Thursday, October 30, 2014

Cuba’s Impressive Role on Ebola

Cuban health workers in Sierra Leone. Florian Plaucheur / Agence France-Presse — Getty Images


New York Times, October 19, 2014

Cuba is an impoverished island that remains largely cut off from the world and lies about 4,500 miles from the West African nations where Ebola is spreading at an alarming rate. Yet, having pledged to deploy hundreds of medical professionals to the front lines of the pandemic, Cuba stands to play the most robust role among the nations seeking to contain the virus.

Cuba’s contribution is doubtlessly meant at least in part to bolster its beleaguered international standing. Nonetheless, it should be lauded and emulated.

The global panic over Ebola has not brought forth an adequate response from the nations with the most to offer. While the United States and several other wealthy countries have been happy to pledge funds, only Cuba and a few nongovernmental organizations are offering what is most needed: medical professionals in the field.

Doctors in West Africa desperately need support to establish isolation facilities and mechanisms to detect cases early. More than 400 medical personnel have been infected and about 4,500 patients have died. The virus has shown up in the United States and Europe, raising fears that the epidemic could soon become a global menace.

It is a shame that Washington, the chief donor in the fight against Ebola, is diplomatically estranged from Havana, the boldest contributor. In this case the schism has life-or-death consequences, because American and Cuban officials are not equipped to coordinate global efforts at a high level. This should serve as an urgent reminder to the Obama administration that the benefits of moving swiftly to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba far outweigh the drawbacks.

The Cuban health care workers will be among the most exposed foreigners, and some could very well contract the virus. The World Health Organization is directing the team of Cuban doctors, but it remains unclear how it would treat and evacuate Cubans who become sick. Transporting quarantined patients requires sophisticated teams and specially configured aircraft. Most insurance companies that provide medical evacuation services have said they will not be flying Ebola patients.

Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday praised “the courage of any health care worker who is undertaking this challenge,” and made a brief acknowledgment of Cuba’s response. As a matter of good sense and compassion, the American military, which now has about 550 troops in West Africa, should commit to giving any sick Cuban access to the treatment center the Pentagon built in Monrovia and to assisting with evacuation.

The work of these Cuban medics benefits the entire global effort and should be recognized for that. But Obama administration officials have callously declined to say what, if any, support they would give them.

The Cuban health sector is aware of the risks of taking on dangerous missions. Cuban doctors assumed the lead role in treating cholera patients in the aftermath of Haiti’s earthquake in 2010. Some returned home sick, and then the island had its first outbreak of cholera in a century. An outbreak of Ebola on the island could pose a far more dangerous risk and increase the odds of a rapid spread in the Western Hemisphere.

Cuba has a long tradition of dispatching doctors and nurses to disaster areas abroad. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Cuban government created a quick-reaction medical corps and offered to send doctors to New Orleans. The United States, unsurprisingly, didn’t take Havana up on that offer. Yet officials in Washington seemed thrilled to learn in recent weeks that Cuba had activated the medical teams for missions in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.

With technical support from the World Health Organization, the Cuban government trained 460 doctors and nurses on the stringent precautions that must be taken to treat people with the highly contagious virus. The first group of 165 professionals arrived in Sierra Leone in recent days. José Luis Di Fabio, the World Health Organization’s representative in Havana, said Cuban medics were uniquely suited for the mission because many had already worked in Africa. “Cuba has very competent medical professionals,” said Mr. Di Fabio, who is Uruguayan. Mr. Di Fabio said Cuba’s efforts to aid in health emergencies abroad are stymied by the embargo the United States imposes on the island, which struggles to acquire modern equipment and keep medical shelves adequately stocked.

In a column published over the weekend in Cuba’s state-run newspaper, Granma, Fidel Castro argued that the United States and Cuba must put aside their differences, if only temporarily, to combat a deadly scourge. He’s absolutely right.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Pentagon Warns Climate Change Will Intensify Conflict

By Mark Drajem and Mark Chediak

Beaver County Peace Links via Bloomberg News

Oct 14, 2014 - Natural disasters from climate change will intensify global instability, disease, poverty and conflict, according to the U.S. Defense Department.

Global warming will worsen many of the challenges the U.S. military already is grappling with, the department said in a report yesterday.

“We refer to climate change as a ‘threat multiplier’ because it has the potential to exacerbate many of the challenges we are dealing with today -– from infectious disease to terrorism,” Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said in a blog post. “While scientists are converging toward consensus on future climate projections, uncertainty remains. But this cannot be an excuse for delaying action.”

The report underscores the seriousness of the risks as seen by the military, which handled flooding and tsunami relief efforts in Asia in recent years and is now responsible for setting up treatments centers for Ebola victims in West Africa.

“The issue of climate change as a national security risk is something that has been of concern and people have been discussing it for a number of years,” said Charles Kolstad, a professor of economics and senior fellow at Stanford University in California, in a telephone interview.

He said climate change damage such as water scarcity are “much more likely to exacerbate regional conflicts, which can be real risks to the United States.”

Planning Process

The report says that climate change will affect the military in four main ways: through rising temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, increasing intense storms and rising sea levels.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

How ISIS Catches the United States With Its Pants Down

A new form of asymmetric warfare against the world’s biggest military

By Stephan Richter

Beaver County Peace Links via The Globalist

Oct 9, 2014 - The sense of outright shock towards ISIS in Washington is becoming ever more palpable. While there still is the temptation to deal with the ISIS phenomenon in the usual fashion, making it a political football match between the two parties, shock is rapidly turning ISIS into a bipartisan issue.

On a daily basis, catastrophic news reports are featured on the front pages of newspapers that demonstrate that the United States as a whole has been caught with its pants down. ISIS is, literally, having fun with the world’s largest military by playing a mean game of strip poker with it.

Despicable as ISIS is, it is putting forth a new dimension of asymmetric warfare. The mighty U.S. Air Force – flying high and terrifically well-resourced – is proving impotent against ISIS’s ground game.

The temptation to blame the Obama Administration or the U.S. intelligence services for their lack of foresight may be irrepressible, but it is way off the mark.

Pants down America

At the core, this is the profound failure of an over-resourced and thoughtless U.S. political establishment that has wrongly played the nation’s cards in a militarized style of foreign policy making.

The failure now witnessed in Iraq and Syria therefore is also a strategic failure – and one for which the U.S. military, with its simplistic can-do mindset, bears profound responsibility. This failure is far worse than the Vietnam War (no lessons learned, after all).

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Today's Wars May Signal A Qualitative Change In US Foreign Policy

By Harry Targ
Beaver County Peace Links via Diary of a Heartland Radical

From Wartime Alliance to Deadly Global Conflict

I do not believe history repeats itself but I find myself looking back to the past for lessons which might be relevant today. For example, during World War II an “unnatural alliance” between the United States (the new imperial hegemon), Great Britain (the old one), and the former Soviet Union (the revolutionary challenger to capitalist hegemony) formed to defeat fascism in Europe. It was in the interests of all three nations to do so.

As the war was ending the leaders of the “big three” nations--President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and the Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin--met at Yalta in the Crimea to plan for a post-war world order. They made agreements on Eastern European borders, facilitating elections in Poland, administering a defeated Germany, defeating Japan in the Asian war, and planning for the first meeting of the United Nations. The three leaders returned to their respective countries declaring that a peaceful post-war world order would be established. “The spirit of Yalta” brought hope to millions of North Americans and Europeans, West and East.

In April, President Roosevelt died and a new more bellicose administration had come to power in Washington. Within three months the United States had successfully tested its new atomic bomb and dropped two of them on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. By the fall, 1945 US and Soviet disputes over treaties ending the status of war with former fascist regimes in Eastern Europe began to destroy the comity that had been built over the course of the war and codified at Yalta. In 1946 crises occurred between East and West over Iran and Greece. It is clear in retrospect that ever since its ascendency to power the new Truman administration had been working to achieve global hegemony in the post-war period, using its military and economic superiority as tools.

In the spring of 1947, the US decided to replace the British in Greece as the latter worked to crush a leftwing insurgency in that country’s civil war. President Truman was warned by the Republican Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he, Truman, better “scare hell out of the American people.” This was so because most Americans favored peace over more conflict in world affairs and many still perceived the former wartime ally, the Soviet Union, positively.

The announcement of the new global threat and the need to mobilize resources over the next several years to “defend” against the demonic Soviet Union led to the recommendations for action in the famous Truman Doctrine speech to Congress in March, 1947. These put the US on a war path that would cost more than 10 million lives, international and American, and at least $5 trillion by the twenty-first century.

So the decisions made between 1945 and 1947 presaged a dramatic shift in United States foreign policy that had enormous consequences for both its own citizens and the world. Decision-makers in the Truman administration who favored maintaining some semblance of cooperation with the former Soviet Union lost their influence. Even some of Truman’s hardline advisors like George Kennan felt the evolving policies went too far in terms of bellicosity.

From Global Conflict Management to Renewed Global Military Madness

Fast-forward some 65 years. President Obama, from 2008 to 2013, continued the Bush war in Afghanistan, ordered drone attacks on alleged terrorist targets in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, and authorized covert support for destabilization of populist regimes in Latin America. In contrast, at the same time, he has tried to create a more “realist” panoply of policies based on diplomacy and modest recognition that there were limits to US power. During the President’s second term, the United States partnered with Russia to curb Syria’s brutal war on its citizens and Russia, Iran, and the United States began to make progress in arms negotiations.

But then, with the aid of undercover US operatives, rebels overthrew a Ukraine government in February 2014 that had close ties with Russia.