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2010 News round-up, profiles, quotes: Troubled times

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2010 was a tough one overall. Public discontent with governments and economic policy brought people out on the streets to protest. US wars, occupation and threat of war in the Middle East and Asia were never far from the headlines. Elections around the world led  in most cases to further tensions. There were few outright winners and many more losers, with most developments a mixed bag.



Europe


An unlikely coalition of Britain’s Conservatives and Social Democrats ended 13 years of Labour rule — Britain’s first coalition government since WWII, when the wartime unity government was led by Winston Churchill with Labour in tow. The Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg is now Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron’s deputy, replacing Gordon Brown and his New Labour, which would have been a better ideological fit for the Lib Dems. The 43-year-old Cameron calls for a “compassionate Conservatism” but his drastic reductions in social spending have caused students to riot. The Lib Dems are hoping to survive this deadly embrace to achieve their Holy Grail, a referendum on proportional representation after five long years. A new Labour leader Edward Miliband hinted that Labour will move away from Blair’s neoliberalism.

The Greeks, Irish and Europe’s Muslims suffered setbacks. The aftershocks of the US financial meltdown of 2008-09 gave a battering to Euro “pompous pride as the centre of human rights, giver of moral lessons to the world” as the northern Europeans turned against their southern PIGS (Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain), with Ireland the latest casualty (making it the PIIGS), a chilling throwback to Orwell’s Animal Farm. Greece was portrayed as the Aesopian carefree life of the cricket to the Germans’ ant, who grudgingly coughed up billions of euros to satisfy the bankers threatening to bankrupt the Euro-farm and set off a euro-domino.
But bankers’ ledgers show the entire Western world is in hock to them (what exactly does that mean?), and each country will soon face its own day of reckoning. The only European country that survived the bankers’ attack was Iceland, not a member of the EU, and hence able to devalue its krona and tell the bankers to go to hell.
A joint IMF-ILO report warns, “The Great Recession has left gaping wounds. High and long-lasting unemployment represents a risk to the stability of existing democracies.” The Independent’s Sean O’Grady predicts such actions “promise to be just the start of the greatest demonstration of public unrest seen on the continent since the revolutionary fervour of 1968.”
Political shifts are happening — the German socialists, Die Linke, vie with the Social Democrats for second place, as Germans rediscover the truths of their 19th century oracle Karl Marx. Even in Latvia, the coalition of socialists (the party of the Russian Latvians) and social democrats became the second largest political force in October elections.
Euro-Muslims were humiliated when France and Belgium outlawed the niqab, and Switzerland passed laws forbidding the building of minarets and requiring deportation of any immigrants caught without the proper documents or otherwise incarcerated.

Eurasia


Presidential elections in January-February in Ukraine brought an end to the Orange Revolution. Relations with Russia are on the mend. The two countries are much closer than, say, the US and Canada — a playful opinion poll showed that a clear majority of Ukrainians would have elected Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as president if he had run. Russia was assured use of the Black Sea naval base at Sevastopol till 2042, in exchange for a reduction in gas fees.
Russian President Dmitri Medvedev signed economic deals with Syria and Turkey. Russia will upgrade the former Soviet naval base in Tartus, which along with the Ukrainian naval bases will give Russia a much higher profile in the region. Turkey will get gas and oil pipelines and a nuclear power station. Ukraine, Syria, Turkey — these rapid developments are a renewal of Soviet foreign policy, albeit in a very different form. But there is much discontent simmering below the surface of United Russian rule, with “A Just Russia” showing new pluck, and racist demonstrations and hooliganism making the headlines.

While pundits talk about Taliban successes (less about US successes), these words ring hollow, as the daily death count continues to surge in AfPak. No one talks about Pakistani successes, though the Pakistan military is raking in billions of dollars worth of deadly arms and has the benefit of hundreds of US advisers on how to kill more rebels more efficiently. 2010 heard lots of words about negotiations with the resurgent Taliban, but the most hoped for breakthrough with a Taliban negotiator turned into a farce when the individual identified as Taliban No 2 Mullah Akhtar Mohamed Mansour was exposed as a simple shopkeeper from Quetta, Pakistan.
The NATO forces numbering 150,000 proceeded with their offensives in Marja and Kandahar. NATO deaths topped 700 and Afghan army deaths 800. The latest innovation is the hiring of local private armies run by warlords such as Matiullah Khan, an illiterate former highway patrol commander, now the head of a private army that guards NATO supply convoys. Matiullahs are sprouting up “like grass”, fertilised by huge cash payments from the Americans, loose cannons undermining the local governments which NATO is supposedly trying to strengthen, spreading violence and chaos when thwarted. These mercenaries kill people who refuse to use their “security services”, bribe the Taliban to allow safe passage, enlist them to do their dirty work, and, like the president’s brother Ahmed Karzai, are involved in the opium trade. “We’re funding both sides of the war,” a NATO official said glumly.

China also had a checkered year, with its economy continuing to outperform the rest of the world, but now held hostage to the US financially, with the US demanding that China revalue its yuan to cut off, say $0.5 trillion from its $2 trillion IOU. To press the point, the US held multiple military exercises with China’s neighbours in the Yellow and South China seas, insisting that no place in off-bounds for the US military, ratcheting up the level of tensions as it surrounds China geopolitically and financially. A newly belligerent South Korea came close to war with its northern cousins with its provocative military “exercises” in disputed waters off the northern coast. The US responded — with more military exercises.
Obama claims he is the first US president with an “Asia-Pacific orientation”. Watch out when Washington “orients” itself towards you. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Hawaii early this year that the future of America is closely linked to the Asian Pacific. Watch out when you are “linked” to America.

South America


Brazil’s new President-elect Dilma Rousseff and US bete noire Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez confirmed their path of some kind of socialism in elections, and Ecuador’s socialist President Rafael Correa survived a coup attempt which had all the old marks of US-backed security forces discontent (this time by the police, with loyal army troops coming to Correa’s rescue). Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Bolivia recognised Palestine as a sovereign state with the pre-1967 borders, with Paraguay soon to follow suit.

United States


In the US mid-term elections, Republicans gained a 237-198 majority in the House, and six seats in the Senate, giving them 47 to the Democrats’ 53 in the Senate. This was a clear repudiation of Obama’s Bush-lite presidency. By failing to find a way to undo Bush’s policies, and introducing a healthcare policy that mostly benefits corporate insurance providers, the enthusiasm Obama gave rise to, gave way to an extreme rightwing Tea Party movement reaction which has elected more Bush-like politicians than ever. Two Tea Partiers that stand out from their nutty colleagues are the new Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky and his father long-time Congressman Ron Paul of Texas, Libertarians who want a quick exit of US troops from their various occupations. Paul senior is chair of the Financial Services Subcommittee on Domestic Monetary Policy and Technology and will keep up his campaign to “End the Fed!”


But the real problem is more Congress — 73 per cent disapproved of Congress and only 49 per cent of the job Obama is doing as president. Obama has nothing to lose now by sticking to his principles. He can still rally Americans by pushing ahead with arms control (which he did as the year came to a close, nursing START through a reluctant Senate) and climate change measures, carrying through on his vow to end the war in Afghanistan next year, pressuring Israel to abide by international norms, thereby showing the Washington beltway cabal for what it is.


World


The big story — downplayed in mainstream media — is the new journalism. WikiLeaks captivated the world of journalism by exposing 3/4 of a million government secrets during the year, starting with Iraq and Afghanistan in the summer and ending with 250,000 US diplomatic notes (1966-2009) in November, revealing a US diplomatic world increasingly acting as a branch of the CIA, and the cynicism of both Western and Arab regimes anxious to destroy Iran.
The leaks have been hailed as a blow to US criminal activity by people around the world, including Congressman Ron Paul and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who called for Assange to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Hillary Clinton called them “an attack on America’s foreign-policy interests” and “the international community”. Cyber guerrillas — hacktivists — launched Operation Avenge Assange targeting credit card firms and servers companies which joined the US campaign against Assange, jamming sites by bombarding them with data requests.

The world environment continues to be besieged by human activity. The tragic earthquake and floods of Haiti were compounded by deforestation and overpopulation, making both the poor and mother nature the biggest losers of 2010. The much-heralded UN Climate Change Conference in Cancun was a slight improvement on the disaster at Copenhagen last year. All countries, including the US and China, agreed to voluntary emission limits for the first time, and to abide by international standards to measure their carbon footprint. $100 billion per year will go into a Green Climate Fund starting in 2020 to help poor countries adapt to climate change


Profiles


Julian Assange is nothing short of a legend after a year of leaks. The 39-year-old Assange is an Australian citizen, described by colleagues as charismatic, driven and highly intelligent, with an exceptional ability to crack computer codes. He gave himself up on 7 December to Scotland Yard and will face trial and extradition to Sweden, accused of rape in trumped-up cases involving consensual relations, one an obvious “honey trap” by a CIA plant and the other a spurned Lewinsky-like groupie. He began WikiLeaks in 2006 as a “dead-letterbox” for would-be leakers. His collective developed a Robin Hood guerrilla lifestyle, moving communications and people from country to country to make use of laws protecting freedom of speech. Co-founder Daniel Schmitt describes Assange as “one of the few people who really care about positive reform in this world to a level where you’re willing to do something radical”.


US prosecutors are building a case of espionage against Assange, putting him in league with another exposer of US military secrets, Jonathan Pollard, who unlike Assange did not black out sensitive names and expose the secrets to broad daylight. Instead, he sold the secrets to Israel, a dozen CIA agents lost their lives in the Soviet Union. In contrast, the legendary Daniel Ellsberg, leaker of the Pentagon Papers in 1971, like Assange, gave himself up and faced the music. A sympathetic judge dismissed all charges against him in 1973. Sadly, opinion polls today show a majority of Americans captive to the current culture of official secrecy, disapproving of WikiLeaks. Will Assange suffer a fate like Pollard or Ellsberg?


Humam Khalil Al-Balawi, a 32-year-old Jordanian doctor, killed himself, seven CIA agents and a Jordanian intelligence officer in Khost, Afghanistan in what has been described as the biggest operation against the CIA since the 1983 attack on the US Marines base in Beirut. The attack blew the cover of Jordan’s clandestine cooperation with the CIA in Afghanistan. Sharif Ali Bin Zaid, a member of the royal Hashemite’s extended family, was the Jordanian among the dead, and was given a royal funeral by King Abdullah II as a martyr killed in the line of duty during his “humanitarian service” in Afghanistan.

George W Bush — The ex-US president unveiled his memoirs Decision Points, a pastiche of Internet quotes and bits and pieces of others’ thoughts, an embarrassing cut-and-paste job by a ghost writer, with nothing new, except for a tiny bombshell, when he insisted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak gave him the green light to invade Iraq. The real story is the Egyptians warned him against invading, that if indeed Saddam Hussein had WMDs, he wouldn’t hesitate to use them on US invaders. One shudders to realise the world actually survived eight years of the hard-of-hearing, scatter-brain Bush at the world’s helm.

Richard Holbrooke (24 April 1941-13 December 2010), the empire’s fixer in tough spots, surely holds the Guinness Book of Records for the number of hats he wore: diplomat (to Germany and the UN), Peace Corps director (in Morocco), managing director of Lehman Brothers, assistant secretary of state (twice). He led the effort to enlarge NATO and “resolved” the Balkans crisis with the Dayton Peace Accords in 1995 (by lying to both Slobodan Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic about their fates and the fate of Serbia). Another achievement was to get the UN to slash US membership dues in 2000 despite a booming American economy.
He may actually have done some good at least once in his long, shadowy career, by using his extensive contacts to collect corporate donations for the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, expanding it to include malaria and tuberculosis in 2006. However, he will always be linked with Indonesia and the last of Suharto’s many brutal counterinsurgency campaigns in 1977 in which tens of thousands of East Timorese were killed, even as he was visiting Suharto, praising him for his human rights record and facilitating the flow of weapons to Indonesia.
His final months were spent as Obama’s special envoy to AfPak, where his diplomatic and business skills failed him, ignored and dismissed as an out-of-the-loop has-been.

David Petraeus was 2010’s wunderkind, parachuting in to command US troops in Afghanistan after the summary firing of Stanley McChrystal (see “2010 Famous Last Words”). The myth is that he transformed a chaotic Iraq into a stable US ally by quelling the Sunni insurgency against the US-led occupation and ending civil war in Baghdad and central Iraq between Sunni and Shia Arabs. But the reality was to buy off Sunnis for a while and to preside over the ethnic cleansing of the areas of conflict. Afghans now fear he is going to reproduce this recipe for civil war in their country at the head of Obama’s surges in Marja, Kandahar and the north. GOPers see him as the Republican’s rising star as presidential contender in 2012, though it’s hard to imagine that he will have much to his credit by then for all his efforts to win hearts and minds in Afghanistan.

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and his US counterpart Barack Obama made headlines in 2010 as the bright young things — respectively 45 and 49 years old — changing the deteriorating face of Russian-US relations. Barack’s reset button was pressed, Dmitri opened the door, gave his new friend START, missile defence, sanctions on Iran and cancellation of its promised (truly) defensive missiles.
But Obama is being forced by events in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Israel to come to terms with reality, returning to what was traditionally known as realpolitik, in Russian, so to speak, detente. His new friend Dmitri is making other realpolitik friends in Europe, courting Sarkozy and Merkel with plans for closer integration, a visa-free regime and a new Euro-Russian security agreement — minus the US and NATO.

Meanwhile, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his better half, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, met for the umpteenth time in November to announce ambitious trade and development plans linking China’s economic dynamo with Russia’s vast spaces and abundant resources in Siberia, all to be conducted without US dollars. Eurasianist Putin and Atlantist Medvedev are putting on their Euro-Sino life jackets as the USS Titanic sinks in Afghanistan. Just as Napoleon and Hitler were destroyed by overstretch, so NATO and the US itself are living on borrowed time (and increasingly meaningless US dollars). Despite the inertia of the Bush legacy, the world is rediscovering traditional balance-of-power international relations. The Putin/Medvedev policy is to patiently push ahead with a European project, restructuring the economy along European lines, all the while maintaining an independent military force, using groupings like BRIC, the SCO and CSTO.


Famous Last Words


*If you want to kill the president, here he is. Kill him, if you want to. Kill him if you are brave enough. Ecuador President Raphael Correa


*From a historical perspective, the US has continuously found enemies and waged wars. Without enemies the US cannot hold the will of the whole nation. Chinese Air Force Colonel Dai Xu


*US gunboat diplomacy: If you do not obey me, I will flex my muscles first. Then, if you do not behave better, I will teach you a lesson with my fists. Luo Yuan


*This is a message to the enemies of the umma (nation), to the Jordanian intelligence and the CIA. Humam Khalil Al-Balawi on video


*This is not Falluja. US commander in Afghanistan Stanley McChrystal about the campaign in Marja, shortly before he was fired in disgrace for other such cracks, such as ...
*Are you asking about Vice President Biden? Who’s that? Did you say: Bite me? quoted in Rolling Stone magazine


*Afghanistan is the heart of darkness, one British commander quipped to his troops as they went into battle in Marja. US Marines clear all regions of Taliban in their campaigns in Marja and Kandahar, calling it mowing the grass.


*Cut the head off the snake. Saudi King Abdullah WikiLeaked a US official, urging the US to attack Iran.


*We have changed governance, we have certainly changed many political figures within governments, we have caused new law reform efforts, we have caused police investigations into the abuses we expose, UN investigations, investigations here in the UK, especially in relation to our revelation of the circumstances of the deaths of 109,000 people in Iraq. We are also changing the perception of the West. Julian Assange


*Websites that are bowing down to government pressure have become targets. We feel that WikiLeaks has become more than just about leaking of documents, it has become a war ground, the people vs the government. hacktivist Anonymous

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Canadian Eric Walberg is known worldwide as a journalist specializing in the Middle East, Central Asia and Russia. A graduate of University of Toronto and Cambridge in economics, he has been writing on East-West relations since the 1980s.

He has lived in both the Soviet Union and Russia, and then Uzbekistan, as a UN adviser, writer, translator and lecturer. Presently a writer for the foremost Cairo newspaper, Al Ahram, he is also a regular contributor to Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, Global Research, Al-Jazeerah and Turkish Weekly, and is a commentator on Voice of the Cape radio.

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