstellen van markten en een greep houden op de noodzakelijke grondstoffen daarvoor. In The Tragedy of American Diplomacy eindigde de grote Amerikaanse historicus William Appleman Williams in 1972 met de volgende conclusie:

After fifty years of the Open Door Policy, twenty five years of the Good Neighbor Policy, and more than a decade of a crusade against communism, conditions throughout most of the free world did not verify either the assumptions, arguments, or promises of the policy of the open door.

Dat gebrek leidt er toe dat een Nederlandse opiniemaker die doorgaat voor ‘Amerika-deskundige’ vandaag de dag nog het volgende kan beweren:

Amerika [zal] in de loop van deze eeuw van een dominante wereldmacht weer het ‘gewone’ land moeten worden dat het tot 1940 was.
Geert Mak in Vrij Nederland van 3 november 2012.

Ondanks al zijn stelligheid kent Mak, getuige onder andere het bovenstaande citaat, de werkelijkheid niet zoals die beschreven wordt door breed georienteerde Amerikaanse wetenschappers als William Aplleman Williams:

On the one hand, the United States relies, in its own thinking as well in practice upon a great imbalance in its economic relations with poorer and weaker countries to achieve that standard of living. Even then, moreover, there are great extremes of wealth and power within American society. And, on the other hand, American foreign policy has not produced either the kind or the degree of military security that policy-makers have asserted to be desirable and necessary. The basic question raised by these failures is not, as so often asserted, one of how to implement the existing policy more efficiently, but is instead whether or not the policy can – because of its inherent nature – ever produce its avowed objectives. The evidence indicates it cannot.
The Open Door Policy has failed because, while it has built an American empire, it has not initiated and sustained the balanced and equitable development of the areas into which America expanded. When it increased the gross national product of an area, for example, it did so under conditions which immediately removed much of the added wealth… Little of what remained was invested in the development of the political economy, let alone distributed among the population. Finally, the basic change that occurred over the period of American penetration was an intensification of the tensions and conflicts within the other society.

De ‘Open Door Policy,’ die tegenwoordig ‘het globalisme’ wordt genoemd of de politiek van de zogeheten ‘vrije markt,’ voert William Appleman Williams tot de conclusie dat

It is time to stop defining trade as the control of markets for our surplus products and control of raw materials for our factories. It is time to stop depending so narrowly – in our thinking as well as in our practice – upon an informal empire for our wellbeing and welfare.
It is time to ask ourselves if we are really so unimaginative that we have to have a frontier in the form of an informal empire in order to have democracy and prosperity at home. It is time to say that we can make American society function even better on the basis of equitable relationships with other people.
It is time to stop defining trade as a weapon against other people with whom we have disagreements. It is time to start thinking of trade as a means to moderate and alleviate those tensions – and to improve the life of the other people.
It is time to stop trying to expand our exports on the grounds that such a campaign will make foreigners foot the bill for our military security. It is time instead to concern  ourselves with a concerted effort to halt and then cancel the armaments race.

Dit advies werd veertig jaar geleden geschreven door een vooraanstaande Amerikaanse intellectueel. We merken vandaag de dag hoe profetisch zijn woorden waren en hoe simplistisch het is te denken dat een eenvoudige terugkeer naar het ‘gewone’ land… dat het tot 1940” zou zijn geweest. een oplossing zal bieden. De westerse mainstream gaat ervan uit dat de wereld volledig maakbaar is en dat een historisch gegroeide cultuur als het consumentisme op relatief korte termijn te veranderen is. Nog afgezien van het feit dat de gevestigde orde alles zal doen om een dergeljke omslag mogelijk te maken, begrijpen naieve opiniemakers als Mak niet hoe ingrijpend en langdurig een dergelijke omschakeling vooral psychologisch en cultureel zal zijn. Een beschaving verzint niet in een handomdraai een nieuwe mythe, een nieuwe zingeving, een nieuwe orde. Bovendien zal er allereerst een fundamentele kritiek in de publieke discussie mogelijk moeten zijn, en kritiek wordt nu juist in elk totailitair systeem, en dus ook in het consumentistische cultuur, onmiddellijk gemarginaliseerd. In het geval van de VS zouden de inwoners van dat imperium zich moeten realiseren dat hun eeuwenoude expansionisme en daarmee de vernietiging van de indianen en alle anderen die in de weg staan de rode draad in hun geschiedenis is. Het Amerikaanse volk zou eerst moeten beseffen wie het werkelijk is. William Appleman Williams:

Having structured a creative response to the issue of democracy and prosperity at home, the United States could again devote a greater share of its attention an energy to the world scene. Its revamped foreign policy would be geared to helping other peoples achieve their own aspirations in their own way. The essence of such a foreign policy would be an open door for revolutions. Having come to terms with themselves – having achieved maturity – Americans could exhibit the self-discipline necessary to let other peoples come to terms with themselves. Having realized that ‘self-righteousness is the hallmark of inner guilt,’ Americans would no longer find it necessary to embark upon crusades to save others.
Zolang Amerikaanse presidenten als Obama blijven denken ‘that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace,’ terwijl onder zijn eerste termijn als president de militaire uitgaven bleven toenemen is niet te verwachten dat er iets wezenlijks zal veranderen aan het superioriteitsgevoel van de Amerikaanse elite.

Al in 1966 uitte senator William Fulbright, de langst zittende voorzitter van de Senate Foreign Relations Committee scherpe kritiek op het Amerikaanse gewelddadig streven naar hegemonie in de wereld door op te merken dat ‘we cannot face up to this arrogant sense of our own superiority, this assumption that it is our God-given role to be the dominmant power in the world.’ Verwijzend naar het almaar uitdijend militair industrieel complex waar president Eisenhower vijf jaar eerder al voor had gewaarschuwd constateerde Fulbright dat ‘violence had become the nation’s leading industry.’ Hij drong erop aan de Amerikaanse rethoriek over ‘a city on the hill,’ en ‘beacon light,’ en ‘the self-evident truths of man’ achterwege te laten omdat ze alleen getuigen van ‘a superiority complex.’  Vergeefs, zoals we nu weten. De dynamiek van dit systeem was te krachtig geworden om te beheersen en om een nieuwe koers mogelijk te maken. Het was en is slechts een enkeling in de Amerikaanse politiek die ’Verlichtingsidealen’ in de praktijk nastreeft. Meer daarover maandag.
Overall military spending by major category such as procurement (purchasing), construction and major equipment.  

vrijdag 4 januari 2013

Noam Chomsky 64

Noam Chomsky: The Gravest Threat to World Peace

Friday, 04 January 2013 09:05By Noam Chomsky, Truthout | Op-Ed
Benjamin Netanyahu.Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds up a diagram displaying Iran's nuclear weapon as he addresses the United Nations General Assembly, September 27, 2012. (Photo: Chang W. Lee / The New York Times)Reporting on the final U.S. presidential campaign debate, on foreign policy, The Wall Street Journal observed that "the only country mentioned more (than Israel) was Iran, which is seen by most nations in the Middle East as the gravest security threat to the region."
The two candidates agreed that a nuclear Iran is the gravest threat to the region, if not the world, as Romney explicitly maintained, reiterating a conventional view.
On Israel, the candidates vied in declaring their devotion to it, but Israeli officials were nevertheless unsatisfied. They had "hoped for more 'aggressive' language from Mr. Romney," according to the reporters. It was not enough that Romney demanded that Iran not be permitted to "reach a point of nuclear capability."
Arabs were dissatisfied too, because Arab fears about Iran were "debated through the lens of Israeli security instead of the region's," while Arab concerns were largely ignored – again the conventional treatment.
The Journal article, like countless others on Iran, leaves critical questions unanswered, among them: Who exactly sees Iran as the gravest security threat? And what do Arabs (and most of the world) think can be done about the threat, whatever they take it to be?
The first question is easily answered. The "Iranian threat" is overwhelmingly a Western obsession, shared by Arab dictators, though not Arab populations.
As numerous polls have shown, although citizens of Arab countries generally dislike Iran, they do not regard it as a very serious threat. Rather, they perceive the threat to be Israel and the United States; and many, sometimes considerable majorities, regard Iranian nuclear weapons as a counter to these threats.
In high places in the U.S., some concur with the Arab populations' perception, among them Gen. Lee Butler, former head of the Strategic Command. In 1998 he said, "It is dangerous in the extreme that in the cauldron of animosities that we call the Middle East," one nation, Israel, should have a powerful nuclear weapons arsenal, which "inspires other nations to do so."
Still more dangerous is the nuclear-deterrent strategy of which Butler was a leading designer for many years. Such a strategy, he wrote in 2002, is "a formula for unmitigated catastrophe," and he called on the United States and other nuclear powers to accept their commitment under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to make "good faith" efforts to eliminate the plague of nuclear weapons.
Nations have a legal obligation to pursue such efforts seriously, the World Court ruled in 1996: "There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control." In 2002, George W. Bush's administration declared that the United States is not bound by the obligation.
A large majority of the world appears to share Arab views on the Iranian threat. The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) has vigorously supported Iran's right to enrich uranium, most recently at its summit meeting in Tehran last August.
India, the most populous member of the NAM, has found ways to evade the onerous U.S. financial sanctions on Iran. Plans are proceeding to link Iran's Chabahar port, refurbished with Indian assistance, to Central Asia through Afghanistan. Trade relations are also reported to be increasing. Were it not for strong U.S. pressures, these natural relations would probably improve substantially.
China, which has observer status at the NAM, is doing much the same. China is expanding development projects westward, including initiatives to reconstitute the old Silk Road from China to Europe. A high-speed rail line connects China to Kazakhstan and beyond. The line will presumably reach Turkmenistan, with its rich energy resources, and will probably link with Iran and extend to Turkey and Europe.
China has also taken over the major Gwadar port in Pakistan, enabling it to obtain oil from the Middle East while avoiding the Hormuz and Malacca straits, which are clogged with traffic and U.S.-controlled. The Pakistani press reports that "Crude oil imports from Iran, the Arab Gulf states and Africa could be transported overland to northwest China through the port."
At its Tehran summit in August, the NAM reiterated the long-standing proposal to mitigate or end the threat of nuclear weapons in the Middle East by establishing a zone free of weapons of mass destruction. Moves in that direction are clearly the most straightforward and least onerous way to overcome the threats. They are supported by almost the entire world.
A fine opportunity to carry such measures forward arose last month, when an international conference was planned on the matter in Helsinki.
A conference did take place, but not the one that was planned. Only nongovernmental organizations participated in the alternate conference, hosted by the Peace Union of Finland. The planned international conference was canceled by Washington in November, shortly after Iran agreed to attend.
The Obama administration's official reason was "political turmoil in the region and Iran's defiant stance on nonproliferation," the Associated Press reported, along with lack of consensus "on how to approach the conference." That reason is the approved reference to the fact that the region's only nuclear power, Israel, refused to attend, calling the request to do so "coercion."
Apparently, the Obama administration is keeping to its earlier position that "conditions are not right unless all members of the region participate." The United States will not allow measures to place Israel's nuclear facilities under international inspection. Nor will the U.S. release information on "the nature and scope of Israeli nuclear facilities and activities."
The Kuwait news agency immediately reported that "the Arab group of states and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) member states agreed to continue lobbying for a conference on establishing a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction."
Last month, the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution calling on Israel to join the NPT, 174-6. Voting no was the usual contingent: Israel, the United States, Canada, Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau.
A few days later, the United States carried out a nuclear weapons test, again banning international inspectors from the test site in Nevada. Iran protested, as did the mayor of Hiroshima and some Japanese peace groups.
Establishment of a nuclear weapons-free zone of course requires the cooperation of the nuclear powers: In the Middle East, that would include the United States and Israel, which refuse. The same is true elsewhere. Such zones in Africa and the Pacific await implementation because the U.S. insists on maintaining and upgrading nuclear weapons bases on islands it controls.
As the NGO meeting convened in Helsinki, a dinner took place in New York under the auspices of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, an offshoot of the Israeli lobby.
According to an enthusiastic report on the "gala" in the Israeli press, Dennis Ross, Elliott Abrams and other "former top advisers to Obama and Bush" assured the audience that "the president will strike (Iran) next year if diplomacy doesn't succeed" – a most attractive holiday gift.
Americans can hardly be aware of how diplomacy has once again failed, for a simple reason: Virtually nothing is reported in the United States about the fate of the most obvious way to address "the gravest threat" – Establish a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East.