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To end terrorism by Muslims, end wars on Muslims: Siddiqui November 10, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, ISIS/ISIL, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War, War on Terror.
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Roger’s note: It is refreshing, if rare,  to see a main stream media outlet publish an opinion that flies in the face of the official narrative (only war is the solution), one that is sold in the proud tradition of the Big Lie by governments and corporate media alike.  The author of this article himself finishes with this: “The long-term solution to ending terrorism by some Muslims, homegrown or otherwise, is to end Western wars on many Muslims. Yet, curiously, this statement of the obvious is rarely if ever mentioned by our politicians and pundits.”

Syria is the seventh predominantly Muslim country bombed by the U.S. during Barack Obama’s presidency

An explosion follows an air strike in the Syrian town of Kobani on Oct. 28, 2014.

KUTLUHAN CUCEL / GETTY IMAGES

An explosion follows an air strike in the Syrian town of Kobani on Oct. 28, 2014.

Laura Bush was all for saving Afghan women and children from the evil Taliban. So were some feminists, becoming unwitting enablers of America’s long and botched occupation of Afghanistan. So were Stephen Harper and acolytes — until our military mission there came to an end.

Now Harper and Co. are saving Christian, Yazidi and Kurdish minorities from the axes and knives of the evil Islamic State.

But the American-led bombing campaign is already running out of targets, as the jihadists have moved away from open spaces into populated areas. Canadian F-18 jets are bombing trucks and sundry equipment.

Barack Obama, Harper and other allies concede that the caliphate cannot be obliterated without deploying ground troops, which they are unwilling to commit. Instead, they will arm the Iraqi Kurdish militia and train Iraqi forces. The latter will take years, with no guarantee that the newly minted battalions won’t do what the previous batches of American-trained troops did — abandon their posts and cede territory, and their American arms, to the marauding jihadists.

In fact, there’s no military solution. What’s needed is a political settlement in both Iraq and Syria, which is nowhere on the horizon.

An inclusive government in Baghdad would have to entice away two key groups that joined the Islamic State only to protect their interests — several Sunni tribes and former Baathist army officers. The latter have been the brains behind the jihadists’ military strategy of controlling water resources, oil refineries and border posts between Iraq and Syria.

In Syria, a solution is not likely without the help of Russia and Iran. Neither would help without getting something in return — in the case of Iran, a nuclear deal and the lifting of economic sanctions, which Israel, Saudi Arabia and other American allies vociferously oppose.

The longer the current bombing campaign lasts, the more legitimate the Islamic State will become and attract more wannabe jihadists from around the world, including the West.

Why? Not because Muslims are savages and Islam is “a violent religion,” as we are repeatedly told, but because Syria is “the seventh predominantly Muslim country bombed by the U.S. during his (Obama’s) presidency” — Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya and Iraq — “and he is the fourth consecutive U.S. president to order bombs dropped on Iraq,” writes Glenn Greenwald , well-known American commentator (his italics).

Plus, there have been “the bombing and occupation of still other predominantly Muslim countries by key U.S. allies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, carried out with crucial American support. It excludes coups against democratically elected governments, torture, and imprisonment of people with no charges.”

By another measure, the latest bombing is the 14th time the U.S. has attacked a Muslim nation since 1980, writes American military historian Andrew Bacevich in the Washington Post.

He notes that in trying to keep its hold on the Middle East, especially its oil and gas, the U.S. has been good at toppling governments and destroying countries and civilizations, but singularly inept at nation-building — leaving behind chaos and power vacuums.

Bacevich: “By inadvertently sowing instability, the United States has played directly into the hands of anti-Western radical Islamists intent on supplanting the European-imposed post-Ottoman order with something more to their liking. This is the so-called caliphate that Osama bin Laden yearned to create and that now exists in embryonic form in portions of Iraq and Syria.”

Obama seemed to grasp this, which is why he resisted getting entangled in Syria and re-entangled in Iraq. But the gruesome beheading of two Americans and the ethnic cleansing of minorities galvanized public opinion and forced his hand on the eve of the American mid-term elections (which the Democrats have lost, anyway).

Washington is sending mixed signals — Obama’s half-hearted bombing campaign and the Pentagon’s assertions of a multi-year commitment of more American and allied military “advisers.”

Harper used to say that we were in Afghanistan to ensure the Taliban terrorists didn’t come to Canada. Now he says that if we are not in Iraq, the Islamists will come to your neighbourhood. The reverse is more likely. They may come here because we are attacking them there. Or their sympathizers here will do the job for them. This prompts the response, already used by Harper, that we are not going to be frightened off the war we have chosen to wage. Fine — but what’s the end game? That’s what Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau should be demanding of Harper. That’s what all Canadians, regardless of ideology or partisan preference, should be asking.

The long-term solution to ending terrorism by some Muslims, homegrown or otherwise, is to end Western wars on many Muslims. Yet, curiously, this statement of the obvious is rarely if ever mentioned by our politicians and pundits.

Haroon Siddiqui’s column appears on Thursday and Sunday. hsiddiqui@thestar.ca

Why Obama Rejected Peace With Iran October 24, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Imperialism, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan, ISIS/ISIL, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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Roger’s note: This is one critic’s analysis of the geopolitical realities that maintain the Bush/Obama doctrine of permanent war, Middle East division.  Whether or not all the players (Shia, Sunni, Isis, Isil, Kurds, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey etc.) are correctly ordered and the power relationships perfectly defined, what is true is that it is all about markets and oil. That is, the business and profit making elements of capitalist economy, backed by governments’ foreign policies and military might, are what determine the course of action.  The needs, desires, dreams, rights, etc. of living human beings are trumped by the capitalist Behemoth.  I for one cheered when Obama was forced not to attack Syria earlier in the year (remember sarin gas?) and opened for the fist time in decades a dialogue with Iran with the possibility of resolving the nuclear issue and thereby ratcheting down the tensions between the U.S. and a major middle east power.  But as it turns out, it was too good to be true.  The drive to protect economic interests (read: corporate and military) wins out again.  

I want to repeat something I posted yesterday from an article by Murray Dobbin about the Ottawa shootings, a quote from Zbigniew Brzezinski :

We are supposed to learn as children that actions have consequences so I suppose we are left to conclude that current leaders of the Anglo-industrialized countries (in particular) were badly neglected by their parents. A monstrous and catastrophic failure of imagination on the part of the West has led us to this point. The first failure belonged to Zbigniew Brzezinski one of the key architects of the mujahideen war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Before the US armed, financed and trained the then-handful of religious zealots opposed to the godless Soviets, they were a threat to no one.

In an interview that appeared in CounterPunch in 1998   Brzezinski revealed his limited imagination when asked if he regretted creating Islamic terrorists: “What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?”

The answer is in.

 

WEEKEND EDITION OCTOBER 24-26, 2014, http://www.counterpunch.org

by SHAMUS COOKE

How did Obama manage to botch U.S. foreign policy so stunningly? The promising speeches he gave in 2008 earned him the Nobel Peace Prize. But his inspiring words have since been buried in the rubble of Libya, Palestine, Iraq, and Syria. The region that once viewed Obama as a peace messiah now rejects him as a warmonger. And with every new foreign policy zigzag Obama only finds fresh “threats” while never managing to find the path to peace.

Obama would like peace in theory, but doing so requires he shake up his Middle East alliances. The U.S. stands pigeonholed in tightly-wound alliances with the most hated regimes in the world, sandwiched between the global pariah Israel and the brutal totalitarian dictatorship of Saudi Arabia. The other important U.S. ally is war-hungry expansionist Turkey, while the smaller U.S. allies are the remaining Gulf state monarchy dictatorships.

Allies like these make peace impossible. Obama recognizes that these friends restrict the ability of the U.S. to retain regional credibility. Consequently, there has been much speculation about a massive shift in U.S. alliances that hinges on peace with Iran, possibly supplemented by strengthening the alliance with Iraqi Kurds.

Americans and Iranians would celebrate a peace between nations, but this scenario now seems off the table. After “talking” peace with Iran for the first time in decades, Obama chose the warpath yet again.

This decision was finalized recently when the “ISIS deal” was struck between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, again cementing this ugly alliance. In exchange for Saudi Arabia attacking ISIS, the U.S. would commit to war against the Syrian government, which the Saudis want toppled to undermine their rival Iran. The Syrian rebels that Saudi Arabia agreed to train — with $500 million from U.S. taxpayers — will be used against the Syrian government, not to fight ISIS. The U.S. allies in the region understand the war against the Syrian government as a first step to war against Iran.  Even if a nuclear deal is struck between the U.S. and Iran the path to war will have been set.

Economics is a key reason that U.S. allies want Iran destroyed. Iran stands as a competitor for markets and investment throughout the region, and the destruction of Syria and Iran would open up new markets for the vulture-like U.S. allies. The economic oil war between Saudi Arabia and Iran has recently heated up, with Saudi Arabia selling oil at extra low prices to put political pressure on Iran. This, coupled with the ongoing “economic war” that Obama is waging, has the potential to weaken Iran via internal chaos, softening it up to possible invasion if the Syrian government falls.

Iran’s military is another reason the U.S. wants regime change. There are U.S. military bases scattered around the Middle East, though none in Iran, which has a powerful regional military force that patrols the strategic Strait of Hormuz, jointly controlled by Iran and Oman. It’s intolerable for the U.S. and Saudi Arabia that one fifth of the world’s oil production must pass through this Iranian controlled area.

Iran’s regional power is bolstered by its political and religious connections throughout the Middle East. Not only does Shia Muslim Iran exert automatic authority over Shia majority Iraq, but also over Shia Hezbollah and Shia-led Syria. This region-wide dynamic is often referred to as the “Shia Crescent.” There also exist sizable oppressed Shia populations in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen, and Turkey that act as intrinsic political thorns in the sides of these Sunni sectarian governments, giving Iran a powerful political base in each case.

For example, when Saudi Arabia recently announced a death sentence for a popular Shia cleric, Iran responded that there would be “consequences” if the sentence were carried out, thus re-enforcing Iran’s self-portrayed position as “defender of the Shia.”

In Yemen there already exists a strong Shia insurgency against the pro-U.S. Sunni government that is using al-Qaeda-linked fighters against the Shia; the results of the conflict will either empower Iran or weaken it.

These regional religious tensions have been exponentially deepened by the U.S.-led coalition against the Syrian government, which has relied on systematic Sunni Islamic sectarianism to attract jihadist fighters and a flood of Sunni Gulf state donations.

The Sunni fundamentalism in Syria — loosely based on the Saudi fundamentalist version of Islam — views Shia Muslims as heretics worthy of death. The executions of Shia in Syria have reverberated throughout the Middle East, acting as an implicit threat to Shia Iran while increasing tensions in the Shia populations of Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and beyond. The regional Shia backlash against the Sunni fundamentalists have strengthened Iran’s regional influence, one likely reason why Obama made the peace-killing deal with Saudi Arabia against ISIS and the Syrian government.

Saudi Arabia and Israel are adamant that the U.S. make no peace with Iran. Both sent strong messages after Obama’s 2013 last minute decision not to bomb the Syrian government, and his brief flirtation with Iran.  Saudi Arabia went as far as refusing a seat on the UN Security Council.  Israel protested the decision too, after it had lobbied heavily in the U.S. Congress through AIPAC to ensure the bombing took place.

The Kurdish Question

Turkey has long assisted the U.S. in attempting to topple the Syrian government, and has recently been insisting on a U.S. enforced “no-fly zone” in northern Syria, which would be directed against the Syrian government, since ISIS has no air force. Turkey has no good intentions in Syria, and has long wanted to grab easy oil-rich land for itself; which happens to be where the Kurdish population in Syria resides.

The call to enforce a no-fly zone to “protect the Kurds” on Turkey’s border, if achieved, will be similar to the no-fly zone in Libya — to create a “humanitarian corridor” — that was used instead to create a massive U.S.-led bombing campaign for regime change.

The Kurdish people face the same situation they’ve faced for hundreds of years: other nations have used the Kurds for their own self-interest. The Kurdish people want and deserve their own independent nation state, but they’ve been betrayed countless times in the past and the situation now seems no different. Promises are made and arms given to the “good” pro-U.S. Iraqi Kurds, while across the border in Turkey another faction of Kurds are labeled terrorists and repressed by the government.

Recently, the Kurdish Syrian town on the border of Turkey was invaded by ISIS and militarily defended by the “bad Kurds” of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) an affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) who are based in Turkey. The Turkish military watched across the border as ISIS relentlessly attacked Kobani, while the Turks used military force to prevent Turkish Kurds from crossing the border into Syria to help defend the Kurdish city.

This reinforced perceptions that ISIS was, in part, a Turkish creation, since Turkey’s border has long been an uncontested point of entry for foreign jihadists to enter Syria. Turkey defended its actions by essentially equating the Kurdish PYD and PKK with ISIS, dismissing all of them as “terrorists.” In Turkey, Kurdish protests erupted against the government’s actions and inactions in Kobani, leaving 40 dead. Protests also occurred in other Kurdish regions including Iran.

Turkey ultimately proved that it fears the Kurds more than ISIS, and further proved that negotiations with its domestic Kurdish population will never result in an independent Kurdistan on any inch of Turkish territory.  Turkey will likewise be violently opposed to any creation of an independent Kurdish state in Iraq or Syria, since it would empower the Turkish Kurds while preventing Turkey from grabbing the oil-rich regions for itself.

This dynamic acts as an impossible barrier for the Obama administration to “re-balance” its Middle East alliances by using the Kurds. No nation with a sizable Kurdish population — Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Syria — will buy in to a possible U.S. policy of Kurdish statehood, since they would lose the oil-rich territory that the Kurds live on.

Not only would the U.S. lose regional allies by advocating Kurdish independence, but if such a state were to emerge, it would be a weak nation, since the Kurds are already divided into various factions, and thus not strong enough for the U.S. to rely on to achieve regional objectives.

Consequently, Obama feels compelled to continue down the same war-torn path as his predecessors. But Obama’s perspective is colored by his assumption that the United States must remain the regional power in an area thousands of miles from its border, and that U.S. corporations should dominate the oil, banking, weapons selling, and other markets in the region.

The U.S. is long past the point where it can claim that its Middle East goals are “peace, stability, and democracy,” especially after invading and destroying Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and now the dirty war against Syria.  The oil, minerals, and other wealth that attracts the U.S. corporations that steer U.S. foreign policy prevent any real lasting peace to be achieved. The logic of corporate America is to crush the competitor by any means necessary.

Peace with Iran and Syria could be achieved if Obama told the world the truth about the above dynamics in the region, and treated Iran and Syria with the respect that an independent nation deserves, while working to curb the power of Israel and Saudi Arabia, who both depend on U.S. financial, military, and political support.

But instead Obama has dug in his heels and re-enforced alliances that demand the continuation of the Syrian war, and after that Iran. A war-shredded region remains on the bloody path to a potentially even wider war, while the billions of U.S. tax dollars funding this genocide will remain unusable for domestic projects like job creation and climate change reduction and preparedness. During this election season both Democrats and Republicans agree on continuing Middle East war.

Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action (www.workerscompass.org). He can be reached at shamuscooke@gmail.com

Iraq: Here come the boots, ignoring the consequences September 27, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, ISIS/ISIL, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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Roger’s note: Here are some of the voices that the president, the congress and most of the media virtually ignore: the men and women are sent to kill and damage and be killed and damaged in order to advance the interests of the political and economic elite, who risk nothing and take all.  Yes, slitting throats is barbaric, but this is wholesale barbarism capital B.

 

March Forward logo

Iraq: Here come the boots,
ignoring the consequences
Just like that, those year-long Iraq deployments are back

By Mike Prysner

James Circello also contributed to this article. Prysner and Circello are former non-commissioned officers in the U.S. Army, who served together in the 173rd Airborne Brigade during the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. 

As Iraq war veterans, it is almost surreal watching the rapid unfolding events that has brought us, again, into an occupation of Iraq, with no public discussion about the potential consequences for soldiers and our families.

The deployment of regular Army “boots on the ground” has begun—and looks poised to grow.

The Pentagon announced on Sept. 25 that the Headquarters element of the 1st Infantry Division is now staged in Kuwait, under orders for a one-year deployment to Baghdad, Irbil and possibly other cities in Iraq. This is just the first of many future rotations.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said of the deployment “The complexity of the environment that we have to operate in now, and probably the next 10 to 15 to 20 years, we need these headquarters.” With that, this general who built his career on the 2003 war, set the stage for people not even born yet to be sent to occupy Iraq.

The 1st Infantry Division, a tank unit, was also sent to Iraq as one of the advance elements prior to the U.S. ground invasion in March 2003. Their initial deployment was extended by six months to fight an armed uprising by the Iraqi people, completely unanticipated by the generals and politicians.

Around 500 regular Army soldiers (increased from 130 announced the day before, in true Washington fashion), will be leaving their families for 12 months to return to the site of the U.S. government’s most blood-drenched foreign policy disaster since the war on Vietnam.

Fort Riley, from which the 1st Infantry Division is deploying, lost 140 soldiers and had thousands wounded in “Operation: Iraqi Freedom.”

What could happen

The complete carelessness and belligerence with which we are being thrown back into Iraq is beyond alarming.

Has there been any public discussion or debate by our so-called representatives about what this could mean for soldiers and our families? Has there been any scrutiny at all over the fact that U.S. soldiers could again be targeted and blown up in large numbers by a wide variety of Iraqi groups that oppose Islamic State but also refuse to be occupied by the United States?

The 500,000-strong Mahdi Army, under the command of prominent cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, has already vowed to take a break from their war against Islamic State to attack U.S. troops if they return. Other broad sectors of the population, which fought for years to drive out the U.S. military, could very well follow suit. But that potentially major combat scenario is completely absent from the speeches given by the Pentagon.

Even if the Generals give us the flimsy assurance that this Division Headquarters will just be a base supporting Iraqi and Kurdish troops doing all the front-line fighting, thousands of casualties were inflicted on U.S. soldiers holed-up on big fortified bases by suicide bombers, rocket and mortar attacks, “insider attacks” and car bombs.

But there is no discussion, or even feigned concern, about what could possibly happen to the young men and women who are being rushed back to the place where so many of us left in coffins and wheelchairs.

The Pentagon just announces that we’re going. We’re expected to trust them, as if we’ve all forgotten about what a catastrophe the last Iraq war was for soldiers, our families and Iraqis.

Brave words from the Generals—the safest soldiers in Iraq

1st Infantry Division commander Maj. Gen Paul Funk—who commands but does not participate in battle—said “we stand ready to deploy anywhere in the world to protect the United States of America.” Except, the Pentagon says quite openly that there is no intelligence indicating that Islamic State poses a threat to people in the United States.

He went on to say “we are ready for anything because we know we have the whole nation behind us.”

Why, then, did the President and his staff have to repeat on television over and over that “there will be no boots on the ground in Iraq”? That doesn’t sound like the words of a commander who thinks the whole nation would be behind such a decision.

The Pentagon’s trend

The White House has skirted around the admission of “boots on the ground” because those boots are worn by U.S. Special Forces soldiers, Marine Corps security guards, drone operators and Apache pilots.

Those boots, which apparently don’t count, increased in number periodically since June, going from under 200 authorized and deployed to around 2,000.

Sending a Division Headquarters sets the stage to have other elements of the Division follow behind.

Should we believe that the generals are sending a command and control operations center without the intention of sending the Army units that it commands and controls?

If the past three months are any indicator, it would not be surprising if this new 500 soldier deployment, too, was incrementally increased.

What the U.S. government wants in Iraq

Their stated goal is to “degrade and destroy ISIL.” But whatever their stated goal is, there is no doubt that the U.S. government seeks to establish a permanent military presence in Iraq—just like it did at the end of the Iraq war, but was unable to secure in the midst of a political crisis.

The U.S. government wants permanent bases in Iraq. It wants permanent bases in Syria. It wants permanent bases everywhere, because that’s how this system works.

The three-piece suits in Washington serve and protect the interests of big banks, oil giants and corporations. Key to their doctrine of being the world’s leading economy is the projection of military power wherever there are resources to be gobbled up. That is how the United States functioned from its birth, and the foundation on which it rests today. The Middle East is home to two-thirds of the world’s oil.

President Obama didn’t withdraw troops from Iraq because he believed it was best for U.S. service members, their families and the Iraqi people. He did so because he, like many in a certain sector of the political and military establishment, believed the U.S. occupation to be politically counter-productive to its geopolitical strategy.

But now that political situation has changed. The widely-hated and brutally sectarian Iraqi government is now begging for the U.S. military to come back, unlike its posturing three years ago.

The White House and its parade of military generals featured in the U.S. media have established a fear-based narrative that this will be nothing like the last war, but a limited humanitarian mission to simply destroy a vile terrorist group, leaving out all the many haunting details of what could really happen if Iraq is re-occupied.

We are now in a new Iraq war. Just like the last one, it could have devastating effects on people who are not our enemies. Just like the last one, it’s based on lies, false-rationales, and a complete disregard for the grave consequences that face the troops they say they support so much.

The best way soldiers can really serve the people of the United States is by refusing to take part in this new rush to war by politicians and officers drunk with power and arrogance.

“There Is No Military Solution” – But Obama Launches a New U.S. War in Syria September 26, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Iraq and Afghanistan, ISIS/ISIL, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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Roger’s note: I recently had a discussion with my granddaughter, who is taking a university course on the history of public relations.  Unfortunately, it seems that Noam Chomsky’s “Manufacturing Consent” is not on the reading list.  I told her about Edward Bernays, who is referred to as the father of public relations, and the campaign, using mass media and prominent individuals on speaking tours, to change the opinion Americans about participation in World War I.  This involved the demonization of “The Kaiser,” and was based on entirely on fear (kaiser rolls were re-named Vienna rolls!).  Through lies and manipulation the American public came to believe that the Kaiser and his hordes of savage Huns were a direct threat to their safety.  

In my life time I have seen this kind of fear mongering applied first to Communism and more recently to terrorism as a means of “manufacturing consent” for aggression and warmongering.  And, lo and behold, we see this again today at work on behalf of the military industrial complex and its thirst for perpetual war.  The majority of Americans, who six months ago had never even heard of ISIS/ISIL, today see them as the devil incarnate, thanks to moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the president and the congress and the lap dog corporate media.

War is Peace.

 

In response to the initiation of U.S. bombing in Syria, Phyllis Bennis author of Before & After: U.S. Foreign Policy and the War on Terror, offered the following advice:

23 September 2014

President Obama’s decision to bomb Syria stands in stark violation of international law, the UN Charter, and the requirements of the U.S. Constitution. It contradicts his own commitment, stated a year ago in the UN General Assembly, to reverse Washington’s “perpetual war footing.”

And it portends disaster for the people of Syria, the region, and much of the world.

The White House stated goal is to destroy the headquarters of the violent and extremist ISIS militia. But you can’t bomb extremism out of existence. The U.S. bombs do not fall on “extremism,” they are falling on Raqqah, a 2,000 year-old Syrian city with a population of more than a quarter of a million people – men, women and children who had no say in the take-over of their city by ISIS. The Pentagon is bombing targets like the post office and the governor’s compound, and the likelihood of large number of civilian casualties as well as devastation of the ancient city, is almost certain.

President Obama was right when he said there is no military solution to the ISIS crisis. Bombing Syria, without Congressional authorization, without United Nations approval, in direct opposition to the stated position of Syria’s government, will only make that crisis worse. It will give ISIS and its allies a new basis for recruitment, it will strengthen the repressive Syrian government, it will undermine Syria’s struggling non-violent opposition movement, and it will further tighten the links between ISIS supporters in Syria and in Iraq.

The bombing should stop immediately, and be replaced with a U.S. policy based on

  • Supporting an intensive new UN-based diplomatic initiative involving all parties in the region
  • Opening direct talks with Iran and Russia based on shared opposition to ISIS – with Iran to jointly push for ending anti-Sunni sectarianism in the Iraqi government, and with Russia to work towards ending the multi-party civil war in Syria
  • Pressuring U.S. allies in the region to stop their governments and people from arming and facilitating the movement of ISIS fighters
  • Shifting the war funds to a massive increase in humanitarian assistance

Phyllis Bennis is a Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and the Transnational Institute in Washington, DC and Director of the IPS New Internationalism Project.

Also from Phyllis Bennis: 

Is There a Diplomatic Solution to ISIS Crisis? U.S. Could Turn to Aid, Arms Embargo & Engaging Foes

The Obama Speech We Didn’t Hear at the UN

SYRIA BECOMES THE 7TH PREDOMINANTLY MUSLIM COUNTRY BOMBED BY 2009 NOBEL PEACE LAUREATE September 24, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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Roger’s note: Shortly after Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, I started a petition on Change.org demanding that it be returned.  I got less than a hundred signers and some angry responses.  I wonder how such a petition would fare today.

 

94289727-article-display-bPresident Barack Obama makes a speech during the Nobel Peace Prize Concert at Oslo Spektrum on December 11, 2009 in Oslo, Norway

Photo: Sandy Young/Getty Images

BY GLENN GREENWALD  

The U.S. today began bombing targets inside Syria, in concert with its lovely and inspiring group of five allied regimes: Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Jordan.

That means that Syria becomes the 7th predominantly Muslim country bombed by 2009 Nobel Peace Laureate Barack Obama—after Afghanistan,Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya and Iraq.

The utter lack of interest in what possible legal authority Obama has to bomb Syria is telling indeed: Empires bomb who they want, when they want, for whatever reason (indeed, recall that Obama bombed Libya evenafter Congress explicitly voted against authorization to use force, and very few people seemed to mind that abject act of lawlessness; constitutional constraints are not for warriors and emperors).

It was just over a year ago that Obama officials were insisting that bombing and attacking Assad was a moral and strategic imperative. Instead, Obama is now bombing Assad’s enemies while politely informing his regime of its targets in advance. It seems irrelevant on whom the U.S. wages war; what matters it that it be at war, always and forever.

Six weeks of bombing hasn’t budged ISIS in Iraq, but it has caused ISIS recruitment to soar. That’s all predictable: the U.S. has known for years that what fuels and strengthens anti-American sentiment (and thus anti-American extremism) is exactly what they keep doing: aggression in that region. If you know that, then they know that. At this point, it’s more rational to say they do all of this not despite triggering those outcomes, butbecause of it. Continuously creating and strengthening enemies is a feature, not a bug. It is what justifies the ongoing greasing of the profitable and power-vesting machine of Endless War.

If there is anyone who actually believes that the point of all of this is a moral crusade to vanquish the evil-doers of ISIS (as the U.S. fights alongside its close Saudi friends), please read Professor As’ad AbuKhalil’s explanation today of how Syria is a multi-tiered proxy war. As the disastrous Libya “intervention” should conclusively and permanently demonstrate, the U.S. does not bomb countries for humanitarian objectives. Humanitarianism isthe pretense, not the purpose.

 

Email the author: glenn.greenwald@theintercept.com

 

Obama’s Novel Lawyering to Bomb Syria

Exclusive: The U.S. government likes international law when it serves Washington’s purposes, but not when it constrains U.S. desires to use military force. Then, the rules are bent, ignored or subjected to novel lawyering, as President Obama is doing with airstrikes into Syria, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The Obama administration has devised an extraordinary legal justification for carrying out bombing attacks inside Syria – that the United States and its Persian Gulf allies have the right to defend Iraq against the Islamic State because the Syrian government is unable to stop the cross-border terror group.

“The Syrian regime has shown that it cannot and will not confront these safe havens effectively itself,” said the U.S. letter delivered by Ambassador Samantha Power to United Nations officials. “Accordingly, the United States has initiated necessary and proportionate military actions in Syria in order to eliminate the ongoing ISIL [Islamic State] threat to Iraq, including by protecting Iraqi citizens from further attacks and by enabling Iraqi forces to regain control of Iraq’s borders.”

President Barack Obama talks with Ambassador Samantha Power, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, following a Cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Sept. 12, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Yet, beyond the danger to world order if such an expansive theory is embraced by the international community (does anyone remember how World War One got started?), there is the hypocrisy of the U.S. government and many of those same Gulf allies arming, training and funding Syrian rebels for the purpose of preventing the Syrian military from controlling its territory and then citing that lack of control as the rationale to ignore Syria’s sovereignty.

In other words, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan and other enemies of Syria covertly backed the rebels inside Syria and watched as many of them – including thousands of the U.S.-preferred “moderates” – took their newly acquired military skills to al-Qaeda affiliates and other terrorist organizations. Then, the U.S. and its allies have the audacity to point to the existence of those terror groups inside Syria as a rationale for flying bombing raids into Syria.

Another alarming part of the U.S. legal theory is that among this new “coalition of the willing” – the U.S., Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Jordan – only Jordan shares a border with Syria. So, this novel principle would mean that distant countries have the right to destabilize a country from afar and then claim the destabilization justifies mounting military attacks inside that country.

Such a theory – if accepted as a new standard of behavior – could wreak havoc on international order which is based on the principle of national sovereignty. The U.S. theory also stands in marked contrast to Washington’s pious embrace of strict readings of international law when denouncing Russia just this summer for trying to protect ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine from brutal assaults by the U.S.-backed coup regime in Kiev.

In Ukraine, the Obama administration rejected any and all mitigating circumstances, such as the overthrow of an elected president and the coup regime’s use of artillery, airstrikes and even neo-Nazi militias to suppress eastern Ukraine’s ethnic Russian population. In the Ukraine case, the Obama administration insisted that national sovereignty was inviolable despite the fact that the Feb. 22 coup had violated Ukraine’s constitutional order and had produced a human rights disaster.

An entirely different set of rules were applied to Syria, where President Barack Obama decided that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “must go” and where Obama authorized the CIA to provide arms, training and money for supposedly “moderate” rebels. Other U.S. “allies,” such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, supported some of the more extreme anti-Assad groups.

Israel’s right-wing Likud government also was eager for “regime change” in Syria as were America’s influential neoconservatives who saw Assad’s overthrow as a continuation of their strategy of removing Middle East leaders regarded as hostile to Israel. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was the first on the list with Syria and Iran to follow. In those cases, the application of international law was entirely optional.

Before President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003, the U.S. government came up with another convenient argument, claiming the war was an act of American self-defense because otherwise Hussein might give his “weapons of mass destruction” to al-Qaeda for use against U.S. targets. As it turned out, Hussein had no WMDs and was a bitter enemy of al-Qaeda, which didn’t exist in Iraq until after the U.S. invasion.

The overthrow and subsequent execution of Hussein turned Iraq into a cauldron of bloody chaos, pitting Shiites against Sunnis and creating a fertile environment for a group of brutal Sunni extremists who took the name “al-Qaeda in Iraq.”

Getting Assad

But Official Washington is slow to learn lessons. In 2011, the Obama administration’s “liberal interventionists” threw their weight behind a Sunni-led uprising to oust Assad, who runs a harsh but largely secular government with key support from Alawites, Shiites, Christians and other minorities who feared Sunni extremism.

As with Iraq, Syria’s sectarian violence drew in many Sunni extremists, including jihadists associated with al-Qaeda, particularly the Nusra Front but also “al-Qaeda in Iraq” which rebranded itself the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or simply the Islamic State. Eventually, al-Qaeda leaders rejected the Islamic State because it had become a rival of the Nusra Front and because its brutality was  too graphic even for al-Qaeda.

Despite the growing radicalism of Syrian rebels, Official Washington’s influential neocons and the “liberal interventionists” continued the drumbeat for ousting Assad, a position also shared by Israeli leaders who went so far as to indicate they would prefer Damascus to fall to al-Qaeda extremists rather than have Iranian ally Assad retain control. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Israel Sides with Syrian Jihadists.”]

Whenever there was a chance to push Obama into ordering a U.S. military assault on Assad’s government, “the Assad-must-go crowd” pressed the argument. For instance, a still-mysterious Sarin gas attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013, was immediately blamed on Assad’s forces. The neocons and the ”liberal interventionists” demanded an air war to punish the Syrian government – and possibly open the way for a rebel victory.

This pressure on Obama mounted despite strong doubts within the U.S. intelligence community that Assad’s forces were responsible. Some evidence pointed to rebel extremists trying to create a provocation to bring the U.S. military into the war on their side.

Partly because of those doubts, President Obama backed away from a military strike at the last minute and accepted a compromise arranged by Russian President Vladimir Putin to get Assad to surrender his entire chemical weapons arsenal. Since then, additional evidence has emerged raising doubts about the government’s complicity and pointing more toward the rebels. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Collapsing Syria-Sarin Case.”]

Nevertheless, much of the mainstream U.S. news media, including the foreign-page editors of the New York Times who have increasingly fallen under the spell of neocon ideology, have taken to citing the Syrian government’s guilt for the Sarin gas attack as flat fact, rather than a point in serious dispute. It seems no journalism standards need apply when demonized figures, such as Assad or Putin, are facing accusations.

Israel’s Shift

Yet, with al-Qaeda-connected terrorists controlling part of the Israeli border along the Golan Heights, the Israeli government began to reverse its position on demanding Assad’s removal. As the Israeli investigative Web site, Debka Files, reported on Sept. 9, citing military and intelligence sources:

“The Israeli government has radically changed tack on Syria, reversing a policy and military strategy that were long geared to opposing Syrian President Bashar Assad … This reversal has come about in the light of the growing preponderance of radical Islamists in the Syrian rebel force fighting Assad’s army in the Quneitra area since June. Al Qaeda’s Syrian Nusra front … is estimated to account by now for 40-50 percent – or roughly, 4,000-5,000 Islamists – of the rebel force deployed just across Israel’s Golan border. …

“Nusra Front jihadis fighting alongside insurgents on the various Syrian battlefronts made a practice of surreptitiously infiltrating their non-Islamist brothers-at-arms, a process which the latter’s foreign allies, the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan, either ignored or were unaware of. These tactics began to pay off in the past month, when large numbers of moderate rebels suddenly knocked on the Nusra Front’s door and asked to join.”

I have confirmed this Israeli shift with my own sourcing. But it’s unclear whether Israel’s change of heart will cause any second thoughts among U.S. neocons who typically conform their policy recommendations to Israeli interests. However, on the Syrian case, the neocons and their “liberal interventionist” friends might be too dug in on ousting Assad to adjust.

Indeed, all of Official Washington seems incapable of admitting that its wishful thinking about Syrian “moderates” may have caused another major strategic error in the Mideast. The unrealistic “group think” about “moderates” contributed to a power vacuum in Syria that has pulled in some of the most vicious Islamic extremists on earth and turned parts of Syria into a new base of operation for international terrorism.

For his part, President Obama recognized the folly of training Syrian “moderates” – just last month he dismissed the notion as a “fantasy” that was “never in the cards” as a workable strategy – but he nevertheless resurrected it last week as a key part of his new Syrian initiative. He won solid congressional majorities in support of spending some $500 million on the training scheme.

The most charitable view of Obama’s strange flip-flop is that he feared being accused of aiding Assad if the U.S. bombing campaign against the Islamic State indirectly strengthened Assad’s hold on Damascus. So, Obama tacked on what he knew to be a useless appendage, a tough-sounding plan to “ramp up” the “moderate” rebel forces.

Similarly, Obama’s harsh rhetoric about refusing to coordinate the airstrikes with the Syrian government may be more a concession to the sensibilities of the neocons and the “liberal interventionists” than a reality.

I was told last week that U.S. intelligence had used Russian government go-betweens to clear the airstrikes with the Syrian government which gave quiet permission for the bombing campaign in parts of Syria. I was further told on Monday that U.S. military officials and their Syrian counterparts have met face-to-face to ensure that the U.S.-led airstrikes would encounter no Syrian air defenses.

That tacit approval from the Syrian government could be a sound legal basis for the airstrikes, much as other governments, such as Yemen and Pakistan, have tolerated or even encouraged U.S. air attacks on domestic enemies associated with al-Qaeda and other militant groups.

Yet, Obama may find it politically impossible to state the truth – that a “realist” approach to foreign affairs sometimes requires working with disreputable governments. So, instead of simply saying that Syria has no objection to these bombing raids, Obama has invented a dangerous new legal theory to justify the violation of a country’s sovereignty.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.

Who’s Your Daddy, ISIS? September 23, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Foreign Policy, Imperialism, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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Obama-King-Abdullah

 

by BAR executive editor Glen Ford

 

“ISIS has many, many fathers, all of whom now deny patrimony.”

Let us be clear, if that is possible, about President Obama’s plan to deal with ISIS, the boogeyman of America’s own making. The president last week swore that he would “degrade and destroy” the Islamic State, after having spent three years providing weapons and money to jihadists fighters, including ISIS, in hopes that they would “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Syrian state of president Bashar Assad. So, the Americans set out to destroy one state, in Syria, whose government had never presented any danger to the U.S., and wind up creating another state, a caliphate astride the borders of Syria and Iraq, that openly declares its intention to do battle with the U.S.

Obama assures us that he is assembling a new coalition of the willing to join him in smashing ISIS. It turns out that every prospective member of the coalition was a co-conspirator with the United States in giving birth to ISIS – Britain and France and other Europeans, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates…ISIS has many, many fathers, all of whom now deny patrimony.

Obama appears to be leaving the natural gas-rich nation of Qatar out of his coalition, which doesn’t seem fair, since Qatar was a loyal ally of the United States and NATO just three years ago, when Obama was busy trying to degrade and destroy another state, Libya, which also posed no threat to the U.S. The emir of Qatar worked his gaseous little butt off for Obama, sending money and guns and mercenaries to help the Libyan jihadists that the U.S. wanted to install as the new government.

Once regime change had been accomplished in Libya, Qatar helped the Americans send hundreds of Libyan jihadists to Syria, to put that regime out of business. But, Libya never did get a new state, to replace the one that was destroyed in 2011. Instead, the country is wracked by civil war, that is also a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and its friends and Qatar.

Wars Within Wars Within Regime Changes

It seems that Qatar backed the wrong side – the Muslim Brotherhood – after the regime change in Egypt in 2011. The Saudi Arabian royal family hates the Muslim Brotherhood, because the Brotherhood advocate elections, and kings don’t do elections. So, the Saudis bankrolled another regime change in Egypt, putting the military back in charge, and are now fighting a proxy war with Qatar in Libya. Which is why the Saudis blackballed Qatar from participating in Obama’s coalition of the willing against ISIS. (You do understand all this, right?)

Turkey, which is part of NATO, has been a wonderful father to ISIS, allowing the caliphate’s fighters free use of its long border with Syria and Iraq. In return, Turkey gets to buy the cheap oil from the fields that ISIS seized from Syria and Iraq, which makes the Turks somewhat reluctant to try to kill little baby ISIS.

It’s starting to look like Obama might have to take out the caliphate on his own, which is why the president’s top military advisor is talking about putting serious U.S. boots on the ground in Iraq, and maybe in Syria. Meanwhile, Obama is putting together a new army of rebels to continue the job of degrading and destroying the Syrian state – unless, of course, these new fighters just take the money and guns and join ISIS, too.

For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Glen Ford. On the web, go to BlackAgendaReport.com., and while you’re there, sign up to get email notifications of new issues of the magazine, each Wednesday.

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.

Holocaust Survivors On Gaza: Genocide Begins With the Silence of the World August 29, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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 www.common dreams.org

History turns: Even as Israel’s onslaught in Gaza continues – in the latest insanity,obliterating an apartment building housing 44 families to punish one alleged combatant – over 300 Holocaust survivors and descendants have written a stunning condemnation of Jewish attempts to “justify the unjustifiable” and blasted “the massacre of Palestinians in Gaza.” Outraged by Elie Wiesel’s recent “abuse of our history” in an ad wherein he supported the assault on Gaza and compared Hamas to the Nazis, the survivors insist “nothing can justify” the murder of over 2,000 Palestinians, many of them children. Like a growing number of other Jews turning against Israel, they condemn both U.S. funding of Israel and Western silence, and call for an end to the siege and blockade of Gaza as well as a total economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel. And they use the word from their own singular experience: “Genocide begins with the silence of the world.” Extraordinary.

“We must raise our collective voices and use our collective power to bring about an end to all forms of racism, including the ongoing genocide of Palestinian people…’Never again’ must mean NEVER AGAIN FOR ANYONE!”

The Rise of ISIS: US Invasion of Iraq, Foreign Backing of Syrian Rebels Helped Fuel Jihadis’ Advance August 14, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Syria, War.
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Roger’s note: the great minds of the presidency, the Pentagon, the CIA, etc. don’t get it right even in terms of their own imperial objectives, much less with respect to what is moral and just.  The Keystone Kops who own and manage the United States military industrial complex would be entertainingly amusing, if the results of their machinations did not result in bloody death and destruction.  From Bush to Obama/Hilary Clinton the U.S. interventions in the Middle East have only served to strengthen he hands of their counterparts, the Muslim extremists.

http://www.democracynow.org, August 13, 2014

The United States is sending 130 more troops to Iraq amidst a bombing campaign against ISIS militants in the north and a political crisis gripping Baghdad. We are joined by veteran Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn, author of the new book, “The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising.” Cockburn addresses the power struggle in Baghdad, Hillary Clinton’s claim that President Obama’s “failure” to support Syrian rebels helped fuel ISIS’s advance, the role of oil in the current U.S. airstrikes, and his fears that Iraq is entering a “new, more explosive era far worse than anything we’ve seen over the last 10 years.”

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: A hundred and thirty additional U.S. marines and special forces have been sent to Iraq. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made the announcement Tuesday speaking to marines at Camp Pendleton in California.

DEFENSE SECRETARY CHUCK HAGEL: I recommended to the president, and the president has authorized me, to go ahead and send about 130 new assessment team members up to northern Iraq in the Erbil area to take a closer look and give a more in-depth assessment of where we can continue to help the Iraqis with what they’re doing and the threats that they are now dealing with.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: The news comes one day after the U.S. confirmed the CIA was directly arming Kurdish fighters, known as Peshmerga, who are battling Sunni militants of the Islamic State who have seized large swaths of Iraq and Syria. Earlier today, France announced it would also send arms directly to the Kurds.

The Guardian is reporting the United States is also preparing to send the Iraqi government a shipment of missiles, guns and ammunition, but it is waiting to do so until Haider al-Abadi officially becomes Iraq’s new prime minister. It remains unclear if Iraq’s current prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, will relinquish power to Abadi, who has the backing of both Washington and Tehran. Maliki has rejected Abadi’s appointment, saying it violates Iraq’s constitution.

AMY GOODMAN: On the humanitarian front, the United Nations says 20,000 to 30,000 Yazidis may still be trapped on the arid Mount Sinjar where they fled, fearing attacks from Islamic State militants. U.N. Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues Rita Izsák said, quote, “All possible measures must be taken urgently to avoid a mass atrocity and potential genocide within days or hours.”

To talk more about the situation in Iraq, we’re joined by Patrick Cockburn, Middle East correspondent for The Independent in Britain. He was in Baghdad last month. His new book, The Jihadis Return: ISISand the New Sunni Uprising, is out this month with OR Books.

Patrick, it’s great to have you with us from Cork, Ireland. Can you talk about the latest news, the sending of an additional 130 more U.S. marines and advisers, as the U.S. calls them, into Iraq?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Well, it shows a little more U.S. commitment to the Kurds. I don’t think it makes an enormous difference. The most—the really significant action was the airstrikes, although limited, a few days ago. That was important. That raised Kurdish morale. That meant a new U.S. military involvement in Iraq. So I think that’s what’s really significant.

AMY GOODMAN: The situation of what’s happening now in Baghdad with the new prime minister, the current prime minister, and what this all means, who will be the actual prime minister?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Well, I think, you know, that Maliki is finished. I think he’s been finished for some time. The question was: Would he fight it out? He had military units that were personally loyal to him, but he found that after the new prime minister had been appointed, the Iranians had turned against him. They wouldn’t support him. He didn’t have any outside political support. His own party was disintegrating or would no longer support him. So I think that the transition will happen.

But I think what is wrong is to think that—almost everything now is being blamed on al-Maliki, both inside and outside Baghdad, that he was the person who provoked the Sunni uprising, he was the hate figure for the Sunni, he produced an army that was riddled with corruption. But I think that it’s exaggerated, that it’s as if there was a magic wand that would be used once al-Maliki had gone. But there were other reasons for this uprising, for the creation of ISIS—notably, the rebellion in Syria in 2011. This changed the regional balance of power. That was a Sunni rebellion, which Iraqi politicians over the last couple of years were always telling me, if the West supports the opposition in Syria, this will destabilize Iraq. And they were dead right. It wasn’t just al-Maliki.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Patrick Cockburn, you mentioned that the current Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is obviously not solely responsible for the situation there now. You’ve also pointed out in a piece that he still retains the support of Iraq’s Shia majority. What do you think the consequences of that will be with this shift in power to Abadi?

PATRICK COCKBURN: I think he did have that support. I don’t think it’s going to last very long, because he had it because he had portrayed himself as the Shia leader who protected their interests, and he tried to get away from the fact he had presided over one of the greatest military defeats in history, when ISIS took Mosul, by claiming that he’d been stabbed—the army had been stabbed in the back by the Kurds, that there had been treachery. But he still had support because he had power, because he controlled the budget, $100 billion, because he controlled millions of jobs. I think once he’s no longer in control of the executive and the money, that support will diminish very fast. There are millions of Iraqis who have their jobs through Maliki. Now that’s changed, and so will their support.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel speaking Tuesday.

DEFENSE SECRETARY CHUCK HAGEL: The Iraqi people, the government of Iraq, country of Iraq is now under threat from some of the most brutal, barbaric forces we’ve ever seen in the world today and a force, ISIL, and others that is an ideology that’s connected to an army, and it’s a force and a dimension that the world has never seen before like we have seen it now.

AMY GOODMAN: Patrick Cockburn, you have written a book on ISIS, The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising. I just want to point out, as it has come as such a shock to people in the United States, you had time to write a whole book about who they are and their rise. But can you respond to what Hagel says? What has added to their surge of power now, and do you think that will change?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Well, as you said, they’d been growing in strength over the last two or three years. They captured Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad, at the beginning of the year, and the Iraqi government didn’t have the power to get rid of them. That showed that they were growing. I think that Hagel—in fact, the U.S. government as a whole—and foreign powers steer away from one very crucial aspect of the rise of ISIS, which is that in Syria, the West backed the uprising against President Assad, and still does, and this enabled ISIS to develop, gain military experience and then use it back in Iraq. Now Washington is saying, “We oppose ISIS in Iraq, but in Syria we want to get rid of the Syrian government,” which is the only real opposition to ISIS. So there’s a different policy towards ISIS in these two different countries. And just as before, ISIS will benefit from that difference.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Patrick Cockburn, you’ve also said about ISIS that it’s made very few military mistakes. Could you explain what you think accounts for the extraordinary victories that it’s had in recent months in Iraq and Syria?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Yes, I mean, it’s this blend, a rather terrifying blend, of extreme religious fanaticism combined with military expertise, and at times caution. Where does that expertise come from? I think it comes primarily from having fought in Iraq in 2004 to 2009 against the Iraqi Shia government and against the Americans, and again gaining experience in Syria. There’s probably the involvement of some former Saddam Hussein officers or special forces, people who have been well trained. But I think a lot of it is just military experience. And when you have a long war, the survivors who are still around and still fighting are probably pretty good at it.

AMY GOODMAN: In an interview with The Atlantic magazine, Hillary Clinton criticized President Obama’s policy on Syria. She said, quote, “The failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad—there were Islamists, there were secularists, there was everything in the middle—the failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled.” So this has become a big brouhaha. Hillary Clinton and President Obama will be meeting tonight at the house of Vernon Jordan. There’s a big party for Ann Jordan. Hillary Clinton’s people have put out that they’ll hug it out. David Axelrod has tweeted about the issue of stupid moves Hillary Clinton was talking about: Not making stupid moves is not a policy. President Obama, apparently, had talked about not making stupid moves. And David Axelrod said, “’Don’t do stupid stuff’ means stuff like occupying Iraq in the first place, which was a tragically bad decision,” alluding to Hillary Clinton voting for the original attack on Iraq in 2003. But can you talk about this difference? It’s particularly significant, of course, because she is possibly running for president.

PATRICK COCKBURN: True. Yeah, I mean, I was—I’m pretty contemptuous of it, to be honest, because it’s opportunism by Hillary Clinton. And it’s nonsense. You know, the idea, which is very widespread, that there was a moment that, with a few more guns and ammunition, that a moderate Syrian opposition could have taken over in Syria in 2011 or ’12 or ’13, is just unreal. There are 14 provincial capitals of Syria. Assad held all of them until last year, when he lost one of them, Raqqa, toISIS, not to any of these moderates. These moderates are an endangered species on the battlefields of Syria. The opposition is now dominated—military opposition is dominated by ISIS. They hold a third of the country. But the other military opposition are people like Jabhat al-Nusra, which is the official representative of al-Qaeda, of bin Laden’s al-Qaeda, and some other jihadi organizations. So this is sort of fantasy that there was a moderate Syrian military opposition which, with a bit more support from Obama, could have taken power in Damascus. It was never going to happen. It’s just sheer opportunism.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Patrick Cockburn. He has a new book out; it’s called The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising. We’ll come back with him in a minute, and then we’ll be speaking in Brazil with Glenn Greenwald. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Mohammed Saleh, here on Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Patrick Cockburn, I want to ask you about Obama having said that the military strikes in Iraq will not just last for a few weeks, it’s likely to be a longer fight. And I want to turn to comments that senior Pentagon official, Army Lieutenant General William Mayville, made. He was speaking to reporters on Monday about the U.S. military campaign in Iraq.

LT. GEN. WILLIAM MAYVILLE: We assess that U.S. airstrikes in northern Iraq have slowed ISIL’s operational tempo and temporarily disrupted their advances toward the province of Erbil. However, these strikes are unlikely to affect ISIL’s overall capabilities or its operations in other areas of Iraq and Syria. ISIL remains focused on securing and gaining additional territory throughout Iraq and will sustain its attacks against Iraqi and Kurdish security forces and their positions, as well as target Yazidis, Christians and other minorities. … In the immediate areas where we have focused our strikes, we’ve had a very temporary effect. And—but I, in no—and we may have blunted some tactical decisions to move in those directions and move further east to Erbil. What I expect theISIL to do is to look for other things to do, to pick up and move elsewhere. So, I in no way want to suggest that we have effectively contained or that we are somehow breaking the momentum of the threat posed by ISIL.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was Lieutenant General Mayville speaking on Monday. So, Patrick Cockburn, could you talk about what you think the objectives and the length of this military campaign will be, given that the general has pointed out that the operation with regard to ISIS has not been by any means conclusive and also that Obama said that the operation would go far longer than a few weeks?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Yeah, they’re being cautious, and probably sensibly so. They want to stop the ISIS advance on Erbil, and they wanted to prop up Kurdish morale, and they probably have the same objectives in Baghdad. I mean, ISIS has been advancing around Baghdad. It took one important town a couple of days ago to the northeast. And it’s been getting stronger—and this is very important—in the towns to the south of Baghdad. So, in theory, they could cut it off. There are seven million people in Baghdad. But they could sort of besiege them, in which case I guess that Obama would want to prevent the fall of Baghdad, but doesn’t want to get sucked into a bigger war.

I mean, it’s important to realize that ISIS is really pretty—is not only strong but has a lot of territory now. It has an area probably greater than the size of Great Britain or the size of Michigan or some such U.S. state, stretching all the way from the Iranian border to just east of Aleppo. It probably has a population of five or six million. Now, how many fighters do they have? You know, maybe they probably had only about 6,000 to 10,000 fighters at the beginning of June. But an Iraqi security official told me that where the jihadis take over, where ISIS takes over, they recruit five or 10 new fighters for every one they had initially. So if they had—you know, so we’re probably up to 40,000 to 50,000 fighters now. So it’s an expanding and strengthening organization all the time. And it has arms to equip them—American arms in Iraq taken in Mosul, and Russian and other arms taken in recent victories that ISIS has had in Syria.

AMY GOODMAN: In an article in The Independent headlined “West’s ‘Mandate’ Limited by National Borders—and Don’t Dare Mention Oil,” your colleague Robert Fisk writes, quote, “recent reports suggest that current Kurdish oil production of 200,000 barrels a day will reach 250,000 next year—providing the boys from the caliphate are kept at bay, of course—which means, according to Reuters, that if Iraqi Kurdistan were a real country and not just a bit of Iraq, it would be among the top 10 oil-rich countries in the world.” Can you talk about that word that has not been talked about by the Obama administration—oil?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Yeah, I think that it underlies everything. I mean, it’s—you know, why is there so much interest in the Middle East, in general, over the last century, you know? If the Middle East, if Saudi Arabia and Iraq, if Iraq was—I think the second-biggest export of Iraq used to be dates. If it was dates rather than oil, would there be such acute interest in what goes on in Iraq? Kurdistan doesn’t produce much, apart from some crude oil. So I think that’s true generally of the Middle East, and it’s true of Iraq, and it’s true of Syria. It’s worth pointing out that ISIS is very interested in oil and gas, and they’ve taken most of the oil and gas fields in Syria, and now they’ve taken some in Iraq. That’s how they’re funding their campaigns. They can’t sell it necessarily directly onto the market, but if you control the oil wells, you can, some point, if your price is low enough, you can generally get them to a refinery, and you can make money.

AMY GOODMAN: Patrick, what happens to companies like Chevron, ExxonMobil?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Well, I think, you know, they were involved in Kurdistan. They were involved in the rest of Iraq. Some of the very biggest companies, like Exxon, they have resources elsewhere. But I think that there’s probably a feeling that what they’re expected from Iraq is going sour. It’s going sour in southern Iraq, the big superfields there, because they’re beginning to worry about security. And they’re right to do. I mean, this is a Shia area, but there’s a great, big western desert. ISIS could send forces to attack these oil fields. They’re not very well defended. And in Kurdistan, they thought, well, security is good here, and this was a sort of boom town. It was one of the few areas in the world that was booming in recent years—you know, big hotels in Erbil filled with oil executives and other company executives. And I often wondered—I sat in those hotels wondering if these guys know how far they are from Mosul. You know, they’re a half-hour car drive. I think that some of them may be noticing which part of the world these new oil fields are in and realizing just the extent of the insecurity of Kurdistan and Erbil, as well as Baghdad.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Patrick Cockburn, before we conclude, I want to ask you about the role of Saudi Arabia in the rise of these Sunni militant movements. You’ve suggested that it’s not only because of financing, private financing principally from Saudi Arabia, that these groups have become as strong as they have, but also because of the ideology of Wahhabism that originates in Saudi Arabia. Could you explain what that is and how it spread?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Well, the Wahhabi ideology is very—has always been very similar to that of al-Qaeda. It’s a puritanical Islamic ideology, very bigoted. They’ve been blowing up shrines in Mosul. But the Saudi government has also been responsible for shrines being removed. In Bahrain in 2011, when a Saudi force entered to support the Bahraini government against a protest by the majority Shia community, they destroyed 20 to 30 Shia shrines and mosques. They bulldozed them. So, I think Wahhabism and the ideology of al-Qaeda and the ideology of ISIS today is very similar—Shia are regarded as heretics, so are Christians—that there isn’t that much difference. And this has had enormous impact, because it’s backed by Saudi Arabia’s enormous wealth. You know, if somebody wants to build a mosque in Bangladesh where it’s going to cost $30,000, where would he get $30,000? Normally it comes from Saudi Arabia or the Gulf. So I think one of the most important things that’s happening in the world over the last 50 years is the way in which mainstream Sunni Islam, which is the religion of about one-and-a-half billion people in the world, has been increasingly colored and taken over by the very intolerant Wahhabi faith.

AMY GOODMAN: And yet, the U.S. government’s, you know, fierce opposition to Iran and close cozying up to Saudi Arabia, whether it’s President Obama, Clinton, the Bushes, of course, well known for that?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Yeah, I mean, this is—you know, after 9/11, all the links of the hijackers—15 out of the 19 hijackers were Saudi. Bin Laden was part of the Saudi elite. U.S. investigations all showed that money had come from private donors in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. But they always ignored this. And I think it’s one of the reasons that al-Qaeda survived, and its ideology, its ideas and so forth have now been transmuted into ISIS. You know, it is extraordinary that you had this war of terror, and hundreds of billions of dollars, trillions of dollars spent on it by the U.S. and other governments, and 13 years later that there’s an al-Qaeda-type organization, worse in many ways than al-Qaeda, more violent than al-Qaeda, which has taken over a great chunk of the Middle East. I mean, this is a tremendous failure, and very little attention is being given to it.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Patrick Cockburn, before we end, could you give us a sense of what your prognosis is for Syria and Iraq? You outlined it in your August 10th piece, “The End of a Country, and the Start of a New Dark Age.”

PATRICK COCKBURN: Yeah, I mean, ISIS is very strong. It’s not going to evaporate. It’s not even necessarily going to get weaker. And it’s also at the cutting edge of a new sectarian war. It’s an organization that kills Shia, that kills Yazidis, that kills anybody who disagrees with it. So I think this is a—the wars that we’ve seen over the last 10 years in Iraq are expanding and going to get worse. ISIShas no plans to negotiate with anybody. Its ambitions are boundless. It wants to spread its faith to the whole world, not just the Muslim community. So, I think we’re in a new, more explosive era, far worse than anything that we’ve seen over the last 10 years.

AMY GOODMAN: Oxfam said something very similar today, saying Middle East is facing its worst humanitarian crisis in decades with over 28 million people in need of aid spread across Iraq, Gaza, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Yemen. Oxfam’s Jane Cocking said, quote, “In my entire career, I’ve never seen so much need in the Middle East. The crisis across the region has escalated over the last five weeks with the outbreak of conflict in Gaza and increasing violence in Iraq.” Would you agree, Patrick Cockburn?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Oh, yeah, absolutely. And, you know, not just in Gaza and not just in Iraq, but look at the places in between. You know, there’s suddenly been a new level of fighting in eastern Lebanon. Though nobody much reports it these days, but there’s lots of fighting in Syria, with, you know, hundreds of people killed—thousands of people killed, and ISIS advancing, you know, getting very close to Aleppo now. So I think there’s a great swathe of violence, from the Iranian border right over to the Mediterranean, right down to Gaza. And it’s not getting any less. And I think that Washington, other foreign governments, they sort of are horrified by it. They’re kind of hoping it will go away. They disclaim responsibility for it. They’re not really changing their policy. And they can’t think how to stop it.

AMY GOODMAN: Patrick Cockburn, we want to thank you for being with us, Middle East correspondent for The Independent, was in Baghdad last month. His new book is called The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising. He was speaking to us from Cork, Ireland. When we come back, we go to Brazil to speak with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald. Stay with us.

We Need to Recognize What Barbaric Is August 13, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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Roger’s note:

Violent husband to wife; “Don’t make me hit you.”

Five year old to mother: “Johnny made me hit him.”

Netanyahu: “Hamas made me kill 400 children.”

 

 

As Gazans begin to return to their shattered lives and neighborhoods, the U.N. has announced a panel to investigate war crimes there, at least those beyond the obvious: 1,814 Palestinians killed, 86% of them civilians including over 400 children, and 485,000 displaced. Still, more stories emerge. Amnesty International has released testimony from health workers showing the Israeli army repeatedly attacked ambulances, hospitals, medics, doctors and others seeking to help the wounded and collect the dead. In light of that and so much else, in a searing speech at an Austin protest, Dr. Rania Masri cites President Obama calling the capture of an invading Israeli soldier by the Palestinian Resistance a “barbaric action” and schools him in what is and is not “barbaric.”

“Barbaric is to deny our identity and to deny our existence…In the name of the Palestinians, who are the most resilient people I have ever known…we pledge to them, that when the bombs stop – and they will stop — we will remember our anger today, we will remember our tears today, and we will not be broken.”

 

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Book review: Miko Peled sets the record straight on Palestine’s dispossession August 11, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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Roger’s note: the other day I posted the video of a talk given by Miko Peled, the son of a military Zionist family, who underwent a dramatic transformation in his life through soul searching (and truth searching) inspired by interaction with the Palestinian community.  The result was an abandonment of the official Israeli government and AIPAC narrative about the Israeli occupation of Palestine, which paints the Israelis as victims and their aggression as self-defence.  In a sense, most of us are in the same boat as Peled.  Through the educational system, the mass media and government propaganda, we live with myth as reality, illusion as truth.  Edward Bernays, the father of American public relations, invented the Big Lie; Hitler’s propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels perfected it; and it has come to be the every day reality around the globe. This it true in spades for Israeli people, with their universal conscription, compulsory home shelters, and  the desperate and deadly terrorist attacks that serve to reinforce the myth.

Here is a review of Peled’s memoir, written by a Palestinian journalist, a textured, compelling and balanced evaluation of Peled’s journey from true believer in the Israeli occupation to advocate for peace and justice for the Palestinian peoples.

 

29 November 2012

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My review of The General’s Son, byMiko Peled, cannot be separated from what I’ve come to know about the author. After all, this book is about Peled’s own life, and his journey to a new understanding of the conflict that has defined so many of our lives. It is a narrative of the author’s transformation from an ardent Zionist, born into a revered military Israeli family, to a human rights activist and advocate of asingle binational state.

In addition to reading this book, I attended one of Peled’s lectures and watched another online, and I’ve had a chance to speak with him in person and at some length. At each of these junctures, my reaction to his narrative changed to some degree.

I first picked up this book when I was asked to conduct a live interview with the author in New York. The initial parts, although told from the vantage of reflection, are replete with Zionist myths and verbiage spanning the full spectrum of hard-line Zionism to Zionism-light. Although Peled has made it clear in his lectures that he rejects Zionism, there is equivocation on this point in The General’s Son.

This is perhaps not surprising since he wrote the book over an extended period of time in which Peled was undergoing a process that unhinged fundamental assumptions about his own identity. But this means that the reader is left with phrases like “revival of Jewish national homeland” (26), “his generation fought so hard so that ours could live in a democracy” (58), “heroic missions” (105), and “my people fought so hard to win it back” (119).

More than 100 pages into the book, I was annoyed enough to beg out of my commitment to interview Peled because, as I told his publisher, I didn’t think I was the best person to interview her client if she was looking for me to be a promoter of his book. The publisher suggested I read on. She thought I would change my mind by the end of the book. I agreed, and to some extent my attitude softened, but not to the extent she promised. It was not until the last few pages of the book, when I found the single sentence I had been waiting to read (without realizing that I had been waiting for it), that I felt open to meeting the author. I’ll get to that.

Father of peace?

Peled gives us a personal glimpse of a man that many of us Palestinians could not figure out whether to love or hate. It is clear that many Palestinians loved Matti Peled, Miko’s father, the Israeli general who was one of the chief architects of our ethnic cleansing. Matti Peled was a Zionist who later became an Arabist and actively worked to restore the rights of persecuted Palestinian individuals. In fact, many notable Palestinians referred to him as “Abu Salam” (Father of Peace), although we are told that his motivation mostly stemmed from a desire to “preserve” the moral fabric of Israeli society.

Miko understandably treats his father’s memory with reverence and highlights the man who actively sought peace and co-existence, rather than the war-maker. He presents the reader with the general who was well ahead of his time, one of the earliest advocates of the two-state solution, a prescient man with eerily accurate predictions of popular Palestinian resistance that would turn Israel into a brutal and despised occupier.

The younger Peled tells us of the general who reached out to the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) when his country wouldn’t and who formed a sincere friendship with Issam Sartawi, a senior member of the PLO. All of that is true, but there are holes, too, in this projection. For example, Miko tells us that his father wrote an article lamenting the loss of Ariel Sharon’s “military genius” when the latter was not appointed chief of staff (117).

Matti Peled wrote that Sharon “combined the unique quality of being a brilliant military man, an admired leader and he knew how to organize his command so as to achieve the best possible results on the battlefield.” This article was written in 1973, long after Sharon’s brutal exploits became well known. After all, Ariel Sharon’s massacre in the village of Qibya in 1953 provoked an international outcry, and surely Matti Peled was already well-acquainted with Sharon’s form of “military genius.”

It is clear, however, that the general had a change of heart, not quite to the extent that his son would many years later, but a significant change nonetheless. Interestingly, this does not seem to have been passed on to his children in his lifetime, at least not to his son, Miko. In fact, the author tells us very little about his relationship with his father and one gets the impression that the general was a remote father, impatient with his family, and too absorbed in the affairs of the state to indulge the predilections of the heart.

Thus, the anti-Arab racism suffused in Israeli textbooks and codified in the social milieuwent unchallenged in Miko’s life until he was an adult mourning for his niece, Smadar, who was killed by a suicide bomber not much older than she.

Remarkable journey

To the reporters gathered at her home, Smadar’s mother (Miko’s sister), professor Nurit Peled-Elhanan, blamed the Israeli government’s “megalomania” for her daughter’s death and the death of the suicide bombers. Although she is mentioned infrequently in Miko’s narrative, Nurit emerges from the pages as a woman of great strength and moral fortitude, and a mother in the truest sense.

Miko’s attempt to understand his sister’s reaction pushes him to reach out to Palestinians in his own town of San Diego, California. His first step was a Palestinian/Jewish-American dialogue group, and he took it with no small measure of fear. In fact, both he and his wife were afraid for his life to be in the home of a middle class Palestinian family in suburbia, USA. And when he was there, his wife called a few times to make sure he was okay.

I do appreciate the author’s honesty and respect his willingness to unveil such racist attitudes, but I admit, reading this part reminded me of the white woman who tenses her body and clutches her purse at the sight of a Black man, sure that the man’s only thought is how to rape and rob her. But Peled pushed through that ignorance and pulled his family with him to a sense of brotherhood, even deference, toward Palestinians. That’s a remarkable journey.

It is inspiring and enlightening to read the unfolding of one man’s path to liberate himself from racist ideologies, to disavow the privilege accorded to him because it comes at the expense of those who do not belong to his religion. I imagine it cannot be an easy path.

The critical eye can discern some stumbles in this journey and recognize certain “baby steps” the author takes to internalize the truth. One such example occurs when Miko is confronted by a Palestinian narrative diametrically opposed to what he has known his whole life. He then learns that objective, recorded historical fact supports the Palestinian narrative, not his. So he writes the following: “The willingness to accept another’s truth is a huge step to take. It is such a powerful gesture, in fact, that contemplating it can make you want to throw up.”

In reality, however, it is not so difficult to accept the truth of other human beings when we seek to understand. The truly difficult part, I imagine — the part that makes you want to throw up, perhaps — is the willingness to accept that what you’ve believed your whole life is, in fact, a lie. That is the personal triumph that Miko Peled clearly achieved. He dismantled a lifetime of racist assumptions and replaced them with something more human and tender.

Turning point

Miko Peled was born in Jerusalem and grew up believing the Holy Land was his rightful ancient homeland. He believed that his own personal lineage extended thousands of years in Jerusalem, even though he was clearly aware that his grandparents arrived in Palestine from Eastern Europe. In describing the friendships he forges with various Palestinian individuals, he speaks of being “sons of the same homeland” and creates a parity with regard to the depth of their roots in that land.

Peled aligns his sense of belonging on a par with that of Palestinians and speaks about recent Israeli settlers with disdain, often referring to their heavy “Russian accent” to emphasize that they are foreigners. Peled says, “I couldn’t help but think it ironic that these new immigrants, who could barely speak Hebrew, had rights over these lands that the Palestinians were denied simply because they were Jewish. Quite unbelievable!” (143).

And when his Palestinian friend Nader el Banna tries to visit his homeland but is detained by one such young Israeli newcomer in a soldier’s uniform, Peled was indignant, saying, “It takes a special kind of arrogance or ignorance, for someone who is new to a country to keep an older person (who was born in that country and whose ancestors were born in that country) out” (150).

He’s right, of course, but he falls short of acknowledging that, in fact, his father’s generation stood precisely in that arrogant and ignorant space and people like my grandfather sat defenseless in Nader el Banna’s place.

In getting to know Miko Peled, I think he understands this, but that that understanding doesn’t come through in the narrative. This attitude extends to land and settlements. On pages 143 and 216, for example, he writes, “these settlements are not going away, I thought, and this land will never be handed back to its rightful owners,” and “having witnessed Israel’s immense investment in infrastructure to attract Jewish settlers and thereby exclude Palestinians — to whom the land belongs.” Peled seems to apply this logic only to the West Bank and makes no reference to the rightful owners of properties in Haifa, for instance. This, to me, was a shortcoming in the book and the principle reason I remained suspicious throughout most of The General’s Son.

Then, with only three pages to go until the end of the book, I read Miko’s account of a conversation he had with his brother-in-law, who apparently still maintains that Israel should remain a Jewish state. Miko clearly disagreed and said: “But you know as well as I that we are all settlers, and all of Israel is occupied Palestine.”

That was the turning point for me. That was the sentence I needed to read, even though Miko didn’t elaborate beyond it.

Admitting the truth

It didn’t matter that Peled overcame a racist ideology. That’s his own personal journey of growth. Nor did it matter that he went so far past his fears that he befriended and came to love certain Palestinian individuals. It didn’t matter that he embarked on humanitarian projects to help. Or that he participated in protests that got him arrested by the Israeli occupation forces.

In the end, what truly mattered was setting the record straight and acknowledging that Palestinians are native sons and daughters who have been cruelly dispossessed of home, history, heritage and story. What mattered was the acknowledgement. Uttering the truth, no matter how painful, is what I needed to hear. Because it was in that admission that Miko Peled became a man I could embrace as a brother and fellow countryman.

In that sense, it can be said that this book is about how Miko Peled was transformed from being the general’s son to being a native son of the land.

Endearing and ugly

Much is packed into the few pages of this book. There are little known historic notes, like the fact that Israel’s taking of the West Bank, including Jerusalem and Gaza was a decision made during the 1967 War, not before it, by the generals, not the civil government. It contains endearing and funny moments. I found it wonderful that Miko’s commanding officer called him the “antithesis of a soldier” because he was too left-leaning.

The reader learns that Benjamin Netanyahu and Miko’s sister Nurit had been like “brother and sister.” That’s hard for me to imagine. But when they run into Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Miko’s son later asks why “that man” had so many bodyguards. Nurit is quick with the delightful reply that “he must have done something really terrible and now he’s afraid for his life.”

There are touching sections of the book where Miko speaks of Palestinian children whom he trains in a karate studio (Miko is a 6th degree black belt). They are tender and endearing and truly lovely. On the opposite end of this spectrum, Peled also describes conversations he had with Israelis in Japan and one gets a sense of how Israelis speak to each other when they think no one is listening. The account of this is sickening, and Miko himself relates wanting to throw up afterward.

My criticisms aside, this is an important book, full of hope and inspiration for a shared destiny between Palestinians and Israelis based on mutual respect and equal rights. I recommend it. And I think Miko Peled is an important new voice, from which I hope to read and hear more.

Susan Abulhawa is the author of the international bestseller Mornings in Jenin and founder of Playgrounds for Palestine.

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