Jan 11




Every now and then, the United States is given a chance to look at itself in the mirror.

This is what happened on Saturday morning, 8 JANUARY 2011, when a Democratic member of the US Congress, Mrs Gabrielle Giffords, was shot and nearly killed in Tucson, Arizona.

She was still alive at the time of writing, but her condition was critical. Six other people, including a federal judge — and most pathetic of all, a 9-year-old girl who happened to have been born on 9/11/2001 — lost their lives in the attack on a crowd Mrs Giffords was addressing. 14 others were injured.

As usual, voices are being raised against America’s gun culture, which enables a 22-year-old man, Jared Loughner, who had a record of behaviour attesting to mental disorder, to purchase a deadly semi-automatic weapon, with which he could calmly walk into a peaceful crowd and shoot 31 bullets into them as if they were turkeys.

The gunman was grabbed by a woman as he attempted to reload the magazine of his semi-automatic pistol. Then three men jumped on him. Otherwise, the carnage would have been much worse.

The FBI director, Robert Mueller, who went to Tucson to take charge of the investigation of the killings, joined the sheriff of Tucson in stating that one focus of the inquiry is whether far-right organisations and websites had played a role in inciting the gunman to do his deed.

“The ubiquitous nature of the internet means that not only threats, but hate speech and other insightful speech is much more readily available to individuals than quite clearly it was eight or 10 or 15 years ago,” Mueller said.

Fingers are being pointed, in particular, at Mrs Sarah Palin and her ‘Tea Party’ devotees. A widely publicized map on her website shows a list of congressional seats that she thinks should be targeted. The sights of a gun indicate the targets at which “salvoes“ must be aimed. Obviously, this was a metaphorical statement, but to the mentally unbalanced, such imagery can assume a life if its own.

Statements made by acquaintances of Jared Loughner since the shooting, show how important it is that would-be gun purchasers should be investigated thoroughly before guns are sold to them. The acquaintances speak of hearing Loughner rant about issues, such as the national currency and language control. (he is unhappy that the dollar isn’t backed by gold or silver, In 2011? Obviously he is still living in the “Gold Standard” era!)

Lynda Sorenson, who attended a community college algebra class with Loughner in 2010, wrote emails to friends describing him as disruptive and expressed fears that he might be “dangerous.”

“We do have one student in the class who was disruptive today, I’m not certain yet if he was on drugs (as one person surmised) or to the teacher afterward. Hopefully he will be out of class very soon, and not come back with an automatic weapon,” Sorenson wrote prophetically to friends.

A fortnight later, Sorenson was even more judgmental. “We have a mentally unstable person in the class that scares the living crap out of me‘, she wrote. “He is one of those whose picture you see on the news, after he has come into class with an automatic weapon. Everyone interviewed would say, Yeah, he was in my math class and he was really weird. I sit by the door with my purse handy. If you see it on the news one night, know that I got out fast …”

If a background check had been made of Loughner from people who knew him, would some of these things not have come up against him before he was sold such a lethal gun? I mean if he wanted to be a bank clerk or a custom officer, they would have vetted him right and proper. Yet many Americans strongly hold the view that such limitations on the ability to purchase guns would be an infringement of their constitutional rights.

The exacting wording — and meaning – of the “right to bear arms” enshrined in the constitution, is debated often. But common sense has not yet persuaded Americans that those who wrote the constitution were thinking of national warfare, not individuals’ ability to threaten the lives of their fellow citizens, when they wrote that clause. Or that modern weapons, which are more deadly and can be hidden more easily, render the right to bear arms archaic. And many Americans won’t entertain the idea that you don’t need an M16 rifle to kill a deer for food.

Not too many Americans seem worried, either, that in 2009 – the latest year for which detailed statistics are available – there were 13,636 murders in the US, 9,146 of which were caused by firearms.

One writer has got the situation very well summed up, in my opinion. He says:

“What we’re going to be saturated with , for the next week or so, are the inevitable false equivalencies. We’ll hear, for instance, how there are “nuts on both sides.” Undeniably true.

“But there is no ubiquitous liberal — much less, left-wing — network of talk-radio stations spouting Two Minutes’ Hate 24/7. The collective voice of the rightwing on radio and the Internet, with its coded and uncoded calls to violence, of “2nd Amendment remedies,” of cross hairs superimposed on
states and on individuals, simply has no visible counterpart on the left. When the right discusses the violent left, it must seek overseas examples or something from decades ago in America’s past.

On the other hand, right-wingers such as “Michael Savage, bleating on Savage Nation radio, says: ‘Only vigilance and resistance to this baby dictator, Barack Hussein Obama, can prevent the Khmer Rouge from appearing in this country.’ Erick Ericksson at Red State says: ‘At what point do the people …march down to their state legislator’s house, pull him outside, and beat him to a bloody pulp?’

“No matter how it tries, the right cannot divorce
itself from the [consequences of] its violent rhetoric, no matter how many times its practitioners say ‘not me, not me’. A few crocodile tears from Glenn Beck won’t cut it.”
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The debate on what Ghana should do in the Ivory Coast situation gets more and more interesting.
One serious objection I‘ve heard is from the military point of view: that ECOWAS would not have the intelligence capability, for instance, to back armed intervention.

This is quite true — if ECOWAS goes in by itself, it will have serious problems. But what if ECOWAS went in under the umbrella of a United Nations resolution? The UN has already read the riot act to Laurent Gbagbo. If it were to put teeth into that, the situation would change drastically. ECOWAS would then become the partner of a UN force: in fact, such a situation already exists – there are already troops from ECOWAS, and the UN, but they are operating in a peacekeeping capacity and are not empowered to take offensive action. If their mandate was changed by the UN, they could do this.

A UN/ECOWAS force would be able to ask France for assistance in military planning as well as logistic support. (The French have bases in Senegal, and Chad and Gabon and they could be provide help if the political climate for intervention were acceptable to them. A UN request would almost probably be acceptable to them.)

If ECOWAS goes in with the full support of the United States, which is also not enamoured of Gbagbo, the ECOWAS/UN force would obtain information supplied by satellites.

Now, I don’t at all want the Ivory Coast to be invaded! But I am sure that if Gbagbo became aware that a serious and credible military threat existed against him, the deterrent effect that would have on him would be considerable. Unless he is bent on suicide, he must take notice. He must remember what happened to Saddam Hussein, who stuck stubbornly to his guns until he was fished out of a mound in the ground like an ordinary rat.

I was heartened therefore to read that General Olusegun Obasanjo paid Gbagbo a visit recently. Obasanjo does not tolerate nonsense — indeed, he gave short shrift to Henri Konan Bedie when Bedie, after refusing to listen to advice on how to defuse the ethnic divisions in his country, was overthrown by the military on 24 December 1999.

Obasanjo is anything but clear-headed about issues of democracy, but if he has come to accept the ECOWAS majority position, then he probably told Gbagbo in plain terms that if he summons the strength of a powerful forces on his country, then he stands to lose a great deal.

What about Ghana’s position? I am probably too late, but I do hope our President will have as little to say about it in public as possible. ECOWAS is an organization of 15 countries and it does not pay to go out on a limb against one’s fellow heads of state in the organisation, after one has agreed upon an initial communique with them after full discussions.

That is not to say that one cannot entertain private doubts. If one does, one must pick up the telephone, band talk to one’s brother heads of state, but not do them the discourtesy of hearing you make foreign policy on the hoof, in an interaction with journalists. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs must try to brief the President to be more reticent, otherwise, the number of countries whose ambassadors will queue up at his offices to ask for ‘clarification’ every time he speaks on foreign affairs, will be impossible to cope with!


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