Tag Archives: USA

Argo Fuck Yourself – Quando il cinema si fa storia prima che la storia si faccia cinema

Ciò che di Argo convince meno è la scelta del regista di costruire una narrazione che cede alla facile tentazione di allineamento dello spettatore con il punto di vista dell’agente CIA e dei sei rifugiati americani, soggiacendo al manicheismo nazionalista americano, per il quale i rivoluzionari iraniani vengono effettivamente percepiti come i nemici, o per lo meno gli antagonisti della storia.

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[dropcap]L’[/dropcap]ottantacinquesima edizione degli Academy Awards che ha visto tra i protagonisti assoluti film fortemente improntati al patriottismo, come gli storici Les Miserables e Lincoln, il controverso war movie contemporaneo Zero Dark Thirty ed il thriller drammatico Argo, è terminata con la solenne ed inedita premiazione di quest’ultimo, per opera della first lady statunitense, Michelle Obama, che, direttamente dalla Casa Bianca, ha annunciato il trionfo del film di Affleck.

Argo è un singolare thriller drammatico di ambientazione storica che narra la rocambolesca missione architettata dall’agente CIA Tony Mendez, interpretato nel film da un solitario e malinconico Ben Affleck, per salvare sei ostaggi americani in Iran. Il film è tratto da una vicenda storica realmente accaduta nel 1979, quando in seguito ad un assalto dei militanti iraniani all’ambasciata americana di Teheran, sei funzionari statunitensi si sono messi in salvo, trovando segretamente rifugio presso la residenza dell’ambasciatore canadese.

La causa della rivolta è l’asilo offerto dal governo USA allo Scià Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, responsabile delle sofferenze del popolo iraniano e uomo di condotta riprovevole.

È proprio l’atteggiamento di connivenza e di protezione verso lo Scià, recatosi a New York nel 1979 per curare un cancro, il motivo scatenante della rivolta dei rivoluzionari iraniani e la conseguente crisi degli ostaggi, che ha coinvolto ben cinquantadue membri della diplomazia americana dal 4 novembre 1979 al 20 gennaio 1981.

Questo rappresenta il punto di partenza per il film di Affleck che decide di introdurre lo spettatore, sin dalle prime battute, in un universo diegetico strettamente attinente al dominio del reale, mediante una ricostruzione storica fedele ed accurata, con la volontà di portare alla luce un avvenimento importante e poco noto, concernente il passato recente degli Stati Uniti.

Per tali ragioni il film apre con una voce fuori campo introduttiva, estranea ai protagonisti della vicenda, che ripercorre brevemente, con l’ausilio visivo dello storyboard, intervallato da immagini d’archivio e fotografie, le vicissitudini politiche del popolo iraniano, che sin dalle origini dell’impero persiano, ha vissuto per oltre duemila anni sotto il dominio monarchico degli Scià. Nel 1950, con le elezioni del primo leader democratico Mohammad Mosaddegh, gli iraniani ottengono la nazionalizzazione delle proprie riserve petrolifere, in precedenza controllate da Gran Bretagna e Stati Uniti. Proprio questo cambiamento spinge nel 1953 il governo britannico e quello statunitense ad organizzare un colpo di stato per deporre Mosaddegh e portare al potere lo Scià Reza Pahlavi, del quale il film traccia un profilo di uomo corrotto e di sovrano sanguinario e repressivo, reo di voler occidentalizzare l’Iran e di far vivere la popolazione in situazione di povertà e miseria estrema.

Nel 1979 il gruppo di rivoluzionari depone lo Scià che tuttavia riesce a trovare asilo negli Stati Uniti, scatenando la rabbia e l’indignazione dei militanti di Teheran, che ne richiedevano la pubblica impiccagione.

Il prologo, seguendo un registro di carattere documentaristico, si propone di riportare con chiarezza e terzietà il background storico politico dal quale si sviluppa poi il plot narrativo della pellicola, ascrivendo inequivocabilmente e senza alcuna giustificazione le gravissime colpe statunitensi e britanniche verso il popolo iraniano, alimentate da spietate logiche economiche.

Se il primo blocco filmico presenta una splendida ricostruzione dell’assalto all’ambasciata americana di Teheran, nella seconda parte la narrazione si focalizza sull’ideazione e preparazione di uno stravagante piano per il recupero dei sei ostaggi da parte dell’agente CIA Tony Mendez. Questo, scartate tutte le possibili coperture tradizionali per i fuggitivi, decide di porre al vaglio del ministero per la cultura iraniano il progetto per la realizzazione di un film fantascientifico intitolato Argo: uno Star Wars da ambientare nel deserto iraniano, tratto da una sceneggiatura già redatta, ed acquistata da Mendez sotto le false spoglie di produttore cinematografico. L’espediente del film offre la possibilità di trasformare i sei funzionari americani in membri della troupe, ottenendo quindi il permesso di lasciare il Paese. La complessa idea dell’esperto CIA richiede, per garantire un’assoluta credibilità, la collaborazione di reali professionisti dello star system, per cui Mendez si affida al celebre make-up artist John Chambers (personaggio reale) ed all’eccentrico produttore Lester Siegel (personaggio di finzione).

Le peripezie che conducono alla pre-produzione di questo fake-movie conferiscono al film di Affleck una venatura comica, che si allontana dal cinéma véritè della prima parte, spostando l’attenzione dello spettatore sull’allestimento del difficilissimo piano di salvataggio.

Il segmento finale della pellicola mette in scena l’attuazione della pericolosa e difficile operazione, grazie alla tenacia ed all’intuito di Mendez ed al prezioso aiuto dell’ambasciatore canadese e della sua governante iraniana. Il film cambia ancora una volta registro, poiché il regista sceglie di rinunciare alla verosimiglianza iniziale e sbilanciarsi verso la finzione narrativa, realizzando la spettacolare sequenza dell’inseguimento in aeroporto, pregna di suspense e tensione emotiva, caratteristiche dello stilema del thriller, ma lontana dalla realtà dei fatti.

A Ben Affleck va attribuito il grande merito di aver portato in scena una storia sensazionale realmente accaduta, muovendosi con grande padronanza tra generi e linguaggi cinematografici differenti, preservando una difficile solidità della narrazione, senza rinunciare alla spettacolarità e all’emotività del cinema hollywoodiano.

Ciò che di Argo convince meno è invece la scelta del regista di costruire una narrazione che, seppur dopo una dura constatazione critica della posizione statunitense in esordio di pellicola, cede alla facile tentazione di allineamento dello spettatore con il punto di vista dell’agente CIA e dei sei rifugiati americani, soggiacendo al manicheismo nazionalista americano, per il quale i rivoluzionari iraniani vengono effettivamente percepiti come i nemici, o per lo meno gli antagonisti della storia.

Anche la scelta di attribuire alla persona di Mendez la quasi totalità dei meriti dell’operazione, in una classica rappresentazione cinematografica dell’eroe hollywoodiano, mina alla premessa di verosimiglianza storica, poiché omette o non rileva adeguatamente il grande ruolo del governo canadese per la riuscita della missione, a tal punto da suscitare le polemiche dello stesso ambasciatore Ken Taylor per il ridimensionamento del suo ruolo, spingendo il regista a modificare il postscript in seguito alla prima proiezione ufficiale.

Argo, per quanto un film stilisticamente ineccepibile e sicuramente tra i migliori dell’anno, si dimostra però politicamente meno coraggioso ed interrogatorio rispetto ad una pellicola come Zero Dark Thirty boicottata dall’Academy e fortemente criticata dai media statunitensi, poiché a differenza del film della Bigelow, afferisce ad un contesto storico-politico di responsabilità ormai temporalmente distanti e distinte.

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Photo Credit: Desmond Kavanagh

 

Hillary Clinton, per Newsweek la donna americana più potente di sempre

Hillary Rodham Clinton: un ritratto della donna più potente nella storia della politica statunitense.

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[dropcap]S[/dropcap]econdo i sondaggi Gallup, Hillary Rodham Clinton è stata la donna più ammirata del mondo negli ultimi undici anni mentre, per la rivista Forbes, solo Angela Merkel sarebbe più potente e influente a livello globale. Semi-sconosciuta prima della campagna elettorale del 1992, Hillary Rodham Clinton- che non ha mai voluto abbandonare il proprio cognome da nubile- ha ben presto mostrato il suo temperamento deciso e l’intenzione di voler giocare un ruolo attivo nella presidenza del marito. Preceduta da personalità femminili illustri quali Eleanor Roosevelt e Rosalynn Carter, Hillary Clinton ha messo a frutto l’eredità ricevuta, cercando di superare i limiti già raggiunti da altre donne prima di lei.

Sin dal suo ingresso sulla scena mondiale, la Clinton è stata considerata portavoce delle donne della generazione del baby boom degli anni ’50, impersonando il modello di donna in carriera, impeccabile, attenta alla famiglia, ma contraria alle convenzioni tradizionali. Tralasciando gli anni alla Casa Bianca come first lady, che richiederebbero uno spazio ben più ampio per essere trattati esaurientemente, la Clinton ha iniziato autonomamente la propria carriera politica come Senatrice dello Stato di New York dal 2001 fino al 2009, quando Barack Obama la nominò segretario di Stato. Nel 2008 i due democratici si erano contesi la candidatura per le presidenziali, rappresentando così due delle principali minoranze del popolo statunitense, le donne e gli afroamericani. Quando, nel 2009, Obama le assegnò il ruolo di segretario di Stato, la Clinton era la terza donna, dopo Madeleine Albright e Condoleeza Rice, ad assumere questo incarico all’interno dell’establishment statunitense. Nonostante non fosse stata la prima a ricoprire quella carica, senza dubbio il suo mandato ha rappresentato un momentum notevole sia all’interno della sua carriera personale che per la carica in sé.

Nel suo ultimo discorso come segretario di Stato, Hillary Clinton ha riassunto in pochi punti le politiche centrali nella gestione del Dipartimento di Stato: in primo piano l’uso dei mass media e dei social network come strumento di smart power, ovvero come mezzo per aggirare il controllo e il dispotismo dei governi e dei regimi lì dove i movimenti di liberazione nazionali e democratici agiscono spesso in tal modo; in secondo luogo l’uso delle politiche tradizionali per portare avanti le politiche di non proliferazione; successivamente l’uso della diplomazia economica che associa i finanziamenti e i programmi per favorire gli scambi economici e commerciali con i paesi del Terzo Mondo, all’idea che l’economia e la politica siano strettamente interconnesse e che quindi entrambe abbiano un ruolo determinante sull’assetto geopolitico mondiale. Questi tre aspetti rappresentano in modo chiaro il nuovo approccio che la diplomazia statunitense ha cercato di adottare durante questo quadriennio: una politica estera versatile, paragonata dal segretario di Stato ad uno stile architettonico moderno, il quale utilizza un mix di materiali e linee architettoniche variegate per rispondere alle esigenze di un’epoca storica contrassegnata da molteplici sfide.

Se il cambiamento qualitativo non fosse sufficiente, la Clinton ha raggiunto anche un record quantitativo, a seguito del numero di Paesi visitati nell’arco degli ultimi quattro anni: con 112 capitali, l’ex segretario di Stato ha superato persino Madeleine Albright, che ne aveva visitate solamente 96. Anche in questo aspetto, la Clinton ha voluto esplicitamente dar prova di un cambiamento, visitando non solo i principali alleati, ma anche quei Paesi strategicamente meno rilevanti per il governo statunitense.

Nei suoi innumerevoli spostamenti, le esperienze più toccanti sono senza dubbio arrivate dalla visita ad Aung San Suu Kyi in Birmania, in un’occasione che vide combaciare l’interesse diplomatico di dimostrare vicinanza agli oppositori dei governi autocratici con l’attivismo dell’ex first-lady per i diritti delle donne. Un interesse, questo, dichiarato apertamente fin dai suoi primi anni alla Casa Bianca, quando la Clinton annunciò che i diritti umani potevano essere tali solo se intesi, prima di tutto, in quanto diritti delle donne. Tra le ultime iniziative a favore di una maggior rappresentanza politica femminile, è spiccata l’istituzione di Melanne Verveer alla carica di Ambasciatrice generale per le questioni di genere nel mondo.

Tuttavia, se da un lato la conduzione del Dipartimento di Stato da parte della Clinton ha vantato un approccio innovativo, il chiaro supporto alle democrazie e un rinnovato attivismo a favore delle donne, dall’altro permangono ancora degli aspetti opachi che è necessario considerare più approfonditamente. Ad esempio, a causa della scarsa esperienza del Presidente Obama in materia di politica estera e la sua incapacità di mantenere una linea decisionale ferma e coerente, il Dipartimento di Stato ha giocato un ruolo molto marginale rispetto a quello cui avrebbe potuto aspirare, e che aveva raggiunto in periodi precedenti. Inoltre, l’incarico di segretario di Stato ha allontanato la Clinton dal dibattito e dalle questioni di politica interna, lasciando libera la scena all’attuale first lady, Michelle Obama. Fra le altre, proprio quest’ultima potrebbe essere quella figura femminile sufficientemente influente in grado di contendere alla Clinton il titolo di donna più potente nella storia della politica americana: banalmente, se si considerano i followers su Twitter, l’attuale first lady è seguita da oltre 3 milioni di utenti, contro i soli 73 mila del segretario di Stato uscente, per non parlare della popolarità che stanno conferendo a Michelle Obama le apparizioni pubbliche in spettacoli televisivi e in eventi mondani, non da ultimo la consegna del premio per il miglior film nella notte degli Oscar.

Ironia della sorte, è precisamente di un dream ticket Clinton-Obama (Hillary e Michelle, stavolta) che si inizia a ipotizzare (e forse sperare) tra i media americani, che evidenziano enfaticamente il contributo e l’impatto causato dalle due first ladies sul popolo americano. La Clinton, che a fine mandato era apparsa piuttosto cauta riguardo alle prossime elezioni, ha da poco rilasciato una dichiarazione in favore dei matrimoni gay –un’inversione di tendenza rispetto alle sue precedenti posizioni– che potrebbe rivelarsi il primo passo per ingraziarsi l’elettorato under30 in vista della campagna presidenziale per il 2016. Tuttavia, a prescindere dalle sue scelte future, l’ex segretario di Stato ha già lasciato un segno indelebile nella storia politica americana.

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Photo Credit: PanARMENIAN_Photo

 

Terrorismo? Quale terrorismo? Come la comunicazione aggrava il problema della definizione

Perché è così difficile definire il terrorismo?

{Dipartimento di Studi Strategici (War Studies), King’s College London}

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[dropcap]T[/dropcap]rovare una definizione per la parola ‘terrorismo’ è di certo uno dei rompicapi più impegnativi dell’epoca moderna. Tale fenomeno si manifesta all’interno di un complesso mosaico di problematiche che influiscono sul breve tempo che si ha a disposizione per poterlo valutare. Sebbene sia diventato elemento cruciale della maggior parte delle agende politiche già all’indomani dell’11 Settembre, ancora non vi è un consenso unanime circa la sua definizione. Per citare un esempio, nel secondo dibattito presidenziale Mitt Romney ha criticato aspramente il presidente Obama per non aver definito l’attacco all’Ambasciata degli Stati Uniti a Bengasi un attentato terroristico, cosa che il Presidente in carica ha fatto solo due settimane dopo lo stesso.  In maniera simile, il leader libico ad interim ha definito la vicenda come un atto di violenza criminale. I politici prima, e i media poi, si sono dimostrati riluttanti, imprecisi e vaghi nel voler far rientrare questi avvenimenti sotto l’etichetta di atti di natura terrorista. Il presente saggio presenterà dunque una parte di quello che è il dibattito intorno al problema della definizione, sebbene alcune questioni saranno omesse. Tuttavia poiché il terrorismo è strettamente collegato a motivazioni di carattere politico e a ragioni retoriche, che vanno di pari passo con l’evoluzione della comunicazione moderna, è comprensibile la difficoltà nel trovare una definizione univoca al concetto.

Alcune definizioni

Il primo passo da compiere è capire perché è così importante fornire una definizione del termine. A partire dall’11 Settembre, la parola ‘terrorismo’ è entrata a far parte sempre di più del lessico della società moderna, tanto da rievocare nell’immaginario collettivo immagini alquanto violente, di sacrificio e catastrofe. Sappiamo tuttavia comprendere ciò che è davvero il terrorismo? Molti accademici e professionisti si cimentano costantemente nella ricerca di una definizione e, allo stesso tempo, rifiutano quelle già esistenti. Walter Laqueur, che è forse il più illustre della categoria, sostiene che una definizione “non esiste e non la si troverà in un prossimo futuro.” Allo stesso modo, Jeremy Waldon e George Fletcher, in opere separate, riconoscono che ci sono troppe domande ma non risposte sufficienti. Entrambi sembrano lontani da una reale definizione e credono piuttosto che il miglior modo per capire cosa sia il terrorismo sia quello di assistere a una delle sue manifestazioni.

Anche l’Ambasciatore britannico alle Nazioni Unite pare essere sulla stessa linea d’onda. In un discorso successivo all’11 Settembre ha evitato di darne una definizione affermando, “ci dobbiamo concentrare su questo concetto: il terrorismo è il terrorismo … ciò che appare, puzza e uccide come il terrorismo è solo terrorismo.” Tuttavia, se il terrorismo viene considerato come una questione transnazionale, e non all’interno di un paradigma Stato-centrico, sostenere che ogni attacco terroristico presenti determinate caratteristiche che sono sempre evidenti, non solo è banale, ma va a discapito di ogni tentativo di progettare una strategia antiterrorista vincente.  Se, dunque, il terrorismo è una questione globale che interessa diversi Paesi, la sua definizione è di vitale importanza per capirlo e, infine, combatterlo.

È opportuno pensare che la lotta al terrorismo necessiti di una definizione, per quanto sia un’impresa molto ardua. Alex Schmid, il cui pensiero è diventato una pietra miliare all’interno del dibattito definitorio, ha posto l’accento sui “metodi derivati dall’ansia” che sono inflitti alle vittime “generalmente scelte… (bersagli di opportunità).” Un particolare interessante è che egli annovera gli attori statali all’interno della sua definizione e quindi aumenta la necessità di una classificazione in quanto non separa chi o che cosa commette gli atti di natura terrorista. In una risposta diretta a Schmid, Weinberg non include elementi di carattere psicologico all’interno della sua definizione ma pone bensì la politica come ragione principale dietro la strategia terroristica. Allo stesso modo Bruce Hoffman sostiene l’importanza delle motivazioni di carattere politico e le considera lo strumento principale per comprendere il modus operandi dei terroristi. Tuttavia, motivare che un gruppo terrorista agisca esclusivamente per ragioni politiche chiarisce solo un aspetto della questione, così come se si ignorano le motivazioni religiose o ideologiche l’ambito di analisi ne risulterà limitato. John Horgan si allontana dall’idea di Weinberg, mettendo l’accento sull’uso psicologico del ‘terrore’ che, nelle sue parole, “rivela una parte del mistero” nella comprensione del terrorismo.

 L’uso del terrore è di vitale importanza per valutare un attacco perché, come sostiene John Mueller, rompe il codice morale penale rispettato da quasi tutte le popolazioni. Pertanto, la comprensione delle potenziali tattiche e dei target individuati non solo aiuta a polarizzare attori statali e non-statali, ma permette anche una migliore comprensione dei potenziali obiettivi di un gruppo. Non vi può essere una definizione univoca ed esclusiva, ed è appropriato sostenere che il dibattito accademico aggiunge maggiore incertezza alla definizione di terrorismo. In ogni caso, se proprio si volesse utilizzare un singolo concetto esplicativo di terrorismo, questo includerebbe inevitabilmente una serie di parametri che siano in grado di valutare l’attività terroristica.

L’uso improprio del termine ‘terrorismo’

L’ambiguità del mondo accademico su come interpretare le manifestazioni del terrorismo, contribuisce a lasciare irrisolto il problema concettuale. Generalmente, il modo in cui gli attori politici e personalità influenti utilizzano tale termine, ha una valenza molto più ampia, che distoglie dal vero significato e dall’uso del sostantivo ‘terrorismo’. All’interno della sua opera provocatoria, ‘Intrappolati in una Guerra al Terrore’, Ian Lustick affronta l’argomento  ponendo l’accento su come il terrorismo è diventato il fondamento cruciale della politica di Bush. I discorsi pregni di sentimenti patriottici che rimandavano a nostalgiche emozioni di guerra, hanno aiutato a legittimare le decisioni politiche dell’ex Presidente, e a fuorviare la percezione della gente da ciò che effettivamente è il terrorismo. Si trova riscontro di quanto detto negli svariati errori commessi dall’amministrazione Bush nel tentativo di combattere una ‘guerra al terrore’.

Altrettanta confusione è riscontrata nel momento in cui il terrorismo è analizzato, o quando un attacco pare enucleare tutte ‘le caratteristiche e le sensazioni (suscitate da un atto) di terrorismo’: è in questo momento che si ricorre al termine per eludere la mancanza di consenso unanime sulla natura di un atto così violento. Le semplificazioni imposte a livello governativo sono inesorabilmente e ulteriormente aggravate dall’uso sistematico di un “allarmismo apocalittico”, in cui viene impiegata una soffocante varietà di  tattiche intimidatorie – in particolar modo negli Stati Uniti. Ad esempio, la politica concernente la Homeland Security (attività di sicurezza interna contro il terrorismo, NdT) non solo descrive solo la minaccia di terroristi in possesso di armi CBRN, ma anche la loro capacità di utilizzare queste stesse armi “da casa all’estero”. Dichiarazioni imprecise e approssimative sembrano celare altre motivazioni. Fred Kaplan ha sostenuto sulle pagine del The Guardian che “le politiche messe in atto riscuotono il massimo sostegno se sono legate alla guerra al terrorismo”. Di conseguenza, se si adopera il terrorismo in correlazione ad altri argomenti di natura politica, al fine di acquisire il sostegno dell’opinione pubblica, un problema di ordine metodologico sorge inevitabilmente: è possibile separare la realtà dalla finzione ed essere finalmente in grado di fornire una definizione precisa dell’oggetto in questione?

Il ruolo esclusivo della comunicazione

La manipolazione interpretativa dei governi sulla natura del terrorismo è aggravata dallo sviluppo di fenomeni legati alla globalizzazione e al conseguente sviluppo tecnologico che, parafrasando Manuel Castells, ha creato un “nuovo spazio di comunicazione” nei centri di potere. La diffusione di alcune idee politiche presso popolazioni e territori precedentemente estranei e geograficamente distanti, e le accresciute possibilità di comunicazione tra le comunità emigrate con la propria madrepatria, ha creato una complessa dicotomia bollata da Sir Richards come “rete globale di rivendicazioni.” La rapida crescita della tecnologia e l’esplosione dei social media hanno trasformato pareri e opinioni in uno spazio informativo virtuale. Questo permette alle persone di muoversi “rapidamente e senza fili” all’interno di un mondo virtuale. David Betz ha correttamente definito questo fenomeno come il Web 2.0, in cui tutti i vettori della società interagiscono simultaneamente e, di conseguenza, il pubblico non ricopre più il ruolo di spettatore passivo ma rappresenta invece la componente attiva del mondo dell’informazione.

Le tecnologie moderne hanno dunque fornito una potentissima piattaforma per attuare una comunicazione orizzontale attraverso un arcipelago di confini nazionali e internazionali. Se il messaggio è incorretto o fuorviante può scatenare conseguenze imprevedibili, dal momento che fornisce informazioni errate ad un’intera comunità. A tal proposito, i messaggi politici stanno diventando sempre più messaggi mediatici e hanno l’immediata capacità di influenzare tutti i campi della società. D’altro canto, la tecnologia moderna permette ai cittadini la possibilità non solo di eludere i controlli statali tradizionali, ma anche di trasmettere informazioni false. Questo è ben noto all’interno della relazione sulla tecnologia del Generale David Richards nella quale sostiene che la comunicazione moderna “si situa ben oltre la capacità dello Stato di esercitare il proprio controllo senza minacciare tutte le altre funzioni di quello stesso Stato.” Ciò nonostante, tale affermazione è vera in entrambi i sensi e pertanto i governi sono in grado di esercitare un certo grado di autonomia nell’uso dei processi mediatici moderni. Pertanto, come sostiene David Kilcullen, i fini e i mezzi che conducono allo sviluppo di fonti d’informazione si caratterizzano per una scarsa trasparenza che rende molto difficile distinguere l’origine o l’affidabilità delle fonti stesse.

Difatti, un messaggio del governo diventa immediatamente l’input per l’elaborazione dei messaggi da parte dei media, e il relativo output ricopre un ruolo cruciale nel plasmarne la definizione. Se anche il terrorismo è sottoposto a questi filtri di comunicazione, va da sé che il risultato sarà un caleidoscopico insieme di definizioni. Tali definizioni, a loro volta, vengono poi servite all’opinione pubblica, ai leader e ai soliti stereotipi sulla politica estera. A tale proposito John Horgan sostiene che per analizzare il terrorismo nel suo insieme di definizioni è necessario discostarsi dai media. Tuttavia, ottenere un tale distacco appare molto difficile poiché i governi sono i primi attori che sempre più spesso ricorrono ad un utilizzo del termine in un contesto erroneo, con i media pronti ad associarlo a questioni di carattere politico.

Conclusioni

Questo questo saggio ha preso in considerazione una varietà di fonti ma non ha proposto in alcun modo una conclusione esaustiva sul dibattito concernente il problema della definizione. Si è voluto porre l’accento sul ruolo del governo statunitense per via del suo compito esclusivo nella lotta al terrorismo, in quanto le indagini portate avanti in altri Paesi avrebbero potuto generare conclusioni molto diverse. Ad ogni modo, la cattiva informazione imposta dai governi potrebbe riferirsi ad ambiti diversi della vita di tutti i giorni, e le conseguenze della stessa sono ulteriormente aggravate dalle modalità della comunicazione moderna. In ultima analisi, questo rende ancor più arduo il tentativo di fornire una definizione precisa di terrorismo.

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Saggio tradotto da: Valentina Mecca

Articolo originale: Terrorism is Terrorism? How Communication Exacerbates the Definitional Problem

Photo Credit: bixentro

Hezbollah: A History of the “Party of God”

Hezbollah: A History of the “Party of God” is an exceptional dispassionate analysis of Hezbollah’s early and later years, and should be required reading for anyone interested in the organization or Lebanese history.

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Hezbollah: A History of the “Party of God”
Harvard University Press
ISBN 978-0-674-06651-9
Pages: 244

Hezbollah is a movement full of contradictions operating in a country that challenges mainstream Western perceptions of the Middle East. This is the group which has an acute awareness of new media and propaganda, creating a video game and museum surrounding the 2006 war with Israel along with agreeing to play paintball with a group Western journalists and researchers in 2011. The group has also been a suspected actor in attacks on Western targets, most notably the bus bombing in Bulgaria last July, an event which has resulted in recent pressure from Israel and the US for the group to be added to the EU’s designated terrorist list. The group has also been on the US State Department’s Foreign Terrorist Organizations list since 1997.

One of the first things done in Dominique Avon and Anaïs-Trissa Khatchadourains’ book, Hezbollah: A History of the “Party of God”, is to state that they will be writing clearly about the organization. This means avoiding terms like ‘terrorism’ or ‘terrorist’. For the authors engaging in the debate about what these terms mean (if anything), in an academic context, is neither useful or necessary.The authors brilliantly expose the contractions demonstrated by Hezbollah, summed up in this passage:

When the battles are few, the gap grows between the daily practice of its sympathizers and its discourse. That presents a Cornelian dilemma: the Hezbollah cannot call for an Islamic regime, which would run the risk of losing it allies and some its followers; it also cannot declare that such is not is long-term objective, since that would run the risk of acknowledging that the Islamic Republic of Iran did no inaugurate an era of “God’s government on earth” and that its fundamental structure is not superior to a liberal state, one that is pluralist to varying degrees.

The text is full of nuanced sections such as this. Presenting a fair, accurate, and compelling analysis of the Hezbollah. This is a welcome departure from the information typicallly disseminated by governments and journalists on the organization. The core question explored is how does an organization balance its revolutionary rhetoric with its responsibilities as a member of government.

One critique is of the book’s format. Part I includes 90 or so pages of Hezbollah history in three chapters from 1982-2009. Then the book shifts to 60 plus pages of reproducing Hezbollah documents in English, including the organization’s Political Charter of 2009 and the Open Letter of 1985. The authors then return to their own analysis for a concluding chapter. This is a difficult transition for the reader, from historical analysis, to primary sources, and then back to analysis. One wonders why the authors did not make their argument using quotes from primary sources in a narrative and then provide the primary sources in their entirety in an appendix.

Despite their odd placement, having a solid English translation of these documents in English is an extremely useful resource for the casual reader and researcher alike. In addition to primary source documents the authors have also included a lexicon, which is exceptional at demystifying terms that new researchers to the topic might not know (Adū) and  clarifying the meaning of terms readers may think that they know (Jihād). Two useful maps are located in the back of the text, including one showing the ethno-religious geography of Lebanon and the layout of Beirut. The text also includes a portraits section, detailing significant biographical information on the organization’s key actors. However the most useful supplementary material is the Organizational Chart of the Hezbollah detailing the political, social, and military wings of the party.

Despite its brevity (under 120 pages when not including the translated primary sources) the book feels quite dense. Some of this may be due to the fact that it was written in French and then translated to English by Jane Marie Todd. Practically his means that the text is a bit of a slog to get through, this is further exacerbated by the confusing shift to primary documents and then back to narrative discussed above. Despite these shortcomings, the book is an exceptional dispassionate analysis of Hezbollah’s early and later years and should be required reading for anyone interested in the organization or Lebanese history.

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Photo Credit:  upyernoz

Mali: Intervention, Invasion, and Invention

Broadly, it may be that intervention is a limited and fundamentally flawed approach, but to say that some invented Western Empire marches on Africa to secure its dominance is to simplify a complex internal crisis, and to ignore the appeals of the Malian government for help.

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Mali Islamist Militants

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Ten years since the West’s intervention in Iraq and in the midst of a new French and British presence in Mali, it is right to emphasise that failing to appreciate the complexities of any international conflict is always costly. Deciding whether or not to commit to military intervention requires extensive deliberation and patience. Whatever one decides, there must be no doubt as to the seriousness of the implications, no question as to the responsibilities assumed as a consequence. Interventionists are often urged to keep these warnings in mind before they choose to support a foreign military conflict, but it should be remembered that this counsel must also apply to those opposed to intervention.

Not long after the French intervention in Mali, a number of voices on the left denounced what they saw as a provocative invitation to Islamist violence and a failure to learn from the West’s intervention in Iraq ten years ago. However, it is arguably these voices that appear to be repeating past mistakes. Opposition to the Iraq War, while vociferous, never received the scrutiny and interrogation it truly deserved, and since it so frequently characterised itself solely in terms of what it was against, it is crucial to keep in mind what the anti-war movement was for.

Broadly speaking, we can infer that many of those opposed to the Iraq war would have preferred the continuation of Saddam Hussein’s rule over Western intervention. There was little and remains little to suggest that his regime could have been toppled from within the country, and in any case, this was not a hope articulated by some within the anti-war movement at the time. In particular, we should note that George Galloway, one of the most prominent members of the Stop the War Coalition, openly praised the dictator and the operations of insurgent forces in Iraq. The Stop the War Coalition’s erroneous unease around efforts to thwart fascism in Iraq and elsewhere have been disappointing, but by failing to offer a credible approach to the tangible dangers of the Islamist influence in Mali, some are perpetuating the notion that to be anti-war is to abdicate responsibility for the consequences of non-intervention. The impact of intervention is important and deserves continuous scrutiny, because this impact is severe and often bloody, but the potentially destructive impact of inaction in the face of the dangers present in Mali are not receiving the attention they deserve.

It would be in error to say that alternatives to intervention do not exist. Here at The Risky Shift, Alex Clackson has identified a number of suggestions, including the provision of development aid and increased support for domestic governments. However, a deeper misunderstanding often characterises opposition to intervention. There is a tendency among many, particularly on the left to locate intervention by the West in general and, in the case of Mali, France and Britain in particular, in a neo-imperialistic/colonialist narrative. Journalist John Pilger has gone so far as to say that ‘A full-scale invasion of Africa is under way,’ which he compares to the Scramble for Africa of the nineteenth century. This is a limited and ultimately ahistorical view of the kind of Western intervention we have seen in the region.

The sovereignty of Mali is not under threat from ‘the West’ but from several Islamist groups including Ansar Dine and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), both of which demand the imposition of Islamic law throughout the country. It is also worth noting that it was Mali’s interim president Dioncounda Traore who requested military aid from France in January of this year to counter these groups. Broadly, it may be that intervention is a limited and fundamentally flawed approach, but to say that some invented Western Empire marches on Africa to secure its dominance is to simplify a complex internal crisis, and to ignore the appeals of the Malian government for help.

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Photo Credit: Magharebia

Time For Palestine To Join The Arab Spring

Palestinians must decide whether they want to continue living in dire conditions under a brutal Israeli regime or take the plunge, join the Arab Spring and strive for the opportunity to achieve justice and freedom for themselves.

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As uprisings continue to sweep the Arab region, from the North African country of Tunisia all the way to Syria and Bahrain, it is rather astonishing that the Palestinians have not jumped on the bandwagon and joined the Arab Spring movement. After all, it would have been a timely opportunity to join the momentum of those revolutions that continue to strike the region in hope of achieving freedom from brutality. It would have also put the Western nations in a difficult situation. Western Europe, together with the United States, has been very supportive (at least in rhetoric) of the Arab Spring, playing a crucial role in overthrowing Gaddafi and continuing to be an important player in the Syrian civil war. It is well known, however, that the West-especially the United States-shows undeniable support towards Israel. This was witnessed during the last Israeli attacks on Gaza when the United States blamed the Palestinians for the conflict. For this reason, a Palestinian uprising would put the United States in a peculiar position. Could America really continue to show full support to the Syrian rebels and Egyptian civilians, who are once again demonstrating on the streets against their current leader Morsi, yet deny the Palestinians the opportunity to protest against the many grievances: Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the ghetto-like Wall that separates Gaza from the rest of humanity, the illegal settlements, the unfair treatment of Palestinians living in Israel, the shootings of Palestinian children on the Gaza border, the lack of food and clean water due to the Israeli blockade and against the constant threat that Israel will strike again any minute. While western nations are notoriously known for their hypocritical stance when it comes to their foreign policy in the Middle East (which usually reflects their own national interests), the denial of the Palestinian right to rise up against Israel would set in stone what the majority already fear: the West’s lack of concern for human rights of others.

Though the Arab Spring started in 2011, the uprisings are still in full swing and therefore it is not late for Palestine to join the movement. It would be essential for the Palestinians to carry out a peaceful protest (i.e. no rockets from Hamas and no killings of Israelis), but nevertheless a protest that sends out a clear message that they will not back down until some progress is made. This would deny Israel their usual defence: that Palestine is an aggressive region and poses a threat to Israeli national security. This protest should not be about borders, or about a potential creation of the Palestinian state, but about a simple desire to be treated like human beings rather than caged animals. The majority of the international community already support the Palestinians. Not only has Palestine been granted the status of an observer non-member state at the UN, but the reports by the United Nations continue to condemn and criticise the inhumane actions of Israel. If Israel were to retaliate with violence and force against a peaceful uprising by the Palestinians, the Jewish state would risk more alienation from the international community and more disapproval from the general public around the world. A nation cannot continue to survive with a long queue of enemies.

In 2011, the Arab populations took the leap of faith. Many knew that their uprisings could lead to brutal response from their dictators. Some were aware that perhaps they would not survive to see the end of authoritarianism in the Middle East. Yet as the saying goes, when you have nothing, you got nothing to lose. The Palestinians have suffered to the point of near-total submission. However they must use the inspiration from their fellow Arabs who made the decision that enough is enough. Emiliano Zapata, a leading figure in the Mexican Revolution against the dictatorship in 1910 said that “it’s better to die upon your feet than to live upon your knees”. The Palestinians must now make the choice between whether they want to continue living in dire conditions under a brutal Israeli regime or take the plunge, join the Arab Spring and strive for the opportunity to achieve justice and freedom for themselves.

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Photo Credit: Joi

The Falklands: Logistics Of A Former Empire

The majority of the UK’s history has revolved around its naval resources and the ability to engage anywhere in the world. The march of technology as well as the lack of air support limits the actions that the UK can participate in for the foreseeable future.

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HMS Ark Royal

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It has been over a month since Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner called for the United Kingdom to give up the Falkland Islands to Argentina. While this could have been nothing more than an attempted distraction by President Kirchner from a multitude of domestic issues, the dispute over the islands is constant background noise for both countries. In the meantime a referendum on the future sovereignty of the islands is scheduled for March  and the cultural issues are well documented. What this latest uptick allows is an opportunity to look at the logistics of fighting on the other side of the world and the role of aircraft carriers in modern conflict.

During the Falkland Islands conflict in the 1982 the UK deployed two aircraft carriers and a sizable military fleet to the South Atlantic. Since then the end of the Cold War and shifting priorities changed the composition of military forces for both Argentina and the UK. There is ample research comparing naval forces from 1982 and today but the lack of an aircraft carrier for the UK in particular remains a concern and was was seen as a disadvantage during the intervention in Libya. The lack of a mobile platform to launch aircraft contributed to a more expensive conflict as RAF sorties were flown out of Southern Europe. The end result was longer flight times, fewer missions and higher fatigue.

With the exception of facilities in the Falklands, the region is as far away as the UK can get from friendly bases.   minus the facilities it maintains on the island and it won’t have the benefit of numerous local allies ready to allow the use of their airfields and support facilities. While the UK has added significantly to the units deployed in defense of the island, airfields are an easy target to find

Even today, during a gap between carriers, questions remain about the functionality of the ships in development. The two carriers in development lack functionality that existed during the first Falklands Island conflict, functionalities such as aerial refueling that are essential for long term engagements. The first of the two carriers isn’t expected to undergo sea trials for at least a year, with 2017 being the earliest date that it is expected to enter service.

Several English pundits believe that in the event of a Falklands Island conflict France should come to the support of the UK in reciprocal support of French operations in Mali. The situations are in no way similar–one is defense of what it views as its territory while the other is fighting against Islamist terrorists. Immediately at the end of the Cold War, outside of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, international involvement in localized conflicts was focused in the Balkans. Since then Mali, Libya, Afghanistan, Yemen, and possibly Syria are just the latest countries with international involvement.

Some of these conflicts are within striking distance of NATO bases, others are not. These conflicts are not limited to one region; counter terrorism operations continue in the Middle East, South Asia, North and Central Africa, and there remains concern of Latin and Southern America turning into battleground areas. The majority of the UK’s history has revolved around its naval resources and the ability to engage anywhere in the world. The march of technology as well as the lack of air support limits the actions that the UK can participate in for the foreseeable future.

The United States is the only country that has currently has the resources for not only multiple carrier deployments throughout the world but other operations as well. The future of this is at risk due to the budget issues ping-ponging around Washington. The result for the world’s largest naval power is uncertainty as long term stability and planning for the future changes day-by-day as politicians announce they have ‘fixed’ one problem only to retract their statement hours later. Even if the number of operational U.S. carriers decreases their ability to deploy anywhere in world remains a powerful tool.

What turns aircraft carriers into into a truly formidable force are the carrier strike groups and support craft. By themselves, carriers are offensive weapons and have limited operations. Strike groups combine a carrier with a mix of frigates, destroyers, supply ships and other vessels. These ships ensure non-stop aerial operations while protecting carriers from land, air, and sea based threats. Under its current makeup, the Royal Navy while smaller than it used to be but still maintains a modern efficient force and has all of the pieces of a carrier strike group in place minus the carrier.

The next round of predictions on how the Falklands Islands turns out won’t be able to start until after the referendum in March. Until then, the UK needs to identify how it projects its power and defends its interests abroad.

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Photo Credit: Mike Cattell

A ‘War On Terror’ Or A ‘War On Chaos’?

The European deployments throughout Africa are an entirely different creation to the US-led “War on Terror”. The European “War on Chaos” is one of pragmatic national interest but also of support for those states who play by the rules and protection for the millions under constant threat of violence.

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Two and a half thousand French forces are being deploying in Mali in the largest European military deployment by any EU state since 2001. Supported by British and then American logistics in under a week the French have advanced against both columns of the advancing AQIM affiliated fighters, halting them completely in the East and beginning a counter-attack in the North. Bombing raids have struck Islamist positions behind the front lines as West African forces begin to arrive to double the foreign troops fighting to defend Mali’s capital.

The situation in Mali is the most significant action by western forces since the NATO operation in Libya, another in which the French military lead the way, flying 35% of the total offensive foreign air missions of the conflict and 90% of the helicopter missions. But even that is a fragment of French military involvement in the last year. They are the most active western state in the fight against Al-Shabaab in Somalia, formed the bulk of the force which ousted Ivory Coast dictator Gbagbo and are a primary contributor to the European army, the CSDP.

France has never been a passive military power. Ever since its founding as the western branch of Charlemagne’s German Frankish Empire it has been at almost constant war. From its constant conflicts with the British of the medieval period it went on to dominate continental Europe with its huge military and financial strength. Napoleon, perhaps the greatest European tactician in history, conquered the entire continent before his army was struck down by disease. In fact if it wasn’t for this disaster and the allied tactic of attempting to avoid ever facing Napoleon’s genius directly in battle he may have created the first truly European state. It went on to build an empire to challenge that of the British and Spanish, fighting stoically through the First World War and ferociously in the Second, though not always on the same side. As the empires of Europe collapsed France fought over the remains of its global power, only admitting defeat after the disasters of Vietnam and Algeria. Now, after years of struggling to regain its place at the forefront of European military strength it is by far the most active of the Western powers outside America.

Much as this may surprise many, fueled by the completely misplaced British-propaganda stereotype of French as the white-flag-wavers of Europe, it’s not quite as surprising to most as the mere idea of European military action, let alone a dedicated EU military force. The mere thought seems alien to American audiences still unused to their new supporting role in conflicts and horrifying to the eurosceptic English. However, the European CSDP (Common Security and Defense Policy) military has grown from a mere token force to the largest coalition army outside the ISAF in Afghanistan. The European force is now significant enough that it has involved itself in twenty-five foreign operations, all separately from NATO. Presently well over 5,000 European forces operate under the EU flag of the CSDP as well as four naval warships. Alone this is a larger force than any of the militaries involved in Afghanistan other than the United States and Britain.

There is a key difference however between the armed forces of the French and EU compared to that of the USA and Britain, none of these forces have been involved in the reputational suicide of the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The unilateral invasion, without international support (unlike Afghanistan or any French missions of the last decade) ruined the international status of the two Atlantic powers as supporters of international order and made them as much pariahs to the developing world as the “Axis of Evil” they fought against. Instead European forces, and 4,500 French forces fighting under the tricolour or the twelve stars, represent a force of stability in conflict-torn areas. They come on invitation and international support and yet lack the need for the sometimes crippling restraint forced on UN peacekeepers.

The European deployments throughout Africa and in potential conflict zones across Europe and Asia are an entirely different creation to the US-led “War on Terror”. The European “War on Chaos” is one of pragmatic national interest but also of support for those states who play by the rules and protection for the millions under constant threat of violence. The French-led war for military stability across the world is mirrored by the German-led battle for economic stability at home in Europe. Together they form two arms of increasingly powerful demands for a unified Europe bringing stability to both its own citizens and those of the world at large. The Germans have expressed their support for the new European military and the French are aligned with them in the push for a new centralised European economic system. A new Europe is being born, one regaining the pride and prestige it had lost for almost a century. The US was forged in the fire of the British Empire, states forced to band together into Union to guard against the return of the world’s most powerful force. The Union of Europe may well be forged from the threat of Eurozone collapse and Islamist terrorism breeding from every failed state and unstable region.

The result may well be a split in the Western world. The liberal continental Europe, one built upon consensus and cooperation, is radically different from the relatively conservative United States, swinging violently between neoconservative interventions and proud isolation, too sure of its own exceptionalism. Between them stands Britain, unsure of which road to take. However, as the Atlantic divides the west and the US turns to the pacific, a lonely island may not have the clout to strike fear as its empire once did. As the French fight in Mali and Somalia, and Germany grants the keys to economic power to the European Union, the European War on Chaos will proceed with or without royal Britannia.

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Photo credit: Jerry Gunner

Terrorism is Terrorism? How Communication Exacerbates the Definitional Problem

Why is terrorism so difficult to define? {Department of War Studies, King’s College London}

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A definition of terrorism is arguably one of the woolliest concepts of modern discourse. Its manifestations arrive from a complex mosaic of compounding issues that affect any real brevity in assessing it. Since 9/11 it has been promoted to the forefront of most political agendas and yet no definitional consensus has followed. In the second presidential debate for example, Mitt Romney lambasted President Obama for not calling the attack on the US Embassy in Benghazi a terrorist incident, of which Obama took 14 days to finally call it such. The interim Libyan leader in comparison described it as an act of criminal violence. Politicians and subsequently media organisations have been careless, imprecise and sloppy in labelling incidents as acts of terrorism. This essay will therefore, scale back from the larger definitional debate and acknowledges that issues will be omitted. However, by arguing that terrorism is wrapped up in political motivations and rhetoric in tandem with the rise of modern communication, ultimately has a greater impact in understanding why terrorism is so difficult to define.

A Definitional Overview

To argue with clarity, the first logical step is to assess why terrorism is so important to define. Since 9/11 the word ‘terrorism’ has increasingly become intertwined in today’s society, and is synonymous in creating powerful images of violence, self-sacrifice and catastrophe. However, are we any closer in understanding what constitutes it? There are many academics and professionals who not only struggle to grapple with a definition, but utterly refute any notion of needing one. Walter Laqueur, perhaps the most prominent in this category, argues that a definition “does not exist nor will it be found in the foreseeable future.” Additionally, Jeremy Waldon and George Fletcher, in separate works, acknowledge that there are too many questions and not enough answers. Both seem to deviate from any real conclusion and believe the best possible course in understanding terrorism – is to know it when you see it.

The British Ambassador to the United Nations also shares this argument. In a post 9/11 speech he shunned the attempts of a definition by stating, “let us be focused about this: terrorism is terrorism… What looks, smells and kills like terrorism is terrorism.” However, if terrorism is taken as a transnational issue and not a single state-centric paradigm, to simply say every terrorist attack has characteristics that are obvious in all instances and consistently the same, is not only trite, but affects any sort of successful counter-terrorism strategy. Therefore, if terrorism is a global affair encompassing many different countries, a definition is vitally important to understand and ultimately combat it.

It is fair to argue that a definition is imperative in combating terrorism. However, coming to that conclusion is not an easy feat. Alex Schmid has become a cornerstone in the definitional debate and arguably places significance on “anxiety-inspired methods” which are implied on victims “generally chosen… (targets of opportunity).” He interestingly includes state-actors within his definition, which further adds weight to the necessity for a classification, because it can separate who or what are committing the acts. In a direct response to Schmid, Weinberg et al conclusively found no room in their definition for psychological effects and place politics as the primary reason behind terrorist strategy. Bruce Hoffman also asserts the importance of politics and views it as the key tool in understanding terrorists modus operandi. However, viewing a terrorist group in the sole constraints of politics reveals only a partial picture, as ignoring religious or ideological motivations limits the scope of analysis. John Horgan moves away from the idea of politics by putting explicit importance on the psychological use of ‘terror’, which in his words “removes part of the mystery” in understanding terrorism.

The use of terror is vitally important in assessing an attack because, as John Mueller identifies, it breaks down the moral criminal code that almost all populations abide by. Thus, understanding the potential method and targets not only helps polarise state and non-state actors but also allows a better degree of understanding of what the potential aims of a group are. There is arguably not one definition to use and it is fair to say that the scattered academic radar adds more uncertainty to how terrorism is defined. Nevertheless, if a definition is used, it does enable a set of parameters to be implemented allowing terrorist activity to be assessed.

The Misuse of ‘Terrorism’

The understandable academic ambiguity around the manifestations of terrorism is one that will continue, however, it is arguably not the basis of why terrorism is so hard to define. The way the word is used in its entirety by political apparatuses and influential individuals has a far larger footprint in misguiding the real meaning and use of terrorism. Ian Lustick’s thought provoking book ‘Trapped in a War on Terror’ portrays this argument and crucially identifies how terrorism became the Bush administrations political foundation. Patriotic fist pumping speeches that hark back to old veteran sentiments helped legitimatise policy-making decisions and misalign people’s perceptions of what terrorism actually is. There is perhaps little to dispute with this argument especially when assessing Bush’s clay footed notion of fighting a ‘War on Terror.’

Other hazy statements seem to be in abundance when terrorism is assessed and the idea of an attack to have a ‘look and feel of terrorism’ seems to be the optimum phrase when there is no uniformity concerning a violent attack. The blurry platitudes imposed by state echelons is unrelenting and is further compounded by the systematic use of “apocalyptic alarmism” whereby a top down smothering of scare tactics is employed – specifically in the United States. Homeland Security for example, not only portrays the threat of terrorists having the capability of CBRN weapons but also the ability to use those weapons “from home and abroad.” The imprecise and often inaccurate statements seem to have other motives. Fred Kaplan, in The Guardian, believes “policies will gain maximum support if they are linked to the war on terrorism.” Therefore, if terrorism is bound up in political drives for public support it begs a very serious question whether it is possible to separate truth from fiction and thus provide an accurate definition.

Communications Unique Role

Government’s apparent manipulation of the subject nature of terrorism is compounded by mushrooming nature of globalisation and the subsequent rise of modern technology, which in Manuel Castells words has created a “new communication space” where “power is decided.” The expansion of ideas to previously untouched parts of the world and the connection of disparate communities to their home nation has created a complex dichotomy that Sir Richards labels as a “global network of grievances.” The rapid expansion in technology, and the explosion of social media sites has arguably transformed opinions and debates into a virtual, informational space. This, allows people to move “rapidly and seamlessly” within a virtual world. David Betz has aptly labelled this as Web 2.0, in which all vectors of society can interact simultaneously, and subsequently, the public are no longer passive spectators but an active cog in the informational world.

Modern technology has therefore now provided an unprecedented platform to move messages horizontally across an archipelago of national and international borders. If the message is incorrect or misleading it can have exponential consequences by smattering the population with distorted information. In that respect, a political message is increasingly becoming a media message and has the ability to influence all spheres of society instantaneously. However, on the other hand, the role of modern technology also means people can circumvent not only traditional state controls but also contrived information. This is evident with General Sir David Richards’ summary of technology where he argues modern communications “are way beyond the state’s ability to control without threatening all the other functions of that state.” However, this works on both feet and allows governments to wield a certain degree of autonomy in the use of modern media processes. Therefore, as David Kilcullen argues, the ends and means of developing sources of information have a paucity that makes it very hard to distinguish origins or accuracy.

A government message is thus now instantly input into the media and the subsequent outlets play a significant role in shaping how it is defined. If terrorism is put through these many different communication filters, the outcome is a kaleidoscopic mesh of compounding definitions. They are connected to public opinion, leader personality and the usual platitudes around foreign policy. John Horgan therefore argues, to assess terrorism in its definitional entirety; a movement away from the media process is vital. However, with governments increasingly using the term in its haziest context and media being completely associated with political issues, this arguably is not possible and subsequently affects coming to terms with a definition of terrorism.

Conclusion

To conclude, this essay has focused on a very selective variety of sources and is not by any means conclusive in bringing the definitional debate to a finish line. It has specifically focused on the US government’s role due to its unique place in combating terror and an investigation into other nations could lead to a very different argument. However, misinformation imposed by any government can arguably filter down into everyday life and is further exacerbated by the role of modern communications. This ultimately gives a larger footprint and further muddies the water in trying to come to terms with an accurate definition of terrorism.

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Photo Credit: bixentro

The Freedom Of Information Act Versus Drones

The U.S. Justice Department’s memorandum on the legal justification for the targeted killing programme will remain secret for the time being, after federal judge Colleen McMahon dismissed most of the case brought against the U.S. Department of Justice by the American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Times under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), concluding that the U.S. Government had not violated the FOIA by refusing to turn over the sought documents.

Judge McMahon acknowledged in her judgment that the Administration’s discussion of the legal justification for targeted killings has been ‘cryptic and imprecise’. This is going easy on the Administration, whose justification for the programme seems to consist almost solely of crying ‘self-defence’ and refusing to say much more than that. It is worth noting that Judge McMahon seemed uncomfortable with the decision, and wrote:

The Alice-in-Wonderland nature of this pronouncement is not lost on me; but after careful and extensive consideration, I find myself stuck in a paradoxical situation in which I cannot solve a problem because of contradictory constraints and rules—a veritable Catch-22. I can find no way around the thicket of laws and precedents that effectively allow the Executive Branch of our Government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws, while keeping the reasons for their conclusion a secret.

So it seems that for the moment at least, the Administration is well-covered and can continue to play the Queen of Hearts, shouting ‘off with their heads!’ when it sees the need. The decision represents a substantial victory for them, as the targeted killing programme is likely to remain a central component of the U.S.’s anti-terror policies for some time to come. Without any legal necessity to detail their justification for the use of such policies against those suspected of Al Qaeda involvement, including U.S. citizens such as Anwar Al Awlaki, the CIA can continue to expand the programme and use it indiscriminately, without justification.

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Photo credit: sancho_panza

Nouri al-Maliki: Iraq’s Newest Dictator?

The comparisons to the Hussein regime should not be over-stretched. The deep emotional significance of drawing such a parallel, and the limits of Nouri al-Maliki’s power compared to his predecessor, should give those espousing such a view serious pause.

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For Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq’s recent political history remains a specter haunting his regime. Saddam Hussein’s totalitarian rule left little precedent for national, democratic reconstruction according to what external and domestic policymakers had hoped. It is thus unsurprising that the current ruling party has enacted policies that resemble those from a far more sinister past, and Maliki’s practices have been compared to Saddam’s; most importantly, he has arrested political dissenters and established central government control over the security forces. His recent response to the protests sweeping Iraq this past week have raised afresh these analyses. Yet the comparisons to Saddam’s regime should not be stretched too far. The deep emotional significance of drawing such a parallel, and the limits of Maliki’s power compared to Saddam’s, should give those espousing such a view serious pause.

Maliki has certainly exhibited tendencies that spark fear amongst Iraqis. In a September editorial, The Guardian argued that “Nouri al-Maliki’s has some way to go before he matches Saddam Hussein’s terror – but the charge sheet is growing.” For example, as US combat forces departed the country in December 2011, Maliki issued the notorious arrest warrant for his vice-president, Tariq al-Hashimi. Soldiers and tanks led by Maliki’s son surrounded Hashimi’s house, detaining several bodyguards who later, after torture, confessed that the vice president had organized illegal death squads against his political rivals. He was soon sentenced to death in absentia for his alleged crimes. The Guardian concluded by bluntly noting that “Iraqiyya [Hashimi’s party]…is not the first victim of Maliki’s power grab.”

Maliki has reinforced his grip through the Iraqi military, reshaping the chain of command so that his office has full control over personnel placement and field strategy. The Iraqi Special Forces have become a personal guard for the Prime Minister, as has the intelligence and judiciary branches. Having confronted the Sunni opposition, many fear that his next targets will be the Sadrists and eventually the Kurds using his strengthened psuedo-legal military options.

Yet there are several key differences between his and Saddam’s regime that must not be ignored. Above all, Maliki simply wields far less power than did his despotic counterpart. The Prime Minister’s inability to coerce the Kurdish President Massoud Barzani into turning over Hashimi in 2011, for instance, underscores this reality. Unlike Saddam, Maliki has nearly no influence or control in Iraqi Kurdistan. Supported by Turkey, Iran, and the United States, Kurdistan is essentially off-limits to Baghdad, lest Maliki violently exacerbate tensions with his regional neighbors.

The Sunni political bloc to which Hashimi belongs, albeit battered, has its foreign allies too. As much as he tries, Maliki cannot eliminate the Sunni opposition, as its leadership would immediately turn to Saudi Arabia if seriously threatened. And he does not have the influence to prevent such links. He can only intimidate and isolate the Sunnis — which he continues to do with limited success — but can never silence their voice.

Even amongst the Shia faction, deep divisions undermine Maliki’s ability to meaningfully consolidate his power. Moqtada al-Sadr, the indefatigable leader of the Sadrist movement, has repeatedly spoken against the ruling party. For all his maneuvering, Maliki has relatively little opportunity to significantly damage or silence the Sadrist minority; Sadr, a “black sheep” in Iraqi politics, needs only align with Iraq’s other opposition leaders to pose a serious threat to Maliki’s grasp on Baghdad, a move he is willing to make if Maliki further strips his political options.

These empirical differences between Maliki and Saddam must be viewed alongside a far less exact, emotional element. Comparisons between the two leaders often ignore the serious and painful realities of the terror with which Saddam Hussein ruled. It is neither accurate nor fair to make such offhand comparisons when the reality does not match. There is little doubt that Maliki’s actions are authoritarian, harsh, and legally questionable, but it is also important to remember that Saddam’s true cruelty, paranoia, and unfeeling political calculations with the lives of his citizens tore far deeper wounds across Iraq. In many respects, Maliki’s ruling style is a product of the stillborn democracy left in the wake of the American departure. His rule will never conform to the ideals of egalitarian and representative government that US leaders espoused. But to compare it to Saddam’s merely exacerbates the situation by pushing the current regime to adopt more insular policies, while at the same time ignores the problem’s roots.

To be sure, the trend towards authoritarianism that Maliki’s government is following does not inspire optimism, nor should it be encouraged. But it should be recognized for what it is, and not compared to a regime it will never truly resemble. How can foreigners understand Maliki? If they look past the Saddam era for answers, the results will be far more enlightening.

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Photo credit: The U.S. Army

POW! Play Fighting In An Era Of Mass Shootings

On my morning rout through the various online news sources one story kept catching my eye on American news sites: a six year old was suspended in Maryland in late December for pointing his finger at a classmate and shouting “Pow!”.

With a backdrop of Sandy Hook, the Sikh temple shooting, the Aurora shooting, and the 58 other mass murders in the US since 1982, some reaction from school authorities to such an incident is understandable. Particularly if the child had been warned in the past about displaying such behaviour. But is suspending a child from school really the right approach?

If a child is genuinely displaying signs of threatening to shoot a fellow student (which is purportedly how the school characterised the event), is ostracising him or her from their classmates the path that school authorities should take? We cannot ignore the fact that ostractisation from school or society so frequently plays a role in these events.

Add to this the fact that this boy is six years old. Six! It would be worth contemplating whether a child would even begin to comprehend the seriousness of this backdrop of mass-murders. I think its safe to say that it is inconceivable to think that he understood the implications of this tiny act of play.

The all the more laughable development is that the parents have hired an attorney to fight against the suspension. What better way to destroy the authority that a teacher needs to control a classroom than for the parents to sue the school, what better way to damage the education that your child is going to receive.

And then you have kids like this – truly impressive.

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Photo credit: Håkan Dahlström

The Financial Crisis & Canada’s Fiscal Cliff

During the financial crisis not one Canadian bank failed, the housing market didn’t collapse, and the unemployment rate topped out at levels much lower than many other countries. So, what is the problem?

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In the final days of November, Canada’s national federal debt crossed a dubious mark, for the first time ever it cross the $600 billion mark. Compared to some other nations, $600 billion of federal debt is a laugh as is the debt to GDP ratio that hovers around approximately 33%. No country made it through the 2008 financial crisis and the recession that followed unscathed, but it can definitely be argued that some countries made it through better than others. Canada was one of those countries.

The Canadian Prime Minister has hyped the Canadian economy as a bastion of stability. This news of recent poaching of the Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney by the Bank of England has been touted as another example of Canadians showing the world how to get their finances in order. During the crisis not one Canadian bank failed, the housing market didn’t collapse, and the unemployment rate topped out at levels much lower than many other countries. So, what is the problem?

First, some history. In the early 1990s Canada’s economy was in trouble. Efforts in the late 1980s to control inflation resulted in a deep recession in 1990-91, while a looming debt crisis from over two decades of deficit spending resulted in debt levels that were comparable to some of the modern European examples. Meanwhile the Canadian business community had been slow to respond to the liberalizing and freeing world economy that resulted in them being internationally uncompetitive. All added up, this left them with an economically struggling nation.

The answer to these issues was austerity with deep federal government budget cuts along with a liberalizing of Canadian markets as well as the addition of financial regulations. It was the legacy of this action that resulted in a decade of federal surplus leading up to 2008 and a financial system that could weather the financial storm that wracked the world economy. It was the legacy of these measures that laid the foundation for a potential crisis.

Today, Canada faces a pair of challenges, the first of which comes from its provinces. Although Canada’s federal debt is only about $600 billion, the provinces together hold approximately $500 billion in debt themselves giving the nation as a whole a total national debt of approximately $1.1 trillion.

As Andrew Coyne, a national political commentator pointed out this past fall, Canada has a monetary union without a fiscal one. Canadian provinces unlike US states or members of the EU have no mandatory constraints on their debt levels (note the three territories do have budgetary debt limits due to the fact that they are funded directly by the Federal government).

Currently, every province but two (Saskatchewan and Newfoundland & Labrador) are running deficits; surprisingly this list does include oil rich Alberta. Canada’s two largest provinces (Ontario and Quebec) both have per capita debt levels exceeding those of the federal government. Each of these indebted provinces can use federal transfers as a form of annual bailout to help maintain credit ratings and spending priorities while putting off tough austerity measures that are needed in some cases. Most projections for when most of the provinces will reach balanced budgets are not until 2016 assuming current estimates are accurate.

The second challenge comes from the people of Canada whose personal debt to income ratios, reached 163% in the second quarter of 2012. What this means is that the average Canadian is carrying $1.63 of debt for every dollar of disposable income they have. This debt has been part of the reason why Canada didn’t suffer as badly during the recession; Canadians just kept buying. At the peak of the housing crisis in the US, their consumer debt was approximately 170% and as a result you can see the concern.

Although the federal government has already taken action by tightening mortgage rules by requiring larger down payments and higher minimum monthly payments on government insured mortgages, the fear is that when interest rates begin to climb (and the Bank of Canada has warned they could as soon as late 2013) many financially burdened Canadians will struggle to make ends meet in the face of higher monthly payments.

Of course this debt burden and the threat of higher interest rates may have a ripple effect across the economy. As consumers spend less, the risk of bankruptcies and foreclosures increases and the danger of a US-style housing crash coming to Canada truly becomes real. This all feeds back into government tax revenue and spending policy and the question of when they will get their books in order.

Canada isn’t about to go bankrupt, nor do we face the debt challenges of the United States or some of the nations of the EU. What Canada and Canadians do face is a fork in the road which can lead us to a return to the legacy of the 1990s, where fiscal responsibility became ingrained in society, or we can continue down our current path towards a fiscal cliff of our own.

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Photo credit: Cindy Andrie

The Second Amendment: An Outdated, Ideological Fallacy

This is not about rationality: arguments against gun control are almost entirely constructed and founded on their ideological underpinnings. And as with any devout ideologue, the wider picture and the resultant implications are willfully and purposefully ignored.

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This piece was co-authored by Peter Kelly.

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Anthony Machinski’s recent piece on TRS – “Gun Control: You Can’t Test Irresponsibility” – is, at best, the work of an individual firmly fixated on trying to make reality look like a world in which the Second Amendment is still relevant. At worst, it is one so dedicated to this fantasy as to have dangerous illusions as to the continued relevance of an armed militia concerned with resisting a tyrannous federal government. For that was the purpose and reasoning leading to the Second Amendment.

Machinski’s arguments are based on statistics, but these are either incorrect, invalid, or irrelevant to the matter at hand. Like Machinski we wish to take a moment to remember the lives devastated by this tragedy, however to do so without seeking ways to stop this trend towards such tragedies is a fatal mistake.

If we do not look at the underlying and facilitating factors to Columbine-esque shootings such events will continue to feature: is the post-revolutionary right to bear arms really worth the continuous killings of so many children?

Firstly however, we would like to address some incorrect claims made in the Machinski piece.

1) People will always be able to “get their hands on whatever item they want if they so choose”

Machinski chooses to exemplify this with reference to prohibition and the failure of legislation to tackle drug abuse. These are wholly illegitimate comparisons.

Firstly, there is a huge difference in intent.

The intent of someone who drank alcohol during prohibition was not to be able to maim or kill. Similarly, for one who is recreationally taking illegal drugs the intent is to enjoy themselves.

Irrespective of our respective views on the use of recreational drugs, it is readily apparent that for the vast majority of users the intent is not to commit any violence. With guns, the sourcing of a weapon is for the sole purpose of being able to maim at some point in the future, even if this is under the guise of defence.

Secondly, and more applicably, most killers lack the connections or experience to get hold of illegal weapons (as opposed to gang members).

Reductio ad absurdum: why don’t we just give all mentally unfit persons a firearm? According to Machinksi they are going to get them anyway.

2) The UK “has problems with school shootings”

The factual inaccuracy here is startling. A simple Wikipedia search would have displayed to the author that the only school shooting in the UK in living memory was the Dunblane massacre of 1996.

The Cumbria shootings of 2010 had nothing whatsoever to do with schools or children – as proven by virtue of the fact that all victims were over the age of twenty three. We can further consider that the only other major gun massacre in the UK (again, in living memory) was that which occurred in Hungerford in 1987. Again, nothing to do with a school.

Thus, of the three mass shootings in the last three decades in the UK, only one has taken place in a school.

3) In “no way, shape, or form would gun control laws have helped prevent this tragedy”

Firstly, should the type of guns permitted to be licensed be lower down the “ease-of-use” scale it is highly unlikely that this tragedy would have been as extreme as it is; had the shooter’s only weapon been a handgun it is doubtful that the casualty count would be so high.

The weapon he used was akin to the M16 (as employed by the U.S. Army). Its efficacy in lethality is demonstrated by the short time-frame of the killing spree (the killer shot himself less than ten minutes after the first shot was fired, just as the first police officer entered the school). Less efficient legal weapons would likely result in less deaths per mass killing.

Secondly, legal weapons have been used in approximately seventy five per cent of the sixty two mass killings in America since 1982, thus demonstrating the complete failure of the American licensed weapons system.

A more holistic attempt at ensuring that active weapons do not get into the wrong hands – a greater degree of federal specificity over how guns are stored; the enforced separation of gun from ammunition in storage; the ineligibility of those living with person(s) with mental health issues to possess a weapon, etc. – would indubitably result in less legal weapons being used for illegal purposes.

Such restrictions – gun control laws – would likely have limited (if not put a stop to) this mass murder.

We must also consider arguments which frame the fight against the Second Amendment; this is a debate which cannot be won solely on the defensive.

Outdated

The Second Amendment is archaic and belongs to the time of slavery and the looming threat of the British Empire. In short, a time well before the U.S. could truly have been called a democracy. Now, when federal government depends on votes to remain in power, votes are the weapons every household needs.

There is no need for every man to wield a weapon to warn off a federal army which has its hands tied controlling Afghanistan, let alone the three hundred and ten million citizens of the United States – even were they completely unarmed. Besides which, where is the organised militia such armed citizenry are supposed to belong to?

The Second Amendment is a disastrous carry-on from a past era. The eighteenth century solution (to eighteenth century issues which no longer exist) has created a twenty-first century problem.

The Statistics

The homicide by firearm rate in the U.S. is completely disproportionate to its position as a Western nation. It is only bested by developing countries and the nearest developed countries to it are Liechtenstein and Switzerland (also low gun-restriction countries).

The disproportion is by a rather telling factor of four.

One can point to all kinds of different mitigating statistics to this, but the inescapable line is that lax gun laws equal more gun murders in developed states. In the United States, unless you were to insult the entire populace with the assumption that they are more homicidal than average, a factor of four is simply too large of a difference to be challenged.

Bringing the United Kingdom in hardly helps the case – it has a gun-related homicide rate of approximately forty times smaller. The rate of gun crime has halved in the years since stricter gun laws were enforced and cannot be attributed to a culture of less crime, as the United Kingdom has a slightly higher crime rate.

It also rubbishes the claim that those without guns will find other means, as despite the higher crime rate the UK’s homicide rate is significantly smaller than that of the US, 1.2 per 100,000 against 4.2 respectively.

Conclusion

The fact of the matter is that the strength of the argument for gun control is all but irrelevant. As Sam Leith, writing in today’s Evening Standard, argues, “the issue in the US is a dialogue of the deaf because it’s about identity politics, not harm reduction”. The Second Amendment equates the gun to freedom, and as we are aware, freedom is a big word.

This is not about rationality: arguments against gun control are almost entirely constructed and founded on their ideological underpinnings. And as with any devout ideologue, the wider picture and the resultant implications are willfully and purposefully ignored.

Resultantly debate on this matter is nothing but a formality. No matter how much the facts stack up on one side, votes will be matched along these lines of identity, not of rationality. What needs to change is what “freedom” really means: that we should be looking upon it as freedom from death and suffering, not freedom to wield a weapon of your choice to cause it.

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This piece was co-authored by Peter Kelly.

Peter holds an MSc in International Security from the University of Bristol and a BA in Philosophy and Politics from Durham University. His focus is on security and conflict issues in the western world, Middle East and Africa. He runs the site A Third Opinion.

Photo credit:  Jenn Durfey

Fracking, Energy Independence, & The New International Security Landscape

If fracking is really to produce the sort of oil independence that the USA could only have dreamed of just a few short years ago, we must begin to prepare for the possibility of a new superpower isolationism and the manifold effects that withdrawal may bring.

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Recent developments in energy technology will have a profound effect on Western reliance on imported petroleum. This in turn will likely reduce incentives for a weary America to project its power on oil-rich trouble spots in the Middle East. Planners must be ready.

Fracking is set to change the world. That much is clear. To what extent, though, and how, is uncertain. The most violent debates centre around its effects on the environment. But what about the global security environment? Many worry the process itself will cause dangerous earthquakes and there are too many unknowns. Equally, this swiftly developing technology could produce seismic shifts in the way horizon scanners and strategists approach the landscape of international security in the coming decades; it will also bring uncertainty about the motives of key international actors on the world stage. As is often the case, the questions hang on America’s role in world affairs, and what we can expect its military to do or not do. Fracking may be removing some of the half-certainties we had in this regard.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing to give it its full name, is the use of water to crack open pockets of hydrocarbons in previously unreachable places below the ground. It has been used up until now to extract natural gas in enormous quantities, but the last two years have seen spectacular developments in America’s ability to extract ‘tight oil’ from its shale reserves across the country.

The practice is highly controversial ecologically; those against cite massive water consumption and pollution, induction of tremors, and the disincentives it provides to curb fossil fuel consumption as existential dangers to the planet.

Regardless, the industry is moving so quickly that some last month predicted energy independence for the USA by 2035. Though others doubt the totality of these claims, even cautious forecasts see American imports of oil and petroleum products from the Middle East plummeting by the middle of this century.

We could be witnessing momentous changes in the way the world’s superpower approaches its relationship with the region that has shaped its military power projection – and arguably the entire global security landscape – in the latter decades of last century and the first decades of this.

The debate over the role played by oil in America and Britain’s decision to invade Iraq has played out tirelessly (and rather tiresomely) since before a single soldier was on the ground in 2003. Although only the most credulous observer could have believed Donald Rumsfeld’s avowal that “the Iraq war has nothing to do with oil, literally nothing to do with oil” was said in whole-hearted good faith, the issue remains obscure. What matters here is the question whether America would have been so keen to invade if those such as VP Dick Cheney’s Energy Task Force had not had to worry about securing oil supplies in far flung corners of the world.

Operation Desert Storm was fought explicitly to protect the oil fields of Kuwait and neighbouring Saudi Arabia from falling into hostile hands. That America and its allies have waged war, invaded countries, propped up dictators, toppled dictators, deposed democratically elected leaders, spent billions fortifying whole peninsulas with garrisons, air and naval bases explicitly to secure its oil supply should be news to no one. Even landlocked, oil-bereft Afghanistan’s 1979 invasion by Soviet forces was seen by strategists in US as a geostrategic play for priceless access to the Persian Gulf, furthering incentives to fund the mujahedin resistance.

The implications of these interventions have rippled out across history. Just before Suez came Operation Boot (which is what we called it this side of the Atlantic) / Operation Ajax (the American’s designation) – a covert mission to overthrow Prime Minister Mossadeq of Iran who had just announced the nationalisation of the Anglo Iranian Oil Company. The MI6 / CIA action reimposed the Shah upon Iranians, whom he tortured and murdered in their thousands, likely precipitating the 1979 Islamic revolution.

The presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia from 1990 to 2003 under Operation Southern Watch was one of the founding grievances of al-Qaeda, and America’s effective guarantee of the entire Arabian Peninsula against any – and especially Iranian – threat continues to shape the balance of power in the region. If Washington starts to feel that, with ample oil and gas on its own shores, the cost and ill-will bred by its involvement in MENA is no longer outweighed by the benefits, a total disengagement from the area would be welcomed by many. But the permutations of that isolationism are not easy to envisage, what with India, moreover China, becoming ever more thirsty for energy imports.

The possible effects of the fracking revolution are not limited to the USA’s involvement in world affairs, of course. The enormous bilateral trade in oil and arms between Britain and the Saudis is testament enough to that.

Moreover, the unique value of oil, to producers and developed consumers has contributed to the outbreak and prolongation of many recent conflicts. Mary Kaldor, Yahia Said, and one of the worlds foremost experts on the topic, Terry Lynn Karl give a superb rundown of the ways they see oil shaping conflict in the introduction to their excellent edited volume “Oil Wars.” In it they describe the multitude of linkages between crude exports and conflict. In their thesis, ‘new oil wars’ have been produced by the calamitous effects of reliance upon oil exports on economy, state institutions and governance; hollowed out petro-states blighted by patrimony and factionalism that descend into civil conflict. They regard Iraq between 2003 and 2009 as paradigmatic of an ‘old oil war’ – military intervention to secure future access and supply to foreign oil fields – and the state collapse of a ‘new oil war’.

British Petroleum, France’s Total Elf Fina and the Dutch Shell turn up in the histories of many civil wars in the post cold war epoch, from Casanare in Colombia to Cabinda in Angola. The risks to personnel, financial investments and reputation are enormous when engaging in active conflict zone, and can only be taken when value of possible rewards are great and range of viable alternatives small.

Yesterday, the suspension on fracking in the UK was lifted. Perhaps the UK is never likely to see an ‘unconventional oil’ bonanza on the scale of the US. However, we must now envisage increasing domestic oil production along with imports from countries such as Canada – with whom we share warm relations– diminishing the strategic importance of areas historically far more troublesome for Britain.

Yesterday also saw the announcement of the £2.2m compensation package awarded to Libyan dissident Sami al-Saadi for the alleged complicity of MI6 agents in the kidnapping of him, his wife and young children from Hong Kong and his subsequent torture by Gaddafi’s security forces in Tripoli. It would appear that this episode was another in the unedifying series that many have linked to Tony Blair’s ‘deals in the desert’ with Libya in 2004 and 2007. The other most notorious being the 2009 return of convicted terrorist Abdelbassett al-Megrahi, one of those responsible for the atrocity at Lockerbie in 1988. The accords on sharing military and security intelligence (though not necessarily prisoner release) between London and Tripoli were not unrelated to a new found willingness of Gaddafi to allow BP back into business in Libya where it had seen all assets appropriated in 1974.

The pressure of the national interest of securing affordable energy supplies – on which the functioning of the economy and all services rely – exerts a heavy force on leaders and shapes developed country’s strategic stance towards the rest of the world. If fracking is really to produce the sort of oil independence that the USA could only have dreamed of just a few short years ago, we must begin to prepare for the possibility of a new superpower isolationism and the manifold effects that may withdrawal bring. An Iran emboldened in the Arabian peninsula and new gatekeeper of the Persian Gulf in China may be the first of the new realities we would need to make sense of, and perhaps begin worrying about.

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Photo Credit: Marcellus Protest