State formation and the US

Check this article. While it makes a great point about the fact that state building is a bloody business, and while it goes through numerous (although quite stereotypical) historical instances that makes this point clear (England and Empire, France and the revolution, Germany and the holocaust, etc) it conveniently omits the US case. In fact the only mention of an American bloody episode is that of the war of secession where “violence” was the enslavement of populations. Throughout this article, somehow, there is the implicit assumption that there is an enlightened state project. There is no mentioning of the various wars the US, as a state, has engaged in, the dropping of nuclear in Hiroshima, and countless other violent instances in history. Germany and holocaust? That’s state formation (they weren’t there yet, those Germans). US and Hiroshima? That’s skirmishes or war strategy.

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Meow …

This report is intended solely for the official use of the Department of State or the Broadcasting Board of Governors, or any agency or organization receiving a copy directly from the Office of Inspector General. No secondary distribution may be made, in whole or in part, outside the Department of State or the Broadcasting Board of Governors, by them or by other agencies or organizations, without prior authorization by the Inspector General under the U.S. Code, 5 U.S.C. 552. Improper disclosure of this report may result in criminal, civil, or administrative penalties.

Now Lebanon is produced by Quantum Communications, some of whose contracts with the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (originally the Middle East Television Network, but renamed in 2005) are described in the OIG-DOS report sourced above. The report was conducted due to ‘irregularities’ in the contracting process.

MTN/MBN was created in 2003 by the Emergency War Supplemental under the authority and funding of the Board of Broadcasting Governors, a US government-funded ‘independent agency.’ Soon thereafter, al Hurra was on the air. It has a budget of about $100 million a year from the BBG’s total budget of about $700 million (Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Sawa, Radio Farda, Radio Free Asia, Radio Marti, TV Marti, as well as al Hurra). There may also be additional revenue streams, but I am not sure.

Quantum Communications, along with Brand Central (which also received MTN/MBN contracts), Vertical Middle East and Firehorse Films comprise the Quantum Group, which is headed by Eli Khoury, who also directs Saatchi-Levant. He is also a founder of the Lebanese Renaissance Foundation, a DC-based group that lobbies the US federal government. The LRF has paid DLA Piper about $1 million for lobbying services since 2007 (the DOJ’s very incomplete online FARA (Foreign Agent Registration Act) database includes no Lebanese principals — Brazzaville has five!).

Quantum has had a slew of corporate and government clients (Jordan, Lebanon, IDAL, etc.), so it is difficult to know how much of their business comes from the US government. Perhaps very little, perhaps a great deal.

The IOG-DOS refers only to some initial MTN/MBN contracts in 2004 worth some $4.5 million, so it is unclear how much business Quantum has done through al Hurra. Saatchi-Levant also won a State Department contract for the now-defunct Hi Magazine.

Quantum has also been engaged in Iraq. For example, it has produced a series of television ads under the name of a phantom organization, the Future Iraq Assembly. The ads are available on Youtube and are similar to ads that also ran in Lebanon. Most observers believe the spots are funded by either the Defense or State Department.

It is unclear if Quantum was involved in any contracts related to al-Iraqiya. The station, part of the Pentagon “Free Iraq Media” plan, was initially the product of SAIC and served the needs of the Coalition Provisional Authority. In 2004, however, the Pentagon awarded a new contract for Iraq media to the Harris Group, who subcontracted the work out to the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC) and a Kuwaiti media company.

Interestingly, Firehorse Films seems to have been around since the early 1990s, producing documentaries about cultural matters. Anyway, post-2003, it has produced a film about al-Zarqawi for LBC, a documentary about religious minorities in the Middle East (yes, the Maronites play a starring role) for al Jazeera, and a documentary about the life and death of Arab nationalism. While I have no idea if these productions have made up the bulk of its work, they do suggest an interesting political line, no?

Is it art, the ‘market,’ political conviction or government subcontracts that is driving demand? I just cannot say, but imagine that like most collective human endeavors, it is a mixture of all those things.

More to come on the Pravdas of the Pradas.

Welcome to Kurdistan …

It was, in other words, a story about influence-building, buying, and profit, albeit with subplots that were equal parts John le Carre and Keystone Kops, and a cast of characters ranging from ex-Mossad head Yatom to a former German superspy, with Israeli counterterrorism commandos, Kurdish political dynasties, powerful American lobbyists, Turkish business tycoons thrown in—not to mention millions of dollars stashed in Swiss bank accounts.

Even More from The Idiot Nation …

A shocking new book proves Americans are simultaneously the most “religious” and the most religiously ignorant people in the developed world.

Signs of Imperial Decay …

At $923 million for the 2006 fiscal year, the budget was 20 times that of the Beijing embassy’s that year, according to the State Department.

One of my little screwball theories is that the Cold War is, in fact, not over, in that the US has not fully paid the bill of waging that worlwide war for markets and resources. Many of those debts can be witnessed across the globe today and the US, politically, economically and militarily, faces a physics not dissimilar to the management crisis that afflicted the over-extended, and deeply indebted Soviet regime.

Needless to say, the US adventure in Iraq provides something of a microcosm for many of these difficulties. To be sure, some would argue that control over the Middle East remains central to US superiority over its economic rivals and thus is worth the cost. But the failure of the US to secure Iraq raises critical questions about the ability of the empire to maintain its global position.

I will elaborate when I have the time, so pardon me if I sound too hysterical or apocalyptic.

A Reminder …

  • Despite nearly constant news coverage since the war there began in 2003, 63 percent of Americans aged 18 to 24 failed to correctly locate the country (Iraq) on a map of the Middle East.
  • Seventy percent could not find Iran or Israel.
  • Nine in ten couldn’t find Afghanistan on a map of Asia.
  • And 54 percent were unaware that Sudan is a country in Africa.
  • Three-quarters of respondents failed to find that country on a map.
  • And three-quarters were unaware that a majority of Indonesia’s population is Muslim, making it the largest Muslim country in the world.