Corporate Power and the Secure Border Initiative

by David L. Wilson, MR Zine

On September 10 the US government acknowledged that its Secure Border Initiative (SBI) was behind schedule and over budget. Promoted in 2005 as a new way to block unauthorized immigration, the $2.7 billion project was supposed to create a 670-mile physical and “virtual” fence by the end of this year along the 2,000-mile border with Mexico.

After three years, the government’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has only completed 341 miles of the physical fence—187 miles of wire-mesh fencing to stop pedestrians and 154 miles of shorter barriers to block vehicles. The cost for the pedestrian barriers has risen to $7.5 million a mile from earlier estimates of $4 million; the cost for the vehicle barriers has gone up from $2 million to $2.8 million a mile. The physical fence is already $400 million over budget. The “virtual fence”—SBInet, an electronic monitoring system being constructed by Boeing Co., the giant military contractor—is now on hold. Its cost so far has been $933 million; the official estimates are that it will cost $8 billion through 2013, and that number may triple, according to the DHS inspector general. (WSJ, Sept. 10, 2008)

None of this is really news, of course. Who is surprised by delays and cost overruns from politically connected contractors? And no one could have believed the physical fence would cost just $2-$4 million a mile; the 14-mile fence near San Diego, started in 1990, ended up costing taxpayers $9 million a mile.

Moreover, none of these estimates include the expense of maintaining the fence. In 1999 the US Army Corps of Engineers estimated that the total cost of a border fence over 25 years—including construction and maintenance—would range from $16.4 million to $70 million a mile (adjusted to 2005 dollars). (Cited in Nuñez-Neto & Stephen R. Viña, 2008) The 670-mile physical fence could cost as much as $46.9 billion by 2030, and that’s not including the still nonexistent “virtual fence.”

Clearly these taxpayer-funded projects are a windfall for corporate CEOs and stockholders from Boeing and the numerous other companies contracting on them. But will these fences actually stop people from entering the country without authorization?

Even if a fence along the entire border would reduce immigration—and there’s no reason to think it would—it’s clear that a fence along one-third of the distance will simply “squeeze the balloon,” forcing migrants to cross through the more remote and dangerous unfenced areas, or to get across the border smuggled in trucks or train cars, or by bribing border guards.

In the 1990s, the government started blocking parts of the border, promoting these efforts with catchy names like “Operation Gatekeeper” and “Operation Hold the Line.” Between 1993 and 2006 the number of Border Patrol agents on the southwest border tripled from less than 4,000 to about 12,000; the Border Patrol’s annual budget quadrupled from $400 million to $1.6 billion. What was the result? The Border Patrol gauges the rate of border crossing by the number of arrests of people seeking to enter the United States along the Mexico border. By this measure, the increased enforcement has had virtually no effect: arrests fell from 1.3 million in 1993 to 1.2 million in 2005. (AP, Oct. 6, 2006; NYT, April 4, 2006; Hing, 2004, p. 161, 164) (It’s true that unauthorized immigration has dipped recently—just as it did during the 2001 recession, demonstrating the importance of economic factors in determining the flow of immigration.) (NAM, Aug. 4, 2008)

This not to say that stepped-up border enforcement has accomplished nothing. Some 4,700 migrants have died over the past 13 years as the new policies forced them to use riskier routes for entering the United States. And people now pay dramatically more to smugglers and guides to get across the border. From 1994 to 2005 the average cost of being smuggled in the San Diego area rose from $300 to $2,500. (Cornelius et al., 2008)

As stepped-up enforcement increases the hardships, dangers, and expense of crossing the border, undocumented workers are naturally more afraid of losing the investment they have made in getting to the United States. In the past many immigrants—especially those from Mexico—would work here for brief periods and then return home after they’d earned some extra money for their families or when work slowed down. Thanks to increased border enforcement, now they are much more likely to stay rather than to risk another crossing.

Some experts on border issues think that by discouraging return migration, increased border enforcement may actually have raised the number of undocumented immigrants in the country. (Cornelius et al.) A careful study by researcher Florian Kaufmann found that as a result of escalated border enforcement during the 1990s, Mexican migrant household heads on average increased their time in the United States by 18%, moved one fourth of their family dependents to the United States, and reduced the amount of income they sent back as remittances—thus inducing other Mexicans to migrate to the United States. (Kaufmann, 2008)

Increased border enforcement has another effect: it means immigrant workers are more likely to stick with low-paying jobs and less likely to risk deportation by joining a union or making complaints about workplace abuses. Immigration enforcement in the workplace, while advertised as a way to turn off the “job magnet,” ends up doing the same thing: slowing unionization drives and intimidating workers.

One of the main concerns working people have about unauthorized immigration—especially in a failing economy—is that an influx of immigrants can contribute to downward pressure on the wages of native-born workers. Politicians and pundits use this fear to sell their enforcement policies. But in large part it’s those same enforcement policies that produce the downward pressure—rather than the number of immigrants competing for jobs, as many people believe. Studies indicate that unauthorized immigrants are paid 15‑22% less than authorized workers with the same characteristics; it’s hard to believe that enforcement policies aren’t a major reason for this disparity. (Hinojosa Ojeda, et al., 2001; Phillips & Massey, 1999)

If border walls and workplace raids are only helping to keep wages down for everyone, and aren’t even slowing migration, why do we keep paying for them? Is this just another corporate bailout, for companies that aren’t even failing?


David L. Wilson is co-author, with Jane Guskin, of The Politics of Immigration: Questions and Answers (Monthly Review Press, July 2007)

This story first appeared Sept. 27 in Monthly Review’s online MR Zine.


“Virtual Fence for Mexico Border Is Put Off”
Wall Street Journal, Sept. 10, 2008

Blas Nuñez-Neto and Stephen R. Viña, “Border Security: Barriers along the U.S. International Border,” Congressional Research Service (CRS), Library of Congress, May 13, 2008, 33-34

Bill Ong Hing, Defining America through Immigration Policy (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2004)

Douglas S. Massey, “The Wall That Keeps Illegal Workers In”
New York Times, April 4, 2006

“New Wall Not Expected to Stop Migrants,” AP, Oct. 6, 2006

Walter A. Ewing, “Immigration Fairytales,” New American Media, Aug. 4, 2008

Wayne A. Cornelius, Scott Borger, Adam Sawyer, David Keyes, Clare Appleby, Kristen Parks, Gabriel Lozada, and Jonathan Hicken, “Controlling Unauthorized Immigration from Mexico: The Failure of ‘Prevention through Deterrence’ and the Need for Comprehensive Reform,” Immigration Policy Center, June 10, 2008

Florian Kaufmann, “Attracting Undocumented Emigrants: The Consequences of U.S. Border Enforcement,” presentation at the Center for Popular Economics (CPE) Summer Institute in Chicago, July 31, 2008

Raul Hinojosa Ojeda, Robert McCleery, Enrico Marcelli, Fernando de Paolis, David Runsten, Marysol Sanchez, “Comprehensive Migration Policy Reform in North America: The Key to Sustainable and Equitable Economic Integration,” North American Integration and Development Center, School of Public Policy and Social Research, University of California, Los Angeles, August 29, 2001, 28, 30; Julie A. Phillips and Douglas A. Massey, “The New Labor Market: Immigrants and Wages After IRCA,” Demography, Vol. 36, No. 2 (May, 1999), 244

From our Daily Report:

Homeland Security admits to cost, time overruns in border fence
WW4 Report, Sept. 12, 2008

Mexican diaspora gets bigger
WW4 Report, Sept. 28, 2008


Reprinted by World War 4 Report, Oct. 1, 2008
Reprinting permissible with attribution



by Jane Guskin, The Huffington Post

Two Muslim men that our federal government has unfairly accused of supporting Palestinian terrorist groups celebrated victories last week. Both men are Palestinian immigrants who have been living legally in the US for many years and have been active in bringing together diverse communities, opposing religious extremism and working for social justice. Both have children who were born in the US, and both are devoted to their families.

In Paterson, New Jersey, an immigration judge ruled on September 4 that the federal government was wrong to try to deport local imam Mohammad Qatanani. The ruling upholds Qatanani’s petition for permanent legal residency, which the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had sought to deny by claiming he lied on his application about an arrest in Israel. (Like thousands of other Palestinian men, he was detained administratively there.) Immigration Judge Alberto Riefkohl was unconvinced by the government’s evidence: “FBI Agent Angel Alicea’s testimony has been found not credible…and will be disregarded as unreliable,” the judge wrote. “The court also finds DHS’s other evidence is insufficient,” he added. One of the government documents in the case is so sloppy that it repeatedly misspells the name of the group Hamas as “Ramas.”

Qatanani and his family were not detained while they fought their deportation, and his win in immigration court was touted by his many supporters—including rabbis, priests, FBI agents and elected officials—as a sign that the US justice system works.

In the case of Sami Al-Arian, the same US justice system showed how unjust it can be. Al-Arian, a former Florida professor and civil rights activist, was released on bail on September 2 after spending more than five and a half years in jail fighting a vindictive prosecution. Here’s a condensed timeline:

* February 20, 2003: Al‑Arian is arrested and charged with supporting the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. He is denied bail and placed in solitary confinement for two and a half years while awaiting trial. Amnesty International decries Al-Arian’s treatment as “gratuitously punitive.”

* December 6, 2005: The jury acquits Al-Arian on eight charges while deadlocking 10 to 2 in favor of acquittal on nine others. The government keeps Al-Arian jailed and threatens a retrial on the deadlocked charges.

* February 28, 2006: Al‑Arian doesn’t want to spend another three years in prison awaiting a retrial, so he pleads guilty to one conspiracy count, acknowledging that he helped people who the government claims were associated with Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and that he lied to a reporter about his knowledge of associations with the group. In exchange, he is offered “time served” followed by a speedy deportation. The government acknowledges that Al‑Arian’s activities were nonviolent and that his actions created no victims.

* May 1, 2006: Judge James S. Moody Jr. in Tampa ignores the plea agreement and gives Al‑Arian the maximum sentence: an additional 19 months in prison. Projected release date: April 11, 2007.

* October 2006: Although the plea agreement released Al-Arian from cooperating with government investigations, Gordon Kromberg, Assistant US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, summons Al-Arian to testify before a grand jury looking into an unrelated case of alleged terror funding.

* November 16, 2006: Because he refuses to testify, Al-Arian is placed under civil contempt until December 21, 2006. The time spent under civil contempt doesn’t count toward fulfilling the remainder of his sentence.

* January 22, 2007: Al-Arian is again summoned to testify before a second grand jury. After refusing to testify, he is again placed under civil contempt—postponing his release for another 11 months.

* December 13, 2007: Judge Gerald Lee of the Eastern District of Virginia lifts the civil contempt order. New projected release date for Al-Arian: April 11, 2008.

* March 2008: Kromberg subpoenas Al-Arian to testify before a third grand jury. Al-Arian again refuses to testify.

* April 11, 2008: Al‑Arian is transferred into the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) after finally completing his sentence. Instead of deporting him as originally agreed, ICE keeps him detained.

* June 26, 2008: Kromberg indicts Al-Arian on two charges of criminal contempt for refusing to testify in March and October, even though Al-Arian provided two detailed affidavits [stating he had no knowledge of criminal activity], and repeatedly offered to undergo a polygraph examination. A few days later, Al-Arian is transferred to the custody of the US Marshals to await trial on the criminal contempt charges.

* July 10, 2008: Judge Leonie Brinkema orders Al-Arian released on bail. The government blocks his release on bail, claiming that ICE must detain him while preparing to deport him.

* August 8, 2008: Brinkema postpones the criminal contempt trial pending a Supreme Court ruling on Al-Arian’s appeal challenging the government’s right to compel him to testify.

* August 25, 2008: Al-Arian’s attorneys file a habeas petition demanding his release on bail. Brinkema gives the government until September 2 to explain why it should keep him jailed.

* September 2, 2008: ICE responds to Brinkema’s deadline by requesting that Al‑Arian be released from its custody. At last, Al-Arian walks out of jail.

Al-Arian is still not free—he is under house arrest awaiting trial. But he is finally reunited with his family, thanks to the intervention of one rational judge, thousands of people who sent messages protesting his detention, and a Norwegian filmmaker who has helped spread the word about his case with an award-winning documentary, USA vs. Al-Arian.

But does it redeem our system?

If the government can find a way, through abuse of power and by stretching the limits of the law, to detain you for five years—in solitary confinement for most of that time—without even enough evidence to convince a jury, is that justice?


Jane Guskin is co-author of The Politics of Immigration: Questions and Answers (Monthly Review Press, 2007). Guskin also edits Immigration News Briefs, a weekly newsletter covering immigration issues. She lives in New York City.

This story first appeared Sept. 11 in The Huffington Post.

See also:

by Jane Guskin, The Huffington Post
World War 4 Report, September 2008

From our Daily Report:

Civil rights activist Al-Arian released
WW4 Report, Sept. 8, 2008


Reprinted by World War 4 Report, Oct. 1, 2008
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Continue ReadingA MATTER OF JUSTICE 


UN Membership for Eurasia’s Phantom Republics

by Rene Wadlow, Toward Freedom

The “Phantom Republics” has been the name given to the states demanding the status of independence after the break-up of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union: Abkhazia, Chechenya, Kosovo, Nagrono-Karabakh, South Ossetia and Transnistra. The current conflict between Russia and Georgia has put the Abkhazia and South Ossetia conflicts at center stage of world politics.

The independence of Kosovo has been recognized by a good number of countries, but there is also strong opposition, and Kosovo has not been granted membership in the United Nations. Chechenya has been “pacified” by Russian troops, and it is unlikely that the Russian government is willing to reopen the issue. However, if the Phantom Republics supported by Russia—Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transnistra—were granted UN membership, it might be possible that Chechnyan independence would be a counter-weight and a sign of good will on the part of the Russian Federation.

Security should start with a “package deal” of membership for all the Phantom Republics in the United Nations as soon as possible. The UN General Assembly begins in late September, and membership should be a high priority. With UN membership, the danger of changing their status by force is lessened. Membership in the UN raises for some the spectre of “fragmentation” or “Balkanization” of the world into a multitude of tiny units to the disadvantage of world security. However, in this case, the recognition of independence is a necessary first step for security and a lessening of tensions. Once UN membership has been universally accepted for the Phantom Republics, new forms of regional cooperation can be undertaken in a calmer and clearer atmosphere. Once recognized through UN membership, it will be up to each of the Phantom Republics to create economic, social and political ties with its neighbors.

There are obviously oppositions to recognizing each of these states as independent, in particular opposition from the states of which they were once a part. Serbia has run a long campaign against the independence of Kosovo, citing history, the human rights of minorities, and territorial integrity. At one stage, I had thought that it might be possible to create a pan-Albanian cultural union with official links among the Albanians in Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia while keeping a political status of autonomy within Serbia. However, governments like simple solutions—you are in or out, independent or not. Just as it is difficult to be partly pregnant, so it is difficult to be partly independent.

Thus, after long and bitter negotiations, Kosovo is an independent state which will have to create links with Albania and Macedonia but which cannot escape relations with Serbia, which remains the economic motor of the region. Each of the Phantom Republics is in a difficult position, and with good will and creative political imagination, other forms than independence guaranteed by UN membership might have been found. Alas, good will and creative political imagination have been in short supply.

In the case of Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, at least since 1993 there have been mediators from the UN and the Organizations for Security and Cooperation in Europe. There have been “track two” non-governmental meetings to discuss the issues. There have been detailed proposals set out to the former UN mediator, Swiss diplomat Edward Brunner—one by a colleague from the University of Geneva, Prof Giorgio Malinverni, who proposed a form of asymmetrical federalism for Georgia. While the plan was discussed, nothing seems to have come of it. Today, the issues in Georgia have resulted in tensions between the USA, Europe and Russia not seen since the end of the Cold War in 1990.

My proposal is a “package deal” in which all the Phantom Republics become UN members at the same time. Such a package deal resembles earlier package deals for membership when countries had been blocked by Cold War tensions. UN membership grants recognition of being part of the “international community.” It guarantees existing frontiers and is a wall against aggression. UN membership will also provide an elegant way for Russia to withdraw its peacekeeping troops from Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and first from the “security zones” which are clearly in Georgian territory.

During the period of international control of Kosovo, prior to its independence, a shorthand term for policy was “standards before status.” In Kosovo, there should be at least minimum respect for the standards of the rule of law, safeguard of minorities, and a return of refugees, prior to discussions on its status of independence or autonomy within Serbia. One can discuss if these standards were in fact met prior to independence. However, in the case of the other Phantom Republics, the reverse policy is needed: status before standards. There needs to be universal recognition of the status of independence by UN membership before there can be any serious effort of establishing the rule of law and human rights. As long as a clear status is not established, the republics will remain politically and economically unstable. Without UN membership, there will always be excuses for the presence of Russian military forces.

Following the Kosovo precedent, the most stable outcome of the conflict in Georgia is independence for Abkhazia and South Ossetia with rapid membership within the United Nations. UN membership should be a sufficient guarantee against attack. There is probably no need for peacekeeping forces, especially not Russian peacekeeping forces. The United Nations should provide human rights monitors as well as providing help for economic planning with a regional focus. Independence with UN membership can provide a new and stable political-economic framework so that people may try to pull their lives together—which they have not been able to do since 1992, when armed violence and refugee flows broke out in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. UN membership for Nagorno-Karabakh and Transnistra will help prevent these “frozen conflicts” from melting into new violence as well.

Thus, the Phantom Republics will join the UN to sit along with such small UN members as Andorra, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, and San Marino—states born with the restructuring of feudal Europe. It may take some time to turn Abkhazia into a Black Sea Monaco, but inevitably, for economic and social reasons, neighboring states learn to cooperate if they are not able to destroy one or the other by war.


Rene Wadlow is a representative to the United Nations for the Association of World Citizens and editor of the on-line journal of world politics and culture Transnational Perspectives

This story first appeared Sept. 17 in Toward Freedom.

See also:

Kosovo’s Independence Reverberates Across Eurasia
by Rene Wadlow, Toward Freedom
World War 4 Report, March 2008

Stalin’s Shadow Looms Over Trans-Caucasus Pipeline
by Rene Wadlow, Toward Freedom
World War 4 Report, April 2006

From our Daily Report:

Georgia: bomb attack in Abkhaz capital
WW4 Report, Sept. 27, 2008

World Court to review Kosova’s independence?
WW4 Report, Sept. 19, 2008

Our readers write: whither Kosova?
WW4 Report, March 29, 2008


Reprinted by World War 4 Report, Oct. 1, 2008
Reprinting permissible with attribution



The Russo-Venezuelan Military Alliance & Cold War Deja Vu

by Nikolas Kozloff, NACLA News

In a move that undoubtedly set off alarm bells in Washington, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez announced that Venezuelan and Russian ships could soon hold joint naval exercises in the Caribbean.

“Russia’s naval fleet is welcome here,” Chávez said on his weekly broadcast program. “If it’s possible, we’ll stage an exercise in our Caribbean waters.” Russian naval vessels, including a nuclear cruiser, are due to call on Venezuelan ports in late November or December, Chávez said.

The Venezuelan leader is known for his rhetorical ripostes and once again he did not disappoint. “Go ahead and squeal, Yankees,” he said, taunting the Bush White House.

Even before the April 2002 coup in Venezuela that sought to topple Chávez from power, diplomatic relations between the South American nation and the United States were tense. Chávez for example criticized US-style free trade in the region and pursued a nationalistic oil policy. When it emerged that the United States had aided opposition forces involved in the coup, relations took a nosedive and never fully recovered.

Unfortunately the Bush White House has done everything in its power to provoke Chávez yet further. Last April, the Pentagon announced that it would revive its Fourth Fleet in the Caribbean. The fleet is based at the Mayport Naval Station in Jacksonville, Florida, and answers to the US Southern Command (Southcom) in Miami. Southcom has about 11 vessels currently under its command, a number that could increase in future.

An April 24 Bloomberg report claimed that the fleet would be led by the nuclear aircraft carrier USS George Washington. But a subsequent report appearing in the Venezuelan newspaper El Universal quoted US Admiral James Stavridis as saying that the force would not have an offensive capability. “We have no intention whatsoever to have an aircraft carrier as part of the Fourth Fleet,” Stavridis said.

The Navy claims it resuscitated the Fourth Fleet to combat terrorism, to keep the economic sea lanes of trade free and open, to counter illicit trafficking, and to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

Such claims notwithstanding, it’s no secret that the United States would like to head off the left-wing alliance between Venezuela, Cuba and Bolivia. And Chávez is probably correct in seeing the Fourth Fleet in Caribbean waters as a “shot across his bow.”

In an interview with Cuban television, Bolivian President Evo Morales remarked that the US naval force constituted “the Fourth Fleet of intervention.” Cuba’s former leader Fidel Castro asked why the Pentagon sought to revive the Fourth Fleet at the current time. Writing in the Cuban newspaper Granma, Castro suggested that the move constituted a return to US gunboat diplomacy. Castro, whose island nation confronted a US naval blockade during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, declared, “The aircraft carriers and nuclear bombs that threaten our countries are used to sow terror and death, but not to combat terrorism and illegal activities.”

Echoes of the Cold War
Like Castro, who sought out a diplomatic alliance with Russia to protect Cuba from the United States, Chávez is now cozying up to Moscow. For years, oil-flush Venezuela has been buying up Russian arms including Kalashnikov assault rifles and Sukhoi fighter jets. Chávez has justified the arms purchases as a necessary measure to dissuade the North American “empire” from invading his country.

Just two months ago, Chávez called for a strategic alliance with Russia to protect Venezuela from the United States. Caracas and Moscow agreed to extend bilateral cooperation on energy, with three Russian energy companies to be allowed to operate in Venezuela.

The Russian naval squadron and long-range patrol planes could arrive in the Caribbean for the exercises later this year. The deployment is expected to be the largest Russian naval maneuvers in the Caribbean, and perhaps the Western Hemisphere, since the Cold War.

Worryingly, the nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser Peter the Great, a vessel with massive firepower whose missiles can deliver nuclear or conventional warheads, will participate in the Caribbean maneuvers. The ship is armed with the Granit long-range anti-ship missile system, which is known in military circles as the “Shipwreck” missile. It also has a sophisticated air defense missile system capable of striking both air and surface targets.

Jon Rosamund, editor of Jane’s Navy International, a specialist maritime publication, said the Peter the Great is large and heavily armed with both surface-to-surface and around 500 surface-to-air missiles. “On paper it’s an immensely powerful ship,” he said. “We are not really sure if this is a show of force or if it poses a viable operational capability at this stage.”

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said the Admiral Chabanenko, Russia’s most modern anti-submarine destroyer, would also join the exercises, along with an unspecified number of anti-submarine naval aircraft. Venezuela’s naval intelligence chief, Admiral Salbatore Cammarata Bastidas, said that 1,000 Russian military personnel would take part in mid-November exercises with Venezuelan frigates, patrol boats, submarines, and aircraft.

Worst Case Scenario: McCain
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko insisted that Russia’s decision to send a naval squadron and planes to Venezuela was made before Russia’s war with Georgia and is unrelated to the conflict. Last month, Russian forces fought a brief war with US ally Georgia over the breakaway province of South Ossetia. During the brief war and the ongoing standoff, Chávez has backed Russia’s calls for Abkhazian and South Ossetian independence in opposition to Mikhail Saakashvili’s government in Tbilisi, the Georgian capital.

US-Russian relations hit their lowest point in years following the crisis in Georgia and even sparked fears of a new Cold War. Following the conflict, the Pentagon sent US warships to the Black Sea to deliver humanitarian aid for Georgia. Hardly amused, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin warned that Russia would mount an unspecified response to the aid shipments. Asked what he thought about the US naval presence near where the Russian Black Sea fleet was based, Putin said that Moscow would definitely respond with “calm.”

When asked about the possibility of Russian naval exercises in the Caribbean, US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack mockingly responded, “If it is, in fact, true, then they found a few ships that can make it that far.”

Far from calming the situation, such flippant statements will only serve to further antagonize Russia, which is already angry about NATO expansion on its borders, not to mention the installation of US missile defense systems in Poland. With tensions in the Caucasus and Eastern Europe already on the upswing, the last thing the world needs is a naval face-off in the Caribbean.

Judging from recent campaign statements, a John McCain administration would do little to calm the waters. During the war in the Caucasus, the Arizona Senator remarked, “Russia should immediately and unconditionally cease its military operations and withdraw all forces from sovereign Georgian territory.”

A sharp critic of the Putin government, McCain said, “The consequences for Euro-Atlantic stability and security are grave.” McCain also called for “a truly independent” international peacekeeping force for South Ossetia, and said the United States should work with the European Union to pressure Russia to halt its military efforts.

McCain is hardly a neutral arbiter when it comes to the conflict in the Caucasus. His top foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann, works for lobbying firm Orion Strategies. According to the Washington Post, the company has provided “strategic advice” to the Georgian government. Scheunemann himself helped McCain draft a strong statement in support of Saakashvili during the war in South Ossetia.

If geopolitical tensions should spread to the Caribbean, McCain is surely the last politician one might want in the White House. Speaking in Miami’s Little Havana, McCain argued that “everyone should understand the connections” between Evo Morales, Castro, and Chávez. “They inspire each other. They assist each other. They get ideas from each other. It’s very disturbing.” McCain said Chávez breathed “new oxygen” into the Cuban government, and that Washington should do more to quell dictatorships throughout Latin America.

Time for Obama to Step Up
To his credit, Barack Obama has been somewhat less bellicose. At the height of the war in South Ossetia, the Illinois senator called for an end to the violence but stopped short of assigning blame or making strong demands on Moscow. “I strongly condemn the outbreak of violence in Georgia, and urge an immediate end to armed conflict,” he said.

On Venezuela, Obama has been somewhat vague. Speaking with his supporters, Obama said Chávez had “despotic tendencies” and was using oil money to fan anti-US sentiment. The Illinois senator did however manage to stir the waters when he declared in a CNN-YouTube debate that he would open diplomatic channels to “rogue nations” such as Venezuela. Though certainly mild, Obama’s remark quickly embroiled him in a political firestorm with his chief rival, Hillary Clinton, who labeled him “naïve.”

Obama is still a relative unknown on foreign policy but at least he hasn’t staked out hawkish stances like John McCain, a politician who would surely continue the Bush legacy by antagonizing, bullying, and pushing around smaller, poorer countries like Venezuela. In response, Chávez might deepen his relationship with Russia if McCain pursues Big Stick diplomacy in Latin America, ratcheting up tensions.

Obama has been eager to prove that he is “strong” on national security. And this could be his chance. But rather than try outflanking McCain by staking out a position further to the right, Obama would be wise to use escalating tensions with Russia to his advantage. He might declare, for example, that McCain has been reckless in dealing with the unfolding conflict in the Caucasus. US voters, Obama might argue, have no desire to go back to the paranoid Cold War or to relive the hair-raising days of the Cuban missile crisis


Nikolas Kozloff is the author of Revolution! South America and the Rise of the New Left (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2008).

This story first appeared Sept. 9 in NACLA News.

See also:

by Nikolas Kozloff, NACLA News
World War 4 Report, July 2008

Time for left to repudiate Venezuelan leader over China—while supporting goals of Bolivarian Revolution
by Nikolas Kozloff, World War 4 Report
World War 4 Report, June 2008

From our Daily Report:

Chávez in oil deal with China, arms deal with Russia
WW4 Report, Sept. 26, 2008

Venezuela hosts Russian bombers —and Hezbollah?
WW4 Report, Sept. 11, 2008

US Navy revives Fourth Fleet to police Latin America
WW4 Report, May 10, 2008

Georgia breaks relations with Moscow as sabers rattle
WW4 Report, Sept. 3, 2008

McCain’s Scheunemann shilled for Amoco in Kazakhstan
WW4 Report, Sept. 5, 2008

Poland signs US “missile shield” deal; Russia pledges “punishment”
WW4 Report, Aug. 16, 2008


Reprinted by World War 4 Report, Oct. 1, 2008
Reprinting permissible with attribution