A glossary of terms in foreign affairs

Righteous anger over Iran raises some deep confusion about the meaning of technical terms.

Published September 28, 2009 11:29AM (EDT)

As we debate the many scary enemies and exciting possibilities for new wars -- escalation in Afghanistan, our very own "Cuban Missile Crisis" against the Persian Hitlers, the Socialist Menace in Venezuela -- events can become very confusing.  Compounding that problem are the many complex, technical terms often used in media discussions of foreign affairs.  It's therefore helpful to keep track of the relevant terms --- ones just from the events of the last week alone -- to maximize clarity as we debate our imperial responsibilities:


The act of dangerous, threatening Hitlers -- NYT, today:

Iran was reported Monday to have test-fired long-range missiles capable of striking Israel and American bases in the Persian Gulf in what seemed a show of force.

The acts of a peace-loving democracy - Telegraph, January 18, 2008:

Israel has carried out the successful test launch of a long-range, ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, in what was intended as a clear show of strength to Iran.

Washington Post, May 2, 2000:

An Israeli short-range ballistic missile splashed down in the eastern Mediterranean last month near a U.S. Navy Aegis cruiser, causing momentary fear that the ship was under attack, Defense Department officials said yesterday.

The Jericho 1 missile, which can carry nuclear warheads or about 1,000 pounds of chemicals or high explosives, was launched from a missile-testing facility at Yavne, Israel, on April 6 and landed about 40 miles from the USS Anzio, they said. . . . [O]ne of the Defense Department officials ... said the repeated "no-notice" launches have made the Pentagon think that the Israelis are trying to prevent the United States from monitoring the tests and acquiring technical data about the operation of the Jericho.


A nation up to no good -- USA Today, last week:

President Obama said today that Iran has been building a covert nuclear enrichment facility for several years and warned that Tehran would be "held accountable" if it did not immediately demonstrate its peaceful intentions by opening the site to international inspectors. . . .

The Iranian leader says Iran had informed the IAEA early about the facility. . . . The Iranian leader tells reporters that Iran doesn't have any problems with IAEA inspections of the new facility.

A peaceful and law-abiding ally - Foreign Policy, last week:

The UN nuclear assembly voted on Friday to urge Israel to accede to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and place all atomic sites under UN inspections. . . .

This is a major victory as the Israel's representative on the council has already promised to "not cooperate in any matter with this resolution which is only aiming at reinforcing political hostilities and lines of division in the Middle East region."

It also probably won't do a whole lot for the credibility of the IAEA to have one more country over which it is powerless to enforce its rulings.


A thuggish dictator crushing democracy -- Washington Post, February 16, 2009:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez won a referendum Sunday to eliminate term limits, paving the way for him to rule far into the 21st century to carry out his socialist transformation of this oil-rich country.

A criminal Leftist abolishing freedom - National Review, June, 2009:

But make no mistake: The Honduran soldiers who escorted Pres. Manuel Zelaya from his home on Sunday were acting to protect their country’s democracy . . . . Zelaya’s ultimate goal was to extend or abolish presidential term limits, mimicking the example of Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chávez and other Latin American populists.

A stalwart reformer devoted to democratic values -- CSM, September 2, 2009:

Colombian lawmakers voted Tuesday to call a referendum on whether conservative President Álvaro Uribe – a key US ally in a region now dominated by leftist leaders – should be allowed to seek a third straight term in office. . . .

But the vote, which has been dogged by allegations of irregularities, has angered critics and even some of Uribe's staunchest allies. They worry that if Uribe wins a third term, it could endanger Colombian democracy in the same way that many of the region's leftist leaders have done in recent years.

Democracy in action -- Bloomberg, last year:

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he would seek re-election next year and is working with the City Council to amend a 15-year-old law limiting elected officials to two terms, as the Wall Street slump imperils the city's economy. . . .

Bloomberg, the billionaire founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP, ran for mayor in 2001 and 2005 as a Republican, after having been a lifelong Democrat, spending about $158 million on both races combined.


A thuggish dictator crushing dissent - Associated Press, two weeks ago:

The government said Monday a leading TV channel aligned with Venezuela's opposition could lose its broadcast license for allegedly airing a viewer's text message calling for a coup and the assassination of President Hugo Chavez.

Responsible leaders defending freedom and the rule of law -- Guardian, today:

Honduras's interim leaders suspended key civil liberties last night in response to "calls for insurrection" by ousted president Manuel Zelaya, empowering police and soldiers to break up "unauthorised" public meetings, arrest people without warrants and restrict the news media.


A conspiracy of aggressors -- Fox News, December, 2007:

Russia is selling Iran a new and sophisticated air defense system that experts say is capable of dealing a serious blow against would-be attackers.

The new S-300 air defense system signals growing miitary cooperation between Moscow and Tehran

A nations that merely wants peace -- NYT, September 9, 2009:

Despite a recession that knocked down global arms sales last year, the United States expanded its role as the world’s leading weapons supplier . . . The United States signed weapons agreements valued at $37.8 billion in 2008, or 68.4 percent of all business in the global arms bazaar, up significantly from American sales of $25.4 billion the year before.

Italy was a distant second, with $3.7 billion in worldwide weapons sales in 2008, while Russia was third with $3.5 billion in arms sales last year . . . The United States was the leader not only in arms sales worldwide, but also in sales to nations in the developing world, signing $29.6 billion in weapons agreements with these nations, or 70.1 percent of all such deals.


State sponsors of Terrorism -- BBC, November, 2006:

A senior Hezbollah official has told the BBC that Iran is providing the group with money to help fund its reconstruction activities in Lebanon. . . .

Lebanon's Finance Minister, Jihad Azour, also acknowledged that Iranian money is going directly to Hezbollah.

Peace-loving nations -- Irish Times, February 23, 2009:

DETAILED EVIDENCE has emerged of Israel’s extensive use of US-made weaponry during its war in Gaza last month, including white phosphorus artillery shells, 500lb bombs and Hellfire missiles.

NYT, July, 2006:

The Bush administration is rushing a delivery of precision-guided bombs to Israel, which requested the expedited shipment last week after beginning its air campaign against Hezbollah targets in Lebanon, American officials said Friday.

The decision to quickly ship the weapons to Israel was made with relatively little debate within the Bush administration, the officials said. Its disclosure threatens to anger Arab governments and others because of the appearance that the United States is actively aiding the Israeli bombing campaign in a way that could be compared to Iran’s efforts to arm and resupply Hezbollah.

BBC, March 21, 2003:

The long-awaited move began on the third night of the war, with US cruise missiles and carrier aircraft precision bombs raining down on Baghdad and other major cites. . . . The doctrine of "shock and awe" is based on a book by military strategist Harlan Ullman, who is admired by both Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Mr Ullman wrote that the use of air power to achieve "nearly incomprehensible levels of mass destruction" could achieve "an overwhelming level of shock and awe against an adversary on an immediate basis to paralyse its will to resist".


Monsters with contempt for their own people - WashPost, June, 2009:

Mir Hossein Mousavi, the leading opposition candidate in last month's disputed election, released documents Saturday detailing a campaign of alleged fraud by supporters of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that assured his reelection.

Freedom Is On The March -- CNN, last week:

Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Thursday warned Western observers not to "delegitimize" the results of his country's presidential election, which has been marred by allegations of fraud.

Results of the completed count, announced Wednesday, gave Karzai 54 percent of the vote in the August 20 poll, but the numbers won't be certified until authorities investigate allegations of irregularities. More than 200,000 of the nearly 5.7 million votes cast have been thrown out, including 29,000 in a swath of Afghanistan where Karzai has strong support, and European Union observers have raised questions about 1.5 million more.

Liberating a nation -- Economist, September, 2009:

The Shia-led government has overseen a ballooning of the country’s security apparatus. Human-rights violations are becoming more common. In private many Iraqis, especially educated ones, are asking if their country may go back to being a police state.

Old habits from Saddam Hussein’s era are becoming familiar again. Torture is routine in government detention centres. “Things are bad and getting worse, even by regional standards,” says Samer Muscati, who works for Human Rights Watch, a New York-based lobby.

His outfit reports that, with American oversight gone (albeit that the Americans committed their own shameful abuses in such places as Abu Ghraib prison), Iraqi police and security people are again pulling out fingernails and beating detainees, even those who have already made confessions. A limping former prison inmate tells how he realised, after a bout of torture in a government ministry that lasted for five days, that he had been relatively lucky. When he was reunited with fellow prisoners, he said he saw that many had lost limbs and organs.


A rogue nation showing contempt for international law -- NPR, this week:

In a dramatic joint statement, Obama — flanked by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy — said the existence of the site "deepens a growing concern" that Iran has failed to live up to its international obligations to fully disclose its nuclear ambitions. Obama said Iran "is breaking rules that all nations must follow. . . . "

Honoring treaty obligations -- David Cole, New York Review of Books, this week:

The United States is legally bound by the Convention Against Torture to submit any case alleging torture by a person within its jurisdiction "to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution." President Obama and Attorney General Holder have both stated that waterboarding is torture. Accordingly, the United States is legally obligated to investigate not merely those CIA interrogators who went beyond waterboarding, but the lawyers and Cabinet officers who authorized waterboarding and other torture tactics in the first place. . . . Absent a reckoning for those responsible for making torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment official US policy, the United States' commitment to the rule of law will remain a hollow shell -- a commitment to be honored only when it is not inconvenient or impolitic to do so.

Article 2, U.N. Charter:

All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.


Once those terms are systematically laid out in glossary form like this, everything becomes much clearer.  Perhaps the ultimate confusion is that "the Left" has long been accused of "moral relativism" for pointing out the use of these terms when the essence of "moral relativism" is judging an act not based on what it is, but on who is doing it.  It's the adolescent self-love of believing that "X, by definition, is good when I do it and bad when you do it."

By Glenn Greenwald

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