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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Caterpillar destroys livelihoods in Europe and Palestine

Like many Palestine solidarity activists, I've long regarded Caterpillar as a callous firm. A trip to the Belgian city of Charleroi over the weekend reinforced this view.

Caterpillar recently announced that it is shedding 1,400 jobs from its Charleroi plant. The measure has been presented as "indispensable" for reasons of "competitiveness" by Nicolas Polutnik, the plant's chief executive. His rationale merits contempt. Caterpillar, which raked in a profit of almost $5.7 billion last year, is lengthening the dole queues in a city where unemployment already exceeds 20 percent.

War against workers

Far from having no other option than to "downsize," it is waging an ideological war against workers' rights. As the second largest US employer in the country, Caterpillar plays an active role in the American Chamber of Commerce in Belgium. This grouping has seized on the global economic crisis to try and unravel hard-won gains by the country's labour movement. One of the chamber's top targets at the moment is automatic wage indexation -- a requirement that employers increase their workers' pay when the cost of living rises.

Caterpillar's cruel disregard for the firm's own employees chimes completely with its support for Israeli apartheid. Documents published by the Israeli embassy in Brussels list Caterpillar machines made in Charleroi as being among Belgium's top exports to Israel.

Brazen dishonesty

Almost two years ago, I confronted Paolo Fellin, a Caterpillar vice-president, over how his company's bulldozers were being used to destroy Palestinian homes. Fellin replied: "If our products end up in certain parts of the world, then I have no control over that."

His dishonesty was brazen. Fellin's area of responsibility included the Middle East, so -- unless he was incompetent -- he knew a thing or two about Zoko, which acts as Caterpillar's Israeli dealer. Zoko's own website has a section dedicated to its work for the Israeli army. The section explicitly states that Zoko has tweaked vehicles so that they can be used for military purposes: the distinctive black, yellow and white Caterpillar logo can be seen on some of the vehicles in question. This amounts to an admission of guilt in facilitating war crimes.

Weapon of occupation

Rachel Corrie is the best known victim of those crimes. It is only correct that we salute her bravery and selflessness on the tenth anniversary of her murder. Caterpillar cannot be allowed evade responsibility for this abominable act. Yes, it was an Israeli soldier who crushed her to death as she tried to stop him from demolishing a home in Gaza. But the Caterpillar bulldozer he was driving had been transformed especially so that it could serve as a weapon of dispossession and occupation.

A decade later, Caterpillar's vehicles are still being used for those purposes. As Joe Catron reported last week, Israeli troops have ruined farmland inside Gaza -- with the aid of Caterpillar bulldozers -- over the past few months.

While in Charleroi, I learned that shortly before management announced the job losses, local Palestine solidarity activists had been in contact with trade unionists representing Caterpillar's workers. Despite the company's dealings with Israel, the unionists were sympathetic to the Palestine solidarity movement, I was told. That didn't surprise me: the labour rights movement in Belgium is generally supportive of efforts to dismantle Israeli apartheid.

It is entirely understandable that saving their own jobs is now the top concern of Caterpillar's workers. But this shouldn't mean that Palestine solidarity campaigners should stop reaching out to these workers - or those who remain once the management implements its "restructuring plan."

Caterpillar appears intent to destroy livelihoods in both Europe and Palestine. Taming this corporate monster requires building the broadest possible alliance.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 25 March 2013.

Corporations hold Europe captive

The middle finger on José Manuel Barroso's right hand has been in constant action lately. It has been used to deliver an "up yours" salute to 99% of the world's population.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how the European Commission chief had appointed Edmund Stoiber, a giant in German politics, to prepare a bonfire of labour and green laws.

No sooner had I turned in my column than I learned that a coalition of trade unions and health, environment and consumer protection advocates had complained to Barroso about how they had been excluded from recent discussions held by the "high level group" on "administrative burdens" that Stoiber heads. The alliance asked that a meeting of the Stoiber group scheduled for 7 March be postponed until the group's membership list was revised. As things stand, the group is controlled by private sector representatives, whose primary motivation is to maximise profits.

Barroso ignored the appeal and the meeting went ahead as planned.

Even though the Commission is able to cite "procedural delays" for stalling on a decision about involving public interest defenders in the group, it has no problem in allowing a lobbyist for the cigarette industry participate.

Pavel Telicka was the Czech Republic's first EU commissioner before being hired to advise British American Tobacco on "social responsibility".

Most of us concerned about preventing cancer could give BAT very clear advice on how to act responsibly. It would run like this: stop peddling tobacco.

Not Telicka: he has stoutly defended the cigarette industry. When anti-smoking campaigners brought a case aimed at banning the sale of cigarettes to the European Court of Justice in 2010, Telicka protested vociferously. He has been nominated to Stoiber's select club by the European Policy Centre, a "think tank" which has been financed by the tobacco industry since its inception.

Disturbing

The continuing participation of a cigarette champion in the group is all the more disturbing when you consider that Stoiber used (maybe that should read "abused") his position last year to lobby against an EU "tobacco products" law then under preparation.

Powerpoint presentations made at the 7 March meeting suggest that Stoiber and his chums are hostile to law in general.

The British Department of Business gave a summary of a paper boasting how in 95% of cases David Cameron's government doesn't place EU regulations on the country's statute books ahead of deadline for doing so. This is part of a practice known as "gold-plating".

It seems bizarre that a rule-making body like the European Commission has given its blessing to a forum which recommends that rules shouldn't be respected until the very last minute - and then tries to scrap the rules altogether. Yet this fits into a broader pattern, whereby the EU's initiatives are fashioned with the objective of indulging - or at least placating - big business.

One vivid manifestation of this pattern is the new climate change "package" that the Commission will shortly publish. It incorporates a discussion paper about how to stimulate investment in "carbon capture and storage" (CCS), a process designed to take greenhouse gases from plants burning fossil fuels and bury them underground.

As things stand, the supposed benefits of CCS are unproven. Climate change, on the other hand, is a proven reality. In the past few weeks, Brussels has had the kind of balmy sunshine associated with May followed by sub-zero temperatures and snow: a strong indication that the planet's equilibrium has been upset. More importantly, the vast majority of the world's scientists agree that the earth's temperatures are rising up because of man-made activities.

Captivated by oil

If logic and sanity prevailed, policy-makers would be concentrating on promoting renewable energy and emission reduction strategies, not being sidetracked by CCS. But the Commission has allowed itself to be captivated by the wizards of CCS - or the oil industry, as they are better known.

The Commission's new paper floats the idea that the EU's emissions trading system could be tweaked so that revenues raised from auctioning pollution permits are used to stimulate CCS. I was able to trace the origins of this recommendation: it can be found in a July 2012 blueprint from the Zero Emissions Platform (ZEP).

Assembled by the European Commission, the ZEP is comprised of BP, Shell, Statoil and Total: all firms that have a vested interest in hampering urgent action against climate change so that they can keep on burning fossil fuels. To give the impression of inclusivity, the platform has some "environmentalists" sitting on it, too. These belong to the Bellona Foundation, which is headquartered in Norway, and the London-based E3G.

After checking how the two groups are financed, I realised that Bellona has taken donations from Statoil and E3G from Shell. Having a "green" campaign financed by the oil industry is a bit like having an anti-racism campaign financed by the Ku Klux Klan.

I am sick and tired of Barroso posing as an action man on climate change. He and his flunkies are rubber-stamping plans written for them by the very people who are wrecking the planet. Genuine ecologists have been locked out of the room - indeed, not even told where the room is - when vitally important discussions are taking place.

There is only one way of improving the situation: by public pressure. Building and sustaining a movement against the corporate capture of politics are probably the most important challenges of our times.

•First published by New Europe, 24-31 March 2013.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The truth 10 years later: Germany helped the invasion of Iraq

I got very drunk the night that the Iraq war began. It seemed like the only way I could respond to the helplessness and depression I was experiencing.

Ten years later, I no longer touch alcohol and can see things a lot more clearly. Taking refuge in red wine as I listened to updates from Baghdad on the BBC World Service was, I now realise, a cop out. Unlike millions of others, I hadn't bothered to march against the invasion; I had just grumbled about it.

One or two days into the war, I found myself at a press conference given by Tony Blair. It was a salutary lesson about how the mainstream media is often supine towards the powerful. I had my hand raised for most of the event, seeking to ask Blair a question. Yet the prime minister would only deal with British reporters who he knew personally; there was a tacit understanding that none of them would give him a hard time. The thought of standing up and protesting at this quasi-censorship crossed my mind. To my regret, I didn't have the guts to do so.

I am bolder and happier today than I was a decade ago. Around that time, I started to shed the illusions I had about my profession. Far too many journalists, I would later conclude, are little more than stenographers for an elite. Far too many of us kid ourselves into thinking that we are doing important work because we write down or record what "important" people tell us.

I was as guilty as anyone else. In 2003, I had a reasonably well-paid job with the weekly newspaper European Voice. This required me to feign something called objectivity. Eventually, I learned that objectivity is a synonym for intellectual cowardice. Journalists shouldn't be trying to give equal weight to "both sides" in a story, especially if one of those sides is perpetrating a crime. We should be trying to expose what our political leaders are up to, not indulging them in the hope they might throw a scoop our way.

Built on lies

The Iraq war was built on lies. The best-known lies were the ones about Saddam Hussein being involved in rearranging the New York skyline on 11 September 2001 and having the capability to fire weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes. But there were other lies that we swallowed and that many of us still believe.

I lost count of the number of articles I knocked out around that time about the split between what Donald Rumsfeld called "old" and "new" Europe.

The truth is that the European Union wasn't seriously divided. As canny politicians, Gerhard Schröder and Jacques Chirac appeared in sync with public opinion by opposing the war. Schröder's re-election as chancellor in 2002 was at least partly attributable to his stance against America's sabre-rattling.

Yet even if Germany did not send soldiers to Iraq, it facilitated the illegal occupation of that country.

America's largest military base overseas is located at Ramstein in Germany; it hosts the 86th Air Wing. As soon as George W. Bush signed a resolution passed by the US congress authorizing the use of force against Iraq in October 2002, that division of the army was mobilised. Ramstein served as a major refuelling station for warplanes throughout the war. And Ramstein is still regarded as a key asset in Washington - despite all the talk about Barack Obama being less interested in Europe than his predecessors. In February last year, the US held a major conference there, allowing diplomats and generals to mull over the nation's future military strategy on German soil.

Interestingly, Ramstein was also used as something of a launch-pad during NATO's attack on Libya in 2011, despite how Germany didn't participate directly in that offensive. It was used, too, by the CIA after it abducted Abu Omar, an Egyptian cleric, in 2003. Abu Omar was flown from Rome to his native Egypt, where he was tortured. The flight in question stopped in Ramstein.

America's doormat

If the Berlin government had really wanted to thwart Bush's war plans, it would have ordered the US to leave its military bases in Germany. Its neighbour has set an example that could have been followed. In 1966 Charles de Gaulle informed America that any of its troops stationed in France would have to leave the country within little over a year. (Many of them, as it happens, moved to Ramstein).

It is possible for nations to stand up to the US and survive. The recently deceased Hugo Chavez was briefly toppled in a US-backed coup; protests by his own supporters helped return him to power. Perhaps more dramatically, Ecuador announced in 2008 it was kicking US troops out of a base that was supposedly crucial in the "war on drugs".

The Iraq war offered an opportunity for some of Europe's leaders to prove their mettle. Schröder, in particular, could have partly atoned for his earlier willingness to support American foreign policy. During his first term, he committed troops to NATO's attacks on Serbia and Afghanistan. Both of those wars gave a new lease of life to a US-led organisation that should have been wound up when the Cold War ended.

Allowing the US to fly to and from Ramstein was a huge help to the war in Iraq. By refusing to close the base, Gerhard Schröder acted as America's doormat.

•First published by New Europe, 17-24 March 2013.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Why scrapping labour laws is barbaric

Edmund Stoiber once caused something of an uproar when he said "unfortunately, not everyone in Germany is as intelligent as in Bavaria".

Though he no longer presides over that picturesque state, the veteran politician retains considerable clout. And he continues to behave with the same kind of braggadocio.

Stoiber now heads a "high-level" group set up by the European Commission to advise on how "administrative burdens" faced by business can be reduced. Last year, he became embroiled in a mini-controversy when it emerged that he had taken up the cudgels against an anti-smoking law then under preparation in Brussels because the Bavarian tobacco industry had asked him to.

Most of his other recent activities have barely received any scrutiny in the mainstream press. This is inexcusable. Stoiber and his acolytes are taking an "everything must go" approach to social and environmental protections. We, journalists, should be questioning why this bonfire of regulations is occurring, not sitting back until every measure that progressive movements have fought for turns to ash.

In January, the group met in Berlin. One of the main items on its agenda was a plan of action for 2013. Drafted by Michael Gibbons, a former big cheese in the firm Powergen who has campaigned for the privatisation of Britain's electricity services, the paper lists a range of measures that irk captains of industry. They include proposals on rights for people with disabilities, climate change, nuclear safety, maximum working time and even the occupational hazards of hairdressers. (I swear that I didn't make the last one up).

Gibbons has recommended that Stoiber's group "take the earliest opportunity to challenge [European] commissioners, where there is maximum scope for advising on files".

Stoiber likes to pose as a defender of small firms, which often find their ambitions thwarted by "bureaucratic stop-signs" (a phrase he used in a 2012 publication). Yet his group isn't exactly chockfull of cottage industry champions. The nine members of it currently named on the European Commission's website include nominees from BusinessEurope and the European Policy Centre, both of which are lobby outfits (or in the EPC's case a lobby outfit masquerading as a "think tank") funded by major corporations. Among the others on the group are Roland Berger, head of the eponymous consultancy.

No seats have been allocated to trade unionists or low-paid workers. (In an earlier incarnation, the group had one environmentalist and one consumer rights advocate but they are not among the nine currently named).

José Manuel Barroso and his team are playing the same kind of game as Stoiber.

As part of preparations for a summit of the Union's leaders this month, the Commission has identified the "top ten" most burdensome laws affecting small and medium-sized companies.

I detest gambling but knew it would be safe to bet on the items that appeared on this list before it was published. So I wasn't surprised that it was identical to one drawn up by UEAPME, the "voice" of small firms. This association wants to bin - or dramatically weaken - rules on food hygiene, health and safety of employees and waste management.

Parrots for big business

I don't believe that UEAPME is solely interested in making life easier for what Americans call "mom and pop stores". Nor do I take seriously the impression it gives of simply wanting a restaurant with three waiters to be given greater leeway than McDonald's when hiring and firing staff.

UEAPME is parroting exactly the same line as BusinessEurope, which is dominated by much larger firms. In 2008, BusinessEurope published the findings of a survey of small and medium-sized companies carried out for it by the "market researchers" KPMG. Predictably, it said that four out of every five respondents wanted labour laws to be eviscerated. In particular, they wanted to be allowed to pressurise their staff into slaving away for longer hours.

There is little doubt that the EU is turning uglier. When challenged about the orientation of the Union's economic policies, federalists have tended to respond by pointing out that important advances for workers have been introduced because of decisions taken in Brussels. In truth, these advances were the result of a hard struggle by ordinary people, not pangs of conscience by an elite. I concede, nonetheless, that some positive changes have resulted from EU laws.

A formidable foe

The working time dossier is a case in point. In 1993, the EU's governments agreed that on average employees shouldn't be required to clock in more than 48 hours per week. This wasn't overly generous, by any stretch of the imagination: assuming one works five days a week, a 48-hour limit translates as nearly 10 hours a day, which is hardly conducive to rearing a young family.

Employers, though, have kept on insinuating that Europe is turning into a continent of slackers because of this law. Even though the European Commission introduced this law, it is now conniving with big (and small) business to wreck it and other advances in the name of "competitiveness". José Manuel Barroso is one of the most formidable foes that the workers of Europe have faced in decades.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Competitiveness is a pernicious dogma. Adherents invoke this dogma to drive bulldozers through those achievements that we, as Europeans, should take most pride in.

The "administrative burdens" that businesses love to carp about are really markers of civilisation. Eliminating social and environmental protections is a sign of barbarism.

•First published by http://www.neurope.eu/article/why-scrapping-labour-laws-barbaric, 10-17 March 2013

Monday, March 4, 2013

War criminal Peres honored again by European university

I only met Stéphane Hessel once. But I loved his pamphlet Time for Outrage. Here was a man in his nineties, goading the young into disobeying authority.

A few days after Hessel's death last week, I was lucky enough to meet a number of students that are acting in a way that would clearly have won his approval. Enrolled in the French-speaking Université libre de Bruxelles, these Palestine solidarity activists are incensed at how the ULB rector, Didier Viviers, is set to dine with Shimon Peres tomorrow night. "People like Shimon Peres should simply be boycotted, never honored," the students, who belong to the university's committee for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel, have told Viviers in a letter.

Though Viviers is a historian, the students have felt it necessary to give him a history lesson. They reminded him that, as Israel's prime minister, Peres ordered the bombing of Lebanon in 1996 and must therefore be held responsible for the intentional massacre of 102 civilians in Qana.

Duty of dialogue?

Whereas the students' missive was concise and sharp, Viviers has tied himself in knots trying to justify why he is attending a "walking dinner" with the Israeli president. (Aside: I'm not sure what a walking dinner is and, given the recent horsemeat scandal in Europe, not sure that I want to know).

Writing on his personal blog, Viviers claimed that he had a "duty" to enter into a dialogue with a man bestowed with one of ULB's highest distinctions: the docteur honoris causa (whatever that anachronism is). Viviers went on to say that he was opposed to Israel's colonization of the West Bank and that he was shocked by the problems besetting Palestinian universities. He signed off his post by saying that his presence at the event did not involve supporting Israeli policies in any way.

Perceptions matter

His final point is fallacious. Viviers is an educated man, so he must realize that perceptions matter. The dinner he will attend is being organized by the Israeli embassy in Brussels and the invitations to it give the impression that the ULB is a co-host. By allowing his name and that of his institution to appear on the invitations, Viviers is helping Israel to appear respectable.

The banquet is not an occasion for a frank exchange of opinion: Palestine solidarity activists are being kept away from the event. For a start, the €100 ($130) entrance fee is too steep for most of them. And those campaigners who have tried to pay the fee have been told there is no room for them.

Licking Israel's jackboots

It is not hard to see why Viviers is happy to lick Israel's jackboots. The ULB is eager to soak up grants from the EU's programme for scientific research and Israel happens to be the most active non-European participant in that programme.

Viviers' crocodile tears over the oppression of Palestinian academics and students should be treated with contempt. Between 2007 and 2013, the ULB has taken part in at least seven EU-financed projects with Israeli institutions that enable the kind of discrimination he professes to deplore.

The most important Israeli partner for the ULB is the University of Tel Aviv. If Verviers was to check out this university's website, he would know that it doesn't try to conceal its support for Israel's crimes. On the contrary, it takes pride in how its alumni have helped develop particular weapons for the Israeli military. These include Danny Gold, who, according to the university was the "instigator" of the Iron Dome system that Israel used during Operation Pillar of Cloud, its murderous attack on Gaza in November. (Contrary to what Israel claims, Iron Dome is an offensive system; it is designed to intercept missiles fired in response to Israeli provocation).

Tel Aviv University is also directly involved in the colonization process that apparently exercises Verviers. It has a cooperation agreement with Elad, a settler group, carrying out excavations in occupied East Jerusalem as part of a drive to uproot Palestinians living there.

And Tel Aviv University does not respect freedom of expression. In May last year the university banned a commemoration of the Nakba, the ethnic cleansing ahead of Israel's foundation in 1948.

Another Israeli partner of the ULB is the Technion. This Haifa-based institute of technology serves as an incubator for new weapons. One of its more infamous inventions is a remote-controlled "D9" bulldozer for use in destroying Palestinian homes. Among its other services to Israel's arms industry is that it runs courses specially tailored for weapons manufacturers. Managers at Rafael, a maker of components for Israel's Merkava tanks, can obtain a masters in management courtesy of an accord between their firm and the Technion.

Peres will more than likely be hailed as a man of peace during his diplomatic tour of Europe. Why does he get away with this? In Israel, this former weapons merchant is celebrated not as a pacifist but as a founding father of the Israeli arms industry. This point was emphasized when he gave the keynote address to a "homeland security" conference in Tel Aviv shortly before Israel's eight-day attack on Gaza in November.

If Didier Viviers is still determined to dine for Israel, then I would advise him to bring some disinfectant with him. After shaking hands with a man who caused so much bloodshed, he will surely need it.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 4 March 2013.

By arming Saudi Arabia, Europe breaks its own law

The most offensive thing I have read lately are the new "preliminary results" from the weapons company BAE Systems.

On page four, the firm gloats at how it won orders worth 3.4 billion pounds (5 billion euros) under the Saudi-British Defence Cooperation Programme last year. A separate contract worth 1.4 billion was awarded to BAE in May 2012 to support the "training requirements" of the Saudi air force by supplying it with warplanes.

Let us pause for a second. How did Saudi Arabia respond to that wonderful exercise in people's power known as the Arab Spring? In March 2011, it sent 1,200 troops across the causeway linking it to Bahrain. Many of the troops travelled in Tactica tanks, manufactured by BAE. They were used to destroy a protest camp at the Pearl Roundabout in Manama, the capital.

The Saudis have displayed a similar intolerance towards freedom of expression within their own borders. After about 300 people brave enough to attend demonstrations were arrested in early 2011, the Saudi interior ministry decreed that all protests were banned.

Largest client

Disgracefully, the European Union responded to this crackdown on dissent by selling the Saudi royal family more arms. During 2011, Saudi Arabia was the single largest client for EU weapons companies, spending more than 4.2 billion euros.

These exports violate the EU's own laws. Since 2008, the Union's governments have been obliged to respect a legally-binding "code of conduct" on arms exports. The code explicitly states that governments must "exercise special caution and vigilance" in authorising weapons sales to countries where serious human rights abuses occur.

No such caution has been exercised in the case of Saudi Arabia.

Saudi women are forbidden from working, travelling abroad and receiving some types of surgery without rewritten permission from their husbands or a male relative. It wasn't until September 2011 that King Abdullah declared that women would be allowed to vote in local elections.

Executions triple

Executions more than tripled between 2010 and 2011. This year the Saudis have been beheading almost two people every week. They included Sri Lankan domestic worker Rizana Nafeek, who was only 17 at the time of her alleged crime. Her execution breached the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which outlaws executions of people convicted of committing an offence when they were under 18 years of age.

Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign policy chief, was "deeply dismayed" by Nafeek's execution, according to a statement prepared by Ashton's spindoctors. Yet Ashton has been silent about how BAE arms this most repressive of states. Her silence is shameful, though not surprising. Ashton's mentor, Tony Blair, behaved as a salesman for BAE. When the British authorities gathered evidence that BAE had resorted to bribery in order to secure a 43 billion pounds arms deal from the Saudis, Blair ordered that the investigation be halted.

BAE now seems to be attempting a makeover. According to its website, a "business ethics" department has been established in BAE's Saudi offices. BAE's commitment to ethics did not last long. In February, it rejected calls for an enquiry into how Richard Evans, the company's former chairman, apparently acquired two penthouse apartments in London from offshore firms linked to the same arms deal that Blair was so eager to protect.

Saudi Arabia is, of course, a major ally to the US. Its attraction to George W. Bush was easy to explain: a fossil fuel merchant couldn't fail to be aroused by having close connections to a country that hosts nearly 20% of the world's proven oil reserves. Despite his promises of "change", Barack Obama has maintained the Saudi royal family in a constant bear-hug. Those drone strikes that Obama has ordered in Yemen have been launched from a CIA base in Saudi Arabia.

During his first term in office, Obama appointed his erstwhile rival Hillary Clinton as his secretary of state. Clinton rarely missed an opportunity to defend women's rights. Yet she was untroubled by doing business with Saudi Arabia. In 2010, the US clinched a $60 billion arms agreement with Saudi Arabia; according to the State Department, it was the biggest ever weapons deal with that country.

Deadly consequences

The ongoing atrocities in Syria seem to have given the West further pretexts for snuggling up to Saudi Arabia. Reports in the US press indicate that the Saudis have bought a large consignment of weapons from Croatia and have been sending these weapons to opposition forces in Syria since December. If these reports are accurate, questions must be asked about why the Saudi royal family brooks no opposition at home, yet supports opposition forces in other lands.

NATO, meanwhile, has been in discussions with the Saudi foreign ministry about forming a new "partnership". This is logical from a narrow perspective: neighbouring countries in the Gulf have participated in NATO's wars. Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have sent troops to Afghanistan; Qatar and the UAE have provided warplanes used to bomb Libya.

But the embrace of Saudi Arabia has already had deadly consequences. Osama bin Laden, lest we forget, was a Saudi; so were most of the hijackers on 11 September 2001. The presence of US military bases in his country was one of bin Laden's chief grievances. Bin Laden is gone. The injustices that he invoked when recruiting young men to commit despicable deeds remain.

Selling weapons to the Saudis enriches a few arms dealers -- and endangers the rest of us.

•First published by New Europe, 3-10 March 2013.