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A series of meetings involving African leaders and representatives from the United States and Britain have taken place in Southern Africa aimed at forcing the removal of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. The plan is to bring in a transitional government in Zimbabwe made up of the ruling Zanu-PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) that will then adopt economic emergency measures.
The US is taking a more prominent role in Zimbabwe in exchange for British support for the war in Iraq. US Under Secretary of State for Africa Walter Kansteiner has just completed a weeklong visit to South Africa and Botswana. In an interview with the British Independent newspaper he declined to use the term “regime change” for Zimbabwe—preferring instead to demand “regime legitimacy” which he said called for a “Road Map” like that which the US is seeking to impose in the Middle East.
Last week Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, Thabo Mbeki of South Africa and Bakili Muluzi of Malawi met Mugabe for talks followed by a separate meeting with MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai. Mugabe has intimated that he may be prepared to retire, though he refused to consider negotiations with the MDC unless they drop a court case challenging the validity of last year’s presidential elections.
So far Tsvangirai has refused to recognise Mugabe as president. He also demanded a halt to jailings and torture of MDC members, the repeal of the Public Order and Security Act and anti-press laws introduced by Mugabe last year.
African leaders are under great pressure from the West to effect Mugabe’s removal. They have been told that future trade and investment plans, including the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad) intended to gain more western support for Africa, depend on them showing that they can bring about “good governance” among their peers. Mbeki, in particular, appears to have got the message after the Iraq war that the “little countries” of Africa, as he put it in a speech to the African Union last month, could “be punished if we get out of line”.
None of the African leaders want to be seen openly to be acting as a Western stooge, however. One of the criticisms they have of Tsvangirai is that he has lost much credibility for being so obviously dependent on the support of the British and wealthy white farmers. Earlier this year Obasanjo called for the Commonwealth—made up of Britain and its ex-colonies—to lift the suspension of Zimbabwe it imposed last year after accusing Mugabe of rigging the elections. Since no more land occupations are taking place he even argued that the situation in Zimbabwe was improving.
It seems that Obasanjo was only persuaded to abandon this conciliatory position and to hold the meeting with Mugabe after manoeuvrings by Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon. Commonwealth observers made no criticisms of the fraudulent Nigerian presidential elections and McKinnon immediately recognised Obasanjo as president.
Mbeki is also under pressure to abandon his previous refusal to be seen interfering in the affairs of his smaller neighbour.
South Africa risks destabilisation if Zimbabwe continues to spiral out of control. Zimbabwe now faces over 200 percent inflation; large sections of its industry are no longer functioning and up to 60 percent of skilled professional workers are said to have left the country. Over half the population face starvation due to famine and despite the country’s fertile land, agricultural production has slumped. Many of the black farmers that seized land under Mugabe’s occupation programme have been forced to give up through lack of investment. Hundreds of refugees are attempting to cross into South Africa.
Kansteiner promised US financial support to smooth the path for Mbeki to persuade Zanu-PF leaders to remove Mugabe and agree to work with the MDC. According to the Financial Times he said, “Zimbabwe will need a tremendous amount of reconstruction, and if the process leads to a breakthrough, we are ready to jump in with both technical and financial resources.”
This could include technical aid to rebuild infrastructure, paying for new elections, as well as direct bilateral aid.
Diplomatic efforts are now concentrated on sorting out the infighting within Zanu-PF over Mugabe’s possible successor. Commentators are suggesting that Mbeki; the US and Britain are all backing Simba Makoni who was sacked by Mugabe as Zanu-PF finance minister last year. Makoni is known to favour International Monetary Fund policies, but is said to lack support in the Zanu-PF hierarchy.
Clearly pleased by the support from Kansteiner, Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jack Straw made a two-day visit to South Africa this week to put more pressure on Mbeki. In an interview with the Financial Times last month Prime Minister Tony Blair requested “a bigger focus by the international community on Zimbabwe”.
He explained, “I have never had a difficulty with the concept of intervention, it doesn’t, as I say, necessarily mean that it is armed intervention, it can be diplomatic intervention, it can be pressure.”
Whilst full scale armed intervention in Zimbabwe may have been ruled out, given the exhausted and overstretched state of Britain’s armed forces, there have been several rumours of covert operations being planned. This could presumably involve giving the MDC more support in its campaign against the Mugabe regime. The latest report from the pro-Zanu PF Sunday Mirror is of a secret meeting that took place in the Kalahari Desert in Botswana, not far from the Zimbabwe border.
The meeting is said to have been at a game ranch belonging to the powerful Oppenheimer family, associated with De Beers diamonds and Anglo-American gold mining. It was attended by South Africa’s foreign minister Aziz Pahad, whose spokesman confirmed to the Mirror that the meeting had taken place. Also present were a British military general, an official from the World Bank, a US official (this could have been Kansteiner since he was in Botswana at the time), and British ex-Tory minister for Africa, Baroness Chalker—an advisory director to Unilever, the British multinational with extensive operations in Africa.
The meeting was hosted by Moeletsi Mbeki, brother
of the president and deputy director of the South Africa Institute for
International Affairs, as well as a prominent Zimbabwean businessman Strive
Masiyama. Also in attendance was Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, said
to have stopped over on his flight to London to discuss the conflict in
the Democratic Republic of Congo. Apart from the fact that it discussed
the “problems in Zimbabwe”, the Mirror has no further information
on what was being plotted.
|Toronto Star -- May. 18, 2003. 01:00 AM|
I was just listening to the latest CIA transmissions through the fillings in my molars last week when I accidentally intercepted a secret internal memo from the National Post. It went something like this: "Post readership hits bottom, journalistic integrity under question, editor dumped, columnists fleeing sinking ship — attack Toronto Star writer at once!" Seriously, if I may be serious for a moment about the National Post, it was not so surprising to find myself the subject of a hostile editorial in that paper after I wrote about my unanswered 9/11 questions. The Post is a staunch voice for Bush America and brooks no dissenting voices. In tabloid fashion, it headed its editorial "Michele Landsberg Loses It." I fully expected to be labelled a "conspiracy theorist" after interviewing Vision TV's Barrie Zwicker and writing about his challenges to the official version of what happened at the World Trade Center. But I was surprised by the nature of the ensuing attacks. The Post, and the dozen or so readers who were similarly enraged by my column, didn't come up with a single argument or documented fact. It was all quivering jowls, wild insults and expostulations. The Post's entire argument, once I filtered out the verbiage ("crock", "nonsense," "comical," "embarrassing" and, that good old standby, "blinding hatred of the United States") came down to this: captured Al Qaeda commanders have confessed to the 9/11 crimes. End of story. Except that what I was asking was a little different. Few of us doubt that murderous Saudi Arabian terrorists executed this massacre. But I wanted to know more. Why did the U.S. military, with the most powerful arsenal in world history, fail to prevent or at least try to stop a series of hijackings and crashes that went on for nearly two hours? Where was the Air Force? If President Bush and his cabinet were not, at this very moment, still trying to censor, suppress and delay the publication of the Joint Congressional Inquiry into 9/11, if there had been honest disclosure and straight stories from the beginning, perhaps all these "dark questions," as the Post puts it, would never have arisen. The great majority of people, sickened and overwhelmed by the horror of the attacks, unquestioningly accepts the White House version. Many thousands, however, are patiently stitching together the documented evidence and noting the huge holes in the fabric of that official story. Just ask yourself how the United States, with its vast intelligence establishment and spy power, could have been caught unawares in such a drastic state of unpreparedness on Sept. 11. President Bush, or, as he delights to call himself, the commander-in-chief, must certainly have been briefed about the ominous drumbeat of terrorist threats that were accumulating over the spring and summer of 2001. According to the report by Eleanor Hill, staff director for the Joint Inquiry, there had been "an unprecedented rise in threat" during that summer. U.S. government agencies had been warned by the intelligence community that there was a high probability of "spectacular" terrorist attacks by Al Qaeda "designed to inflict mass casualties. ... Attacks will occur with little or no warning." The warnings included the possibility that airplanes would be used as weapons. There was even an April, 2001, intelligence report that terrorists planned "a spectacular and traumatic attack" like the first World Trade Center bombing, as well as an earlier report a group of Arabs planned to fly a plane into the World Trade Center or CIA headquarters. According to Hill, these warnings went to "senior government officials" whom she was not allowed to name. On that fateful morning, the first pictures of the burning tower were broadcast at 8:48 a.m. By then, according to a carefully documented timeline at http://www.cooperativeresearch.net, the Federal Aviation Administration, NORAD (joint U.S.-Canada air defence), the Pentagon, the White House and the Secret Service all knew that three commercial passenger jets had been hijacked. Here begin the obfuscation and deceit, in small matters and large, that permeate the official narrative. Disinformation was spewing all over the place that week after Sept.11. Serious newspapers actually reported that one hijacker's passport fluttered down from the roaring inferno to be found in the rubble by sharp-eyed intelligence officers. The key question to me was one of air defence. There are, after all, standard procedures in the event of airplane emergencies. The FAA and NORAD have clear rules about any plane that suddenly loses radio contact with the tower or veers more than 15 degrees from its course. Once the air traffic controller detects an emergency, he or she must inform aviation officials who alert NORAD. Fighter jets are then sent up to check out the straying plane, signal to it with dipped wings, escort it back on course or even force it down. "We scramble aircraft to respond to any potential threat," said Marine Corps Maj. Mike Snyder, a NORAD spokesman, in an interview with the Boston Globe. But it didn't happen that way on Sept. 11. The first reports from authoritative sources (NORAD's Snyder, Vice-President Dick Cheney and, most significantly, Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers) all stated that no jets took off until it was too late. Just two days after the catastrophe, on Sept. 13, Gen. Myers was confirmed as the new chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. On that day, he told the Senate Armed Forces Committee that no Air Force jets got into the air until after the attack on the Pentagon. On Sept. 15, The Boston Globe reported on a strange contradiction. The Globe quoted NORAD spokesman Snyder, who insisted that "the command did not immediately scramble any fighters even though it was alerted to a hijacking 10 minutes before the first plane ... slammed into the World Trade Center." He said the fighters remained on the ground until after the Pentagon was hit at 9:40 a.m. But The Globe also expressed puzzlement over the new official story that had just emerged. Now Americans were being told that fighter jets roared up from Cape Cod and from Virginia, but just didn't make it in time. Furthermore, no explanation was ever offered for the bizarre fact that Andrews Air Force base, whose job it is to defend the U.S. capital just 19 kilometres away, had no fighter jets ready to go into action — despite the months of serious warnings of impending terrorist attacks. And these are the people we're to trust with a missile defence system? They can't even get their stories straight, let alone defend their air space. According to The Post and to some of their hot-eyed followers, to ask these questions is to indulge in "poisonous delusions ... that do not belong in a mainstream newspaper." I'm not sure they're the proper arbiters of mainstream journalism, but I'm willing to be "unintentionally comical" in pursuit of understanding. And Nostradamus rocks! Just kidding.
Michele Landsberg's column usually appears in the Star Saturday and Sunday. Her e-mail address is email@example.com
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Military waste under fire
$1 trillion missing -- Bush plan targets Pentagon accounting
Tom Abate, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, May 18, 2003
©2003 San Francisco Chronicle | Feedback
The Department of Defense, already infamous for spending $640 for a toilet seat, once again finds itself under intense scrutiny, only this time because it couldn't account for more than a trillion dollars in financial transactions, not to mention dozens of tanks, missiles and planes.
The Pentagon's unenviable reputation for waste will top the congressional agenda this week, when the House and Senate are expected to begin floor debate on a Bush administration proposal to make sweeping changes in how the Pentagon spends money, manages contracts and treats civilian employees.
The Bush proposal, called the Defense Transformation for the 21st Century Act, arrives at a time when the nonpartisan General Accounting Office has raised the volume of its perennial complaints about the financial woes at Defense, which recently failed its seventh audit in as many years.
"Overhauling DOD's financial management operations represent a challenge that goes far beyond financial accounting to the very fiber of (its) . . . business operations and culture," GAO chief David Walker told lawmakers in March.
WHAT HAPPENED TO $1 TRILLION?
Though Defense has long been notorious for waste, recent government reports suggest the Pentagon's money management woes have reached astronomical proportions. A study by the Defense Department's inspector general found that the Pentagon couldn't properly account for more than a trillion dollars in monies spent. A GAO report found Defense inventory systems so lax that the U.S.
Army lost track of 56 airplanes, 32 tanks, and 36 Javelin missile command launch-units.
And before the Iraq war, when military leaders were scrambling to find enough chemical and biological warfare suits to protect U.S. troops, the department was caught selling these suits as surplus on the Internet "for pennies on the dollar," a GAO official said.
Given these glaring gaps in the management of a Pentagon budget that is approaching $400 billion, the coming debate is shaping up as a bid to gain the high ground in the battle against waste, fraud and abuse.
"We are overhauling our financial management system precisely because people like David Walker are rightly critical of it," said Dov Zakheim, the Pentagon's chief financial officer and prime architect of the Defense Department's self-styled fiscal transformation.
Among the provisions in the 207-page plan, the department is asking Congress to allow Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to replace the civil service system governing 700,000 nonmilitary employees with a new system to be detailed later.
The plan would also eliminate or phase out more than a hundred reports that now tell Congress, for instance, which Defense contractors support the Arab boycott of Israel and when U.S. special forces train foreign soldiers, as well as many studies of program costs.
The administration's proposal, which would also give Rumsfeld greater authority to move money between accounts and exempt Defense from certain environmental statutes, prompted influential House Democrats to write Speaker Dennis Hastert last week complaining that the proposals would "increase the level of waste, fraud, and abuse . . . by vastly reducing (Defense) accountability."
"The Congress has increased defense spending from $300 billion to $400 billion over three years at the same time that the Pentagon has failed to address financial problems that dwarf those of Enron," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, one of the letter's signatories.
Saying critics of the bill "were arguing for more paperwork," Hastert spokesman John Feehery said his boss would support the Bush reforms on the House floor. "The purpose is to streamline the Pentagon to become a less bureaucratic and more efficient organization . . . while also making it more accountable," Feehery said.
The debate will center around the defense authorization bill, the policy- setting prelude to the defense appropriations measure that comes up later in the session. With the House and Senate considering different versions of the transformation proposals, it will be months before each passes its own bill and reconciles any differences.
But few on Capitol Hill would deny that, when it comes to fiscal management,
Defense is long overdue for "transformation."
In congressional testimony Rumsfeld himself has said "the financial reporting systems of the Pentagon are in disarray . . . they're not capable of providing the kinds of financial management information that any large organization would have."
GAO reports detail not only the woeful state of Defense fiscal controls, but the cost of failed attempts to fix them.
For instance, in June 2002 the GAO reviewed the history of a proposed Corporate Information Management system, or CIM. The initiative began in 1989 as an attempt to unify more than 2,000 overlapping systems then being used for billing, inventory, personnel and similar functions. But after "spending about $20 billion, the CIM initiative was eventually abandoned," the GAO said.
Gregory Kutz, director of GAO's financial management division and co-author of that report, likened Defense to a dysfunctional corporation, with the Pentagon cast as a holding company exercising only weak fiscal control over its subsidiaries -- the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. Today, DOD has about 2,200 overlapping financial systems, Kutz said, and just running them costs taxpayers $18 billion a year.
"The (Pentagon's) inability to even complete an audit shows just how far they have to go," he said.
Kutz contrasted the department's loose inventory controls to state-of-the- art systems at private corporations.
"I've been to Wal-Mart," Kutz said. "They were able to tell me how many tubes of toothpaste were in Fairfax, Va., at that given moment. And DOD can't find its chem-bio suits."
Danielle Brian, director of the Project on Governmental Oversight, a nonprofit group in Washington, D.C., said waste has become ingrained in the Defense budget because opposition to defense spending is portrayed as unpatriotic, and legislators are often more concerned about winning Pentagon pork than controlling defense waste.
"You have a black hole at the Pentagon for money and a blind Congress," Brian said.
But things may be changing.
GAO's Kutz said Rumsfeld has "showed a commitment" to cutting waste and asked Pentagon officials to save 5 percent of the defense budget, which would mean a $20 billion savings.
Legislators are also calling attention to Defense waste. "Balancing the military's books is not as exciting as designing or purchasing the next generation of airplanes, tanks, or ships, but it is just as important," Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.V., said last week. In a hearing last month about cost overruns, Rep. John Duncan, R-Tenn., of the House Committee on Government Reform said: "I've always considered myself to be a pro-military type person, but that doesn't mean I just want to sit back and watch the Pentagon waste billions and billions of dollars."
But while Capitol Hill sees the need, and possibly has the will to reform the Pentagon, the devil remains in the details, and the administration aroused Democratic suspicions when it dropped its 207-page transformation bill on lawmakers on April 10 -- leaving scant time to scrutinize proposals that touch many aspects of the biggest department in government.
"We have as much problem with the process as with the substance," said said Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C., who co-signed Waxman's letter calling the transformation bill "an effort by the Department to substantially reduce congressional oversight and public accountability."
Defense's Zakheim counters that the reform proposals would "remove the barnacles of past practices (and provide) DOD with modern day management while preserving congressional oversight and prerogatives."
But Waxman, a critic of the administration's handling of Iraqi reconstruction contracts, called the proposals "a military wish list" to take advantage of "the wartime feeling."
"Secretary Rumsfeld is hoping to march through Congress like he marched through Iraq," Waxman said.
E-mail Tom Abate at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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