Sunday, January 25, 2004


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It’s too bad there’s no Oscar for the most inflammatory website on the Internet. If there were, would be a surefire winner.

Al minbar means ‘The Pulpit’. So if you’re a radical fundamentalist Imam who finds himself a bit short of vitriol, you can go to this site and find it ‘canned’ and ready for use in your mosque. Today these off-the-shelf khutbahs (sermons) are being used in mosques throughout the Muslim world. According to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), the Alminbar site, based in Saudi Arabia, reports it is visited by some 3,000 Imams from 62 countries and territories weekly.

The Alminbar site begins, “Welcome to the - the Orator's garden and the Muslim's provision. Here you will find a variety of material to help you prepare for your sermons.” Contents range from “Conditions for Victory, Reasons for Defeat”, to “Advice For The Times Of Trial”, to “The Virtues Of Martyrdom”, to “The true nature of the enmity between the Muslims and the Jews”, to “The Islamic position on Contagion and Pessimism”, to “The War Of Propaganda.” While Islamic fundamentalist sermons are often referred to in the media, few people have actually read what is being said. Suffice it to say the rhetoric makes Jerry Falwell sound like Barbra Streisand. The site’s treatment of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict provides an example.

The establishment of a Palestinian state, says one sermon, “is an old and fruitless plan that aims at keeping the Palestinians engaged, but …the Israelis are not serious in giving the Palestinians the right of a separate state.” It adds: Bringing up these old Israeli ideas increases the suffering of our nation…the Israelis only want to stop our resistance and continue their occupation…It is extremely dangerous to back a call for a Palestinian state according to a plan which deprives the Palestinians from returning to their areas….”

The sermon asks: “How long are we going to be made forcibly subservient? When are we going to rise up against the evil of the enemy? …Who can believe that a small number of these ‘brothers of monkeys and pigs’ (Jews) are making the entire Muslim nation suffer?”

The sermon calls for continued Jihad -- “Jihad is the language of power even if it means small stones and rocks” -- and lays out a four-point plan for rescuing the Palestinians from the Israelis and their fellow conspirators.

First, it declares, Muslims must “be sincere in our intention and know that the only purpose of Jihad is to exalt the supremacy of Allah's religion….” Second, Muslims should “foster patience and piety, since Allah is with those who observe patience and adhere to piety.” Third, Muslims must “intelligently evaluate our strength, bearing in mind that…arrogant pride without reliance on Allah is a cause for defeat….” Fourth, Muslims must “use military arms which utilize state-of-the-art technology.”

The sermon inveighs equally against Christians for collaborating with Jews to retain control of Palestinian lands. Says the sermon: “It is known that the Jews are but a small band…so who was it that protected them? It was their brothers, the Christians who are more Zionists then the Zionists themselves, and more Jews than the Jews. They are the leaders of the New World order. The masters of the world after the period of the cold war as they call it…Jewish hearts in Christian skins….”

The peace process, the sermon concludes, “is nothing but a change to the Zionist plan to control the world and especially the Islamic regions. The plan simply has changed from the idea of establishing the greater state of Israel to another idea because the Jews found themselves forced to change that old idea of the Jewish State. This is because fifty years after establishing the Jewish State, they discovered that they are a community full of contradictions and a strange phenomenon in the middle of surroundings full of enmity.”

The sermon cautions against any dialog with the Israelis: “Negotiations are the introduction to submission and it is benumbing the Muslim nations... The last hour will not come until the Muslims fight against the Jews…As soon as the Muslim Nation raises the banner of Islam and revives its practice of the religion like that of the first generations, the Jews and their supporters will be like dead rats.”

The sermon concludes: “The United States will not protect you…Israel backed the United States to launch this dirty war against Muslims and the Islamic movement world wide. The United States used the most destructive bombs against Afghanistan, and raised close to thirty-seven billion dollars in the war against Islam. The United States vetoes any decision at the United Nations related to helping the Palestinians, so how can we expect the United States to help us and be fair with us? “

The Internet contains numerous Islamic websites that are informative, moderate and reasoned. One of the best is www. The web also contains many Israeli, Jewish and Zionist websites whose contents similarly span the religious and political spectrum from warlike to conciliatory.

But the more inflammatory of these sites represent an egregious disservice to the religious faiths they purport to represent. They make peace an ever more distant dream.

About the writer: William Fisher has managed economic development programs in the Middle East for the US State Department and the US Agency for International Development. He served in the international affairs area in the Kennedy Administration.


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The following article appeared in the Middle East Times on Sunday, January 25, 2004.


There's an old Jewish saying about what happens when you get three rabbis in a room. You get four opinions… at least.

This truism is lost on most of the ordinary people of the Arab Middle East. To them, a Jew is a Jew is a Jew. It doesn’t matter where they live. All have the same homogenous worldview. All distrust, even hate, Arabs. Arabs are ignorant and dirty. All propound the same solutions to Israel’s problems: higher fences and more settlements. All buttress their power by controlling the world’s media and banking systems. Their mantra is ‘Israel may not always be right, but it is never wrong’ -- even if it means exporting all the Palestinians to Ruanda.

It is not difficult to see where these attitudes come from. Arab children learn it from their parents and from their schoolbooks. As adults, they consume a daily diet of anti-Israel, anti-Semitic words and images in their mostly government-controlled media. Yet, in clinging to these moldy stereotypes, Middle East Arabs shoot themselves in the foot. What they – and their governments -- don’t know about Jews may result in missed opportunities for problem solving.

This is particularly relevant to American Jews. While people in the Arab Middle East often exaggerate the political clout of this six million strong Diaspora, essentially they are correct: Washington policy makers take their views very seriously. Washington, in turn, works to exert influence on Jerusalem. For this reason, there are a few basic things Middle East Arabs should know about American Jews.

The first thing Middle East Arabs need to know is that there are four major groups of American Jews – each with different political as well as theological views. Orthodox Jews are roughly equivalent to the right wing in Israeli politics. Theologically, they could be characterized as Fundamentalist. Orthodox Jews regard the Talmud – Jewry’s Koran – as literal law. They see Israel as their God-given homeland, including the lands known biblically as Judea and Samaria – Jerusalem and the West Bank. At the other end of the scale are ‘Progressives’, who call themselves ‘culturally Jewish’ but never enter a synagogue. This group is arguably the most open to political discourse and pragmatic problem solving. Between these two extremes are two other substantial groups: Reformed Jews – sometimes said to have ‘rabbis in sport jackets’ -- who take a more contemporary and flexible approach to both Judaic theology and Israeli politics; and Conservative Jews, who have made important modifications to Talmudic practice but who ordinarily tend to side with orthodoxy politically. Given the demographics and the political environment in America today, the Reformed and Progressive blocs appear to be growing fastest.

The second thing Middle Eastern Arabs need to know is that there is no unanimity of opinion within this group, and there never has been. For some, it’s unwavering, unquestioning support for Israel. For others, it's more nuanced. They believe in Israel’s right to exist, but frequently question the policies of its leaders. Today, more than in many years, American Jews are debating how best to help the Israeli government solve the seemingly intractable Palestinian situation.

The third thing Middle East Arabs need to know is that American Jews appear to be allying themselves with the Republican Party in growing numbers. An overwhelming majority of American Jews - 73 percent - describe themselves as moderate or liberal; 23 percent as conservative. While American Jews have traditionally allied themselves with the Democrats -- only 19 percent voted for Bush in the 2000 elections -- there are indications that Jewish support for the Republican Party is on the rise. The growing Orthodox communities in the New York metropolitan area and elsewhere are decidedly Republican. Among Jewish voters polled during the 2002 New York governor's race, 47 percent indicated they would consider supporting George W. Bush. A poll conducted in April 2003 showed that 48 percent of Jews surveyed would consider voting for Bush in 2004. So the Jewish vote might be significant in determining the 2004 presidential election; nine key states with significant Jewish populations account for 212 electoral votes or 78 percent of the total needed to secure the White House. Nonetheless, while most American Jews support President Bush’s roadmap, many criticize him for not giving it the attention they feel it deserves. Given the realities of election politics in the US, it is unlikely that Mr. Bush will take any action this year that might upset this growing new constituency.

The fourth thing Middle East Arabs need to know about American Jewry today is that one of its fiercest debates concerns its freedom to debate – to stand for the right of Israel to exist in peace, but to mount aggressive opposition to the policies of its Government. The Diaspora’s organized political leadership goes to great lengths to present the appearance of unity, but this distorts the reality of Jewish diversity and continues to generate acrimonious and counter-productive bickering.

March Ellis, writing in Christian Century, commented, “The dualism is stark. To be for one side is to be against the other, and from the perspective of Israel's defenders, to speak on behalf of Palestinians is to desire the annihilation of the state of Israel. American Jewish leaders have called for unity on behalf of Israel, effectively announcing open season on Jews who are critical of Israeli policy.”
Said another Jewish commentator: “Jews who argue openly for the freedom of Palestinians, over whom Israel has military and territorial power, are branded as self-haters and traitors. Such pressure to conform to an uncritically pro-Israel position spells the demise of a value-oriented and ethically concerned tradition. “

Yet despite these deep divisions, American Jewry's most influential lobbying organization, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), has dropped its long-standing opposition to the creation of a Palestinian state. Moreover, in the 2002 annual survey of American Jewish opinion by the American Jewish Committee, American Jews were asked: "As part of a permanent settlement with the Palestinians, should Israel be willing to dismantle all, some, or none of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank?" Ten percent answered "all," 55 percent said "some," 34 percent - "none" (2 percent were not sure). That means that 65 per cent of American Jews would be comfortable with dismantling all or some of the West Bank settlements.

Which leads to the fifth thing Middle East Arabs need to know about American Jews: there is a substantial reservoir of good will for Palestinian statehood and Palestinian aspirations within the Diaspora. This position obviously arises more from concern for Israel’s security than from identification with the Palestinian cause, but its effect will be the same. If the Diaspora can get its act together to advocate pragmatically for secular reality, Palestinians will have a powerful and influential friend in Washington.


Tuesday, January 20, 2004


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The following editorial appeared in The Daily Star newspaper in Beirut this week. It should be essential reading for everyone with an interest in the Middle East.

Reform efforts are in the air throughout the Arab world. Two of the most serious endeavors to reform the Arab League and the education systems of this region would do well to come together in a practical and meaningful way. The moribund state of the Arab League and the often dysfunctional condition of public education in Arab countries remind us that in both cases what is urgently needed to fix a bad situation is not necessarily an infusion of money, but rather an infusion of vision and ideas.

Several Arab countries have started serious reforms of their education curricula, spurred by their own initiatives or pushed by American pressure. This trend has already generated some strong reactions in parts of the region, including Sunday’s lively Jordanian parliamentary session in which many MPs harshly criticized the education minister for the reforms under way in that country. Some parliamentarians were particularly opposed to such things as plans to teach peace-making and conflict-resolution at a time when Israel was continuing its colonization and killings in Palestine, and to confusing terrorism with legitimate resistance to occupation.

This home-grown hesitation about education reform is understandable yet unfortunate, at a time when the Arab world needs more than ever to re-examine its education and training system in order to achieve its full potential. The Arab League should have been the natural and logical place from where to start serious education reform efforts, including diagnostic studies and strategic plans. But the Arab League is a blunted instrument that has failed to contribute anything of serious value to such huge regional issues as the war in Iraq, the conflict in Palestine, terrorism, weapons proliferation, good governance, or human rights.

One of the reasons that Western armies routinely march into this region to reshape it in various ways is that we who comprise the Middle East and the Arab world have allowed despondency and neglect to define both our education and governance systems. The education systems perpetuate ignorance and rigid traditionalism to a large degree, and the political systems institutionalize these in tandem. The Arab League hovers above the stagnation, decay, and widely fraying structures of learning, unable to break free from the bureaucratized state controls that have long relegated it to the realm of the irrelevant.

This is a double tragedy in a region heavily defined by the Islamic religion, whose first edict is “read.” If the Arab League is still looking for a mission with which to rehabilitate and re-invent itself, it might fruitfully consider playing a role in genuine education reform.

Saturday, January 17, 2004

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By William Fisher

What was he thinking?

Was he thinking at all?

Or were others doing his thinking?

I refer here to President Bush’s proposal to establish a human settlement on the moon and launch a manned flight to Mars. It’s hard to know the answers to these questions. But it doesn’t take an astrophysicist to figure out that there’s something very wrong with this picture.

Specifically, there are four things wrong with it: First, the priorities. Second, the cost. Third, the science. Fourth, the politics.

The Priorities. All of us admire leaders with big ideas. But we also expect our leaders to have some sense of what’s most important, and when it’s important. Mr. Bush seems to have neither. Is there no one in this Administration with the courage to tell the President there are still a few things left undone here on earth? Like helping the millions of Americans who live below the poverty line? Like ensuring that working parents and their kids have health insurance? Like making sure that the No Child Left Behind program is fully funded? Like having the resources needed to fight terrorism, rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan, and bring democracy to the Middle East? Like finding enough money to mount a really grown-up program to combat HIV-AIDS? Even the President of the United States cannot have an unlimited laundry list.

The Cost. If this President is a fiscal conservative, Herbert Hoover was Santa Claus. George Bush spends money like a sailor with 24-hour shore leave. He cuts taxes at the same time, plunging the nation into massive deficits that will persist until our great-grandchildren are getting around with walkers. In 1989, George W. Bush’s father made a similar, but less ambitious proposal. NASA estimated the cost at some $400 billion. To implement the president’s current proposal, we are looking at costs in excess of a trillion dollars. Has anyone in the White House taken the time to figure out where it’s all going to come from?

The Science. The technology that evolved into the Space Shuttle program is now geriatric. For at least the past decade, there has been a serious scientific debate about the value of manned space flight. It would be an egregious error for the US to abandon space exploration, nor is there any possibility of that happening. But trying to avoid that error by continuing to focus on obsolete and exorbitantly expensive hardware has to be a step backward. The success of NASA's current Mars venture appears to reaffirm that unmanned missions are every bit as valuable, as well as a lot less risky. Most scientists who are actually involved in the space program believe we can do as much and learn as much through unmanned space exploration. And that this can be achieved through incremental increases in NASA’s budget – at a fraction of the cost.

The Politics. Forgive my cynicism, but I have to observe that unmanned space flight is not very sexy. It provides no photo ops, no opportunities to land on a carrier deck and proclaim ‘mission accomplished’. Does one detect the fine hand of that master alchemist Karl Rove in this proposal? Does the year 2004 figure anywhere in the president’s calculus? After all, Howard Dean never put a man on Mars! Is it conceivable that Mr. Bush’s latest space adventure is being driven by the bluntest instrument in the politicians’ toolkit: changing the subject? Isn’t that what politicians do when things aren’t going so well? Well, they aren’t. Mr. Bin Laden is still at large The President’s tax cuts have not magically resuscitated the economy. Unemployment remains unacceptably high and the promised new jobs just aren’t. We continue to face enormous problems in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention democratizing the Middle East or getting the Saudis to stop funding terror groups. Can anyone think of a better time to change the subject?

But if we find it too embarrassing to believe that our president would inject reelection politics into so serious an issue as our future in space, we do have another alternative: Mr. Bush’s latest extravagance is merely another faith-based initiative. Or maybe we should say space-based initiative!

Saturday, January 10, 2004


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By William Fisher and Ludwig Rudel

Over the past decade, international donors have pumped billions into programs to make Middle East industry, agriculture and services more competitive in the global economy. Funds have come from such organizations as the US Agency for International Development, the European Union, the World Bank and many others. These donors believe that the private sector is the engine of economic growth and job-creation, that economic growth is the key to the development of a middle class, and that it is the middle class that fosters stability and political and economic reforms.

Egypt has long been well atop the list for donor largesse in the Middle East – second only to Israel as a recipient of US aid. But substantial funds are now flowing to other countries such as Jordan, and lesser amounts to others such as Lebanon, Gaza/West Bank, and to several countries in North Africa.

What have Middle East donors done? Their toolkit includes everything from microfinance to privatization. Donors have given policy advice to privatize inefficient State-run companies, get governments out of this operational role, and train them to perform regulatory functions. They have collaborated with host government ministries and agencies to develop policies and implement regulations to remove obstacles to private sector growth. They have sponsored programs, often with special lending packages funded with governmental resources, to reform banking practices to make credit accessible to smaller companies. They have provided firm-level technical and managerial assistance to thousands of individual companies. They have introduced low cost training programs to help entrepreneurs access global information sources on available technology and foreign markets. They have helped to create technology research and development facilities and encouraged these institutions to develop links to local companies or industries. They have introduced programs to help groups of local business people to organize themselves into Business Support Organizations – BSOs – to provide market and technology information and services to their members, and lobby their governments to remove constraints to private sector development.

What has been achieved? In the economic development arena, it is difficult – and unfair -- to try to find a quick ‘cause and effect’ relationship between donor help and corporate performance. By definition, economic development is a slow process, and more equitable distribution of income is even slower. While there are many anecdotal success stories, the view of most development experts is summed up by Dr. Wallace E. Tyner of the Department of Agricultural Economics at Purdue University, a veteran of dozens of overseas development projects for USAID and other donor agencies in the Middle East and elsewhere. Says Dr. Tyner: “The reality is that when a donor project comes along, it is usually the established or well connected that have access to the donor(s). Smaller businesses largely get left out of the process. Thus, small businesses remain small and unable to create jobs, and the relatively rich get richer.” Donors find this phenomenon particularly discouraging because small businesses have the potential to create far more jobs than all the relatively large private companies combined.

What can be done? There is no one-size-fits-all solution for the Middle East. But there are steps that could be taken. For example:

1. Conditionality: As ‘in-your-face’ as it may be diplomatically, donors need to insist that aid to the private sector be accompanied by pro-business policy and regulatory changes. They also have a right to encourage transparency and accountability from host governments for the funds they receive, and appropriate actions to ensure that mafias or corrupt officials don’t profit from aid dollars. Once a program and its goals and benchmarks are accepted by recipient governments, these hosts should understand that the size of next year’s aid budget will depend on how well this year’s benchmarks have been met.

2. Donor Know-How: Those who work for governmental aid agencies have little or no private sector experience. This has led to errors in judgment and to a general lack of interest in private sector development. Donors need to recruit more staff from the private sector.

3. Access to Capital: Sales, profits and employment cannot be created without capital. But in the Middle East and elsewhere, commercial banks are most comfortable lending to prominent figures and to friends and relatives, and distinctly uncomfortable lending to others – especially smaller companies. Reform of commercial banking systems throughout the Middle East needs to be a much higher priority among donors.

4. Inside-out, bottom-up Change: In a few Middle East countries, indigenous business support groups have learned how to make their case to government and keep the pressure on until reasonable policy changes are made. Donors need to devote more resources to the development of such trade associations, chambers of commerce, and cooperatives.

5. Use of Volunteers: While NGOs have been used abroad in the past, they have usually been placed in subservient roles to contracting firms. Yet host governments and host country business people may well respond more positively to volunteers than to paid consultants. Volunteers can bring a wealth of practical business experience to the Middle East. Their role is worth expanding.

6. Donor Coordination and Cooperation: Multilateral and bilateral donors need to leverage their resources to optimize their positive impacts. This requires more collegial planning and implementation of programs to strengthen private sectors throughout the Middle East and North Africa. There is a need for greater cooperation among donors from different countries, as well as between bilateral and multilateral donors.

7. Access to Information Systems: Middle East business people need more access to the Internet, which unprecedented opportunities for individual entrepreneurs to obtain information about the latest technologies and market information from around the world. It can also be used to help MENA business people to identify prospective joint venture partners or subcontracting customers.

8. Corruption: Corruption exists in every developing country (and many developed ones as well). The Middle East is certainly no exception. Corruption comes in many forms. It is often blatant: your goods will rot on the dockside unless the Customs Officer and his colleagues get their baksheesh. Sometimes it is subtler; many companies in the Middle East hire Customs Officers to do their paperwork in their ‘spare time’, thus ensuring expedited shipments. In whatever form, corruption is pervasive and costly. The American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt estimates that corruption adds 25-30 per cent to every commercial transaction, often with the result that Egyptian products and services become uncompetitive. Moreover, corruption hurts smaller companies most. Finally, a reputation for corruption poisons the environment for major transnational investors. It is true that Middle Eastern civil servants (who, in many countries, once made up much of the respected middle class) are painfully underpaid. They need more money, and those who deserve it on a merit basis should receive it. But money alone will not fix this deeply ingrained problem. Donors can help, but at the end of the day, it is a matter of political will: host governments throughout the region need to be prepared to take swift and serious criminal action against corrupt officials, from the top down, and against the business people who keep this sordid tradition alive.

The Middle East lives in a globalized world, whether it likes the idea or not. It can rise to the challenges of globalization -- producing good products and services competitively -- or it can allow globalization to reduce it to buying expensive imports only the few can pay for. Changing old ways will not be easy. But failure is not an option.

Sunday, January 04, 2004


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By William Fisher

Rob Herbert’s New York Times article about Daryl Hunt’s 19-year imprisonment in North Carolina for a crime he did not commit triggered my own sad memories of Southern justice as it was – and sometimes still is.

In the early 1950s, I worked in central Florida as the Volusia County Bureau Chief for the Daytona Beach News-Journal. I also happened to be one of very few white correspondents for the African-American newspaper, the Baltimore Afro-American, a position that did not exactly endear me to local law enforcement. Back then, Volusia County was identified in many college sociology textbooks as the most corrupt county in the United States.

The local cops in the sleepy cowtown county seat of Deland, the county sheriff’s office, and the county courts, were part of my daily beat. In those days, law enforcement officers worked on the ‘fee system’. That meant that their incomes were dependent on the number of citizens they arrested, plus a proportion of the bail bonds the ‘suspects’ posted. One of the results of this quaint entrepreneurial arrangement was that all the cops’ paddy-wagons were mobilized every day at around sundown for sorties into what was then referred to as ‘colored town’, i.e. the part of town on the wrong side of the tracks where the ‘black folk’ lived in their shanty shacks.

Once inside the war zone, the cops swooped down and arrested everything that wasn’t nailed down. Charges ranged from drunk and disorderly to disturbing the peace to resisting arrest to driving with a broken taillight to blocking police access to a crime scene. Each night, dozens of people were arrested, put in
paddy-wagons, and dispatched to the local jail, whereupon the ‘homeland security’ fleet turned around and went back for more. Everyone, that is, save those few lucky enough to have $25 in their pockets to pay off the arresting officer. Moreover, in the best spirit of Adam Smith, there was a healthy competition between the local police and the sheriff’s office to win the headcount.

Saturday night was the biggest night of the week; the headcount climbed into the hundreds. As there was no night court, the arrested who could not come up with bond money spent the night in jail. In the morning, they appeared in court and were given a perfunctory chance to enter a plea. Those who pleaded guilty – the vast majority of prisoners – were fined. Those unable to pay were sentenced to various jail terms, usually up to 30 days. The length of the sentence was based solely on the testimony of the arresting officer. Because, in those dark days of Jim Crow justice, defendants were terrified to say anything. ‘Uppity’ blacks got the stiffest sentences.

The greatest misfortune was being black, pleading ‘not guilty’, and being tried in County Court. It will come as no surprise to anyone who has seen ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ that ‘nigra’ defendants were routinely referred to as ‘boy’ (and worse). Many of these defendants spent long periods of time in custody, uncharged and without benefit of counsel. Many were illiterate and therefore unable to read Court documents. Few could afford lawyers, so the court appointed their lawyers. I covered dozens of these ‘trials’, and witnessed many of these lawyers arriving at Court unprepared, drunk and asleep through much of the proceedings. I never witnessed a black defendant being acquitted, nor do I recall any of these cases being appealed.

Those found guilty spent indeterminate amounts of time in jail. One reason was Volusia County’s virtually non-existent record-keeping. The second reason was that the local police and sheriff’s departments received public funds for each day of a prisoner’s incarceration. For one or another of these reasons, 30-day sentences often stretched into months.

Reform came slowly to Volusia County, bit it did come. The fee system is long gone. The civil rights movement and the legislation it triggered eventually put an end to the Saturday Night Massacres. African-Americans are no longer called ‘boy’ in the Courtroom. They vote. Disney World brought a new infusion of diversity to the whole area from Orlando to Deland, and opened this antebellum vestige to people from everywhere, with money to spend.

Today law enforcement and the judicial system are not flawless, but they are as efficient and honest as those in most places across the American South. The Deland Police Department and the Volusia County Sheriff’s offices, once the private preserves of good ‘ol boy white Protestants, now include African-American officers, Latinos and women. The first woman to serve as a uniformed officer for the Sheriff’s office joined in 1972. Today, there are 40 women officers, a bit over 9% of the total force. The Sheriff’s office hired its first black deputy back in 1953. Two other African Americans joined the department in 1971 and 1972, and rose to become a Captain and Chief Deputy. The Department currently has 20 full-time sworn, African-American Deputies, or approximately 4.6% of its full-time force.

None of this provides failure-proof protection against Daryl Hunt-type miscarriages. As demonstrated by Barry Scheck’s Innocence Project, the nation’s prisons are still filled with many for whom DNA represents the only way out. Nor are the miscreants limited to the American South. Yet the evolution of one unspeakably corrupt Florida county should give all of us some reason for optimism.


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By William Fisher

Second-guessing is always easy and should be avoided whenever possible. This is particularly true in the dynamic and ambiguous world of geopolitics. But sometimes one cannot resist. The year-end message of Secretary of State Colin Powell makes this one of those times.

The principal reason is that Secretary Powell’s message is unabashedly self-congratulatory. The year just ended is wrapped in red ribbon, bright and attractive. There were no missteps, no errors, no mistakes, no misguided priorities, no missed opportunities.

The Bush Administration, the Secretary writes, can review the past and plan the future “with confidence because President George W. Bush's vision is clear and right: America's formidable power must continue to be deployed on behalf of principles that are simultaneously American, but that are also beyond and greater than ourselves.”

A substantial part of Powell’s message predictably focuses on Iraq and Afghanistan. “The Afghan people”, he writes, “…now have a constitution, a rapidly advancing market economy and new hope as they look toward national elections. “

The facts on the ground are a lot messier. As of yesterday, Afghanistan does indeed have a draft constitution. But Amnesty International reports that intimidation and fear of retribution have prevented some delegates from participating freely. “Dominance by strong political and armed factional leaders and the absence of the rule of law in many parts of the country contributes to an atmosphere of insecurity for delegates who wish to act independently of powerful political groups. Some delegates fear for their safety of their families and for their own lives, especially after they return home at the end of the CLJ,” Amnesty says.

The country’s “rapidly advancing market economy”, cited by Secretary Powell, is in fact being led by poppy production. The Karzai Government controls virtually nothing outside Kabul, the warlords have become uneasy allies, the US has failed to provide anything approaching the magnitude of funding originally promised, and there is much evidence of the resurgence of the Taliban. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that, in the wake of 9/11, the US invaded this country, overthrew the Taliban government and then, effectively, walked away – to Iraq – leaving Afghanistan looking pretty much like the moonscape it found there.

On Iraq, the Secretary writes, “The aspirations of a free and talented Iraqi nation are also taking wing, now that Saddam Hussein's murderous regime is no more…We are working to return sovereignty to the Iraqi people through a fair and open process and to ensure that the country receives the maximum feasible debt relief. As the Coalition Provisional Authority closes its doors on June 30…we will open an embassy in Baghdad.”

We are all happy that Saddam Hussein was captured. But Howard Dean is right: we are no safer today than we were before his capture. Insurgency did not collapse. There may be fewer attacks on Coalition forces, but US military spokesmen note they are becoming more sophisticated and more coordinated. There is no doubt that the Bush Administration desperately wants to be out of Iraq before the run-up to the 2004 Presidential election. To this end, the Coalition has adopted an almost certainly unachievable timetable for returning sovereignty to the Iraqis. But what kind of government will we leave behind, and who will elect/appoint it? Then there is the issue of reconstruction. Who will rebuild this shattered country? The same people who were given the ‘no-play, no-pay’ dictum by the US Defense Department? And the same week asked to forgive Iraqi debt? Not likely.

Powell’s message also addresses the Greater Middle East. He writes: “While our efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq will continue in 2004, we are resolved as well to turn the president's goal of a free and democratic Middle East into a reality. We will expand the Middle East Partnership Initiative to encourage political, economic and educational reform throughout the region….”

Achieving Mr. Bush’s Wilsonian vision of a democratic Middle East is easy only for speechwriters. Our closest allies in the war on terrorism are the very countries Mr. Bush would democratize, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, for example. These are the same authoritarian regimes to which the US continues to cozy up, into which it has poured billions in aid, and which have talked reform and done nothing for decades. Yet Mr. Powell’s message is silent on just how these conflicting priorities are to be reconciled.

Among the more noteworthy characteristics of the Secretary’s message is the number of times he uses the pronoun ‘we’ and the near total absence of references to the United Nations or the international community. Virtually buried in the third paragraph from the bottom of his message -- after Iran, Latin America, North Korea and many other problem regions -- the Secretary asserts: “with our quartet partners -- the United Nations, the European Union and Russia -- we will help Israelis and Palestinians achieve peace, so that a free Palestine will exist alongside a secure and democratic Jewish state in Israel.”

The very positioning of the Israeli-Palestinian issue in Mr. Powell’s message speaks volumes about the Bush Administration’s strategic miscalculations about the Middle East. If the US really aspires to win the ‘hearts and minds’ battle of the Arab street, the effort needs to begin in Jerusalem, not in Baghdad or Kabul or Tehran. This means dispensing a lot of tough love to both Israelis and Palestinians, consistently and patiently over an extended period of time, as only the US has the resources and the credibility to do.

Sadly, the pragmatism of US politics suggests that anything that takes a long time and a lot of patience is very unlikely to happen in an election year.

Friday, January 02, 2004


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By William Fisher

One of the principal engines of neoconservative influence on the Bush Administration is a little known collection of unpaid outside experts formed “to provide the Secretary of Defense with independent, informed advice and opinion concerning major matters of defense policy.” Its name is the Defense Policy Advisory Board, usually referred to as the Defense Policy Board (DPB). While the Board has some centrist Republican members, like Henry Kissinger, and at least one hawkish Democrat, it has an undeniable tilt to the right: Seven of its 31 members have ties to the conservative Hoover Institution at Stanford University. Many others have business relationships with companies that are prominent defense contractors. The scope of the board's focus has broadened since its founding in 1985. Under Rumsfeld, it has become more involved with issues relating to the overall objectives of US foreign policy. For example, the Washington Post reported that, in July 2002, a guest speaker gave a presentation recommending that “US officials give [Saudi Arabia] an ultimatum to stop backing terrorism or face seizure of its oil fields and its financial assets invested in the United States."

Since the beginning of the Bush presidency, the chairman of the DPB was Richard Perle, a leading neoconservative who was known as the ‘prince of darkness’ for his hawkish views during his tenure as an Assistant Secretary of Defense during the Reagan Administration. In March 2003, Perle was forced to relinquish the chair amid allegations of conflicts of interest for his representation of companies with business before the Defense Department. Perle was replaced in the chair by board member Tillie K. Fowler, a former Republican Congresswoman from Florida who is little known, even inside the Beltway. Perle remains an active board member. Most observers believe that Ms. Fowler was chosen because she is least known and relatively uncontroversial, and doubt that her new role will have any material effect on the work or composition of the board.

It is difficult to draw a pristine line between the views of the Board and those of its members. One reason is that the Board publishes nothing in its own name that is available save to a few within the Pentagon and the White House. Nonetheless, the DPB is arguably the most influential of the US Government’s hundreds of advisory boards. For example, it was reputedly the driving force behind the Bush Doctrine of Preemption, the President’s rejection of multilateral institutions such as the United Nations, his Wilsonian vision for democratizing the Middle East, and the general conviction that the US has an obligation to assert its power, buttressed by its military if necessary, to project American democracy and American values to the world.

There is only one reason that explains why this Board, virtually silent since its founding, has moved to center-stage in the Bush universe: September 11, 2001. The destruction of the Twin Towers provided neoconservatives with a new and powerful platform. From this platform, they could credibly argue that diplomacy was a fool’s game, the United Nations was impotent, and that the failure of Bush, the father, to finish off Saddam Hussein then was tantamount to a failure of traditional foreign policy itself. As reported by Newsweek, the neocon rational was: “…after 9-11 conservatives considered the decision to restore the Arab status quo their biggest mistake, the chief sin of Bush the father. Over the next decade it generated hatemongers like Osama bin Laden, left WMD in the hands of defiant tyrants like Saddam and ‘peace’ in the hands of corrupt autocrats like Yasir Arafat. September 11 was an indictment of every policymaker over the decade who'd seen the Arab world merely as a gas station to the globe. The Arabs had to change, too, fundamentally.”

Against that background, there are three reasons for the Board’s inordinate influence in the White House. The first is its unprecedented access to kindred spirits within the government, whose recommendations frequently lead to major changes in US defense and foreign policy. Perle is considered a protégé of US Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld’s Undersecretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz, is arguably today’s leading neoconservative thinker, assuming the heritage of elders like Irving Kristol. And Deputy Defense Secretary for Policy, Douglas Feith, to whom the DBP reports, is similarly well known for his neoconservative views. The second reason is its cast of characters. Many of the current members of the Board served in the Reagan and first Bush administrations and were highly visible. During the Clinton years, they inhabited a media desert. Today, the views of neocons and the policies of the Bush Administration are mutually reinforcing. One result is that the presence of neocon spokesmen like Perle, Adelman and Gingrich has become ubiquitous on television news programs, conservative websites, and conservative radio talk shows. The third reason is that the publicity generated by these neoconservative spokesmen is sometimes viewed as equivalent to ‘trial balloons’ for the White House and the Pentagon. Public and Congressional reaction to their comments provides the Administration with a handy barometer of prevailing sentiment.

The fortunes of the Board have ebbed and flowed during 2003. They reached a high point with the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and a low point with the continued attacks on Coalition forces in Iraq after President Bush had declared an end to formal hostilities. The capture of Saddam Hussein, however, appeared to breath new life into the movement. Yet, as Newsweek pointed out, “even as the neocons savor these victories, some critics suggest their moment may already have passed. Few in the Bush administration invoke the toppling of Saddam's statue in Baghdad any longer, as they did so euphorically in early May. The future does look messier and more ambiguous than some neocons had hoped, and the hawks now have to figure out how to build things up, rather than knock them down...Most deflating of all, a new Pew Research poll shows rampant anti-Americanism has overtaken even formerly pro-American Muslim countries like Indonesia and Nigeria, both chaotic places where terrorists can congregate.”

Nonetheless, at this juncture the movement is very much alive and well. Neoconservates continue to believe that American preeminence -- asserted militarily when necessary and free of the restraints imposed by international organizations and treaties -- is key to the post-Cold War world order. Members of the DPB, and their masters at the Pentagon, will continue to espouse this view to influence decision-makers in the White House. While the volume may be turned down somewhat in the run-up to the 2004 election, that influence shows no signs of diminishing any time soon.

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The Arabs’ missed opportunities in 2003

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The following article is the work of Rami G. Khouri, Executive Editor of The Daily Star newspaper in Beirut, and is reprinted here with permission.

The year 2003 posed a tremendous collective challenge to the Arab people and regimes, and offered exciting possibilities for change in several important arenas: redressing tyranny and autocracy at home; promoting democracy, pluralism and civil society; expanding economic capabilities; and developing more productive and rational relations with the world’s big powers. But at a great moment of historical reckoning and potential change, the Arabs … ducked.
I generalize, because some Arabs did recognize and respond to challenges, especially by promoting serious economic reforms that allow the private sectors to plug into the global economy. But on the really important issues that begged to be addressed, most Arab peoples, regimes and institutions avoided grappling with the need to make significant changes both in their attitudes to the issues at hand and in their exercise of power.

The big development that brought on the potential moment of historical reckoning in 2003 was the Anglo-American decision to send in the armada (again) in order to topple the Iraqi regime. This brought to life in dramatic and immediate form the fundamental dilemma that all Arab states have faced for decades: Does the contemporary Arab state derive its legitimacy, security, stability and well-being primarily from the sentiments of its own citizens, the friendly cooperation of its neighbors, the strength of its economy, the support of foreign powers, the acquiescence of Israel, or some combination of these? The Anglo-American assault on Iraq forced most Arab states to address this awkward question, because it generated conflicting pressures on the Arab regimes and societies. Most regimes tried to navigate the comfortable and familiar pathway of indecision: They cautioned against war and “regime change,” but cooperated with the US-led armada in both these endeavors; they demanded respect for international legitimacy, but acquiesced in the Anglo-American disregard of the UN and the international will on Iraq; they imposed the UN economic embargo against Iraq, but allowed smugglers to defy the embargo; they sought a coherent, collective pan-Arab response to the crisis in Iraq, but simultaneously focused on preserving their own interests; and they spoke boldly of the urgency of resolving the Palestine-Israel conflict, but largely left the Palestinians to suffer at the hands of the stronger Israeli military.

Rarely in modern history had so many Arabs simultaneously and jointly participated in an exercise of mass confusion and indecision as they did in 2003 vis-a-vis the Iraq crisis. The manner in which the Arab societies dealt with the Iraq war challenge was more revealing than the words they used to address it. With a few exceptions, Arab governments had to find a way to reconcile their own reliance on American military and economic support with the strong anti-American sentiments of their populations. Some Arab governments restricted demonstrations against the Anglo-American policy and Israel, which exacerbated internal political tensions. In the end, the priority for all the Arab states was how they could best ensure security and stability in the middle of a regional crisis.
Arab societies as a whole missed the opportunity in 2003 to seriously explore the root issues that defined the crisis over Iraq: Arab autocracy and the centralized, sometimes brutal, monopoly on power; the misappropriation of public funds by unelected, unaccountable governments; the lack of policy options suggested by independent institutions in society, such as research centers, the mass media, political parties and universities; regimes that seem to persist more because of the support of foreign powers than a mandate from their own citizens; a numbing tradition of foreign military intervention in the Middle East, both to change individual regimes and to redraw maps and agendas on a wider regional scale; the persistent conflict with Israel and its impact on the entire region; and a broad inability of the Arab economies to develop their human and natural resources in order to contribute to the global economy more meaningfully than simply as a source of energy that was put into the ground by divine creation and geological serendipity and is pumped out of the ground by foreign oil companies.
None of these issues were seriously or systematically explored in a public manner in the Arab region during the past year, despite some courageous attempts to do so here and there. The key relationships between citizen and state, Arabs and Israelis, Arabs and America, and among the many different religious, ethnic and national groups within the Arab region, begged to be examined and fixed, but were largely ignored. Consequently, the conflicting forces, policies and sentiments that swirled through the region again highlighted the Arab capacity to manage tensions and crises without resolving any of their root causes. More troublingly, as long as these root causes of Arab tensions and conflict persist, the region will continue to suffer the problems that have defined it in recent decades.

The challenges facing Arab societies and governments were already enormous and complex before this year, and have now become even more complicated due to the impact of the Anglo-American war and regime change in Iraq. If change in the Arab world in the new year and beyond is to be driven and defined largely by Anglo-American dictates, we are likely to suffer tensions and conflicts for years to come. If, instead, the institutions of Arab society can rise to the challenge and bring about real reform that responds to indigenous values and rights, this region might finally achieve the lasting stability and prosperity that is the right of its citizens.