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Did the U.S. undermine democracy in the Maldives because it wants to set up military bases there?

Israel/Palestine
on 33 Comments
Mohamed Nasheed

Mohamed Nasheed

There was depressing news from the Maldives this week, after the Indian Ocean island nation voted in the second round of presidential elections on November 20. Mohamed Nasheed, the dynamic, young, pro-environmentalist Muslim leader who had led after the first round, lost by a couple of percentage points to the old regime’s candidate, Abdulla Yameen.

As I reported, the impressive Nasheed had been elected back in 2008, but then overthrown in a military/police coup on February 7, 2012. Since then, the old regime had tried to block Nasheed and his reformist, youthful Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) from making a comeback, including annulling and postponing the election three times, and regularly arresting and jailing his nonviolent supporters.

The rest of the world protested vigorously; the Canadian foreign minister even marched in a pro-democracy demonstration in New York. But the United States was conspicuously quiet. The Obama administration accepted the illegal coup in 2012, and issued only feeble admonitions at the more recent pre-electoral maneuvers.

Why the pathetic and embarrassing silence, given that Nasheed and his movement are exactly the kind of forward-looking, democratic Muslims the United States should be supporting every chance it gets?

One suggestion was that the U.S. ambassador (to Sri Lanka and the Maldives), Michele Sison, had too close a friendship with the Defense Minister, Mohamed Nazim, who the pro-democracy movement believes was one of the 2012 coup leaders. But that (possible) relationship did not seem to explain enough.

I had been following the crisis on Twitter (@jamesnorth7), in part because mainstream media coverage was misleading or non-existent. Many Maldivians are fluent in English, and #Maldives was vigorous with debate. So I put the question to them: what explains the disgraceful American policy?

I got immediate and valuable responses. Apparently, earlier this year the U.S. government was negotiating with the Maldives about a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which would have led to increased military cooperation between the two countries, possibly including U.S. bases there. Someone leaked a draft of the agreement to the Maldivian press, and the U.S. embassy was forced to concede that such talks were going on, although denying plans for a permanent American base.

This is an extraordinary revelation, completely unreported in the New York Times or elsewhere. The U.S. government was willing to set aside its stated principles and negotiate with a regime that came to power in a violent, illegal coup. An administration headed by Barack Obama was prepared to sell out the Maldivians who should be its natural allies, brave people who have risked their freedom and even their lives for democracy, just so it could set up yet another unnecessary U.S. military base at the other end of the world.

North has a piece up at the Nation on Bangladeshi garment workers’ intolerable conditions.

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33 Responses

  1. Woody Tanaka
    Woody Tanaka
    November 20, 2013, 3:13 pm

    “This is an extraordinary revelation”

    Sadly, I find it not very extraordinary at all. It seems to be the SOP of the US government and has been for a long time.

    • Keith
      Keith
      November 20, 2013, 7:26 pm

      WOODY TANAKA- “Sadly, I find it not very extraordinary at all. It seems to be the SOP of the US government and has been for a long time.”

      I agree completely. Actually, the only thing I find extraordinary is James North feigning shock. Surely, he is not so naïve as to be shocked by imperial realpolitik.

  2. lysias
    lysias
    November 20, 2013, 4:39 pm

    Why is there any need for bases on the Maldives, when we already have a big naval/air base on Diego Garcia?

    • miriam6
      miriam6
      November 20, 2013, 5:59 pm

      Why is there any need for bases on the Maldives, when we already have a big naval/air base on Diego Garcia?

      Because America has an insane and utterly predatory desire to control the world by planting it’s military bases wherever it possibly can – is the short answer.

    • James North
      James North
      November 20, 2013, 6:04 pm

      Lysias: An excellent question. Apparently, the lease for Diego Garcia is up for renewal in a couple of years, and the U.S. may have wanted a back-up.

      • Shingo
        Shingo
        November 21, 2013, 2:02 am

        James,

        I thought Diego Garcia essentially belonged to the British?

    • Hostage
      Hostage
      November 20, 2013, 10:58 pm

      Why is there any need for bases on the Maldives, when we already have a big naval/air base on Diego Garcia?

      I’ve commented many times here in the past that the governments of the UK and USA have perpetrated a crime against humanity in the population transfer and exile of the Chagos Islanders, all for the sake of maintaining that air base.

    • Walid
      Walid
      November 21, 2013, 5:35 am

      “Why is there any need for bases on the Maldives, when we already have a big naval/air base on Diego Garcia?” (lysias)

      Why did the US want to have an airbase just outside Nahr al-Bared in Lebanon in 2007 for a NATO helicopter rapid-deployment force to police the area and before that, at the same site during Israel’s 1982 occupation of Lebanon when the demand was made via Sharon? That location is almost on the border with Syria is already close to US bases in Turkey, UK ones on Cyprus and Israel itself, which is practically next door.

  3. DICKERSON3870
    DICKERSON3870
    November 20, 2013, 5:44 pm

    RE: “Did the U.S. undermine democracy in the Maldives because it wants to set up military bases there?”

    MY COMMENT: Truth be told, the U.S. really only supports democracy for nations where the population is “white”!

    • pabelmont
      pabelmont
      November 20, 2013, 6:22 pm

      Dickerson: And, truth be augmented, the “democracy” we support is the capitalist-controlled type of governance we have here in the USA. If your people are not “white” (BTW, isn’t he handsome?) then you get direct dictatorship (cf. Egypt, Palestine).

      • DICKERSON3870
        DICKERSON3870
        November 24, 2013, 2:05 am

        RE: “the ‘democracy’ we support is the capitalist-controlled type of governance we have here in the USA” ~ pabelmont

        MY REPLY: Yes, that’s part of what RoHa refers to as democracies that “toe the US line”.

    • RoHa
      RoHa
      November 20, 2013, 7:56 pm

      “the U.S. really only supports democracy for nations” which will toe the US line.

      • DICKERSON3870
        DICKERSON3870
        November 24, 2013, 1:58 am

        That’s another (quite valid) way of putting it. The US doesn’t really trust a democracy in a non-white country to “toe the US line”. The US believes (perhaps subliminally) that in a non-white country soft dictators are more likely to “toe the US line”.

      • RoHa
        RoHa
        November 24, 2013, 7:21 pm

        I don’t think the US worries too much about the precise shading of the populace, as long as the line is toed.

  4. Nevada Ned
    Nevada Ned
    November 20, 2013, 6:58 pm

    In Latin America, there are lots of examples of the US opposing democracy and supporting dictatorship, most recently in Honduras where the US backed a military coup, which overthrew a civilian left-leaning democracy.

    Because Mondoweiss usually doesn’t cover events in Latin America, there is little discussion of this fact on this blog. But it’s a fact nevertheless.

    Want some examples? US-backed dictators in Latin America include Batista (Cuba), Trujillo (Dominican Republic), Duvalier (father and son in Haiti), Banzer (Bolivia), Videla (Argentina), Castelo Branco (Brazil), Pinochet (Chile), Somoza (Nicaragua),
    Guatemala (Carlos Castillo Armas, 1954 CIA coup; Efrain Rios Montt, genocidal campaign against Mayas in 1980’s) etc. etc. This is just off the top of my head.

    If you want to understand the US relationship with the Arab world, just think of the Arab world as a number of banana republics, except they have oil instead of bananas, sugar, or coffee.

    While I read (and support!) Mondoweiss, and think their work is valuable, there seems to be little awareness among the contributors of the relationship between the US and the Third World countries. The US has invaded lots of countries, and installed pro-US regimes, long before Israel’s 1948 creation. Certainly, the Israel Lobby is an important force, but even without the Lobby, the US would likely have invaded Iraq anyway. Because it really is about oil and empire.

    • traintosiberia
      traintosiberia
      November 20, 2013, 11:46 pm

      Possible. But it is equallyossible that Iraq would not have been abandoned in 1990. America could have approached the Iraq invasion of Kuwait in entirely different ways . As it initially did which earned Bush sr ,epithet of ” wimp” . Iraq never wanted to get out of US orbit. It thought it had the permission of attacking Kuwait . Even at the begining of 2003, Iraq was looking for face saving exit. It offered everything US was asking. But the hubris got better of US.there lies Isarel.

      Situation is turning to a different direction. Brasher Assad was not given a face saving exit. US has until now been thinking that it can use and dump friends they way it has been doing for decades. Now chances are that ,it won’t get friends anymore ,let alone have the opportunities of dumping them.

      • Theo
        Theo
        November 21, 2013, 12:34 pm

        If we look into the history of Mesopotamia, we can see that there never was an independent country called Kuwait!
        After Turkey had to withdraw from arab lands at the end of WWI, GB established itself as the protector of the newly created land of Iraq.
        Soon the natives had enough of our stiff lipped friends and threw them out around 1926 or so. As a revenge GB gave that piece of land to the emir in Kuwait to cut Iraq off from the see, leaving them only the port of Basra.
        According to the history of Mesopotamia Iraq has all the rights to recover the lost territory called Kuwait, just like Ireland should demand No. Ireland back. Erin go brah, kick out the brits!

      • Hostage
        Hostage
        November 21, 2013, 9:12 pm

        If we look into the history of Mesopotamia, we can see that there never was an independent country called Kuwait! . . . GB established itself as the protector of the newly created land of Iraq. According to the history of Mesopotamia Iraq has all the rights to recover the lost territory called Kuwait

        The terminology “Land of Iraq” is derived from the Arabs, who called the region “Bilad al-Iraq” (the Land of the River Banks). Article 27 of the unratified Treaty of Sevres referred to the region as “Mesopotamia” and detached it from Turkey. But it was never ratified by Turkey. Article 3 of the Treaty of Lausanne referred to the region as “Iraq” and stipulated that if no agreement was reached between the Turkey and Great Britain the boundary dispute would be referred to the Council of the League of Nations and that no military or unilateral action was allowed that would change the existing status. See also PCIJ Case series B12, Interpretation of Article 3‚ Paragraph 2‚ of the Treaty of Lausanne, Advisory Opinion of 21 November 1925, http://www.icj-cij.org/pcij/serie_B/B_12/01_Article_3_du_traite_de_Lausanne_Avis_consultatif.pdf

        Article 1 of the Anglo-Ottoman treaty of 1913 had recognized Ottoman sovereignty over the territory of Kuwait as defined in Articles 5 and 7. The treaty also noted the status of Kuwait as an Ottoman kaza and Sheikh al-Sabah as the ruler of Kuwait and the local Ottoman kaymakam.

        In 1899 Great Britain entered into a trucial agreement with Kuwait and by the end of WWI all of the leaders of the trucial states had essentially yielded control of their foreign relations to Great Britain. But the status of Iraq was treated as that of a League of Nations Mandate with provisional borders in accordance with the post war treaties mentioned above.

        But the UN Security Council established the final territorial settlement on the basis of Iraq’s acceptance of “The Agreed Minutes Between the State of Kuwait and the Republic of Iraq Regarding the Restoration of Friendly Relations, Recognition and Related Matters, 4 October 1963,” that had been deposited with the UN Treaty Organization. See E. Lauterpacht, et al “The Kuwait Crisis: Basic Documents” http://books.google.com/books?id=5xVSkGtcT5YC&lpg=PA82&pg=PA56#v=onepage&q&f=false

      • Theo
        Theo
        November 22, 2013, 9:25 am

        Hostage

        Thanks for your input, my information is a bit rusty, about 60 years old since high school days. History was and still is my hobby.

      • Walid
        Walid
        November 21, 2013, 9:25 pm

        “It thought it had the permission of attacking Kuwait .” (train)

        It did, the US owed Iraq for the 8 years fighting Iran, but only to take a small bite of the border area where Kuwait had been slant-drilling under Iraq’s border. After Saddam crossed the border, he decided to take it all because of what Theo said about it having been initially a part of Iraq that the Brits had pencilled out of it to create Kuwait. The slant-drilling was the excuse, it was really about the Gulf Arabs having refused to write-off Iraq’s huge Iran war loans that Saddam claimed he fought on their behalf; the Arabs also refused his demand to increase the price of oil to pay off the loans, so he was practically cornered into invading Kuwait.

      • seafoid
        seafoid
        November 21, 2013, 9:39 pm

        There must be so much bad blood between Southern Iraq and Kuwait. I wonder what will happen to Kuwait when the oil runs out and the global Middle Ages return.

        Basra and Kuwait city are like 2 brothers from an American miniseries. Kuwait city was adopted by a bastard who became very rich. Basra never did.

      • Shingo
        Shingo
        November 21, 2013, 9:44 pm

        The slant-drilling was the excuse, it was really about the Gulf Arabs having refused to write-off Iraq’s huge Iran war loans that Saddam claimed he fought on their behalf; the Arabs also refused his demand to increase the price of oil to pay off the loans, so he was practically cornered into invading Kuwait.

        Partially true. The Saudis were prepared to forgive the loans out of gratitude, which is why Cheney was forced to resort to showing falsified satellite maps showing Iraqi tank battalions amassed on the Saudi border. The Russians exposed these soon after as fakes, but they had the desired effect of getting SA on board.

      • Walid
        Walid
        November 21, 2013, 10:03 pm

        “I wonder what will happen to Kuwait when the oil runs out and the global Middle Ages return. ”

        Nothing will happen to the royals; they have enough stashed to keep them going for another hundred years, but as to the people, it’s tough luck. They could always do a Dubai bells and whistles, smoke and mirrors thing.

        This week, Kuwait pledged $1 billion over the next 5 years in loans with easy terms to African countries. and another billion in loan guarantees to the World Bank.

      • Hostage
        Hostage
        November 21, 2013, 10:40 pm

        While I would readily admit that the US played ball with Sadaam Hussein for years, I don’t think the idea of a historical claim to Kuwait was ever viable. It was the Pan-Arabist leaders of the Ba’athist coup in 1963, and the second President of Iraq, who all agreed to sign the memorandum recognizing Kuwait. The government of Kuwait deposited the memorandum with the UN as an exhibit containing evidence of its statehood and agreed-upon boundaries that supported its application for membership in the UN.

      • Walid
        Walid
        November 21, 2013, 11:57 pm

        I don’t think his claim was valid either. Saddam had been quiet about it for almost 30 years so he probably didn’t believe it was valid either. All these lines being drawn and redrawn time and again; the carving up of the ME turkey as a good example. Lebanon tripled in size by the French Mandate at the expense of Syria, supposedly to help boost the Christians’ numbers.

  5. smithgp
    smithgp
    November 20, 2013, 8:30 pm

    The excellent 2012 documentary “The Island President” http://theislandpresident.com/ tells the story of democracy and its opposite in the Maldives.

    • James North
      James North
      November 20, 2013, 11:03 pm

      George Smith: I agree entirely. It was the superb documentary “The Island President” that first spurred my interest in the Maldives, which included my visit there earlier this year.

    • Bandolero
      Bandolero
      November 20, 2013, 11:29 pm

      George Smith

      I love that partisan propaganda movie, too. In fact almost all the zionist propaganda outfits in the US love that movie, too. Look:

      http://theislandpresident.com/reviews/

      And even the foreign minister of the zionist government over Canada supports it’s cause. It’s all about a beautifully engineered color revolution in a far away Muslim country, and almost all zionists back it. So, what can be wrong with it?

      Strangely, the people of that country now voted against that zionist engineered color revolution government, and in favour of the Indian backed old one. I really can’t understand that. Do the people of the Maledives really dislike democracy and freedom as the zionists ruling the US bring it all over the world – for the solely purpose to please the lord and help the people?

    • LeaNder
      LeaNder
      November 21, 2013, 7:29 am

      People in the UK, or people that can shift to a UK connection can watch it here.

      Why the pathetic and embarrassing silence, given that Nasheed and his movement are exactly the kind of forward-looking, democratic Muslims the United States should be supporting every chance it gets?

      Good point, James.

  6. Ecru
    Ecru
    November 21, 2013, 2:43 am

    Sorry but has the US Govt ever actually supported democracy? Not that I can remember.

  7. Alcibiades
    Alcibiades
    November 21, 2013, 3:51 pm

    “This is an extraordinary revelation, completely unreported in the New York Times or elsewhere.”

    Well, not in the NYT of course, but here is MK Bhadrakumar at Indian Punchline blogging about the emerging US interest in the Maldives over a year ago (9 Oct 2012):

    “The signs are that the US will finally secure access to the highly strategic Gan air base located in the southern Addu Atoll which is some 700 kilometers only from the Pentagon’s massive military base of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. For the benefit of the uninitiated, Gan was originally built by Britain, which was a key operational base during World War II and with great reluctance, it handed it over to the Maldives only in 1976. Britain of course realised its folly in vacating the base and the US has ever since been seeking to regain Gan, which is the southernmost island in the Maldivian chain and is ideally located right in the middle of the Indian Ocean between Diego Garcia and the Persian Gulf and Diego Garcia and Singapore.”

    The US probably envisages the Maldives as part of a chain of bases to help it dominate naval operations in the Indian Ocean. Ultimately, of course, this is all about China and part of the “pivot to Asia.” MKB places this US move in the context of the “refusal by Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to provide basing facility to the US Navy.” It’s all Great Game stuff.

    http://blogs.rediff.com/mkbhadrakumar/2012/10/09/who-lost-maldives-to-uncle-sam/

    And as James North says, there are some sticky issues that are putting the US base at DG in possible jeopardy when the lease expires in 2016:

    “Mauritius [is seeking] to regain sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago situated 1287 km to the north east (see Chagos Archipelago sovereignty dispute). The Government of the Republic of Mauritius does not recognise the British Indian Ocean Territory, which the United Kingdom created by excising the Chagos Archipelago from the territory of Mauritius prior to its independence. Mauritius claims that the Chagos Archipelago, including Diego Garcia, forms an integral part of the territory of Mauritius under both Mauritian law and international law. Starting in the 1960s, more than 2,000 Chagossians were gradually removed, the United States established a military base on the biggest island, Diego Garcia. The Chagossians have since engaged in activism to return to the archipelago, claiming that the forced expulsion and dispossession were illegal.”

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