"Ain't Gonna Study War No More"

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Right-To-Life Party, Christian, Anti-War, Pro-Life, Bible Fundamentalist, Egalitarian, Libertarian Left

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

U.N. Seeks to Blunt U.S. Attacks

Much of the dirt used to try to implicate Annan emerged not as a result of journalists' digging, said Friedman. On the contrary, ''American journalists are lazy,'' he said. ''People are handing them stuff.''

The United Nations is grappling with ways to revamp its press relations and fend off attacks by Washington launched through U.S. media.

With the world body being buffeted by scandals involving charges of mismanagement, corruption, and nepotism, Secretary General Kofi Annan urged his top communications lieutenants and veteran journalists to figure out new ways to work with hostile U.S. media--even if this meant abandoning years of secrecy and discretion.

''When I travel in the rest of the world they still have a lot of respect and enthusiasm for the U.N.,'' Annan said this month at a meeting here on relations between the institution and the media.

''It's just here really,'' he added, referring to hostile media treatment in the United States.

''We need to look at how open we are with the press'' and find ways of ''preempting them,'' Annan said.

That appeal has sparked some soul searching. U.N. officials and journalists alike said the institution served as scapegoat to its member states and that it excelled at this role because U.N. superiors forbade their communications staff to say anything critical of member states.

Ahmad Fawzi, a former deputy spokesman for the secretary general, recalled that his boss had muzzled him when he wanted to distance the U.N. from a 1993 botched mission in Somalia in which U.S. troops, acting alone, lost 18 men and killed dozens of Somali militia fighters and civilians. The raid later was recaptured in the Hollywood film ''Blackhawk Down''.

The morning after learning about the attack on CNN, Fawzi, now a news and media director in the UN Department of Public Information, asked then-Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali if he could tell the press that the U.N. had no foreknowledge of the attack.

''I begged him to let us say the truth about what had happened, that this was an attack that the U.N. knew nothing about until it went wrong, that it was being coordinated from Tampa Florida by (U.S.) Central Command. And he said no.''

''And I said 'Why not? Why do we always have to be blamed when things go wrong?' And he said, 'because we are here to serve member states. You cannot go out and blame a member state for an operation that went wrong. I forbid you from doing that,'' Fawzi said.

Fawzi recalled Boutros-Ghali once told him that the letters SG--short for secretary general--stood for scapegoat.

Compounding the problem, media typically fail to distinguish between the U.N. bureaucracy and the member governments it serves, thus fuelling a misperception of the institution as a self-governing entity threatening individual countries' sovereignty.

This has been a common theme in certain U.S. media and among special interest groups including fundamentalist Christians, neo-conservatives, isolationists, and libertarians. Yet, Washington is among the most dominant of the U.N.'s member states and enjoys effective veto power over decisions far beyond the formal veto it wields in the pivotal Security Council.

''There is a profound misapprehension of the purpose of the U.N. that feeds into the people who want to destroy it,'' said Richard Hottelet, who has covered the institution since 1960 from within and for U.S.-based National Public Radio.

''The U.N. is not an 'it','' Hottelet said. ''It's a 'they.'' And it's a 'they' that is no better than its members.''

Journalists urged the institution to fling open its doors to the media.

In particular, they urged the U.N. to drop its longstanding policy of not releasing information or comment damaging to its members.

''You have people here who want to destroy the U.N. You have to be able to attack, leak, and counter what is being said about you,'' said Mike Berlin, a journalist who covered the world body from 1967-1988 and now teaches at Boston University.

Take the example of Sudan's strife-torn Darfur region. Washington has denounced events there as genocide yet the U.N. presence on the ground has been limited and ineffective at containing conflict between the government and rebel militias.

The U.N. could have forestalled criticism if its briefings on Darfur ''had told journalists over and over that it's all well that (former U.S. Secretary of State) Colin Powell said it's genocide but where are the American helicopters?'' Berlin said.

Instead, the U.N. has kept diplomatically quiet about the lack of substantive U.S. commitment to resolving the conflict or peacekeeping in the interim, Berlin noted. In consequence, he asked rhetorically, ''whom do people blame for Darfur?''

Joshua Friedman, who covered the U.N. for U.S. newspaper Newsday from 1998-2001, urged the world body to adopt a more uninhibited approach to releasing information, for example restricting only information that might endanger its personnel in the field.

''If this access were given, I don't think Kofi Annan would be in the trouble he's in now,'' Friedman said, referring to recent investigations that ultimately cleared the U.N. chief of wrongdoing in corrupt practices stemming from the now-defunct, oil-for-food programme in Iraq. The effort was put in place by member states led by the United States and Britain, both of which maintained close supervision of its implementation.

Much of the dirt used to try to implicate Annan emerged not as a result of journalists' digging, said Friedman. On the contrary, ''American journalists are lazy,'' he said. ''People are handing them stuff.'' Friedman suggested the U.N. start doing the same.

Other proposed solutions to the U.N.'s media woes have been more administrative and designed to break down barriers not between the bureaucracy and the media but between the secretary general's office and its own communications department.

Fred Eckhard, who will be leaving his post as Annan's spokesman when his boss steps down next year, has circulated a proposal that the spokesman's office ''once and finally be made an integral part of the Secretary General's office.''

''We get our guidance from the Secretary General and the people closest to him and administratively, it seems to only make sense to me that this is where this office belongs,'' he said.

At present, Eckhard's office nestles among news bureaus separated from the secretary general's office by some 30-plus storeys.

Niko Kyriakou

An Army of the Unwilling

At the end of last month, the U.S. Selective Service System issued a report assuring President George W. Bush that it would be ready to implement a draft within 75 days. While stirring up a storm of speculation, this report may actually be the least compelling harbinger of a draft.

Far more dire is the skyrocketing need for troops amid plummeting supply. More than 300,000 of the 482,000 soldiers in the U.S. army are already deployed abroad, predominantly in Iraq, Afghanistan, South Korea and the former Yugoslavia. The ratio of two soldiers abroad for every one at home is the opposite of what military strategists say is necessary to maintain a long-term deployment.

It would take 100,000 new troops at home to correct this discrepancy, but the government concedes that new troops are not coming in.

All four military services missed their enlistment quotas last year, according to one analysis, and regular military, reserve and National Guard recruitment levels are at a 30-year low.

With a lack of new troops, the Pentagon has relied heavily on rotations to maintain the 150,000-strong force in Iraq. Yet a Pentagon-funded poll in late 2003 found that 49 percent of troops did not plan to reenlist, and that number is likely to be even higher now.

Without a major influx of new recruits, many observers say the option of relying on Reserves and National Guard troops is not sustainable.

Last September, the 40,000 National Guard troops who make up nearly half of U.S. forces in Iraq were asked to remain on active duty after their tours were done, and most were officially told that their enlistment would extend until 2031. This presidential action, known as 'stop loss', is only meant for emergencies or congressionally declared wars, of which Iraq is neither.

The head of the Army Reserves recently wrote a memo saying that over-deployment has crippled his troops' readiness and that the reserves were "degenerating into a broken force."

Almost desperate, the Pentagon has called up more than 5,500 'Ready Reserves', older men and women whose regular reserve duty has already ended, and many of whom are now grandfathers and grandmothers. The Army also plans to significantly increase the number of recruiters and to launch a new 150-million-dollar ad campaign.

Jeffrey Record, a visiting professor at the Air War College, said in a January 2004 report that the U.S. Army is "near the breaking point." And Charles Moskos, creator of the army's "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy on gay soldiers, and an advisor to four presidents on military affairs, was quoted last July as saying, "We cannot achieve the number of troops we need in Iraq without a draft."

Since Vietnam, those who cried "draft" have been laughed at. But the combination of increasing troop needs, a shortage of new recruits and a hawkish administration that is now casting shadowy glances Iran, Syria, and Korea, has led the U.S. media, from Rolling Stone to Time Magazine, to once again to take up the question of a draft.

The U.S. left is also gearing up to counter a potential draft, and to strike at the occupation where it is most vulnerable -- military recruitment.

Last weekend, activists and former military personnel who resisted combat duty came together for a youth and resistance conference in New York City. At the heart of the conference, organised by NYC No Draft No Way, was a plan to support and encourage resisters in the military, and to cut off the information channels and recruitment methods used by recruiters like the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC).

"Bush and Rumsfeld said absolutely there will not be a draft," said Dustin Langley, a former Navy officer and organizer for the No Draft, No Way campaign.

"This is the man who said that 'we know where the WMDs are', 'I will restore dignity to the White House', and 'we will be greeted as liberators in Iraq'."

"All a draft takes is for Congress to sit down and pass legislation," Langley said. "Military recruiters don't have the right to be on our campuses, to lie to us, and to take our children to an early grave."

Justino Rodriguez, the son of an officer waiting to return to Iraq on his 42nd tour of duty, also spoke. On Mar. 9, Rodriguez was beaten and arrested by police along with two other students from the City College of New York for peacefully protesting the presence of military recruiters at a campus career fair.

Rodriguez said that the career fair more or less consisted of three groups. A line of students wrapped around the corner for jobs offered by the telecom giant Verizon, while the retail chain Walgreens made its case for entry-level positions paying eight dollars an hour. And then there were the military recruiters.

"They prey on the fact we can barely afford to go to college," Rodriguez said. "What they don't say is it's so hard to get the GI Bill that less than half do."

Rodriguez and two other students, as well as 20 faculty and staff who challenged the recruiters, were suspended from school. A petition started that day demanding the full reinstatement of staff and students -- which has been done -- received 1,000 signatures. The students are still fighting the criminal charges.

Langley and others say parents need to be educated about parts of the "No Child Left Behind Act", which allow military recruiters to access information about students including their home address, telephone number, and extracurricular activities.

Most are unaware that they can prevent this information from being released by submitting an Opt-Out Form signed by parents or students to the school administration.

Organisers also want to publicise the option for military resisters to find safe haven in Canada. During the Vietnam War, over 50,000 Americans went to Canada to avoid the draft. Today however, Canadian law does not allow foreigners to apply for immediate "landed immigrant status"; they must apply outside of the country and wait up to two years or more for a decision.

But Gerry Condon, a former Green Beret who refused to fight in Vietnam and who is organising support for military personnel who have already gone to Canada to avoid fighting in the Iraq war, says that military resisters can avoid the new law by entering Canada as tourists and applying for refugee status.

At the conference, Condon said he was surprised the anti-war movement had not been bolder in asking people in the military to resist.

"It's illegal," he said, "But so is the war."

Niko Kyriakou