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HANDS OFF SYRIA ACTIONS MOMENTUM GROWS September 4, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Imperialism, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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Roger’s note: This is a concise and precise statement of the folly of the government/media plan to attack Syria.  From the current Senate hearing it is becoming more obvious that this is all about regime change and has nothing to do with chemical warfare.  The burning question is: how to stop the continual blatant violations of international law with impunity for purely imperial objectives, putting in governments in the Middle East that will support U.S. objectives of monopolizing oil reserves.

For more information on actions:

http://www.iacenter.org/actions/hands_off_syria_actions_momentum_grows_090413/

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Call for Hands Off Syria! Actions

List of Actions (updated frequently)

President Obama has called for a vote in Congress to authorize an attack on Syria. Congress is scheduled to return on Monday, Sept 9. President Obama is using the same tactics as President Bush did before the Iraq War. When the UN Security Council would not support the U.S. war, Bush turned to the U.S. Congress for a war vote giving him “all necessary means”. Ten years later Iraq lay in ruins. A million Iraqis died, millions became refugees. More than 1.5 million US soldiers were deployed to Iraq. Today thousands of U.S. and NATO soldiers are disabled, traumatized and 1/3 will suffer from PTSD. Just as in Iraq, Afghanistan and earlier in Vietnam this is again a U.S. war based on lies. Bombing Syria is NOT a ‘humanitarian intervention’. It is another war for Wall Street Profit! This time there is a risk of global confrontation or even world war. This war will only serve the billionaires and militarists who profit from war and conquest. The workers and poor will pay, in Syria and here in the U.S.

syria090113-2

 

STATEMENT OF THE INTERNATIONAL ACTION CENTER

The people have made it crystal clear: We don’t want another war!

Last week there were demonstrations and rallies against bombing Syria in at least 48 U.S. cities. This Saturday, the 1:00 PM Times Square demonstration will be one of dozens across the country. On Monday, September 9, as Congress goes back into session, the Syrian American Forum and others will protest in front of the White House, then march to the U.S. Congress.

The cost of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan exceeds $4 trillion dollars.

The cruise missiles the US is planning to fire at Syria cost $1.5 million apiece. The profits of the missile’s maker, Raytheon, is soaring — but our cities are crumbling. People are hurting from joblessness, foreclosures, sequester cuts and furloughs. Hospitals and schools are closing.

We need funds for job programs, healthcare and education, NOT billions wasted on war and destruction.

War propaganda always accompanies war. In 2003 before the massive attack on Iraq, it was the lie of “weapons of mass destruction.”

 

In 1991 in the first US war on Iraq it was wild claim that Iraqi soldiers were killing “incubator babies.”

 

In the Vietnam War it was the testimony that U.S. ships were being fired on in the Gulf of Tonkin.

It is ludicrous to think that the Assad regime used chemical weapons on the same day that UN weapons inspectors arrived in Syria. The inspectors were less than ten miles away from the attack and had been invited by the Syrian government.

The U.S. is the last country on earth that should start a war on the basis of combating war crimes.

The Pentagon’s 2004 assault on the city of Fallujah, Iraq alone left the residents there with staggering rates of cancer, birth defects and infant mortality due to the U.S. military’s use of depleted uranium and white phosphorus.

Just last month the recipient of $1.5 billion in annual military aid, the Egyptian government, brutally cleared the streets, killing many hundreds at protest encampments that included men, women and children.

By far, the world’s largest stockpile of chemical, nuclear and every other kind of weapon belongs to the United States — the only country to have used nuclear weapons on civilians.

No, President Barack Obama and Sec. of State John Kerry don’t care about the people of Syria one bit. What they care about is removing a government that gives aid to the Palestinian resistance, Hezbollah and other victims of the Israeli brutality. The repressive regimes in Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf kingdoms beat down the people of the region so that U.S. oil companies can have unfettered access to oil profits.

We don’t want another war for the 1%. The rich will win and the people in the U.S., Syria and the entire Middle East region will lose.

Hands off Syria!

Some of the organizations, coalitions and community groups endorsing Sat. Sept 7 demonstrations: (Full list in formation.)

Syrian American Forum

United National Antiwar Coalition-UNAC

ANSWER Coalition

Code Pink

May 1st Coalition for Worker and Immigrant Rights

International Action Center

Islamic Leadership Council/Majlis Ash-Shura of Metro NY

Harlem Tenants Council

 

La Peña del Bronx

U.S. Peace Council

Veterans For Peace / Chapter 021, NJ

People’s Power Movement

World Can’t Wait

International League for People’s Struggles/US

People’s Organization for Progress

BAYAN USA

Jersey City Peace Movement

Occupy Harlem

Red Youth

Fight Imperialism Stand Together – FIST

Pakistan USA Freedom Forum

Honduras USA Resistencia

Frente Libre-Honduras

Antiwar Committee

Al Quds Committee

Islamic Leadership Council/Majlis Ash-Shura of Metro NY

Grannies for Peace

Black Waxx, NY

Interoccupy.net, NYC

Guyanese American Workers United, New York, NY

Wisconsin Bail Out The People Movement

Advocates For Peace And Social Justice, West New York, NJ

SI Solidarity Iran

People’s Video Network

Click HERE to view more endorsers. Click HERE to endorse, support or list a local action. Click HERE to find an action near you. Or see unacpeace.org

International Action Center
c/o Solidarity Center
147 W. 24th St., FL 2 • New York, NY 10011
212-633-6646
http://www.iacenter.org
iacenter@iacenter.org

 

Iran Had a Democracy Before We Took It Away June 23, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Iran.
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Published on Monday, June 22, 2009 by TruthDig.com by Chris Hedges

Iranians do not need or want us to teach them about liberty and representative government. They have long embodied this struggle. It is we who need to be taught. It was Washington that orchestrated the 1953 coup to topple Iran’s democratically elected government, the first in the Middle East, and install the compliant shah in power. It was Washington that forced Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh, a man who cared as much for his country as he did for the rule of law and democracy, to spend the rest of his life under house arrest. We gave to the Iranian people the corrupt regime of the shah and his savage secret police and the primitive clerics that rose out of the swamp of the dictator’s Iran. Iranians know they once had a democracy until we took it away. 

The fundamental problem in the Middle East is not a degenerate and corrupt Islam. The fundamental problem is a degenerate and corrupt Christendom. We have not brought freedom and democracy and enlightenment to the Muslim world. We have brought the opposite. We have used the iron fist of the American military to implant our oil companies in Iraq, occupy Afghanistan and ensure that the region is submissive and cowed. We have supported a government in Israel that has carried out egregious war crimes in Lebanon and Gaza and is daily stealing ever greater portions of Palestinian land. We have established a network of military bases, some the size of small cities, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Kuwait, and we have secured basing rights in the Gulf states of Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. We have expanded our military operations to Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Egypt, Algeria and Yemen. And no one naively believes, except perhaps us, that we have any intention of leaving.

We are the biggest problem in the Middle East. We have through our cruelty and violence created and legitimized the Mahmoud Ahmadinejads and the Osama bin Ladens. The longer we lurch around the region dropping iron fragmentation bombs and seizing Muslim land the more these monsters, reflections of our own distorted image, will proliferate. The theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote that “the most significant moral characteristic of a nation is its hypocrisy.” But our hypocrisy no longer fools anyone but ourselves. It will ensure our imperial and economic collapse.

The history of modern Iran is the history of a people battling tyranny. These tyrants were almost always propped up and funded by foreign powers. This suppression and distortion of legitimate democratic movements over the decades resulted in the 1979 revolution that brought the Iranian clerics to power, unleashing another tragic cycle of Iranian resistance.

“The central story of Iran over the last 200 years has been national humiliation at the hands of foreign powers who have subjugated and looted the country,” Stephen Kinzer, the author of “All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror,” told me. “For a long time the perpetrators were the British and Russians. Beginning in 1953, the United States began taking over that role. In that year, the American and British secret services overthrew an elected government, wiped away Iranian democracy, and set the country on the path to dictatorship.”

“Then, in the 1980s, the U.S. sided with Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq war, providing him with military equipment and intelligence that helped make it possible for his army to kill hundreds of thousands of Iranians,” Kinzer said. “Given this history, the moral credibility of the U.S. to pose as a promoter of democracy in Iran is close to nil.

Especially ludicrous is the sight of people in Washington calling for intervention on behalf of democracy in Iran when just last year they were calling for the bombing of Iran. If they had had their way then, many of the brave protesters on the streets of Tehran today—the ones they hold up as heroes of democracy—would be dead now.”

Washington has never recovered from the loss of Iran—something our intelligence services never saw coming. The overthrow of the shah, the humiliation of the embassy hostages, the laborious piecing together of tiny shreds of paper from classified embassy documents to expose America’s venal role in thwarting democratic movements in Iran and the region, allowed the outside world to see the dark heart of the American empire. Washington has demonized Iran ever since, painting it as an irrational and barbaric country filled with primitive, religious zealots. But Iranians, as these street protests illustrate, have proved in recent years far more courageous in the defense of democracy than most Americans. 

Where were we when our election was stolen from us in 2000 by Republican operatives and a Supreme Court that overturned all legal precedent to anoint George W. Bush president? Did tens of thousands of us fill the squares of our major cities and denounce the fraud? Did we mobilize day after day to restore transparency and accountability to our election process? Did we fight back with the same courage and tenacity as the citizens of Iran? Did Al Gore defy the power elite and, as opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi has done, demand a recount at the risk of being killed?

President Obama retreated in his Cairo speech into our spectacular moral nihilism, suggesting that our crimes matched the crimes of Iran, that there is, in his words, “a tumultuous history between us.” He went on: “In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government. Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians.” It all, he seemed to say, balances out. 

I am no friend of the Iranian regime, which helped create and arm Hezbollah, is certainly meddling in Iraq, has persecuted human rights activists, gays, women and religious and ethnic minorities, embraces racism and intolerance and uses its power to deny popular will. But I do not remember Iran orchestrating a coup in the United States to replace an elected government with a brutal dictator who for decades persecuted, assassinated and imprisoned democracy activists. I do not remember Iran arming and funding a neighboring state to wage war against our country. Iran never shot down one of our passenger jets as did the USS Vincennes-caustically nicknamed Robocruiser by the crews of other American vessels-when in June 1988 it fired missiles at an Airbus filled with Iranian civilians, killing everyone on board. Iran is not sponsoring terrorism within the United States, as our intelligence services currently do in Iran. The attacks on Iranian soil include suicide bombings, kidnappings, beheadings, sabotage and “targeted assassinations” of government officials, scientists and other Iranian leaders. What would we do if the situation was reversed? How would we react if Iran carried out these policies against us?

We are, and have long been, the primary engine for radicalism in the Middle East. The greatest favor we can do for democracy activists in Iran, as well as in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Gulf and the dictatorships that dot North Africa, is withdraw our troops from the region and begin to speak to Iranians and the rest of the Muslim world in the civilized language of diplomacy, respect and mutual interests. The longer we cling to the doomed doctrine of permanent war the more we give credibility to the extremists who need, indeed yearn for, an enemy that speaks in their crude slogans of nationalist cant and violence. The louder the Israelis and their idiot allies in Washington call for the bombing of Iran to thwart its nuclear ambitions, the happier are the bankrupt clerics who are ordering the beating and murder of demonstrators. We may laugh when crowds supporting Ahmadinejad call us “the Great Satan,” but there is a very palpable reality that has informed the terrible algebra of their hatred.

Our intoxication with our military prowess blinds us to all possibilities of hope and mutual cooperation. It was Mohammed Khatami, the president of Iran from 1997 to 2005-perhaps the only honorable Middle East leader of our time-whose refusal to countenance violence by his own supporters led to the demise of his lofty “civil society” at the hands of more ruthless, less scrupulous opponents. It was Khatami who proclaimed that “the death of even one Jew is a crime.” And we sputtered back to this great and civilized man the primitive slogans of all deformed militarists. We were captive, as all bigots are, to our demons, and could not hear any sound but our own shouting. It is time to banish these demons. It is time to stand not with the helmeted goons who beat protesters, not with those in the Pentagon who make endless wars, but with the unarmed demonstrators in Iran who daily show us what we must become.

The fight of the Iranian people is our fight. And, perhaps for the first time, we can match our actions to our ideals. We have no right under post-Nuremberg laws to occupy Iraq or Afghanistan. These occupations are defined by these statutes as criminal “wars of aggression.” They are war crimes. We have no right to use force, including the state-sponsored terrorism we unleash on Iran, to turn the Middle East into a private gas station for our large oil companies. We have no right to empower Israel’s continuing occupation of Palestine, a flagrant violation of international law. The resistance you see in Iran will not end until Iranians, and all those burdened with repression in the Middle East, free themselves from the tyranny that comes from within and without. Let us, for once, be on the side of those who share our democratic ideals.

© 2009 TruthDig.com

Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Truthdig.com. Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of many books, including: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, What Every Person Should Know About War, and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.  His most recent book, Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, will be out in July, but is available for pre-order.

Obama and Israel’s Military: Still Arm-in-Arm March 5, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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 Stephen Zunes | March 4, 2009

Foreign Policy in Focus, http://www.fpif.org

 

In the wake of Israel’s massive assault on heavily populated civilian areas of the Gaza Strip earlier this year, Amnesty International called for the United States to suspend military aid to Israel on human rights grounds. Amnesty has also called for the United Nations to impose a mandatory arms embargo on both Hamas and the Israeli government. Unfortunately, it appears that President Barack Obama won’t be heeding Amnesty’s call.

During the fighting in January, Amnesty documented Israeli forces engaging in “direct attacks on civilians and civilian objects in Gaza, and attacks which were disproportionate or indiscriminate.” The leader of Amnesty International’s fact-finding mission to the Gaza Strip and southern Israel noted how “Israeli forces used white phosphorus and other weapons supplied by the USA to carry out serious violations of international humanitarian law, including war crimes.” Amnesty also reported finding fragments of U.S.-made munitions “littering school playgrounds, in hospitals and in people’s homes.”

Malcolm Smart, who serves as Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East, observed in a press release that “to a large extent, Israel’s military offensive in Gaza was carried out with weapons, munitions and military equipment supplied by the USA and paid for with U.S. taxpayers’ money.” The release also noted how before the conflict, which raged for three weeks from late December into January, the United States had “been aware of the pattern of repeated misuse of [its] weapons.”

Amnesty has similarly condemned Hamas rocket attacks into civilian-populated areas of southern Israel as war crimes. And while acknowledging that aid to Hamas was substantially smaller, far less sophisticated, and far less lethal — and appeared to have been procured through clandestine sources — Amnesty called on Iran and other countries to take concrete steps to insure that weapons and weapon components not get into the hands of Palestinian militias.

During the fighting in early January, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization initially called for a suspension of U.S. military aid until there was no longer a substantial risk of additional human rights violations. The Bush administration summarily rejected this proposal. Amnesty subsequently appealed to the Obama administration. “As the major supplier of weapons to Israel, the USA has a particular obligation to stop any supply that contributes to gross violations of the laws of war and of human rights,” said Malcolm Smart. “The Obama administration should immediately suspend U.S. military aid to Israel.”

Obama’s refusal to accept Amnesty’s call for the suspension of military assistance was a blow to human rights activists. The most Obama might do to express his displeasure toward controversial Israeli policies like the expansion of illegal settlements in the occupied territories would be to reject a planned increase in military aid for the next fiscal year and slightly reduce economic aid and/or loan guarantees. However, in a notable departure from previous administrations, Obama made no mention of any military aid to Israel in his outline of the FY 2010 budget, announced last week. This notable absence may indicate that pressure from human rights activists and others concerned about massive U.S. military aid to Israel is now strong enough that the White House feels a need to downplay the assistance rather than emphasize it.

Obama Tilts Right

Currently, Obama is on record supporting sending up to $30 billion in unconditional military aid to Israel over the next 10 years. Such a total would represent a 25% increase in the already large-scale arms shipments to Israeli forces under the Bush administration.

Obama has thus far failed to realize that the problem in the Middle East is that there are too many deadly weapons in the region, not too few. Instead of simply wanting Israel to have an adequate deterrent against potential military threats, Obama insists the United States should guarantee that Israel maintain a qualitative military advantage. Thanks to this overwhelming advantage over its neighbors, Israeli forces were able to launch devastating wars against Israel’s Palestinian and Lebanese neighbors in recent years.

If Israel were in a strategically vulnerable situation, Obama’s hard-line position might be understandable. But Israel already has vastly superior conventional military capabilities relative to any combination of armed forces in the region, not to mention a nuclear deterrent.

However, Obama has failed to even acknowledge Israel’s nuclear arsenal of at least 200-300 weapons, which has been documented for decades. When Hearst reporter Helen Thomas asked at his first press conference if he could name any Middle Eastern countries that possess nuclear weapons, he didn’t even try to answer the question. Presumably, Obama knows Israel has these weapons and is located in the Middle East. However, acknowledging Israel’s arsenal could complicate his planned arms transfers since it would place Israel in violation of the 1976 Symington Amendment, which restricts U.S. military support for governments which develop nuclear weapons.

Another major obstacle to Amnesty’s calls for suspending military assistance is Congress. Republican leaders like Representatives John Boehner (OH) and Eric Cantor (VA) have long rejected calls by human rights groups to link U.S. military aid to adherence to internationally recognized human rights standards. But so have such Democratic leaders, such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who are outspoken supporters of unconditional military aid to Israel. Even progressive Democratic Representative Barney Frank (MA), at a press conference on February 24 pushing his proposal to reduce military spending by 25%, dismissed a question regarding conditioning Israel’s military aid package to human rights concerns.

Indeed, in an apparent effort to support their militaristic agenda and to discredit reputable human rights groups that documented systematic Israeli attacks against non-military targets, these congressional leaders and an overwhelming bipartisan majority of their colleagues have gone on record praising “Israel’s longstanding commitment to minimizing civilian loss and…efforts to prevent civilian casualties.” Although Obama remained silent while Israel was engaged in war crimes against the civilian population of Gaza, Pelosi and other congressional leaders rushed to Israel’s defense in the face of international condemnation.

Obama’s Defense of Israeli Attacks on Civilians

Following the 2006 conflict between Israeli armed forces and the Hezbollah militia, in which both sides committed war crimes by engaging in attacks against populated civilian areas, then-Senator Obama defended Israel’s actions and criticized Hezbollah, even though Israel was actually responsible for far more civilian deaths. In an apparent attempt to justify Israeli bombing of civilian population centers, Obama claimed Hezbollah had used “innocent people as shields.”

This charge directly challenged a series of reports from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. These reports found that while Hezbollah did have some military equipment close to some civilian areas, the Lebanese Islamist militia had not forced civilians to remain in or around military targets in order to deter Israel from attacking those targets. I sent Obama spokesperson Ben LaBolt a copy of an exhaustive 249-page Human Rights Watch report that didn’t find a single case — out of 600 civilian deaths investigated — of Hezbollah using human shields. I asked him if Obama had any empirical evidence that countered these findings.

In response, LaBolt provided me with a copy of a short report from a right-wing Israeli think tank with close ties to the Israeli government headed by the former head of the Israeli intelligence service. The report appeared to use exclusively Israeli government sources, in contrast to the Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reports, which were based upon forensic evidence as well as multiple verified eyewitness accounts by both Lebanese living in the areas under attack as well as experienced monitors (unaffiliated with any government or political organization) on the ground. Despite several follow-up emails asking for more credible sources, LaBolt never got back to me.

Not Good for Israel

The militaristic stance by Congress and the Obama administration is hardly doing Israel a favor. Indeed, U.S. military assistance to Israel has nothing to do with Israel’s legitimate security needs. Rather than commencing during the country’s first 20 years of existence, when Israel was most vulnerable strategically, major U.S. military and economic aid didn’t even begin until after the 1967 War, when Israel proved itself to be far stronger than any combination of Arab armies and after Israeli occupation forces became the rulers of a large Palestinian population.

If all U.S. aid to Israel were immediately halted, Israel wouldn’t be under a significantly greater military threat than it is today for many years. Israel has both a major domestic arms industry and an existing military force far more capable and powerful than any conceivable combination of opposing forces.

Under Obama, U.S. military aid to Israel will likely continue be higher than it was back in the 1970s, when Egypt’s massive and well-equipped armed forces threatened war, Syria’s military rapidly expanded with advanced Soviet weaponry, armed factions of the PLO launched terrorist attacks into Israel, Jordan still claimed the West Bank and stationed large numbers of troops along its border and demarcation line with Israel, and Iraq embarked on a vast program of militarization. Why does the Obama administration believe that Israel needs more military aid today than it did back then? Since that time, Israel has maintained a longstanding peace treaty with Egypt and a large demilitarized and internationally monitored buffer zone. Syria’s armed forces were weakened by the collapse of their former Soviet patron and its government has been calling for a resumption of peace talks. The PLO is cooperating closely with Israeli security. Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel with full normalized relations. And two major wars and a decade of strict international sanctions have devastated Iraq’s armed forces, which is in any case now under close U.S. supervision.

Obama has pledged continued military aid to Israel a full decade into the future not in terms of how that country’s strategic situation may evolve, but in terms of a fixed-dollar amount. If his real interest were to provide adequate support for Israeli defense, he wouldn’t promise $30 billion in additional military aid. He would simply pledge to maintain adequate military assistance to maintain Israel’s security needs, which would presumably decline if the peace process moves forward. However, Israel’s actual defense needs don’t appear to be the issue.

According to late Israeli major general and Knesset member Matti Peled, — who once served as the IDF’s chief procurement officer, such fixed amounts are arrived at “out of thin air.” In addition, every major arms transfer to Israel creates a new demand by Arab states — most of which can pay hard currency through petrodollars — for additional U.S. weapons to challenge Israel. Indeed, Israel announced its acceptance of a proposed Middle Eastern arms freeze in 1991, but the U.S. government, eager to defend the profits of U.S. arms merchants, effectively blocked it. Prior to the breakdown in the peace process in 2001, 78 senators wrote President Bill Clinton insisting that the United States send additional military aid to Israel on the grounds of massive arms procurement by Arab states, neglecting to note that 80% of those arms transfers were of U.S. origin. Were they really concerned about Israeli security, they would have voted to block these arms transfers to the Gulf monarchies and other Arab dictatorships.

The resulting arms race has been a bonanza for U.S. arms manufacturers. The right-wing “pro-Israel” political action committees certainly wield substantial clout with their contributions to congressional candidates supportive of large-scale military and economic aid to Israel. But the Aerospace Industry Association and other influential military interests that promote massive arms transfers to the Middle East and elsewhere are even more influential, contributing several times what the “pro-Israel” PACs contribute.

The huge amount of U.S. aid to the Israeli government hasn’t been as beneficial to Israel as many would suspect. U.S. military aid to Israel is, in fact, simply a credit line to American arms manufacturers, and actually ends up costing Israel two to three times that amount in operator training, staffing, maintenance, and other related costs. The overall impact is to increase Israeli military dependency on the United States — and amass record profits for U.S. arms merchants.

The U.S. Arms Export Control Act requires a cutoff of military aid to recipient countries if they’re found to be using American weapons for purposes other than internal security or legitimate self-defense and/or their use could “increase the possibility of an outbreak or escalation of conflict.” This might explain Obama’s refusal to acknowledge Israel’s disproportionate use of force and high number of civilian casualties.

Betraying His Constituency

The $30 billion in taxpayer funds to support Israeli militarism isn’t a huge amount of money compared with what has already been wasted in the Iraq War, bailouts for big banks, and various Pentagon boondoggles. Still, this money could more profitably go toward needs at home, such as health care, education, housing, and public transportation.

It’s therefore profoundly disappointing that there has been so little public opposition to Obama’s dismissal of Amnesty International’s calls to suspend aid to Israel. Some activists I contacted appear to have fallen into a fatalistic view that the “Zionist lobby” is too powerful to challenge and that Obama is nothing but a helpless pawn of powerful Jewish interests. Not only does this simplistic perspective border on anti-Semitism, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Any right-wing militaristic lobby will appear all-powerful if there isn’t a concerted effort from the left to challenge it.

Obama’s supporters must demand that he live up to his promise to change the mindset in Washington that has contributed to such death and destruction in the Middle East. The new administration must heed calls by Amnesty International and other human rights groups to condition military aid to Israel and all other countries that don’t adhere to basic principles of international humanitarian law.

 

Stephen Zunes, a Foreign Policy in Focus senior analyst, is a professor of politics and chair of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco.

Israel’s war on Gaza shows need for a total uprooting February 25, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Peace, Revolution, War.
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NEWS & LETTERS, February – March 2009

www.newsandletters.org (Marxist Humanist)

 

 

 

by Gerry Emmett

 

The tentative “cease-fire,” already interrupted by grenade, mortar and missle strikes, between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, of Jan. 18 following 22 days of war, was ushered in with a scene of pure modern horror. Palestinian doctor Izz el-Deen Aboul Aish, who works at an Israeli hospital and has reported on Gaza for Israeli television, announced live on the air that his home had just been bombed by Israeli warplanes. Three of his daughters were killed, and two seriously injured. Dr. Aboul Aish said truthfully, “All that was ever fired out of our house was love, hugs and acts of peace, nothing else, ever.”

Shocked viewers caught an unexpected look at the barbarity of the Gaza war as the Israeli news anchor broke down into tears along with the Palestinian doctor. A Gazan described the experience of life under attack this way: “In my home we can’t get basic needs. There is no safe place we can go. We cannot communicate with our relatives or friends–networks are down as missiles rain on our homes, mosques, and even hospitals…”

CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY

As Palestinians began to dig out thousands of destroyed buildings, the horrific toll of innocent life from weeks of air and ground war became even clearer. As of this writing, of 1,259 Palestinians dead, well over half are civilians. Many are children. An estimated 4,100 homes were destroyed, along with 1,500 factories and workshops.

There were also attacks upon buildings housing emergency humanitarian aid, like the UN Relief and Works Agency. “International law unequivocally forbids attacks against personnel, installations, material, units or vehicles involved in a humanitarian assistance mission,” said UNRWA spokesman Malcolm Smart. “Deliberate attacks on humanitarian assistance facilities or personnel may constitute a war crime.”

All this could hardly have been otherwise, fighting in crowded Gaza. It could not have been otherwise considering the cynical effort by Israel’s government to use its battle with Hamas to make some statements.

One statement was directed to Israeli voters by the current ruling Labor-Kadima coalition. Israeli peace protestors were quick to point out the timing of the war in relation to the February national elections, naming it the “6-Seat War,” the number of Knesset seats that the Labor Party expects to pick up. It likely won’t have stopped the right-wing Netanyahu of Likud from being elected Prime Minister.

The other statement was directed to Iran, the biggest regional supporter of Hamas. It was meant to say that Israel had “learned the lessons” of its destructive war in Lebanon in 2006, which was claimed as a “victory” by Iran’s Lebanese client Hezbollah–if hardly by the suffering people of southern Lebanon or Beirut. Thus even greater destruction was visited upon Gaza.

What the Israeli government hasn’t learned, though, is the futility of its attempts to control the Palestinians, or to crush their desire for self-determination. In this, Israel shows itself as one more state-capitalist power wedded to its ignoble imperial ambitions.

The U. S. government has shown nothing but complicity in this regard. This is true of both the outgoing Bush regime and the incoming Obama administration, with his appointment of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Certainly Israel wouldn’t have proceeded without an understanding with the U.S. The careful timing of the war around the U.S. election shows this, with one Israeli government figure claiming that the cease-fire was implemented to avoid embarrassing Barack Obama in his first days in office. Future U.S. policy is unclear–though Obama’s first phone call to a foreign leader went to Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority.

Now, despite the cease-fire, thousands of Israeli troops remain poised to re-enter Gaza, and Hamas retains the ability to launch rocket strikes into Israel if it so chooses. The blockade of Gaza continues.

Much of the situation in Gaza is inexplicable without looking at the various rivalries that involve many parties besides Israel and the Palestinians. This includes the continuing struggle between the fundamentalist Hamas and Fatah, which controls the Palestinian Authority and West Bank. Even while under attack by Israel, Hamas put some of its military effort into attacking Fatah members–they succeeded in killing and maiming many more of them than they did Israeli soldiers, at least 80-100 according to witnesses.

This helps to explain the otherwise incredible fact that in the face of Israel’s largest military incursion in decades there was no military unity among Palestinians. Only the marginal PFLP (General Command), a tool of the Syrian state, launched a single, random rocket from Lebanon that blew up the kitchen of a retirement home in northern Israel.

REGIONAL RIVALRIES

There was no unity among the Arab states, either, owing to regional rivalries between Hamas’ Iranian patrons and the equally reactionary fundamentalist rulers of Saudi Arabia. While there was a lot of rhetoric from Hezbollah, they are constrained by the opposition of the Lebanese people to any new war with Israel.

The conflict between Egypt and Hamas is also significant. Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, and that fundamentalist group is seen as a threat to the Mubarak regime in Egypt. Egypt has aided Israel’s blockade of Gaza, and as much as anyone, it was the Egyptian government that gave Israel the green light to attack.

The Syrian-based leadership of Hamas distinguished itself by opposing any cease-fire and being ready, from the safety of Damascus, to fight to the last Palestinian. Even Hamas’ Gaza leadership couldn’t stomach this. To indicate how deep the lack of principle runs here, it is instructive to note that Hamas’ leader, Khaled Mashaal, accepts the hospitality and support of the same Syrian Baathist government that massacred 2,000 imprisoned Islamists in 1982. It also destroyed the city of Hama killing 20,000 civilians, in the course of repressing its own Muslim Brotherhood.

This should illuminate his callous willingness to sacrifice the people of Gaza. In this Mashaal is certainly within hailing distance of the Sharon of 1982 and the Sabra and Shatila massacres. It is only the other side of Hamas’ reactionary fantasy of destroying Israel which doesn’t shrink from referencing the Protocols of Zion–counter-revolutionary forgeries of the czarist secret police and “Black Hundreds” pogromists.[1]

The devastation wrought by the war should also help lay to rest the myth of Hamas as a “good government” alternative to the undeniable corruption of Fatah and the Palestinian Authority. Their launching of hundreds of rockets into Israel, sometimes killing civilians, which became the stated justification for Israel’s attack, is barbarous and nihilistic. In the end Hamas may have hoped to duplicate Hezbollah’s experience in 2006, but 2009 is not 2006 and they greatly overreached.

Although there have been declarations of “victory” and rallies, in the words of one Gazan: “We can’t talk about real victory because there were thousands of martyrs and we didn’t liberate anything. It’s no time for a parade.”

OPPOSITION TO WAR

As against the horrors of this war, there were also many protests and important efforts at solidarity. The Free Gaza Movement attempted to deliver medical aid by boat, but was prevented from docking and rammed by an Israeli navy vessel. International aid, including ambulances, medicine and food, was also sent from European trade unions to the General Federation of Palestinian Trade Unions, which put out a call for such support. The war-weariness among Gazans was well expressed by one Palestinian woman who confronted a Hamas member passing out leaflets: “Why are you handing out paper instead of bread?”

The Israeli peace movement was in the street from the first hours declaring, “This is not our war!” Adam Keller of The Other Israel wrote, “At record speed, a rendezvous for protest was suggested by the Coalition of Women for Peace and quickly taken up by Hadash, Gush Shalom, the anarchists, Tarabut and also the Meretz grassroots network. The message spread among all by word of mouth and phone and email and Facebook: ‘Stop the War!’” The voices of past refuseniks and the Shministim made their opposition known.

It is vital to hear these voices of opposition (see “Woman as Reason”). Even more, the war’s regional aspect highlights the importance of all the new forces of revolution rising in the Middle East. There are new militant voices, from striking textile workers in Egypt, many of them women, to the new struggles of workers and women in Iraq represented by groups like the Iraqi Freedom Congress, and the simmering discontent among all sectors of the population in Iran with the oppressive theocracy there.

Mired in corruption and scandal, and hard hit by the 80% collapse in oil prices brought on by capitalist crisis, almost the only “legitimacy” the Iranian regime can cling to is its sponsorship of the “resistance” of Hezbollah and Hamas. Lebanon’s Shi’a and the Palestinians of Gaza have paid a high price for this sponsorship, in having their genuine freedom struggles shackled to Iran’s counter-revolution.[2]

PHILOSOPHY OF REVOLUTION

In addition to the cost in human lives, Israel’s war has deflected attention from the brave new struggles in the region. It has the effect of sucking the oxygen from the very air of thought. Not only in the Middle East. This is a moment when every big imperialist power, the U.S., Russia, China, as well as a regional power like Iran, is confronted with the most serious capitalist crisis in decades.

It isn’t a coincidence that the Iranian regime has intensified repression of late, including closing down Shirin Ebadi’s Center for Defenders of Human Rights and fomenting attacks on her office and home, and closing the newspaper Kargozaran for publishing an article critical of Hamas. What Iran’s rulers really fear is that despite their best efforts the Iranian people will eventually rise up and throw them out as they did the Shah.

In this regard, it is also vital that the new forces of revolution become rooted in a philosophy of revolution that can help them avoid the kind of halfway houses and outright disasters that have destroyed past freedom movements. To this end News and Letters Committees published Marxist-Humanist Writings on the Middle East (2003) containing Raya Dunayevskaya’s writings on the dialectics of revolution and counter-revolution across the region, in Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq and Iran.

Dunayevskaya addressed this burning question for Middle Eastern revolutionaries in many ways, as in 1976′s “Lebanon: The test not only of the PLO but the whole Left.” Here she criticized revolutionaries who were pulled into the orbit of reactionary state powers, ushering in decades of civil war and occupation in Lebanon: “This does not mean that we give up the struggle for self-determination, Palestinian especially. It is that we do not narrow our vision of the revolutionary struggle for a totally different world, on truly new Humanist foundations, the first necessity of which is the unity of philosophy and revolution.”[3]

Bringing about this unity of philosophy and revolution remains the task. News and Letters Committees has held to this principle since our founding in 1955: “The necessity for a new society is clear from the working people’s opposition to war. That opposition is based upon a vision of a new society in which they, to a man, woman and child, control their own lives. Any opposition to war, which is based on less than this, must end in capitulation to the warmongers.”[4]

The stakes couldn’t be higher. Israel’s war on the people of Gaza is not a local anomaly, it is the expression of the degeneracy of crisis-ridden state-capitalism. The absolute opposite of that is not any narrow nationalism or religion-infused drive for power, but the total uprooting of racist, sexist capitalist society in all countries and the creation of totally new human relations.

NOTES:

1. “What more could [right-wing Zionism] have wished for than that the Israeli opponents of their own rulers–the Israeli Left engaged in class struggles and in fights against their country’s foreign policy, especially to Israel’s non-recognition of the Palestinians as a national entity entitled to self-determination–should suddenly pause in their struggles, with worry over whether at the other end of the spectrum lurks that perennial manifestation of degeneracy, anti-Semitism?” (“The UN resolution on Zionism–and the ideological obfuscation also on the Left,” Raya Dunayevskaya, Weekly Political Letter, Jan. 24, 1976.)

2. The Iranian Marxist Mansoor Hekmat described this relation: “The problem is still fundamentally the Palestinian question. Just as this confrontation strengthens the reactionary religious factions in Israel and gives them much more power–disproportionate to their actual minor weight in people’s culture and beliefs, it also adds to the lifespan of political Islam…” (Porsesh, A Quarterly Journal of Politics, Society and Culture, Number 3, Winter 2001.)

3. “Lebanon: the test not only of the PLO but the whole Left,” Raya Dunayevskaya, Weekly Political Letter, August, 1976 .

4. From the “Preamble” to the News and Letters’ Committees’ Constitution, 1955.

 

A Choice Between Peace and Peril February 23, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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Posted on Feb 23, 2009, www.truthout.com
AP photo / Hasan Sarbakhshian

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks at a ceremony in Iran’s nuclear enrichment facility in Natanz.

By Chris Hedges

Bibi Netanyahu’s assumption of power in Israel sets the stage for a huge campaign by the Israeli government, and its well-oiled lobby groups in Washington, to push us into a war with Iran.

Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program, according to U.S. and European intelligence agencies. But reality rarely impedes on politics. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama, along with Netanyahu, all talk as if Iran is on the brink of dropping the big one on the Jewish state.

Netanyahu on Friday named Iran as Israel’s main threat after he was called to form a new government following the Feb. 20 elections.

“Iran is seeking to obtain a nuclear weapon and constitutes the gravest threat to our existence since the war of independence,” Netanyahu said at a ceremony at President Shimon Peres’ official residence. “The terrorist forces of Iran threaten us from the north,” the presumptive prime minister said in reference to Lebanon and Syria, where Israel says Tehran supplies arms to Hezbollah and Hamas. “For decades, Israel has not faced such formidable challenges.”

Netanyahu, whose arrogance is as outsized as his bellicosity, knows that for all his threats and chest thumping, Israel is incapable of attacking Iranian targets alone. Israel cannot fly its attack aircraft over Iraqi air space into Iran without U.S. permission, something George W. Bush refused to grant, fearing massive retaliatory strikes by Iran on American bases in Iraq. Israel’s air force is not big enough to neutralize the multiple targets, from radar stations to missile batteries to Revolutionary Guard units to bunkers housing Iran’s Soviet- and Chinese-made fighter jets and bombers, and also hit suspected nuclear targets. The only route to a war with Tehran for the Israeli military is through Washington.

Netanyahu’s resolve to strike Iran means that we will soon hear a lot about the danger posed by Iran—full-page ads in American newspapers from Israel lobby groups have appeared in the past few days. Allowing this rhetoric to cloud reality, as we did during the buildup to the war with Iraq, would shut down the best chance for stability in the Middle East—a negotiated settlement with Iran. This may not finally stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, but a stable relationship with Iran would do more to protect Israel and our interests in the Middle East than massive airstrikes and a war that would bleed into Iraq and Lebanon and see Iranian missiles launched against Israeli cities.

“If you go into a problem with a mistaken assumption, you come out with a bad policy,” said Sam Gardner, a retired colonel of the U.S. Air Force who has taught strategy and military operations at the National War College, Air War College and Naval War College, and who opposes the Israeli campaign to strike Iran.

Iran’s nuclear program is currently monitored by inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran had amassed about 2,227 pounds of low-enriched, or reactor-grade, nuclear fuel by late January, according to the latest updates from the arms control watchdog for the United Nations. To produce the 55 pounds of highly enriched, or weapons-grade, uranium needed for an atomic warhead, Iran would need 2,205 to 3,748 pounds of low-enriched uranium. It apparently has this amount—which is why Netanyahu refers to Iran as “an existential threat” to the Israeli state. But Iran has made no move to enrich the uranium and until it does cannot be accused of having a nuclear weapons program. Iran also does not have enough high-speed centrifuges at its facility in Natanz to further refine the uranium, according to the United Nations.

Iran has turned to its old nemesis Russia for assistance as Israel has become more strident. The work on the Bushehr nuclear reactor will soon be assisted by 3,000 Russian technicians. And Russia has promised to sell the S-300 missile to Iran to boost that nation’s air defense systems. The Russian Federation Security Council and the State Council’s new national security strategy statement says that the primary focus of the struggle over the next decade will be on hydrocarbons. The Middle East and Central Asia are mentioned specifically. In these areas, according to the document, the struggle could develop into a military confrontation. And, while the document does not mention the United States, there is no other rival military force in the region that can match the Russian machine. The more we push Iran the more Iran flees into the arms of the Russians and the closer we come to a new Cold War struggle for control of diminishing natural resources. Iranian officials have barred inspections of facilities producing centrifuge parts, a move which worries arms control specialists. Iran may be planning to build an undeclared centrifuge facility separate from Natanz. Iran has also barred inspectors from its heavy-water reactor near Arak, an action that has concerned inspectors who hope to examine the site for possible telltale “clandestine” features that could be used in a weapons program. These signs would indicate that Iran could begin a nuclear weapons program. But as of now there is no such program. We should stop speaking as if one exists.

The destruction of Iraq as a unified state has left Iran the power broker in the Middle East. This was the result of our handiwork and the misguided militarism of Israeli politicians such as Netanyahu. Iran, like it or not, holds the power to decide the outcome of several conflicts that are vital to American security. It has enormous influence with Hamas and Hezbollah and can accelerate or diminish the conflict between Israel and these groups. It and the U.S. are now the major outside forces in Iraq. The Shiite-led Baghdad government consults closely with Iran and for this reason has told the Iranian resistance group the MEK that it has 60 days to leave Iraqi territory and may see its leaders arrested and tried for war crimes. Once American forces leave Iraq, it is Iran, more than any other nation, that will determine the future of any Iraqi government. And, finally, Iran has for centuries been embroiled in the affairs of Afghanistan. It alone has the influence to stabilize the conflict, one that increasingly threatens to spill over into Pakistan. Afghan politicians have sharply criticized the Iranian government for deporting more than 30,000 Afghans who had fled to Iran since October. Many, unable to find work or return to their villages, have signed up to fight for the Taliban, according to U.S. intelligence reports.

Iran has endured our covert support for armed militant groups from the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK or MKO) to the Free Life Party of Kurdistan to the repugnant Jundullah, also known as the Army of God, a Sunni fundamentalist group that operates with U.S. support out of Pakistan. Jundullah has carried out a series of bombings and ambushes inside Iran. The militant group has a habit of beheading Iranians it captures, including a recent group of 16 Iranian police officials, and filming and distributing the executions. Iran has coped with nearly three decades of sanctions imposed by Washington. The U.S. support for the militant groups and the sanctions, meant to help change the regime in Tehran, have failed.

There is a lot riding on whom President Obama names as his special envoy to Iran. If, as expected, it is Dennis Ross, a former official of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, we will be in deep trouble. Ross, who is expected to be placed in charge of the Iranian portfolio this week, is a vocal supporter of Israel’s call for increased pressure on Iran. He is distrusted, even despised, in the Muslim world and especially in Tehran. With good reason, he is not viewed as an impartial broker.

Ross has called for more draconian sanctions against Iran, something Russia or the five companies that provide Iran’s refined petroleum products are not likely to support. (The companies include the Swiss firm Vitol, the French giant Total and the Indian firm Reliance.) Ross backs the covert support for proxy groups and, I would assume, the alleged clandestine campaign by Israel’s intelligence agency, Mossad, to assassinate Iranian nuclear scientists. Mossad is rumored to be behind the death of Ardeshire Hassanpour, a top nuclear scientist at Iran’s Isfahan uranium plant, who died in mysterious circumstances from reported “gas poisoning” in 2007, according to the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph. “Other recent deaths of important figures in the procurement and enrichment process in Iran and Europe have been the result of Israeli ‘hits,’ intended to deprive Tehran of key technical skills at the head of the program, according to the analysts,” the paper reported.

It remains unmentioned that Israel, which refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty—signed by Iran—is in possession of 200 to 300 nuclear warheads, perhaps the single most important factor in the Middle East nuclear arms race.

“For the US to shape a peaceful relationship with Iran will be difficult under any circumstances,” Stephen Kinzer, author of “All the Shah’s Men,” wrote recently. “If the American negotiating team is led by Ross or another conventional thinker tied to dogmas of the past, it will be impossible.”

Obama has an opportunity to radically alter the course we have charted in the Middle East. The key will be his administration’s relationship with Iran. If he gives in to the Israel lobby, if he empowers Ross, if he defines Iran as the enemy before he begins to attempt a negotiated peace, he could ignite a fuse that will see our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan evolve into a regional conflagration. This may be the most important decision of his presidency. Let’s pray he does not blow it.

Bad News From America’s Top Spy February 17, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis.
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Posted on Feb 16, 2009, www.truthdig.com
AP photo / Petros Giannakouris

Riots have become common occurrences in many countries as the financial meltdown continues. The U.S. military is preparing to quell civil unrest at home.

By Chris Hedges

We have a remarkable ability to create our own monsters. A few decades of meddling in the Middle East with our Israeli doppelgänger and we get Hezbollah, Hamas, al-Qaida, the Iraqi resistance movement and a resurgent Taliban. Now we trash the world economy and destroy the ecosystem and sit back to watch our handiwork. Hints of our brave new world seeped out Thursday when Washington’s new director of national intelligence, retired Adm. Dennis Blair, testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee. He warned that the deepening economic crisis posed perhaps our gravest threat to stability and national security. It could trigger, he said, a return to the “violent extremism” of the 1920s and 1930s.

It turns out that Wall Street, rather than Islamic jihad, has produced our most dangerous terrorists. You wouldn’t know this from the Obama administration, which seems hellbent on draining the blood out of the body politic and transfusing it into the corpse of our financial system. But by the time Barack Obama is done all we will be left with is a corpse—a corpse and no blood. And then what? We will see accelerated plant and retail closures, inflation, an epidemic of bankruptcies, new rounds of foreclosures, bread lines, unemployment surpassing the levels of the Great Depression and, as Blair fears, social upheaval.

The United Nations’ International Labor Organization estimates that some 50 million workers will lose their jobs worldwide this year. The collapse has already seen 3.6 million lost jobs in the United States. The International Monetary Fund’s prediction for global economic growth in 2009 is 0.5 percent—the worst since World War II. There are 2.3 million properties in the United States that received a default notice or were repossessed last year. And this number is set to rise in 2009, especially as vacant commercial real estate begins to be foreclosed. About 20,000 major global banks collapsed, were sold or were nationalized in 2008. There are an estimated 62,000 U.S. companies expected to shut down this year. Unemployment, when you add people no longer looking for jobs and part-time workers who cannot find full-time employment, is close to 14 percent.

And we have few tools left to dig our way out. The manufacturing sector in the United States has been destroyed by globalization. Consumers, thanks to credit card companies and easy lines of credit, are $14 trillion in debt. The government has pledged trillions toward the crisis, most of it borrowed or printed in the form of new money. It is borrowing trillions more to fund our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. And no one states the obvious: We will never be able to pay these loans back. We are supposed to somehow spend our way out of the crisis and maintain our imperial project on credit. Let our kids worry about it. There is no coherent and realistic plan, one built around our severe limitations, to stanch the bleeding or ameliorate the mounting deprivations we will suffer as citizens. Contrast this with the national security state’s strategies to crush potential civil unrest and you get a glimpse of the future. It doesn’t look good.

“The primary near-term security concern of the United States is the global economic crisis and its geopolitical implications,” Blair told the Senate. “The crisis has been ongoing for over a year, and economists are divided over whether and when we could hit bottom. Some even fear that the recession could further deepen and reach the level of the Great Depression. Of course, all of us recall the dramatic political consequences wrought by the economic turmoil of the 1920s and 1930s in Europe, the instability, and high levels of violent extremism.”

The specter of social unrest was raised at the U.S. Army War College in November in a monograph [click on Policypointers’ pdf link to see the report] titled “Known Unknowns: Unconventional ‘Strategic Shocks’ in Defense Strategy Development.” The military must be prepared, the document warned, for a “violent, strategic dislocation inside the United States,” which could be provoked by “unforeseen economic collapse,” “purposeful domestic resistance,” “pervasive public health emergencies” or “loss of functioning political and legal order.” The “widespread civil violence,” the document said, “would force the defense establishment to reorient priorities in extremis to defend basic domestic order and human security.”

“An American government and defense establishment lulled into complacency by a long-secure domestic order would be forced to rapidly divest some or most external security commitments in order to address rapidly expanding human insecurity at home,” it went on.

“Under the most extreme circumstances, this might include use of military force against hostile groups inside the United States. Further, DoD [the Department of Defense] would be, by necessity, an essential enabling hub for the continuity of political authority in a multi-state or nationwide civil conflict or disturbance,” the document read.

In plain English, something bureaucrats and the military seem incapable of employing, this translates into the imposition of martial law and a de facto government being run out of the Department of Defense. They are considering it. So should you.

Adm. Blair warned the Senate that “roughly a quarter of the countries in the world have already experienced low-level instability such as government changes because of the current slowdown.” He noted that the “bulk of anti-state demonstrations” internationally have been seen in Europe and the former Soviet Union, but this did not mean they could not spread to the United States. He told the senators that the collapse of the global financial system is “likely to produce a wave of economic crises in emerging market nations over the next year.” He added that “much of Latin America, former Soviet Union states and sub-Saharan Africa lack sufficient cash reserves, access to international aid or credit, or other coping mechanism.”

“When those growth rates go down, my gut tells me that there are going to be problems coming out of that, and we’re looking for that,” he said. He referred to “statistical modeling” showing that “economic crises increase the risk of regime-threatening instability if they persist over a one to two year period.”

Blair articulated the newest narrative of fear. As the economic unraveling accelerates we will be told it is not the bearded Islamic extremists, although those in power will drag them out of the Halloween closet when they need to give us an exotic shock, but instead the domestic riffraff, environmentalists, anarchists, unions and enraged members of our dispossessed working class who threaten us. Crime, as it always does in times of turmoil, will grow. Those who oppose the iron fist of the state security apparatus will be lumped together in slick, corporate news reports with the growing criminal underclass.

The committee’s Republican vice chairman, Sen. Christopher Bond of Missouri, not quite knowing what to make of Blair’s testimony, said he was concerned that Blair was making the “conditions in the country” and the global economic crisis “the primary focus of the intelligence community.”

The economic collapse has exposed the stupidity of our collective faith in a free market and the absurdity of an economy based on the goals of endless growth, consumption, borrowing and expansion. The ideology of unlimited growth failed to take into account the massive depletion of the world’s resources, from fossil fuels to clean water to fish stocks to erosion, as well as overpopulation, global warming and climate change. The huge international flows of unregulated capital have wrecked the global financial system. An overvalued dollar (which will soon deflate), wild tech, stock and housing financial bubbles, unchecked greed, the decimation of our manufacturing sector, the empowerment of an oligarchic class, the corruption of our political elite, the impoverishment of workers, a bloated military and defense budget and unrestrained credit binges have conspired to bring us down. The financial crisis will soon become a currency crisis. This second shock will threaten our financial viability. We let the market rule. Now we are paying for it.

The corporate thieves, those who insisted they be paid tens of millions of dollars because they were the best and the brightest, have been exposed as con artists. Our elected officials, along with the press, have been exposed as corrupt and spineless corporate lackeys. Our business schools and intellectual elite have been exposed as frauds. The age of the West has ended. Look to China. Laissez-faire capitalism has destroyed itself. It is time to dust off your copies of Marx.

Dirty Business, Dirty Wars: U.S.-Latin American Relations in the 21st Century February 10, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Latin America, Mexico, Venezuela.
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Written by Cyril Mychalejko   
Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Source: New Politics Winter 2009, Vol. XXII

Much is being made across the political spectrum in the United States about Washington’s waning influence in Latin America. The region has seen an emergence of left and center-left presidents voted into office, many as a result of budding social movements growing democracy from the grassroots. Some pundits and analysts are suggesting that this phenomenon is occurring because of the Bush Administration’s perceived neglect of the region. Rather, what is happening is blowback from Washington’s continued meddling in the economic and political affairs of an area arrogantly referred to as the United States’ “backyard.” Latin America’s growing unity in rejecting the Washington Consensus remains fragile in the face of U.S. opposition. Washington has been quietly using the war on drugs, the war on terrorism, and a neo-cold war ideology to institutionalize a militarism in the region that risks returning us to the not so far off days of “dirty wars.”

Breaking the Chains

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s election in 1998 sparked the beginning of the leftward electoral paradigm shift in the hemisphere. After he orchestrated a failed coup attempt in 1992, he was elected six years later based on a campaign that promised to lift up the impoverished nation’s poor majority through economic policies that ran counter to the free market fundamentalism and crony capitalism pursued by the country’s oligarchs, with the aid of Washington and international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Chavez also began to challenge the idea of U.S. hegemony in the region by advocating a united Latin America based on the ideas of one of his intellectual mentors, Simón Bolívar, the 19th century revolutionary instrumental in defeating Spain’s control of the region. Chavez, who also claims to be influenced by the teachings of Karl Marx and Jesus Christ, has championed what he calls a “Socialism of the 21st Century.” A fierce and outspoken critic of neoliberalism, Chavez has said “I am convinced that a path to a new, better and possible world is socialism, not capitalism,” words that have been scarce in the region’s capitals with the exception of Cuba.

ImageSince Chavez’s ascent to power, we have seen presidents elected in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Paraguay, and Uruguay which translates into a majority of countries in the region advocating center-left and left-wing political programs (while Mexico and Peru missed joining this new Latin American consensus by narrow, if not fraudulent, election outcomes).

While it is true that, despite these developments, socialism is a long way off from taking hold in the region, the rejection of Washington’s Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) back in 2003, long before the left had firmly taken hold in the hemisphere, marked the beginning of an outright challenge to free market orthodoxy, U.S. hegemony, and corporate power. Since then we have seen multinational corporations booted out of countries and defiantly confronted by social movements, U.S. ambassadors expelled from three nation’s capitals, free trade agreements protested, illegitimate foreign debts challenged, and U.S. drug policies rejected. In addition, alternative political and economic institutions and policies have been advocated and created.

Venezuela’s Chavez developed the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), an antithesis to the FTAA that advocates a trade regime based on economic, social, and political integration guided by the principals of solidarity and cooperation. Even Honduras, long seen as a U.S. satellite state dating back to the days it assisted Washington in overthrowing Guatemala’s government in 1954, has joined ALBA, showing that the creeping tide of Bolivarianism is extending to the still fragile Central America. Meanwhile, Brazil’s Lula de Silva, viewed by Washington and the U.S. corporate media as part of the “acceptable” or “responsible” left, declared in 2007 that “Developing nations must create their own mechanisms of finance instead of suffering under those of the IMF and the World Bank, which are institutions of rich nations . . . it is time to wake up.” And the region has woken up as the “Bank of the South” was formed to make development loans without the draconian economic prescriptions of Washington-controlled financial institutions, which in the past have forced countries to cut social spending, deregulate industries, and open markets to foreign capital — policies that have exacerbated poverty and inequality in the past and as a result compounded dependence on foreign capital and Washington.

In terms of security cooperation, both Brazil and Venezuela have led efforts to create a South American Defense Council, a NATO-style regional body that would coordinate defense policies, deal with internal conflicts and presumably diminish Washington’s influence in its “backyard.” While U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said back in March that Washington “had no problem with it” and looked “forward to coordination with it,” Bloomberg News reported that Brazilian Defense Minister Nelson Jobim told Rice and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley that the United States should “watch from the outside and keep its distance,” and that “this is a South American council and we have no obligation to ask for a license from the United States to do it.” In a similar challenge to U.S. military presence and influence, Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa decided to force the United States. to close its military base in the port city of Manta. And then there is China’s and Russia’s growing economic and political ties to the region — something that would not only be unheard of in the past, but not tolerated.

Developments such as these led the Council on Foreign Relations to declare in May that the “era of the United States as the dominant influence in Latin America is over.” Frank Bajak, writing for the Associated Press on Oct. 11, echoed this observation when he wrote, “U.S. clout in what it once considered its backyard has sunk to perhaps the lowest point in decades” and that “it’s unlikely to be able to leverage economic influence in Latin America anytime soon.” Meanwhile, The Washington Post took a more indignant and belligerent position in an Oct. 6 editorial when it questioned whether Washington should “continue to subsidize governments that treat it as an enemy” while “a significant part of Latin America continues to march away from the ‘Washington consensus’ of democracy and free-market capitalism that has governed the region for a generation.”

 

 

While conventional thinking has led many to believe that Latin America’s independence from the United States may be an irreversible paradigm shift, behind the scenes Washington has put into place policies that could unleash a reign of terror not seen since the 1980′s. Colombia has served as laboratory for this new counterinsurgency program that can be interpreted as a continuance of U.S. supported state terrorism and a re-emergence of the national security state in Latin America.

The U.S. government has sent more than $5 billion in mostly military and counter-narcotics assistance to Colombia since 2000 to fund “Plan Colombia,” a counter drug program said to be designed to fight cocaine production and narco-trafficking, as well as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), in turn further intensifying the country’s long-standing civil war. But as the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) reported in 2001 in a study sponsored by the Center for Responsive Politics, “The protection of U.S. oil and trade interests is also a key factor in the plan, and historic links to drug-trafficking right-wing guerrillas by U.S. allies belie an exclusive commitment to extirpating drug trafficking.”

The ICIJ investigation also found that “Major U.S. oil companies have lobbied Congress intensely to promote additional military aid to Colombia, in order to secure their investments in that country and create a better climate for future exploration of Colombia’s vast potential reserves.” In addition, corporations with interests in the region were reported to have spent almost $100 million lobbying Congress to affect U.S. Latin America policy.

Eight years later, Colombia has evolved into a full-fledged paramilitary state. President Álvaro Uribe, Washington’s staunchest ally in the region, his extended family, and many of his political supporters in the government and military are under investigation for ties to paramilitaries and right-wing death squads. As far as U.S. corporate collusion goes, Chiquita Brands International Inc. was forced to pay the U.S. Justice Department a $25 million settlement in 2007 for giving over $1 million to the right-wing terrorist organization United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). Even more damaging is the fact that Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, at the time assistant attorney general, knew about the company’s relationship with AUC and did nothing to stop it. Alabama-based coal company Drummond Co., Inc. and Coca-Cola have also been accused of hiring right-wing death squads to intimidate, murder or disappear trade unionists. This is what the ICIJ meant when they wrote about securing investments and creating a “better climate” for business.

According to the U.S. Labor Education on the Americas Project, Colombia accounts for more than 60 percent of trade unionists killed worldwide. There have also been at least 17 murders of trade unionists just this year, which, according to a report released in April 2008, accounts for an 89 percent increase in murders over the same time period from 2007. Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported in August that the collateral damage from Colombia’s civil war has resulted in more disappearances than occurred in El Salvador and Chile, while Colombia’s attorney general believes there could be as many as 10,000 more bodies scattered across the country — meaning totals would surpass those from Argentina and Peru.

Despite what should be considered as a total failure from a policy and, more importantly, human rights standpoint, this same Colombian model has been promoted by Washington to other nations in the region, and — remarkably — has been embraced by these countries. In 2005, Guatemalan officials called for their own “Plan Guatemala,” while Oscar Berger, president at the time, asked for a permanent DEA station in the country and for U.S. military personnel to conduct anti-narcotics operations. In addition, he was a proponent of a regional rapid deployment force, initially conceived to fight gangs, but later adjusted to include counter-narcotics and counter-terrorism in order to attract U.S. support. It should be noted that the AFL-CIO, along with six Guatemalan unions, filed a complaint, allowed through labor provisions of the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), on April 23, 2008, charging the Guatemalan government with not upholding its labor laws and for failing to investigate and prosecute crimes against union members — which include rape and murder. This speaks to the idea of securing a “business-friendly” climate like in Colombia, which many in Washington want to reward with a free trade agreement. Guatemala’s government is currently led by President Alvaro Colom, a politician who represents the country’s ruling oligarchs. Pre-election violence during his campaign claimed the lives of over 50 candidates (or their family members) and political activists, in a country Amnesty International reports is infested with “clandestine groups” comprised of members of “the business sector, private security companies, common criminals, gang members and possibly ex and current members of the armed forces” responsible for targeting human rights activists.

This regional militaristic strategy finally materialized into policy on June 30 when President Bush signed into law the Meridia Initiative, or “Plan Mexico,” which according to Laura Carlsen of the Americas Program “could allocate up to $1.6 billion to Mexico, Central American, and Caribbean countries for security aid to design and carry out counter-narcotics, counter-terrorism, and border security measures.”

ImageJust one day later, investigative journalist Kristen Bricker reported that a video had surfaced showing a U.S.-based private security company teaching torture techniques to Mexican police. This led Amnesty International to call for an investigation on July 3 to determine why techniques such as “holding a detainee down in a pit full of excrement and rats and forcing water up the nostrils of the detainee in order to secure information” were being taught. Later in July the Inter Press Service published a story about a 53-page report on Human Rights and Conflicts in Central America 2007-2008 that suggested “Central America is backsliding badly on human rights issues, and social unrest could flare up into civil wars like those experienced in the last decades of the 20th century.”

Nevertheless, Washington continues to push for the re-militarization of the region, as evidenced by a $2.6 million aid package given to El Salvador in October to “fight gangs.” Coincidentally, this was announced just months after the Inter Press Service reported in a June 16 article that U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte “expressed concern over supposed ties between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas and the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN),” while also announcing that “the Bush administration is on the alert to Iran’s presence in Central America.”

Playing the Terror Card

In order to up the ante as a means of promoting this militaristic vision for the Americas and to vilify strategic “enemies” such as Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Washington has added the “War on Terror” into the equation by spreading unfounded allegations about Islamic terrorist infiltration into the region.

Journalists Ben Dangl and April Howard of Upside Down World, reporting for EXTRA! in Oct. 2007, wrote “In the Cold War, Washington and the media used the word ‘communism’ to rally public opinion against political opponents. Now, in the post– September 11 world, there is a new verbal weapon — ‘terrorism.’” This puts into context Washington’s evidence-lacking assertions that the Tri-Border Area, where Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina meet, is a hub for Islamic Terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas, claims the mainstream media have obsequiously parroted, yet Dangl and Howard helped disprove. Dangl and Howard, reporting from Ciudad del Este, a city located in the center of this alleged “hotbed” of terrorsim, talked with Paraguayan officials, as well as local residents, all of whom denied there was any presence of foreign terrorist groups. They pointed out that the governments of Brazil and Argentina have also denied the claims. But the terrorist assertions haven’t stopped there.

Norman A. Bailey, a former U.S. spy chief for Cuba and Venezuela, testified before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on July 17 that “financial support has been provided [by drug traffickers] to insurgent groups in certain countries, most notoriously to the FARC in Colombia, as well as to ETA, the Basque separatist organization, and most importantly to Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, through their extensive network in Venezuela and elsewhere in Latin America.”

The State Department’s David M. Luna, Director for Anticrime Programs, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, gave a statement on Oct. 8 claiming that international terrorist organizations will collaborate with regional criminal networks to smuggle WMD’s across the U.S.’s border with Mexico.

“Fighting transnational crime must go hand in hand with fighting terrorists, if we want to ensure that we ‘surface them,’” stated Luna. He also went on to regurgitate the empty claims of the Tri-Border Islamic threat.

That same day the Associated Press reported that U.S. officials were concerned with alliances being formed by terrorist groups such as Al-Qaida and Hezbollah and Latin American drug cartels.

“The presence of these people in the region leaves open the possibility that they will attempt to attack the United States,” said Charles Allen, a veteran CIA analyst. “The threats in this hemisphere are real. We cannot ignore them.”

And on Oct. 21 The Los Angeles Times reported that U.S. and Colombian officials allegedly dismantled a drug and money laundering ring used to finance Hezbollah.

This post-Sept. 11 fear-mongering, being carried out for years now, has served as a pretext for Washington to deploy Special Operations troops in embassies across the globe, including Latin America, “to gather intelligence on terrorists…for potential missions to disrupt, capture or kill them.”

The New York Times, which broke the story on March 8, 2006, reported that this initiative, led by then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, was an attempt to broaden the U.S. military’s role in intelligence gathering. The soldiers, referred to as “Military Liaison Elements,” were initially deployed without the knowledge of local ambassadors. This changed after an armed robber in Paraguay was killed after attempting to rob a group of soldiers covertly deployed to the country. Senior embassy officials were “embarrassed” by the episode as the soldiers were operating out of a hotel, rather than the embassy.

But in a follow-up by The Washington Post on April 22, “the Pentagon gained the leeway to inform — rather than gain the approval of — the U.S. ambassador before conducting military operations in a foreign country” when deploying these “elite Special Operations Troops.” This development has remained largely under the radar, with the exception of analysis by Just the Facts, a joint project of the Center for International Policy, the Latin American Working Group Education Fund, and the Washington Office on Latin America.

A New Cold War?

ImageIn Oct. 2006 President Bush signed a waiver that authorized the U.S. military to resume certain types of training to a number of militaries in the region which had been suspended as a result of a bill intended to punish countries not signing bilateral agreements that would grant immunity to U.S. citizens from prosecution before the International Criminal Court.

Bush was forced to act as a result of Venezuela’s growing influence in the region, as well as the “red” threat that China’s growing business in the region presented.

“The Chinese are standing by and I can’t think of anything that is worse than having those people go over there and get indoctrinated by them. And I think maybe we should address that because that’s a very serious thing,” said Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), at a March 14, 2008, hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), at the same hearing, said this was “a serious threat” and called for ending the restrictions on U.S. military training programs imposed on Latin American nations for refusing to sign the bilateral immunity agreements. Of course, Latin American nations should not be subject to sanctions for quite properly rejecting the immunity agreements; but neither should there be training programs for their repressive militaries, to teach these militaries repressive practices.

The Associated Press reported in Oct. that “China’s trade with Latin America jumped from $10 billion in 2000 to $102.6 billion last year. [And] In May, a state-owned Chinese company agreed to buy a Peruvian copper mine for $2.1 billion.”

These developments should further perpetuate the “Red Scare” making its way through the Senate. Then there is Russia’s military sales and cooperation with Venezuela. U.S. News and World Report’s Alastair Gee wrote a fear-mongering article on Oct. 14, 2008, in which he stated, “This is not the first time Russians have sought close links with Latin America. In 1962, the stationing of Soviet missiles in Cuba nearly precipitated nuclear war with the United States. The Soviets also funded regional communist parties and invited students from the region to study in Soviet universities.”

But more importantly, it is the region’s “march away from the ‘Washington consensus’ of democracy and free-market capitalism” that has drummed up a cold war mentality in Washington. With democratically elected presidents in the region openly embracing socialism and socialist-style policies, economic programs in various countries that include nationalizing industries and “redistributing the wealth”, and social movements ideologically and physically confronting free market capitalism, it should come as no surprise that anti-globalization movements have found themselves classified as a national security threat to the United States. A declassified April 2006 National Intelligence Estimate entitled “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States,” states, “Anti-U.S. and anti-globalization sentiment is on the rise and fueling other radical ideologies. This could prompt some leftist, nationalist, or separatist groups to adopt terrorist methods to attack US interests.”

ImageMoving Forward

Developments in Latin America are reason for hope and optimism that “a new, better and possible world” could be on the horizon. But these very same reasons are cause for concern.

With Washington’s imperial stretch on the decline, both militarily and economically, both history and current conditions suggest it will try to reassert itself in Latin America — just as it did after Vietnam.

But because of the deeply embedded and institutionalized nature of Washington’s imperial machine, it doesn’t matter much which party controls the White House and Congress. To fight these developments, we need to continue to grow grassroots media projects and support independent journalists, build long-term solidarity with Latin American social movements and build social movements in the United States, fight free trade and do our part to shed light upon the structural violence threatening Latin America’s promising future — which is directly tied to ours.

Cyril Mychalejko is an editor at http://www.UpsideDownWorld.org.

Spiegel Online Interview with Boutros Boutros-Ghali January 14, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Peace, War.
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The Israeli military strike in Gaza will have “unforeseeable consequences” for the region, warns former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, he discusses the short-sightedness of Israeli politicians, Egypt’s role and his muted hopes for peace.

 

A Palestinian man looks at a destroyed Hamas security compound after an Israeli air strike in Gaza City.
AP

A Palestinian man looks at a destroyed Hamas security compound after an Israeli air strike in Gaza City.

 

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Has Israel’s current offensive against the Gaza Strip put a final end to the Middle East peace process?

Boutros-Ghali: We will know very soon. But it is already clear at this point that Israel’s attack on Gaza has been a catastrophe. This military operation has given a boost to fundamentalists not only in Palestine, but also in every other Arab country. I have a hard time believing that Israel hasn’t noticed this. In their attack on Lebanon in the summer of 2006, the Israelis must have learned the lesson that actions like these only strengthen the position of the integrists. During that period, Hezbollah increased its influence and grew to become the strongest political forces in Lebanon.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: But couldn’t Lebanon be considered a special case?

 

Boutros-Ghali: No. The war in Gaza strengthens the position of radical Islamists in the entire Arab world in the same way that the war against Hezbollah did two years did. Moreover, it also weakens the position of Abu Masin (Mahmoud Abbas), the president of the Palestinian Authority, as well as the moderate parties in Arab countries and Israel who have been calling for dialogue and genuine peace negotiations. 

SPIEGEL ONLINE: That sounds very pessimistic. Hopes for peace can’t just disappear overnight.

Boutros-Ghali: Today, I would prefer to defer that judgment to God.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Are you truly unable to see any silver lining on the horizon?

Boutros-Ghali: A genuine improvement in the general situation will probably only be seen by future generations. If I were to paint a rosy picture, I wouldn’t be telling the truth.

 

ABOUT BOUTROS BOUTROS-GHALI

DPA

Boutros Boutros- Ghali, 86, served as the secretary- general of the United Nations from 1992 to 1996. Boutros- Ghali also served in several Egyptian governments in posts that included the minister of state for foreign affairs. He was the architect of the 1979 Israel- Egypt Peace Treaty.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why do you have such a negative view of the future — especially you, who have earned a reputation for being a person of hope in stormy times? Right after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when no one wanted to believe in the possibility of peace, you helped former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to sign a peace accord with Israel at Camp David, a pact which continues to be honored to this day. 

Boutros-Ghali: It is different this time. The current decision-makers in Israel, who ordered this attack on Gaza, haven’t thought about the future. That was a mistake of momentous consequence.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What has led you to this conclusion?

Boutros-Ghali: Israel has a habit of closing its eyes to hard facts. In geographical terms, the Gaza Strip represents almost exactly 2 percent of the total area of Palestine. There is no getting around the fact that this area would have to be greatly expanded as part of the scope of a genuine peace agreement. An additional fact on the ground, which the Israelis prefer to forget about, is the 1.3 million Arab Palestinians who remained in their villages and cities when the state of Israel was founded in 1948 and who make up about one-fifth of Israel’s current population. By around 2060, the Palestinians will account for roughly half — if not more — of the inhabitants of Israel and the areas occupied by Israel.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: According to that theory, this demographic development will put an end to the dream of having a state with a majority Jewish population, something which greatly concerns the Israelis. But does it have any bearing on the current conflict?

Boutros-Ghali: The growing imbalance between Jews and Arabs in the area controlled by Israel is of decisive importance for the near future of the Jewish state. Already today, you can see that the Zionist idea of having a purely Jewish state is not going to work out and that this (demographic) development renders the idea no longer tenable. The fuse is already lit. Emigration from Israel is already on the rise — and not just in the wake of crisis situations. More and more parents are losing faith in the future and want to spare their children from having to live a life marked by constant fear and a lack of peace. But Israel’s current leadership appears to be solely motivated by a concern for election tactics. Given the scale of the damage that has already been done, that is irresponsible.

 

PHOTO GALLERY: THE BLOODY WAR AGAINST HAMAS

Click on a picture to launch the image gallery (19 Photos)

 

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Israel wants to put an end — once and for all — to the rocket attacks carried out by Islamist militants.

Boutros-Ghali: What the military is currently doing is causing a hundred times more damage and will have unforeseeable consequences for the entire region as well as, of course, for the Israelis.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamist hardliners — not to mention Arab nationalists — have been accusing Egypt of abandoning the Palestinians. Is that a correct accusation?

Boutros-Ghali: Egypt’s borders are open day and night to all Palestinians who are sick or have been wounded. Egypt is sending all sorts of aid into the Gaza Strip.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Still, Hamas is calling on Cairo to open its borders to all Palestinians.

Boutros-Ghali: Humanitarian aid, food, medicine, teams of doctors, fuel supplies, treatment for the wounded and ill in Egyptian hospitals — all of that is already being offered. But there is no doubt that having borders that were completely open and no longer controlled would lead to the infiltration of armed terrorists. Memories of the bloody attacks on tourist hotels in Sharm al-Sheikh and other Sinai vacation destinations are still fresh in our minds.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Some have demanded that the Egyptians withdraw from their peace agreement with Israel.

Boutros-Ghali: Calls like that are senseless. Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel has helped all Arabs. What other Arab country besides Egypt can have credible contacts with Israel and negotiate the opening of borders and an incremental lifting of the blockade? Calling off the peace with Israel would have terrifying consequences for all Arabs and the Israelis; our children and grandchildren would curse us.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Will US President-elect Barack Obama do something decisive to bring an end to the conflict in the Middle East?

Boutros-Ghali: The Americans are completely preoccupied with the global financial and economic crisis. The new administration will devote 50 percent of its activities to these issues. Likewise, American engagement will also be called for in other global crises in Latin America, Africa and Asia as well as perhaps in conflicts in Somalia, East Africa, eastern Congo, India, Pakistan and the Caucasus.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: And in the Arab-Israeli conflict, as well?

Boutros-Ghali: Not much has changed in the United States since my term as secretary-general of the United Nations. The American public is not particularly interested in the Arab world, and the pressure exerted by the Jewish lobby is as strong as ever. However, it is unfortunately the case that Israel only responds to pressure if it is coming out of Washington. Given the current disaster in Gaza and the absolute split between Palestinian camps into that of the Islamist Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority, which continues to be open to negotiations, Washington will do nothing over the next three or four years to facilitate the resumption of peace negotiations. Events in Gaza have set us all back by years. Unfortunately, to hope that the Europeans might play an effective role is just wishful thinking.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Is the Arab world already so divided that it can’t muster itself into a strong, united position?

Boutros-Ghali: Working together, the Arabs put a good peace plan on the table that envisioned recognizing Israeli sovereignty within the pre-1967 borders in return for an independent Palestinian state within these borders. Israel made the mistake of ignoring this offer.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What do you foresee as happening in 2009?

 

Boutros-Ghali: I anticipate across-the-board changes for the worse for all countries in the Middle East. In the Arab world, religious extremists will become even more popular, particularly given the fact that over half the population is made up of easily influenced teenagers. In Israel, the extremists who are set on continued violence will gain ground. The extremes are getting more extreme; and, in the short term, all-or-nothing politicians will be viewed as heroes. But the innocent masses will suffer more than they did before. 

SPIEGEL ONLINE: As a former secretary-general of the United Nations, what conclusion have you drawn about this conflict, which you once tried to solve?

Boutros-Ghali: For the foreseeable future, I don’t see an era promising happiness. It’s true that the curse of the colonial era disappeared half a century ago, and the Cold War is behind us. Millions of people expected a world that was better, more socially just and marked by technological progress. However, the unfortunate result has been that the age-old ills of mankind — growing social disparity, inflammatory national and religious ideologies, cultures closing themselves off to outsiders — have once again foiled these hopes. It is a shame that I will surely not live to see the dawning of a truly better world.

Interview conducted by Volkhard Windfuhr. Translated from the German by Josh Ward.

Who will save Israel from itself? January 12, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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israeli-soldierThe Israeli government’s justifications for the war are being scrutinised [GALLO/GETTY]

Mark LeVine, www.aljazeera.net

January 12, 2009

One by one the justifications given by Israel for its latest war in Gaza are unravelling.

The argument that this is a purely defensive war, launched only after Hamas broke a six-month ceasefire has been challenged, not just by observers in the know such as Jimmy Carter, the former US president who helped facilitate the truce, but by centre-right Israeli intelligence think tanks.

The Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, whose December 31 report titled “Six Months of the Lull Arrangement Intelligence Report,” confirmed that the June 19 truce was only “sporadically violated, and then not by Hamas but instead by … “rogue terrorist organisations”.

Instead, “the escalation and erosion of the lull arrangement” occurred after Israel killed six Hamas members on November 4 without provocation and then placed the entire Strip under an even more intensive siege the next day.

According to a joint Tel Aviv University-European University study, this fits a larger pattern in which Israeli violence has been responsible for ending 79 per cent of all lulls in violence since the outbreak of the second intifada, compared with only 8 per cent for Hamas and other Palestinian factions.

Indeed, the Israeli foreign ministry seems to realise that this argument is losing credibility.

During a conference call with half a dozen pro-Israel professors on Thursday, Asaf Shariv, the Consul General of Israel in New York, focused more on the importance of destroying the intricate tunnel system connecting Gaza to the Sinai.

He claimed that such tunnels were “as big as the Holland and Lincoln tunnels,” and offered as proof the “fact” that lions and monkeys had been smuggled through them to a zoo in Gaza. In reality, the lions were two small cubs that were drugged, thrown in sacks, and dragged through a tunnel on their way to a private zoo.

Israel’s self-image

The claim that Hamas will never accept the existence of Israel has proved equally misinformed, as Hamas leaders explicitly announce their intention to do just that in the pages of the Los Angeles Times or to any international leader or journalist who will meet with them.

With each new family, 10, 20 and 30 strong, buried under the rubble of a building in Gaza, the claim that the Israeli forces have gone out of their way to diminish civilian casualties – long a centre-piece of Israel’s image as an enlightened and moral democracy – is falling apart.

Anyone with an internet connection can Google “Gaza humanitarian catastrophe” and find the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Territories and read the thousands of pages of evidence documenting the reality of the current fighting, and the long term siege on Gaza that preceded it.

The Red Cross, normally scrupulous in its unwillingness to single out parties to a conflict for criticism, sharply criticised Israel for preventing medical personnel from reaching wounded Palestinians, some of whom remained trapped for days, slowly starving and dying in the Gazan rubble amidst their dead relatives.

Meanwhile, the United Nations has flatly denied Israeli claims that Palestinian fighters were using the UNRWA school compound bombed on January 6, in which 40 civilians were killed, to launch attacks, and has challenged Israel to prove otherwise.

War crimes admission

Additionally, numerous flippant remarks by senior Israeli politicians and generals, including Tzipi Livni, the foreign minister, refusing to make a distinction between civilian people and institutions and fighters – “Hamas doesn’t … and neither should we” is how Livni puts it – are rightly being seen as admissions of war crimes.

Indeed, in reviewing statements by Israeli military planners leading up to the invasion, it is clear that there was a well thought out decision to go after Gaza’s civilian infrastructure – and with it, civilians.

The following quote from an interview with Major-General Gadi Eisenkot that appeared in the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth in October, is telling:

“We will wield disproportionate power against every village from which shots are fired on Israel, and cause immense damage and destruction. From our perspective these [the villages] are military bases,” he said.

“This isn’t a suggestion. This is a plan that has already been authorised.”

Causing “immense damage and destruction” and considering entire villages “military bases” is absolutely prohibited under international law.

Eisenkot’s description of this planning in light of what is now unfolding in Gaza is a clear admission of conspiracy and intent to commit war crimes, and when taken with the comments above, and numerous others, renders any argument by Israel that it has tried to protect civilians and is not engaging in disproportionate force unbelievable.

International laws violated

On the ground, the evidence mounts ever higher that Israel is systematically violating a host of international laws, including but not limited to Article 56 of the IV Hague Convention of 1907, the First Additional Protocol of the Geneva Convention, the Fourth Geneva Convention (more specifically known as the “Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 12 August 1949″, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the principles of Customary International Humanitarian Law.

None of this excuses or legitimises the firing of rockets or mortars by any Palestinian group at Israeli civilians and non-military targets.

As Richard Falk, the UN special rapporteur, declared in his most recent statement on Gaza: “It should be pointed out unambiguously that there is no legal (or moral) justification for firing rockets at civilian targets, and that such behavior is a violation of IHR, associated with the right to life, as well as constitutes a war crime.”

By the same logic, however, Israel does not have the right to use such attacks as an excuse to launch an all-out assault on the entire population of Gaza.

In this context, even Israel’s suffering from the constant barrage of rockets is hard to pay due attention to when the numbers of dead and wounded on each side are counted. Any sense of proportion is impossible to sustain with such a calculus.

‘Rogue’ state

Israeli commentators and scholars, self-described “loyal” Zionists who served proudly in the army in wars past, are now publicly describing their country, in the words of Oxford University professor Avi Shlaim, as a “rogue” and gangster” state led by “completely unscrupulous leaders”.

Neve Gordon, a politics professor at Ben Gurion University, has declared that Israel’s actions in Gaza are like “raising animals for slaughter on a farm” and represent a “bizarre new moral element” in warfare.

“The moral voice of restraint has been left behind … Everything is permitted” against Palestinians, writes a disgusted Haaretz columnist, Gideon Levy.

Fellow Haaretz columnist and daughter of Holocaust survivors, Amira Haas writes of her late parents disgust at how Israeli leaders justified Israel’s wars with a “language laundromat” aimed at redefining reality and Israel’s moral compass. “Lucky my parents aren’t alive to see this,” she exclaimed.

Around the world people are beginning to compare Israel’s attack on Gaza, which after the 2005 withdrawal of Israeli forces and settlers was turned literally into the world’s largest prison, to the Jewish uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto.

Extremist Muslims are using internet forums to collect names and addresses of prominent European Jews with the goal, it seems clear, of assassinating them in retaliation for Israel’s actions in Gaza.

Al-Qaeda is attempting to exploit this crisis to gain a foothold in Gaza and Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon and Syria, as well as through attacking Jewish communities globally.

Iran’s defiance of both Israel and its main sponsor, the US, is winning it increasing sympathy with each passing day.

Democratic values eroded

Inside Israel, the violence will continue to erode both democratic values in the Jewish community, and any acceptance of the Jewish state’s legitimacy in the eyes of its Palestinian citizens.

And yet in the US – at least in Washington and in the offices of the mainstream Jewish organisations – the chorus of support for Israel’s war on Gaza continues to sing in tight harmony with official Israeli policy, seemingly deaf to the fact that they have become so out of tune with the reality exploding around them.

At my university, UCI, where last summer Jewish and Muslim students organised a trip together through the occupied territories and Israel so they could see with their own eyes the realities there, old battle lines are being redrawn.

The Anteaters for Israel, the college pro-Israel group at the University of California, Irvine, sent out an urgent email to the community explaining that, “Over the past week, increasing amounts of evidence lead us to believe that Hamas is largely responsible for any alleged humanitarian crisis in Gaza”.

I have no idea who the “us” is that is referred to in the appeal, although I am sure that the membership of that group is shrinking.

Indeed, one of the sad facts of this latest tragedy is that with each claim publicly refuted by facts on the ground, more and more Americans, including Jews, are refusing to trust the assertions of Israeli and American Jewish leaders.

Trap

Even worse, in the Arab/Muslim world, the horrific images pouring out of Gaza daily are allowing preachers and politicians to deploy well-worn yet still dangerous and inciteful stereotypes against Jews as they rally the masses against Israel – and through it – their own governments.

What is most frightening is that the most important of Israel’s so-called friends, the US political establishment and the mainstream Jewish leadership, seem clueless to the devastating trap that Israel has led itself into – in good measure with their indulgence and even help.

It is one that threatens the country’s existence far more than any Qassam rockets, with their 0.4 per cent kill rate; even more than the disastrous 2006 invasion of southern Lebanon, which by weakening Israel’s deterrence capability in some measure made this war inevitable.

First, it is clear that Israel cannot destroy Hamas, it cannot stop the rockets unless it agrees to a truce that will go far to meeting the primary demand of Hamas – an end to the siege.

Merely by surviving (and it surely will survive) Hamas, like Hezbollah in 2006, will have won.

Israel is succeeding in doing little more than creating another generation of Palestinians with hearts filled with rage and a need for revenge.

Second, Israel’s main patron, the US, along with the conservative Arab autocracies and monarchies that are its only allies left in the Muslim world, are losing whatever crumbs of legitimacy they still had with their young and angry populations.

The weaker the US and its axis becomes in the Middle East, the more precarious becomes Israel’s long-term security. Indeed, any chance that the US could convince the Muslim world to pressure Iran to give up its quest for nuclear weapons has been buried in Gaza.

Third, as Israel brutalises Palestinians, it brutalises its own people. You cannot occupy another people and engage in violence against them at this scale without doing even greater damage to your soul.

The high incidence of violent crimes committed by veterans returning from combat duty in Iraq is but one example of how the violence of occupation and war eat away at people’s moral centre.

While in the US only a small fraction of the population participates in war; in Israel, most able-bodied men end up participating.

The effects of the latest violence perpetrated against Palestinians upon the collective Israeli soul is incalculable; the notion that it can survive as an “ethnocracy” – favouring one ethnic group, Jews, yet by and large democratic – is becoming a fiction.

Violence-as-power

Who will save Israel from herself?

Israelis are clearly incapable. Their addiction as a society to the illusion of violence-as-power has reached the level of collective mental illness.

As Haaretz reporter Yossi Melman described it on January 10, “Israel has created an image of itself of a madman that has lost it”.

Not Palestinians, too many of whom have fallen prey to the same condition.

Not the Middle East Quartet, the European Union, the United Nations, or the Arab League, all of whom are utterly powerless to influence Israeli policy.

Not the organised Jewish leadership in the US and Europe, who are even more blind to what is happening than most Israelis, who at least allow internal debate about the wisdom of their government’s policies.

Not the growing progressive Jewish community, which will need years to achieve enough social and political power to challenge the status quo.

And not senior American politicians and policy-makers who are either unwilling to risk alienating American Jewish voters, or have been so brainwashed by the constant barrage of propaganda put out by the “Israel Lobby” that they are incapable of reaching an independent judgment about the conflict.

During the US presidential race, Barack Obama was ridiculed for being a messiah-like figure. The idea does not sound so funny now. It is hard to imagine anyone less saving Israel, the Palestinians, and the world from another four years of mindless violence.

Mark LeVine is a professor of Middle East history at the University of California, Irvine, and is the author of Heavy Metal Islam: Rock, Resistance, and the Struggle for the Soul of Islam and the soon to be published An Impossible Peace: Israel/Palestine Since 1989.

The views expressed by the author are not necessarily those of Al Jazeera.

Why it’s hard to beat Hamas January 8, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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From Wednesday’s Globe and Mail

Many analogies are being made between the Israeli attack against Hamas in Gaza and the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Here are the most important ones.

The first is about provenance: Hamas and Hezbollah did not exist before 1982. They are the ideological stepchildren of the Likud party and Ariel Sharon, whose embrace of violence, racism and colonization as the means of dealing with occupied Arab populations ultimately generated a will to resist. The trio carrying on Mr. Sharon’s legacy – Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni – seem blind to the fact that the more force Israel uses, the greater the response in the form of more effective resistance.

The second analogy is about technical proficiency. Hamas and Hezbollah have both increased their ability to use assorted rockets to harass Israel. And they are better able to protect their launchers from pre-emptive Israeli attacks.

The number of Israeli dead in recent years is in the low hundreds, compared with the thousands of Palestinians killed by Israel. But body counts are not the most useful criteria in this analysis. The real measure is the nagging Israeli sense of vulnerability and the Palestinian sense of empowerment and defiance.

It is a gruesome but tangible victory for Hamas simply to be able to keep firing 30 or 40 rockets a day at southern Israel, while Israel destroys much of the security and civilian infrastructure in Gaza.

The frustration in Israel is reflected in its bombing attacks on the Islamic University and the Palestinian parliament building in Gaza – symbols of the sort of modernity and democracy that Israel and the U.S. claim they seek to promote in the Arab world. Palestinians and Lebanese pay a high price for their “victories” – but until someone offers a more cost-effective way of dealing with Israel’s violence, we will see this cycle of warfare continue for some time.

The TV images of dead children in Gaza generate a tremendous will to fight among Palestinians and their supporters in the Arab world. Israelis remain blind to the fact that Arabs respond to brutality the same way they do. A majority of Israelis polled this week supports the continuation of attacks in Gaza. Israelis seem to feel they have the right to respond to attacks by using indiscriminate violence against Palestinians – but Palestinians do not have the right to respond when attacked by Israel. A consequence of this attitude has been the ability of Hamas and Hezbollah to fight with enough proficiency to force Israel to accept a ceasefire.

The third analogy is about the convergence between religion, nationalism, governance and politics. In both Palestine and Lebanon, the secular political systems proved unable to protect society against Israeli aggression or domestic strife and criminality. Movements such as Hamas and Hezbollah developed in large part to fill this vacuum. They have achieved mixed results, with success in some areas but also an intensification of warfare and destruction in others.

Accusing these movements of using terrorism or cozying up to Syria and Iran will not discredit them. This is because of the structural manner in which they fulfill multiple roles that respond to the needs of their constituents in the realms of governance, local security, national defence and basic service delivery – responsibilities their secular national governments failed to fulfill.

The combination of these attributes makes it very hard for Israel to “defeat” Hamas and Hezbollah in their current configuration, regardless of how much destruction Israel rains on their societies. These two Islamist nationalist movements reflect a long list of mostly legitimate grievances that must be addressed if peace and security are ever to reign in this region.

Rami Khouri is editor-at-large of the Beirut-based Daily Star and director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut.

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