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Here then are two essays for today...the first from Texas-based ZNet
Daily Sustainer commentator Robert Jensen, and the second from
London-based ZNet Daily Commentator George Monbiot. Both articles appear
on ZNet, of course, with other new material...
Confronting our fears so we can confront the empire
by Robert Jensen
I am finally ready to admit what for months I have kept hidden: I am
I am more scared than I have ever been in my adult life. For weeks now I
have felt a new kind of free-floating terror at what has been unfolding,
as the Bush administration has made it clear that nothing would derail
its mad rush to war.
Until now, I have not spoken of it. In organizing meetings or talks to
community groups or rally speeches, I held back. The task was to build
the antiwar movement, and I worried that talking too much about my fear
might undermine that. People need to feel empowered, hopeful, I told
myself; we should be talking about the potential of the movement.
That hasn't changed. We have to continue to build the movement, which
has enormous potential over the long-term to turn this society away from
war and profit, toward peace and the needs of people. We cannot abandon
our commitment to the people of the world, the work of education and
organizing that we all must do if we are to make good on that
But I no longer think we can build such a movement by suppressing or
keeping quiet about this fear we feel. In the past few weeks I have seen
this fear so clearly in the eyes of my friends, heard it in the nervous
comments of strangers, and been surprised by it in the unease with which
even many supporters of the war talked.
I knew it when this past weekend my father -- a conservative, Republican
small-town businessman and World War II-era veteran -- tried to convince
me that Bush wouldn't really start a war, that he was bluffing, just
being cagey. Even my father was scared of the plans of the man he voted
I think people all over the world whose capacity to feel has not been
occluded by power or hate are feeling something like this. It is not a
fear of terrorists or weapons of mass destruction or even necessarily of
this particular war, as frightening as all those things may be. I
believe it is a fear of something more difficult to pin down, a fear of
the forces that will be unleashed when the United States defies the
world and launches a war that -- while couched in talk of protecting
people from threats -- is so obviously about projecting U.S. power to
achieve a kind of world domination that was never possible before.
Bush and his advisers proudly announce that they have cast aside any
commitment to collective security, real diplomacy, and international
law. Will the United Nations survive? Will there be anything left of an
international system when Bush and his gang are finished? Will there be
any hope for the peaceful settlement of disputes? Of course none of
these concepts has ever been fully implemented, and we all know that the
international institutions have flaws. But will anyone feel safer in a
world in which the law comes only from the blade of the American sword,
This fear I feel is not just of power-run-amok but of an empire with the
most destructive military capacity that has ever existed -- an empire
with thermobaric bombs and cruise missiles, cluster bombs and nuclear
"bunker busters." No matter how hard the government works to try to keep
us from seeing the results of those weapons -- and no matter how much
the news media cooperate in that project -- we understand how many
civilians could die under the onslaught of these horrific weapons. They
can censor the pictures, but not our imaginations.
This fear I feel is not just of the unchecked power of the United States
but of the fact that Bush and his advisers seem to think they understand
their own power and can control it. It is the arrogance of virtually
unlimited power married to lifelong privilege. It is hubris, and in a
nuclear world there is no sin that is potentially more deadly.
This is the fear that I feel, that I think so many of us feel. The Bush
administration wants us to be afraid, but remain quiet about it. Our
power will come not from denying the fear but in confronting, and
overcoming, it. So, we must speak of it, not to scare others but to
bring us closer together. Our only hope against the fear is in each
other, in our organizing, in our resistance. And if we can confront our
fears, we can confront this empire.
If you feel this fear and aren't sure that, in the face of it, you can
remain involved -- or get involved for the first time -- in the antiwar
movement, all I can say is, "Where else will you go?" If we retreat into
our private spaces, thinking we can hide, we will find out quickly that
this fear will follow us everywhere.
Our only way out is together, in public, facing not only our fears but
the fears that others will project onto us, and inviting them to join
us. It will be painful. It will carry with it certain risks. But it is
the only way we can hang onto our own humanity.
I am scared, and I need help. We all do. Let us pledge not to let each
other down -- for our own sake, and for the sake of the world.
Robert Jensen is a founding member of the Nowar Collective
(www.nowarcollective.com), a journalism professor at the University of
Texas at Austin, and author of "Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas
from the Margins to the Mainstream." He can be reached at
Left Behind to Starve
A humanitarian disaster is engulfing Africa as cash is poured into the
war with Iraq and its aftermath
By George Monbiot
There is surely no more obvious symptom of the corruption of western
politics than the disproportion between the money available for
sustaining life and the money available for terminating it. We could, I
think, expect that, if they were asked to vote on the matter, most of
the citizens of the rich world would demand that their governments spend
as much on humanitarian aid as they spend on developing new means of
killing people. But the military-industrial complex is a beast which
becomes both fiercer and greedier the more it is fed.
As the United States prepares to spend some $12 billion a month on
bombing the Iraqis, it has so far offered only $65 million to provide
them with food, water, sanitation, shelter and treatment for the
injuries they are likely to receive1. A confidential UN contingency plan
for Iraq, which was leaked in January, suggests that the war could
expose around one million children to "risk of death from malnutrition."
It warns that "the collapse of essential services in Iraq could lead to
a humanitarian emergency of proportions well beyond the capacity of UN
agencies and other aid organizations."2 Around 60 per cent of the
population is entirely dependent on the oil for food programme,
administered by the Iraqi government. This scheme was suspended by the
UN yesterday, leaving the Iraqis reliant on foreign aid. The money
pledged so far is enough to sustain the Iraqis for less than a
It is hard to believe, however, that the US government will leave them
to starve once it has captured their country. For the weeks or months
during which Iraq dominates the news, the US will be obliged to defend
them from the most immediate impacts of the institutional collapse its
war will cause. Afterwards, like the people of Afghanistan, the Iraqis
will be first forgotten by the media and then deserted by those who
promised to support them.
But even before the first troops cross the border, the impending war has
caused a global humanitarian crisis. As donor countries set aside their
aid budgets to save both themselves and the United States from
embarrassment under the camera lights in Baghdad, they have all but
ceased to provide money to other nations. The world, as a result, could
soon be confronted by a humanitarian funding crisis graver than any
since the end of the Second World War.
Every year, in November, the UN agencies which deal with disasters
launch what they call a "consolidated appeal" for each of the countries
suffering a "complex emergency". They expect to receive the money they
request by May of the following year. The payments and promises they
have extracted so far chart the collapse of international concern for
the people of almost every nation except Iraq.
In Eritrea, for example, the drought is so severe that the water table
has fallen by ten metres. Most of the nation's crops have failed and
grain prices have doubled. Seventy per cent of its 3.3 million people
are now classified as vulnerable to famine4. The United Nations has
asked the rich countries for $163m to help them. It has received $4m, or
2.5% of the money it requested5.
Burundi, where almost one sixth of the inhabitants have been forced out
of their homes by conflict and natural disasters, and which is now
officially listed as the third poorest nation on earth, has received 3%
of its UN request. Liberia, where rebels have rendered much of the
western part of the country uninhabitable, forcing some 500,000 people
out of their homes, has been given 1.2%; Sierra Leone, where lassa fever
is now rampaging through the refugee camps, has received 1%; and Guinea,
which has recently taken 82,000 refugees from Cote d'Ivoire, 0.4%.
Somalia, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo have all received
less than 6%.
Much of the money for these invisible countries has come from donor
nations with relatively small economies, such as Sweden, Norway, Canada
and Ireland. "The state of Africa", Tony Blair told his party conference
in October 2001, "is a scar on the conscience of the world, but if the
world focused on it, we could heal it"6. Well, let it now be a scar on
the conscience of Tony Blair.
As a result of this unprecedented failure by the rich nations to cough
up, the people of the forgotten countries will, very soon, begin to
starve to death. The UN has warned that "a break in supplies" to Eritrea
"is now inevitable"7. The World Food Programme has started feeding fewer
people there, but will run out of food within two months. In Burundi it
can, it says, continue feeding people "for another four weeks"8. Beans
will run out in Liberia this month; cereals in May9. One hundred
thousand refugees in Guinea could find themselves without food by
August10. Yet neither of the two governments which are about to launch a
"humanitarian war" appear to be concerned by the impending humanitarian
catastrophes in the world's poorest nations.
The aid crisis is now so serious that it is restricting disaster relief
even in nations which are considered by the major powers to be
geopolitically important. The UN agencies have so far received just 2.9%
of their request for Palestine, and 8.4% of the money they need in
The latter figure is, in light of the repeated promises made by the
nations prosecuting the war there, extraordinary. "To the Afghan people
we make this commitment," Blair pledged during the same speech in
October 2001. "The conflict will not be the end. We will not walk away,
as the outside world has done so many times before."11 Three months
later, the UN estimated that Afghanistan would need at least $10bn for
reconstruction over the following five years. The US, which had just
spent $4.5bn on bombing the country, offered $300m for the first year
and refused to make any commitment for subsequent years. This year,
George Bush "forgot" to produce an aid budget for Afghanistan, until he
was forced to provide another $300m by Congress12.
The government, which has an annual budget of just $460 million - or
around half of what the US still spends every month on chasing the
remnants of Al Qaeda through the mountains - is effectively bankrupt. At
the beginning of this month the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, flew to
Washington to beg George Bush for more money. He was given $50m, $35m of
which the US insists is spent on the construction of a five-star hotel
in Kabul13. Karzai, in other words, has discovered what the people of
Iraq will soon find out: generosity dries up when you are yesterday's
If, somehow, you are still suffering from the delusion that this war is
to be fought for the sake of the Iraqi people, I would invite you to
consider the record of the prosecuting nations. We may believe that
George Bush and Tony Blair have the interests of foreigners at heart
only when they spend more on feeding them than they spend on killing
1. The Center for Economic & Social Rights, 7 Mar 2003. The Human
Costs of War in Iraq. New York.
2. United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs,
January 7, 2003. "Integrated Humanitarian Contingency Plan for Iraq and
Neighboring Countries," Confidential Draft. Cited in The Center for
Economic & Social Rights, ibid.
3. The oil for food programme was to have supplied the Iraqis with over
$1bn in humanitarian supplies between December 2002 and June 2003, a
rate of over $40m a week, which would have provided basic subsistence.
So far official pledges amount to $80m ($65 m from the US and $15 m from
the UK). Humanitarian costs rise during war time.
4. UN OCHA Integrated Regional Information Network, 11 March 2003.
Eritrea: Funding crisis as food situation becomes critical.
5. All the statistics on Consolidated Appeal requests come from:
Viewed on 16 March 2003.
6. Tony Blair, 2 October 2001. Speech to the Labour Party conference,
7. World Food Programme, 14 Mar 2003 . WFP Emergency Report No. 11 of
11. Tony Blair, ibid.
12. eg http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/2759789.stm
13. US Department of State, 7 March 2003. OPIC pledges additional $50
million for U.S. investment in Afghanistan
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