July 2006

By Goodwin Ginger

The Guardian is reporting that the IDF killed four peace keepers including one Canadian soldier. Will Prime Minister Harper take a stand and publicly admonish Israel for bombing a UN observation post and killing a Canadian soldier? Harper’s actions to date demonstrate just how bad policy gets when politicians work from a place of blind ideological devotion as opposed to hard facts. Harper should take this tragedy as an invitation to call Israel to heel. Or perhaps Conservatives should use this as an excuse to bring their leader to heel.


By Goodwin Ginger

While Harper’s bellicose stand with regard to the present crisis in the middle east is perhaps the most extreme foreign policy position taken by a Canadian government in the modern era it would be hard to characterize it as anything but pro-American. Put in its proper context of a general right-ward shift in the Anglo-American world, Harper’s foreign policy maneuvers while sour to the palette are really not that radical given the current conjuncture.

More curious and more alarming in some respects however is the position Harper has taken with respect to the softwood lumber dispute with the US. Harper’s insistence that his government is unwilling to change the agreement in light of the iron clad ruling handed down on the illegality of US tariffs on our softwood is not only perplexing but put in strong relief can only be characterized as an act of commercial treason. And this leads us to ask the question is Harper simply pro American or more ominously is he actively anti-Canadian?

One line of analysis suggests that Harper was so desperate to be seen to show that his administration was capable of getting more with honey than the Liberals were with vinegar that he cooked a bad deal. Indeed, following this logic the case could be made that Harper discovered that he had placed himself in a tight corner by arguing that the Americans were straight shooters and that the blame for the failure to reach an agreement on softwood could be placed firmly at the posturing feet of the Liberals. Once committed to this logic Harper had no choice but to get a deal no matter how crooked. For not to do so would have meant a tacit acknowledgment by Harper that it was not the Liberals who had been dragging their feet but rather good old fashioned protectionism south of the border. This would indeed be a bitter pill for a free trading, Liberal hating economist of the text book variety to swallow.

The other line of analysis suggests that Harper actually has a deeply ingrained national self-hatred. This analysis builds on previous speeches Harper has made south of the border in which he has baldly engaged in Canada bashing with his southern cousins. According to this logic Harper actually believes that a process of the Americanization of Canada would be a good thing. But to believe this is to actually believe there is something inferior about Canada—unworthy in a word. The give-away that is the softwood agreement is the act of a Canadian prime minister who would in fact prefer to be a US senator.

Whichever line of analysis you take Harper is a poor choice of leader because in either case his motivations are not of a man who is capable of acting in the national interest.

By Goodwin Ginger

The Guardian just broke the story that the UK has parted company with the US over Israel’s disproportionate retaliation in Lebanon. The headline reads “British Split with Bush as Israeli Tanks Roll in.” It would be nice to think that Blair realized the degree to which the civilian death toll was simply an unacceptable level of collateral damage but we suspect that his bellicose stance was threatening to undue Labour as its left flank rumbled toward what could have been a mass revolt. The UK’s rebuke of Israel represents a serious fracture in the Anglo-American front.

As for Harper, his callous description of Israel’s response as “measured” may indeed cost him the next election. As it is going to be much tougher for Harper to justify his extreme position in light of the UK defection. For it will be hard to argue that Blair is soft on terrorism or that the UK is naive with respect to the dynamics within the region.

The only thing that may save Harper is that the Liberal leadership candidates can not seem to find the spine to condemn Harper’s callous war mongering. We suspect the big winners from Harper’s ill thought foreign policy position maybe be the Bloc inside of Quebec and the NDP in the ROC in the next election. If the NDP is smart they will take the lead on this issue.

As an aside: At the demonstrations across Canada today the anger over Lebanon was directed more at Harper than it was at Israel.

By Goodwin Ginger

We are often told stories about the despicable Arab who raises their children by teaching them to play Martyr or soldier at an early age. Usually such stories are told with a view toward de-humanizing the Arab and thereby justifying the harsh tactics by which the IDF or Mossad employs in its perpetual subjugation of the Arab.


This in and of itself tells us much about the nature of the conflict in the Middle East, at least as it plays itself out in the body politic of the region. We are to gasp at the site of an eight year old touting an automatic rifle; directed to feel that the Arab is indeed depraved even if we are nominally sympathetic to the causes of that depravity.

Recent photos that have been proudly displayed on the Internet do not so much undermine this vision of depravity but indeed seem to prove that it is not limited to the Arab. We are now invited to see the Jew as depraved. Who would raise their children to write messages on shells destined to kill civilians?


If these pictures tell us anything it is that conflicts of this sort cannot help but lay-waste to the moral fabric of all the societies caught up in the conflict. Such photos invoke a sadness in us not because they reveal the Jew or Arab to be depraved but because they leave us feeling hopeless. Though the peacemakers be blessed where will they come from?


Click on photo for links to images from Lebanon

And this is the fallacy that lies at the heart of the current strategy of the combatants: the bombing of civilians and the destruction of the social fabric from which individuals are shaped undermines the very possibility for peace. No one can win this conflict through force, disproportional or otherwise. And when the time comes for peace what kind of society will the combatants inherit?

Back in the mid to late eighties when Apartheid was in its death throws the ANC had undertaken a very effective strategy of ungovernability in the townships which among other things entailed the burning of schools. The problem was that the ANC eventually inherited a whole generation of either uneducated or poorly educated citizens.

This of course is the real crime of engaging in the collective punishment of all of Lebanon for the actions of Hezbollah. Israel is undermining the very society which at some point it will want to make peace with. Who in Lebanon will want to think peace after the IDF is done? All Israel can accomplish is the destruction of yet another society. Israel likes to use the term “cancer” to describe its enemies but what they do not realize is that the real cancer which is spreading throughout the region is already raging inside its own body politic as the photos shown above well attest. They may win the battle but only at the cost of loosing themselves. And this to, is sad.

By Heruth Berhane

One of the more interesting things about the North American media coverage on the Middle East is the way it ignores the inextricable political and historical links between those countries located on the Northern Eastern part of the Red Sea with those located on its South Western shores. Indeed, one cannot help but wonder if the same ethnocentric logic that imagines Israel as somehow an Ashkenazi, European and more civilized country, is also in operation when the people of Yemen, Sudan, or Somalia become the forgotten actors of the Middle East region. This invisibility, of course, suits all the major power brokers in the region except those attempting to build non-sectarian, inclusive societies.

Fortunately for us, in the past week the BBC in addition to most other media outlets has reported that the Ethiopian army (the US ally in the Horn of Africa region) crossed over into Somalia. Some euphemistically call the Ethiopian action an incursion while others call it an invasion. But, whatever one calls it the lack of analysis around the Ethiopian action shows how little people understand the far-reaching tentacles of the war on terror. Important links between events in the northern Red Sea nations and their southern compatriots need to be fleshed out, after all as Alex de Waal has argued the rise and fall of political Islam in the Horn of Africa in the 1990’s had a tremendous impact on the Middle East region even before September 11th ever happened.

The latest developments in the Horn of Africa have occurred in the context of the recent military victory in Southern Somalia of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU). I have been told that ordinary people, especially women in Mogadishu supported the ICU because the alternative they faced was the 15 year ineptitude of so called secular warlords. These same warlords were recently supported by Ethiopia the US and the UN to form the present transitional government based in Baidao, yet rather than bring order, warlords continued to act with impunity. On the other hand, the rise of the ICU has brought stability to Mogadishu for the first time in 15 years. So, although some sections of the ICU would like to import a form of Saudi Wahabism into what is a largely Sufi, and therefore highly tolerant Muslim country, the victory of the ICU must be seen as a partial victory for ordinary people.

However, under the pretext that the ICU are made up of hard core Wahabi type Islamists that threaten stability in the Horn of Africa as well as the transitional government in Somalia, the Ethiopian state has decided to move into Somalia. This is a weak pretext given that residents of Mogadishu have been waiting for 15 years for a transition. Today, it is clear that there is a complicated proxy war happening in the Horn of Africa (one that in fact has been happening since the 90’s). In this war the US plays a heavy hand despite their supposed absence from the scene after Black Hawk Down.

The Ethiopian state has traditionally been the strongest state in the Horn of Africa, even in the Ottoman and early European colonial era (until the 1930’s). Also it is important in this present conflict to know that until the 1974 Ethiopian revolution the country’s state claimed to be a Christian orthodox state in communion with the pre-Chalcedonic, so called Oriental churches (Coptic, Armenian, etc) and with unbroken rule since the 4th century. Whatever else this history/myth may be it allows the contemporary Ethiopian state to project a particular kind of Christian image to itself and to the West despite the fact that its demographics tell a different story (half of Ethiopia’s population is Muslim). More importantly, what we can see is that such a strategy of extraversion by the Ethiopians, for what ever justified or unjustified reasons radically changes the internal meaning of cultural identities; so that those who were once neighbors and who have little history of religiously based in-fighting must inevitably become enemies.

Thus, the other context to the Ethiopian incursion into Somalia (which often uses ethnic Somali Ethiopian Soldiers) is the unfettered support of the Ethiopian regime by the US government despite the fact that since May 2005 the Ethiopian state has arrested the entire opposition, social justice activists, and shot and killed hundreds of ordinary demonstrators. In fact what is clear today is that the US has decided that the present regime in Ethiopia is the only desirable strong man in the Horn of Africa. One may even go so far as to say that the US indirectly instructed the regime of Meles Zenawi to arrest any alternative vision and players for the region, and thus to arrest the opposition members. The ICU is the first major sustained challenge to both the current Ethiopian state and current US policy in the region. However, part of the price paid for their slight victory is that Somalia will be invaded. And equally important, the Ethiopian Prime-minister will continue to strengthen his hand in the region through the total demolition of the Ethiopian opposition, and all those who may have an alternative, inclusive vision for the region.

The current regime in Ethiopia is made up of a coalition of ethnically based parties led by the Tigrai Peoples Liberation Front (Tigrai is a predominantly Orthodox Christian area in Northern Ethiopia). Prior to 1992, the TPLF was a rebel group whose operations were based in both Sudan and Somalia. In alliance with the Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front (also dominated by ethnic Tigrai people) the TPLF fought a guerilla war against the Soviet backed regime in Addis Ababa under the pretext of the right to self determination for Ethiopia’s various ethnic nationalities.

It is well documented that at the end of the Cold War and during the fall of the Soviet backed regime in Ethiopia in 1991/92, out of a number of stake holders, the TPLF was brought into the then secret peace talks orchestrated by the US because no one could doubt their military contribution to the demise of the admittedly tyrannical regime of Mengistu Haile-Mariam. However, after the fall of Mengistu’s regime, rather than engaging in a public process of reconciliation, the US treated the Ethiopian state as a prize the TPLF deserved to own as a reward for their contribution to ending communism. Thus, even in 1992 people who were opposed to organizing Ethiopian politics along ethnic lines were brutally killed, tortured and imprisoned. In the mean time, the leader of the TPLF was declared by Bill Clinton to be one of a new crop of African leaders committed to democracy.

One of the results of the 17 year civil war fought against Mengistu’s regime is that it allowed the TPLF and its allies to set up a highly trained military network. It is this network that allows the TPLF to retain power domestically. In addition, this network continues to be perceived by the west as the only institutionalized infrastructure strong enough to counter the so-called Islamist threat in the Horn of Africa. It would seem that the one thing the failed 1993 Operation Restore Hope (when their Black Hawk was downed) taught the Americans is that in order to win a war in Somalia you need soldiers who have an intimate knowledge of the lay of the land. Undoubtedly, the TPLF is the only large US allied army that has that knowledge. Thus, after the failed US operation in Somalia, the Ethiopian state took over as the main foreign intervener in Somalia. As reported by many including the International Crises Group, over the years, the TPLF has confirmed this status by keeping Somalia in a state of utter chaos. In addition the Ethiopian state has also supported the setting up of Puntland (which is led by the current leader of the Transitional Government in Somalia) as an autonomous and separate state from southern Somalia. Moreover, when necessary, as the New York Times has also recently reported, the US would supply cash and arms to secular warlords in Southern Somalia (even some of its former enemies) so that the internecine fighting would drag on. If end of the Cold War meant that the US would set up in Ethiopia a highly centralized, ethnically based dictatorship, in Somalia it meant war by proxy, chaos and confusion. To be sure, for the people of either country it is sometimes hard to tell the difference.

Of course, it is also hard to imagine how the TPLF would continue to monopolize violence in the Horn of Africa if the US and EU cut the 70% budgetary support it receives in the form of aid packages and loans. But the US tells itself that without the TPLF, a power vacuum would be created in the Horn of Africa that would lead to the rise of Islamists. On the other hand, the West has all but ignored the massive non-sectarian demonstrations ordinary citizens in Ethiopia have held for the past year. Obviously the US does not see that the people in the region may have other mechanisms to govern themselves. Nor do they see that by crushing and arresting non-sectarian political leaders (even if based in a religious or ethnic community) they give more breathing space to fundamentalist politics of all stripes. Contrary to the US point of view in the region, and however naively, in the past year ordinary Ethiopians mobilized their own Orange/Rose/Cedar revolution. What they found out is that if Uncle Sam is not interested in regime change demonstrators will be thrown in jail, shot and disappeared.

What all this means is that it is impossible in the Horn of Africa, for local people to use local institutions to solve problems that manifest to them as local but really in the final analyses are the sinister machinations of the war on terror. For instance, it is my understanding that some Women’s organizations in the Horn welcomed the arrival of the ICU; yet, they also said that they would challenge the creation of any new law that claimed that they should dress and act in a tradition that has nothing to do with their mothers (Somali women traditionally do not veil themselves). Instead, local civil society groups favoured the broad interpretation of customary law (pre-Islamic) together with Sharia law, and western law as the basis of a new civil code in Somalia (as is happening in present day (British) Somaliland). In any case this has been, willy, nilly, the practice since the colonial era, but always without the consent of ordinary folks. Now, because of the Ethiopian/US incursion into Somalia it is doubtful that we will ever hear the voices of those women who were the most likely people to be capable of articulating a just peace for the Somali people. These afore-mentioned women could have used the space opened by the ICU to debate their fate, and international civil society groups could have supported them. Instead, under the current incursion by Ethiopia democratic space has been narrowed to a sliver, it is most likely that we will have a winner takes all situation; yet another form of authoritarianism where everyone will be the loser. In fact since Ethiopia entered Somalia the ICU has walked away from the peace talks that were taking place in Khartoum and were hosted by the Arab League in conjunction with the African Union. But who would stay at the negotiating table when, behind your back you are being invaded?


Below are links to a series of articles mentioned in the above commentary. I have also added some other articles that might paint a picture of some of what is going on in the Horn of Africa. Amnesty is also calling for an urgent action on behalf of two professors that are in prison in Ethiopia. One of them was a student of Anwar Sheik, and the New School has also organized stuff on his behalf. I believe that the CLC also put something out about the situation as well.


A good analysis of the ICU


Story from BBC NEWS:


Story about failed CIA invlovement in Somalia just before the ICU victory


Intrenational Crises Group Report. Counter-terrorism in Somalia: losing hearts and minds.


Article on political Islam in the Horn of Africa


News on Ethiopian Freedom act now before US Congress


Ethiopian opposition view on the war by proxy


US troops in strange places



Amnesty call to action

By Goodwin Ginger

One almost wants to reach for the term incompetent when it comes to finding a descriptor for Harpers first major test in the foreign policy hot-seat. But as we argued in our last post, we think it is rather a function of ideological dogmatism and crass opportunism that has produced such an absurd position.

How Mr. Harper can go on the international record and give encouragement to the IDF to kill as many civilians as deemed necessary by describing their actions as measured and have made no plan or provision with respect to the lives of Canadians in that region is criminal. A Canadian Prime Minister must ask himself what will policy X mean for the safety of Canadians not what will policy X mean for the aspirations of foreign power B.

Indeed Mr. Harper failed his first test of leadership. It is one thing to take a bellicose policy position but it is unforgivable to not at the same time have ensured there was an efficient plan in place to evacuate Canadians from Lebanon. We hear his only “bold” gambit in this respect is to land in Cypress and pick up a hundred or so waifs on his flight home. What a master of war! What logician of the highest order! Surely we will call him Caesar when he lands!

We feel sorry for the poor Canadians who will have to make the flight with Harper. Can you imagine being trapped in a plane with one of the men that gave the green light to the killing of your relatives and the death of your familial nation: We suspect it will be a quiet flight.

By Goodwin Ginger

Seems like a rather crass question we know. But one has to query why Harper made the choice to describe the IDFs killing of civilians as a “measured” response to the kidnapping of two, presumably still alive, soldiers. The answer of course is that Harper never meant for Canadians to die; nor for that matter did the IDF. What Harper did, however, mean to do through his sabre-rattling on the cheap was to score points with the Americans and more importantly with bellicose factions of the Canadian electorate. Following the same logic as his counterpart south of the boarder (who has won both elections with razor thin margins), Harper showed that he will pander to any group on the political right almost irrespective of their cause.

In Harper’s desperate need to gather votes and support from wherever he can, including reactionary elements within the Canadian Jewish community, he gave the IDF the green light that ultimately lead to the killing of six Canadians.

In matters of international relations, Mr. Harper needs to make the interests of Canadians paramount; not the needs of a foreign power or the Conservative Party of Canada.

We leave you with a riddle: If two Israeli soldiers are worth so much time trouble by the Israeli state, how much trouble and time is the Canadian state willing to make for the killing of six of its citizens?

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