Geography Is a Flavor

Posted January 3, 2007

Categories: Articles

According to Starbucks, all the world’s a cafe, and all the men and women merely imbibers. “Geography is a flavor,” the conglomerate proclaims. In the store, customers can choose coffee beans from three regions of the world: Africa/Arabia, Asia-Pacific, and Latin America. It is part of a marketing strategy designed to educate consumers to treat coffee more like wine, with flavor connected to locale.

So, if geography is a flavor, what does Iraq taste like exactly?

It is often said that Americans learn their geography only when a war prompts the TV news to display a map, with helpful arrows and starbursts to indicate ground assaults and aerial attacks amid the confusing borders and hard-to-pronounce place names. It would certainly be too much to expect Starbucks to expand our horizons by providing lessons on current events in their stores. Who wants to be reminded of death and destruction when we line up for a latte? Who wouldn’t prefer to buy coffee from “Arabia” – with its connotations of 1,001 Nights – rather than a “Middle East” of roiling tensions?

It is unlikely that Howard Schultz, the chairman of Starbucks, will order his 13,500 outlets to post signs that read “Make Coffee, Not War” or distribute flyers about the failed Plan Colombia with every bag of Colombia Narino Supremo beans. Still, the cornerstone of the coffee-industrial complex has been forced to deal with geography in ways that have nothing to do with flavor. Global Exchange, for instance, succeeded in getting Starbucks to stock fair trade coffee in April 2000. In 2007, after lobbying from Oxfam, Starbuck came to an agreement that gave Ethiopian growers a fairer share of the profits from their trademark coffees.

I hope Kofi Annan is following this news.

As FPIF contributor Carol B. Thompson writes in Africa: Green Revolution or Rainbow Evolution?, the former UN secretary general recently signed on as head of Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation. On the face of it, the new organization is committed to some impressive goals: improving crop varieties, eliminating hunger for 30-40 million people, and moving 15-20 million people out of poverty.

But as Thompson points out, the initiative focuses on inappropriate technology and ignores the wealth that Africa already possesses. “High-tech answers to Africa’s food crises are no answers at all if they pollute the environment with fertilizers and pesticides, destroy small-scale farming, and transform the genetic wealth of the continent into cash profits for a few corporations,” she writes.

Writing in The Washington Post, the novelist Uzodinma Iweala tells the rest of the world to stop “saving” Africa. Africans have a pretty good idea of what needs to be done, and they don’t need Bono and Angelina Jolie to draw them a map. Just ask the Ethiopian coffee growers who took on Starbucks and won.

The Taste of Iraq

The Democrats have been bold on only one foreign policy issue, and they haven’t even been particularly bold on that one. They pulled an all-nighter in Congress last week to rally support for a deadline for U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq only to come up against Republican filibuster. Only 70 lawmakers in the House oppose further Iraq funding.

One benefit to scaling back on boldness, of course, is to attract some support from across the aisle. Several high profile Republicans came out recently against the war. And, according to The Washington Post, even stalwart Bush backers – both conservative Republicans and blue dog Democrats – are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with what conservative Democrat Dan Boren (D-OK) calls the “overall deafness” of the administration. Anti-war sentiment among constituents is having an effect.

But hold on. FPIF’s military affairs analyst Dan Smith reminds us to count our troops before they withdraw. Few are talking about the troops who will remain behind after the withdrawal. “In general terms, the residual force will assume a scaled-down version of missions assigned at one time or another,” Smith writes. “These include: training Iraqi army and police units; providing ‘force protection’ capabilities for U.S. training personnel and installations; helping seal Iraq’s borders to prevent arms and anti-U.S. and anti-Iraqi government fighters from entering Iraq; and carrying the fight to al-Qaeda-in-Iraq. There will also be one new mission: providing a ‘quick reaction’ capability for Iraqi government forces as needed.”

The Bush administration’s miscues in Iraq are not simply military. There’s also the issue of oil. As FPIF policy outreach director Erik Leaver and FPIF contributor Greg Muttitt write in Slick Connections, “Under pressure from the U.S. government, the Iraqi cabinet has endorsed the controversial oil law, which now awaits approval in the Parliament. Yet among Iraqis, the law faces extensive opposition, including from two of the law’s three original authors—as well as more than 100 of Iraq’s most senior oil experts, the powerful oil unions, and other religious and secular civil society organizations. Ironically, the law deemed to be needed to bring the country together, instead has the potential to violently rip it apart.”

As opposition to the Iraq War grows in the United States to include Republican moderates like Richard Lugar (R-IN), the focus has been on the loss of U.S. lives and the damage done to U.S. strategic interests. “I applaud and wholeheartedly agree with the reasons given by Senator Lugar and others for leaving Iraq—those of national interest,” writes FPIF contributor Adil Shamoo in America Should Leave Iraq, But for the Right Reasons. “But you would think that Iraqi interests would deserve a mention. This war has led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands and the wounding and traumatizing of millions of Iraqis. More than 4 million refugees—half of them children—have been forced to leave their homes. Unemployment is over 50 percent.”

Death, refugees, unemployment: it should at the very least leave a bad taste in the mouth.

With Friends Like These

Part of the U.S. addiction to militarism is our poor choice of friends. For the last 40 years, the United States has cultivated a close relationship with the Indonesian military (TNI). In the mid-1960s, the CIA helped the TNI identify purported Indonesian communists. The result: the killing of as many as a million Indonesians. The TNI’s massacres in East Timor are perhaps better known. As FPIF columnist Conn Hallinan explains in Enabling the Indonesian Military, the TNI has not cleaned house and finally some U.S. politicians are taking notice.

“The TNI’s track record has also angered some in the U.S. Congress,” Hallinan writes. “Representatives Nita Lowey (D-NY) and Chris Smith (R-NJ) are currently leading a campaign to cut the Bush administration’s proposed aid package because of Jakarta’s failure to prosecute human rights violations. But the Bush administration has been lining up allies to contain China. And there is more than 40 years of U.S. cooperation or acquiescence to the brutality of the Indonesian military. Such a blood relationship is hard to sever.”

Another key U.S. friend has been Morocco. Washington has recently welcomed the Moroccan government’s offer of autonomy to Western Sahara, where a movement for self-determination has been struggling for decades.

“The ongoing conflict between Morocco and the Western Sahara nationalists, led by the Polisario Front, has resulted in enormous suffering by the Western Saharan people, over half of whom live in refugee camps in neighboring Algeria,” writes FPIF Middle East editor Stephen Zunes in The Future of Western Sahara. “The Bush administration and a bipartisan group of congressional leaders have enthusiastically supported the Moroccan autonomy plan as a means of ending the conflict. But Morocco’s plan for autonomy falls well short of what is necessary to bring about a peaceful resolution to the conflict. It also poses a dangerous precedent that threatens the very foundation of the post-World War II international legal system.”

The issue of Western Sahara hasn’t gotten much play in the U.S. media. Most Americans would be hard pressed to pick it out on a map. If Western Sahara manages to become a prime coffee exporting zone—“Would you like milk and sugar in your Western Saharan blend?”—only then perhaps will it occupy a more prominent place in our geography of taste.

FPIF, July 24, 2007

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